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Thursday, October 30, 2008
David Thorpe: Trouble Signs for Greg Oden


David Thorpe sent me an e-mail earlier today, and I just spent more than an hour talking to him about it.

There are thoughts you want not to have, but ought to consider nonetheless. For Blazer fans, reading this will be like taking your medicine. Tastes bad:

Henry, I was thinking a bit about the latest Oden situation, and was left wondering about what players I had ever known who started the beginning of three straight seasons injured.

I literally could not come up with one.

Greg Oden
Greg Oden in fall 2008: Big upper body, skinny legs. (Bigger version.) (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

I've been coaching, in one form or another, since 1985. Because I've been training individuals instead of teams since the early 90's, I've actually been with far more players than I would otherwise (coaching just one team).

So considering that Oden is yet again hurt, and he is so after just one quarter of his first game, I'm left to feel that this will be normal for the rest of his career.

You know I'm a very "glass is half full" guy, and I think the planet (and the basketball world) is much better off having Greg Oden realize his star potential. He's the kind of person I want my son to emulate one day. Humble and honest, smart and hard working.

But to think that after he recovers from this injury he'll likely be mostly injury free for a number of years flies in the face of all my basketball experiences. Some people have skeletons, or soft tissues, or tendons and ligaments, that are just not meant to take a physical pounding on a daily basis. Oden is very likely one of these guys.

It's apparent to me that he'll never develop into the superstar he was sure to become because he'll never be healthy enough long enough for that to happen. That's horrible for Greg, Blazer fans, and for basketball fans to swallow, but it seems accurate to me.

That being said, I would add this; Until he loses 50+ pounds and severely changes his body type, I'd never let him set foot on a basketball court. It's possible that his last two injuries had nothing to do with his weight. But it's also possible that it played a part.

To me, a skinny Oden has a better chance of avoiding injuries than a heavy one.

On the phone, Thorpe added that he thinks the Blazer front office should be a hive of activity right now. Not trading Greg Oden, by any means, but figuring out how this team gets to a championship with Oden in street clothes, or as a role player. Maybe they go up-tempo. Maybe they mix lineups around. Maybe there are some other personnel things that trickle down from that. 

Greg Oden
Greg Oden in March 2007: More in proportion? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

But if you are going to go on a different path, you want to have that laid out in your mind starting now, not when he gets his next injury, and it might already be the trading deadline.

As a Blazer fan, I have taken pretty much the opposite approach. 

My thought has been: Any way you slice it, as a skilled seven-footer with a work ethic and a lot of character, Greg Oden will be employed in the NBA for several more years even if he doesn't play at all. He's valuable for his potential alone, and he's Portland's guy, thanks to the contract option the Blazers picked up on Saturday, until at least the summer of 2010.

You keep giving it your best shot for at least this season, if not all of the next, too. (And on some level, a key for this franchise is Oden's mental state. It affects his recovery and health -- I don't care what anyone says. And almost everyone who is injured badly gets a little depressed. For an athlete who defines himself by accomplishments on the court, it's a lot to ask to stay upbeat through all these setbacks. This is tough stuff. One thing I don't love about this post is the thought that Greg Oden might read it.) What do you do to his mood and confidence when you make a roster move or two with the design that you don't think he'll be around? Could that become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or, on the other hand, maybe he has to be a superhero's emotions no matter what.

(OK, way big detour, but I just wrote that line about a superhero's emotions. Not this superhero. PG-13 for language, but hilarious. OK, back on track ...)

Microfracture sucked, sure, but that's over. This injury, this foot sprain? It's not a big deal to me. I think it happened mainly because this was his first NBA game, and he was spazzing. Adrenalized. Moving in strange ways. Bobbling things, tripping, throwing limbs here and there. I think the too much adrenaline is part of the reason he's huffing and puffing so much, too. I want to see Oden settle in to NBA basketball for some time before I start the process of figuring out if we need to plan for life without him.

David counters with: Let's say he comes back in a month, and after a little while he's back on the sidelines with something else. A deep bruise, a sprained ankle, or whatever it is. The trade deadline would be looming. Wouldn't you be glad if you had already weighed the relative merits, and tested the market, of your plan B?

Then there is the point about his weight. I don't know how much Oden weighs now (he's listed at 285, but has been coy about the real number) but I am very open to the idea that it might be smart to let him be light and agile -- and remove as much strain as possible from his body. Let's get him on the all-skinny team. So, it costs you some nice post-buckets, rebounds and blocks. If it could gain you a center, and by the way some mobility, fast-breaking and Amare Stoudemire-style finished in open space, I think that would be the one trade I'd be willing to sign up for right now.