Michael Beasley and Greg Oden have started the Miami Heat’s last two games, respectively, giving a night off each to team leaders LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Beasley started tonight against the Boston Celtics, while Oden started Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Neither starred in his respective game, but both held their own as the Heat split the two games in narrowly decided contests. But the fact that Beasley and Oden started NBA games for a reigning championship team, let alone are still in the NBA at all in 2014, marks a major comeback for both after each fell from basketball grace for disparate reasons. And the two are merely the latest fallen NBA stars to find their way back into the limelight by taking their proverbial talents to South Beach.
Greg Oden was taken number one overall in the draft eight years ago, just ahead of superstar Kevin Durant, but the high expectations were never met due to persistent knee injuries which mostly kept him off the court. After washing out with the Portland Trailblazers, Oden was out of basketball for an extended time. Michael Beasley was taken second overall by the Heat in 2008 but failed to produce, and was dealt to Minnesota in part to make room for the roster shuffle which brought James to town. Beasley subsequently ran into substance abuse issues and also washed out of the league. The pair were considered two of the bigger NBA draft busts in recent memory, but after both signed with the Heat this season for a veteran minimum salary, each has found a niche role with the team off the bench. Their spot duty as starters, if not signaling a complete comeback for either, at the least represents a degree of redemption – and an upcoming shot at an NBA title ring.
Because Miami used nearly all of their salary cap space on contracts for James, Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller in 2010, the franchise has had to fill out the rest of its roster with mostly minimum salary players and the occasional mid sized salary cap exception. That’s meant taking chances on players with a large upside and enough of a baggage to make them available at the right price. This year that meant adding Oden and Beasley. Last year it meant talking aging veteran Ray Allen into taking a smaller contract to leave the Boston Celtics, and then subsequently adding Chris Andersen in the middle of the season. Andersen had been a star with the Denver Nuggets but was ultimately expelled from the league for substance abuse issues.
Despite his reputation as a strict disciplinarian, Heat team president Pat Riley has gambled on a number of star-crossed players over the past three years, and has won those gambles more often than not. If he’s able to keep his “big three” of James, Wade, and Bosh intact next season, he’ll find himself once again hamstrung by the salary cap and tasked with seeking out even more minimum-salary diamonds in the rough. But first he’ll have to see whether this year’s rolls of the dice, Beasley and Oden, pay off sufficiently in the playoffs. The fact that head coach Erik Spoelstra was willing to start both this week should have Riley breathing easy for the moment.