Despite some Spurs fans' hopes, predictions and fever dreams, Greg Oden signed a two-year deal with the Miami Heat on Friday for the league minimum, including a player option for the second year. It's been a long road since being released by Portland in March of 2012, but patience will continue to be key if he's to have any long-term success in the NBA.
Since the former number one pick last played in the league, the world has selected a new Pope, witnessed an Arab Spring, and survived the 2012 apocalypse (not to mention Sharknado). The great waiting game - which finally ended on Friday with Oden's signing a two-year deal with the Heat - only echoed the tune that the whole NBA has been whistling along with the big man for the past four years: give it time.
Expectations for Oden's impact vary greatly depending on how good you remember him being, how many times you've watched Unbreakable, and whether or not your name is Tim Hardaway. The Heat scout and former star PG has already said that there would be a guaranteed Heat three-peat if Oden were to sign with Miami. No pressure, Greg.
The long wait for a final decision seems to indicate that the center wasn't just chasing the money, but the best opportunity for a return to form, as well as his long-term outlook. Whether or not Miami is that ideal fit, fans can expect that Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, fresh off an NBA title run and in no need to rush him back on the court, will monitor his progress - and minutes - closely.
A similar case to Oden's is that of Andrew Bogut last season. Another big who's fallen under the maligned tag of "injury-prone", Bogut was gradually worked back into the line-up by the Warriors, resting every second game at first, and then still having his minutes capped after that. We can expect an even more conservative approach by Spoelstra and the Heat staff.
From the Greg Oden situation to former-consensus-first-overall-pick Nerlens Noel sliding to number 6 in the draft (and, subsequently, being shipped to Philly) to Andrew Bynum's discounted contract in Cleveland, this has been a summer of marked-down, hobbled bigs. How these big men pan out could end up shaping the league far more than the greatly-hyped Dwightmare saga.
Oden's story, much like that of his former teammate Brandon Roy's, underscores the fact that NBA storylines extend well beyond the narratives of clubs and their individual seasons. There are emotions, careers, and livelihoods on the line and players we can root for outside of whether or not their team succeeds. Even though I'd have loved to see Oden in black and silver making plays like the one below, I wish him all the best.
First things first: I wanted Oden to pick the Spurs. But not because I was thinking he would have a huge impact. I just wanted a marketable free agent to choose the Spurs over an alternative destination, and because potential, no matter how improbable, is always alluring.
At the same time, I didn't expect him to end up in San Antonio and more importantly, I'm not at all that worried that he won't.
Why I'm not worried or mad that he didn't sign is simple: It's very, very likely Greg Oden won't ever be the player he once was. When he was on the court for the Blazers in 2010 he was a beast, the type of center that can anchor a championship defense. But that was three years and a couple of knee surgeries ago. In all likelihood, Oden barely plays this year and only contributes marginally. If he takes it easy and finds a way to stay healthy after next season he will probably be nothing more than a 20 minute defensive specialist. Unlike other centers that have had either a freak injury or an isolated incident, It's really, really hard to imagine Oden playing 30 minutes a game at an elite level.
And without that high upside, what's left, really? A guy with size and defensive instincts that can board but can't stay on the floor for extended periods of time. You can find players like that. Heck, that's Aron Baynes' best case scenario. And the Spurs have two stout post defenders that can protect the rim in Splitter and Duncan, so what they really need is athleticism at power forward, not another center. Sure, Oden could get in shape for the playoffs and give the Heat some solid minutes against Brook Lopez or Roy Hibbert but I doubt he will be good enough to displace Haslem or Andersen in the rotation, and that's saying something.
Of course if this was a binary and definitive "add Oden or no one" situation, it would have hurt to see it slip away. But the Spurs still have a roster spot open and could sign someone else for the veteran's minimum or trade for someone. Al Harrington, is available for example. Harrington didn't play much last season but he averaged 14 points and seven rebounds for the Nuggets in 2011/12 as a power forward. He is a guy that can hit the long ball well enough to not be left alone and can attack a close out. I don't know if he would be better in the Spurs' system than Diaw and Bonner but he has historically been a better rebounder and scorer. Or if the idea is to go for a boom-or-bust, defensive-minded former high pick, then hi there, recently amnestied Tyrus Thomas.
I don't expect the Spurs to reach for Harrington or Thomas, but the impact either player could have next season seems quite similar to the one I expect Oden to have. To be candid, Oden was a more attractive target after a quiet off-season for the Spurs, because he was a former number one pick and the last time we saw him play he was full of promise, but it's highly doubtful that player exists anymore.
If he somehow heals completely and gets back to being a dominant defensive force, that will be further confirmation that Pat Riley sold his soul for basketball success. I will be so, so mad if that happens and I will question why Pop didn't take him out to Chili's and why Timmy wasn't in touch with him every day, recruiting him and painting a picture of another generation of great big men in the Alamo city. But at this point, it's hard to be too heart-broken about a guy that has already seen his best basketball years.
As far as tipping the scales for the 2013/14 season, the Oden signing seems as meaningful as the Spurs signing Jeff Pendergraph to provide some depth. And as far as free agent snubs go, this one doesn't sting as much. The Heat are as good as they were yesterday, at least until Oden shows he can actually provide quality minutes off the bench, which is far from a certainty.
The Spurs, though, who were deep in the chase for Oden, will now need to decide what to do with their final roster spot. What do you think PATFO should do with it? Did Oden make the right call? Share your thoughts below.