Over the course of NBA history, owners and general managers consistently attempt to build their teams around a center or power forward, even though this strategy has proven to be unsuccessful for the most part. This article will examine three high profile bigs which have become legendary for lack of success, injury-prone careers and generally becoming a resource drain on the teams that drafted them.
The biggest draft failure that comes to mind in recent history is current Portland Trailblazers center Greg Oden.
By almost all accounts, Greg Oden was believed to be the next great center coming out of high school to play at Ohio State University. Oden dominated the helpless high school competition as a prep superstar at Lawrence North in Indianapolis, Indiana with his combination of size and strength.
College coaches across the country targeted Oden from the eighth grade as the piece which could carry their program through to a run at the National Championship. He was dubbed by Steve Kerr early in his career as being a "once-in-a-decade" talent, a game changer who could instantly take a team to the next level of success. Oden was highly productive at Ohio State, showing flashes of the generational talent for which he had been touted from an early age.
Oden's time at Ohio State was short, playing only one season of basketball at the Division I level. Selected as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 Draft, he was expected to be the franchise player which the new Trail Blazers front office would build their new-look team around. This has not been the case.
Each of Oden's first three seasons in the NBA have been shortened due to various injuries. In 2007 he had season-ending micro-fracture surgery on his knee only a few games into the season. The following year saw Oden battle with knee pain and a foot injury which caused him to miss significant chunks of play throughout the 2008-2009 season. Again in 2009, Oden injured a knee, this time fracturing his patella, necessitating another season-ending surgery.
Has Greg Oden just been a victim of bad luck? This argument could certainly be made within reason. Injuries are not necessarily controllable.
The better question to ask is why Blazers management decided to take Oden ahead of first-tier NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah, who were also drafted in the top 10 of the 2007 draft. Hindsight in this case is too painful for the Blazers to endure.
The first Chinese national to compete in the NBA, Yao Ming was also believed to be a larger-than-life talent which could propel the Houston Rockets into the NBA elite. Yao's charismatic nature and highly skilled game made him an instant fan favorite not only in Houston, but also in his native China, much to the excitement of the NBA in their efforts to expand the game globally.
Yao's first three seasons in the league from 2002 through 2005 were met with the growing pains that most NBA centers encounter as they learn the game, but it was also obvious that he could be something special. However, a string of injuries leading from 2005 up to this past week have hampered his career to the point of making him another irrelevant footnote among NBA big men.
Ming has had surgeries on his toe, knee, ankles and both feet, each of which have cause him to miss significant playing time, and slowed his game substantially. The Rockets' plan for Ming in the 2010-2011 season was to limit him to no more than 24 minutes per game. Unfortunately for Houston, Ming was again injured last week with a strained ankle. While this injury is not as serious as the others early in his career, it is further proof that Ming's ability to stay healthy just isn't there.
It will be interesting to see how long the Rockets will be patient with Ming and continue to build around him for the future. If the past five years are any indication, he will not be healthy enough to be the franchise player the team once hoped for.
Probably the most notorious draft flop of the past 10 years is journeyman NBA center Kwame Brown. The first No. 1 overall pick to be drafted out of high school, Brown's talent and upside were universally believed by NBA executives to be unlimited. The Washington Wizards, led by Michael Jordan in his ownership role, used the first overall pick of the 2001 draft on Brown, drafting him ahead of current Dallas Mavericks All-Star center Tyson Chandler.
In spite of a rookie season filled with attitude issues and a lack of production, the Wizards were determined to stick with Brown and hoped for his production to soon equal his potential. This never happened. After three unproductive and tumultuous seasons with the Wizards, Brown was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2005 for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins.
Brown's 2005 season with the Lakers was again uneventful. The 2006 season gave Brown the first opportunity to prove himself in LA due to the injury to starting center Chris Mihm. Due to an injury early in the season, however, the starting center's role was given to the up and coming Andrew Bynum.
Bynum and Brown competed for minutes from that point forward, with Brown coming out on the losing end and being part of a three-person trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, which eventually helped the Lakers to land superstar center Pau Gasol.
From there Brown played limited minutes in Memphis and Detroit. He currently is a backup with the Charlotte Bobcats, seeing his career go full circle again playing for owner Michael Jordan.
So the question remains, are big guys worth the investment for NBA owners? Orlando would likely say yes, but recent drafts have shown a change in the theory of team building with John Wall, Rajon Rondo and other point guards going well before the big guys. Maybe the failures of Oden, Ming, Brown and others were a signal to NBA owners that bigger isn't always better.
Only time will tell.