Asked about Greg Oden's rehab, Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard wanted to make things clear.
"He's so far ahead of what we expected it's not even funny," Pritchard said by phone Thursday. "Having said that, he will not. Come. Back. This. Year."
Oden's absence after off-season microfracture surgery is the only down note so far for Portland, which extended its winning streak to 10 games Friday night, looking for all the world like the league's next great young team.
After the Blazers announced in September that Oden would miss the entire season, the expectations that came with getting Oden with the first pick overall in last summer's draft subsided. And things looked even bleaker after second-year forward LaMarcus Aldridge missed several games early in the season with plantar fascitis.
But after a slow start, Portland has come on like a freight train in December, with second-year guard Brandon Roy playing at an MVP level. Forward Travis Outlaw has turned into one of the league's best sixth men. The Blazers have gotten solid play from Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake at the point, and everyone's giving coach Nate McMillan effort.
Roy has been a revelation. The reigning rookie of the year never lets anyone see him sweat, while leading the team in scoring and assists. He's already won back-to-back league player-of-the-week honors, the first time a Portland player has done so since Clyde Drexler in 1987.
"I don't think we knew how good this kid is," Pritchard said.
The Blazers were patient with Outlaw and Martell Webster, two of the last high school players taken before the league changed the eligibility rules for underclassmen applying for the draft. Instead of giving up on them, Portland worked exhaustively with both, and it's starting to pay off.
The fourth-year Outlaw is averaging 12.3 points in 26 minutes off the bench, and isn't afraid down the stretch, as exemplified by his game-winner at the buzzer at Memphis earlier this month. Webster is shooting 38 percent from three-point range.
No one is fitting the Blazers for championship rings just yet. Despite their streak, they're still only on the fringes of the playoff race in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. But success this season will jump-start the rebuilding process, which likely will grow exponentially next season when Oden, the franchise center, comes back.
"It gives the young guys a little taste," Pritchard said. "They're hungry. When we were on our losing streak, they'd get on the plane, and it would be very quiet. That's when Nate and I looked at each other and said these guys care."