If fans of the Miami Heat had one cause for celebration Tuesday night—and in a 111-92 Game 3 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, there weren’t many—it was seeing the oft-injured Greg Oden make his first ever appearance in the NBA Finals.
Oden’s burn lasted a mere two minutes, but for as many haunting hurdles as the former phenom center has scaled since being taken first overall in the 2007 draft, it was sweet vindication indeed.
In even better news, the 7’0” center plans on continuing his much-celebrated basketball comeback with another NBA go-round next season, according to Chris Hayes of CSN Northwest:
“Yeah, I’m sure I’m playing again next year but honestly I haven’t even gave it much thought,” Oden said Wednesday. “I’m trying to concentrate on this and getting this ring first and after that, that’s part of the thought process. My body feels good. I can still play. I’ll be alright.”
At the same time, Oden couldn’t help but lament that his comeback—a process that saw the big man miss a full three seasons recovering from a devastating knee injury—didn’t yield a more consistent role with the defending champs:
It wasn’t what I was hoping it would be. I would have definitely liked to have played more but you know, everything that I’ve been through, I’m just happy to be out there and being on a team. Last year I wasn’t and this year I’m on a team that possibly can win the championship. I’m happy in that, but personally, playing wise, I’m not as happy as I want to be.
Oden averaged 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 23 appearances for the Heat during the 2013-14 regular season. Still, his per-36 numbers—11.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks—suggest the rudiments of a consistently productive player might be there.
Whether he’ll have another chance to showcase his talents with the Heat remains to be seen. But with only eight players slated for next year’s roster—four of which are the player options, including ones for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—Miami may need cheap bench options more than most.
Oden didn’t distinguish himself to earn much beyond the $900,000 he pocketed this season, but if he’s willing to return at something resembling that price tag, perhaps the Heat will give him another spin.
If not, there will likely be plenty of teams willing to roll the dice on player of Oden's caliber and pedigree. The assumption being that one year of full-time basketball was merely just the first step in Oden's comeback.
The prognosis may have been a bit premature, but Josh Walfish’s Miami Herald post from back in March still provides a useful primer for how the Heat might plan on utilizing Oden going forward:
There are clearly many people in his corner, but whether he will admit to it or not, Oden is the centerpiece of a grand experiment for the Heat, which is looking for some size to combat the big bodies Indiana and some of the teams in the Western Conference possess.
Whether this experiment succeeds or fails depends on how Oden plays during crucial moments in May and June. Yet, there are signs the 7-footer will be able to provide the defensive protection inside the Heat is searching for to help it win its third NBA championship in a row.
Over the last couple seasons, Miami has forged an offensive identity that in many ways eschews the use of a traditional center. That alone would seem to suggest the Heat have little use for a lumbering big of Oden’s stock.
At the same time, if he can somehow mimic the contributions of Chris Andersen—the 35-year-old backup forward whose defense and rebounding have proved pivotal to the Heat’s second unit—there’s no telling how much further up the comeback ladder Oden can climb.