Next fall, as Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein reported, 2007 top overall pick Greg Oden plans to be in an NBA training camp. He might even be signed this season by a team such as the Heat that might want to lock up his rights while allowing him to continue taking classes and rehabbing at Ohio State in the interim.
Tremendous. It is bitter to see injuries keep anyone from living his or her dream.
But what is actually going to happen? What does this news mean from the promising center whose plans and realities have departed so severely from each other? Two thoughts:
Greg Oden can really play
Oden was mocked for doing a lot of awkward-looking things in his 1,816 NBA minutes, which were way back in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Falling over, spinning the wrong way, knocking people over accidentally and generally looking like he was just getting used to a new pair of legs (which, post-surgery, he essentially was) -- Oden provided plenty of fodder for observers committed to mocking him as a poor choice to precede the devastatingly fluid Kevin Durant in the draft.
But make no mistake: Despite some awkward moments, he made the Blazers vastly better. His amazing size was only part of the story. He also brought plenty of skill to the court. His scoring was efficient, his blocks were numerous and his rebounding was some of the best in NBA history for a player so young. On Dec. 5, 2009, Oden was carried out of his last NBA game with a fractured left patella -- and a PER that would finish the season in the league's top 10, between Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki. It wasn't a case of empty numbers, either. The Blazers generally destroyed people with Oden on the floor -- outscoring opponents by almost nine points per 100 possessions when Oden played, compared to three when he sat -- even though he glaringly had room to improve.
Not just bad knees
Windhorst and Stein's story includes the eye-popping phrase "third microfracture surgery." Let that sink in. Although it's nothing like the sentence it once was, players who have had one microfracture are considered compromised. Three is a huge number.
Most concerning is that it is far from the total of his health troubles. In his short time in the public eye, he suffered a prolonged wrist injury that dogged him -- he shot free throws left-handed -- for an entire Ohio State season. In the NBA, his summer league was cut short by a tonsillectomy. An ankle problem, a foot problem, a fractured kneecap and a pernicious case of jumper's knee all caused him to miss NBA games as well.
It's enough to leave you a bit dizzy and, as Oden described a few years ago, trying "to figure out what's going on with my body that makes me keep getting injured."
To be a meaningful NBA contributor, Oden will need to heal more than a knee; he'll need to conjure a systemic resilience that has eluded him.
It would be a great thing if it happened. But Oden remains the ultimate high-risk, high-reward player.