Celtics notebook

Oden’s injury saga painful to hear about

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / November 19, 2010

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They were the top two picks in the 2007 NBA draft, and ever since their names were called, the careers of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant could not have gone more differently. But they will always be linked.

Durant, who will be at TD Garden tonight, is the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the hero of the United States’ World Championship team, and the youngest darling of the NBA.

Oden found out Wednesday that another season in his perpetually derailed career would come to an end because of injury. He needs a second microfracture surgery, this time on his left knee.

Hearing about Oden’s latest setback, Celtics coach Doc Rivers could only offer his sympathy.

“It’s not his fault,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t know if I’m surprised. I’m more disappointed it happened. It’s amazing.

“I heard all this talk today about he’s been a bust and all that. I mean, he got injured. What can you do?

“If he got injured because he was out of shape or if he got injured because he wasn’t doing the right things, then you would have a problem with it. But the way I look at it, it was just bad luck.

“The guy got injured and you feel bad for him. The Trail Blazers, they still have to play games. But this kid can’t do his craft, and to me that’s awful.’’

The story has been told and retold. The Celtics were supposed to have the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, and it was supposed to turn the franchise around, landing them Oden or Durant. At the time, Paul Pierce was considering leaving, and Kendrick Perkins worried that Oden’s arrival would mean his departure, too.

But the Celtics, despite having the second-worst record in the league, slipped to No. 5 in the lottery. They flipped the pick for Ray Allen, which helped lure Kevin Garnett, and the franchise’s 17th title soon followed. Had the Celtics landed the No. 1 pick, Rivers said, Oden would have been the choice.

“Even though everybody changes now, we were all for Oden, and I think 98 percent of the league,’’ Rivers said. “But now I hear it all over our staff, I hear it everywhere, ‘Oh, no, we were Durant guys.’ I don’t believe that. I think we would have drafted Oden.’’

There are now comparisons between Oden and Sam Bowie, the injury-riddled center taken by the Blazers with the second pick in the 1984 draft, ahead of Michael Jordan.

“When you’re the No. 1 pick, you’re either ‘this’ or you’re ‘that,’ ’’ said Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal, the top pick in the 1992 draft. “I’m sure he wanted to be on the ‘this’ side, with David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and all those guys. But because of his injuries, he’s on the ‘that’ side. Maybe one day he can come back and turn it around, but after having so many knee surgeries. I don’t see it happening.’’

Oden was a high school prodigy, and a college star for one season at Ohio State, but now he is a case of what could have been.

“I hope someday he plays,’’ Rivers said. “It doesn’t look good, obviously. And he’ll probably never be what we thought he would be. We don’t know what he would have been, and that’s too bad, as well. It really is.

“The problem is, if he had been healthy, we don’t know if we would have been better. No one knows that. I guarantee you he wouldn’t have been a scorer, but he may have been as dominant as a defender, rebounder, shot-blocker. I guarantee you a lot of teams will take that, too.

“So the argument to me is a closed case now because of his injury. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to make the comparison.’’

Playing in pain Semih Erden’s shoulder injury is severe, but Rivers said it would be more costly to sit him than to allow him to play. “If he goes out, he may be out a while,’’ Rivers said. “He’s in pretty bad shape.’’ Erden’s left shoulder nagged at him during the World Championships in his native Turkey, and the trouble has lingered. But he’s played in eight of the Celtics’ 11 games, giving them much-needed frontcourt minutes with Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal also dealing with injuries. “He’s taken a beating this year,’’ Rivers said. “Typical rookie year for a big. It probably hurts more that he has to practice in our practices with Shaq, Kevin, and [Glen Davis]. I don’t think that’s made it easier for him at all.’’ . . . Taking advantage of missed assignments by Garnett, Jeff Green hit a pair of 3-pointers that helped the Thunder beat the Celtics last March. Asked if Green (who has been hampered by a sprained ankle) might be on Garnett’s checklist, Rivers said, “I think the whole league is on his list, to be honest. Let’s hope so.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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