HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — He was supposed to be one of them: a legendary NBA big man, carrying the torch from one generation to the next.
Instead of just interviewing the likes of David Robinson and Bill Russell, Greg Oden was set to join them in the pantheon of dominant centers. At least that was the plan on Draft night in 2007, when the Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the No. 1 overall pick, one spot ahead of current Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant.
We all know how that scene played out. Numerous knee injuries derailed Oden’s career before he ever got cranked up. While other members of his Draft class flourished and became All-Stars and franchise pillars, leading their teams to the playoffs and capturing gold medals at the World Championships and Olympics, Oden stayed in the shadows.
His name was barely spoken in most basketball circles, unless someone was relaying the cautionary tale of the No. 1 pick who failed to meet expectations.
Oden’s name is on the radar now, though. He’s at the center of interesting recruiting battle between the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and the reigning and back-to-back champion Miami Heat, three teams in need of big man depth. He’s scheduled to meet with the Mavericks today in Las Vegas, with the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans also reportedly set for face-to-face meetings with the former Ohio State star.
Since Vegas is the epicenter of the NBA universe the next two weeks (the Las Vegas Summer League is there until July 22 and USA Basketball’s week-long training camp and exhibition schedule begins Monday), it only makes sense that Oden be there to try to least reclaim a scrap of the glory he’s lost the past six years.
If there is a chance his legacy can be resurrected at all, the decision-makers roaming the hallways in Las Vegas will be the ones to help facilitate that process.
Anyone with good sense gave up years ago on the idea of him being what the pundits predicted him to be — a true challenger to Dwight Howard, Yao Ming and Andrew Bynum as the most dominant low-post force in the game. It’s strange now looking at that list of big men and seeing how injuries have marred — and in Yao’s case, ended — their careers.
Oden never reached that level. Much like Durant, the expectations for his career on Draft night were sky-high. The ’07 Draft boasted a strong talent base, and Oden and Durant ranked at the very top. They were believed to posses the kinds of talent that could allow them to rise to the level of being among the very best in the league at their respective positions, something Durant has achieved.
The best he can hope for now is, what? Earning a spot as a role player for a championship-level team like the Heat or Spurs? Maybe Oden’s a bit more ambitious than that and wants a bigger role with the Mavericks, Kings or Pelicans?
That’s better than the alternative, which is having to wonder for the rest of his years what could have been if those fragile knees hadn’t failed him.
We have to forget the fantasy of what Oden might have been and focus on what he can salvage of his career, wherever he lands. And who knows, Oden might just surprise us and be a bigger factor than we think in the right situation.