Barring preseason injury, Greg Oden will be suiting up in red and black in 2013.
Only it won’t be with the Blazers.
The Miami Heat picked up Oden on a two-year contract late Friday, a few weeks after he worked out for several teams. Frontrunners were thought to have included the Pelicans, the Spurs, and the Mavericks.
Blazer fans will no doubt circle Portland-Miami games when the NBA releases its 2013-14 schedule this Tuesday.
From the moment Oden steps on the court, many fans, this one included, will be emotional. After being hit with a wave of frustration and disappointment as Oden collapsed in 2009, the receding waters may offer relief. Or confusion. Or closure. Or maybe even more frustration and disappointment.
I know exactly where I was when Oden went down. Most Blazers fans do too… or at least where they were when they heard the news. I was sitting at a bar, enjoying my beer, thinking that Oden wasn’t moving quite right after coming off a sprained ankle. It all happened so fast. He jumped. He winced. He crumbled. He didn’t get up.
The replays were bizarre. He didn’t even do anything! He was moving laterally to get in position to block a shot. No contact was made.
Search “Greg Oden injury” in YouTube. The video from that night has over 400,000 views.
But Heat fans won’t hold their collective breath when Oden steps on the court. Blazers fans will.
Heat fans won’t feel an awkwardness with Oden’s every step, every block attempt, every weakside rotation. Blazer fans? Almost certainly.
The first few moments of Oden’s first game back will be scrutinized. What happens after is anyone’s guess.
Will Oden injure himself after a few games and finally call it a career? Will he pick up spot minutes nursing sore joints? Will he struggle to get in game shape? Will he become a backup, taking up space and altering shots? Will he become a rotation bench player, part of the glue of a new, even more dominant Miami team? Will he become a starter, becoming a dynamic force for a team that has already shown it can win even without a true center?
Will he become the star we always hoped he’d be?
And how long before it’s all taken away? How high will Oden climb before his knees let out a tired sigh and give up? How long before he comes crashing to the ground and forces 20,000-strong into uncomfortable silence? How long before the gaggle of “I-told-ya-so’s” come out in full force? And how much longer until they fade again and we all move on?
Whether or not we admit it, it’s inevitable. Blazer fans know it. Heat fans don’t. Neither does anyone else, not even those among the nearly half a million who’ve seen Oden’s knee disappear like some twisted trick of magic.
The truth is that Oden’s body isn’t meant for basketball.
From the moment he steps on the court, there’s a timer ticking. Nobody knows how far it’s been set, but it’s ticking. And everyone in Rip City knows it.