Greg Oden still waiting for knee to heal

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Much of the focus in the preseason for the Portland Trail Blazers falls on center Greg Oden, and whether this will be the year he finally lives up to the expectations of a No. 1 draft pick.

But the 7-footer has to get healthy first.

Oden arrived in advance of the start of practice on Tuesday with word that he would not be available for preseason games because he was still not fully healed from surgery on his right kneecap last December. In fact, Oden won't likely be available for the season opener, and perhaps well into the season.

When asked if he would be ready to play by Christmas, Oden threw up his hands and shrugged his shoulders.

"I wish I could honestly say there's a timeline, but there's not," he said. "There's good days and bad days."

Oden broke his right kneecap during a game last December against the Houston Rockets. It is one of several injuries the 7-footer has suffered since he came into the league.

The Blazers selected Oden with the top pick in the 2007 draft, choosing him over Kevin Durant. Injuries brought endless comparisons to Sam Bowie, the frequently injured big man who the Blazers infamously selected ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft.

Oden missed his rookie season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee. The next season he sat out six games after injuring his right foot in the season opener against the Lakers, before missing 14 games after the All-Star break with a bone chip in his left knee. He finished the season averaging 8.9 points and 7 rebounds.

Last season, Oden averaged 11.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks as a starter before breaking his kneecap. Along with improved numbers in all the major statistical categories, Oden had a renewed confidence that was seldom evident in his delayed rookie season, when he admitted the pressure of being a top draft pick got to him.

On Monday Oden was in good spirits. He said that while he's excited to get started, he knows he must be patient.

"I understand that if I got out there too soon, it's not going to help me, and it's not going to help the team," he said.

Fellow Blazers center Joel Przybilla, who also missed a good portion of last season with a knee injury, said Monday he felt great and was way ahead of schedule -- although he too probably wouldn't be available on opening night.

Przybilla ruptured his right patella tendon and required surgery twice last season -- once after the initial injury in late December, then again in March when he re-injured the knee after a fall in his shower.

Coach Nate McMillan said Marcus Camby will start at center until either Oden or Przybilla, or both, return. Jeff Pendergraph will also play at the position, and the Blazers can move over LaMarcus Aldrige -- who put on some 15 pounds in the offseason -- if need be.

The Blazers will not be trading for another center, McMillan emphatically said.

Portland went 50-32 last season but was ousted in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. Oden and Przybilla were just two of a spate of injuries that dogged the team.

In all, Portland players missed a combined 311 regular-season games because of injury, second only to the Golden State Warriors and most among playoff teams. Only two players, Andre Miller and forward Martell Webster, were healthy for all 82 games. The Blazers used 16 different starting lineups.

Oden and Przybilla weren't the only talk at the Rose Garden on Monday, when the Blazers held "Media Day" in advance of training camp.

Blazers swingman Rudy Fernandez spoke after rumors swirled over the summer that the Spaniard would not return to the team. It was reported that Fernandez wanted to be traded, but he said that was not the case: He just wants to go home.

"I prefer the style of European competition," he said. "I feel better in Europe."

Fernandez, a two-year veteran, is known for his flashy skills and spark off the bench. He averaged 8.1 points per game last season, a drop off from his 10.4-point average as a rookie. But he also had back trouble and missed 19 midseason games after a microdiscectomy.

Fernandez played for the Spanish national team this past summer.

Blazers guard Brandon Roy said he talked to Fernandez on Monday, telling him "Now that you're here we're going to need you to play."

"It's going to be our job to make him more comfortable," Roy said about Fernandez. "We can't leave him out there on an island where he gets homesick."