Portland curse haunts big men

RYAN WOLSTAT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

The next time the Portland Trail Blazers are lucky enough to have the choice between selecting an imposing 7-footer and a dynamic swingman with a top pick at the NBA draft, chances are they stay away from the big guy.

The same franchise that got four injury-plagued years out of 1974 No. 1 overall pick Bill Walton and four out of Sam Bowie, the player they picked at No. 2 in 1984 ahead of some guy named Michael Jordan, got its latest kick to the nether regions Saturday, when it lost its latest saviour, Greg Oden, for the season with a fractured left kneecap.

When the Blazers made Oden the first overall pick back in 2007 following a spectacular 2006 draft that saw the team haul in superstar Brandon Roy and steady forward LaMarcus Aldridge, most pundits picked Portland as the NBA's next dynasty. At the time, Raptor fans were lamenting the fact that the NBA's new age limit -- which required Oden to play a year at Ohio State instead of heading straight for the league out of high school -- forced the team to settle for Andrea Bargnani instead of the much more hyped Oden.

Oden, like Walton two decades earlier, was supposed to be a saviour, a defensive beast of a big man who would lock down the middle for years to come while also converting easy baskets inside.

Though Walton, in a rare stretch of good health, led the Blazers to the 1977 NBA title and was league MVP in 1978, he averaged only 52 games a season in his four years there, before demanding a trade, citing unethical and incompetent work by the team's front office and medical staff.

Remarkably, Oden has been even more injury-plagued than Walton. He missed time in his lone college season due to wrist surgery and blew out his knee getting off a couch before even playing a game in the NBA. The microfracture surgery on his right knee that followed cost Oden his entire rookie season, but he returned last year to play 61 encouraging games, missing 21 due to various injuries.

This season, Oden was finally fulfilling expectations, putting up strong numbers (second in the league in blocks per game and fourth in field goal percentage) while leading one of the NBA's best defences. Until, of course, disaster struck again Saturday night when Oden planted his foot before going up to block a shot and managed to fracture the kneecap on what had been his healthy knee.

Just like that the once realistic spectre of Portland as future hoarder of NBA championships went up in smoke. Oden may return next year and go on to have a long and successful NBA career, but unfortunately, very few expect that to happen given his and Portland's history.

The other irony in the whole Oden situation is that the team that selected Bowie over Jordan years ago, now has to watch in horror as Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, picked right after Oden, absolutely blows up into a potential first-team all-NBA performer. Durant, just 21 years old, is currently the league's third-leading scorer at 28.1 per game.

And Toronto fans think they have it rough lamenting past draft screwups.

Return of the Answer

Allen Iverson returned to the Philadelphia 76ers last night, something nobody expected to ever happen following his bitter divorce from the club back in 2006. Few recall that Iverson, like Oden, could well have been a Raptor had the NBA had more relaxed restrictions. The Raptors actually won the draft lottery in 1996, but they were barred from picking first in the draft for the first few years of their existence. Whether the Raptors -- who already had a sub-six-foot star in Damon Stoudamire -- actually would have picked Iverson is a debate for which we'll never know the answer.

RYAN.WOLSTAT@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos