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Will Oden be another Blazers bust?

I hope the questions about Greg Oden's durability are wrong.

I hope the Buffalo-born big man will eventually live up to the high expectations that accompanied him to the NBA.

But he has to stay healthy long enough to do that.

A bone chip in his left knee sidelined Oden the last three games and kept him out of the annual All-Star contest between the rookies and second-year players last weekend.

It is the latest in a long string of injuries for Oden. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft sat out last season after microfracture surgery on his right knee. He missed six games at the start of this season with a foot injury. Add that to a preseason wrist injury that robbed him of several games during his one and only year at Ohio State and what you have is a disturbing trend.

"It sucks. . . . I want to be out there, but what can you do?" Oden told the Oregonian recently. "It could have happened to anybody out there."

Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, injuries always happen to centers they select early in the draft.

It began in 1972 when they used the top pick on center LaRue Martin, who became one of the biggest busts in NBA history. He never averaged more than seven points per game and retired after just four seasons.

Bill Walton at least brought an NBA title to Portland in 1976-77, but the Trail Blazers might have won a few more had chronic foot problems not sidelined him for most of his time there.

And of course, who can forget the infamous 1984 draft when the Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie with the second overall pick instead of some guy named Michael Jordan. While Jordan went on to become arguably the greatest player in history, the brittle-boned Bowie was out of the league in four years.

No doubt a lot of Portland fans are wondering if history has repeated itself with the Trail Blazers taking the 7-foot Oden instead of 6-10 guard Kevin Durant.

Durant won the NBA's Rookie of the Year award and is on the fast track to superstardom, averaging 26.2 points (fourth in the league), 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season. Oden, on the other hand, averages 9.0 points and 7.2 rebounds.

The decision to take Oden over Durant is looking more dubious every day, but the Trail Blazers probably would do the same thing if they had to do it all over again. So would I.

Quality big men are hard to find. You don't pass up a chance to get one who could impact your franchise for years.

Oden hasn't come close to being the dominant force the Trail Blazers hoped they were getting, but thinking he would be that kind of player so early in his career was not realistic.

Unlike Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal, two big guys who were top draft picks, Oden was far from a finished product entering the NBA because he spent only one year in college. His skills are still raw, but at age 21 the best is yet to come -- health permitting.

The good news for the Trail Blazers is they don't need Oden to carry the franchise right now. They have the fourth-best record (35-20) in the Western Conference and are only 1 1/2 games behind first-place Denver in the Northwest Division.

With emerging stars Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge as the centerpieces of one of the youngest teams in the NBA, Oden can be a complementary but still important asset until he's ready to assume a more prominent role.

There will come a time when Oden has to carry a heavier burden. When it does fall on his shoulders, hopefully he'll have two healthy legs to hold him up.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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