NBA PM: What to Expect from Greg Oden
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It has been 505 days since Greg Oden was last on an NBA roster, and 1,336 days since he last appeared in an NBA game. On December 5, 2009 – three years and eight months ago – Oden fractured his left knee cap four minutes into a game against the Houston Rockets and left the arena on a stretcher.
The next several years would be the worst of Oden’s life. On the court, he battled setback after setback. Off the court, he battled depression and alcoholism. When all was said and done, Oden’s knees were operated on five times, including three microfracture procedures.
While it seemed like Oden’s career was over since no player has ever returned to action after that many surgeries, the big man continued to rehab and hold out hope that he could someday return to the NBA. He spent time working out in his hometown of Indianapolis and at Ohio State University.
Now, after taking so much time away from the game, Oden believes he’s ready to make his comeback and, judging from the amount of interest he has received from teams, NBA executives agree.
Oden is expected to sign with a team on Friday and once again be on an NBA roster. The Miami HEAT, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are competing for Oden’s services.
Oden has his pick of situations and he’ll have to choose what’s most important. Some teams can offer more money while others can offer more minutes. Some teams can offer more wins while others can offer a pressure-free environment. Oden has a difficult decision to make, but it’s better to be highly coveted than cast aside, as he has been in recent years.
So, why are teams so interested in Oden? After all, he has only played in 88 NBA games over the course of his brief two-year career, averaging 9.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks during that span. He has started just 60 NBA games and played only 1,910 minutes. During the 2012-13 season, 136 NBA players topped 1,910 minutes, blowing away Oden’s career total in a single year. What’s the attraction?
The reason executives are drooling over the possibility of Oden returning is because he was such a special player before the injuries derailed his career. He was compared to NBA legend Bill Russell because of his exceptional defensive timing and instincts, and was described as a once-in-a-generation talent capable of dominating on both ends of the floor. He was supposed to be the NBA’s next great center, which is why the Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft ahead of Kevin Durant – a decision many teams would’ve made, whether they admit it or not.
Now, the bar is obviously much lower for Oden. Nobody is expecting him to become a star or even an every-night starter with everything his body has endured. However, if he can play a handful of significant minutes as a reserve and stay healthy, he’s capable of being a interior presence. In the NBA, centers who can block shots and grab rebounds get work into their 40s, so it’s no wonder that teams are looking at Oden as a possible contributor.
Keep in mind, Oden is still just 25 years old. While he has been through more surgeries than some teams over the last few years and looks much older than his age, he’s still extremely young by NBA standards. Signing a 25-year-old with his talent is a low-risk, high-reward move, especially since the teams linked to Oden aren’t offering ridiculous money. If he doesn’t pan out, the most it will cost a team is a few million dollars and a roster spot, which is easily worth the risk given what Oden may be able to bring to the table. The fact that the center has worked out for teams and still has a long list of suitors shows that he is passing the eye test.
Players who have seen Oden in the workout setting have raved about him. Deshaun Thomas, who attended Ohio State before being drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, worked out with Oden as he was going through the pre-draft process and he was extremely impressed with the big man.
“Man, he looks unbelievable,” Thomas told The Oregonian. “He’s running, he’s lifting weights. You might be seeing a comeback. He looks like he is ready to go. He’s running, getting in shape. I’ll tell you one thing: For a big seven-footer, that’s all he does — running and getting in shape. He’s looking right.”
It wasn’t long ago that Oden was at the lowest point in his life, hobbling around with a cane and drowning his sorrows with alcohol. Now, after working hard and receiving counseling, Oden has put himself in a position to take control of his life again. If Oden is able to resume his career and become an impact player during the 2013-14 season, he’ll be the first NBA player to return from three microfracture surgeries and his story will easily be one of the most intriguing in sports.
UPDATE: An NBA executive who was in attendance for one of Oden’s recent workouts came away impressed with the free agent center.
“He’s moving very well,” the executive said of Oden. “He’s definitely coming along. You can tell that he has worked very hard to get to this point.”
The executive spoke on condition of anonymity due to the private nature of the workout.
Teams in the mix for Oden understand that he will have to be eased back into the NBA, playing some reserve minutes here and there before taking on an increased workload. Even if Oden is a shell of his former self in his reserve minutes, the hope is that a limited Oden is still better than many reserve big men in the league.
The teams competing for Oden’s services expect the center to make his free agency decision on Friday.
Kirilenko Defends Decision to Join Nets
When Andrei Kirilenko decided to sign with the Brooklyn Nets for the taxpayer mid-level exception after opting out $10.2 million with the Minnesota Timberwolves, executives around the league immediately suspected that there was a side deal. Why would the 32-year-old leave all of that money on the table to sign a contract that would pay him just $3.18 million next season.
Did the Russian forward and Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov work something out on the side? It wasn’t a crazy conspiracy theory, especially when you consider that the two men got to know each other well when Kirilenko was playing for the Prokhorov-owned CSKA Moscow during the NBA lockout.
However, Kirilenko recently addressed the media and shot down those rumors. He says that he joins the Nets because he wants to play for a contender at this point in his career, and he believes Brooklyn has a shot to be special in 2013-14.
“As I said, those type of rumors, I can’t control,” Kirilenko told ESPNNewYork.com. “I guess it comes from the history of Russia and the KGB. I don’t know what that is, what it makes people think. It makes it a little funny, but if it looks funny in those situations, what can I do? [It’s] time to take a shot at a title. I think we’ve got everything you need to reach that goal. I’m very happy to be in New York, and I’m looking forward to start the season.
“I opted [out of] my deal not because I wanted to sign with the Nets. At that time I was feeling I wanted to be in Minnesota for a long time, but as you know they had some changes in Minnesota, and I’m very respectful for Flip Saunders, and I respect his decision, but he decided not to want to sign me for a long time. I can’t do anything with that, and that opened up all my options. I started looking at other teams and comparing situations with other teams.”
While Kirilenko had to defend his seemingly peculiar move, he did admit that he’s excited to play for Prokhorov and is happy that the NBA has a Russian owner.
“When he got the team, I was very happy that finally a Russian owner has team in the NBA,” Kirilenko said. “I think it’s a great platform for the NBA people, scouts and media looking for the Russian players, if they have the material to be in the NBA.”
The forward can’t wait to take the court alongside his Nets teammates. He’ll be reuniting with Deron Williams after they played together for several years on the Utah Jazz. He’ll also be making up what may be the deepest bench in the entire league.
“Coming back to play with Deron is great. I’m expecting a great time. We had a great time back in Utah. My wife, my kids are great friends with Deron’s, so they’re going to have a great time. We have great chemistry, so we can use that together.
“I think having eight or 10 people who can really play on the highest level and give those minutes between each other, it’s a great privilege. Not a lot of teams have that kind of depth; usually you have two or three superstars making the max, and the rest of the guys are helping them. Here, you can really have about seven or eight guys who play on the highest level possible and start in any lineup in the NBA.”