Don't look now, but that plan may have already changed.
In an interview with Tribune Star writer David Hughes, Oden said Thursday that while he doesn't plan on rushing back from injury, he would "love" to return to the NBA for the 2012-13 season.
I would love to play [in 2012-13], but I’m not going to rush anything. I need to take a year off. What I told Mike was ‘Look, I want to get back with a team. I want to play. If there’s a chance that later on in the [NBA] year, if I feel good or if I’m healthy enough to play, I would love to play this year.’ That’s the conversation we had. I think some people kinda blew that up and took his words and kinda changed them around. I know I need to get healthy first before I do anything.
Even though Oden has played in just 82 games since being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2007 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, he is still a 24-year-old seven-footer who showed flashes of dominance in his short time as a pro.
His career averages of 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per night are NBA starter-worthy, and his per-36 minute splits of 15.3 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game would likely make Oden the third-best center in basketball.
With the NBA completely bereft of talent at the center position, there would be no shortage of suitors if Oden decided he wanted to play. A general manager told Fox Sports' Sam Amico that he expects the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic to be the front-runners if that is the case.
But if Oden truly wants a long career when he returns, he needs to stick to his original plan, sit out the 2012-13 NBA season and return fully healed in October 2013.
An ill-fated return for the seven-footer returns next season simply dooms Oden to repeat history for the third time.
According to Oden's interview with Titus, he felt pressure both internally and from the Blazers organization to return too soon from injury in each of the past two seasons. Both times Oden returned before his body was ready and was back under the knife almost immediately.
The center also talked about how the injuries and the NBA life forced him into a life of seclusion and alcoholism.
That life and all of those pressures are gone. It's been since Dec. 15, 2009 since we've seen Oden on the court. He won't be re-signing with the Blazers, and most fans have already put him on the all-time draft bust perch.
With the alcohol problem nipped and Oden currently studying to become a gym teacher back at Ohio State, there is absolutely no reason for him to rush back.
For the first time in Oden's life, he'll be able to heal on his own, far away from the pressures of a No. 1 pick.
Instead of rushing back to re-enter that spotlight, Oden needs to take advantage of this time. His career (or whatever is left of it) depends on it.