Examining 5 Potential Scenarios for Greg Oden's Miami Heat Comeback
The team's managing partner, Micky Arison, welcomed him with a tweet.
The team's architect, Pat Riley, inserted a statement in a release.
But there was no pomp, circumstance, press conference or even media conference call. Oden sat down for a brief interview with Heat TV, but otherwise left town without much of a trace.
Which is exactly how the Heat want it.
Oden may be a former No. 1 overall pick, but he's just the 13th-highest-paid player on the Heat roster.
The organization managed to sign him at such a cheap price ($1 million for the first season, with a $1.1 million option for the second), in part because it promised that he could pace himself.
Now, back to the Riley statement:
After many months of discussion, evaluations and speaking with Greg, we felt it was the perfect time for him to make his comeback and re-enter the NBA with the Miami Heat. It’s a great challenge for him. We know all about his past injuries, but we feel that there is a huge upside and the possibility of him helping us. We will continue his program and then we will tackle basketball issues after that.
Expect the Heat to continue to downplay expectations; that's prudent.
But when might that huge upside start to show? What might we see this season?
(All quotes for this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post.)
Worst Case: Never Takes the Court
Greg Oden has played a full season.
It's just taken him six years.
Since the Portland Trail Blazers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2007, Oden has played 82 games, averaging 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.43 blocks in 22.1 minutes.
Those statistics have stayed the same since December 5, 2009.
And it's possible they won't change.
At the moment, it appears that Oden is on course for a comeback, but after three microfracture surgeries—and five knee surgeries in all—it's too soon to say he will get through contact drills with his body intact.
It's too early to assume that he will ever wear a Miami Heat uniform—No. 20, by the way—in a game that counts.
Plenty of players have attempted comebacks, only to be forced to abort them.
And, even for all the Heat's recent success, they recognize that reclamation projects are risky.
Eddy Curry had a longer NBA track record, and nothing near Oden's injury history, when the Heat signed him in the summer of 2011. Curry had played 10 games the previous three seasons—not many, but 10 more than Oden.
Curry got in just 14 games for the Heat.
Oden has a reputation as more driven. He'll do whatever he can.
But his body might decide otherwise.
Highly Possible: Returns, but Suffers Setbacks
Brandon Roy and Greg Oden had a chance to be the NBA's next dynamic duo.
The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Roy with the fourth overall pick in 2006. They drafted Oden with the first overall pick in 2007.
After missing the 2007-08 season due to injury, Oden returned to play 61 games the next season, in a support role to Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Portland was 40-21 in the games he played.
But Oden played just 21 games the next season, the same season that Roy's knees began to fail him.
Oden hasn't played since. Roy played 47 games in 2010-11, missed the next season and—after missing a year—attempted a comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
That lasted just five games. Now it's unlikely that Roy will play again.
The Heat haven't invested nearly as much in Oden as Minnesota did in Roy. And, with a loaded championship rotation returning, they can afford to be patient.
In his interview with Heat.com, Oden spoke of Erik Spoelstra's influence on his decision:
They're the world champs, who wouldn't want to join this team? And they have a great coach here, when he came to Indianapolis, that was a big thing for me, just to sit and talk to him and get to know him, and just to hear everything he said about me, just drew me into this team.
They spoke at Chili's, about not biting off more than Oden could chew:
It's going to be a long road for me, so just talking to him and talking to the guys, they're going to take it slow with me to start off. For me, that's a big thing, just getting back off all the injuries I've been through.
It will be a big step when he takes the court. But he could still stumble.
Most Likely: Part-Time Work, Then a Playoff Role
After winning a second straight championship as an executive, and his third overall with the Miami Heat, Pat Riley brushed aside suggestions that he needed to counter the strengths of the other Eastern Conference contenders.
Specifically, when asked about the Indiana Pacers pushing the Heat to seven games, and doing so behind often-dominant play by their center, Riley responded curtly: "We didn't have any problems against (Roy) Hibbert."
Hibbert's Eastern Conference statistics (22.1 points, 10.4 rebounds) suggest otherwise.
Riley proceeded to say that his greater concern was finding players who suit Erik Spoelstra's system, one that relies more on quickness and—while Riley loathes the term—"small ball."
Does Oden—at 7'1"—fit?
Well, if he's fit, he probably can, especially after extended time in the Heat's punishing conditioning program.
But, the reality is, the Heat don't need to force that.
While Mike Miller is gone, the nine rotation players—including the re-signed Chris Andersen—from the team's 27-game winning streak are all back.
The most likely scenario, provided that he doesn't suffer setbacks, is that Oden plays spot minutes at most before the All-Star break, with Chris Bosh remaining the team's primary center.
Then, if Miami has opened a lead in the Eastern Conference, it is quite conceivable that Oden's workload will increase somewhat down the stretch.
Best Case: Steady Contributor Throughout Season
It is possible that Greg Oden could exceed expectations.
What would that entail, for those who wish to push the bounds of reality?
It could mean that he's ready in the 2013 calendar year to get some rotation minutes, perhaps in tandem with Chris Andersen off the bench or maybe even in Andersen's place against low-post center scorers.
It could mean that he looks so spry, after so much time to recover from his most recent surgery, that Erik Spoelstra feels comfortable stretching him to 20 minutes on some occasions relatively early in the season.
And it is possible that he is major factor in those minutes, in the same way that Andersen was a major factor with similar limitations last season. Knowing that he didn't need to worry about foul trouble, Birdman just needed to play as hard as he could until Spoelstra went to someone else.
After all, Oden will have it much easier than he ever did as a Portland Trail Blazer.
The Blazers had quality scorers in Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, but that didn't compare to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Oden won't be expected to excel offensively. He merely needs to get in position for tips, dunks and maybe an occasional dump-down if the offense bogs down. Chris Bosh doesn't get many plays run for him. So, certainly, Oden—not as skilled offensively and coming off such a long layoff—won't.
He can focus on defense and rebounding, two things that, when healthy, he has always done well.
As Oden told Heat.com:
I think I can fit well. From what I hear, everybody just wants to win, and that's my main thing, to win and get a championship.
He might help that cause more than most expect, in part because his burden is reduced.
Pipe Dream: Starting Before Regular Season Ends
Some fans are never satisfied.
So it wasn't surprising that, as soon as Greg Oden signed with the Miami Heat, reporters covering the team received tweets asking if the move would allow the team to move Chris Bosh to power forward.
Miami has won two championships with Bosh playing center, and that will be his primary position this season.
The Heat did not sign Oden to start him at the spot, at least not this season.
For starters, they don't want to apply any unnecessary pressure. They also don't want to upset their chemistry.
Erik Spoelstra has shown a willingness to tinker with lineups; take, for instance, his decision to make Mike Miller a starter in the 2013 NBA Finals, after shelving Miller for much of the season.
And it is possible that, way down the line in May or June, he could summon Oden to take a larger role, with the big prize at stake.
But don't expect to see Oden taking many opening tips before that.
The Heat would have been a prohibitive favorite to earn the East's top seed without Oden and with a small-ball style.
So they will proceed accordingly.
That means proceeding cautiously with Oden, someone they wanted but didn't need.
Sometime who is willing to wait his turn and, when it comes to starting, will almost assuredly wait a while.