—who knows a lot
about playing center in the NBA, coming back from injuries and winning a championship for the Trail Blazers—says it's way too soon for Blazers fans to give up on injury-plagued center Greg Oden
after his rookie season.
"It's a mistake to denigrate his game at this point," Walton told WW
this morning in a telephone interview. "Coming back from the surgery he had, it's not easy."
Here's what else Walton had to say about Oden...
Walton said a key priority for Oden this summer is simply to stay healthy enough so that he can work on all parts of his game, adding that Oden's game doesn't need only to be restricted to defense and rebounding. The prospect of Oden becoming even a steady scorer may be hard to believe given Oden's struggles in his rookie year to score or even demonstrate a move in the low post—problems that only worsened in the Blazers' first-round loss to Houston. But Walton says it can happen.
"Is Greg Oden going to be the next Kareem or Hakeem Olajuwon? That's probably not going to happen by the start of next season,'' Walton said. "But he's extremely talented and he's very bright."
Walton says Oden will need the help of his teammates to lift his game, just as Walton benefited from Maurice Lucas when Lucas joined the Blazers for the 1976-77 championship season. Walton had played two injury-riddled seasons for Portland before the arrival of Lucas, a close Walton friend (A side note: Walton named one of his sons
for Lucas, now a Blazers assistant coach. Lucas was diagnosed
with bladder cancer this year, and Walton said this morning that Lucas is "getting better.").
Walton said Lucas was the "most self-assured" teammate he ever had, and that Oden similarly needs a teammate to bolster his confidence and ability.
"Who is going to be that guy who is going to help Greg," Walton said.
Asked if Oden appears too sensitive to criticism, Walton said he had not spent enough time with Oden to reach that conclusion. But Walton, who also described Oden as a "champion as a human being," said, "The NBA is not a good place to be if he is overly sensitive."
"The challenge for Greg is when that ball bounces the other way," Walton said. "That's where his team comes in. [But] ultimately, it comes down to Greg getting the job done."
To read what else the Blazers need to focus on in the offseason, be sure to pick up this week's issue of Willamette Week