Fretting over Portland's depressing outlook

Anyone who caught last night's press conference detailing Greg Oden's(notes) season-ending microfracture surgery clearly caught wind of just how beat to hell the Portland Trail Blazer franchise is, right now. Nate McMillan looked a ghost. Trainer Jay Jensen had to catch himself several times as emotion nearly got the better of him (and what an awful turn of phrase that is), while GM Rich Cho had little to offer in terms of answers and/or insight.

How could he? The Blazers, as we know them, will probably fall apart. Before we even got a chance to know them.

Cho's time at the press conference was best served answering a question about Oden's impending restricted free agency next summer:

"Greg is still a part of the team. He is going to be a restricted free agent this summer. I expect him to be a part of the team. He will be restricted, he will be able to look at other teams. As Jay mentioned, his right knee came out strong. If you ask Greg, his knee that he had microfracture surgery on is stronger than it was before he had microfracture surgery on it. So we expect him to still come back."

Yes, yes, of course. I was nodding my head while hearing this, looking forward to Portland eagerly matching some sort of four-year, $20 million deal next summer, or a three-year $19 million deal with two years guaranteed. Why wouldn't they? Even though Oden (at best) will likely miss nearly half of 2010-11 as well as this season, the payoff could be so, so huge.

And then, as Ken Berger and Mike Prada reminded me this morning, things aren't that easy.

I forgot about the qualifying offer, which teams have to extend to a player as he enters his (in Oden's case, technical) fourth season in order for the team to exercise those restricted free agent rights.

In most cases, because the QO is part of a rookie deal, the money offered isn't worth what the player can earn on the open market, so the player declines it and either tries to sign an extension with a team, or look for better money elsewhere. Or, in the case of some washouts, the QO is too much money, and the one-year deal is never offered, making the player an unrestricted free agent. Either way, rare is the player that works for the QO.

What we forget, because most top picks are well worth their status, is that Oden's qualifying offer is pretty huge. Nearly $9 million, actually, and we're used to QOs coming in at half that size. And, sadly, there's no way Oden is worth $8.8 million next year, to any team. Microfracture surgeries take at least a year to come back from. Sometimes longer. And it doesn't matter if you're a veteran of the microfracture rehab process, as Oden regrettably is.

Which means, sadly, that there's little chance that Portland is going to tender that offer, unless they really want to throw some cash around, and are really looking long term with this kid. Which means, sadly, that Greg Oden's career in Portland is probably over, after just 82 games spread out over four seasons.

Things aren't any better for the Portland star that does tend to suit up more than he sits out: All-Star Brandon Roy(notes). He's come clean about not having any cartilage in his left (jumping) knee, which result in a bone-on-bone condition that is both extremely painful, and debilitating athleticism-wise.

Adrian Wojnarowski comes through with the deeper look:

The Blazers have gathered multiple medical opinions on Roy, but there's been no clear consensus, no course of action. The scenarios are still wide open. The team could try another surgery. They could limit his minutes, his games, his back-to-back appearances. All of those things are being discussed and likely will be implemented sooner than later. They keep taking Roy to more doctors, but there remains one thing that no one can offer for the beleaguered left knee: a solution.

Another source privy to the discussions between Blazers management, Roy and the doctors, simply says: "It's bad and it's not getting better."

Guh. Woj quotes one league source as saying that there is "no real hope of [the knee] improving," which kind of makes sense. There's not exactly a donor waiting list for cartilage.

As it is with Roy's knee, there's no solution to help the Trail Blazers. It's like asking the Lakers to come up with a solution if Pau Gasol(notes) had to sit out the season while Kobe Bryant(notes) turned into a limping version of himself that could only play once a week. Roy was supposed to steady the team's offense for years, while Oden was supposed to provide the defensive backbone. It's not unreasonable in the slightest to expect Roy to never again look anything like the stud we saw in 2008-09 (when he was, once adjusted for his team's slow pace, nearly as good as Kobe offensively), and to expect to never see Greg Oden in a Trail Blazers uniform again.

And I just don't understand what Blazers fans have done to deserve this. Sure, they got to sit through what might have been the prettiest season of pro basketball anyone has ever seen in 1976-77, and they have made a habit of hitching their lottery picks to players who have had worrying injury signs in college (Sam Bowie, Oden, and Roy; Bill Walton was pretty scot-free in college, if not Scott-free), but this is just ridiculous.

Sure, Clipper and Warriors fans would kill for Portland's amount of playoff appearances (they've missed the playoffs just six times since the Finals win in 1977), but to have the chance at greatness taken away from them time and time again?

It's cruel.

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