On Thursday night, the 2014 NBA Finals tipped off in San Antonio between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. BTP has been following the 2014 NBA Playoffs and specifically, the former Big Ten players appearing in this year's Playoffs. There were a total of 14 former Big Ten players that participated this year, but as the Finals started, only one former Big Ten player remained.
The Big Ten may only have one player left in the Playoffs (for a variety of reasons), but it does mean that there is one player out there that could still win a championship. The player remaining is former Buckeye Greg Oden, who is now a member of the Miami Heat. Oden has not really been a factor with the Heat and most considered him a desperation signing for a team hoping to get a quality big man, but the fact remains that Oden is still a member of the Miami Heat and still has a shot at a championship.
Since there isn't much of a list or discussion to do in this situation, I decided to replace my usual listing of Big Ten players left in the Playoffs and the breakdown by schools with some background on Greg Oden's path to the 2014 NBA Finals.
Oden's role in the Big Ten was brief, but very noteworthy. Oden committed to Ohio State in June of 2005 and arrived for his first season of play as a Buckeye in 2006. He was accompanied by Mike Conley, Jr., who also participated in the 2014 NBA Playoffs with the Memphis Grizzlies. Oden began play in 2006-07 off the bench for the Buckeyes, but gradually developed into a force for Ohio State. By January of 2007, Oden was winning Big Ten awards.
During the 2006-07 season, OSU entered conference play at 11-2 and had only lost to Florida and North Carolina on the road. The Buckeyes would open Big Ten play at 2-0 before losing on the road to Wisconsin. The Buckeyes would not lose again in the regular season. This included 14 straight wins, wins over 2 ranked teams, and season sweeps of both Michigan and MSU. This is arguably one of the most impressive conference performances by any Big Ten team in recently memory. Add in that OSU beat Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament to also nab the conference tournament championship and it becomes even more impressive.
The Buckeyes opened the NCAA Tournament against Central Connecticut State and after a win moved on to face Xavier, where the Buckeyes won in overtime. After second weekend wins over Tennessee and Memphis, OSU went to the 2007 Final Four. OSU faced Georgetown and with a bit of luck, were able to move on to the National Championship against Florida. Unfortunately for Oden and the Buckeyes, they fell just short against the Gators and finished as National Runner-Up.
Following the season, Oden declared for the 2007 NBA Draft. He was drafted #1 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. For Oden, this was arguably the height of his career, as he struggled with injures for the length of his time in Portland. He not only missed his first season as a Blazer, but he only played in 61 games in the 2008-09 season and just 21 games in the 2009-10 season. Oden again would miss the 2010-11 season with a different injury and suffered through more injuries in the 2011-12 season. In March of 2012, the Blazers waived Oden's deal and many considered his NBA career at an end.
In a move before the 2013-14 season, the Miami Heat opted to sign Oden. This is what ESPN quoted Oden as saying for his decision to sign with the Heat:
"I could be ready to go but it's still a work in progress," Oden said. "My minutes and amount of playing time and all that is going to have to be monitored."
Oden said it was a "big deciding factor" that Heat officials made it clear to him that he "wouldn't be needed as much early in the season" as he works his way back from more than three years out of the NBA.
"When I had a conversation with Coach [Erik] Spoelstra and hearing how much he knew about the training stuff that I was already doing, it kind of made me feel like they know what's best for me," Oden said.
Many considered the decision to bring in Oden as a move primarily aimed at addressing the size disadvantage the Heat had against the Indiana Pacers (the Heat's primary Eastern Conference rival). Unfortunately, Oden never really developed this season. He played in just 23 games this year (usually for just a few minutes) and only played 5 minutes in the NBA Playoffs so far. It's hard to consider such limited contributions as a successful signing.
Still though, for Oden, this could be a redeeming moment. He was never going to be "the guy" on a team with NBA superstar LeBron James, but he could be the guy that gave the Heat the boost to get over the top and win their 3rd straight championship. Things may not have worked out, but Miami is just 4 games away from giving Oden the ring that he came just short of getting in Columbus and Blazer fans thought he would bring to Portland.
Oden's legacy in the NBA may never be as great as some hoped, but on the brink of a championship, Oden may actually end up doing the one thing he never did at Ohio State, win a championship.