Between the ages of 21 and 22, Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden played 82 games, the typical number of games in a full NBA season. He averaged just 22 minutes, which limited his 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds, as did his team's league-slowest pace over that span. This is what efficiency stats, pace and minutes-adjusted, are for -- and his 19.5 Player Efficiency Rating put him at a borderline All-Star level in spite of his foul issues and the fact he was rehabbing on court most of the time.
He's still rehabbing. He's forever rehabbing. Fifteen months after the Trail Blazers announced Oden would have career-threatening microfracture surgery on his left knee, they announced he'll again have the same procedure on the same knee. In 2007, Oden underwent the same operation on his right knee, and this is unprecedented on a pro athlete's level. Kenyon Martin is still in the NBA after microfracture surgeries on both his right and left knees, on top of a broken leg he suffered in college, but no NBA player has returned from three microfracture surgeries. One is usually enough to derail a career.
This is a tedious way of telling you that after nearly five years of saying "there's still a chance" with Greg Oden, that this might be over. Of course … there's still a chance.
He hasn't announced his retirement. Oden is only signed through the rest of this "season" with the Trail Blazers, and a microfracture surgery at this point in the year would just about knock him out for all but the last few weeks of the 2012-13 season. If he wasn't despondent enough to retire after hearing the news about his latest setback on Monday, then there's a real chance he wants to struggle through yet another rehabilitation and attempt this one more time.
And, because we're here in the living room typing away and not the ones that have to go under the knife and struggle through over a year's worth of painful rehab, we applaud that. We want that. Oden was a significant force on both ends during his too-short 82-game stint, despite playing a hesitant brand of ball because of his foul and injury worries. If there's a chance that he can return pain-free? Then, as fans, we'll take it.
If he wants to call it a day, though? We completely and utterly understand. And while every mention of the guy's name will bring up images of dour news conferences, his placement above Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA draft, and all those 23-and-12s that we never got to watch, let's remember that those 82 games were significant.
He was no joke. He was no fluke. This was a player with legitimate, game-changing talent who made an impact in his "full season" as an NBA pro. That should not be forgotten. Those per-game stats, hampered by minutes and fouls and coach Nate McMillan's 30th-out-of-30 teams possession count, need to be sloughed off.
And if Greg Oden feels as if he needs to come back, in spite of all this? Then we need to support him. In spite of us feeling as if we need to point out that we know better. I'm about two sentences into this little riff using the word "need," and I'm realizing that this is a bad pun on the word "knee," and while I know none of you believe me when I tell you that this was unintentional, I'm leaving it in, and I don't care. Greg shouldn't either. If Oden didn't come out and call it quits on Monday, then it's obvious he wants another chance. Even if it's likely with another team, likely starting in earnest all the way in the fall of 2013.
If that's the case, don't yell at him from the living room. Don't tell him what he already knows. It's probably over. It should be over. Three of those procedures, on legs like his, should be too much to overcome.
Let's let Greg Oden figure that out on his own.
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