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Down Goes Oden

I'm not ready to say that Portland should have picked Kevin Durant first. I'm not ready to call Greg Oden the next Sam Bowie. I'm not ready to say that the Portland Trail Blazers will regret their decision to take Oden much like they have had to live with the infamy of passing on Michael Jordan. I'm definitely not ready to call Oden injury prone.

About all that I am ready to say today is that Oden being forced to miss the entire season with a knee injury is really jacked up. You don't have to be a Blazers fan to feel that way.

"It's not the end of the NBA," Oden's agent, Mike Conley Sr., said when we talked this afternoon. "We'll see him next year."

No, the NBA will continue to operate this season as scheduled, but can this offseason get any worse for the league? Aside from the Kevin Garnett trade and the dominance of the US Men's Basketball Team in Las Vegas, there hasn't been much good news to report.

Everything else has pretty much been clouded by this Tim Donaghy mess, the Seattle SuperSonics' seemingly pre-planned move to Oklahoma City, the untimely death of Eddie Griffin, the Isiah Thomas sexual harassment case, and now a season-ending-before-it-began-injury for the most hyped up No. 1 pick since LeBron James.

At least there wasn't a lockout, I guess.

Training camp is less than three weeks away. Can it get here already?

When I heard earlier this week that Oden was going to have exploratory surgery on his right knee, my initial reaction was that this could be horrible. I tried to calm myself, but I really did expect the worst. I don't know why. I just did.

It just seems that Oden's journey to NBA superstardom keeps being put on hold. Remember he was supposed to be the next preps-to-pros superstar in 2006 - before the NBA implemented the age minimum and forced him to go to Ohio State (although he probably would've gone to college anyway).

Then, he had that wrist injury that kept him from being a truly dominant force in college basketball - at least on the offensive end - until his final game, when we got to see what I thought was going to be the REAL Greg Oden. He tossed aside future lottery picks Al Horford and Joakim Noah like excess litter and garbage cans and had 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Next, his first two summer league games became "Foul-a-palooza" before he succumbed to some swollen tonsils and trouble breathing. Now this. A knee injury and the dreaded microfracture surgery, which has ruined the careers of Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway, Terrell Brandon and Jamal Mashburn. Of course, Jason Kidd, Amare Stoudemire and Zach Randolph have been able to return to their pre-surgery form, and younger players tend to recover better than older ones with just about any surgery.

But you really have to be worried about Oden. Not just the anguish of having a year taken from him, but also with his growth as a player. Yes, he's 19. But the sad part is, big men usually take a few seasons before they develop into truly dominant players. He's losing a critical year in his development. Time he should've been spending learning post moves, emerging as a franchise cornerstone or getting posterized by Shaq and Duncan will now be used for rehabilitating his knee.

I spent some time with Oden before the draft and he was a really humble and goofy kid. He seemed to have everything in perspective, saying that he didn't want anything given to him before he had earned it (of course, he was in the process of signing an endorsement deal with Spalding to go along with other deals with Nike and Topps trading cards). He was focused on winning championships, not all-star appearances. He also was especially funny and would've provided a few one-liners this season.

I had tentatively planned on covering the Blazers' season-opener against Tim Duncan and the champion San Antonio Spurs. I'm not so excited about seeing Duncan destroy Joel Przybilla. I know the league - TNT specifically - cannot be happy about that Portland-Seattle Christmas Day game now. Brandon Roy vs. Kevin Durant doesn't have the ring as Oden-Durant Part I.

"What Greg would have given us this season is not known. I know in two summer league games, he gave us 19 fouls," Blazers Coach Nate McMillan said in a press conference. "So he would've been a rookie. He has a lot of potential. He will still have that potential when he returns next season."

Maybe being inactive will make him angrier and more fired up for his first season in the league. Maybe he'll be okay, make an easy transition like David Robinson did when he had his first two seasons pushed back because of military duty. Or maybe he continues to battle injuries for his entire career. Nobody knows.

We'll just have to wait another year. At least.

By Michael Lee  |  September 13, 2007; 5:48 PM ET
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