Greg Oden’s harshest critics might at least concede that the Miami Heat veteran center seems to know who he is.
“I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things,” the oft injured, overall top selection in the 2007 NBA draft recently told Sports Illustrated of his history of knee injuries and operations. “It’s frustrating that my body can’t do what my mind wants it to do sometimes. But worrying or complaining about it isn’t going to fix anything.”
Since the Heat inked Oden to a two-year deal last summer and he commenced his comeback in earnest by posting weight room photos of him and four-time league MVP LeBron James strenuously working out, the two-time defending champs best laid plans for Oden have largely gone awry.
The veteran center appeared in only 23 games for the Heat this season, averaging just three points and two rebounds in 212 total minutes. Over the Heat’s first nine playoff games, he’s yet to take the court and has played only a total of 13 minutes in one appearance over the last five weeks.
But even those minimal moments and even meeker contributions only seem to speak to the 26-year-old former Ohio State’s resistance and fortitude. When the Blazers moved to release Oden in the winter of 2012, all seemed lost in terms of him ever again being able to don an NBA uniform.
Still other surgeries on both knees later that year finally seemed to have robbed the man once compared to Bill Russell based his shot-blocking abilities of all the speed and explosiveness that made such comparisons seem legitimate.
It’s been said the greatest loss of all is the tragedy of unfilled potential, and not being able to do what he long felt he was born to do sent Greg Oden into a spiraling pit of depression. Over the years, he’s talked about a period of battling alcoholism and other demons that at times had him wondering if he would so much as survive, let alone again prosper.
But since landing in South Beach, Oden seems to have found a new lease on life. No longer does he appear to mercilessly abuse himself over things he now understands he never had any control over to begin with.
And besides, the best of Oden’s initial Heat season could still be yet to come. In the Eastern Conference finals, the Heat will face either the Pacers or the Wizards.
In the case of Indiana, that means dealing with the frontline tandem of Roy Hibbert and David West, while Washington boasts an equally formidable front-court in the form of Nene and Marcin Gortat. It all could mean the Heat feeling a need to call on Greg Oden, and coach Erik Spoelstra insists he won’t hesitate to do so.
“He’s made incredible progress,” said Spoelstra. “We still have great confidence if we need him, he’ll be ready.”