Oden’s played 82 professional games in 6 years, and although there were a few slices of brilliance since his salad season at Ohio State, it most certainly is what it is. So, having spent the entire last season off the court healing, and Portland having waived him like he was the stars and strips on the V-J day, plenty of the talking heads (this writer included) had already thrown Oden into the great smoldering pile of also-rans. But the NBA’s general managers might just know something we don’t, because apparently there are plenty of teams liking what this guy is selling.
These things are always vague until months after the fact, but word has it that Miami was pretty aggressive in signing him. This wasn’t a “meh-might-as-well” sort of deal, Miami fought off some hungry fish (who shall remain frustratingly anonymous, and the story goes that a text from King James himself is what sealed the deal (although we’ll the prospect of playing for a perennial contender had everything to do with his decision to likely accept less money). The coaches were completely copacetic with the fact that even now he’s still healing, The Heat agreed to pay Oden a cool million for his services this year, which we guess can be found by searching Miki Arison’s couch. But we digress, they’ve got him wrapped up for 2014-15 too.
For Oden, it makes complete sense, it’s so much more than a new lease on life, it’s the best chance any center in the league has as grabbing a ring, it’s a chance to be a name on the lips of every commentator across the league, and it’s a chance to play with LeBron, who has a way of making people look like all stars, even when they’re not.
The real question is why Miami took the gamble. Teams with back-to-back championships aren’t usually the first ones to go out on a limb. Sure, Oden is yet another familiar name to sell jerseys, he’s a famous name that’ll keep the Heat in the papers (as if they’ve ever had that problem), but realistically he’s one bad jump from spending his life on crutches, and he’ll likely be that way for the rest of his career. So, why?
Because the one weakness in Miami’s chain is their work in the paint. The Heat’s rebounding numbers are dead last, and when the moneyball guys start going to work figuring out how to exploit that and bring down the champs, that’s the first place they’re going to start. There’s good precedent for a dynasty team bringing on a wildcard center to lock up another trophy.
Having Oden in the mix might also start a fire under a certain number four’s ass and have Bosh snap out of his habit of coasting for weeks on end too.
So for the Heat, worst case scenario is that Oden never gets back into form, and they eat a million dollar’s worth of salary cap they can certainly afford. The best case scenario is Oden comes alive, brings down 12 tight boards a game, and makes it impossible for anybody to so much as see the net anytime they’re within 10 feet. More to the point, they’ve kept a healthy Oden out of the hands of any pretenders to their crown, because you can bet your last season ticket that’s what the teams courting the big guy had in mind.
What this move goes to show, beyond showmanship, beyond big marquee names, and even beyond egos, is that the Miami braintrust is developing the brains in head office to match the talent they’ve got on the court. A healthy Oden, somebody who owns the paint like it was his parent’s house, turns an unstoppable Heat into something we haven’t come up with a name for yet, and that’s something Miami would like just fine.