Bulls feel for injury-plagued Greg Oden

Portland's Greg Oden has been plagued by injuries during his NBA career. Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images

DALLAS -- Joakim Noah remembers what people are already starting to forget when it comes to Greg Oden.

After playing against Oden at the college level with Florida, Noah still vividly recalls the power down low of the former Ohio State Buckeye, who was selected first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2007 NBA Draft.

"He's an animal," Noah said before Friday morning's shootaround. "There's a reason why he was the No. 1 pick and why he has a lot of hype behind him, because everybody knew when he was healthy he was one of the best. Even in his second year [with Portland], when he got his game together, he could do anything. He was a force in there, especially on the defensive end. With that athleticism, and that size, he was almost unstoppable."

Considering all the injury problems Oden has dealt with in the NBA, it almost seems as if Noah is talking about a figment of the imagination. Especially after the news earlier this week that Oden, yet again, will be out for the season and will undergo microfracture knee surgery.

The outpouring of empathy around the league for Oden has been wide-ranging. It's hard for both players and coaches to imagine how such a promising player still hasn't gotten much of a chance to show off his skills in the league.

"I know it hurts," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said of Oden's plight. "[As] a No. 1 pick, he really didn't have the opportunity. The only thing he can do is stay positive, keep his head up and keep praying."

It's times like these when you realize just how lucky the Bulls were to select Rose a year later in the draft, and how fortunate they've been that he really hasn't dealt with any kind of serious, lingering injuries during his three years in the NBA.

"It's one of the things you have no control over, but there is a degree of luck to guys that don't have injuries," Bulls executive VP John Paxson said in a phone conversation Friday afternoon. "I've been around Michael [Jordan] for a lot of years, that guy was like, even if he was hurt, he seemed to find a way to play through stuff. It's just lucky. Derrick's built in a way… he's so strong and he's generally not going to get hurt from taking falls and things like that because he is so strong. But, you know anything can happen so you knock on wood and hope that he stays healthy."

Paxson understands all the things that must fall into place in order for a draft pick to be successful. He remembers all the steps he and his team went through before selecting Rose.

"We were in the position a couple years ago with Derrick, we did the majority of our work for the first pick on Derrick and [Michael] Beasley," Paxson recalled. "You go through so much to make that decision. You look at medical [records] you look at everything. So I'm sure they looked at everything, and they made the decision. They're looking at the next decade of having Oden and [LaMarcus] Aldridge as their four and five and all of a sudden this young man has these injuries. You feel sorry for these teams. Those are the things as an organization, they're difficult to overcome when you're trying to get to a championship level."

Paxson would know. He's been through a similar trauma to the one that Portland is experiencing at the moment.

"It's a little bit like when we, back in 2003, we lost Jay Williams," Paxson said of the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft who was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash. "It wasn't an injury [on the court], but it was a career-ending thing. When you lose a top pick, a very talented top pick like that, it can set you back."

Given what has transpired in Portland, Rose realizes how lucky he is to have stayed healthy and flourished in Chicago.

"I'm blessed to be where I am right now," Rose said. "I got over one injury and that was my ankle [last season]. I don't know ... I don't even want to say nothing about [the lack of injuries], I don't want to jinx myself. I'm just blessed to be where I am right now."

Noah also knows he's lucky to be in the position he's in, and his heart hurts for Oden, a player he's gotten to know fairly well over the last few years.

"I feel terrible, man," Noah said. "Greggy's a great dude and is somebody I've been facing for a while now since college. [I have] nothing but good things to say about him. I feel bad because I know he has the potential to really be great."

Unlike a lot of pundits, Noah still believes that Oden has a chance to get back on the floor and become the player everybody thought he could be.

"Definitely," Noah said. "It's tough going through all these surgeries, but I think he's somebody who's mentally tough and he's somebody who's going through a lot. [The setbacks] are going to make him tougher.”

Meanwhile, Paxson thanks his lucky stars that he has an injury-free Rose. As he's said a million times, there was never a doubt in his mind that Rose was the right guy for the Bulls. After three years in the league, Paxson's decision looks better than ever.

"When we got lucky and got the pick, everybody just assumed [drafting Rose was] what we were going to do. But people don't understand the process of how much goes into making the selection. So when we did [draft him], we felt that we were making the right choice. We really did."