It has been three seasons since former No. 1 overall draft pick Greg Oden last played in an NBA game, but in signing him, the Miami Heat very well may have solidified the first NBA championship "three-peat" since the early-2000s Los Angeles Lakers.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, Oden signed a two-year deal worth the league minimum with a player option attached to the second year of that contract.
That means there is absolutely no risk for the Heat in making this signing. If Oden gets injured again, and ultimately can't play many games, then it's no harm, no foul. If he becomes a valuable contributor, though, the Heat may have gotten themselves the steal of the offseason.
It's easy to forget how dominant Oden once was, but his one season at Ohio State was something special. Not only did he lead the Buckeyes to the National Championship Game, but Oden also averaged nearly 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game. On top of that, Oden changed games in ways that didn't show up on the score sheet as his mere presence on the defensive end was a deterrent to opponents.
Oden showed a great deal of promise in two seasons with the Portland Trailblazers, but knee injuries limited him to a total of 82 games. Oden played 21 games during the 2009-10 season, which was his last prior to signing with the Heat. Oden put up 11 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, and it seemed like he was well on his way to becoming a star.
The seven-footer has been hampered by knee problems ever since, though, and he is only now ready to make an NBA return. There is no doubt that the odds are stacked against Oden as he has undergone five knee surgeries, and will be the first player in NBA history to return after three microfracture surgeries, according to Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD.
That is a major accomplishment in and of itself, but it's doubtful that Oden will be content with settling for that. He is currently viewed as a punch line, due in large part to the fact that the Blazers took him one pick before the Seattle SuperSonics selected Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA draft. Durant has, of course, gone on to become one of the league's top players, while Oden has been forced to rehab for the bulk of his career.
With that said, Oden is just 25 years old, so there is still time for him to turn things around. It can be argued that there is no better team for him to do it with than the Heat. Not only will he be surrounded with star power in the form of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but his skill set is one that Miami has sorely lacked during the "Big Three" era.
While it's true that Miami has made the NBA Finals in each of the past three years, and won the past two NBA titles, it has done so without a dominant interior presence. Bosh is an All-Star-caliber power forward, but he is more comfortable away from the basket as he isn't particularly physical, and his defensive acumen is questionable at best.
Udonis Haslem is the guy who does most of the dirty work for the Heat down low, but that forces Bosh to play center at times, which is far from ideal. The Heat also have Chris Andersen and Joel Anthony on the roster. However, they are little more than role players who grind it out down low, and do the bulk of the dirty work.
There is nothing wrong with that, but Miami has lacked a center with star potential since Shaquille O'Neal patrolled South Beach. Oden brings that to the table, but the big question relates to how much he can play, and how effective he can be when he is on the floor.
It's difficult to speculate how often Oden can potentially be used because nobody knows for sure what he is capable of, nor do they know how much his knees can handle. It's possible that Oden might be aiming for a season in which he averages 10 points and five rebounds per game, as he would join an elite group if he were to accomplish that feat, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Even if Oden can't physically play enough to reach those numbers, he should be extremely valuable off the bench. The Heat have enough offense as it is, so there will be no pressure on Oden to score the ball. Defense has always been his biggest strength anyway, so simply manning the paint, hitting the boards and altering shots would add a completely new dimension to Miami's roster.
The San Antonio Spurs had their way with the Heat in the paint at various times during the 2013 NBA Finals, and the Indiana Pacers were able to do it in the Eastern Conference Finals as well. If Oden can play 20 or so effective minutes per game as a defensive stopper, though, that will no longer be an issue.
Health will obviously always be a concern when it comes to Oden, but the Heat can afford to progress him slowly and only use him when needed. Once he feels comfortable at the NBA level again, the Heat can take off the training wheels and let him loose.
As long as injuries don't rear their ugly head once again, Oden will be a difference maker for the Heat, and he will give them the boost they so desperately need to win yet another NBA title.
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