Greg Oden nearing a return to basketball, the Celtics should roll the dice on him

Nearly six years ago Celtics fans everywhere were praying that the ping pong balls would bounce their way, and that Ohio State center Greg Oden would be beginning a long career as a dominant center in Boston. Didn't exactly turn out that way - either for the Celtics, or for Oden.

The C's of course fell all the way to 5th in the lottery (the lowest they could've gone) ((Video of 2007 draft lottery - gave me 'Nam like flashbacks)) and selected Jeff Green, who was then packaged for Ray Allen. The KG trade came next, as did the 17th title in franchise history. Since the 2007 draft lottery the Celtics have won 67.8% of their regular season games, and their 54 playoff wins are second in the NBA (the Lakers have 55).

For Oden, it hasn't been nearly as fun of a ride. He originally hurt the knee getting out of a chair just three months after being drafted. He needed microfracture surgery. He successfully rehabbed and came back to have a solid 2nd season. 61 games played, 9 points, 7 boards and 1.1 blocks per contest. The next season he was poised for a breakout, averaging 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game (3rd in the NBA) thru 21 games played - when it happened again. This time a ruptured patella ended things for Oden after he twisted the knee in a game against the Rockets. That game against Houston on December 5th, 2009 was the last time Greg Oden played in the NBA.

Since then three additional knee surgeries (two more microfractures) have cost Oden over three years of basketball. But in May he underwent the controversial Orthokine knee treatment that helped rejuvenate Kobe Bryant's aching knee, and now, he's feeling healthy enough to consider a return for next season. Today ESPN had a story that says the Heat are 'at the front of the line' for Oden's services. From the article (link).

Nearly a year removed from his latest knee surgery, former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden has decided to resume his playing career, but is not planning to return to the NBA before the 2013-14 season, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources told that multiple teams already have expressed interest in signing Oden before the end of this season to a multiyear deal that would allow him to continue his rehab until he can get back on the court in training camp in the fall.

The Miami Heat are at the front of the line in pursuing Oden, two sources said, and have been keeping tabs as he recovers while also taking classes at Ohio State.

The Heat potentially could have two roster spots available this season, one of which Oden, formerly of the Portland Trail Blazers, could slide into as he continues to rehab. Team president Pat Riley is known to like gambling on long shots, especially when it comes to big men.

Personally I think that this is exactly the type of low risk, high reward signing the Celtics should make. Of course the team is over the cap, even for next season, but so are the Heat. Which lead's us to believe that Oden would be taking a minimum level salary to try and re-establish his value.

If that's the case, Danny Ainge needs to be all over this. There is no big man in recent NBA history that has the potential reward of Oden, still just 25 years old, and a price tag that low. With minimal financial attachment the Celtics would be taking a very small risk, and the roll of the dice that Oden could become a legitimate starting center in the NBA is worth it. Of course after five knee surgeries, the chances he becomes 'The Next Russell' (not my words) are nil, but if the Orthokine treatment is as successful on him as it has been with Kobe's arthritic knee, it's possible he's able to finally shed the knee issues and become a productive player. Oden has said in the past that he felt 'rushed' back from previous surgeries, but this time he'll have over 18 months of recovery time before training camp begins this summer. Perhaps that's finally enough time to get him back on the court.

Of course he could get hurt getting out of a chair in his Celtics introductory news conference, but so what? A slew of minimum salary guys would be just a phone call away. It's not as if the team would be counting on him to produce right off the bat anyway.

Ever since the great P.J Brown was knocking down jumpers in the 2008 Finals, the Celtics have struggled to find quality big men on the open market. Patrick O'Bryant, Shelden Williams, Shaq, Chris Wilcox, Jason Collins and Darko Milicic have all been signed to minimum (or close to minimum) deals, and the results have been predictable.

An Oden signing, no matter which way it goes, would be anything but.

When healthy, Oden was a very good young center in Portland. In his brief career he's put up 15.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes of game action. Again, not saying that he's going to step right on the court and replicate those numbers, but who else could the C's (or anyone else) bring in with minimal financial risk that could?

Maybe Oden is destined for South Beach no matter what the Celtics decide to do, but it seems as though Pat Riley is already making his move. I'd love it if Danny did the same.

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P.S. Not patting myself on the back, but I said back then the Blazers would rue the day they passed on Kevin Durant. Ok so I lied I was patting myself on the back.