Twenty three years ago last spring, the Portland Trailblazers passed up a shooting guard because they already had Clyde Drexler. Instead they went with an oft-injured center named Sam Bowie. Today Bill Simmons and Seattle fans are celebrating (and very likely prematurely) Oden's demise. Even the Yahoo! Sports is sounding the Sam Bowie alarm. But, don't count Oden out quite yet.
The surgery is going to have one immediate effect on the Trailblazers — they're going to be worse this year than last. And probably a lot worse. Their roster has more young players than ever (always a bad sign for a team hoping to win), and they dealt away their one solid vet Zach Randolph to clear up space under the basket for Oden. Unfortunately, they don't have any other on-the-blocks players at the 4/5, just a collection of perimeter players that are complementary to the player they intended to be their cornerstone. So, whatever the over/under is on Portland's final win total, bet the under. In that conference only the Minnesota Celtics — errr, Timberwolves — stand between Portland and the bottom of the conference. The bright side is that they'll have another top 5 pick to either add someone like Michael Beasley or Jarryd Bayless to their roster. Or, if they're smart, use the pick in trade for a vet small forward to round out their roster (someone like Tayshaun Prince or Shawn Marion) and whatever else they can get.
For Oden this surgery has a few positives. For one, he's still young, and should make a full recovery. According to the official statement, the damage was slight, and the surgery will prevent bigger problems down the line (think Kenyon Martin or Darius Miles, who had the surgery long after their knees were already damaged). "He was found to have articular cartilage damage in his right knee," team physician Dr. Don Roberts said after performing the surgery. "The area of injury was not large and we were able to treat it with micro fracture, which stimulates the growth of cartilage."
For those of you unfamiliar with what microfracture surgery is, or desiring a fuller explanation than that provided by the Trailblazers' doctor, think back to when Amare Stoudemire had a similar problem. As Stan McNeal detailed in the article, articular cartilage is harder, yet more delicate than the knee's meniscus, and when it's damaged — exposing the bones in the knee and causing pain — it cannot regenerate.
The microfracture surgery is designed to create scar tissue that replaces the damaged articular cartilage. This is done by drilling small holes in the bone closest to the damaged cartilage, this causes blood flow and scar tissue formation, hopefully curing the problem. In the case of Oden, where the damage was apparently small, the surgical procedure should work well.
The Trailblazers are absolutely doing the right thing in shutting him down for the year. Beyond the articular cartilage damage are another set of nagging injuries that haven't cleared up due to lack of proper care and rest (likely as a result of the forced year of college servitude, had he gone straight to the NBA he'd have been better off). With a year's recovery time for the knee and his assorted injuries, he should be the odds-on-favorite to win Rookie of the Year next season.
Stoudemire made a full recovery, but pressure to get back within a year led to an injury in his right knee (likely caused by favoring the injured left knee). Kenyon Martin suffered a more catastrophic problem as a result of his rush to return (requiring microfracture surgery on the other knee, as a result). Portland has experience with this sort of recovery, having already been through this with Zach Randolph (who has actually been more athletic since having the surgery).
Portland's sidelining Oden for the year is an illustration of their experience with the problem. All told this won't be Oden's rookie of the year campaign. And Portland's caution in dealing with him might mean that he won't win it next year, either. But people should end the Sam Bowie talk, because it's premature and unwarranted.