Same big hopes, new big men

All you have to do is take one look at Shaq aging by the day and talking about buying the Orlando Magic one day and you have all the proof you need that an era of the NBA is quickly fading.

But even with guys like San Antonio's Tim Duncan still putting up big numbers, it's been clear for the last handful of years that the league has been desperately craving a new generation of big men.

That's what made the return of the Lakers' Andrew Bynum and second-chance rookie Greg Oden so exciting entering this season.

That duo, along with Orlando's own Superman in Dwight Howard and Houston's Yao Ming, signaled to some NBA watchers a possible return to a time when young big men were the centerpiece of the league.

"I think they're definitely the young centers coming up," former Knicks center and newly minted NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing said recently. "Dwight and Yao Ming are probably the cream of the crop, then Bynum and Oden — because he hasn't really played a game. Bynum has definitely improved a lot, and he'll be a force to be reckoned with."

But like all would-be fairy tales, the happy ending took a major jolt barely a week into the season with the news that Portland's Oden would be sidelined for 2-4 weeks with a foot injury

In Portland it's started to conjure up the unhappy memories of another famous big-man pick that never quite materialized in former Kentucky center Sam Bowie.

Bowie, taken ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft, had five operations on his legs during his career and never lived up to the hype.

It's why the best we can do is hope there is still time for the league's current crop of giants to roam one day.

"I think it's too early to really say," Ewing said. "I think, if you're talking about Dwight or Yao Ming, definitely. Bynum should be, depending on how he comes back from his injury. And Oden, you never know how that knee (and now foot) is going to react to the banging and the pounding. So it's like, who knows?"


The good news is that no one is quite sure what will happen to this youthful crew just yet.

Of the quartet, three are doing well. Howard has never gone under the knife, Yao is back and thriving after some summer woes, and all systems are go for Bynum.

The only wild card, it seems, is Oden.

And it's in the spirit of the unknown that we give you a list of possible endings to this yet-to-be-determined fate of Oden, with a look back and some infamous injury merry-go-rounds involving guys over 6-foot-10.

Bill Walton

Where he once was: The No. 1 pick in the 1974 draft, his first two seasons were marred by foot injuries.

How it ended: Our lone success story on the list as a two-time NBA champ — this is what Oden hopes will happen to his luck.

Where it should have ended: Depends on your opinion of the former UCLA stud. I think it ended where it probably deserved to.

Sam Bowie

Where he once was: Drafted by the Blazers as the No. 2 pick in the 1984 draft

How it ended: Played 76 games as a rookie, but just 63 games over the next four seasons.

Where it should have ended: In a draft that featured the likes of Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton, in a best-case scenario he would have been a Hall of Famer. Instead he's now one of the draft's biggest busts ever.

Michael Olowokandi

Where he once was: Made it from Nigeria to the NBA and was the 1998 No. 1 overall pick.

How it ended: Now out of the league, he played just over 330 regular-season games for three teams.

Where it should have ended: He should have continued the legacy of Hakeem Olajuwon but instead will forever be known as the guy that ESPN's Bill Simmons dubbed the "Human Ebola virus."

Kwame Brown

Where he once was: Top pick of the 2001 draft, the first plucked straight out of high school.

How it ended: TBA. He's with the Pistons but is averaging just four points and a half-rebound per game in two appearances.

Where it should have ended: Another TBA. For Kwame fans, the hope is he can find a home in his eighth season, but the odds are against him.