According to Sam Amico of FoxSportsOhio.com, former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden is eyeing a comeback, and the Cleveland Cavaliers might be the frontrunners to land his services. But could a tandem of Oden and budding superstar Kyrie Irving be enough to allow the Cavs to put the hurt caused by LeBron James' departure behind them?
In a word — no.
Let's get one thing straight: Nothing will ever make the Cavs forget about James. When LBJ took his talents to South Beach, his former team didn't just lose the best player in a generation, it also lost its hometown kid.
That kind of sting doesn't disappear, but if Oden were to join forces with Irving in Cleveland, maybe the pain would get a little duller.
Of course, the first and last issue with Oden will forever be his health. After undergoing three micro-fracture surgeries and spending over two full years away from the league, nobody will believe in his physical durability until he proves he has any.
But let's say he actually is healthy when he returns sometime next season. If that were to happen, it's actually possible that he could form a pretty darn dynamic one-two punch with Irving.
It's been so long since anyone has seen Oden play that it's easy to forget just how big of an impact he made in his 82 career games. His career averages of 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in 22.1 minutes per game don't look like much at first, but a deeper analysis shows how uniquely valuable he truly was.
Take, for instance, Oden's 23.14 PER in the 21 games he played in the 2009–10 season. Compared to the league leaders this year, that figure would rank Oden 12th, right between Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant. Perhaps even more interestingly, it would place him ahead of Irving, whose 22.49 figure is good for 14th in the league.
It'd be intellectually dishonest to gloss over the small sample size attached to Oden's 2009–10 PER, but his rookie season wasn't all that much worse, at 18.13.
Just for the sake of argument, if Oden could play at a level in line with his last pro season, he and Irving would give the Cavs a duo capable of measuring up with any other pair in the league. James and Dwyane Wade have the highest combined PER in the league at 31.29 and 24.03, respectively. Kevin Durant (29.24) and Westbrook (23.17) come next, followed by Tony Parker (24.55) and Tim Duncan (24.99).
A potential Irving-Oden tandem would rate favorably with Chris Paul (26.53) and Blake Griffin (23.31).
All of that is a long way of saying that a healthy Oden and a steadily improving Irving would give Cleveland a truly elite duo. And if we've learned anything from this NBA season—or the success of the pairs we've just chronicled—a powerful one-two combo is a prerequisite for winning in today's league.
And it's not just about the raw numbers. Irving's skills as a ball-handler and scorer would allow Oden to do what he does best: control the paint on D and mop up misses on offense. Few big-small pairs would boast talents as complementary as Irving and Oden's.
Again, Oden's health will be the determining factor in his effectiveness, but the fact that at least one other team is also kicking his tires indicates that his return is more than a pipe dream. According to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England, the Boston Celtics met with Oden earlier this month.
The Cavaliers appear to be the most likely destination for Oden, thanks to his familiarity with Ohio and the proximity of the Cleveland Clinic, which Amico points out is "famed for its rehabilitation of injuries and ongoing treatment."
Ultimately, Oden's return (let alone a healthy one) is a long way off. And it might not work out at all. And even if he miraculously reverts to his past level of play, and forms a great young duo with Irving, it won't be enough to erase the memory of James in Cleveland.
But it could very well create a sense of hope and optimism, both of which have been in short supply since "the Decision."
*All stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified
**All stats accurate through games played Feb. 14, 2013