Revisionist history tells us the Portland Trail Blazers selecting Greg Oden with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 over Kevin Durant is one of the worst decisions in NBA draft history. There weren't nearly as many people arguing for Durant over Oden as they will claim now, but it was certainly a spirited debate at the time. Multiple knee injuries for Oden and scoring titles for Durant later, we know how big of a mistake that ended up being.
Oden also knows how big of a mistake it was for Portland to give him the honor of being the top pick in a draft with a future Hall of Famer. While talking to former college teammate Mark Titus, Oden admitted he knows he's "one of the biggest busts in NBA history" while also talking about how he's at peace with everything that has happened in his career. From Grantland:
I asked him straight-up: “If this is the final chapter of the Greg Oden story — if you're destined to be a benchwarmer for the rest of your career — are you OK with that? Will you be satisfied with your legacy?”
“I'm over all of that,” Greg told me. “I know I'm one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it'll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things … It's frustrating that my body can't do what my mind wants it to do sometimes. But worrying or complaining about it isn't going to fix anything … I wish the circumstances would let me play more, but I certainly don't regret coming back, and I don't regret signing with the Heat.”
After rehabbing for roughly four years, Oden's comeback with the Heat has been underwhelming but inspiring at the same time. There were annual discussions of whether or not a team would sign him again, let alone whether he'd be healthy enough to return to the court. He's played in 26 games this season, averaging 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 9.2 minutes.
That, of course, won't compare to what Durant has done with the Thunder. He won his first MVP award while leading the league in scoring (32 points per game) for the fourth time. But being able to let go of what Durant has done and Oden hasn't done is an important thing for Oden, who admittedly had alcohol issues during the darkest times of his career when it looked like he'd never play again.
Titus asked Oden if he was bummed about being a professional bench-warmer and not playing for the Heat right now. His response showed great perspective on where he's been and where he currently is with his career:
“Are you kidding? I was a professional rehab/workout guy for four years. I wasn't even a basketball player — just a guy who got paid to exercise. I spent four years trying to get back on an NBA court. Now that I've done that, it's not fair to myself to complain about minutes. I knew coming into this that I wasn't going to be the player I once was. I just wanted to get healthy and then help out any way I could.”
The process of him getting back on the court time after time also isn't as easy as some might believe. Oden has to prepare heavily to get his body in the position to be able to play minutes in an NBA game, which also comes with the process of properly recovering from that action and the physical pounding on the floor. So while he'd love to play more minutes here and there, he knows that it does him little good to find a couple minutes in a blowout, just to feel better about his comeback.
“It's not that I don't want to play or even that I get nervous,” Greg told me after the game. “I'd love to play meaningful minutes. It's just that my body is at a point where it takes a process for me to get physically ready to play and a process for me to recover. It's just not worth going through all of that to play a minute or two in a blowout.”
As the playoffs march on and the Heat possibly collide with the Indiana Pacers for the third straight postseason, discussion about whether Oden will play will come to light. Oden was grabbed as the insurance policy of being an effective big body in small doses in case Roy Hibbert is too much of a problem for the Heat in the postseason. Remember Hibbert feasted against the smaller Heat frontline last playoffs.
And there's always the chance that Oden's team will face off against Durant's team in the NBA Finals, in which the questions of whether Oden can get on the court against his draft classmate will certainly arise during the media storm of your typical NBA Finals. As for now, Oden is at peace with his position and his comeback. He's hungry for more while still knowing where he has to be. Hopefully we'll get to see him on the court in the most meaningful setting of a playoff game, but it's good to know he'll be fine mentally if that doesn't happen.
(H/T - The Point Forward)