"I just want everybody to know, I did not hurt my knee getting up off the couch this summer, and I didn't hurt my knee playing 'Dance Dance Revolution' and break dancing this summer. That did not happen." -- Greg Oden
Ok, I believe him, although the thought of Oden trying to fit his size 18 feet on those little squares is a bit amusing.
The injury was a bit random. It also came at a most inopportune time. Does this remind you of anything? Hints: Past Trail Blazers, dramatic injury and huge consequences.
Although I could easily be referring to a bad case of dysentery in Oregon Trail (the OG of RPG video games), I'm referring to Sam Bowie, the young phenom Portland took ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft, and one of the biggest busts in the history of the NBA.
Anyone smell the Déjà vu?
Not me. Luckily, the doctors are better these days. Just ask Jason Kidd, Amare Staudamire or Zach Randolph, who all had successful microfracture surgery recoveries. The 19-year-old is expected to fully bounce back, and should return to the DDR dance pad by next October.
But that won't help Portland this year. With his team coming off a 32-50 record and losing its leading scorer to the Knicks, the No. 1 draft choice was eager to put the city on his broad shoulders. The era of the "Jail Blazers" had finally come to an end, and the big fella was supposed to join Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge in turning the team back into a national contender.
Good thing Portland management has its eyes focused on a more distant horizon. But some of us are still curious -- what kind of immediate impact would Oden have had if he stayed healthy? And what will be the impact of losing him? Time to crank up the EA SPORTS NBA Live Simulator!
According to the video game, Oden's presence would have translated into a 44-38 record. They'd finish 6th in the West, make the playoffs, and then lose in seven games to the Spurs in the first round. The youngster would average 14.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, and 2.0 bpg, leading his team in boards and swats. Despite finishing second to Kevin Durant in the Rookie of the Year votes, Oden definitely had a great year.
Would have had a great year, I should say.
Without the 7-footer, the results were less than fantastic. The Oden-less Blazers would go 30-52, finish last in the West, and would tie the Pacers for worst overall record in the league. Roy would lead the charge with 19.9 points per contest, while shooting just under 37% from deep. Aldridge would take honors on the glass, finishing with 8.9 boards a night. And Steve Blake, coming back from a year long stint in Denver, would distribute the rock for 6.5 assists.
The struggles came on offense, where Portland only returned two players that average double figures: Roy and Jarrett Jack. On top of that, Virtual Jack lost his starting spot to Blake, and that change is expected in real life as well. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the co-op point guard system. If a guy is only focused on earning a position, he certainly can't be focused on winning a championship, or in Portland's case, on even finishing with a winning record.
Coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign, Roy continued to improve, elevating his scoring average over two points while also turning himself into a better all around player. Fellow youngster Travis Outlaw improved as well, increasing his average to over 14 points per game. Considering the youth, athleticism and skills these two bring to the table, and the combined potential here is ridiculous. Some might say ridiculi.
The real surprise was Martell Webster, the shooter off the bench. While he didn't average big numbers, his ability to hit jumpers in the clutch was just that ... clutch.
And Darius Miles, well, the NBA Live doesn't specify, but it looks like he'd spend another season mostly riddled by injury and/or Nate McMillan's doghouse. Could this means Miles will get back to his acting career? I can only dream.
Exciting improvement was seen in Aldridge, who filled in for a departed Randolph to the tune of 16 points and nine boards an outing. It wasn't the automatic double-double that Big Z brought night-in and night-out, but Aldridge might have more potential in the long run, plus he doesn't know the Portland cops on a first name basis.
The big question is who will fill Oden's size 18's?
Virtual McMillan gave Joel Przybilla the nod. Hey, at least it gave the big fella a chance to earn his enormous contract. Coming off a terribly uneventful season, Przybilla did step up his game a little. Sharing time with Channing Frye, the two averaged a combine 15 points and eight boards, making the center-by-committee a solid operation. Well, by solid, I meant decent. And, by decent, I meant not really that good.
Whichever the meaning, Portland desperately missed its bearded giant. With Oden on the sideline, the Blazers went from being a playoff contender to the caboose of the West. He better find a nice suit and a fresh haircut, because the camera will be focused on him every time Frye gets dunked on or Przybilla misses a free throw.
So get ready to see Oden's mug, over and over. You might want to take off that 1080i.
Unfortunately, Oden in a suit earns a big fat donut on the Impact Meter, and one could even argue for a -2 considering the depression his injury has caused in Portland. But healthy, Oden would receive a stout "8."
Portland fans, the difference between a post season and a last place record is sitting on your bench. You need to look to the future. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel, that is, if you can see over the 7-foot, 250 lbs man leading the way. A man, who as Steve Kerr put it, is a "once-in-a-decade player." A man, who at 19 years old, could technically be called a kid.
And when Oden returns, he should jell nicely with Roy and Aldridge. It might take a few years, but it will happen -- the P-Town Trio will make noise. Might even be the noise of rings knocking together. Championship rings, even.
Better tell Oden to grow out the Bill Walton beard again.
Give 'em 4 years. Portland will party like it's 1977.