Multiple teams are reportedly interested in signing former Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden. Oden hasn't played in a professional basketball game since December 5th 2009, when he suffered a gruesome fractured left patella that ended both his season and, as of this moment, his career. Oden previously had microfracture surgery on his right knee, the recovery from which caused him to miss the 2007-2008 season.
Oden was selected first overall in the 2007 NBA Draft and since then, he's played a total of 82 NBA games. You can’t help but feel bad for Oden, who is by all accounts a very pleasant and humble guy. His career thus far has been a sad story, but the prospect of Oden returning to the NBA and at least partially salvaging his career, is a potentially uplifting scenario.
However, when you’re putting together an NBA team, the incentive is to win rather than warm hearts. So why would anybody risk signing a player that has only played the equivalent of one NBA season in five years?
The answer is because it's not a risk. Oden will come cheap, very cheap. His last contract with the Trail Blazers was for $1.5 million over one season, a season in which he never saw the floor. Oden is very interested in joining the two time champion Miami Heat, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, and they should be able to get him for a similar price. The problem for Miami is that they are currently over the luxury tax by $14 million this year, despite having two roster spots open. Even if Miami signs Oden for a close to minimum deal, they will be paying double or triple that due to cap penalties.
It might be a penalty worth accepting with Oden’s potential upside, even taking into account the fact that the seven foot center isn’t considering a comeback until the start of the 2014-2015 season. Oden feels coming back too soon in the past may have led to his subsequent knee injuries, which seems clear now. Oden is the only one who knows his body, and with three recent knee surgeries already behind him, there is no reason to bring him back even a day before he feels comfortable.
On the rare occasions when Oden plays, he's good. He's never once been at 100% in an NBA game, nor has he ever averaged over 30 minutes per game during a season. Despite this, he has been a very efficient player on both ends of the floor. His Player Efficiency Rating for his first season in '08-'09 was an above average 18.1 and for his 21 games in '09-'10, it was an impressive 23.1. These numbers hardly take into account his work on the defensive end, where in addition to averaging 2.3 blocks in his final season, he improved his teams defensively every night by making it difficult for opponents to score in the paint.
Keep in mind these numbers came from a player who recently had knee surgery and never looked completely healthy. There is no guarantee he will be 100% percent whenever he decides to return, and it's very possible that 100% is no longer a possibility for Greg Oden. His body may not be durable enough to withstand 36 minutes a game for an entire NBA season. Hell, he may never be able to even play much more than 20. But he's a good player when he is on the court and could help a team, especially a team with questionable depth like Miami.
Signing Oden to a short term deal would a good move for the Heat or any of the other interested teams (Sacramento, Atlanta, New Orleans, San Antonio & Dallas). If he never sees the floor, you don’t really lose anything. If he does play, at the worst he will be a contributor off the bench. If he's healthy who knows what you will get. Maybe Oden will be the extra piece that helps a team like the Heat win another NBA title. Even for Miami's many haters, it would be hard to root against some much deserved success for Mr. Oden.