It wasn't the funeral atmosphere you'd expect at the Rose Garden today. The usual reporters were having the usual on-and off-topic chats about the larger sports world, elbowing eachother in the ribs and chomping on hastily ordered Burger King fries. A handful of arena and team employees were adorned in the now-familiar "ODEN" shirts, utilized more as union rally-type solidarity slogans than bragging rights in the face of Oden's season-ending-before-it-began injury. But mostly, things were pretty normal—cookies, sodas, coffee, grey slacks and black shirts. Sports reporters aren't supposed to look bummed out, so they didn't.
When General Manager Kevin Pritchard, Coach Nate McMillan and Team President Larry Miller sat down to speak to press, though, things got depressing pretty quick. It had clearly been a long morning for the guys. Miller (despite sporting fresh purple shades) looked like he'd rather be at home. Nate McMillan's straight face can always be mistaken for somber, but today he just sort of stared straight ahead above the roomful of reporters. The unshakable Kevin Pritchard's voice shook noticeably, and he seemed to have trouble getting the words out, pausing occasionally to remove his glasses and rub his eyes. He has been Oden's biggest booster, and he's the man who'll take the blame if Oden never shines. So I'm including the hmms and uhhhs from his opening statement for dramatic effect. It actually felt pretty dramatic:
"Thank you everyone for coming on short notice. Obviously this is under some difficult circumstances. Uh, Greg Oden underwent ortho-- arthoscopic surgery this morning...it was successful. Greg will be immobilized or at least off his leg for at least six to eight weeks. And then he will be, ummm (short pause), out for the season, six to twelve months. It's very disappointing. He was in good spirits this morning...we expect a full recovery, and uhhm, that he can keep in good spirits, but our job will be to make sure he keeps in good spirits. It's a tough situation but we know that we're gonna get through it. We've got a young team, a very exciting team, and uhm, as Nate as I have discussed, uhh, and Larry, uh, we feel like some guys are really gonna step up this year. That being said, any questions?"
As is normal for these things, not a whole lot of new information came to light. But Pritchard, who fielded most of the questions, dropped the occasional knowledge:
*He called healthy pre-draft MRIs on Oden both "accurate" and "absolutely pristine." "That wasn't a cause for concern," he added. He also said that today's surgery provided a glimpse into the health of Oden's knees, and besides the current injury there were no causes for future concern.
*Pritch and company got two second opinions from "some of the best [doctors] in the world" before opting for surgery.
*"Greg looked at me as he was coming out of his surgery, and him and his mom, Zoe, probably said sorry twenty times. And I could feel the
weight [pretty sure he meant "weight," anyway, though who really knows what goes on in the mind of Pritch. He used "I can't under-emphasize this enough" more than once. Long day, I suppose. Anyway, back to the post--] of the world on his shoulders...my first thought was how lucky we were to have a guy that cares about the organization that much, and secondly that we've got to help this kid get through this."
Pritchard wouldn't speculate further on a timetable for Oden's recovery, saying that everyone's body is different, hence the wide six to twelve month recovery time. But he said there were factors (Oden's youth, the small size of the injury, the fact that they spotted it early) working for him. But he added that he would indeed be out for the season.
Pritchard admitted that the name Sam Bowie had come up in internal talks, but added that "we picked the right guy."
Teammates were "shocked and they were disappointed," according to McMillan. "The initial reaction is somewhat shock. But as I told them, it's not about one guy, it's about that team...this is a part of sports."
Larry Miller said that "people were excited and enthusiastic about this team even before we got the first pick. Season ticket sales were going well, people were excited. We think people here will continue to support this team...we're all discouraged by what's going on with Greg, but I think people are still gonna be excited and supportive of this team."
That was pretty much it. No huge bombshells dropped besides the obvious one. One point McMillan brought up was the number of televised games this year (currently at 12), and that those had a lot to do with Oden. He said he hopes those games will still be televised despite the fact that many seem to be crafted around G.O..
Me, you ask? How am I doing? I'm okay, thanks for asking and letting me break "reporter" character. Covering the Blazers (half-assedly, sure, but covering them none the less) was my dream job way before Oden got to town. Excited as I was about the year (and the quotes I could get out of the guy), we have some great, quotable bigman potential in Channing Frye and LaMarcus Aldridge. I'm curious to see how those two compete for time against Joel Przybilla (who's coming off a terrible year) and Raef LaFrentz (who, despite his bloated paycheck, might do some good things on the floor).
Oden's injury means that this season won't quite be the circus everyone expected. The national media won't swoop into Portland as overwhelmingly, cable tv pundits will give the Blazers a bit less attention, and the playoffs seem like a stretch. But maybe that's not so terrible. Maybe being the underdog for another year or two isn't the end of the world. And you're crazy if you're not excited about the this year's team. There's the incredible young talent of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge (a pair that's going to be a blast to watch this year). And there are so many question marks attached to guys like Sergio Rodriguez, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw and Channing Frye—all of whom have shown glimpses of explosiveness, making for high expectations that haven't yet been met—that it should be a lot of fun to see where things go. Oden or no Oden.
Bonus blurry photo!