According to NBA analyst Ric Bucher, Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies, who was Oden’s Ohio State Buckeyes teammate, has the scoop on what the injury-plagued center is up to these days:
Greg is back in Columbus, taking classes and trying to get into playing shape and that he hopes to be available to hit the free-agent market and join a team before the end of this season. If he can't get his body right by then or there isn't sufficient interest, he intends to take another shot at it next fall.
In an interview with Grantland’s Mark Titus last spring, the seven-footer unceremoniously announced he would miss the entire 2012-13 campaign to rehab his knee. (Titus’ piece also delves into Oden’s dark past, which includes alcohol abuse and other troubles—a worthy read for any NBA fan.)
If Conley is correct, the 24-year-old seems to be ahead of his self-imposed recovery schedule. Since the Portland Trail Blazers finally gave up and waived Oden last spring, he is free to sign with any team in the league that may express interest.
One of those clubs that may be willing to give the promising youngster another chance is the size-starved Miami Heat, who sources indicate are reportedly monitoring his recovery closely according to Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN.
It’s well known that the defending champs covet a big man, as there have been reports (as per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports) that the franchise brought in former Denver Nuggets role-player Chris Andersen to work out this week as a potential candidate to fill a roster vacancy.
If the Bird Man doesn’t work out, or Jarvis Varnado—recently signed to a 10-day contract (via FOX Sports Florida)—isn’t kept around, there’s a strong chance that Oden gets a serious look from the Heat.
ESPN's Michael Wallace even went so far as to say Oden could potentially finish his rehab on the Miami payroll in order for the organization to keep tabs on his progress.
As Windhorst & Stein report, Heat eyeing Oden. Have been for awhile. Would even put him on roster just 2 monitor rehab.— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) January 10, 2013
Team president Pat Riley hasn’t avoided taking gambles on centers in the past, with Eddy Curry and Josh Harrellson most recently failing to pan out, while the franchise is still try to develop Dexter Pittman’s raw talent.
If Oden is willing to take a minimum contract—and it’s doubtful any GM would be willing to offer more for the high-risk player—there is a chance we could see him in South Beach this season - at least on the bench.
Many regard Oden as one of the biggest busts in NBA draft history, as he was taken No. 1 overall in the 2007 class, just ahead of superstar Kevin Durant—who wound up going No. 2 to the Seattle SuperSonics and is now leading the Oklahoma City Thunder on deep postseason runs.
Over the five seasons that Oden was in the NBA, he managed to participate in just 82 games. The big man effectively missed four years of his career due to chronic knee injuries and constant surgeries.
It was a bad omen when Oden was forced to sit out his entire rookie season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee, but things soon got much worse.
He dealt with numerous foot and knee injuries his second season, fractured his patella midway through the 2009-2010 campaign and missed the entire 2010-2011 season with microfracture surgery on his left knee.
When Oden underwent a third microfracture procedure the following year, the disheartened and dispirited Blazers finally gave up on their coveted prospect in March 2012.
Oden has taken a tough road during his NBA journey, but he clearly has devotion to the game if he hasn't given up by now. If he’s truly dedicated to his comeback, many will be willing to help him out on his path and give him another chance.
There is so much potential inside the big man that has never had an opportunity to be released, and it would be a shame to see Oden fade into the sunset without ever getting a fair shake in the Association.