Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Turn


Even two full days after the fact, the news of Greg Oden's premature 2007-08 demise is nothing short of shocking. On Tuesday of last week I threw up a post ruminating on the news that Oden was having "exploratory" knee surgery, wondering aloud if maybe all wasn't right as rain in Portland (where it rains frequently). I was merely thinking that Oden might be gimpier than anticipated, a guy who tends towards 30 productive minutes a night, 70 games a year. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see the news, Thursday afternoon, that Greg Oden wouldn't play at all this year and that the Blazers would move from a potentially franchise-altering triumph to a potentially franchise-crippling nightmare before even witnessing Oden's first outlet pass to Brandon Roy. Make no mistake: for anyone who loves basketball, this is crushing. Oden wasn't just a potential League-changer, he also seemed like a down-to-earth and genuinely likable guy, something professional sports in general can always, always use. Free Darko chose to take the glass-half-full approach, predicting that Oden will make a full recovery and return in 2008-09 to a more mature supporting cast that might even be one more high draft pick deeper. Simmons, on the other hand, quietly invoked Sam Bowie, even while torturedly apologizing for doing so. I personally don't know what to believe; it's certainly a hell of a thing to come back from. Amare and J-Kidd have pulled it off, but then there are guys like Kenyon Martin who've never been the same. The one thing that's for sure is that it's going to be a long while before we see Greg Oden on an NBA court, and that's just a shame.

Now, that that's out of the way, let's address another topic that's been understandably buried amidst the Oden hand-wringing: namely, the unbelievably, almost otherworldly reversal in the fortunes of the Boston Celtics. As none of us needs to be reminded, in the twenty years since the Len Bias draft the Celtics have been plagued by bad luck and bad decisions (both of which feed into each other until it becomes a chicken-or-the-egg situation). May 22 of this year, when the ping pong balls dealt the C's the fifth pick, felt like just the latest excruciating blow to a franchise that seemed to deserve better. Now--and I cannot believe I'm writing this considering where things were just three months ago--the Celtics stand as the undisputed immediate winners of the 2007 NBA Draft. I know, I know, Seattle got Durant, but the Sonics aren't going to the playoffs next year, and possibly not even the year after that. Durant might put up 24 and 8 but he'll do it for a team that will probably win 35 games; there's too many question marks at the moment in Seattle, although they're headed in the right direction. The Celtics, on the other hand, turned an apparently crushing misfortune into one of the greatest offseasons in recent sports memory, managing to transform themselves from a disgraceful tank job into a semi-legitimate title contender within the span of a few months. They've gone from the worst team in the Eastern Conference to quite possibly the best, and all of this is entirely due to what came out of that envelope one Tuesday back in May.

Now let's allow ourselves to think, for a moment, of what happens if the Celtics win the 2007 Lottery and draft Greg Oden (and let's face it, there's no way they were ever planning on doing anything else). For three and a half months the city of Boston is abuzz: billboards pop up, jerseys fly off the shelves, Oden throws out the first pitch at Fenway to a standing ovation, etc., etc. Let's go even further and suggest that Paul Pierce, seeing that the C's truly are going in a new direction, quietly steps up his trade demand, and management acquiesces, dealing him to a contender for a couple of youngsters and a choice draft pick or two. Boston barely notices, content to move forward with a front line of Oden and Big Al that will be unmatched in the NBA for years to come. Then, on September 13, the team announces that Greg Oden will miss the entire 2007-08 season, and on top of that, might never again be the same player who hung 25 and 12 on Florida and damn near singlehandedly won a National Championship for his otherwise woefully overmatched team. That Greg Oden, all of a sudden, is not walking through that door, folks, at least not for another year or few. All of a sudden the 2007-08 Celtics are the 2006-07 Celtics, only somehow even worse.

And... scene. Take a breath. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce are still in Boston, and for the first time in twenty years the Celtics are the luckiest team in the NBA. What a world.

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