The Brooklyn Nets became one of the strongest teams on paper over the offseason when they acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko and company. The Indiana Pacers will look to be even better and deeper than last season with the return of Danny Granger, the signing of Luis Scola and other respectable pieces. The New York Knicks, if nothing else, also became a little more interesting with the acquisition of Andrea Bargnani. The goals for all these top Eastern Conference teams? Prevent the Miami Heat from winning a third consecutive championship.
Potentially, that goal became much more difficult to accomplish on Friday when it was announced that Greg Oden – a man who once saw as much hype as LeBron James coming into the NBA – would join the Heat next season. If Oden is as healthy as some of the executives that saw him workout claim he is, this is a huge signing for Miami.
With a skinny Chris Bosh manning the center position, the Heat were the worst rebounding basketball team in the league this past season – yes, even worse than the Boston Celtics. To their credit, they were also top five in rebounds allowed. Still, it was clearly a major issue for this team when you consider the fact that James led the team in rebounds with eight per game. Bosh, who averaged a paltry 6.8 rebounds, often got manhandled by bigger bodies in the paint, be it Roy Hibbert or Nikola Vucevic.
With Oden entering the picture, the issues the Heat have had at center are potentially history. In his second season with the Portland Trail Blazers, the center averaged 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in just 24 minutes of play. Defense is his game, and he would instantly help Miami on that end – even in limited minutes to begin the season. He should be able to hold his own against the likes of Hibbert, Brook Lopez and other notable centers of the East, while protecting the rim like no other player on the Heat roster ever could (at least not last season).
Oden enters into a situation that is probably ideal for him. After sitting out the past three seasons, rust is surely going to be an issue. By joining the two-time defending champions, the pressure to perform immediately at a high level is all but gone, and he can plug along at his own pace. As much of a defensive stalwart as he was when he was healthy, it’s also worth noting that there was a reason why he managed to play just 24 minutes for the Blazers – his over-aggressiveness on the defensive end often put him out of the game early with foul trouble. It remains to be seen if that part of his game has matured over the years. Even if it hasn’t, six fouls is plenty in limited action.
Offensively, Oden was still somewhat of a project even before suffering the knee injury. He often made slow and predictable moves in the paint, and trying to be quicker only made him shuffle his feet that much more. He wasn’t asked to do too much with Brandon Roy (when he was healthy), LaMarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw manning the offense. He will be asked to do even less for a team that already has James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade. That said, Oden is no slouch when it comes to finishing plays – he shot better than 60 percent from the field in his second season – and James’ ability to create should get the big man plenty of open looks at the basket.
All of this, of course, is assuming that Oden can return to being half the player he was on his way to becoming before the gruesome knee injury. Given the circumstances of where he’s coming back from, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take at least half the season to really get re-acclimated to NBA-level competition. For the Heat, though, all they really need is for him to be ready by the time the playoffs come around. If Oden can keep himself healthy in limited minutes and make that happen, the rest of the league may be in big trouble.
TNT analyst Reggie Miller had this to say about the Oden’s decision:
Heat fans have to be even more excited, they get former #1 pick Greg Oden.. Low risk high reward.. He just has to clog lane and blocks shots
— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) August 3, 2013
And here are some words from Oden himself to get an idea of his state of mind as he prepares for the long-awaited return, from Marc Stein of ESPN:
In a Friday night phone interview after ESPN.com reported that he had chosen the Heat, Oden described the mental toll from his time out of the league as a lot of “ups and downs.”
“With more downs,” Oden said.
He’s not sure yet, further, how soon he’ll be ready to play in actual games, saying that he hopes to lose even more weight after slimming down to his current 275 pounds.
“I could be ready to go but it’s still a work in progress,” Oden said. “My minutes and amount of playing time and all that is going to have to be monitored.”
Oden said it was a “big deciding factor” that Heat officials made it clear to him that he “wouldn’t be needed as much early in the season” as he works his way back from more than three years out of the NBA.
“When I had a conversation with Coach [Erik] Spoelstra and hearing how much he knew about the training stuff that I was already doing, it kind of made me feel like they know what’s best for me,” Oden said.
Oden added: “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.”
James Park is the chief blogger of Sheridan Hoops. You can find him on twitter @SheridanBlog.