After initially surprising the skeptics by getting into a preseason game and making his regular-season debut in January, oft-injured Heat center Greg Oden has seen his comeback from numerous knee injuries fizzle in recent months.
Although returning to the court after more than 1,500 days spent rehabilitating his knees was a remarkable accomplishment on its own, Oden seems to have come to term with his place in league history. Just a few days after Thunder forward Kevin Durant -- the player selected one spot behind him in the 2007 draft -- was named MVP for the first time, Grantland.com reports that Oden understands how he will be remembered.
"I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things … It’s frustrating that my body can’t do what my mind wants it to do sometimes. But worrying or complaining about it isn’t going to fix anything … I wish the circumstances would let me play more, but I certainly don’t regret coming back, and I don’t regret signing with the Heat.”
The 26-year-old Oden has yet to appear in a playoff game for Miami, and he's played just 13 minutes in one appearance over the last five weeks. The Heat have been just fine without him -- going 6-0 so far in the playoffs -- and he's become a bit of an afterthought after a wave of excitement that greeted his return to the court. Remember the headlines when Oden dunked on his first touch during the preseason, and then dunked on his first touch during the regular season? Unfortunately, those moments already feel like they happened years ago.
After being released by the Blazers in March 2012, Oden spent the entire 2012-13 season rehabilitating from multiple knee surgeries, including a second microfracture surgery on his left knee in February 2012 and arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Prior to that round of surgeries, Oden also had left knee surgery in 2009 after fracturing his patella, microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2010 to address a “defect” that occurred during non-contact rehabilitation work, and a microfracture surgery on his right knee in 2007. Oden also reportedly underwent Orthokine injections on both knees back in May 2012.
The important thing here is that Oden has maintained a peace of mind that seemed to elude him in Portland. He spoke about problems with alcohol and depression during those years, and he's a good example of how the perspective that comes with experience can aid an NBA player both on and off the court. We started to see that development during a post-game interview last fall, when Oden noted that he was just "happy to be able to walk off the court," and these latest comments are notable for their lack of bitterness.
There's nothing that Oden can do to match Durant's greatness and there's nothing he can really do about his knees, except put in the work. Call Oden a bust if you must, but give him credit for his diligent rehabilitation and his honest, clear-headed approach to his tortuous basketball existence.