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Oden’s successful return would be captivating storyline

Posted: December 6, 2011 4:03 p.m.
Updated: December 7, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Basketball fans knew a lot about former Ohio State center Greg Oden when he made the jump to the NBA in 2007. They knew he was going to be the Portland Trail Blazers’ top pick in the draft that year. They knew he was one of the best collegiate players at the time. And they knew he had a chance to be a once-in-a-generation player in the pros. But there was also chatter that he could one day be one of the biggest disappointments in league history.  

Unfortunately for Oden, the numbers have not stacked in his favor. Entering his fourth NBA season, he has only played in 82 career games. The last time he even officially stepped on the court was December 2009.

Additionally, it was reported last week that Oden has still not been cleared by doctors to play once the new season starts up Christmas Day.

Now a restricted free agent, any team can offer the 23-year-old a contract, but the Trail Blazers have the ability to match any contract and bring him back to Portland.

Wherever Oden decides to play, a healthy and productive year would be one of the most intriguing stories for a shortened NBA season.

But that’s a storyline that seems to have an increasingly low probability of materializing. The same player who was viewed by some as the league’s “next big thing” has been hindered by injuries since most fans first saw him play in college.

His nagging medical problems were the root of the dreaded draft bust talk that occurred four years ago.

In middle school, Oden reportedly underwent hip surgery that left one leg longer than the other and resulted in a limp that’s still visible today. In high school, he had a torn ligament fixed in his wrist which interfered with his freshman year at Ohio State. Even before he made it to the NBA regular season in 2007, Oden had to undergo surgery to his knee that forced him to miss his rookie season.

Added to that was Portland’s nightmarish track record for scouting players. The Trail Blazers notoriously picked Kentucky’s Sam Bowie over North Carolina’s Michael Jordan in the 1984 Draft.

But at least Oden still has a shot to make an impact in the league. During his college days, Oden showed he could play at a top notch level by leading the Buckeyes to the NCAA Championship. Despite falling to the Florida Gators in the title game that year, he averaged a double-double over the course of the season and was named an All-American player.    

Before he injured his knee two seasons ago, he was even averaging close to double-double numbers with 11 points per game and close to 9 rebounds per game.

Despite producing solid numbers, those statistics won’t be too memorable when stretched across an entire career. If he continued that pace, he would never reach historical levels.

While Oden’s chances to reach legendary status are rapidly reaching zero, he has a chance to be more than just a footnote in pro basketball history.

The two players drafted after him in 2007, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Atlanta’s Al Horford, have already stamped out a place among the league’s elite. There may be a place for Oden in that group. The talent level is there, but he’ll have to stay on the court long enough to prove it.    

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