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What If We Get Oden?

Last week I focused on the glass half empty view of a potential future without landing a top 2 pick in the draft.

Brian

Time to flip the script.  Down in the dumps about a silly little 18 game losing streak? No worries, the team is now on a 4 game winning streak! Oops, now you are sad that the team is losing ping pong balls? Have no fear! Just give a whistle along with me...

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

For some reason, up until this point I haven’t really put a lot of faith in the idea of winning the whole lottery.  It always just seemed good enough that we get one of the top 2 spots.  “Why get greedy and wish for too much?” I thought. 

Well, why on Earth not?  What if luck finally returns to the Garden?  What if we become the talk of the town for a good reason?  What if we actually unwrap the Wonka Bar and find the Golden Ticket staring back at us?  What if we actually win the lottery?

Sure, there is bound to be some debate and misdirection leading up to the draft in June.  In fact, some very intelligent people like Jonothan Givony of Draft Express that will tout Kevin Durant as a viable number one pick.  However, there is very little doubt in my mind that Greg Oden will end up being the first pick.  GMs around the league seem to agree that while Kevin Durant might have the greater upside, Greg Oden will be the safer and/or smarter pick.

I happen to agree.  If the Celtics manage to pull off the top pick, I want Oden.  He is a dream come true in size 18 shoes.  More specifically, he solves two of the biggest problems almost all teams have: defense and the center position.

De-fense, De-fense

With Pierce and Jefferson filling the peach basket with fruit, we shouldn’t have many issues putting points on the $5 million scoreboard.  But if the other team puts more points on that board the NBA rulebook says you lose every time.

The team needs an anchor down low.  Since the Chief left town, all we’ve had is dead weight pulling the boat to the ocean’s floor.  I am still hopeful that Kendrick Perkins will spend a lot of time some time resting his feet this summer and come back refreshed and healthy next year.  Even hobbled, he’s a strong backup center in this league.  Healthy he could be a nice defensive player and maybe even more.  Still, the upside on Perk is “solid starter.”

Oden, on the other hand, has the potential to be a franchise changer just on his defense alone.  He’s got the size, mobility, instinct, and intelligence to win games without scoring a bucket.  That is key because so many other players (read AI) need lots of shots to be the most value to a team.  It is completely unfair to use Bill Russell as a benchmark and I’m not going to do that.  However, it is worth mentioning that Russell and Oden have a similar style of play.  Oden even tips blocked shots to his teammates to start fast breaks.  Again, I’m not saying Oden is the next Russell (though everyone else will make this comparison if we draft him).  I’m just saying that the manner in which Russell impacted games is similar to the way in which Oden will.

Putting Oden on the low post makes Jefferson a better defender by association and proximity.  Shoring up the paint means opposing guards will be less willing to venture in there even if Delonte, Pierce, Wally and company give them the turnstile treatment.

That one piece at the back of the defense might just make all the pieces fall into place.  We have other capable defensive players in Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and even Ryan Gomes.  All could be contributors on a team that becomes drastically better on that side of the ball next year.  All they need is a commitment from the head coach staff (regardless of who that is) and a dominant defensive big man in the middle.

Center Spot

OdenThere is a reason why so many Championship teams have a dominant center or big man.  The position is very hard to fill with a star.  Simply having a great center gives you an instant advantage over 80% of the league.

Teams throw $70 million around like candy off the St. Patty’s Day parade float when they come across 7 footers that don’t trip on their own shoelaces.  The list of overpaid stiffs is long and undistinguished.  Imagine the Celtics joining the privileged ranks of teams that look at free agent centers and say “no, that’s cool, we’re all set at the 5 spot.”

I haven’t even dared consider what an impact Oden could be if he develops into a low post scoring threat.  If he can put up 15 or even 20 points a game, we have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league down low along with Al Jefferson.  And both are young enough to be around for quite a while.

I don’t buy the theory that two low post players clog the lane.  If you have two great post players, the coach should earn his multimillion dollar paycheck by devising a way to utilize them both effectively.  If Jefferson is double teamed on one side, doesn’t that leave Oden open on the other block?  If Oden is covered by a rotating forward, he still has a height advantage and the option of passing out to an open perimeter player.  Pierce, West, Green, and anyone else roaming the perimeter will be open for jumpers all day.

Furthermore, if our guards are able to penetrate into the paint, the defense will be forced to decide which big man to leave to stop the penetration. 

Sure, if you have two unskilled post players who can’t get out of their own way slogging around the paint it could mess things up.  But if you have two talented big men, I don’t understand why you can’t make that work.

Having the center spot filled also allows you to use your resources to fill other needs, like say point guard.

Roster Flexibility

One of the biggest benefits of landing Greg Oden is roster flexibility.  You can do just about anything you want with the rest of the roster.  In fact, even if you did nothing else this offseason, the team would be greatly improved.  A lineup of Oden, Jefferson, Pierce, West, and Rondo would be good enough to compete for the playoffs next year.  If Gerald Green takes another big step forward and if Tony Allen and Wally Szczerbiak manage to come back somewhat healthy, you are looking at a team that could make some real noise.

Still, I believe the team is looking to be more aggressive than that.  One of the other key roster spots to upgrade is the point guard spot.  With the glut of wing players the team has, you could offload one or two of them for some help at the point.  I think Rondo is going to be a very good point guard, but if we want to make a push to win now, we might be wise to bring in a veteran point like Sam Cassell to hold his spot for a year or two.  If you wanted to swing for the fences at that spot, you could even make an offer on Jason Kidd.  Or if you need a younger (and perhaps cheaper) option, we could make a move to sign-and-trade for Mo Williams.

If you can fill the point guard position cheaply, you could turn the focus on upgrading the swing position for someone who will make an impact now.  I think you could send Green, Theo’s salary, and one other player in exchange for Shawn Marion.  Gerald would fit that system perfectly and the Suns would save a lot of near-term money while we would have that second All Star to put next to Pierce and take pressure off of Jefferson and Oden.  I’m not trying to offload Green by any means, but if you can get Marion, who you know is an All Star now, you can risk giving up on Green who may be an All Star someday. 

On the other hand, if you see enough progress by Green in the offseason that you think he’ll have an Al Jefferson-like breakout season next year, then you have the flexibility to hold onto him and use Theo’s contract to save money for when it becomes time to pay Jefferson, Green, and the rest of the players coming off of rookie contracts.

The Holy Grail

dreamOk, so I’m mixing my Monty Python references here, but I see this lottery as the search for the Holy Grail.  I can see it shining like a beacon of light hovering over David Stern’s head as he sits on the throne at Camelot.  You can make up your own jokes about the crew of “Knights” we have running our team and searching for that grail, but I still have hope.  Dare to dream people.  We have a chance to win this thing and alter the course of the franchise for decades.  And that is enough hope for me to start whistling and singing.

Always look on the light side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...