The sad, miserable news Wednesday night about Greg Oden quickly gave way to considering the kind of decisions that happen every day in the NBA -- but rarely regarding a No. 1 overall pick.
It's too soon, and the impact of the news too fresh to consider it, but we must: Is Oden's NBA career over? Before they know the answer to that, the Portland Trail Blazers will have to ask themselves a more difficult question: Knowing what they know about Oden, is he worth committing $8.8 million to next season?
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NBA executives responding to text messages about the decision Portland will have to make on Oden had mixed feelings. But there is a palpable belief out there that there's no guarantee the Trail Blazers will extend Oden a qualifying offer by the June 30 deadline -- which they must do to retain his rights as a restricted free agent.
"No way," one executive told CBSSports.com. "Tough situation."
Another exec, conceding that Oden's qualifying offer is an "enormous number," said, "I think there's a chance that they won't."
Paul Allen's Blazers have always been known as the team with the bottomless bank account. Oden, 22, requiring a second microfracture surgery with only 82 games on his résumé after this, his fourth season, may have found the bottom.
Given that Oden was still slowly recovering from a fractured patella in his left knee, the Blazers wisely elected not to extend his contract by the Nov. 1 deadline. He wasn't alone; with so much uncertainty looming with regard to collective bargaining, only five 2007 draft picks received extensions.
|This has become the familiar sight of Oden. He has only played in 82 games since going No. 1 in the '07 draft. (Getty Images)|
The next decision will be an excruciating one for the Blazers. Between now and June 30, they of course will be rooting hard for Oden to recover from this enormous setback. Their medical and training staffs will do everything in their power to give him a chance. But the chances are slim; there's no denying it.
By most accounts, Amar'e Stoudemire is the only big man who has fully regained his dominant powers after undergoing microfracture surgery, which helps the knee regenerate cartilage. Kenyon Martin is the only prominent NBA player to undergo the procedures on both knees. Oden now joins him.
His chances of coming back from this depend on many things, including Oden's ability to heal -- which has been far from overwhelming thus far. Another factor is where the damage in the left knee is located. The Blazers announced the area being repaired is the femur. Whether it's a weight-bearing part of the joint will go a long way toward determining his future. Stoudemire's surgery was performed on the outside of the knee, which partially explains how thoroughly he overcame it.
Knowing all of that, yet not knowing if he'll ever be able to play again, the Blazers will have to project the future. And they will have to do it at a time when Oden probably will be roughly halfway through his recovery from this procedure, and against the chaotic backdrop of what many executives believe will be a lockout when the clock strikes midnight on July 1, 2011. If Portland decides not to extend him the qualifying offer, Oden would become an unrestricted free agent. Whenever the lockout ends, it's difficult to imagine him receiving a single offer.
The Blazers already have another substantial headache, with news last week that superstar Brandon Roy's knees are so bad that he can't even have knee surgery. At 26, Roy has no meniscus in either knee. New GM Rich Cho and assistant GM Steve Rosenberry -- neither of whom was responsible for selecting Oden over Kevin Durant -- will have to decide whether to compound the mistake by committing more money to Oden going forward, or move on.
Life isn't fair and basketball is worse. So not a soul would question them, or hold it against them, if they chose Option B.