HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — His workouts complete, his guests leaving in some mixture of intrigued and wary, sidelined center Greg Oden could choose the NBA team with which he’ll attempt his latest comeback as soon as Monday, one of his agents said Friday.
Six teams are believed to have scouted the 7-footer — the No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft who has played a total of 82 games in six years due to multiple knee injuries — in workouts in Oden’s native Indianapolis, including Miami, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Atlanta and Dallas.
Agent Bill Duffy declined to reveal details, but said contract talks have ranged from general conversation to more specific terms, as the teams consider both the rewards and the risks of signing a premier talent whose body, thus far, has been unable to withstand the rigors of NBA play.
“Physically, he’s awesome,” Duffy said Friday afternoon. “We’re very happy with where he is. [His health and impact are] going to depend on monitoring him and his minutes.”
Oden, 25, has not played in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009. Four days earlier, in his final full performance for Portland against Miami, he had 13 points, 20 rebounds and four blocked shots in 30 minutes.
In 61 games in 2008-09 and 21 the next season, Oden averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 22.1 minutes while shooting 57.7 percent. He has had three microfracture knee surgeries, which might dissuade teams from offering more than a veteran’s minimum salary, perhaps with appearance-driven incentives.
Another of Oden’s agents is Mike Conley, Sr., whose son is a point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies and a friend from their days together in high school and college. Mike Conley Jr. told Sean Deveney the Sporting News this week that he thinks Oden, in spurts, might be able to help a team.
“I expect him to come back and be someone who in short periods of time can dominate a game,” Conley said. “Just let him build up and get back to himself. I think it would be a little unfair to put him out there and give him 40 minutes.”
The NBA has a checkered history of players who have managed to return from career-threatening injuries. Miami president Pat Riley recently talked about players such as Kurt Thomas and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, both of whom were hampered for several seasons by foot problems, yet revived their careers through rehab. Guard Shaun Livingston, now with Brooklyn, is another whose NBA days seemed in 2007 after a leg injury captured in a gruesome YouTube video.
But Oden’s teammate in Portland, Brandon Roy, was unsuccessful in a comeback attempt last fall with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Houston’s 7-foot-6 Yao Ming ultimately was forced into retirement at age 30 in 2011 by chronic foot fractures.
The best spot for Oden to land? That likely depends on a team’s balance sheet, its risk tolerance and its commitment to patience and modest results. The teams showing interest in Oden run the gamut, from the NBA’s two-time defending champions in Miami and perennial contenders in San Antonio, to lottery teams last season in New Orleans, Sacramento and Dallas. Atlanta, too, is in the midst of an overhaul and shopping.
Portland, the team that drafted Oden over No. 2 Kevin Durant six years ago and paid him more than $23 million for the equivalent of one season’s production, apparently is not interested. Curiously, a team missing from the list of six is Phoenix, which has one of the most respected training staffs in the league that’s been a draw for ailing players such as Grant Hill and Jermaine O’Neal.
Should Oden reach a deal with Miami, the spotlight on him will be hotter than with any of the other five. He’ll risk being seen as something of a front-runner, as he would to a lesser extent with the Spurs. Then again, Miami took a similar flyer on Eddy Curry without much clamor and facilitated Chris [Birdman] Andersen‘s return as a valuable contributor who never rocked the Big Three boat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Any of the teams lower in the pecking order — the Pelicans, Kings, Hornets or Hawks — could offer more modest expectations. And if Oden were to stay healthy and help one of them, he might find himself with more supporters nationally and globally than he would by jumping aboard the Miami or San Antonio bandwagons.
“We’ve looked at all the scenarios,” Duffy said Friday. “There might be less pressure if he tries this with a team that’s rebuilding. Then again, the quality of the medical staff will matter. Maybe a winning team has chemistry that’s good or his role would be clearly defined.”
Oden’s choice, assuming he picks from among multiple offers, will affect not only his NBA future but the number of people rooting for him to have one.