Tag:Ben Golliver
Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:09 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 6:35 pm
 

Midseason Report Team Grades: Cream rising

Familiar faces are back on the top at the halfway point of the season. (Getty Images)

With 30+ games under everyone's belt, there's been sufficient time for NBA's thirty teams to adjust to the breakneck lockout-shortened season. The midterm results? The cream has mostly risen to the top, with preseason favorites Chicago, Miami and Oklahoma City continuing their dominant play. Traditional powers in San Antonio and Dallas have also emerged after slow (by their standards) starts.

CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball staff sat down to grade each team based on potential and expectations, graded on a curve. Here's what we came up with. 

Atlantic Division Grades

The Sixers continue to lead the way in the Atlantic. (Getty Images)
by Ben Golliver

Philadelphia 76ers (20-13)


The Sixers followed up a sensational 11-5 first quarter with a middling 9-8 second quarter. Even with the choppy play in February, which includes a current 4-game losing streak, Philly still enjoys a 4-game cushion over its next closest division rivals. The 76ers boast the NBA's best defense, a top-8 offense, a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate in Andre Iguodala and an emerging reliable late-game scoring threat in Lou Williams. Their entire body of work through 33 games deserves top-level recognition.

GRADE: A-

New York Knicks (16-17)

The Knicks are virtually un-gradeable. Any team that discovers a player who is making Jeremy Lin's impact, paying him virtually nothing in the process, deserves an A+++ by default, right? That's the temptation, but this is a grade for the full first half of the season, not just the most exciting free agent find in recent memory. New York is much better than its record, thanks to Tyson Chandler's solid defense and the recent additions of Lin and J.R. Smith. Injury and role questions concerning Carmelo Anthony cast a bit of a shadow but, like MSG stock, the Knicks are a fast riser. 

GRADE: B+

Boston Celtics (15-16)

For everyone's sake, let's hope one of the NBA's most unwatchable teams stumbles down the stretch so we don't have to watch them suffer through them getting swept in a first round playoff series. Boston has been a MASH unit all season and the trade deadline promises to be the most interesting portion of the Celtics' season. The timing of Boston's fall couldn't be better. At least this is the lockout-shortened season to minimize the damage with a fully-stocked draft and free agency class to offer hope just around the corner. 

GRADE: C-

New Jersey Nets (10-24)

The only good thing about New Jersey's season is that Deron Williams hasn't yet publicly demanded a trade or rampaged on his teammates. 10 wins at this point is actually probably a win or two better than expectations given the roster that surrounds Williams and the injuries the team has had to deal with. Completely irrelevant for another season.

GRADE: D

Toronto Raptors (9-23)

The bright side is that Toronto's defense has improved from completely and truly awful last season to simply below average under new coach Dwane Casey. The offense is now bottom-3 in the league and the Raptors simply don't have the personnel to turn that around. Tank Nation was completely correct from the outset. 

GRADE: D

Central Division Grades

Rose remains unstoppable. (Getty Images)
by  Royce Young 

Chicago Bulls (26-8)
 

It's no big surprise that the Bulls are 26-8 and see-sawing with the Heat for the East's top spot. But considering they've had to do it with a rash of injuries that had Derrick Rose and Luol Deng missing some time is what makes it impressive. Depth has been one of the Bulls' strengths and it's what has pushed them through the first half. They did this same thing last season too, getting by without Carlos Boozer. Now that they're getting healthy again, they're set up for a strong second half push. 

GRADE: A

Indiana Pacers (20-12)

When grading a team, it's good to keep in mind preseason expectations. The Pacers were expected to be better than the team last season that slipped into the postseason, but how much better was the question. There have been some ups and downs, but the verdict thus far is that the Pacers are much improved and in position to fight for home court in the first round. 

GRADE: B+

Cleveland (13-17)

The road back from "The Decision" is going to be long, but the Cavs clearly have picked up a pretty nice car to get there in Kyrie Irving. The Cavs probably aren't playoff material, but in terms of coming back from where they were last season when they dropped 26 straight games, they're on track. They're currently just four games under .500 and sit ninth in the East, just 1 1/2 games out of the playoffs.

GRADE: B

Milwaukee Bucks (13-19)

What's new in Milwaukee? Oh, just Andrew Bogut getting hurt again. And just their season going down the tubes with that. Remember how this was a playoff team two years ago? Remember all the fun "Fear the Deer" stuff? It looks like it's going to be back to the lottery for this group. Brandon Jennings' improvement is a plus, but the Stephen Jackson situation combined with injuries is dragging them down.

GRADE: C+

Detroit Pistons (11-23)


The Pistons are playing much better basketball as of late, winning seven of 10. But still this has been another colossally disappointing season. Remember how the Pistons were once a team contending for the East? You know what's weird about that? That was happening as of just five years ago. But it feels like the Pistons have been bad for a long time. That's where it's at for Detroit. Save for a better stretch early on, it's been another bad year for the Pistons. Horrible attendance, fan apathy and worst of all, there really doesn't appear to be a path out right now.

GRADE: D

Southeast Division

LeBron looks like a solid MVP favorite so far for Miami. (Getty Images)
by Matt Moore

Miami Heat (26-7)

The best team in efficiency differential. Home of the presumptive MVP. They have just finished winning seven in a row, all by double-digits. The best record in the National Basketball Association. A better offense than last season. The same quality defense as last season. Better supporting players. Quality wins over the Lakers, Bulls, Magic. The Heat aren't surprising anyone; we knew they would be, could be this good. But they're doing it, and that's a fact. 

GRADE: A

Orlando Magic (21-12)

Well, they've handled this whole mess surprisingly well. As Dwight Howard rumors continue to swirl and he's forced to endure media questions everywhere he goes, the Magic have kept on winning with the same formula they've won with for years. Great defense, three-point shooting, and Dwight Howard offense. The dual-losses in five days to Boston in humiliating fashion should have sent the team into a tail spin. But instead they've kept themselves above water. There are rough times ahead for this team one way or another, but you have to give them credit for how they've survived a tough situation. 

GRADE: B

Atlanta Hawks (19-13)

The Hawks are six games over .500 despite starting the year without Kirk Hinrich, and being without Al Horford for most of the season as he's done for the year. That should be pretty good, right? They have wins over the Bulls and Heat. That should be enough for a good grade, right? Except you know where the Hawks are going. They're not the most talented kid in class, they're not the hardest workers. They just kind of glide by. You can't fail them, but to reward them is to celebrate being "fine." You can't fault their coaching or players. They just are who they are, as cliche and meaningless as that seems. 

GRADE: C+

Washington Wizards (7-25)

Well, their coach was fired, their star center runs the wrong way on possessions, their star point guard hasn't developed, and they had to bench their starting power forward they gave an extension to two years ago. So no, it has not gone well in D.C. 

GRADE: D-

Charlotte Bobcats (4-27)

Mrs. Charlotte fan, I'm sorry. I know this is difficult to hear. We did everything we could, but we had to put your franchise down. This team is a plague on the NBA season. 

GRADE: F

Southwest Division

Tony Parker is playing like a top-5 MVP candidate. (Getty Images)
by Ben Golliver

San Antonio Spurs (23-10)

The Spurs went a ridiculous 13-3 in their second quarter, and that includes an on-purpose loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, as Gregg Popovich opted to rest his starters. Does it get better than an 11-game winning streak when one of your All-Stars is in and out of the lineup with long-term injuries? That's a stupid rhetorical question. It doesn't get any better. The Spurs have pulled within 2 1/2 games of the Oklahoma City Thunder and are well positioned to finish strong, with 19 home games and 14 road games remaining on their schedule.

GRADE: A

Dallas Mavericks (21-12)

Like the Spurs, Dallas got up to speed during the second quarter, going 11-5 and running off an impressive 6-game winning streak, which included 4 wins over playoff teams (the Nuggets twice, the Clippers and 76ers) and 2 others against teams on the fringes (the Blazers and Timberwolves). Dallas is still underperforming on offense but no one saw a top-5 defense coming when Tyson Chandler moved to the Knicks in December. Dirk Nowitzki's numbers are essentially back to normal in February -- 23.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game -- and the Mavericks look to be a playoff force as they defend their 2011 title.

GRADE: A-

Houston Rockets (19-14)

The USS Houston is steady as she goes: The Rockets went 9-7 in the first quarter and 10-7 in the second quarter. Kyle Lowry has made the whole thing work and Kevin Martin has stayed healthy. The roster is deep, random and likely to see major changes this summer. Despite all of that, Houston is squarely in the playoff picture when another lottery trip seemed inevitable after December's failed trade for Pau Gasol fell through. If this continues, Kevin McHale might sneak into the short list for Coach of the Year candidates in his first season with the Rockets.

GRADE: B+

Memphis Grizzlies (19-15)

The Grizzlies were a late-charging dark horse last season and it's shaping up again this time around, as Zach Randolph is progressing back to the court after a knee injury. Memphis' offensive efficiency has fallen off significantly without Randolph, and Lionel Hollins has done another nice job in keeping the wheels from falling off after a hectic early season. Credit, too, to an All-Star campaign from Marc Gasol, who is averaging 15.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.

GRADE: B+

New Orleans Hornets (7-25)

That this team has won seven games is a miracle. Monty Williams, one of the league's biggest gentlemen, must have done some serious wrongs in a past life to deserve this group. He's made due the only way he really can, sucking the life and pace out of every game and hoping for the best. Gustavo Ayon was an intriguing find but this team was not headed anywhere with Eric Gordon, let along without him due to injury. It's probably time for New Orleans to step up its tanking efforts to ensure a top-2 chance at the lottery balls. Leaving this season without that would be a major failure.

GRADE: D

Northwest Division

Durant's Thunder have been dominant in the West. (Getty Images)
by Matt Moore 

Oklahoma City Thunder (25-7)


Kevin Durant is having his best season as a pro, and it shows. His defense has been terrific. There are lingering questions about this team's ability to defend, but their offensive is the most powerful in the league and they've managed to stay exceptionally healthy this season. The West may be largely a crapshoot this season, but the Thunder are still the prohibitive favorites to make it to the Finals. Their late-game execution has been a mixed-bag, but that's still better than the circus clown show it was last year. 

GRADE: A

Denver Nuggets (18-15)

There's something dark and twisted about a team that deliberately loaded up on excessive depth through trades and free agency winding up one of the most damaged by injury. The Nuggets have had Nene, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, and Arron Afflalo miss time with injuries and it dropped them into the gutter after an exceptionally strong start to the season. Outside of health, the biggest problem for Denver has been what you'd think it would be, the lack of a star player to lead them in close games. Someone has to step up and become the guy for Denver in the playoffs for them to have a chance at making any noise. 

GRADE: B-

Portland Trail Blazers (18-16) 

Things started so well, too. After getting out to an awesome start and looking unstoppable, versatile, and deep, everything has fallen apart for the Blazers. Nate McMillan's on the hot seat all of a sudden, the team is just two games over .500 (and one of them was the Spurs' surrender game Tuesday). They're not doing anything particularly well, Raymond Felton has been benched, and they're having nagging injuries. all over the place. It was a rough second quarter of the season for Portland. 

GRADE: C+

Minnesota Timberwolves (16-17)

Well, well, well. Look who got themselves a legit coach and a franchise point guard. Rick Adelman's work with the Timberwovles has made the biggest impact, but Ricky Rubio's playmaking and defense has helped change the vibe. The Wolves are excessively fun to watch, a highlight factory, and feature Kevin Love's All-Star blistering work offensively. The Wolves can't quite get themselves into that 8th spot, but don't be surprised if they somehow sneak their way into the postseason. 

GRADE: B-

Utah Jazz (15-16)

The popular analogy with teams like this is a rollercoaster but I like to think of the Jazz more as a boat that keeps tipping with the tide and the wind. Everyone rushes to one side of the boat, vomits, then gets thrown to the other side. Are they a good team? They can be, from time to time. Are they a terrible team? They can be, from time to time. There's no figuring out the Jazz. They're a young, inconsistent team, and those kinds of teams usually tail off as the season goes on. 

GRADE: D+

Pacific Division

Paul has the Clippers out to a faster start than the Lakers, barely. (Getty Images)
by Royce Young

Los Angeles Clippers (19-11)


Blake Griffin changed the game for the Clippers. It started last season with the crazy dunks and high-flying highlights, but quietly, the Clippers had a solid second half. Then they got Chris Paul before this season and boom, they're a top team in the West. How have they handled that hype and expectation? Pretty darn well, I'd say. And they've even endured a major injury to a key player. I don't know if the Clips are set up to really challenge in the Western Conference playoffs, but the point is, they will absolutely be there and probably sitting as a top four seed. Think about that.

GRADE: A

Los Angeles Lakers (19-13)

There was a pretty unsettling tone set about this Laker season before it even started. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were traded, and then untraded by David Stern. Then Odom was traded for basically nothing. And Kobe hurt his wrist. The front office might be in shambles, players might be unhappy with Mike Brown and there's a lot of uncertainty around the roster only except for No. 24. They're still in the thick of things, but it's hard to see this team moving forward until whatever is looming around the roster, finally happens. 

GRADE: C+

Phoenix Suns (14-19)

There's a catch 22 with the Suns. Steve Nash continues to defy common sense by playing some of his basketball at age 38. But what that's done is make the Suns competitive, meaning they will likely miss out on a top five pick and Nash will remain as part of the roster instead of the front office blowing it up. The Suns are stuck in a state of mediocrity. Maybe they're fine with that, but this team is just two years removed from the Western Conference Finals, but that seems so, so far away.

GRADE: C-

Golden State Warriors (12-17)

For a brief second, it really seemed like the Warriors were ready to turn a corner. They had won three straight heading into a showdown with the West's best, the Thunder. And then OKC completely humbled them in a three-quarter blowout. Mark Jackson wanted to install defense and while they're a bit better, they aren't winning more. 

GRADE: D+

Sacramento Kings (10-22)

I bought into a little preseason hype around the Kings. The talent seemed to be in place for them to finally make a step forward. There have been some flashes like a national TV win over Oklahoma City, but for the most part, it's just another Sacramento season. Paul Westphal got fired, DeMarcus Cousins had an issue again and Jimmer Fredette hasn't produced much buzz or points so far. And their arena situation and future in the city is still way up in the air. 

GRADE: D

Posted on: February 22, 2012 1:20 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 7:04 pm
 

Rajon Rondo named East All-Star replacement

Rajon Rondo is headed to Orlando. (Getty Images)
Posted by Ben Golliver

Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has been named as an injury replacement for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, according to the Boston Globe and Celtics Radio. The NBA confirmed the selection on Wednesday afternoon. 

Rondo will replace Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson, who was diagnosed with tendinitis in his left knee and is sitting out two games this week, in this Sunday's All-Star Game at Amway Center in Orlando.

He will join an Eastern Conference roster that includes starters Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, plus reserves Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala.

Johnson is the game's first and only injury scratch so far.

Rondo, 26, is averaging 14.8 points, 9.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 37.0 minutes per game. He's played in just 22 games this season though, which is what led to his snubbing in the first place. This will be Rondo's third consecutive All-Star appearance.

Earlier this week, Rondo was suspended two games for throwing a basketball at an official, which earned him an ejection.

According to the Associated Press, Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked: "When you get named to the All-star, you should take one game of suspension away."
Posted on: February 21, 2012 9:24 pm
 

NBA Power Rankings: Breakdown, Takedown Vol. 10

Posted by Royce Young and Ben Golliver

Even with all the hype, Jeremy Lin and the Knicks aren't getting their due. (Getty Images)

The 2011-2012 NBA season continues. Here's the tenth weekly installment of CBSSports.com's NBA Power Rankings by Eye On Basketball's Matt Moore.

What did he get right? What did he get wrong? We're here to break it down and take it down.

1. Too High: Houston Rockets at No. 9. I want to get excited about the Rockets too. They're an intriguing bunch of over-achievers with almost-stars in Kevin Martin and Luis Scola. But no way are they top 10 material quite yet. They are good at home but haven't been able to prove themselves much on the road. A 6-10 mark away from the Toyota Center has to improve if this group is to make a good case to be mentioned among the Western elite. -- RY

2. Too Low: New York Knicks at No. 15. Gauging the Knicks is all about how you want to look at the sample. They're 1-2 in their last three and they're 16-17 on the season, but they're also 9-4 in their last thirteen. All indications are that this is an above-average team that's put its early-season woes behind it. Working Carmelo Anthony back in after injury and adding J.R. Smith to the formula won't be a completely straightforward process, but this is a team that should be at least two spots higher. -- BG

3. Most Overrated: Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 14. We seem to go through this every week, but there's no chance that Minnesota should be this high, given that they're below .500, ranked above the Portland Trail Blazers, currently a game up on them, and still reside in last place of the Northwest Division. This week, they're not all that drastically overrated but placing them above New York, Portland, Memphis and Boston was a big with the heart, not the mind. Or maybe a pick made with googley eyes at Ricky Rubio. Whatever the reason, overrated. -- BG

4. Most Overlooked: Golden State Warriors at No. 23. Among the bottom ten teams in the league, Golden State seems the least awful. They're 5-5 in February, which counts as positive momentum after a slow start. Written off by many as early as mid-January, the Warriors are just four games out of the No. 8 playoff seed in the ultra-packed Western Conference, and even though they're 12th in the West, their No. 7 ranked offense provides enough reason to believe that they will land closer to the playoff fringes than the basement. -- BG

5. Sure Thing: San Antonio at No. 4. After back-to-back weeks of having the Spurs too low, it looks like they're finally in the right spot. Not quite as good as the Thunder, who own the West currently and certainly not among the Heat and Bulls. But absolutely a top five team with a look in them to make a strong push for the West's top spot before it's all said and done. They briefly got back Manu Ginobili, only to lose him again for a few weeks. No bother. The Spurs will just keep on. -- RY

6. Wild Card: Denver Nuggets at No. 11. At one point, it was nearly universally agreed upon that this team was legit contender material and a threat to the Thunder in the West. Then everyone started getting hurt and they started losing games by the bunches. What would've been a defining win against OKC Sunday was snuffed out by Kevin Durant. The Nuggets have shown they're almost good enough, but not quite there. If Danilo Gallinari can lift his game to another level when he returns, this could be a group to make a big Western push. -- RY
Posted on: February 21, 2012 3:44 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 3:55 pm
 

Reports: Blazers bench Raymond Felton

Raymon Felton is being benched in Portland. (Getty Images)
Posted by Ben Golliver 

The writing has been on the wall, and now the move has finally been made. 

The Oregonian reported on Tuesday that Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan has elected to bench point guard Raymond Felton and will replace him in the starting lineup with Jamal Crawford.

CSNNW.com confirmed the report, and caught Felton's less than enthusiastic response to his demotion.
“He (Nate McMillan) called me this morning and told me we got to have consistency from that position and that a 7-point quarter was unacceptable,” Felton told CSNNW.com. “I'm not just going to blame myself for that first quarter. We're a team. We win together, we lose together.”
Felton's starting job has been in question for some time. As noted last week, he has struggled both on and off the court. He's averaging a career-low 10.0 points per game, he's shooting a career-low 37.1 percent from the field, he's shooting a career-low 22.9 percent from beyond the arc, he's averaging 6.3 assists (the fewest since his rookie season) and, according to HoopData.com, his turnover rate is at a career-worst level.

Meanwhile, the Blazers are 5-7 in February and scored just seven points in the first quarter of a Monday night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. This after a Thursday night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in which Felton shot shot 0-for-7 and committed five turnovers, playing just 24 minutes as coach Nate McMillan opted to sit him during the final stretches of the game.

Following that game, Felton said he didn't feel that McMillan trusted him.  

Those comments, coupled with Tuesday's insinuation that he is being blamed for Portland's poor performance against the Lakers, are not going to play well for McMillan, who told reporters on Saturday that the disagreement between Felton and himself had been resolved. Portland's brass also won't take too wel to the public nature of the comments, as the organization has long advocated an in-house solution to resolving any grievances.

The biggest issue here is that Felton still doesn't seem to have come to terms with the reality of his poor play. He's been one of, if not the least, effective players in the NBA playing 30+ minutes per night. His player efficiency rating is currently that of an average back-up point guard, not a surefire starter. His minutes and role had to be reduced. There's simply no way around it until he demonstrates he can return to being a far more effective player.

Crawford, a score-first two guard by nature, is not a likely panacea, although he has run Portland's offense somewhat effectively this season and is capable of running a nice two-man with forward LaMarcus Aldridge. He's certainly not a long-term solution for a team with aspirations of playoff success.
 
It sounds like a broken record, but the All-Star break can't come soon enough for Felton and the Blazers. You can probably say the same thing about the upcoming trade season.
Posted on: February 21, 2012 2:10 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:32 pm
 

Joe Johnson to miss All-Star Game with tendinitis

Joe Johnson will undergo an MRI on his knee. (Getty Images)
Posted by Ben Golliver 

UPDATE: Johnson's MRI revealed left knee tendinitis and he will miss Atlanta's next two games and will also sit out the All-Star Game.

---

It looks like Joe Johnson's All-Star break will be a little bit longer than expected.

The Atlanta Hawks announced that Johnson will miss his team's remaining games this week to return to Atlanta to undergo an MRI on his left knee. Johnson left a Monday loss to the Chicago Bulls in the third quarter after injuring the knee.

Johnson, selected to his sixth straight All-Star Game this year, will not play as the Hawks travel to New York to play the Knicks on Wednesday and then a home game against the Orlando Magic on Thursday.

His status for Sunday's All-Star Game in Orlando is currently unknown. Most players in this situation would play it "better safe than sorry." He is Atlanta's only All-Star representative.

Johnson, 30, is averaging 17.6 points, 3.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 35.8 minutes per game this season. He had appeared in every game for the Hawks this season. 

The Hawks are currently sitting in third place in the Southeast Division and sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 19-13.

Johnson signed a 6-year, $123 million contract with the Hawks in July 2010, a deal that runs through the 2015-2016 season.
Posted on: February 21, 2012 1:51 am
Edited on: February 21, 2012 1:42 pm
 

The Greg Oden Era: Disappointment, but no regrets

Posted by Ben Golliver 

After a third microfracture surgery, Blazers center Greg Oden faces a future that is as uncertain as ever. (Getty Images)

PORTLAND, Ore. – There’s plenty of sadness and disappointment, but no self-pity, and, still, absolutely no admissions of regret.

Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden went into an operating room in Vail, CO., on Monday, hoping that his left knee, which had been operated on twice previously in the past 26 months, would need only an arthroscopic procedure to clean up some loose debris

Instead, he emerged from the anesthesia to significantly worse news: the surgeons had decided that the articular damage in Oden’s left knee was so significant that it required the dreaded microfracture procedure. Instead of the medical version of a speed bump, he was now looking at a totaled car. Instead of being able to hold out hope, however slight, for a longshot return to the court this season, his 2011-2012 season was officially over.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, the man who will forever be remembered as the player who went before Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant, was back in a familiar place: at the very beginning of a long, arduous rehabilitation process. Oden woke up to the reality of a 12-month recovery timeline from microfracture surgery, a grueling rehabilitation that he had endured twice before, once after a 2007 surgery on his right knee and once after a Nov. 2010 surgery on this same left knee.

This time, though, he has no idea if he will be employed come July 2012, when his one-year contract runs out and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. For the first time since the Blazers selected him in 2007, Oden even faces the prospect of being released outright by a team that has remained endlessly loyal as he’s missed the equivalent of four of his first five seasons in the league. With three microfracture surgeries, a fractured left patella and a February arthroscopic procedure on his right knee now in his past, the chances that he is ever able to step foot on an NBA court have never been smaller.

Despite the five knee surgeries, Oden has banked more than $23 million despite playing just 82 total regular season games and he has outlasted the GM who drafted him, Kevin Pritchard, and the GM who followed Pritchard, Rich Cho. The Blazers have not appointed a full-time replacement for Cho, who was fired last May, but Chad Buchanan, the team’s Director of College Scouting, has been named Acting GM for this season.

Buchanan, then in his mid-30s, was present in the 2007 war room, when the 7-foot center out of Ohio State had just finished leading the Buckeyes to the NCAA title game and promised to help a team that had fortuitously jumped up the lottery ladder to earn the right to choose between him and Durant.

Buchanan, speaking at the team’s practice facility on Monday afternoon, told CBSSports.com that he remembered the phone call declaring the team’s intention to select Oden was being placed to NBA commissioner David Stern, thinking that the team’s braintrust was in the process of acquiring a title-delivering talent.

“I was very excited,” he said. “A chance to draft a player who could potentially get your franchise to your ultimate goal. Looking back on it, we were all excited. We had visions of Greg being a great player for us for years to come.”

As Oden has been sidelined, Durant’s star has soared faster and higher than even his biggest pre-draft proponents expected. Rookie of the Year, 3-time All-Star, 2-time scoring champion, MVP candidate, plus a trip to the 2011 Western Conference Finals and the promise of future postseason success.

But just like his predecessors and Blazers president Larry Miller before him, Buchanan said that he still stands by the team’s selection of Oden over Durant.

“Looking back on it, I would still draft Greg,” he said. “Hindsight, it’s easy to make an assumption [now]… You can’t predict the injuries that would come. Going back on it, I wouldn’t have changed anything in drafting Greg.”

Asked if the decision was unanimous among those in the room, Buchanan politely declined to reply.  

At the time, there wasn't much of a debate across the city: a vast majority supported selecting Oden. “Even Caveman Knows: Pick Oden,” read the headline of one letter to the editor that was published in the June 17, 2007, edition of The Oregonian. “Oden Possesses Championship Aura,” read another.

Blazers fans these days are an emotionally exhausted house divided. Many understand the logic and thought process that went into the pick. But many others responded to Buchanan’s “I would still draft Greg” quote on Monday night by calling for his job. Some can’t get past the Greg Oden and Sam Bowie comparisons. And others, even in notoriously polite Portland, have gone as far as to boo Oden when he is shown on the jumbotron at the Rose Garden.

“I know Greg as a person,” Buchanan said. “To hear people [boo him], it hurts a little bit. It hurts more for Greg… Greg is frustrated but this is stuff that is out of his control. It’s unfortunate that it’s happened but it has happened. No one wants to be out there playing more than Greg does.”

That desire to play has been consistent over the years, but it hasn’t been enough. The body simply hasn’t been able to withstand the rehabilitations. Somewhat amazingly, Oden is currently recovering from two knee surgeries and also was dealing with blood clots in his left ankle that, Buchanan said, delayed Monday’s surgery and could have ended Oden’s 2011-2012 season even if the microfracture surgery hadn’t been deemed necessary.

It’s been that way, one thing after another, for most of Oden’s nearly five years in Portland. For now, the Blazers say no further surgeries or procedures are expected prior to Oden becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer.

“Nothing planned,” Buchanan said, before catching himself and deciding it might be better to not shut that particular door. “Barring something coming up again.”

Oden’s introduction to the city of Portland was pure hysteria. Thousands of fans packed a downtown square, cheering so loudly and for so long that Oden felt compelled to bow to them. He was on national magazine covers, on billboards around the city, at annual awards shows and in major ad campaigns.

Months later, his rookie season would be lost to a microfracture sugery on his right knee. Diligent updates on his status were provided on a blog on the team’s website, and he made a full recovery, playing in 61 games the following year, 2008-2009, and 21 games in 2009-2010.

He was never the same player, exactly, but he showed flashes. Despite playing limited minutes, Oden averaged nearly a double-double in his third season, at age 22, and was among the league’s leaders in player efficiency, thanks to his 60.5 percent shooting and offensive rebounding ability. He averaged more than two blocks a game during that season, hinting at the franchise-changing talent that Buchanan and company had expected.

Then, on Dec. 5, 2009, Oden leapt to contest a shot during a home game against the Houston Rockets, only to have his left leg give way beneath him. Observers compared it to an explosion or an implosion, and Oden collapsed to the floor immediately in agony, as teammates, competitors and fans turned away from the scene and medical staff ran at a full sprint to his attention. After the game, an emotional Pritchard delivered the news while holding back tears: Oden would be lost for the rest of the season.

807 days later, Oden hasn’t played in an NBA game since.

Nearly a year into Oden’s rehabilitation from the fractured patella suffered on the play, the Blazers announced that he had experienced some discomfort after working out before a game against the Lakers in Los Angeles. At a solemn press conference with the city’s entire media corps present, Blazers trainer Jay Jensen described the Nov. 2010 day that an MRI revealed the need a microfracture surgery on Oden’s left knee.

"Dr. Roberts pulled up the picture of Greg's knee on the screen and Greg didn't know what he was looking at,” Jensen said. “But Dr. Roberts did and I knew what to look for too, and there was the defect in his articular surface of his left knee. We sat there and it was like we got kicked in the stomach. We all felt like we had just been told that somebody close to us had died. It felt that way. We didn't know what to say. We were shocked."

That surgery ended Oden’s 2010-2011 season before it started. Despite the lockout, Oden was not ready to participate in Portland’s 2011 training camp, and the team announced in December that he had suffered a “setback” that made a return to the court during the 2011-2012 “less likely.”

When doctors went in to operate on Oden’s left knee on Monday, they discovered two similar defects, according to Buchanan. They then made the decision to go ahead with a second microfracture surgery, an option that Oden had been aware was a possibility before he was put under with anesthesia.

“He's obviously disappointed,” Buchanan said of Oden. “But he's been through it before... His other microfracture procedures have healed fine and hopefully he can do it again.”

The doctors have not yet officially deemed this a career-ending surgery and Buchanan reminded reporters that Oden, who just turned 24 in January, is “still very young” for a basketball player. But, asked two separate times if, in a best case scenario, Oden could receive medical clearance to play basketball at some point in the future, Buchanan hesitated and eventually refused to answer affirmatively.

“[That’s] anybody’s guess,” Buchanan said at first.

“I couldn’t give you that answer today,” he added later. ”I would have to have a further in-depth conversation with the doctors.”

Asked if Oden still had the desire to return to the basketball court, Buchanan said: “That’s tough for me to say. Greg has shown a lot of perseverance to get where he’s at now. This is obviously another big hurdle for him.”

Oden’s future playing basketball isn’t the only thing in question.

Since the team’s Media Day in 2010, Oden has not faced questions from the local media and, unlike during his rookie season, there have been very minimal health updates. Oden has now undergone three surgeries, two of them season-ending, without taking questions. With just months remaining on Oden’s contract with the team, and with the very real possibility that Oden is released to create a roster spot or potentially traded before the end of the season, there are no indications Oden plans to break his silence any time soon.

“I understand people want to hear from him but he's in a tough spot having to go through what he's gone through,” Buchanan said. “He's an outgoing person but he's also a very private person, that's how he's chosen to deal with this.”

So what’s he been up to for the last two years? It’s not entirely clear, but Buchanan did shed some new light on Oden’s rehabilitation process.

“He's gone through various drills at practice, nothing live,” Buchanan said. “He's gone a little bit of changing ends of the floor, a little of light jumping, a lot of shooting. He's had some ups and downs from when he first came back from the lockout. He's had good days and bad days.”

Good days and bad days, sure, but was he ever actually close to getting back on the court?

“It's tough to say how close he was to coming back,” Buchanan acknowledged. “He still had some progress to make.”

Oden’s most recent rehabilitation, from the Nov. 2010 microfracture, was even more complicated than the previous rehabilitation following the patella fracture.

“On this one he had a little more swelling that he was dealing with [once he] increased activity,” Buchanan said. “Before, he had more pain. It was a little different circumstance for him [this time].”

The swelling was ultimately what led to the decision for doctors to decide to proceed with plans for the arthroscopic procedures on both knees.

“There were days when you watched him out here and it was encouraging and there were other days where you could tell that it was bothering him,” Buchanan said. “That's part of coming back from that procedure and when you've come back from a couple of those you're going to experience more of those ups and downs that he was experiencing this year.”

Only with Oden can the casual phrase “a couple of those” refer to microfracture surgeries. But that’s his incredibly sad reality.

Instead of competing for a title, the Blazers have yet to advance out of the first round of the playoffs during Oden’s tenure, and they currently sit outside the Western Conference playoff picture, looking up at Durant’s Thunder, co-owners of the league’s best record. Less than 24 hours before Oden’s most recent surgery, Durant scored a career-high 51 points; hours after the microfracture announcement, the Blazers were creamed by the Los Angeles Lakers, managing to score just 7 points in the first quarter.

This year’s loss of All-Star guard Brandon Roy, also to repeated knee surgeries, has a huge hand in the franchise’s swinging fortunes, but so too does the invisible and often forgotten Oden, given how much, emotionally, financially and strategically, the Blazers invested in him.

Despite nearly five years of dealing with a decision that changed the court of the franchise, Buchanan stressed that, now more than ever, the story is about Oden and not his franchise.

“Nobody in this league is feeling sorry for us and we're not going to feel sorry for our situation,” Buchanan said.

The game will go on immediately for the Blazers; another chapter in an endless rehabilitation, or retirement, are Oden’s only options now.

“[Basketball] is what Greg loves to do," Buchanan said finally, before leaving the practice facility to find rain coming down by the bucketful. "To have that taken away from him has been very difficult for him… At the end of the day, Greg is a human being who has been through a lot. You have to have some compassion for him.”

Posted on: February 20, 2012 7:16 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 8:55 am
 

Oden gets microfracture surgery, out for season

Greg Oden underwent a second microfracture surgery on his left knee. (Getty Images)
Posted by Ben Golliver 

It's been just under five years since the Portland Trail Blazer made center Greg Oden the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. On Monday, Oden underwent his fifth knee surgery during those five years, and it was worse than expected.

On Monday morning, the Blazers announced that Oden would undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee in Vail, Colo. Instead, Oden underwent a second microfracture surgery on his left knee and his 2011-2012 season is officially over. He had previously been listed as "out indefinitely."

The procedure was performed by renowned surgeon Richard Steadman, who has operated on numerous professional athletes.
"Initially, Greg was undergoing a procedure similar to the one he had a couple of weeks ago to have debris cleared from his right knee," said Acting General Manager Chad Buchanan . "However, once the doctors were inside Greg's left knee, they unfortunately found articular surface damage and determined microfracture was necessary."

Oden, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, was selected by the Trail Blazers with the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. In 82 career games (60 starts), Oden has averaged 9.4 points (57.7% FG), 7.3 rebounds and 1.43 blocks in 22.1 minutes per game.

"This is not the news we were hoping for Greg or the organization," said Trail Blazers President Larry Miller. "It's hard to put into words the heartbreak for everyone involved, but especially for Greg. He's a young man who has experienced a great number of physical challenges in his playing career and today is yet another significant setback for him. We have a lot of empathy for Greg and his family during this difficult time."
A microfracture surgery typically has a one-year rehabilitation timeline.

This procedure marks the third time Oden has had surgery his left knee. He had left knee surgery in Dec. 2009 after fracturing his patella and he had microfracture surgery in Nov. 2010 to address an injury suffered during his rehabilitation process. 

Prior to undergoing the arthroscopic procedure on his right knee earlier this month, Oden had microfracture surgery on that knee in Sept. 2007.

Oden, 24, has played in 82 career NBA games, averaging 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.


Posted on: February 20, 2012 5:32 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2012 5:36 pm
 

Spurs' Manu Ginobili (oblique strain) out 2 weeks

Manu Ginobili is back on the shelf. (Getty Images)
Posted by Ben Golliver  

The San Antonio Spurs will have to make due without guard Manu Ginobili once again.

The Spurs announced on Monday that Ginobili is expected to miss "approximately two weeks" after straining his left oblique muscle during a Saturday night win over the Los Angeles Clippers

The Spurs also announced that center Tiago Splitter will miss "approximately two weeks" with a right calf strain. That injury occurred during the win over the Clippers as well.

Ginobili will remain in San Antonio for the remainder of the Spurs' current road trip, which runs until the All-Star break. A two-week absence would only keep him out of six games: road games this week against the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets, plus home games the week after the All-Star break against the Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Bobcats and Denver Nuggets.  

Earlier this season, Ginobili missed roughly five weeks after undergoing surgery to repain a broken bone in his left hand. He returned from that injury on Feb. 11 and played in four games, coming off of San Antonio's bench in each, before going down against the Clippers.

The Spurs have been undaunted in Ginobili's absence this season. San Antonio is currently on a 10-game winning streak and boasts a 22-9 record, good for tops in the Southwest Division and No. 2 overall in the Western Conference. They are 15-7 without Ginobili in the lineup.

Ginobili, 34, is averaging 12.1 pooints, 3.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 21.8 minutes per game in 9 appearances this season. He was named to the 2011 All-Star team and All-NBA third team last season.
 
 
 
 
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