Something happened yesterday that I was not expecting from myself. After many years of supporting Greg Oden and hoping for his success, the news of his choice to sign with Miami left me frothing with feelings of betrayal. What’s more, I had no right to feel that way.
Portland waived Oden back in March, 2012, so the frustration that boiled to my surface was not born in Blazer despair (though I’d be lying to deny its presence). I think most players, when given the option to play in Miami, would jump at the opportunity. So why does it feel like he deliberately spat in the face of every NBA fan that doesn’t kneel to King James?
I find myself occupying a basketball paradox in which I actually like Miami’s players a lot, but I can’t root for them as a team. This is because it is so easy for them to get what they want. Every year since “The Decision” they pick up a new asset in free agency because everyone wants to play alongside the world’s best, and bask in the cabana-light glow of South Beach’s night life.
In 2011 it was Shane Battier, in 2012 it was Ray Allen, and in 2013 it is Greg Oden. Each one of these players was completely justified in choosing the Heat. Battier hoped to play out his twilight with a contender, Allen needed a change of location after prolonged disrespect from Boston’s front office, and Oden is looking to make his comeback on the most successful team possible.
Against my brain’s rationale, my blood boils in hot rebellion. I was perusing Bleacher Report’s Best Free Agency Signings in Blazers History, and you know who came in at number 5? This year’s bench addition of Dorell Wright! Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have him, but in our entire history we couldn’t string together 5 players better than Miami’s last few signees.
Looking back, I think this is a big part of why I was pulling for New Orleans to sign Oden so hard. They’re not really a large market, but they’ve made absolutely huge strides toward relevancy this year, and Oden turned them down for 1/3 of the money. That’s right, Miami didn’t even use their mini-MLE. They gave Oden a two year contract worth the veteran minimum $1 million each year, and a player option in 2014.
I suppose this is where my anguish originates. New Orleans’ contention in the Oden race represented the hopes of every small market team in the NBA, and the man I’ve spent six years defending buried the dreamers in the sands of South Beach, perpetuating the cruelest déjà vu loop in the sporting world. Despite the Blazers’ non-involvement in Oden’s recent exploits, there is a sense of helplessness swelling within me that I suspect is not a Rip City exclusive.
Oden’s current trajectory can only be considered short-sighted. Miami has exactly 0 guaranteed contracts for the 2014-2015 season, and while they are a juggernaut now, they are on the verge of blowing up in a major way. The player option in Oden’s contract is a strong indicator that we may be going through this all again one season from now.
The Pelicans offered a stability I hoped Oden would have appreciated. He would get to make his fresh start on a team that is literally new right down to the name and roster. He could play multiple seasons for a likeable franchise that is undeniably on its way up, and be considered a necessity instead of a tag-along.
In his exclusive interview with Grantland’s Mark Titus, Oden said that:
“Obviously the chance to play with the best player in the world and compete for a championship was a big selling point, but more than that, what I really liked was how they thought I could really add something to their team. They’ve won back-to-back championships without me, so for them to pursue me as hard as they did meant a lot, especially given all that I’ve gone through.”
Balderdash, Greg! The idea that they have won back-to-back titles without you, and possess the best player in the world should not increase the flattery of pursuit; it tells me that you are scared and do not want the pressure of real competition. If you wanted to go someplace where you could “really add something to [a] team,” you could have more fittingly gone to ANY of your other suitors.
Whoops- there’s that frustration shining through. I really do support him. If he wants to get a ring before his NBA Draft rival, Kevin Durant, this is the best way to do it prior to fading quickly into familiar irrelevance. I feel like I’m watching a child that I have nurtured through the best years of my life wander down an alluring, but destructive path. There is nothing I can do but monitor his journey and hope for the best now.
As for the Heat as a whole, I grow weary of their supremacy. Even without Oden, was there any doubt that they’d be a high seed in this year’s projections? The ease with which they wooed yet another big name free agent just reinforces my despair. The game I love so much remains predictable through another nefarious plot to dampen my excitement for the next season of NBA basketball.
There is, however, a morbid duality that beats in many Blazer hearts. Most of us have poured years of devotion into the glass Buckeye, yet should he fall, I fear my underlying smirk would be difficult to hide. This has nothing to do with Oden, himself, and I would never wish ill on any player, regardless of adoration or hatred, but the idea that another franchise could share our burdened past speeds the pulse.
Nevertheless, I wish nothing but success for Greg Oden, if only on an individual level. I’m sure he knows that the comforting twinkle of cabana lights is nothing to the spotlights of the most scrutinizing stage in the NBA, and I hope he is ready.