From Paul Coro
Colin E Braley - AP
Greg Oden may be down and out for yet another season with the Blazers, but do his options stop at simply warming the bench for Portland? (AP Photo/Colin E Braley, File)
A few nights ago, as I was scouring the internets in search of decent basketball-related journalism, I came across the news that Greg Oden was to undergo yet another season-ending microfracture surgery. The surgery will be his second microfracture surgery in his three-year career and his third knee injury in as many seasons. The Blazers have not (and will not) be offering the third year, former No. 1 overall pick a contract extension, making Oden the first No. 1 overall pick to not be offered an extension since Kwame Brown.
This was all very sobering news. As a fan of basketball, you have to pull for the injured youngsters to bounce back and realize their true potential. Blake Griffin looks like he's doing just that after a season ending knee injury that kept him out of his rookie season. Unfortunately for Oden, the bad news seems to be endless. However saddening this may be, this is the opportune time for teams to make a play for the 22-year-old big man. Yes, Suns fans, I am pleading the case for Oden to become a Phoenix Sun.
I will say this from the get go: it will not be easy to pry Greg Oden from the Portland fan base. Once hailed as the savior of the franchise, Greg Oden was exactly what the team needed. A soft-spoken, hard working big man who seemed to be the exact opposite of everything that had gone wrong during the "Jail Blazers" era. He seemed to be the perfect compliment to former Rookie of the Year and explosive guard Brandon Roy. The Blazers were the league's hottest team after having piled up draft picks upon draft picks, adding gobs of young talent to a roster teeming with potential.
For a few short months, even I thought Greg Oden had the potential to be more of a franchise altering player than the now-NBA superstar Kevin Durant. How often have you seen a big man come into the league and take it by storm? In recent memory, I can think of a few. David Robinson. Shaquille O'Neal. Tim Duncan. Yao Ming. All of these names have had bigger impacts on their teams than the hot shot scorers coming out of college. That's not to say that theAllen Iverson, Joe Johnson, or Ray Allen's of the world haven't been equally as helpful to their respective teams. It just goes to show how meaningful a dominant big man can be to helping a franchise become championship contenders.
As we all recall, Oden's rookie season was the season that was not. The hype and love for the young big man was delayed another season as he required a microfracture on his left knee. He returned to start on Opening Night of the 2008-09 season, but missed significant time during the season due to a chipped left knee cap. He again returned to start the 2009-10 season, but fractured his right knee cap, thus ending his season. And now, here we are, catching news that Oden will again not play in a single game in a season.
The Blazers' Reactions
There is no doubt that the Portland fan base is sick. After seeing their pride and joy undergo so many surgeries, it hurts as a fan to see their potential all-star riding pine. And as much as it hurts, after enough bad breaks, one almost becomes numb to the news. Even the team is devastated to catch wind of the news. "We sat there and it was like we'd been kicked in the stomach," team trainer Jay Jensen said. "It felt like hearing someone close to us had died."
Head coach Nate McMillan commented as well. "As you can expect, the young man is devastated by not having the opportunity to play this season. It's like 'Here we go again' for him."
As much as the injury has dampened the spirits of nearly every basketball fan in Portland, some teammates have learned to take it in stride. "We're fine," veteran center Marcus Camby said in an interview with The Oregonian. "We're ready to play basketball. We really can't harp on it. We feel for Greg. Don't get me wrong. I know it's been tough for him the last couple of years, but it wasn't like he was playing with us ... It was definitely sad to hear about Greg but we've been doing all this without him thus far."
What This Means For The Rest Of The League
As mentioned before, the Blazers have not offered Oden an extension on his contract. The team still has yet to offer the big man the Qualifying Offer. If offered and accepted, it would mean that Greg Oden would remain a Portland Trail Blazer for the 2010-11 season, barring some ridiculously overpriced offer from another team. If the QO isn't offered, Oden would become an Unrestricted Free Agent, making him available to any team in the league. It would make sense for Portland to pony up and offer the QO, right? That's where things get interesting.
Bethlehem Shoals and Tom Ziller delve deeper into this in a great article outlining all the hubbub of the Qualifying Offer, but I'll pull out the bullet points. Oden's QO is $8.8 million. Quite a steep number for someone who has contributed more time warming the bench than he has on the actual basketball court. Secondly, Portland already has lucrative contracts on the table for Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and to a lesser extent, Marcus Camby, which is putting them in luxury tax range in and of itself.
This is where trade scenarios become more intriguing for the Blazers.
There is no doubt that there are a slew of teams who would take on Greg Oden's injury risk for the chance at rehabbing a potential star player, all while on the cheap. There are even more teams that could use the bulk down low, even if after rehabilitation, Oden is nothing but a mere shadow of his former self. There likely won't be any teams chomping at the bit to get Oden away from his Portland employer, but there will be enough interest in him that it will become chatter around the league.
Can Oden Rise Again With The Suns?
The Phoenix Suns spent the 2010 offseason loading up on wing players and handing out extensions to the role players that made for a successful 2009-10 campaign. Josh Childress, Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick were the recent additions, with Channing Frye and Jared Dudley inking the new contracts. While all of these players have worth to the team and potential to be strong contributors, there are only so many roster spots available. The logjam at the SF slot has been well documented, and newly hired GM Lance Blanks hinted at there being a plan to try and use the plentiful middling contracts the Suns have as a way to land a superstar.
However, it's not that easy. Unless we're talking Los Angeles and Memphis a few years ago in the Pau Gasol steal of the decade, superstar players generally aren't sold off for a few solid role players. The Suns would have to craft some skillful execution and have lady luck on their side in order to land a franchise player for a few contracts around the MLE. Also, taking into account the injury to Lopez and the general state of Phoenix's in-paint defense, and you've got yourself quite a situation. Here's where trading for Oden could help.
Oden will be out all season, and since we'd likely have to give away a few key players (Childress/Dudley/Warrick and Clark, for trade fodder) would essentially mean that we're giving up this season for a chance at a possible lottery pick and look at our options next season.
Since Portland has Miller, Roy, Batum, Aldridge and Camby up front, we likely wouldn't have to trade away any of the starters. Sure, Roy has some potentially serious knee problems, but he and LMA are locked up. Miller and Camby work perfectly for the slower pace of the team. Batum has potential and is one of the more exciting parts of their lineup. There wouldn't be any use taking on Grant Hill or Jason Richardson, just to create problems with what is otherwise a solid starting lineup. What the Blazers would be interested in is deepening their bench. Any combination of the aforementioned players would help shore up their bench, while our bench stays relatively unmarred. Maybe ol' Blanks-y knew what he was doing from the get go.
Will a trade for Oden happen? Who knows. Portland may just wind up giving him the QO, even though I find it hard to believe that they will. Will Oden even be able to return to a state of productivity after two surgeries in three years? There are a lot of chips that still have to fall in order for the Suns (or any other team, really) to have a shot at getting Oden, but the possibility is out there. But now it's your turn to chime in...
I wrote a post recently called "How to build a Champion". It took a look at a couple of articles and some financial data to see what positions were most important in building a title team. It didn't generate the kind of discussion that I was hoping for, so I'm reprising and simplifying it, and targeting directly at the object of all our affections, the Suns.
A brief synopsis of my previous post:
In the last 27 years, the best player on championship teams was:
PG - 6
But what we also learned is that this isn't black and white. 6 of the SG's were named Michael Jordan, and two were named Kobe. Some of the PF's are more correctly called 'Big Men' - (Garnett and Duncan). There is some dispute over which player was actually the best player on the team. There is dispute over which metric matters more - Win Share, Hollinger's Game Score, or your lying eyes? Overall, the best players on thos 27 teams was made up of 11 guys, 8 of which repeated. You know the names - Magic, Bird, Jordan, Kobe, Duncan, Isiah, Hakeem, Shaq. They only need one name.
I then took a look at the financial data, and found that the best teams spent the most money. Big surprise there, Huh? Even the 'No-star Pistons' were one of the highest paid teams in the league. The supporting cast is a huge factor, and none of these stars won anything without trusty sidekicks - who were also very well paid in most circumstances.
So the upshot is - to win a title, you need a star - or two, or three. You need a strong supporting cast. You need to pay for these things, and usually have to go into the luxury tax strata to do it. How do we apply this to the Suns?
We have one of the best point guards ever in Steve Nash. He is our star, our anchor, the face of our franchise. He has taken different lineups deep into the playoffs over and over, and represented our team with class, humility, and more heart than anybody else in the game.
Captain Fantastic, Two-Time, the Nash Rambler. We are unlikely to improve at this position. I know some of the new guys are shinier, but Nash is what this team needs.
SG- Jason Richardson is not a star - yet. He was (maybe) one box-out/put-back away from being one last year, but the dice didn't roll that way. Still, he is our leading scorer, he's a cold-blooded sniper, and can slash and dunk with the best of them. His salary is the highest on our team, almost at max level. Is this a position we could improve? It would mean getting a top 5 max player, and somehow, I doubt if Wade or Kobe will be coming to the Suns anytime soon. Still, JRich is good enough to help us go all the way.
SF- Grant Hill, the Ageless Wonder. This guy is a Superstar. At 38, he has become a defensive stopper, our leading rebounder, a mentor, a shining example of how to play the game. That's enough - Hill belongs on this team if we are to win a title.
PF - Hedo Turkoglu. Well, not so much. So far this season, we've seen flashes of what he has to offer, and reminders of why he is so despised in Toronto. To be fair, he's learning a new position and a new system under some very trying circumstances, but we all know that he's better suited to playing the 3, and he's not going to supplant Grant Hill anytime soon. The gaping hole left by Amar'e is still gaping. That being said, he was a stopgap measure at best, and was never intended to replace Amar'e, so give him credit for doing what he was asked to do. He has helped us, and could help us a lot still.
C- Robin Lopez - Fropez. From bust to savior back to bust. If he can get back to form, and stay healthy, he could be the key to a Suns title. If he can't...well, we're pretty much screwed. He is a true 7 footer, with soft hands and a mean attitude (when he's right) and that's a rarity in today's NBA. Let's hope, and keep hoping.
PG - Goran Dragic. The Dragon. Capable of amazing feats, and susceptible to great suckitude, he is still probably the best backup PG in the league. Again, it's hard to imagine improving tis position. His readiness as a starter is open to question, but he's improved a lot this year, and will continue to improve.
SG - Josh Childress. Playing tough with a splint on his broken finger, Josh has shown us that he is a special player. Yes, he's missed some shots, and yes, he's missed free throws. But his nose for the ball and his high BBIQ is apparent, and again, it's hard to imagine improving at this position. He may be better suited for the 3, but has risen to the challenge and contributed a lot - and when healthy, will contribute a lot more.
SF - Jared Dudley. The most athletic hands in the NBA, captain of the best second team in the league, Dudley spent his summer working on a pull up jumper, due to the fact that other teams will run him off of the 3 point shot. He has met limited success so far this season, partly because of adjustments throughout the team, but I fully expect him to be the Dudley of last year soon.
PF- Hakim Warrick - dubbed (so far) the WarMachine. He's been a pleasant surprise so far this year, but Amar'e lite is still lite. Well suited for our second team, he is developing a special chemistry with both Nash and Dragic. Again, it's hard to imagine improving this position, and there's not much question he isn't suited for the starting role.
C- Channing Frye - A unique 6'11" player with a sweet outside shot, he's displayed some new skills this year, including improved defense, a pull up jumper, some post moves, and increased physical play. He spaces the floor, performs well as a starter, and seems to have proven that last year was more than a fluke. A hugely valuable part of our team, he is the anti-Robin, and sometimes is effective in games when Robin is not (and vice-versa). Agian, hard to imagine improving this position.
So, to no one's surprise, the weak spot is the starting Power Forward position. Amar'e is gone, for better or for worse, and he isn't coming back. I did write a post about who could replace him in the free-agency bonanza of last summer, and while we could have come close, there was no way we were going to get someone who was an upgrade. The best we could have done was Bosh, and he wasn't coming here. Lee was an upgrade in rebounding, but a downgrade in scoring, as was Boozer. Besides, that's all in the past. To decide how to make the Suns an elite team, we have to focus on what's possible, not what might have been.
The way I see it, there are three options here.
Option 1 - Take a chance, and start Earl Clark. This is an extremely dangerous option. First, since the FO din't pick up his option, we might help him play his way out of Phoenix, since declining his option (the way I understand it) limits how much we could pay him when he's a free agent next year, and would allow other teams to easily outbid us. Second, he is young, inexperienced, and has shown that he has trouble grasping the complex NBA game - he shines when things are simple, but they are rarely simple for the Suns. Third, we are in the hunt - we are 6-6 through a brutal early season, and have shown that when rested and healthy, we can play with anybody. Clark is still going to make rookie mistakes, and we have little margin for error. The best thing might be to play him enough to increase his value, and trade him for someone we can develop and keep.
Option 2 - Sign a young, unproven PF, ala' Jason Thompson. JT in this case is a prototype - there are quite a few young PF's out there, usually on bad teams, who might be worth a try. Minnesota, Sacremento, the Clippers, and other lower echelon teams are rich at the PF spot, and might be convinced to part with one - for the right deal. Since it's so early in the season, it's not likely that any team is throwing in the towel, but the rumblings coming from the Kings organaziation makes JT the most likely candidate today. He's 6'11", a big body, has some experience and success in the NBA, has fallen to the 3rd string and out of favor with his coach, and has the added advantage of being a backup for Robin in case of injury. But indications are that it would probably require one of our rotation players, and that would be a heavy price to pay for a third-stringer. On the upside, if Nash can make him better, as he so often does, he may earn an apostrophe in his name.
Option 3 - Go all out and get a marquis player. The marquis players out there, like Pau Gasol, Duncan, Horford, and Garnett are not going anywhere. We might get a Kevin Love or Blake Griffin if we were willing to give up half our team to do it. Portland has been hit by the injury bug again (it's a damn BIG bug) and depending on how they do, may be open to trades for Camby or LeMarcus Aldridge. But the pickings are slim, the new CBA looms, the price is steep, and would require a commitment that would cripple us for years.
All of these options would require moving Hedo to the back of the bus, hard to do with a talented player making too much money. Can a guy making 10, 11, 12 million dollars a year be moved to the 11th spot? Is he at all tradeable? Should we keep him for the day when Grant decides to hang up the shoes?
Okay, i meant to make this short, but hopefully, it's not so long or intimidating that you all won't comment or discuss this. I left some obvious things out, and like anything, there are wrinkles to consider. But overall, it's good to have a team that's so talented and deep. The quality of our organization, our coaching staff, our training staff are unparalleled. We have some financial flexibility and key assets.
So, what would YOU do?
After a pair of impressive victories over the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns were thumped in Miami, losing to the Heat 123-96. The problem wasn’t strictly that Phoenix’ defense was its usual sieve, but that the offense wasn’t prodigious enough to compensate. Let’s examine the specific performances by Phoenix’ cast to discover the biggest culprits.
Excluding fast breaks, extreme early offense, broken plays, and the extended garbage time of the fourth quarter, I’ve charted Phoenix’ defensive responsibilities and offensive sets to assign credit or blame to Suns players.
Taking a look at the Suns’ defense first, they had too many breakdowns to stay competitive with a potent team like the Heat. Charting possessions and assigning individuals as the "most important defenders" to specific plays (the individual defender in an iso or post up, either the ball handler or screen defender on a screen/roll, and the appropriate player in a zone, a closeout or rotation), you can see the disappointing totals on an individual basis.