The business side of sport is often the most overlooked—at least until bad decisions are made. Greg Oden is returning to basketball, but he may prove to be another bad decision for whichever team takes a chance on him.
Oden is a 24-year-old former No. 1 pick with all the tools to make NBA executives giddy at the thought of scooping him up at a fair price. That price, however, is largely contingent on expected return. After undergoing several microfracture surgeries on his knees, the question remains, “How much is too much?”
Sam Amico of FoxSportsOhio.com reports that Oden is eyeing a return to the league, and “interest around the NBA is sky high.” Amico also reports that teams on the list interested in Oden include the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks.
The intrigue in Oden is warranted. The seven-footer averaged 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his short career while averaging only 22 minutes per game. If Oden can get healthy and stay that way, he has a very high ceiling in the NBA.
The health questions are the biggest concern, though. Oden played in just 82 career games before facing an early exit from the NBA due to continual knee problems. The talent was there, but the durability was not.
According to Amico, Oden plans to sign with a team soon in order to rehab and train for a full season next year. What signing Oden means is not a one-year rental for a team in need of frontcourt help, but an investment for future seasons.
While signing Oden may make sense for a team like Miami—in need of depth and rebounders—young teams with a need for roster and financial flexibility should steer clear of such a big risk. The rebuilding process is an all-or-nothing business.
Miami will have pieces in place next season to have the luxury to add pieces like Oden. Adding depth at a reasonable expense, while not impeding development of young players, would be a luxury for Miami. The Heat are averaging just 38.8 rebounds this year (No. 29 in the NBA), and adding Oden could potentially create a new rebounding and defensive element in the paint in future years.
If Cleveland and Boston are truly interested, however, signing Oden becomes more about building around him.
Boston has shunned the “rebuilding” tag and continued to wield a win-now mentality, despite enjoying far less success than in recent years. While the Celtics’ roster continues to age, Danny Ainge should be considering ways to avoid major risk and add pieces around which to build. If he can stay healthy, Oden will be a valuable player, but he will never be a valuable “asset” as long as durability concerns remain.
The Cavaliers should also stay away from Oden.
Cleveland’s fan base is desperate for a contender, and despite the Cavs’ recent influx of young talent (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson), the team is still at the bottom of the league in talent. Cleveland has been committed to the rebuilding process through the draft, and that should continue to be the case going forward.
It may seem like a low-risk, high-reward scenario, but signing Oden presents big risk, even if his potential salary implies otherwise. If Oden returns to a young team in rebuilding mode, only to experience another injury setback, that team is at risk of losing financial flexibility and an asset with which to use in the rebuilding process.
Oden may return to the NBA at full strength and prove critics wrong by staying healthy and productive. He may reward an NBA team with double-double production and valuable frontcourt depth. But whichever team takes a chance on him should be able to afford losing him to injury should he not be capable of a full return to the NBA.