Oden’s Knee Clouds Sunny Outlook

By Joe Freeman
Updated: September 12, 2007

PORTLAND — The Trail Blazers’ promising season took an unexpected gloomy turn Monday, just three weeks before it officially was set to begin.

The team announced that Greg Oden, the talented rookie center who was selected No. 1 in this year’s NBA draft, is scheduled to undergo exploratory arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday after enduring lingering pain in his right knee.

Blazers officials would not comment beyond a four-sentence news release issued Monday evening that said Oden underwent a magnetic resonance imaging last week and results revealed that he might have cartilage problems in the knee.

A team source told The Oregonian that the MRI results were inconclusive and that the damage could be as minor as a cartilage injury or as major as a ligament tear.

Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., said Oden does not recall a specific incident that caused the injury, only that he experienced nagging pain last week.

“He cannot remember injuring his knee at all,” Conley said. “I guess he just felt some discomfort. Greg can’t remember when he hurt it.”

Oden had been taking part in volunteer workouts with roughly a dozen teammates in preparation for the season, which is set to begin with the opening of training camp on Oct. 2. He has not participated in the workouts since undergoing the MRI on Thursday.

Amid national debate and local fanfare, the Blazers selected Oden ahead of Kevin Durant with the top pick in the June NBA draft — a move that helped boost season ticket sales and renewed fan interest in the team.

Adding Oden — an athletic 7-footer who excels on both ends of the court — to a young nucleus that included reigning rookie of the year Brandon Roy and NBA first-team all-rookie selection LaMarcus Aldridge, gave the Blazers one of the league’s best young rosters.

But the Blazers knew they were drafting a player with injury concerns. Oden, who played one season at Ohio State, missed his first seven college games because of an injured right wrist before returning three weeks ahead of schedule.

Oden told The Oregonian in May that he never played at full strength at Ohio State and estimated that he was 90 percent healthy in his final college game, an 84-75 loss to Florida for the national championship.

Medical concerns also developed after Oden took a physical exam in May at the NBA predraft camp. League doctors reportedly discovered that Oden had a bulging disc in his back and had not yet regained full flexion of the wrist he had broken.

Still, the Blazers were comfortable enough with their own physical exams to draft Oden ahead of Durant and make him the centerpiece of a franchise that is trying to return to the playoffs after a four-year absence.

The knee injury is his latest setback as a Blazer. In July, during NBA Summer League play, Oden labored through two discouraging games before pulling out with a sinus infection and enlarged tonsils that inhibited his breathing. He underwent a tonsillectomy on July 14.

A serious knee injury, however, would be much more grave and could derail the Blazers’ rebuilding efforts.

A timetable for Oden’s return will be set after the arthroscopic surgery, which will be performed by Blazers team physician Don Roberts at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver.