As the doldrums of the offseason get into full swing, one storyline that may interest Blazer fans is the ongoing saga of a certain Greg Oden; he who broke the City of Rose’s heart. The glass man himself, who has amassed a grand total of 82 regular season games (out of a potential 476)since being drafted first overall in 2007, is being courted by a number of teams in an attempted comeback bid.
While the news is constantly changing (call it a Dwightmare Vesion .01), the current frontrunners that have emerged to sign Oden are the San Antonio Spurs, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Miami Heat. This list conspicuously contains both teams who played in the Finals last year, something that has not gone unnoticed by me.
For these two teams, one thing is clear: they both expect to go deep into the playoffs again next year, and are throwing caution to the wind in an attempt to get that tiniest of advantages. The stakes are astronomical for both teams: the Spurs were one miracle finish away from taking it all last year, and on the other side, the Heat have a chance at a three-peat and securing their place as an all-time great team.
The Spurs are the most interesting of the suitors for me. They just inked center/forward Tiago Splitter to a four year / $36 million dollar contract earlier this offseason. They obviously have confidence in Splitter, yet are still pursuing Oden. The dots are not too hard to connect – the Spurs know that, although he turned in a stellar season last year, Tim Duncan is flat-out getting old, and they are seeking to manage his minutes. By signing Oden, the Spurs would have three bona fide bigs (in every physical sense of the word) that they could rotate, thus preserving Duncan even more.
Oden is likely being courted as a defensive rim protector, and would thus fit nicely next to Splitter, who has never been quite the feisty, defensive type. Reading further between the lines, the Spurs, who trotted out 6’9’’ Boris Diaw as their number three big last season are very specifically targeting size. If they anticipate playing the Heat in the Finals again next year, it is clear they want to exploit the Heat’s small-ball shenanigans. I suspect even more foresight is at play though – if not the Heat, two other teams who the Spurs could meet deep in the playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Indiana Pacers, have both turned towards size these past few years.
By targeting Oden, the Spurs are attempting to ready themselves for any potential matchup. They could go both small and big with ease, depending on who they are playing. Just imagine how much an even semi-healthy Oden would help them bang against Marc Gasol / David West / Zach Randolph / Roy Hibbert.
The Heat’s reasons are infinitely more transparent: they desperately need size. It’s that simple. The Pacers took them to seven games this year by abusing the Heat’s lack of size. Consider this: in a seven game series do you think that the Heat could have beaten Memphis? (For reference, they split the regular season series, but the Heat were outscored by 11 points between the two games). I’m not saying the Heat would lose, but I think that would be a tough matchup for them, especially since the Grizzlies’ “star power” is heavily concentrated in the post.
LeBron is likely the biggest freak of an athlete on the planet (Patrick Willis is in the running), but even he is human and has his limits. Banging down low at the four for much of the year certainly had its share of success, but the toll on LeBron’s body cannot be ignored. This is magnified by the fact that with no true rim protector, LeBron was additionally tasked with much of these defensive duties. Sure, he kept it up for one season, and on pure athleticism could maybe do it for another, but that’s all I’m conceding.
Flat-out, the Heat asked LeBron to do too much, and simply signing a hulking post presence will do much to remedy these problems. Even if Oden could only give them 20 quality minutes a game, the advantages he could offer would be astronomical.
The Pelicans are the wild-card in this chase. Even the most die-hard of fans knows they will not be a true contender this year, but that hasn’t stopped them from flashing Oden three million reasons to join their squad. Yes you read that right – the Pelicans are rumored to be considering offering him a two-year deal that would pay about $3 million per year.
The non-contender status could actually be a draw, however: expectations would be far lower than on that of a contender, an attitude that may be just what Oden desires. Again, even if semi-healthy, Oden’s size could be a great partner for defensive stalwart sophomore Anthony Davis, forming an imposing frontcourt. The other intangibles are numerous: New Orleans has an incredibly vibrant culture and nightlife, aspects that can never hurt. Also by signing with a less talented team, Oden could be more secure in knowing that he would have a chance to contribute right away.
Whatever he decides, I will always mourn what could have been in Portland. Every GM in the league would have picked Oden over Kevin Durant, so I can’t really say I am upset with or sad about the decision. The choice was made. I am sad that the fans lost out on being able to see Oden reach his full potential.
FINAL NOTE: Oden had microfracture surgery. If you are unfamiliar with the process, the surgeon literally uses an awl to intentionally create small cracks / breaks in the bone near the area with damaged cartilage. The idea is that while the body heals these intentional wounds, it will also heal the surrounding tissue that is damaged. I mention this because these teams seem convinced that Oden will not fall apart on them. I, however, am not.