Oden Loss Hurts Comcast

The past May Comcast Cable thought they had caught lightning in a bottle. On the heels of announcing its plans to launch a new regional sports network around the NBA’s struggling Portland Trailblazers franchise — the last time the team made the playoffs Michael Jordan was still on an NBA roster – the team won the league’s draft lottery. The team’s pick: Ohio State’s heralded center Greg Oden.

The team’s future looked extremely promising: it had a gregarious, likeable and talented 7-foot potential superstar playing side by side with last season’s rookie of the year Brandon Roy and a cast of young, up and coming players. Oden was supposed to help Portland forget the past few years where it’s seemed the team was in the headlines more for its off-the-court criminal infractions than for its on the court baskets.

It seemed as if the team’s fortunes were looking up and Comcast was ready to cash in on it – at a reported per-subscriber fee of $2 for the regional sports network. Then the bottom fell out.

The Trailblazers announced this afternoon that Oden would have to undergo microfracture knee surgery and likely miss the entire season.

Even as Trailblazers fans cringe at the possibility of another high draft pick bust (anyone remember Sam Bowie, the oft-injured center the Blazers picked No. 2 in the 1984 draft over Jordan?), Comcast tried to put a positive spin on the Oden loss.

While understatedly calling the Oden injury “disappointing,” Comcast Sports spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said the Comcast Sports Northwest regional network was conceived even before the draft “because of the Trail Blazers’ long-term team potential with a nucleus of several young players” and that the MSO is “as excited as ever about the start of the new season and our relationship with the Blazers.”

But not all NBA television outlets share Comcast’s enthusiasm for an Oden-less Blazers team. A TNT spokesman said the network is already in talks with the league to see what its “options are” regarding the removal of its six Trail Blazers telecasts the network has scheduled for its upcoming season of exclusive Thursday night doubleheader games.

The network and the league are probably stuck with having the now less-appealing Trailblazers open the NBA season Oct. 30 against the NBA defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

ESPN is also “assessing the best games for every window” (i.e. looking to drop the handful of scheduled Trail Blazers games like a hot potato) but are probably locked into offering the Trail Blazers as its Christmas present to fans when the network telecasts the Dec. 25 Portland-Seattle Super Sonics game. That game was supposed to showcase the first meeting between the top two picks of the NBA draft, Oden and the Sonics’ Kevin Durant.

Now unfortunately it’s maybe just a game between two bad West Coast teams.