Court Vision: Heat welcome Greg Oden with open arms
• Shabazz Muhammad was tossed out of the Rookie Transition Program this week. Above, enjoy a shot of the top two picks from the 2007 draft — Greg Oden and Kevin Durant — from their rookie photo shoot.
• Heat president Pat Riley’s statement regarding the signing seemed to hint at the medical challenges that are still to come after five knee surgeries that have kept Oden from taking the court during an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009.
“After many months of discussion, evaluations and speaking with Greg, we felt it was the perfect time for him to make his comeback and re-enter the NBA with the Miami Heat,” said Heat President Pat Riley. “It’s a great challenge for him. We know all about his past injuries, but we feel that there is a huge upside and the possibility of him helping us. We will continue his program and then we will tackle basketball issues after that.”
Based on Oden’s injury history, the question is not whether he will be available on Oct. 29 at AmericanAirlines Arena, but rather whether he will make it back in time for the Heat’s lone visit of the 2013-14 season to Portland on Dec. 28, with Oden having spent all three of his previous seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers.
• Heat.com’s Couper Moorhead, who carefully tracked Oden’s career as a member of the Blazers, offers a lengthy breakdown of Oden’s skills at the height of his powers, as well as this trip down memory lane.
If you’ll excuse a little personal reflection — we’ll get to the basketball bits down below — I remember exactly when my inner fan was killed off. Living out east, watching live Portland Trail Blazers games was rarely possible. But after work every night it was time to fire up the DVR, take notes and write. The more you wrote, the more you took steps back from being a fan of your hometown team in order to provide a more balanced perspective, but all that would go out the window when Greg Oden pulled his weight up with the rim and slapped the glass. The Blazers had been a tough team to watch for many years, but Oden could make you feel 13 again, as if Brian Grant was fighting off Karl Malone elbows in the second round.
The ride didn’t last long. After an up-and-down post-microfracture rookie season, Oden had a healthy offseason and returned to his collegiate form. By the time he finished practicing with USA Basketball and reported early for training camp, he looked leaner and more agile than he had in years. The season started and as long as Oden wasn’t in foul trouble, he was a force. For one joyous month, everything went as planned. Then came December 15th, 2009.
I read the news on Twitter at Kings just off Boylston Street in Boston. Box scores were typically avoided when the game was ready to be watched later on, but it seemed necessary to check in on Oden’s encore to his 13-point, 20-rebound performance against the Miami Heat. Less than five minutes into the game against Houston, Oden went up to contest a shot by Aaron Brooks and crumpled to the floor. Nothing had touched his knee. I sat in silence, waiting while friends drank and had a merry evening. Just get up. Get up. It’s fine. But it wasn’t. Oden was carted off the floor having played his final possession for the Blazers.
Basketball is different for me now.
• Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com approves of the signing, despite the medical uncertainty.
The Miami Heat did it again.
They won the competition for Greg Oden, another free agent multiple teams were chasing. And they got him to take less money than was being offered elsewhere. This has happened time and time again over the past four summers and it’s a central reason they’re two-time champs who are the oddsmakers’ favorite to do it again.
Because they got Oden at their price and on their terms — assuring Oden that he’ll be brought along slowly with an eye toward the playoffs, above all else — the Heat have set this up as an all-reward, no-risk transaction.
• Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post also backs the play.
Oden won’t be required to rush, and suffer an unnecessary setback. At his own pace, he can attempt to prove that he is healthy enough to earn not only earn a spot in Spoelstra’s rotation, but to compel a shift in Spoelstra’s playing style.
And if Oden doesn’t play during the regular season, and just gives them a big, active body against Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez and other quality centers the Heat encounter in the playoffs, that will render this experiment worthwhile.
From No. 1 overall pick to $1 million.
For Riley and the Heat, there’s no longer any such thing as the one who got away.
• Dane at AYoungSabonis.com digs into old video to investigate some potential areas of improvement for Oden.
While naturally gifted as a weak-side help defender and shot-blocker, Oden is not an adept pick-and-roll player. Even during his time in Portland, Oden’s lateral quickness was severely lacking. He often misread penetration resulting in easy buckets or unnecessary fouls.
When viewing game film from 2009, it’s astonishing how poorly he would misread his own slowness and ability to react. He never quite picked up that guards were going to try and force the issue on him. Now, after three years away from the NBA and significant rehab to his knee, Oden needs to play smarter against an NBA that has committed to the pick-and-roll offense.
• Mike Acker of the Portland-based Willamette Week wishes Oden well.
It wasn’t Oden’s fault his knees betrayed him. It wasn’t his fault that Kevin Durant turned out to be not of this planet. Oden’s career in Portland was a train wreck in slow motion. His social life was consistent tabloid fodder in a town almost totally devoid of tabloids. What’s not to love about that?
It seems only fitting that Greg Oden gets a second act and a chance to write some new stories that, hopefully, will include at least a little bit of basketball.
• Sekou Smith of NBA.com breaks down the top teams standing in the way of a Heat three-peat.
That seven-game showcase we saw between the Heat and Pacers during the Eastern Conference finals was legitimate. The Pacers attacked the Heat’s one glaring weakness (size and depth inside) and tore at it until the final buzzer of that series. There’s a reason the Heat pursued a big body like Greg Oden in free agency. They need someone to help them fend off the likes of Roy Hibbert and David West, whose physicality in and around the rim was more than the Heat could handle. The star turn from Paul George during that series makes the potential for a third straight Heat-Pacers playoff series even more interesting. Toss in the return of Danny Granger and no team in the league is better positioned to challenge the Heat. The talent, experience, size, motivation and coaching are all in place for the Pacers to strike down the giants of the league. Coach Frank Vogel exited the playoff stage with a strange confidence about him, like he knew something about his team the rest of us didn’t. I see it now.
• Elsewhere in the NBA, Zach Lowe of Grantland.com interviews Pistons president Joe Dumars.
It’s no secret Jennings wore out his welcome in Milwaukee. He was seen there as pouty, selfish, entitled. You’re obviously confident that won’t repeat itself in Detroit. Why?
You have to dig deeper than just the kind of scuttlebutt you hear. We talked to a lot of people inside that locker room and in that organization. They definitely mentioned their concerns, but after talking to people, I felt comfortable with it. I feel real comfortable with it, as a matter of fact. We’ve never shied away here in Detroit from guys who supposedly have issues. We feel like if he’s a decent person, that we can deal with him. We’re not here to save the world. We’ve had some guys in here that were … a little different.
• Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie offers video of a Chinese man crying after meeting Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.