Photo Source: NBA.com
This is part one of a series titled “What Should Have Been,” documenting players and teams in NBA history who should have been great, but were held back by injuries.
In the 2006 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Brandon Roy with the sixth overall pick, and traded for the rights to the second overall pick, LaMarcus Aldridge. This set the stage for a potential dynasty to come. Led by coach Nate McMillan, the team saw an 11 game win improvement over the previous season, and this was a sign of a bright future. That summer, the Trail Blazers had the first overall pick and selected Greg Oden from the Ohio State University. Today, that pick is known as one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory, as superstar Kevin Durant was drafted right behind him. However, Oden not being able to contribute was not due to his skill level. Injuries derailed his career before it even started. The following season, Roy averaged 19 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds en route to his first All-Star appearance. Aldridge averaged nearly 18 points and 8 boards, also putting together a very good season, and the team went 41-41. Oden had microfracture surgery on his knee before the season and missed the entire year. In 2008-09, Roy earned another All-Star selection, boosting his points per game average by four. Aldridge had another great season, averaging 18 points and 7 and a half rebounds. Oden, in what was technically his rookie season, injured his foot in the first game of the season, and missed two weeks. Later in the season, Oden chipped his kneecap and missed three more weeks. He played 61 games that season and averaged nearly nine points and seven rebounds. The team won 54 games and made the playoffs as the fourth seed in the West, but lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round. Portland lost 4 more games the next season, but they were still good enough to have the sixth seed in the West. Roy averaged 21.5 points en route to yet another All-Star game appearance. Aldridge scored nearly 18 points and grabbed 8 rebounds per game. Oden fractured his patella and only played 21 games that season, another year cut short due to injuries. The Trail Blazers ended up losing to Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. Early in the 2010-11 season, Roy’s knees began to have an effect on his play. He lacked cartilage between the bones in both his knees. That season, he only played 47 games. This allowed LaMarcus Aldridge to have a slightly bigger role in the offense, and he averaged career highs in points and rebounds. Roy had come off the bench for about half the games he played that season. Oden did not play that season due to injuries and multiple setbacks. The team once again lost in the first round. That summer, Brandon Roy retired, and Greg Oden was cut the season after that.
Let’s take a step back. What if Brandon Roy had healthy knees and Greg Oden wasn’t the most injury-prone player anyone can remember? It’s hard to imagine if the 2009 Trail Blazers who won 54 games had a healthy Greg Oden, who was the most dominant player in college basketball just two years before. There was a reason he was selected first overall score Kevin Durant. Who knows what this team could have achieved? They more than likely would have passed the first round of the playoffs. A squad with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden at the top of their games would have been deadly. But what if we add another player into the equation, like, say, Damian Lillard? The sixth pick in the 2012 NBA draft was selected by the Trail Blazers with the Brooklyn Nets selection due to a previous trade. Lillard has since broken through as an elite point guard for Portland. A lineup with Lillard, Roy, Aldridge, and Oden as four of the five starters, all healthy and living up to their potential, is just scary to think about. Lillard, Roy, and Aldridge have been all-star level players consistently, and Oden could have possibly been at that level as well. Yeah, Oden’s potential has been mentioned plenty of times during this article, but for good reason. Before the draft, some believed he could be the next great center in NBA history, that he could be up there with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O’Neal. At the time, there was no question who the Trail Blazers should have taken with that number one pick: Greg Oden.
Unfortunately, the only thing we can do is wonder what if. We can’t go back in time and change Brandon Roy knees, and we can’t change Greg Oden’s ability to not get injured. How good do you think this team could have been? Could they have won a championship? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.