Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What to do With Greg Oden

If you're an NBA fan then you probably know who Greg Oden is.  If not, allow me to explain.  Greg Oden was the number one pick in the 2007 NBA draft, and he was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers exactly one pick ahead of Kevin Durant who was drafted by Seattle. Oden was considered a can't miss prospect coming out of college, a legit seven footer who had great game on both ends of the floor.  Nearly every scout agreed that Oden was the number one pick, and nobody was surprised when Portland ultimately selected him, and prepared to assemble what appeared to be a very talented core of Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brandon Roy.  Yes, it appeared that Portland was finally going to get over the hump, that this was it, the future of Trail Blazer basketball.  The future had arrived and it was in the form of a seven foot tall giant from Ohio State.  Alas, it was not to be.

Oden only managed to play in 82 games over the course of his five years he spent under contract with the Trail Blazers due to serious knee injuries.  Oden has had five surgeries, including three arthroscopic surgeries on his knees, these are the same kinds of surgeries that guys like Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas, and Kenyon Martin struggled to come back from.  Roy also was an unfortunate victim of injuries, as he played only five seasons with Portland before being forced to retire due to the meniscus issues in his knees.  Thus, the Trail Blazers high hopes quickly disappeared. 

Oden's tragic tail opens up comparisons to former Trail Blazers center Sam Bowie, who was selected in 1984.  Bowie only managed to play 511 career games in 11 seasons, which is good for only a little over half of the games in those 11 seasons.  Bowie was selected over greats like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton to name a few.  Conversely, Oden was selected over players such as Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Joakim Noah.  While none of those players are comparable to the stars that were selected ahead of Bowie, they've all been very good NBA players while Oden has hardly played.  Obviously this is not the exact same situation, as Oden was the consensus number one pick in his draft and Sam Bowie was a guy who could have easily fallen to another team, but still, they're centers who the Trail Blazers drafted that unfortunately never panned out due to injuries.

Ultimately, the Trail Blazers were forced to let Oden go, simply because it was not worth continuing to pay him for him to not play a single second of NBA basketball, and they needed to make room for trade acquisitions.  Oden did not workout, nor did any team seek to sign Oden for the 2012/13 season as he wasn continuing to rehab his knee in order to hopefully make a comeback this coming season, and he already has many potential suitors.

Oden is currently being pursued by six different teams, the Mavericks, the Hawks, the Pelicans, the Spurs, the Heat, and the Kings.  Each of these teams has a unique reason for wanting him, and it would appear that Oden would fit in on every single one of these teams rosters.  Ultimately, all of these teams are hoping that Oden can be at least close to what he was when he was drafted, however if he's not it will cost them little to sign him and should be seen as a low risk/high reward investment.

The Mavericks have been desperately trying, and failing, to woo a marquee free agent to Dallas for the last few years.  They were unable to sign Deron Williams, unable to snag Chris Paul, and most recently unable to land Dwight Howard.  Oden is not a marquee player, let me set that straight before anyone thinks that's what I'm suggesting.  He is however, someone who, if healthy should be immediately able to contribute.  Dallas missed the playoffs last year for the first time since the 99/00 season.  The Mavericks had quite a few problems with their roster this past year, but perhaps the most glaring is front court depth.

The Mavs just recently signed center Samuel Dalembert, who is by all accounts serviceable, but if healthy, Oden would certainly be an upgrade.  Mark Cuban is a businessman, and a damn good one at that.  Cuban knows that if he can sign Oden for relatively cheap, and Oden ends up playing at a high level than this is definitely a minor risk worth taking.  Dallas is definitely an intriguing destination, and I would not be surprised to see Oden sign there in any capacity.

The man pictured above (yes the man stop looking to his right) is RC Buford for those of you who are unfamiliar with him.  Buford is currently the Spurs GM and is easily one of the top five best GMs in the NBA, if not the best.  Buford has successfully managed to sign or trade for key players that will fit Poppovich's coaching style, and has helped the Spurs consistently maintain a position among the Western Conference elite.

As I've just pointed out Buford is a savvy GM and he knows what he's getting into in his courting of Greg Oden.  The Spurs just resigned Tiago Splitter to a 4yr/$36M contract, but DeJuan Blair is no longer on the roster, and as much as I love him Matt Bonner is not a serviceable backup center.  The Spurs definitely need some front court depth and this is exactly what they'd be getting in Oden.  

At this point I'm inclined to believe that the Spurs are one of the destinations higher on the list for Oden.  He would be looking at some substantial playing time, and would be walking into a roster that just went to the NBA Finals.  However, he won't be under a whole lot of scrutiny as the media doesn't generally spend a whole lot of time worrying about what's going on in San Antonio, so he won't feel that immense pressure to become the player that he once was.

I could list the reasons for the Pelicans and the Hawks, as well as the Kings, but they basically fall into the same reasons the Spurs and the Mavericks do.  All of these teams are in need of solid front court players, and Oden definitely fits that mold.  These are obviously a variety of teams ranging somewhere between the top, the middle of the pack, and the bottom.  Ultimately however, there is one destination that desires him over all of these other franchises, and that is of course the Miami Heat.

Pat Riley has made some extraordinary moves in South Beach, the biggest of which obviously is bringing LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh together, a move that has resulted in three straight finals appearances, and back to back finals championships.  Not to be lost amongst that is his signings of Ray Allen for less money than Boston offered him, his acquisition of Shane Battier, and his late round drafting of young players who only need to fill a certain role.  This obviously means that Riley will ultimately land Oden right? Well, I'm not so sure.

Miami's current glaring need right now is quite clearly a capable man in the middle.  Joel Anthony is absolutely god awful, and the starting big men combination of Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem were exposed when they faced the Pacers and their front court of David West and Roy Hibbert.  Oden would provide a presence in the middle that Miami has yet to see during the LeBron James era, and would most likely vault this team into their first ever three peat.

Oden's impact, should he be healthy and in game form would be immense.  Here's the thing, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are not getting any younger, and they were quite clearly not as effective during the post season last year.  Adding a healthy Greg Oden here would be huge, as they would finally have someone who is capable both offensively and defensively patrolling the paint, meaning that it would be even more difficult for teams to score on what is already a very tough Miami defense. 

Why then, would Oden be hesitant to sign here?  Well, obviously there are many veterans who have opted to sign with Miami for limited contracts because it means opportunities at championship rings.  I don't have any doubts that Oden is interested in a championship ring, but should he sign with the team who has received the most media attention than nearly any other team in sports over the past three years he would ultimately be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny.  Suddenly, every reporter is asking the question "can you still play?" "do you think you're the piece the Heat need for their three peat?" etc.  

These are not the questions you want to be asked if you are a player who is coming back from five knee surgeries, and haven't played in three years.  Instead, I believe Oden will be looking to perhaps play in a smaller market with less media scrutiny where he can quietly try to return to form, in order to pursue a bigger contract with a contending team later on.

At the end of the day, I'm not Greg Oden, so I don't know what's going through his head. I do know that Oden is a competitor, so he very well could go to the place where he believes he can win the most.  I'm a big fan of his, I have been since he played at Ohio State.  And when it comes down to it I can honestly say I hope that he succeeds wherever he plays, whether it be Sacramento or Miami.  I'll be rooting for him.

Good luck, Greg.

Follow me on Twitter @DbRedickulous

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