If the 2013-14 season taught us anything, it's that the Los Angeles Clippers are on the brink of something special.
The way forward likely requires minor adjustments and some continuity. Acquiring stretch-center Spencer Hawes was one such adjustment, a crucial infusion of front-line depth that will assuredly ease the burden on starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
ESPN Radio's Jorge Sedano tweeted that some further tweaking may soon be under way.
Sedano soon noted that Emeka Okafor wouldn't be in the mix after all.
It's not exactly a list of All-Stars, but the Clippers could do worse. L.A.'s status as an emergent contender makes it one of the NBA's preferred free-agent destinations, at least among the castaways and reclamation projects the organization can actually afford.
Of those listed, Andray Blatche stands out on account of his recent contributions to the Brooklyn Nets. Whereas Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden are still trying to get their careers back on track, Blatche has averaged double-figure scoring in each of the last two seasons.
The problem is that the 27-year-old may be slightly redundant with the newly acquired Hawes. Both are offensively oriented big men, and their primary function is to space the floor. Neither gives head coach Doc Rivers an especially valuable defensive presence.
Nor does re-signed forward Glen Davis.
That leaves the Clippers with precious little rim protection when Jordan takes a seat. The next step for Los Angeles should be adding another defensive presence, and that's where Oden enters the discussion.
The 26-year-old's career has been decimated by injury ever since he was selected with the first overall pick in 2007 by the Portland Trail Blazers.
The woes began with season-ending microfracture surgery on his right knee that delayed his pro debut. The subsequent two seasons showed significant promise, with Oden averaging as many as 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds through 21 games in 2009-10.
Then a fractured patella ended what seemed destined to be Oden's coming-out party. He was done for the rest of the season, just his second after missing his (real) rookie year.
Later, surgeries in 2010 and 2012 kept Oden off the floor until he eventually signed on with the Miami Heat in 2013, hoping to gradually resurrect his career with a contender that could patiently accommodate his attempts to regain some rhythm.
At the time, Oden said, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Jeff Goodman, "I'm not going to sit here and say I'm 100 percent. I am moving [well] and I am feeling good, but I have a lot of work to do."
He added, "[The Heat] are in the spotlight, what can I say? But for them to come after me with all the stuff I've been going through -- for them to think I can still be an important piece of their team -- I'm really excited about that. The scrutiny...that's going to be there with any team I signed with. I just want to play."
So how did it go?
Oden didn't make a splash, but he proved he can stay healthy in limited minutes. For the season, he averaged 2.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.6 blocks while playing just 9.2 minutes per contest. He only saw action in 23 regular-season games—and just three more during the postseason.
The 7-footer never cracked double figures in scoring or rebounding and didn't play more than 15 minutes in any one game.
As CBSSports.com's Zach Harper put it, "Oden's return to the NBA last season was a success in terms of him staying relatively healthy and being able to contribute a little to the Heat during the regular season, but he was never part of a regular rotation for Miami."
His sparing usage makes it difficult to assess what he's capable of doing going forward, but there are a couple of facts that give rise to optimism.
First, Oden is still young and has little mileage on his now-recovered body. Though he will probably never return to the form that drew so much attention at Ohio State, it's entirely possible he has a durable and productive career ahead of him.
Second, even if Oden's athleticism has lost something to all those surgeries, he still has a big NBA body and solid instincts. With a sustained opportunity to put it all together, his play in Miami may be a minor prelude to what he can accomplish in a more robust role.
From Los Angeles' standpoint, Oden is a low-cost, low-risk investment. That's worth remembering. Like Miami, the Clippers needn't rely heavily on Oden. They're looking for some added depth that fills a need, not a difference-maker.
If Oden blossoms into something more, all the better.
But the Clippers won't have much riding on him either way. If a veteran's minimum contract can help secure the rim against opposing bigs and penetration, that seems like a wise move.
Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster concluded, "[Last season] Oden was a shell of himself in terms of what he could provide, but theoretically, he could alter shots and use his fouls off the bench against big men like Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and others in the Western Conference."
At the moment, that's more than what L.A.'s in-house talent can offer. Oden has the potential to be an above-average defender who does the things that other reserves Hawes and Davis can't. He could assure Rivers some peace of mind when the second unit steps in. He'd serve as insurance in the event something happened to Jordan or Hawes.
Blatche may be more accomplished, but that doesn't mean he's the best fit.
The Clippers will need stops on their way to a 2015 title push, and Greg Oden needs another opportunity to show how far he's come. It's not necessarily a match made in heaven, but it's the next best thing for two sides that are a long way from getting everything they want.
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