Greg Oden, they hardly knew ye. No longer a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, the hobbled center and ill-fated No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft was released by the team Thursday and goes off to seek cures – surgical, emotional, inspirational – for what ails him, with the best-case scenario of a Roy Hobbs-like return to the NBA someday. Hopefully, it should be added, before Oden grows as old as he always has looked.
The Oden era ended for Portland soon after the NBA’s trade deadline passed, but then, so did the Gerald Wallace era, the Marcus Camby era and most of all the Nate McMillan era. The Trail Blazers folded Thursday and immediately stepped to the front of the humiliation line, ready for their tarring, their feathering and their smearing on a clown grease paint as they got about getting a whole lot worse before they can get much better.
It’s a ritual that the NBA peculiarly embraces, driven by the belief that getting stuck in the middle somewhere — as in, Pretty Good, U.S.A. — is really Nowheresville. All or nothing is the preferred strategy for team-building in this league, as ESPN’s TrueHoop blogger Henry Abbott bemoans:
Here’s the crazy thing about this: As a Blazer fan, I think this loser of a strategy is a winner. I’m only sad they didn’t go further. The team was not on a path to win a title. My conviction is that LaMarcus Aldridge could be traded, too. As a talented big-man All-Star in his prime he’ll hurt the lottery positioning. But he might fetch some splendid cap space and picks.
Abbott’s first choice, of course, would have been for Oden never to get hurt, for Brandon Roy to continue as an All-Star shooting guard and team leader and for other Blazers to fall in line and fill their roles.
But that ship didn’t just sail a long time ago in Rip City; it sprung a leak where the champagne bottle christened it, lilted into an iceberg and went stern-over-tea kettle in sinking to the bottom of the Northwest Division. Ben Golliver of CBSSports.com analyzed the many ways in which 2011-12 went wrong for Portland:
Starting point guard Raymond Felton has been atrocious on and off the court it since he arrived via trade on the night of the 2011 NBA Draft.Fellow guard Jamal Crawford, signed as a free agent in December, was visibly frustrated with his changing role, shots and minutes under McMillan. Forward Gerald Wallace — acquired at last year’s trade deadline and then traded to the New Jersey Nets on Thursday — provided inconsistent production all season. Center Marcus Camby — acquired two deadlines ago and shipped to the Houston Rockets on Thursday — took out his evident frustration with flashes of homicidal rage during the team’s current road trip, getting ejected for shoving Washington Wizards forward Kevin Seraphin to the ground and then getting a flagrant foul for decking New York Knicks forward Landry Fields on a dangerous play in transition.
All the while, franchise forward LaMarcus Aldridge has taken on the glazed look of Chris Bosh circa 2008, going through the motions on offense and in his bland post-game comments. The last time Aldridge looked genuinely excited came when he was named to the 2012 All-Star team.
So now Wallace (to New Jersey) and Camby (to Houston) are gone, and so is McMillan, who doesn’t add to the roll of fired NBA Coach of the Year selections because he only deserved to win it a couple of times, without actually snagging one. It’s a sad time in Portland, shameful in its handling by upper management, but mostly just dreary for its fans and whichever players still care.
At least one of the denizens of the HTB Hideout wished for good things for the Blazers right after the All-Star break, making the bold prediction that “something good would happen in Portland.” That echoes now like a taunt or a curse – unless really bad leads in some tortuous way to good. Even then, detours always stink.