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Ball Don't Lie

Greg Oden’s career could have been saved with better medical attention, claims one former Portland consultant

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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The Blazers surround Greg Oden following his kneecap injury in December, 2009 (Getty Images)

Greg Oden, the former No. 1 overall pick that has played a total of 82 NBA games out of a possible 410 in five NBA seasons, was released by the Portland Trail Blazers in March. Oden's career has been hampered by a series of knee injuries, including two microfracture procedures; and even if Greg makes a remarkable recovery, even his 2012-13 season is in question at this point. Though the Blazers have been credited for their patience and hard work in rehabilitating Oden, one former team advisor recently came out of the woodwork to opine that the injuries Oden sustained following his initial 2007 knee surgery were avoidable, and though the Blazers medical staff did the best it could, a lack of commitment from the team's front office and ownership just about sealed Greg's fate.

Larry Wayne "Zig" Ziegler, who was hired by the Blazers to consult the team following Oden's first knee setback, blames Oden in part (because the dude's not a doctor, he's a center looking to just walk normally, again) but also the Blazers for not having a big enough medical staff to blanket Oden in every second of his various rehabilitations. Via Blazer's Edge, here's a snippet from a column Ziegler wrote on Greg's recovery:

Greg needed someone to watch over each rep and exercise carefully to make sure he was doing each exercise correctly until all of the muscles being targeted were able to contract on autopilot.  Surgery causes damage to nerves which take time to regenerate, affecting the way a person performs an exercise.   This is nearly impossible in a team setting and requires private one-on-one therapy with a therapist who understands how each segment of the body is supposed to move.

Ben Golliver, at Blazer's Edge, interviewed Ziegler in a must-read column needed to distill his thoughts. Here's a summation, in part, but please do go read the entire thing:

Further, Ziegler suggested that Blazers owner Paul Allen did not commit sufficient resources and staff to Oden during his recovery period and that the Blazers were -- like many professional organizations -- in a position where staff members feared being catalysts of change.

"I know Portland's medical staff is doing the best they can with the situation and cards that they are dealt," he said. "This is more about a change to the industry that is needed. A change in particular to professional sports. This is more about that than making them look bad. I know they did the best that they can and I know in many cases, when I've dealt with official athletic trainers, the last thing they want to do is be the guy who tried to implement a change and screw something up... Maybe that means the Jay Jensens of the world and other athletic trainers out there who are tasked with trying to keep multimillion dollar athletes on the court or on the field, maybe that means they need more help, maybe they need a bigger staff. Maybe they need more support from ownership and management. That's probably what it really comes down to."

Ziegler goes on to credit the Phoenix Suns training staff, lauded by many (including our own Eric Freeman, last week), and pointing out that the team "rocked the boat" by hiring employees groomed by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. And he takes great pains to also acknowledge the hard work of the Trail Blazers staff, pointing out to Golliver that their work isn't to be discredited.

It was a matter of manpower, Ziegler chides. The Blazers didn't have enough people on staff to make sure Oden wasn't overcompensating from leg to leg as he rehabilitated, and that's the fault of ownership. Is it possible that Ziegler is a bit miffed at not being kept on for a full-time job in Portland? That's up for some debate. You can't argue with the results, though. The unfortunate, depressing results.

This is a worrying trend in Portland. The team has nearly gone a full calendar year without a general manager on payroll. The group is rebuilding, we think, and there is some concern in the city that owner Paul Allen (make that "billionaire owner, Paul Allen") is looking to sell the team. It's too easy a shot to point out that the billionaire Microsoft co-founder's cheapness (in comparison to the notoriously skinflint owner of the Phoenix Suns, Robert Sarver) may have contributed to Oden's demise following his first knee operation in 2007; but to hear Ziegler tell it this is exactly what happened.

After taking your preferred brand of anti-depression medication, do take the time to read Ziegler's initial report, and Golliver's in-depth follow-up. It certainly isn't the cheeriest way to spend an afternoon, but it is worth questioning as we wonder just how much the Trail Blazers were at fault for the lost first half-decade of Greg Oden's career.

Assuming there is still a "career" to speak of.

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