Greg Oden could have returned to the NBA with a bunch of similarly-aged players in New Orleans. He could have chosen the safety net of the San Antonio Spurs, or worked with the “do anything at all costs”-medical staff in Dallas. Those teams and several others all attempted to woo Oden over the last few days in meetings in Greg’s hometown of Indianapolis, and yet it was the two-time champion Miami Heat that eventually won out.
Grantland’s Mark Titus was the first to report that Oden will make the minimum for Miami next year, just over $1 million, and will have a player option for about that same amount in 2014-15. Oden is coming back, and he’s coming back on top without actually having to do any of the digging it takes to be in that position.
Not fair, say those that are sick and tired of watching the Heat seemingly get everything they want. Not cool, say those that think Oden has to pay some sort of on-court penalty before getting to play alongside LeBron James and company.
Smart move, we say. And not just because Oden is joining the odds-on favorite to win the championship.
Infamously, Oden has played just 82 games in an NBA career that started with his top overall selection in the 2007 draft, the full amount of games in the league’s regular season. While on the court Oden has played terrific ball, averaging over 15 points and nearly 12 rebounds with 2.3 blocks per every 36 minutes he’s worked, all while rarely acting as the focus for the Portland Trail Blazer offense. After countless knee surgeries and two microfracture operations, though, Portland waived their hoped-for franchise player in March of 2012, eager to start a new era without having to pay Oden to sit through it.
Greg has been rumored to be working his way toward a comeback in the months since then, with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and Heat seemingly always in the running. When he made the full admission that he was planning on playing in 2013-14, several other teams jumped in the mix. Quite the bidding war, for a player that will make one-sixth of the league’s average contract next year.
And what a choice! Why wouldn’t Oden want to take it easy, to not have the scrutiny of both basketball and general sports media watching his every move? Why not work with the young Pelicans, away from the glare? Why not let coach Gregg Popovich take all the tough questions for you? Why go to the team that the media can’t quite get away from?
If he returns in time for the start of the season and is in the Heat’s immediate rotation (don’t laugh, Oden has nearly three months to prepare for such a thing), his first few games as a member of the two-time defending champs will be on national TV. Your whole family will watch him on Christmas Day, the first game some of your extended family will have seen Greg play since his time at Ohio State. Most of his winter and spring Sundays will be documented on ABC. Oden is returning to the NBA in full view.
This is the exact opposite, right down to the coast and part of the country he worked in, of his five-year stint with Portland. Oden was drafted in 2007 and waived in 2012 and in between he worked and rehabilitated in relative anonymity. Even his final public turn with the Blazers, a press conference to announce a microfracture surgery in 2010, occurred late at night on a Wednesday, and well after beddie-bye time on the East coast.
This time around, he’ll make a few game programs or even magazine covers. He may even start. If he can get enough minutes, play enough games, and approximate the sort of production he gave the Trail Blazers when he was healthy? Then there will be talk of an All-Star spot, even in the land that sees Mssrs. Noah, Hibbert, Lopez, Chandler, Horford and Bynum (sometimes) walk the earth. Remember, 85 percent of what Greg Oden was back in 2009, playing 30-some minutes a game, was that good.
If Oden falls again, it will be a public crumble, and the Heat (as they’ve had to since 2010, whether they decided to go big or small) will have to scramble to fill his place. Oden wasn’t signed by the Heat because they wanted some gravy on top of the championship to rub in everyone’s faces (an awesome image, you’ll submit). No, they signed him because they need a center. They signed him because of Noah, Hibbert, Lopez, Chandler, Horford and Bynum. They signed him because Chris Bosh is still too small and Udonis Haslem’s odometer has racked up six digits. Oden is going to be counted on.
You get the feeling Oden wants this. And that, at only 25 years of age, he’s ready to take this on. Or, and this is a positive thing, at the very least Greg Oden thinks he’s ready to take this on.
There’s a reason he didn’t attempt his comeback away from the spotlight with the New Orleans Pelicans, and it’s not just because the Heat have made the Finals three straight years while Oden watched from afar. If you’re going to set yourself up for The Big Last Chance, risking all manner of things both professionally and privately along the way, the best and bravest move is to pick the team that counts the most.
Some, in the wake of this news, have been dismissive of Oden chasing down a championship ring. I’d ask them to look at what Greg Oden willingly just signed himself up for. The pressures of attempting to work through his injuries drove him to depression and drink by his own admission up in Portland, and that was mostly away from the klieg lights. This is entirely different, and when he suits up some 46 months removed from his last NBA game, this will be tough.
This isn’t a ring-grab. This is a chance to make it right. Greg Oden should be applauded for that.
See you in the fall, big man.
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