Greg Oden's name has become synonymous with "draft bust," "injured" and "unfulfilled potential."
He's played in only 82 games since leaving Ohio State, which would be fine if he was drafted in 2012. But seeing that this number is out of a possible 492 games that have been played since he was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007, that's rather problematic.
Going into the 2013-14 campaign, Oden will have a chance to resume his troubled career with the Miami Heat, as originally reported by ESPN's Jeff Goodman:
Greg Oden will sign with Miami Heat, source told ESPN. Two-year with player option for second year.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) August 3, 2013
Now that the big man has found a new home with the two-time defending champions, let's take a look at how we got to this point.
Portland fans, you may want to avert your eyes or at least prepare yourself for blast of depressing thoughts. This complete timeline of the big man's injury-plagued professional career can get ugly.
Drafted No. 1 Overall in 2007
They say hindsight is 20/20.
Back in 2007, there was a legitimate debate about whether Greg Oden or Kevin Durant should be drafted No. 1 overall. The big man was coming off a dominant freshman season for the Ohio State Buckeyes, while the future-scoring champion Durant had thrilled crowds at Texas, but ultimately failed to live up to expectations in March Madness.
When Durant couldn't even bench 185 pounds a single time at the draft combine—could you with those lanky arms?—it only fueled the fire surrounding Oden's draft stock.
The internet was filled with pieces like this debate between ESPN's Bomani Jones and Kieran Darcy. The latter writer's argument closed with the following quote that nicely summarized the argument of most in the pro-Oden camp:
Oden is poised to be a franchise center, someone you can build a team around. Franchise centers usually win championships. His name's already being mentioned in the company of Russell, Robinson, Olajuwon and Shaq. Lot of rings on those fingers.
Durant is most often compared to Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett. Some people project him as a combination of the two. That's pretty darn good—but I don't see any rings on their fingers.
It was an understandable overreaction to a great—albeit brief—college career. Lest you forget just how dominant the center was in Columbus, take a look at the video just below.
The Portland Trail Blazers ended up pulling the trigger and asking David Stern to announce his name at No. 1, feeling as though he'd be a franchise centerpiece for a long time.
Now, let's see how many of the experts graded the pick right after it occurred.
DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony:
For the second year in a row, Portland gets an A for effort, an A for creativity and an A for going out and finding value when the rest of the league was content on twiddling their thumbs.
Greg Oden was an obvious pick that takes this team’s potential to a whole new level. Rudy Fernandez is an absolute steal at No. 24—if he ever comes over considering the very low slot he’s now slotted on the rookie scale. Petteri Koponen’s intangibles embody the culture that GM Kevin Pritchard has been talking about for some time—and he’ll be stashed to develop overseas for another season as well.
ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required):
Landing Oden alone gets them an A. But GM Kevin Pritchard didn't rest there. He also acquired two late first-rounders, including Fernandez, who is quickly becoming a star at the highest levels of the Euroleague. Both he and Koponen likely will play in Europe for one more season before heading to Portland.
Sports Illustrated's Marty Burns, who gave Rip City an A-:
For the second straight year, they were bold and aggressive. Oden was the safe and logical pick at No. 1, Fernandez could prove a Ginobili-type steal down the road and McRoberts was a great value at No. 37. They also got Channing Frye while ridding themselves of Zach Randolph in that trade with the Knicks.
This was not a surprising pick.
It was expected, and it was a highly touted move for an up-and-coming franchise. Little did the Blazers know what would come next...
Microfracture Surgery Delays Rookie Season
Before he ever played an NBA game, Greg Oden had season-ending microfracture surgery on his right knee. It was the first time a No. 1 draft pick missed his true rookie season since David Robinson sat out to fulfill his commitment to the Navy.
Obviously this was a little different, and Oden has had a massively different career than the one enjoyed by the Admiral.
At the time, Portland was getting excited about its potential as a team, both in the short-term and long-term varieties. Brandon Roy had just won Rookie of the Year, Oden was going to accomplish the same thing and the trio of Roy, Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge was ready to put the NBA on notice.
According to a report from ESPN.com's news services, a couple of important members of the Blazers organization commented following the news of Oden's surgery.
General manager Kevin Pritchard wanted the world to know just how bad Oden felt, and he maintained optimism about his No. 1 pick:
Greg looked at me as he was coming out of his surgery, and he and his mom Zoe probably said 'sorry' 20 times. I could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. And as a leader and as leaders of this organization, my first thought was how lucky we were to have a guy that cares about the organization that much.
We picked the right kid; he cares about his organization. And I can't [overemphasize] how bad he felt, and not because he had to go through the rehab and all that, but because he felt like he let us down. And he hasn't let us down at all.
Head coach Nate McMillan was disappointed, but he also remained hopeful for the future:
To know that Greg wouldn't be with us, it was disappointing. I was really looking forward to working with him, and developing this team. You know we will still get that opportunity, but it will just come a year from now.
The reason he remained hopeful was obvious when Oden finally took the court at the beginning of the 2008-09 season.
Injury-Plagued but Effective in First Go-Around
Even though more than a year had lapsed since he strode across the stage and shook Stern's hand, Oden was technically a rookie when the 2008-09 season began. And he played like one to start.
He went scoreless in his debut against the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving with a foot injury after just 13 minutes on the court. A few weeks later, he returned and only recorded three points and two rebounds against the Miami Heat in his second try.
But Oden picked his game up from there.
The Ohio State product recorded double-doubles in three of his next four games, including a 22-point, 10-rebound outing in only 29 minutes against the Golden State Warriors. He stayed healthy for a while and peaked in January, averaging 16.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per contest over a five-game stretch.
However, things took a turn for the worse in February.
Knee-to-knee contact with Corey Maggette led to an injured knee cap on February 12 and the big man missed more than a month of action. He wasn't the same after returning, failing to record a single double-double during the rest of his rookie season.
He produced some solid highlights during that first year of action in the Association, but it wasn't enough for him to even make one of the All-Rookie teams. He simply missed too much time.
The centers that beat him out for the coveted spots? Marc Gasol and Brook Lopez.
Dominant Start to 2009-10
Although he had to play himself back into shape at the beginning of the 2009-10 campaign, Oden started showing signs that he could still be the league's next dominant center. He recorded 12 rebounds and five blocks in the season-opener, a win over the Houston Rockets, and continued to improve as the year progressed.
Oden had his best game of the season in late November, torching the Chicago Bulls for 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. He recorded 13 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks just a few games later against the Heat.
The big man was the only player in the NBA to average at least 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per 36 minutes during the 2009-10 season. However, there was one major problem.
When Aaron Brooks hit a floater over Oden's outstretched arms in a game against the Rockets on December 5th, he inadvertently injured the big man. Again. Just 21 games into the season.
A fractured left patella kept him out for the remainder of what could have become his breakout season.
The Never-Ending Stream of Setbacks
Oden hasn't played in a game since he was carried off the court in that stretcher.
In an injury that was unrelated to the patella he fractured in December of 2009, Oden had another microfracture surgery in November of 2010, one that ended his 2010-11 season before it even began.
He stayed out of the news until 2011, when it was expected that he'd be playing for the $8.9 million qualifying offer in 2011-12. However, he suffered a setback in the rehab process and restructured his contract as acting general manager Chad Buchanan had some concerns about Oden's ability to play.
As reported by ESPN via the Associated Press, Buchanan said, "We're hopeful that Greg can get back out on the court this year—maybe not quite as optimistic as we were before—but we feel like Greg Oden is worth that risk for one more year.
The Blazers needed something to feel good about. After all, they'd dealt with the Oden setback, Roy retiring and Aldridge's unfortunate heart condition all in the same month. They deserved some good news.
It certainly wouldn't come from Oden.
He had arthroscopic surgery on each knee during a three-week span in February of 2012 and the latter surgery turned into the third microfracture procedure of his career. This prompted team president Larry Miller to speak out, as reported by ESPN.com's news services:
It's hard to put into words the heartbreak for everyone involved, but especially for Greg. He's a young man who has experienced a great number of physical challenges in his playing career and today is yet another significant setback for him. We have a lot of empathy for Greg and his family during this difficult time.
Buchanan also delivered another quote, one that somehow retained a sense of optimism:
Greg's still very young, in relative terms, for a professional basketball player. He's recovered from a couple of these before—his last two microfracture lesions have healed fine. So there's no reason to think he couldn't come back as long as he shows the work ethic and desire that he's had in the past to come back. I think it's premature to speculate anything beyond that.
The acting GM apparently didn't have too much confidence in his words, though. The team waived Oden in March of 2012, as CBS' Ken Berger reported.
The Blazers will waive 2007 No. 1 pick Greg Oden to make room for trade acquisitions, sources say, confirming reports.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) March 15, 2012
After spending the entirety of the 2012-13 campaign rehabbing his knees, Oden was finally healthy enough this summer to convince teams to give him a shot.
Signs With Miami Heat
Is it possible that Portland has just been a bad environment for the talented big man?
We'll have a chance to find out now. The big man will attempt to get his career back on track with the Miami Heat, joining forces with Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as the reigning champions attempt to make it three in a row.
Oden's return has been a long time coming and signs have been surprisingly positive. Deshaun Thomas, is a former Buckeye himself, and presumably a little bit biased. But he had nothing but positives to say about Oden back in May, as reported by The News-Herald's Bob Finnan:
Man, he looks unbelievable. He's running. He's lifting weights. You might be seeing a comeback. He looks like he's ready to go. He's running, getting in shape. I'll tell you one thing. For a big 7-footer that's all he does, running and getting in shape. He's looking right.
Will Oden's career get back on track with Miami?
If the center is able to become the player he once was expected to be, the Heat would become even more terrifying. But even if he doesn't, it's a low-risk situation for Miami, who would give Oden the chance to actually win one of those coveted rings.
No one knows exactly how the rest of the 7-footer's career will unfold, but I think we can all agree that we hope it doesn't end with him lying on the floor clutching one of his knees again.
The world might have trouble rooting for a few players who call South Beach home, but Oden shouldn't fall into that category.