And you thought the Dwight Howard sweepstakes were intense.
Still only 25, Oden hasn't appeared in a game since December of 2009. Persistent knee injuries have kept him on the sidelines and left him as one of the biggest drafts busts in NBA history.
Standing at 7'0", each of his many suitors are inclined to forgive and forget. That's one of the benefits of being a big man with potential who has failed to live up to it—short-term memory loss.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks are among the franchises willing to give Oden another shot. He's scheduled to meet with each of them very soon.
Also still in the mix are the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, who Stein says are both at the "forefront" of the race to facilitate his return.
Quite the market for a player who is nearly four years removed from the Association, right? Actually, no.
Oden spent almost his entire career battling injuries, but when he was on the floor, he was a force worthy of being selected with the top pick in the 2007 draft.
Through 21 games of the 2009-10 campaign, Oden averaged 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes, and posted a PER of 23.1. Clearly, there's something there.
The key now is for Oden to end up in the right situation, where he can escape the expectations that came to tear him down in Portland, and focus on his health and performance. And not every team is qualified to offer him the chance to do that.
5. Sacramento Kings
If Oden doesn't want to play, or is sold on the idea of playing for a franchise that hasn't become known for its player development over the last few years, the Kings are the team for him.
I'm going on the assumption that he does care about playing time and salvaging his career, and am thus stepping out on a limb and predicting he won't wind up in Sacramento.
While the Kings are under new ownership, there's still so many unanswered questions the team needs to address before it starts offering a helping hand to a reclamation project. Like sorting out their own positional logjam, for instance.
For some reason, the Kings are stacked at every position. Not in a good way either; more like brimming with mostly mediocre talent.
Big men already on the roster include DeMarcus Cousins, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson. There really isn't any room for Oden; unless, of course, Sacramento decides to move one (or three) of its bigs.
That's the perplexing part about the Kings' interest in the first place. They're already "set" up front with Cousins and the gang. Targeting another center (or even power forward) makes no sense, especially if they're committed to building around Cousins.
Young DeMarcus has the tools to perhaps spend some time at the 4, so I suppose we can't rule that out. More likely, Oden's arrival would jumpstart another wave of unnecessary trade rumors, true or not.
For a team like the Kings, who are trying to rebuild their team and their image, it's best they just stay away from signing a player who they aren't capable of making promises to.
4. Dallas Mavericks
Normally, I would love the idea of Oden in Dallas. Just not now, the way the Mavericks are set up.
Playing next to Dirk Nowitzki is never a bad route to take, so we couldn't fault Oden if he did join Big D, but I worry that the Mavs might rely on him too much.
Dallas doesn't have a true center able to log big minutes in its possession. Oden, then, wouldn't merely be bolstering an already deep low-post rotation. He'd be headlining it.
Should his knees be able to withstand the rigors of the NBA grind, and he be able to approach his ceiling, then we could talk about him as an interior foundation. Right now, he's more of a complementary piece, for a team that either already has a resident big or doesn't run an offense that needs to use one much.
The Mavs don't fall under either category. They desperately need a competent behemoth down low. Though they may be prepared to guarantee Oden the most playing time, he would also be held to a higher bar than if he were to sign elsewhere.
To be clear, I'm not saying he's incapable of meeting such standards. But expectations and pressure are his enemy until he sorts his health out.
Only then will he be suited to carry the load Dallas would be asking him to bear.
3. New Orleans Pelicans
You might think that the Pelicans are similar to the Mavericks, in that they're in dire need of an adequate post presence (outside of Anthony Davis). And you're right.
Believing that Dallas is clearly the better fit, however, is wrong.
New Orleans is a younger team. The Pelicans have the time to develop a big man like Oden. They aren't trying to make the most of what's left of Nowitzki's career, affording them the opportunity to bring him along slowly.
Once again, we come back to pressure.
There is no established center ready to show Oden the ropes in New Orleans (or Dallas). There is only time and patience, organizational virtues he needs just as much as he needs playing time.
Pairing Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday alongside Davis, Austin Rivers, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon has left the Pelicans dwelling amongst the league's fringe playoff teams. Oden may immediately push them over the edge, or he may not. It doesn't really matter.
New Orleans doesn't need to do anything next season, no matter how much it has improved. The Pelicans are still rebuilding, and therefore, have the time necessary to devote to a project and risk like Oden.
If they plan to run with Gordon and Evans in the same lineup, they're also one Anderson insertion away from running a space-heavy offense, with Davis at the 5. Overly ambitious expectations are, then, not an issue either.
We can't guarantee that Oden and the Pelicans find success together. Given what the Pelicans are doing, and the stage of collective development they're currently at, we can't guarantee the two parties won't do great things together either.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Signing with the Spurs would be a smart move by Oden.
Gregg Popovich knows how to get the most out of players not-named Stephen Jackson. San Antonio has helped transform Boris Diaw from a lost cause without any work ethic to a diligent reserve on a championship-caliber machine. The Spurs can do much of the same for Oden.
With bigs like Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Jeff Pendergraph, and even Diaw himself, on the roster, the Spurs won't rely on Oden too much, which is exactly what he needs.
I do wonder if they have any playing time to give him at all. If he's unhealthy and unable to play, the Spurs will obviously sit him. But with Coach Pop and crew attempting to keep a closing championship window open, San Antonio may not have time to mess around with an ambiguous endeavor like the one Oden presents.
The last thing Oden should want to do is return to the NBA and barely see the floor. That's not the point of him coming back.
Being exposed to a winning environment and playing under perhaps the best coaching staff in the game is likely to help. Failure to get his licks in on a team that may not be apt to experimenting won't.
As Stein notes, though, the Spurs are interested. One has to believe that means they're willing to give Oden at least some of what he's looking for.
And whenever San Antonio is prepared to make you an offer that satisfies any of your needs, you listen.
1. Miami Heat
All along, I've maintained that Miami was the best landing spot for Oden, and I'm not abandoning my belief. Especially now.
With Chris Andersen coming back, the pressure Oden would be faced with as the team's primary big man is now minimal. He's no longer as much of a necessity with Birdman in the fold.
Truth be told, he wasn't much of a necessity to begin with. The Heat don't need a big man to log extensive minutes to win. All they need to have a puncher's chance at securing another title is LeBron James, with perhaps a few Mike Miller threes sprinkled in.
Embarking on a quest for a third straight ring, some would be inclined to question the Heat's ability to provide Oden with any consistent playing time. And they should. Most championship-caliber outfits don't run through an injury-prone center with almost no experience.
Miami isn't your average reigning champion, though. The Heat have the ability to run with so many different lineups, they can easily integrate Oden.
I'm not just talking about their penchant for blowing teams out either. Obviously, that helps. Any garbage time Oden can log is a plus.
What's most important here is the Heat can afford to experiment, like they did when they first brought in Birdman. They have enough star power to combat the struggles of another player. Hell, they have enough star power to counteract the slumps of another star (see the entire NBA playoffs). Oden will be able to get some reps in South Beach.
Andersen is great to have down low, and the Heat value his defense, but Oden provides even more protection at the rim, sans the offensive incompetence Joel Anthony brings with him.
With Chris Bosh struggling so mightily during the postseason, and Udonis Haslem's impact being mitigated by the game, now is also as good a time as any to stretch any available man power down low.
Deepening the interior rotation with a young, talented, and hopefully healthy, two-way center in Oden is a risk worth taking.
It's also a situation worth becoming a part of if you're Oden.
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