The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround Monday morning at American Airlines Arena in preparation for tonight’s game against the Heat in Miami (tipoff scheduled for 4:30 PM on CSNNW and 620 AM). Some notes …
— Monday night’s game marks the first time the Trail Blazers will play against center Greg Oden, who the team selected with the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Oden’s career with the Trail Blazers, which was hindered by multiple microfracture surgeries on his knees and a fractured left patella, ended in March of 2012 when the team waived the 7-0 center out of Ohio State. A little more than a year later, Oden signed a one year contract with the Heat and has been gradually working his way back into form ever since.
Oden, averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 8.9 minutes, will get this fifth start of the season and the 65th of his career Monday night against the Trail Blazers. He, along with Heat coach Erik Spoelestra, Blazers coach Terry Stotts and former teammates Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, spoke with the media about his playing against his former team.
How are you feeling about where you’re at and getting the start tonight?
Greg Oden: “It just helps me out getting in the rhythm of the game. But there’s still a lot of work to do, a lot of rhythm to get back, a lot of stuff to work on.”
How would you describe your emotions facing your former team tonight?
Greg Oden: “It’s a game we need to win. We’ve been up and down. It’s just about this team and us getting a win right now.”
There’s nothing personal for you to kind of get back out there?
Greg Oden: “I would like to win.”
Have you circled this date?
Greg Oden: “No. Every game I play is basically a circled date. I’m not trying to look at any team just because I used to play for them. I’m happy just to be out there playing against anybody.”
Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you’d come back?
Greg Oden: “A little bit. I’d be a liar if I said their wasn’t. But it’s been some ups and downs, but I’m here now.”
Where are you at physically? How do you feel?
Greg Oden: “I’m playing. That’s all that matters.”
Spoelstra approached you the other day and told you about the start. Were you caught off guard about getting the start?
Greg Oden: “Yeah, I thought I did something. I’m happy I get to do that and, like I said, it just helps me out with getting a better rhythm. I get to get in the rhythm of the game as everybody else gets in the rhythm of the game instead of coming in when everybody has played about 45 minutes of basketball and then I’m coming in cold trying to catch up even though I’m already a little behind anyway. I like it.”
Have you thought about how different the Trail Blazers look since you left? There’s only Nic and LaMarcus around from when you were on the roster.
Greg Oden: “Nic, LaMarcus and Wesley.”
Have you thought about how much time has passed?
Greg Oden: “I think it’s been two years since I was there. Guys move on. It’s a business like that. I’m happy those guys are still there and doing their thing. Especially happy for LaMarcus, who’s an all-star. Got to move on.”
You said you’d be lying if you said you didn’t have doubts. What was your motivation in coming back?
Greg Oden: “I just wanted to play. I was sitting at home last year watching everybody else. I wanted to come back and definitely give it a shot and show that I can still play this game.”
Thoughts on playing against Oden for the first time?
Wesley Matthews: “It’s cool to see him be able to play. They ruled him out of being able to play again, he had tough first years in the NBA. For him to be able to play and start and contribute to a team, that’s cool. Hope he doesn’t do so tonight.”
On seeing him return after so many injuries …
Wesley Matthews: “This whole NBA thing is a family, it’s a brotherhood, it’s a fraternity. To see Greg be able to overcome the obstacles that he had and to play, from his health and all of that stuff, it’s cool.”
Thoughts on seeing Oden return to the court …
Nicolas Batum: “I’m very happy for him. He’s been through a lot. A lot. I was with him a couple of years. When I broke my shoulder I did my rehab with him so we talked a lot. I’m just happy for him. I know people get mad about him, but he had no luck. If it was up to him he would be on the court for the last four or five years. He worked hard to be back, to get back and he’s done it. He’s been pretty good so far. I wish him the best and wish him to stay healthy right now and do well with Miami. Not tonight. If he can wait until the next game, that would be cool for us. But seriously, really happy for him and proud of him because I don’t think many people could go through that and be back and keep playing. I don’t think a lot of guys could do it.”
“I don’t know if I could do the same. When you’re the No. 1 pick, you’re everywhere, there’s a huge expectation around you for the last 10 years almost. To go through that, to
come to another team, get a minimum contract, that’s huge. He do it. I always said that to him, ‘You’re going to do it.’ I always tell people, ‘Don’t sleep on Greg.’ Trust me. I’ve been saying that a lot. He’ll be okay. Greg is good. He’s not a flop, he’s good. He had some bad injuries but he’ll be okay. He deserves it. He worked hard for that, so i’m glad he’s back.”
Whether he ever thinks about what could have been if Oden and others hadn’t suffered injuries …
Nicolas Batum: “No more. I’ve thought about it. The first year we didn’t make the playoffs, I thought, “What if? What if?’ Last year was different. It was a new era, so we got new guys, new coaches. The year that B.Roy retired and Greg left, I’m like, year. I remember my first season, my rookie season, we got like 54 wins. My second year when we had Greg, LA, B.Roy, Dre, I’m like, we could be a very good team. But it didn’t happen. I can’t stay in the past and think, ‘What if?’ I thought about it a little bit a couple years ago, but I don’t think about it anymore.”
On Oden starting …
Erik Spoelstra: “It’s special for him. This has been a four year journey for him just to get to this point. He’s put in a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes. We couldn’t be happier for him to get to this point. The word that we never used with him is fast track, the word we’ve used is patience. This has been a very slow, methodical process where it’s taken an incredible fortitude and patience, on his part, and commitment to do all the work behind the scenes. And now he’s able to contribute, virtually on an every night basis. We’re not playing him on back-to-backs right now but every other night he’s available, and i think that’s the biggest victory of all.”
What do you like most about what he’s been able to give you on the court?
Erik Spoelstra: “He’s a big-time talent. When you have somebody that talented, what usually comes with that is not only the god-given basketball abilities, but the competitiveness, the size, but also a very intelligent player. I think all of those qualities, once you start to get to know him, you realize why he was such a highly regarded player coming out of college. He’s been unfortunate to deal with something most players have never had to deal with, but in the end, he’s show incredible resilience with that. His strength is something that we’ve needed and he’s been able to provide it in short bursts.”
On what Oden provides for the Heat …
Terry Stotts: “To state the obvious, he’s a big presences inside. I think he buys them some minutes with a big man in the middle. Their defense has been so much predicated on creating turnovers and using their athleticism and closing out. (Oden), along with (Chris) Anderson, give them more of a traditional defensive look.”