When last we heard tell of former No. 1 overall draft pick/crumbled-knee avatar of sadness Greg Oden, the word out of his camp (and, more specifically, out of agent Mike Conley Sr.) was that the star-crossed ex-Portland Trail Blazers big man was not only interested in joining up with the eventual world champion Miami Heat, but that he also had designs on returning to the NBA fold for the 2012-13 season.
The timeline seemed stunning given all the updates that had preceded it — a February report that Oden's left knee wasn't even healthy enough to undergo surgery, the Blazers' March decision to officially sever ties with their long-hoped-for centerpiece, an April assertion that insufficient medical staffing in Portland helped ruin Oden's putative career and a May announcement (in an interview rife with dark revelations about Oden's tenure in Portland) that the center planned to step away for the entire '12-13 campaign to rest up, heal up, strengthen up and prepare to take another stab at it as a 26-year-old on the other side of three microfracture surgeries in five years. Apparently, we weren't the only ones who thought Conley Sr.'s timetable seemed a bit accelerated.
In an interview with David Hughes of the Terre Haute, Ind., Tribune-Star at a dinner promoting a charity golf tournament benefiting the Terre Haute Boys & Girls Club, Oden "disputed Internet reports" that he wanted to play in Miami and play this season:
"I would love to play [in 2012-13], but I'm not going to rush anything," he said [...] "I need to take a year off. What I told Mike was 'Look, I want to get back with a team. I want to play. If there's a chance that later on in the [NBA] year, if I feel good or if I'm healthy enough to play, I would love to play this year.' That's the conversation we had. I think some people kinda blew that up and took his words and kinda changed them around. I know I need to get healthy first before I do anything." [...]
"It's not like teams are out there telling people they want me, because they're not right now," Oden explained. "And I'm not out there telling people I want to go to a certain team. I want to go to a place where I can get healthy and with somebody who can believe in me and my skills — somewhere it could be a good fit for the both of us."
This, of course, is the most reasonable course of action for Oden, who's just six months removed from undergoing microfracture surgery on both of his injured knees. It also makes all the sense in the world for NBA teams to want to see Oden take some more time to heal and train, and have the chance to run him through some tests and workouts before thinking seriously about bringing him in; Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico confirmed Oden's claim of a lack of NBA interest, quoting one anonymous GM who said that because he's "suffered so many [injuries], you have to be in a position to take on a major risk. Not many teams want to put themselves in that position."
Beyond any on-court hopes, though, this should just be a time for Oden to stop rushing. After spending five years scrambling to return from injury after injury and effectively bear the weight of the 10-ton expectations placed on his shoulders when the Blazers picked him over Kevin Durant at the top of the 2007 NBA draft, Oden finally has the opportunity to step back, regroup and do whatever he can just to get his legs to effectively bear the weight of a 7-foot, 250-plus-pound frame. Market-positioning ploys have to come a distant second to actually becoming someone who can capably walk, run and jump again, right?
Because even if he never sets foot on an NBA court again, Oden has to be able to, y'know, move. Especially if he plans to apply the sports and leisure degree toward which he's working at Ohio State this summer to a new profession. More from Hughes:
Asked what he'd like his next job to be after he retires from pro basketball — whenever that may be — Oden smiled before giving his answer.
"I actually want to be a [high school or middle school] gym teacher," he said. "I feel like they have the best job ever. You think about it, they get their weekends off and they get to wear sweats every day to work."
I mean ... yeah, that does sound pretty good. It'd be pretty far cry from clocking seven-figure annual salaries to compete against the best in the world but, if nothing else, it seems like something that could make a man happy. And after a half-decade of one of the most tumultuous professional sporting careers in recent memory, to be honest, that's kind of all I want for Greg Oden — if he can never become what we thought he might be, or even a dimmed and lessened version of it, then if he can at least do something that makes him happy, I'm good.
Just be nice to the husky kids who are having a hard time on the rope climb, Greg. They're trying the best they can.
Hat-tip — as always when it comes to things orange, round and PDX — to Blazers Edge.
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