The world exploded in May of 2007 when Portland won the NBA draft lottery. This wasn't just any year. This was the year Greg Oden was coming into the NBA. The Ohio State center had won roughly 102% of his games at the high school and collegiate levels. He was that dominant.
Oden was legit huge at 7 feet and 250+. He was also freakishly mobile at that size with hops besides. He wasn't a stats-monger, averaging 16 and 10 in college. He was a game-changer, a franchise-changer. On defense he was the human eraser, covering space and sailing into the air to swat the orange off the basketball. His enormous hands made pawing rebounds a breeze. His offense was more rudimentary. Let's just say he didn't have a varied repertoire but the rim turned yellow every time it saw him rising in the air to dunk. This guy was a dream.
June's dream draft turned into an August nightmare as Oden went down after an informal pre-pre-season workout. Wheeled out of surgery on a gurney before he had played Game 1 for the Blazers, Oden spent his first year in the league rehabbing from the microfracture procedure.
A scare accompanied his return at the beginning of 2008 as he went down again versus the Lakers on opening night. The injury was minor and he'd return to play 61 games that season, raw but showing the promise that had made the Blazers draft him. The league soon learned that any rebound in his vicinity was his, that driving the lane became about the sixth option when he was in and feeling good, and that you'd better put two bodies on him when he went for the offensive rebound or you were going to get dunked on. 9 points and 7 rebounds didn't look that impressive but his on-court effect belied the numbers. Blazer fans were plenty confident headed into his third season.
Oden started well in 2009, showing significant increases in points and rebounds with but a paltry increase in minutes. Things were starting to roll when his kneecap shattered in his 21st game of the season. He was down again.
A couple of screws and a long rehab led to a late-2010, early-2011 comeback...a comeback which never happened because Oden required microfracture on the other knee before he could take the court again. Another long cycle of recovery ensued, from which he has not returned to this date.
The emotional toll of this roller coaster on Blazers fans has been profound, leading to Oden being listed as the Blazers' 6th most disappointing acquisition of all time with the inside track to #1 even though his tenure isn't complete. We're not interested in emotion here, but pivotal moments. The Oden saga has been pivotal in two ways.
The choice between Oden and league scoring champion Kevin Durant is the most often cited pivotal decision of the 2007 draft. Durant has led his team to the Conference Finals and is in perpetual competition for League MVP. Oden has played the equivalent of one season in four. Obviously the team's fortunes would have been different had their pick been different. But we're not going to place as much weight on that kind of hypothetical in this list, but it's there like a ghost hanging over the franchise.
The injuries have provided the stronger pivot. The franchise-shifting development isn't that Oden stinks, it's that Oden quite possible would have been everything advertised but can't play at all because of his knees. The effect on the Blazers is huge. People were talking about Portland being good even without Greg. People were talking championships the moment the lottery win was revealed. Even with Brandon Roy's injury problems, a fully-functional Greg Oden would have made the rest of Portland's lineup look amazing, driving them into the upper echelons of the conference anyway. Without Oden, the Blazers are just a decent, on the outside "interesting", team. Oden's health has functioned as a massive anchor dragging down the hopes of the franchise.
Some will want to rate this event higher, pointing harder to Durant and the utter disappointment that Greg has been. The lower ranking comes from the team never really getting off the ground before disaster struck. It's easy to say that Oden's knee problems have scuttled an era but we never saw that era begin in any serious fashion. It's hard to top a list with pure imagination, even if pretty much everybody knows that a healthy Oden and dominant Brandon Roy would have led the Blazers to the heights. The wistful, hopeful fan in me also wants to point out that there's still a chance this turns around? Maybe? :::batting eyes at the basketball gods::: Therefore Greg's injuries will have to fall into perspective as the #7 most pivotal event in franchise history.
Debate that, and/or Greg's inclusion on this list, below.