[Editor's note: This is a guest post from Bruno Passos, who may be writing for us on a more regular basis soon. -JRW.]
Spurs Look at Rolling the Dice with Greg Oden
In the glossy, candy-colored casino that is NBA free agency, the San Antonio Spurs have never been regarded as high rollers-even in their recent years spent hovering just above the cap. Long considered among the great pragmatists of the league, PATFO most often find themselves at the $10 tables, watching as other owners spin the treacherous money wheel.
This week in Las Vegas, the Mavs, Kings and Pelicans joined the Heat and Spurs as teams now in talks to sign former number one pick Greg Oden. The move appears to be a low-risk, high-reward scenario for whichever squad picks up the injury-plagued seven-footer, and much can be said for how both the Spurs and Oden stand to benefit from this pairing.
How Does Oden win?
It's been a bumpy road for Oden, even before joining the league. He played much of his sole college season through a wrist injury, which limited his game and forced him to shoot free throws with his off hand. Still, that didn't stop him from garnering first team All-America honors and being selected first overall by the Blazers in 2007. In what was seemingly a coin flip at the time between size and scoring, Portland went with Oden over Kevin Durant. And while Durant's gone on to become one of the top players in the league, Oden's misfortunes have become a draft cautionary tale, leading Blazers fans to (almost) forget the name Sam Bowie.
But there may still be chapters of Oden's story still to be written, and the San Antonio Spurs may present him with the best situation where he can revitalize his career.
Oden would be joining a club that's ready to ease him in, with tempered expectations that hinge neither on the player's health nor the team's necessity. Pop, the NBA's answer to Raymond Babbitt, manages his roster's minutes better than anyone in the league, and wouldn't be in a hurry to lean on him for important minutes or add him to the mix right away. Meanwhile, teams like Dallas (whose only centers are named Brandan Wright and Bernard James) would almost certainly expect big minutes from Oden early on.
Another advantage the Spurs possess over teams like Miami is their style of play, which would far better suit Oden's skill set. Unlike the Heat, who have been one of the league's biggest proponents of small ball, the Spurs continue to believe in the big man, so much so that they shelled out $36 million to Tiago Splitter despite his largely ineffective play in the Finals. The addition of a healthy Oden would not only further PATFO's commitment to the big man philosophy, but strengthen its punch.
Perhaps best of all for Oden's long-term prospects is the presence of Tim Duncan, who could mentor him much like Duncan himself was able to learn from Robinson early in his career. Beyond his wealth of on-the-court experience and all-time-great status, Timmeh is another former number one pick and has been able to manage his body remarkably well, both after coming back from his own knee injury in 2000 and most recently by losing 25-30 pounds and being selected as an All Star once again.
Whether Oden decides to land on black (and silver) may come down to other factors-namely salary. The Spurs can only offer him the veteran's minimum of $1 million, while teams like the Mavs (sitting bitterly on some extra cap space after failing to throw money at every marquee FA) can offer far more. Yet, Oden may be looking at the big picture and at how much an ideal situation can improve his long-term basketball and financial outlook.
How do the Spurs win?
The fact that teams like the Spurs aren't deterred from speaking with Oden's even though he's only appeared in 82 games over six seasons - and hasn't played since his last injury in 2009 - speaks volumes about his talent and potential impact. Even lacking the polish many hoped he'd have developed by this stage in his career, a healthy Oden should bolster the defense and rebounding of any team, even in limited minutes.
Heck, even an hobbled Oden was able to put up averages of 9.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. The Spurs finished just outside the top 10 in points allowed and stand to improve upon that, as well as their rebounding and defensive efficiency, with Oden seeing regular minutes by mid-season.
Oden would fit right in with the Spurs ethos, which, like a car-lover who only buys American, has always trumped the virtues of size and dependability. (Before Tiago's big pay day, fans will recall the $42 million given to Rasho Nesterovic who, according to this ESPN article, was seen as the new Slovenian admiral.)
It's also been reported that Oden is currently in great shape and progressing well, although (grain of salt alert!) this intel comes by way of fellow Ohio State alum, and new Spur, Deshaun Thomas. Call it hype, call it wooing, but it at least seems like his head, if not his whole body, is in the right place.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that Greg Oden has been a model NBA citizen, avoided scandal (aside from one iPhauxn pas), and continues to be a great figure in the community-his "Team Oden" is an organization that mentors kids in the Portland area. Oden's humble, understated personality would be a perfect fit in the Alamo city.
Previous Rolls of the Silver and Black Dice
In order to put this would-be transaction into context, here is a quick rundown of San Antonio's previous risky acquisitions.
1993 Trade: Spurs All-Star Sean Elliott and David Wood for Dennis Rodman.
Detroit had in Rodman the league's top rebounder who, just the year before, averaged almost 19 a game. Yet, Rodman's off-the-court issues and overall Wormliness had grated on Pistons personnel. Coming to answer their prayers were the Spurs, who traded away All-Star (and all-around good guy) Elliott to roll the dice on Rodman. The universe, however, never seemed right with Rodman donning a Spurs jersey and, after two winning, but combative, years, saw Rodman out and Elliott back home to Taco Caban-er-San Antonio yet again.
Richard Jefferson had averaged nearly 20 points a game for the Bucks the year before, boasting a combination of three-point shooting and athleticism that SA had been severely lacking. The trade, combined with the re-structuring of his contract, cost the Spurs a few fan favorites, as well as cap flexibility for the future. The next year, Jefferson averaged 12.3 points for the Spurs, and was never able to perform at the level expected out of him.
George Hill wasn't just loved by fans, Popovich notably called him as his "favorite player." Nonetheless, the Spurs, who saw Kawhi as a top-five talent, decided to pull the trigger and acquire the rights to the 15th overall pick. The gamble has paid off. While Hill has found a home in Indiana, Kawhi has already blossomed, showing defensive instincts and acumen well beyond his years, while rebounding at an excellent rate on both ends and continuing to grow into a dangerous offensive weapon.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Las Vegas Summer League Game Recap: Spurs Lose To Cavaliers In Second Round Of Vegas Tournament, 72-68
- Las Vegas Summer League Recap: Day 7
- Stampler's Take: Grading the NBA Off-Season, Part 5
- J.R. Wilco talks Spurs free agent signings on Phil Naessens Show
- Deshaun Thomas isn't as good as he's playing in Summer League, but that doesn't mean he can't contribute in the NBA