Rip City grief

In the NBA, there are few words players and fans fear more than “microfracture surgery.” Knowing that the Trail Blazers’ No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden endured such a procedure mere weeks ago does little to instill confidence in Portland’s upcoming season.

In the NBA, there are few words players and fans fear more than “microfracture surgery.” Knowing that the Trail Blazers’ No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden endured such a procedure mere weeks ago does little to instill confidence in Portland’s upcoming season.

The truth is, the loss of Oden is powerful enough to send even the most ardent Blazers’ fan into a deep funk, the kind of loss where the five stages of grief are easy to spot.


At first, it was impossible to fathom that Oden, the number one overall pick of the 2007 NBA draft, wouldn’t be playing a single minute during the regular season, or that he might never be the same player when he recovered.

This kind of disaster simply couldn’t be happening, not after the “Jail Blazer years,” not after that fateful collapse at the Staples Center in 2000, not after trading Clyde and seeing him win rings.

“We don’t deserve this!” Blazers fans moaned as they fell to their knees in desperation.

But that denial quickly turned to another, stronger emotion.


The day Oden had his surgery, I got calls and text messages from more than a few friends and family members. They’d moved quickly past denial and were furious at the Blazers for drafting a lemon, furious at themselves for buying into the dream of a playoff run, furious at Oden for being injured.

It was an emotion that couldn’t be avoided in the days following the news that Oden was out. Visions of Kevin Durant playing alongside Zach Randolph suddenly started popping into people’s heads, and just like that, Oden was far from the sure thing all the experts had promised.

The fact that someone didn’t catch the potential for a devastating knee injury seems to be one of the main criticisms coming from the Blazers’ now agitated fan base. And if someone knew something was wrong and didn’t come forward, that would be devastating.

I also don’t believe that to be the case. Oden checked out. He looked healthy. But he’s out, and the season could well be a dud. But, perhaps not entirely lost.


The remaining Blazers could still pull off a respectable season. It could happen. Channing Frye or Joel Przybilla slides into the five-spot, and the team relies on Brandon Roy, the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge and the return of Steve Blake to battle it out in the tough Western Conference.

Things could be worse. The bench, with a bunch of young players, including Martell Webster and Sergio Rodriguez scrapping for minutes, could be a major bonus this year.

Sure, the Blazers don’t have Zach Randolph anymore, a legit 25-point-10-rebound man. But the guy couldn’t D up a pair of Reeboks, and his attitude was a cancerous. Except that it wasn’t. Remember, Randolph was the guy calling team meetings when the Blazers were swooning.

The problem with bargaining is that it follows the same axiom as a compromise: a good solution usually leaves everyone unhappy.


If you are a Blazers fan (or one of the ink-stained wretches assigned to the beat), the season looks pretty dismal. Oden was more than just another cog; he was supposed to be the savior of the franchise, the guy who was going to erase nearly a decade of painful memories.

Now the Blazers have a legit shot at scoring another high draft pick for the fourth year in a row. Over the last three years, the team has gone 80-166. Coming back with the same team minus Z-Bo doesn’t seem to be the recipe for success.

More than anything, what hurts is the precipitous fall from the high that every Portlander was experiencing when Oden was introduced to the city on that rainy June afternoon a day after the draft. Fans believed, for the first time in years. And believing again soon will be vital for the team and city.


Maybe things aren’t so bad after all. The Blazers still have Brandon Roy, the reigning Rookie of the Year. Aldridge should be a beast with the additional muscle mass he put on over the summer, and there is enough young talent on the Blazers to make most teams jealous.

So fans will have to be content to do what they’ve been doing since 2004-watch a young team struggle to get better. Watch a blowout one night and a defensive grind the next, never sure which team is going to show up.

Truth be told, the season probably would have gone much the same with Oden. The Blazers weren’t winning a championship, and they might not have even made a playoff run.

The team that will be playing the games is still going to be entertaining, and they certainly aren’t the “Jail Blazers” of past years, or the washed-up veterans who almost won it all in 2000.

To a man, the young nucleolus has been working hard this summer, starting voluntary workouts weeks before training camp. Even Darius Miles showed up to continue his lengthy rehabilitation.

With or without Oden on the floor, this is a young team with talent and character. Isn’t that what fans were clamoring for during those dark days just a few years ago?