NBA PM: Oden Resuming Career, Happiness
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Greg Oden Back to Playing and Loving Life
For the first time in awhile, Greg Oden is legitimately happy.
“I’m just excited,” Oden told HEAT.com. “I’m just anticipating and ready to officially be a part of this team. They’re the world champs. I mean, who wouldn’t want to join this team?”
In recent years, Oden hasn’t had much reason to smile. After undergoing five knee operations, including three microfracture procedures, he had sunk into a deep depression. He tried to drown his sorrows by drinking and became a self-proclaimed alcoholic. He was overcome with a feeling of hopelessness and bitterness. When fans would approach him for pictures or autographs, he would be annoyed, wondering why they’d want to interact with someone who was – as he put it – “nothing now.”
At the age of 16, Oden was labeled as the next great center – a once-in-a-generation talent who drew comparisons to NBA legend Bill Russell among others. At the age of 24, he was waived by the Portland Trail Blazers – out of the league that he was supposed to dominate. He had realized his dream of playing in the NBA, only to have it end in nightmare fashion.
He seemingly spent more time under the knife than under the basket, and failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him as a hoops prodigy. Making matters worse was the fact that the Blazers selected him ahead of Kevin Durant, who exceeded all expectations and became one of the league’s superstars. He was essentially the modern day Sam Bowie – the Portland center who was famously drafted ahead of Michael Jordan and saw his career similarly limited due to significant injuries.
When Portland waived Oden in March of 2012, it could’ve been the end of the Oden’s basketball career. He could’ve walked away from the sport, living out his days as a washed up player who constantly wondered, what could’ve been? He could’ve accepted the bust label that was bestowed upon him and turned his back on the sport that he once loved. He could’ve continued drinking or turned to drugs – as many former players do – trying to numb the physical and emotional pain. He had made over $23,000,000 over the course of his five-year NBA career, so he didn’t need to return to the court.
Even Oden’s doctors tried to persuade him to move on from his playing career and focus on other aspects of life. After his third microfracture surgery on his knee, his surgeon told him that perhaps it was time to retire. After all, no NBA player had ever returned to the court after undergoing three microfracture procedures, not to mention the two additional surgeries that Oden had on his knees.
“Just be a regular person, go live life,” Oden recounted the surgeon saying. “Be a regular person. You would be perfectly fine walking out of this place and not have to worry about any rehab or anything.”
Oden briefly considered this. He had already resumed taking classes at Ohio State, working toward a degree in Education. He mentioned that he would love to work with children, possibly becoming a gym teacher at a middle school or high school. However, he still had the itch. He couldn’t give up on the NBA.
“Two weeks later, I was stuck on NBA TV,” Oden said at his introductory press conference. “That’s just what I watch every day. I turn on TV and I’m watching NBA TV. I just wanted to play basketball. That’s my love; that’s what I wanted to do.”
He wanted to be on the court again. He wanted to be part of a team. He also didn’t want to be remembered as the player who only logged 88 games and less than 2,000 minutes, the player who only totaled 773 points in his career (by comparison, 125 players scored more than 773 points during the 2012-13 season alone).
Rather than moving on with his life, as many people recommended, Oden was determined to make an NBA comeback. He trained ridiculously hard, first in Columbus and then in Indianapolis. Ohio State assistant coach Jeff Boals, who witnessed Oden’s workouts on campus, was impressed.
“He looked really good in workouts,” Boals said. “His weight looks great. Obviously it wasn’t five-on-five so it will be interesting to see how he responds. He looks great, though. If you know Greg and who he is then you are rooting for him. He’s a great guy, who has overcome a lot of adversity.”
After taking off the 2012-13 season and focusing solely on working out, he was ready to work out in front of NBA teams earlier this offseason. A number of executives made the trek to Indianapolis to see one of his sessions. In addition to Miami, the New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks were among the teams expressing interest in the center.
“He’s moving very well,” said one executive in attendance for Oden’s workout. “He’s definitely coming along. You can tell that he has worked very hard to get to this point.”
It was in Indianapolis where Miami separated themselves from the pack of teams pursuing Oden. The big man met with HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra and liked the idea of helping Miami go for a three-peat.
“They have a great head coach here,” Oden said of Spoelstra. “When he came to Indianapolis, that was a big thing for me, to sit with him and talk with him and get to know him. Hearing everything that he had to say about me just drew me in to this team.”
While Oden is back on an NBA roster, he knows that the hard work isn’t over. He’s still not ready to take the court just yet, and then he has to start the long journey of getting back into game shape. The HEAT understand that this is going to be a process, and are going to be very patient with Oden. Their goal is to have the center healthy and productive for the playoffs, not for meaningless regular season games. This situation is similar to when Miami took a chance on free agent Eddy Curry several years ago – a low-risk, high-reward move in which everyone involved understands the timetable.
“It’s going to be a long road for me,” Oden said. “Talking to [coach] and talking to the guys, they’re going to take it slow for me to start off. For me, that’s a big thing, getting back from all of the injuries that I’ve been through.”
Oden believes he’s going to fit right in with his new teammates. He already has a relationship with Juwan Howard, who remains around the organization, since they were teammates in Portland at one point. And much like his South Beach teammates, he has a big sense of humor and a team-first approach.
“I’m a good guy and from what I hear, everybody is a great person here on this team,” Oden said. “I’m excited and I think I can fit well. From what I hear, everybody just wants to win. That’s my main thing – to win and get a championship.”
Considering the dark place that Oden was in just several years ago, it’s excellent to hear that he’s excited and in good spirits. If he’s able to win that championship and salvage his career, the smile and charisma that won over the basketball world should be back for good.
Rose Returning Stronger Than Ever
After sitting out the 2012-13 season, Derrick Rose is ready to return to the court for the Chicago Bulls and he says he’s stronger than ever. He has spent this offseason training with Rob McClanaghan in Los Angeles, and he has bulked up in addition to strengthening his surgically repaired leg.
“Right now I’m in training, and I’m getting a lot stronger,” Rose told SLAM.com. “I gained 10 pounds of muscle. I don’t know how that’s going to carry over to how I play on the court, but I know it’s going to be very weird. I’m shooting a lot of shots right now, working with Rob, just putting memory back in my leg.
“With me, I was always kind of strong, but the way that I play, I hit tricky lay-ups and all of that stuff because going to the hole in my neighborhood, they don’t call any fouls, so I was just used to hitting all types of shots. Now this year, I got a little more strength behind me, so I think going to the hole, taking those shots, I’ll be able to finish a lot stronger this year. There should be a lot more and-ones, hopefully.
“I think I’m a lot quicker, a lot more explosive, and I think I’m gonna go this year without that many nagging injuries, just trying to prevent it by stretching and doing all the things I have to do to take care of my body. When you first come in the League and you’re talented and you’re athletic, you don’t care about stretching or anything. You just kind of go out there and overlook that stuff. But now it’s my sixth year, so you really have to look at that and take that more seriously so I can prevent all of the little injuries.”
Rose has also been working on his jump shot. His three-point percentage drastically improved over the last two seasons, and he expects to show even more progress this year, which should keep defenders honest.
“I’ve been shooting a lot,” Rose said. “A lot. Especially during the ['12-13] season, I’d go out there before games and shoot up a lot of shots. Now you add lifting weights and you’re shooting almost every day, your shot becomes easier, and your confidence grows, and with shooting, there’s nothing like confidence. So I think I’m gonna be a great shooter next year.”
When it comes to Rose’s goals for the upcoming season, the point guard only has one thing on his mind.
“It’s only one goal that I have, really my whole team has, and that’s to win a championship,” Rose said. “All the individual goals, of course we appreciate ‘em and we love to get ‘em, but our No. 1 goal is to go out there and play as hard as we can so that we can be raising that trophy at the end.”