August 2nd, 2013.
After weeks of speculation about where Oden would make his return to the hardwood, Oden announced that he would be joining the Miami Heat for the 2013-14 NBA season.
In an interview with Grantland's Mark Titus (who happens to be one of Oden's best friends, and wrote a fantastic book that you should read), Oden said:
"Obviously the chance to play with the best player in the world and compete for a championship was a big selling point. But more than that, what I really liked was how they thought I could really add something to their team. They've won back-to-back championships without me, so for them to pursue me as hard as they did meant a lot, especially given all that I've gone through."
That was August.
The months came and went with virtually no reporting on Oden's status, and Heat fans rightly began to wonder when, or if, the big man would ever suit up for the Heat.
Fast forward to January 15th, 2014. Around noon, news breaks of a Heat trade involving Joel Anthony, who has served as the team's emergency big man and has been a valued member of the locker room for the past seven seasons.
This instantly begins speculation of a once dominant big man potentially making a return to basketball as a member of the Heat ... Except, it isn't Greg Oden. It's Andrew Bynum. Sportswriters and Heat fans alike begin questioning whether or not this trade, which leaves the Heat without a third center, was just a move to free up salary to bring in Bynum.
Fast forward another five hours, and more Heat news broke. Greg Oden was ... active? Until last night, Greg Oden had not played in an NBA basketball game since December 5th, 2009. To those of you keeping score at home, 1,052 days passed between NBA games for Greg Oden. That's kind of a long time. #analysis.
Last night's game got really ugly really early. The Heat trailed 43-18 at the end of the first quarter. To say that's bad would be an understatement. With 6:03 remaining in the second quarter, and the Heat facing a 56-26 deficit, Coach Spo made the move.
Greg Oden in, Udonis Haslem out.
With 5:46 remaining in the quarter, Oden dunked, and thus, one of the most improbable comebacks in sports history was complete.
If I told you after the game that Oden only had 6 points and 2 rebounds you probably wouldn't believe me, right? I mean, everybody who watched the game spent the entire 8 minutes that Oden was on the floor only watching Oden. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but whatever. You get the point.
It isn't the stat line itself that's impressive, it's the manner in which Oden achieved that line that is. Watching the way Oden was able to run back on defense and attack the ball off the rim, you'd never know this was a guy who went more than 1,500 days in between games. Sure, he only played 8 minutes, but it was an impressive 8 minutes. And really, the Heat aren't looking for a guy to give them 30 minutes a night. They came in to this experiment hoping to get 15-20 minutes a night from Oden by playoff time, maybe, and it seems that he is more than on track with that schedule.
Where do Oden and the Heat go from here? I don't know, and I don't think anybody does right now, either. After the game, Oden said "I feel good just icing it down and we'll see how it goes tomorrow". I get the feeling we'll be hearing a lot of that from here on out. The Heat are fortunate to be in a position where they can be extremely cautious, and if Oden complains of even the slightest discomfort, well, I imagine he's getting a few days off.
I don't remember much Greg Oden from his younger, pre-injury days, so I don't know what the guy who had a PER of 23 during the 2009-10 season looked like. Did it look like the guy from last night? Probably not. And we probably won't see that guy again. But the guy who played last night looked like a quality NBA center, and a legit 7 footer who should be able to give the Heat quality minutes come May, and really, that's all they can ask for.