If The Heat Need A Center In 2012-13, Is Greg Oden Their Man?

By: 05.16.12

Greg Oden never had much of an NBA season, let alone career. Miami in the LeBron James-Chris Bosh-Dwyane Wade era has never had much of a center. Today the two meet after a report says Oden is eyeing Miami as a comeback landing pad, and sooner than has been thought for his recovery. Here’s why the Heat should never consider an offer.  

Before a Grantland.com story last week by Oden’s former AAU and Ohio State teammate Mark Titus, the last we’d heard about the former No. 1 pick was his being cut in mid-March by Portland. Going back further, the Oden news centered on his perpetually injured knee, which a scope in December revealed to be another of season-ending variety. It’s the recovery from that injury that Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., told the Miami Herald on Tuesday is going better than expected.

A Grantland.com story said that “right now” Oden’s plan is to take next season off to rehab, then come back in 2013-14. But his agent, Mike Conley Sr., told us Oden is positioned be ready to play in December or January “as far as being effective and in shape” and will explore options in the coming months, with the possibility of joining a team next season. But nobody obviously can know for sure when he will be ready.

The Heat hasn’t called but “Greg has talked about Miami,” Conley said. “He has interest. He’s not retiring.”

The impetus, of course, for such talk even being heard in Miami is that an injury to Bosh, never a true center to begin with, shows how woefully thin the Heat are at center and power forward. With salary tied up in the $77 million range for next season, Pat Riley can afford only to shop from the discount rack. In 2012-13, Ronny Turiaf has a player option for $1.2 million and Dexter Pittman, a widebody the Herald mentioned as the Heat’s long-term development project, isn’t under contract. And Oden, at this point, is about as marked down as underwear at a thrift store with a flashing neon sign of caveat emptor above it.

It’s not cynical to see this as an iron-is-hot move for Conley Sr. and Oden after Grantland put him back in the spotlight for the first time in months. It just simply wouldn’t happen otherwise; you don’t slip Oden into conversation easily. (Nevermind that the attention was partially about Oden being an alcoholic living in a Portland suburb surrounded by people not looking out for his best interests — it got people talking about Oden.) It’s as safe a bet to believe Oden “talked about” every team in the NBA and Euroleague as it is to think that January of 2013 is far too early for a guy with his track record of injury. There is no way to know his recovery status. Frankly, I’d be more worried about his will do play again if I was any NBA GM. But in Miami, the sheer attention the Heat receive requires any addition to be like ceramic in the face of a blowtorch of criticism. And I’m afraid Oden’s makeup, for as much as I enjoy comeback stories, resembles something closer to paper.

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Greg Oden

Greg Oden (photo. Mannion)

Is he now so open with his past demons he can shed expectations or will one more setback break him? That’s the red flag that pops up immediately with Oden now. I’d argued in a feature for Dime in winter of 2011 that Oden could still be serviceable as an Erick Dampier-type player once he came back; it’s not a sexy role but it can pay a lot of bills to stay around that long as a big body. But that’s because I’d heard in his voice a sense of commitment that Mike Conley Jr. told me then (and was confirmed by Titus in the article) was unheard of for Oden in the rehab of 2010. He’d hired a chef and laid off the dumbells for the beach muscles (he reportedly gained more than 30 pounds of unnecessary muscle as a rookie).

Even allowing for the existence of personal comebacks from depression and alcohol abuse, I don’t see Oden as a fit in Miami. Charlotte? Sure. Milwaukee maybe, too. Oden, though, never had a reputation for being the most intense on-court persona to begin with. After years of erosion to his body and self-confidence, what could he possibly bring now to toughen Miami’s frontcourt? I have my doubts he’d be able to succeed on a team with more microscopes around it than a petri dish.

Who should Miami go after to play center?

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