We’ve been down this road before, and lord knows I’ve written this column before, but health-willing Greg Oden could make some sort of preseason comeback with the Miami Heat this month. Nothing is assured, as the former top overall NBA draft pick could sit out the entire exhibition season as he recovers from a career’s worth of knee issues (including his most recent microfracture surgery), but by all accounts Oden should receive some token minutes if team trainers can limit his knee swelling.
The baby steps continued this week as Oden took to the court in a team scrimmage. Paired with Dwyane Wade and facing LeBron James, Oden appeared to acquit himself well. From Walter Villa at the Miami Herald:
“He scored on me twice, and I made him miss once,” Oden said of James. “He got the upper hand [Monday], but it felt good to be out there.
“I’m a little frustrated with myself because I’m not as back as I want to be, but it’s little steps. [Monday] was another step doing a five-on-five [scrimmage].”
James, when asked to follow up on Oden’s take, painted a slightly different picture to a press corps that wasn’t allowed to see the back and forth:
“We went five on five [Monday], and he fouled me twice, and I scored on him,” said James, whose recollection of Monday’s events varied slightly from Oden’s version.
“He blocked my shot a few times when he was in Portland and I was in Cleveland. He got me real good. But my team usually won the game.”
One of those blocks can be found here:
… and this was a game that, indeed, the Cleveland Cavaliers prevailed in.
Even though Greg is only 25 years of age, he’s nearly four years removed from his last NBA game. That’s a staggering amount of time for any athlete to be away from a sport, and though Oden has clearly had plenty of rest to deal with his leg woes, nothing can prepare those wheels for NBA pounding.
This is why the Heat’s staff is literally measuring Oden’s day-to-day shape, right down to the centimeter. From Michael Wallace at ESPN’s Heat Index:
The Heat publicly remain cautious and continue to take the long view in their approach to Oden's comeback. But there were promising signs last week when Oden went through a pair of four-on-four scrimmage sessions and responded without any unexpected concerns with his knees.
The recovery during off days and between workouts for Oden have been just as vital as any of the strides he's made on the court. Oden said trainers measure the size of his knees before and after each workout to gauge for any swelling. If the results are acceptable, the training staff clears Oden for the next day -- and next phase -- of work.
“Swelling” and “October” go just about hand-in-hand for every NBA player as they work through two-a-days or their first batch of NBA-styled competition in months, so it isn’t as if Oden is being shelved at the mere sight of something that can’t be chased away with a couple of ibuprofen. The issue here is that the Heat are aware of Oden’s status as the top pick in the 2007 draft, the fact that he managed a very nice 19.5 Player Efficiency Rating in his early 20s while up in Portland … and the fact that he’s played all of 82 NBA games since the fall of 2007.
This means that Miami’s “long view” is easily the league’s longest, as it should be. The Heat are thinking about June, as has been the case since LeBron James swooped into town in July of 2010. The team is giddy at the prospect of a healthy, All-Star level center like Greg Oden being dropped into the lineup for 28 minutes a game against some poor sap of a Western Conference champion during the Finals. And the team also understands that token minutes against the Washington Wizards in an exhibition game in October could scuttle that possibility.
This comeback doesn’t resemble that of fellow former lottery pick and camp attendee Michael Beasley. Beasley (the Heat’s second overall selection in the 2008 NBA draft) has to reconfigure his entire game if he wants to prolong his NBA career, alongside changing his off the court habits.
Oden? He’s proven that he can play borderline-dominant basketball at times, even if it was for only 1816 minutes stretched out over six potential years’ worth of work. Once again, we’ll hit the refrain together: “If Greg Oden can stay healthy, he can be a force.”
Those knees have to stay the same approximate shape, though, before and after practice. At least the first, nervous steps are out of the way.
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