Thursday, September 13, 2007

More Oden: Silver Linings

My inbox is flooded with desperate emails from people in the 503 area code. A great many of these broken-hearted individuals are probably reaching for their most expensive spirits right this moment, or perhaps drying their tears with Greg Oden rookie cards.

All of which means that I need to expand on the previous post with more and immediate optimism, however unfounded.

Therefore, I am presenting four silver linings for the Blazers. Most of them have yet to be covered in great deal in the mainstream media, mainly because the coverage hasn't moved from reporting to spin to counterspin just yet. But that's the beauty of a blog, you can just throw stuff up at an alarming rate.

1. The David Robinson Factor. During one email conversation I had earlier with some Blazer fans, one suggestion that came out is that perhaps the Blazers can tack on more talent by virtue of another losing season. With Oden on the shelf for 07-08, the thinking goes, Portland is doomed for another terrible season in the W/L column, which could set them up for another very high draft pick. This is obviously a close replica of the situation that netted San Antonio Tim Duncan back in the day. There are obvious differences here, namely that the Spurs were a perennial 50-win team that took a nosedive for that one season without The Admiral, whereas the Blazers have been at this "struggling" thing for a while. But the main idea still applies: a guy worth probably 20 wins is out for the year and a much higher draft pick is obtained as a result. One can imagine the Blazers cashing in on another top pick and getting a fabulous talent like incoming Memphis point guard Derrick Rose or incoming Kansas State power forward Michael Beasely. The former is going to lead somebody to the NBA Finals at some point in his career and the latter is going to be one of the best power forward prospects to enter the draft in this decade. So there is definite cause for optimism here.

(Not to throw water on everybody, but I should point out a few problems with the "Hey, now we can get Derrick Rose too!" silver lining: A) Even without Oden, Portland will still have a hard time being the worst team in the NBA. Roy has a year of experience under his belt, Aldridge is emerging, Frye can step in and play big minutes, and so on. I think there are at least six NBA teams that will be far worse than the Blazers this year. B) After winning the lottery last year, it seems unlikely that Portland could have lightening strike twice on that front. They would be more likely to land something like the 6th pick and be faced with the prospect of Chase Budinger playing small forward for the next decade.)

2. The Scrutiny Avoidance Factor. Look, don't confuse what I'm about to say. I am not for a minute suggesting that being under a media microscope is worse for a young player than undergoing severe and risky knee surgery. So please don't take this that way. However, I do think there was significant risk that Oden was going to get off to a rough start. He hasn't been healthy in a while and it looked highly likely that he was going to spend the year in constant foul trouble and in the shadow of Kevin Durant. The media would latch onto that combo like a dog snatching a soup bone and they would never let go. Again, I'm not saying that Oden is better off with a surgically repaired knee, but I do think that some guys can wind up being protected from themselves until they are truly ready to flourish. Carson Palmer wasn't hurt his rookie year, but I'm convinced that his never taking a snap in Cinci that season is why he's so good now. It seems entirely possible that Oden can and will benefit from watching and learning and moving out of the pressure cooker for a significant period of time. Then again, it is entirely possible that he's basketball's Mark Prior.

Whoops, sorry, this is a silver lining column.

3. Timing. I wrote about this on this very blog several times over the summer, but the key to cashing in on their recent run of lottery success was for Portland to remain extremely patient with this roster. Oden had the look of a championship centerpiece, but it was going to take him 3-5 years even without a setback before he would be ready to lead a title contender. The same is true, to a lesser extent, with Aldridge. Roy, on the other hand, will progress much faster and some of the other pieces are close to reaching maturation. The temptation that was eventually going to confront the Blazers was one of timing. Would they stick to the long term vision and wait for not only title contention, but even mere playoff appearances? Or would they start to give up future pieces for lesser players who would help compete now? I think the former is the best approach in a Western Conference loaded with teams that are powerhouses now (San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, and even Houston) but that also have a horizon line in play. In my mind, only Utah looms as a mortal lock to be good in about 2011, so there is going to be a window for Portland if they play their cards right.

As much as I trust their front office and think the world of Kevin Pritchard, I'm not sure they had the restraint to wait and wait and wait for the right time. Now, they have no choice but to wait. And while Oden no doubt sees his timeline moved back a bit, I don't think it changes all that much. I think whether he plays in the next 18 months or not, he was/is going to be ready to lead a Finals-level team around the same time, which is the 2010-2011 season. As long as he can make it back at least 85-90% of the way physically (as Kidd, Randolph, and Amare have done), I don't really believe this stunts his progress in terms of the big picture.

4. Ability To Re-Sign Oden. This came up in the same chain of emails referenced above and I tend to see this as a positive for Portland. Not only do most NBA players re-sign with the teams that drafted them anyway, but the Blazers are going to be able to slap a contract extension in front of Oden long before he answers the myriad questions that outside organizations will have. The Blazers will be able to make an informed offer based on critical internal information, thus make a more confident offer that is likely to result in Oden re-signing for the max number of years. Not only that, but since Portland and Oden now have their fates so intertwined anyway, there isn't much harm in rolling the dice on a big extension. If they re-up him and he never comes all the way back, they (meaning the front office, the team, the fans, everyone) are all screwed anyway. I think this only helps Portland transition quickly and smoothly from the "we have him for three years under his rookie contract" phase to the "we have him for five more years" phase. Whereas you can bet that everyone from GM's to agents to endorsers to David Stern himself will be whispering in Kevin Durant's ear about the weather in L.A., the big lights of New York, or even the tax benefits of Florida. If ever there was a stud draft pick that looks like a good bet to bolt from the team that drafted him, it is the uber-marketable Durant playing for a team with one foot in Seattle and the other in Oklahoma City.

Obviously, a lot remains to be seen. How well did the surgery go? Will they find anything when they go back and scope again (ala Amare)? How will he recover? But as long as those questions are met with positive answers, I think that it could wind up being an "all's well that ends well" situation.

1 comment:

Rickey Henderson said...

Holy hell, the producers of "24" are bringing back Tony Almeida! He's alive goddamnit!