The Miami Heat have won back-to-back titles thanks to three former lottery picks, all from 2003. But can they get much-needed help off the bench this season from a former #1 overall draft pick?
For now, at Monday's Heat Media Day 2013 just one day before the start of training camp in the Bahamas, expectations are understandably lowered given how much Greg Oden has gone through the past few years. But his potential, just like it was during Draft Day that had so many general managers and scouts drooling over his talent, is one of several reasons that will make the Heat bench a particularly intriguing factor this season.
Can he provide solid minutes as a reserve and alongside the Big 3? Could the still-young center at just 25 years old blossom into a reliable veteran to help see the Heat through the next phase of the Big 3 era?
Unfortunately, the other - more realistic - side of that is: Will he even be able to stay on the court?
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra already stressed to Oden that there is no rush to step back on the court in his bid to comeback from multiple major surgeries after being away from the game for years.
"No expectations," Spoelstra emphasized at Media Day. "The expectation is to come in here and have an opportunity to work and get healthy. We've gotten to know him very well. I've been very impressed. From the time I met with him in Indiana in July and to see how much he cares about this game, he does not take it for granted. And that's what happens sometimes, not to him, but to people that are around the game all the time, you don't know what it's like to not have it and he hasn't had it for four years. So he's extremely motivated, he's inspired by the opportunity to possibly help us but more than anything we just want to see him get back out there and have a smile on his face and be able to do what he loves."
Just a short time later, Greg Oden could be seen at the AA Arena's main court posing for pictures and talking with reporters. He still has that noticeable hitch when he walks, something that will likely never go away, but he does look trim and in good spirits. He smiles as he's asked about being able to rehab without too much of a spotlight on him. He corrects the reporter, claiming it's hard to escape the attention when he's the biggest guy on the team while joking that he looks like LeBron James.
There will always be questions about his durability, maybe even about his work ethic, after such a long time away from the basketball court. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.
"I'm definitely a lot better than anywhere I've been the past three years," he said on Monday. "I haven't been doing anything besides just rehab so right now I've been on the court, I've been running up and down a little bit, and that's more than I can say I've done in three years."
But as far as when he can return to his playing days in Portland, that's another story.
"That's going to take some time because even when I did get on the court, my timing was a little off and (I need time) just getting comfortable again being on the court."
He claims he doesn't think about his knees when he's playing ball now. "I'm just out there playing. The knees, they kind of slow me down just a little bit, because I'm just getting used to running up and down. I definitely don't think about them. I'm not worried when I jump what they're going to feel like when I come down. Thinking like that is going to be hard to get back on the court and get comfortable.
"I've been shooting a lot. I've been out there twice running up and down with the guys, and the timing wasn't there yet. Three years away, I've got to get that back and get back to being comfortable on the court. When I go up and down, it's only a couple minutes. When I work out, it's only 30 minutes. They don't want to overdo it to the point where my knee blows up. They want to keep it where my knee feels good when I stop working out.""
Oden also spoke highly of his new coach and how Spoelstra played a big factor in deciding to come down to Miami after a visit with him in Indiana during the free agency period. He revealed how Spoelstra seemed to be much more knowledgeable about his rehab than some trainers he had worked with. "If he knew that much", Oden reckoned, "just imagine what the Heat training staff knew."
"He's had some setbacks but that does not define his whole career," his new coach remarked. "We feel this is a perfect fit for him. I'm going into it with an open mind, no expectations and there's certainly no timetable. He's in here five hours a day, he's doing more and more, and the biggest test with us is can we add to the workload and see how he feels the next day. Without the timetable of having to perform and having those types of expectations, but we're going into it with an open mind and we'll see what happens."
Oden not only supports that viewpoint, he's willing to let the Heat trainers take it slow as he patiently waits for their approval before making his long-awaited comeback.
"I would like to play as soon as possible, but that's up to the trainers," he said. "They know what's best. I hope it's sometime soon. I'm anxious. I know I can't overdo it. I want to make sure I can play and finish the year. I just know I feel good. I would love to play in the first game, a couple preseason minutes. I understand I won't be playing 20 minutes a game.
"When I am able to go in that first game, even if I just play five minutes, just to be able to end the game and be healthy, that's going to be a big step. Success to me is walking on the court and walking off healthy."
His weight loss is quite noticeable and his knees will be better off with the lesser workload.
"With all the running and knee problems, lighter is better," he said. "Last time I was less than 270, I was running up and down the court like a deer. I look like a professional athlete now."
More than anything, Oden seemed happier talking less about the past and more about the future with his new team. Living in sunny Miami rather than somewhere dreary sounds like it's helping his positive attitude.
"They're a good team. It's a winning atmosphere. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?" he says with a large grin. "Every morning you see the sun. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?"
More from Hot Hot Hoops:
- HEAT players film promo spots at Media Day 2013
- Miami Heat Media Day 2013 at the AmericanAirlines Arena
- Miami Heat Player Countdown: 20. Keith Askins
- Spoelstra, Heat finalizing contract extension (UPDATE)
- HEAT announce front office promotions; Juwan Howard retires to become assistant coach
- Report: Charlie Westbrook takes 20th and final Miami Heat training camp roster
- Wade, Bosh, and Birdman get fitted for their Championship Rings