The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Greg Oden is very, very big.
So perhaps somehow it was predestined.
Oden began his NBA career as the virtually undisputed number one draft pick, a 7'1", 270-pound behemoth teams were hoping for, praying for, salivating for.
He was the once-in-a-generation center, and it was a foregone conclusion that whichever lucky franchise landed him would wind up with an NBA Championship. Heck, multiple championships.
Oden ended his NBA career by being waived by the Portland Trail Blazers. Released outright. Unsigned by a single team.
His career stats in five possible seasons: 82 games played. 338 games missed. Five surgeries, including an unprecedented three microfracture surgeries. Three naked pictures of himself on the internet. One dearly beloved and tragically deceased blind dog.
And countless bottles of alcohol.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. That's what they say.
What they don't say is the harder they fall, the more inspiring if they get back up.
Greg Oden wants to play in the NBA again next season. Rumors abound that he might even be signed by someone this season.
How can Greg Oden make sure he goes from fiasco to phoenix?
Greg, on the off-chance you read this, I'll address the rest of the article to you.
First things first. Make sure your comeback is no sooner than next season. To that end, those rumors about you getting signed yet this season concern me—even though by all accounts you would wait until next season to play.
By your own admission, Greg, you came back from injury too early—twice. No matter how tempting the court looks, how tantalizing rewriting your story sounds, please: Finish your healing process.
And because you're a competitor, signing now will just get your juices flowing for no good reason.
I hear you've got $15 million in the bank. If you're coming back, it can't be for the money, right? So sit, Greg. I know you've got to be sick and tired of sitting. Sit anyway. Sit until you're healed fully.
And as much as your agent might be anxious to get a deal done, as much as you might want to be in a locker room again, on a sideline again, the proper environment for full healing, even if you are inactive, is not on a team's roster. It's in an easy chair.
I strongly recommend avoiding not only physical stress, but mental and emotional pressure as well. Once you're on a roster and adrenaline courses through your veins, it's going to be a lot more difficult for you to honestly say where you are in your healing process.
Let's suppose you do wait until next year. At that point, what can you do to maximize your chances for a successful comeback?
The team you choose, Greg, will make a huge difference. Don't pick by medical staff, by weather conducive to your knees, or any of the other silly ideas I've seen floating around the internet.
Choose by who's got the deepest and most rock-solid frontcourt.
Odie, you need to go someplace where expectations for you are as low as possible. You are such a competitor, and you have so much I'm sure you want to prove.
Which means if there are expectations on you with your new team, I can see you trying to jump higher, run faster, and score more than you need to.
And then I can see visions of your crash landing on December 5, 2009. And Greg, I don't ever want to see that again.
Follow the lead of guys like Antonio McDyess and Alonzo Mourning, whose stories and career arcs bear similarities to yours. Join a serious contender, where minutes will be limited enough that the healing can continue, but frequent enough that you can build your own confidence back. Trust your body again. Gain coaches' and managements' faith.
Rumors say the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers are both interested in you. As much as I admire the outspoken and passionate Dan Gilbert, and loathe the collusion-skirting Heat, I implore you to join the defending champs.
Don't care for a minute that the Heat will likely only be willing to offer only the league minimum of a little more than $1 million, versus the Cavs' offer of almost four times that much. Don't be swayed by the temptation of a fanbase that will remember and appreciate you from your glory days at college.
America loves a comeback story, G-O. And after the spectacular implosion of Lance Armstrong, we need one badly. So I promise you'll hear cheers wherever you go.
But you'll never find redemption in the size of your paycheck. You'll find it in the return of your luster. Ask Grant Hill about that one.
The Heat play solid team ball. So you won't have to make up for others' mistakes, or worry often about playing from behind in games, like you would in Cleveland.
Also, because of their comparatively slow pace—Miami's pace is tied for 20th in the league in possessions used per game—you won't be running and gunning as much. Less extreme stopping and starting means less stress on your legs and knees.
With Miami, you'll be in position more often. Open baskets will be more plentiful. Defensive help will be more forthcoming. Your NBA life will, quite simply, be easier.
If that sounds like mollycoddling to you, well maybe it is, man. And so what if it is. Right now I say it's about lowering the expectations bar. The lower it is, the more pleasantly surprised you and everyone else will be if things work out.
You know why? Because even as you've had plenty of heartbreak in the NBA, you've also made plenty of hearts pound with your play. If you could block at the rate you did in your 2009-2010 season, you'd be third in the NBA right now in blocks per 48 minutes. Your '09-'10 PER would be good for 10th in the league this year.
And when you were on the court, your Blazers outscored opponents by almost nine points per games, versus just over three when you were sitting.
So don't bite off more than you can chew. Take it slow, and make things as easy on yourself as you possibly can.
I hear you like Will Ferrell quotes. Maybe this one from Semi-Pro will speak to you:
"There will be no refunds. Your refund will be escaping this deathtrap with your life."
In other words, Greg, there will be no more chances. After this, you'll be down to the chance of being able to get out of bed when you're 50, and the chance of seeing your name as a crossword puzzle clue, along with Sam Bowie and Kwame Brown.
You're better than that, man. And you deserve more than that.
So make this chance count—by giving yourself the best chance to succeed.
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