Here is a list of team who should not gamble on Greg Oden: Miami, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Chicago. That's it.
The general public has adopted the belief that Oden is an injury-prone waste that won't play a meaningful game the rest of his career. They wouldn't dream of their team spending more than the minimum for a player who just might have too many broken parts to play pro basketball. And as is true most of the time, the general public is wrong. Dead wrong.
There is a good chance that the 2007 first overall pick will never lead a team to a championship. There's a good chance he'll never go toe to toe with Dwight Howard on the biggest stage. And there's a really good chance he won't ever be a better player than Kevin Durant.
But you know what? Neither will 99% of the players in the NBA. What separates Oden and the rest of them? He has a chance.
Oden's injuries since he left high school are as long as a basilisk and make me hurt all over just thinking about it.
- June, 2006 - Right wrist surgery to repair ligament damage
- September, 2007 - Microfracture surgery on right knee
- February, 2009 - Chipped knee cap
- December, 2009 - Fractured left patella
- November, 2010 - Microfracture surgery on left knee
The only part of his body left unharmed is his head, although that's probably taken a beating as well over the past 5 years. But after all this, he's still just 23 years old, and at a terrifying 7 feet tall, with 250 pounds of man on him, he's one of basketball's most physical specimen.
When he's been on the court, he's been statistically one of the best centers in basketball. His career percentages are through the roof and his aggregate win shares per 48 minutes measures out to 0.180, head and shoulders above the Sixers leader this season in Elton Brand at 0.161. And he's done it without any semblance of a refined offensive game. If he ever learns how to actually play basketball, he will be at the highest level of basketball's stars.
But you're saying: "Mike, the kid's gonna slip on his way to the fridge and break his hip on the kitchen table. He's injury prone! INJURIES HURT!" And I get it. Nobody's saying this is not a risk. But teams don't win championships without taking a risk. The Celtics loaded up on three stars who couldn't win by themselves and found some chemistry that people didn't think would be there. Miami did the same thing and seems to be on its way to a championship appearance after less than a year together. The Lakers have been risking a catastrophic implosion between Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant for years.
Playing it safe, making the average move, nibbling when they should be attacking -- that's what puts a decent team in purgatory. This Sixers team has a sack load of young talent, but no big man. Spencer Hawes won't cut it.
31-year-old big man Brendan Haywood got a 6-year, $55 million contract from the Mavs this offseason. Ben Gordon will be making $11.6 mil next season. David Lee is getting a fortune from the Warriors. What do these guys have in common? Two things: they're making more than what Greg Oden will probably make next season and they don't have an ounce of his potential.
The risk of signing Oden pales in comparison to the risk of not signing him. More years of mediocrity for a team if they don't pick him up, those same mediocre years if they do take a chance on him and he stays injured. Greg's qualifying offer for this coming season is $8.8 million according to PhillyBurbs' Tom Moore, who directly opposes going after Oden. Portland management seems to still be in love with him so they'd have to break the bank a bit to have a chance.
For the Sixers, signing Thaddeus Young and going after an actual big man are directly opposed to each other. While Thad is a terrific young player and could become Lamar Odom in a few years, you don't see Lamar being anything but the third or fourth most important player on those Lakers championship teams. Signing him for five years will get us close to seriously contending, but unless lightning strikes, close to being close is all we'll be. And I'm not cool with that.
From everything the Blazers people have said, Oden rehabs his ass off to get back to full strength. It's no work ethic flaw that has sidelined him for the better part of his pro career. It's just terrible luck for a guy that could really be something special in the NBA. Whether that's in Portland is something different, although if a November poll on Blazers Edge is a base line, 59% believed he won't be playing Blazers ball next season. If Portland does give up on the Oden dream, the Sixers need to be one team ready to turn garbage into gold.
A healthy Greg Oden instantly makes this team (and most teams) a championship contender. Going into the next 4-5 seasons with Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Oden would vault them to an OKC/LAC level of youth and talent in the NBA. The Sixers front office can't be passive about this, letting the core get stale and satisfied being decent. Doug Collins wants the team to win 50 games next year. He knows they are at least one huge piece away. Oden is (and has!) a huge piece. It would take a lot of moving salaries to free up the space, and obviously everything depends on the new CBA.
While Oden is certainly a risk, the alternative is equally risky and has the potential to be far more depressing. Where championships are concerned, the good teams take those risks. I say go hard or go home. If the Sixers aren't one of those good teams, we'll be watching a healthy Greg Oden leading someone else to the promised land for what we'll inevitably be paying a 6th man.
The goal is to win a championship -- why not go after one of the few guys that can get us there? The worst that can happen is the Sixers are one of the 29 other teams not hoisting the trophy when it's all over.