The Power Play of Oden’s Return

How eight minutes of play by Greg Oden could prove all important for the Miami Heat.

After nearly 4 seasons of rehab, setbacks, surgeries and struggles, Greg Oden returned to an NBA court on Wednesday night in Miami’s loss to the Wizards for 8 minutes of action. Oden was a last minute inclusion in the line-up after the Heat pulled the trigger on a 3-team trade to send Joel Anthony to Boston. With The Birdman also out injured, Miami’s front court was weakened, and it was decided that Oden was healthy enough to be made active for the game following the reigning champs’ White House visit with Barack Obama. Was this a player finally making his return after years of rehab when he was ready, or was there more to the timing of his return than we think? In 8 minutes of play, Oden may have proven to the Heat management that they can make do without Bynum

Now that Andrew Bynum has cleared waivers and is available for the Heat to pursue, was this an audition of sorts for Oden? In 8 solid minutes of play, Oden played well putting up 6 points (2 dunks and 2/2 ft’s) and 2 rebounds. He was getting force-fed touches down low by his team mates, crashing the glass on both ends of the floor (his first basket in 4 years was a put-back dunk), he was bothering shots and defending Gortat well in the post. He set solid screens and made good (if slightly slow) rotations defensively and he had the only positive +/- for the Heat in the first half (not that surprising since the Heat were down 69-48 at the interval). He was labouring at times, which is to be expected as he regains match fitness but he showed flashes of his old self and looked capable of providing what the team needs from him.

All they want from Oden (or Bynum if they pursue him) is about 20 good minutes per game for 4 games against the Pacers and Roy Hibbert in the Eastern Conference Finals. It could be enough to swing the series, especially when they are likely going to need to steal home-court in that series. That kind of production, or better from the centre position is just gravy for Miami.

Did Oden do enough in those 8 minutes to prove that the Heat don’t have any need for Bynum? Probably not. Not yet anyway. But those short minutes could serve a few purposes. They give the Heat hope that they may have found that missing piece, and it helped Pat Riley make a power play if they do enter into talks with Bynum. They now have the bargaining power to say to Bynum “we want you, we could use you, but we don’t need you. If you want to play for us, it’s going to be at the right price and you’re really going to have to earn your minutes.” It may also serve as a way to throw Indiana off the scent of Bynum. It’s been rumoured that the Pacers were exploring options to acquire him, mainly so that Miami couldn’t use him as a weapon against Hibbert. Oden could serve as misdirection for Pat Riley. By making the Pacers believe the Heat don’t have any interest in Bynum, it could turn them off signing him and allow Pat “The Godfather” Riley to swoop in and secure the 7-footer’s services.

Whichever way you look at Greg Oden’s return, it was great to see the big man back on the court doing what he loves after such a long road back.

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