Eternal optimism and Greg Oden

Yes, this is a story about Portland Trail Blazers’ Greg Oden, but please save the Sam Bowie jokes (Bill Russell and Benjamin Button jokes are photo via raptorsdigest.comtotally fine though). As most know, Oden is a restricted free agent once the lockout is over. Portland has made an $8.8 million offer to Oden, which if he signs means he’d be an unrestricted free agent next season.

The last time we saw Oden in a game, he went up for a rebound and came down untouched writhing in pain. Oden had injured his left knee again. That was nearly two years ago. Then, before he could get back on the court, he underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee, the second microfracture surgery of his career. Despite all this, there is still a case to be made that Oden’s career is salvageable, especially for a contender looking for some depth. Here’s why:

-Yes, Oden has had countless knee injuries, but as CBS Sport’s Matt Moore outlined last year, all but one of Oden’s injuries came in his left knee. Since having microfracture surgery on his right knee before his rookie season, Oden has had zero injuries to that knee. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to say the same will happen with Oden’s left knee.

-Not convinced? There are a couple of examples not related to Oden. In 2005, Amar’e Stoudemire underwent microfracture surgery. Since then, he has had no problem with his knee and lost only a fraction of his athleticism.

-Blake Griffin also had microfracture surgery before his rookie season was to begin. As we saw last season, Griffin lost no bounce in his step. And if he did, I assume that means he could jump over Hummer before his surgery.

-There are examples of microfracture surgery being a surgery players have trouble bouncing back from. Tracy McGrady’s 2009 operation comes to mind (though McGrady wasn’t half bad as a back up for Detroit last year). However, McGrady was 30 when he had his surgery. I’m inclined to use the examples of Griffin and Stoudemire as better case studies to hypothesize where Greg Oden goes from here.

Oden recently revealed that he has begun running again, which is encouraging and also means Oden probably wouldn’t be ready to play basketball if the season started a month from now. As Project Spurs’ and Crossover Chronicles’ Kyle Boenitz points out, Oden is probably the one guy hoping the lockout rolls into 2012.

If you’re an Oden optimist, you have good reason to think Oden might be the bargain big man of this offseason. While the Trailblazers made Oden the $8.8 million qualifying offer, would they match anyone offering him a long term deal? If you’re a contender looking for some depth, is it worth the risk to offer Oden the mid-level exception for three seasons? Teams like San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City (Durant and Oden, what a great story that would be!) would love the depth inside.

For a team like the San Antonio Spurs, a guy like Oden might be worth the risk. If you look at what a guy like Tyson Chandler did for Dallas last season, it’s easy to see what a game changer a defensive anchor can be. Maybe Oden doesn’t become this dynamic, game changing center, but what if he becomes a 3rd big man like Antonio McDyess became once he got healthy and signed with Detroit. At $5 million a year, that’s a great option for team like the Spurs, or the Heat or the Thunder or even a team like New Orleans, who could use the size even if they bring back David West. Even if Oden injures himself again, the new CBA is reportedly going to have a stretch exception, which allows a team to waive a guy and stretch his payments over a number of years.

There’s obviously a risk offering a multi-year contract to a guy like Oden, but the new CBA looks like it minimizes those risks, so why not offer him a three year deal. Maybe Portland matches the contract and then you go looking for another big. But if they don’t, and Oden’s knees are finally healed and stronger than before, well then maybe you got a game changing center. The point is the center/power forward market is incredibly thin this season, so this might be the year a team looking for some depth, you might be more content offering Oden $15-$20 million over three years instead of offering Aaron Gray $9-$12 million over the same amount of time.

Besides, even Sam Bowie had some healthy years where he averaged a double-double once he left Portland. If he can do it, maybe Oden can too. See what I did there?

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