1. Which team should Oden have picked?
Curtis Harris, Hardwood Paroxysm: Oden had to balance out financial security, playing opportunity and legacy. I think the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs offered the best combination. If he has only a handful of games left in his legs, best to use them for a team that's a title contender.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Have to say that I did buy into the idea that playing in New Orleans or Sacramento would make things easier for Oden in a lot of ways because those teams attract so much less media attention. But it's hard to argue against the Heat if Oden indeed makes it all the way back to a rotation role. There's nobody in basketball who can make your on-court life more comfortable these days than LeBron James. So the appeal of joining the champs and teaming with LeBron is understandable.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com San Antonio. Hey, you can't blame a guy for wanting to play with LeBron and the two-time defending world champs in one of the most seductive cities on the planet. But the Heat have altered their game to essentially limit their need for a low-post big man. The Spurs would have had far more use for Oden, if he's truly ready to step in and play.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Heat. If money was a factor, Oden could've done better elsewhere. But it doesn't seem to have been a motivating factor. The Heat don't really need anything from Oden until the playoffs and even then just in certain matchups in what could be limited minutes. There will be no rush to play him at all, he can take months to work into shape if he wants. Plus, Oden will have the chance to compete for a title. It's a compelling case for his circumstances.
2. Fact or Fiction: Oden will play in an NBA game by Christmas Day.
Harris: Fiction. I think Miami will do the prudent thing by bringing him along slowly, allowing Oden to re-acclimate to the NBA. And if Oden can play only, say, 30 games this season, it's better to back-load what he has left for the playoffs.
Stein: Fact. Everyone who has seen Oden says he looks much better than they expected. Every eye witness I've talked to says he's lean and moving well. So we'll see him before the calendar flips to 2014.
Wallace: Fact. If he's in reasonable shape -- and that's still a major "if" -- the Heat will find a way to get him on the court early in the season. They did the same in recent seasons with Eddy Curry and Rashard Lewis. The questions are whether Oden will hold up and whether the Heat will hold open a rotation spot for him to be something more than the roster ambassador that Juwan Howard was.
Windhorst: Fact. The Heat are scheduled to play the Lakers on Christmas and the way that matchup has gone over the past few years the Heat have frequently been able to clear their bench. In all seriousness, he shouldn't be worried about doing anything until later in the season.
3. Fact or Fiction: Oden will be a difference-maker for Miami this season.
Harris: Fact. Maybe I'm being gullible, but I think Oden will have some sort of impact on Miami. The best scenario is obviously to be healthy and return to his monster shot-blocking and rebounding ways. However, Oden serving as a rallying cry for the Heat is good enough for me. After all, the 1960s Celtics mobilized a teammate's impending retirement into an incentive to rededicate themselves for another title run.
Stein: Not ready to go there yet. Theoretically? Sure. All he has to do, on paper, is rebound and protect the rim. Which sounds highly plausible for a 25-year-old who came into the league with those exact strengths. But Oden said it himself in our phone chat Friday night: He needs to prove to himself, above all, that he can finish a season healthy before he's ready to deliver or promise anything. So difference-maker is still aggressive.
Wallace: Fiction. I'll believe it when I see it. Anyone who predicts otherwise is basing their hopes on blind faith. This is a guy who has played exactly 82 games since entering the league in 2007, and hasn't seen any action since the season before LeBron made his decision to come to Miami. That's a long, long layoff. Last athlete I saw come back smoothly from such an extended time away due to an injury was Sugar Ray Leonard.
Windhorst: Fiction. I haven't seen him play in nearly four years, there is no possible way to answer this question without making a baseless guess.
4. Fact or Fiction: Oden will be considered a bust no matter what happens.
Harris: Fact. I despise the term because players don't reach their full potential for so many reasons that shouldn't involve a ridiculing label like "bust." However, I'm just one person and I sense the tide of popular opinion will slap Oden with a scarlet B for his truncated and rocky career.
Stein: Sadly, fact. Hard to see how he avoids it, even if he makes it all the way back to trusted reserve status -- or even difference-maker status -- because the guy who was drafted right after him is headed for basketball immortality. Oden isn't merely battling a body that has let him down repeatedly but also the legacy Kevin Durant is building after Portland passed him up. History will not be kind.
Wallace: Fact. But I think Kevin Durant's rapid rise into an elite, MVP-level player after being drafted one spot after Oden has as much to do with that "bust" perception (or reality) as anything Oden does the rest of his career. The injuries are a major deal that stunted his development. But the wide gap between Durant and Oden makes that perception nearly impossible for Oden to overcome.
Windhorst: Fiction. The burden for him to be a success is rather low. He helps the Heat win one key playoff game with his size and he's probably earned his $1 million salary.
5. Who would you pick to win the 2014 NBA title: Miami or the field?
Chau: The field. Miami should still be considered the favorites, but there should be a great deal of surprises in the coming season with so much movement this offseason. Miami took a gamble taking on an injury-prone center to go along with their other at-risk players. This might be the year when Wade & Co. struggle to produce through the pain.
Harris: The Field. Miami may have the best odds, but champions succeed despite the odds, not because of them. The field always holds the edge and that's not even factoring in a potential freak injury to LeBron, Wade or Bosh that could sink the Heat.
Stein: In early August? I'm going with the field. Can't forget the sight of Miami wheezing to the finish line slightly more than a month ago. Can't ignore how much better the top half of the East looks thanks to Indiana's upgrades and Brooklyn's serious injection of talent and the (presumed) return of Derrick Rose when Bulls camp opens in October. It's going to be a lot harder for the Heat just to get to the NBA Finals in 2014, unless Oden seriously exceeds all expectations and is ready to uncork a 1985-86 Bill Walton season on us. So field is the wiser choice despite the fact that the West appears to lack a clear-cut favorite.
Wallace: Miami. That was the case regardless of Oden's decision. Until the league figures out how to get a better handle on LeBron, and also limit Dwyane Wade in a winner-take-all game in the postseason, the Heat are the team at the top of the NBA mountain. Oden makes Miami bigger, but they were already better than the field -- even if the field has proved it has narrowed the gap quite a bit.
Windhorst: The field. We haven't seen a team reach the NBA Finals four straight years since the Celtics in the mid 1980s. There are so many variables that have to fall a team's way. This isn't a statement on their talent, it's the percentages.