Jeff Pendergraph Leaves Utah Game In Wheelchair With Right Knee Injury, Later Tweets 'Word Is Nothing Major'

Update (8:39 PM): Jeff Pendergraph tweets: "Thanks for the well wishes everyone. Gonna b heading back to Portland tomorrow to get checked out by doc but so far word is nothing major... Keep praying y'all. We will get through this. God doesn't put you through anything he knows you can't handle." 

Original Post (6:52 PM):

According to Portland Trail Blazers radio play-by-play broadcaster Brian Wheeler of 95.5 FM, Blazers center Jeff Pendergraph fell to the floor during the second quarter of tonight's preseason game in Utah, clutching his right knee in pain after attempting to defend a drive by Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko.

Blazers trainer Jay Jensen attended to Pendergraph and, after a stoppage in play, Pendergraph was taken off of the court in a wheelchair according to Wheeler. 

With both Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla rehabilitating from knee injuries, Pendergraph is currently second on Portland's depth chart at the center position behind veteran Marcus Camby. This injury situation led me to write earlier this week that, "No player on the roster has the potential to gain more during Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla's absence than Pendergraph. The stakes -- in terms of his league-wide reputation, potential future salary, and position on the frontcourt depth chart when everyone returns healthy -- are all up for grabs." 

Pendergraph is in his second year in the NBA after playing four years at Arizona State University. Hip surgery forced Pendergraph to miss training camp last year before he returned to action on December 22nd. 

If Pendergraph is not available for the foreseeable future, Blazers coach Nate McMillan will likely turn to Camby, who has been limited by a minor groin injury during training camp, and starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to hold down the middle.  This would theoretically open up more minutes for backup power forwards Dante Cunningham and Luke Babbitt, with starting small forward Nicolas Batum able to shift over to play some minutes at four if the need arises. There's a strong argument to be made for sitting Camby for the rest of the preseason and playing extra small until the season opener on October 26th against the Phoenix Suns in the Rose Garden.

Free agent center Erick Dampier is still on the market. Portland GM Rich Cho told Blazersedge on Media Day that he wasn't actively pursuing Dampier but that he had informed Dampier's agent that, "If we make a move down the road where it opens up a roster spot at the center position, then he's one of the guys we might look at."

Injury updates will be passed on as soon as they become available.

Update (7:02 PM): Jason Quick of The Oregonian reports that the injury "appears to be serious" and that Pendergraph "was wheeled off with his right knee extended and Jensen holding his foot."

Update (7:14 PM): Jason Quick reports on Twitter that Pendergraph is done for tonight and will not play tomorrow night at Denver.

Update (7:32) Brian Wheeler reports on 95.5 FM that Pendergraph will return to Portland and will undergo an MRI on his right knee on Friday or Saturday.

Update (8:06 PM)

What are Portland's options if this is a significant injury?  The most likely play, by far, is to simply hold the fort down with Camby, Aldridge and Cunningham and await the returns of Oden and Przybilla (or Pendergraph). Past that, Cho could either trade for a big man or pursue a few unappetizing possibilities if he wants to free up a roster spot in the short term to chase Dampier or sign another free agent big man.

First, Cho could trade away a player without acquiring a player in return. He could, as has been rumored throughout the summer, trade Rudy Fernandez for a draft pick. He could also dump Joel Przybilla's expiring contract on a team that has cap space, using draft picks or other assets to facilitate the move. 

Another option would be to grant Rudy Fernandez's release request, which Cho has repeatedly said he will not do.  He could also release another player. Rookie Armon Johnson, picked in the second round and earning just $473,604 this season, would be the cheapest player to release, but this would be extremely unlikely to happen given how high the team's brass is on Johnson's future and how well he has looked during training camp. 

A final, particularly dark, option would be to release Pendergraph, which would require an injury settlement. Pendergraph's $762,195 salary for this season is fully guaranteed while his 2011-2012 salary of $884,872 is not yet guaranteed.  All numbers courtesy of StorytellersContracts.com.

Given these options, a trade would seem far more palatable than a release. Given the team's injury situation and the timing of the injury, Cho would obviously not be trading from a position of strength. Add it all up and waiting for Oden and/or Przybilla looks like the smartest play.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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