It occurred to me after watching another video of Oden practicing with Joel before the Bucks game that my angst about Oden's late start might be misplaced. In fact, it may be the best thing that's happened to him in a couple of years.
Oden's Summer was largely hidden from public view, but considering he was not cleared for getting on the court until near training camp, it's safe to say he was not being tutored by Bill Bayno like he was the previous Summer. Even the most pessimistic Blazer fan had to take notice of the major change to Greg's game at the beginning of last year. His time with Bayno had paid clear dividends. That was why it was not just disappointing to hear Oden would be late coming back this year, but also that he was not going to get another off-season of development under his belt.
Anyone that has watched the Oregonian videos of Greg going through pre-game drills can see Oden getting exactly what he missed this past Summer, and possibly even more. There are no classes at Ohio State to split his attention, or other commitments that can interfere. Greg is working, and doing it everyday. Even when he is not on the court, he is with the team, and surrounded by the game. A game that he could be forgiven for mentally avoiding on his own time.
The presence of Joel Pryzbilla is another plus. Greg not only gets to watch Joel push through his injury and demonstrate a top-notch work ethic, but he is not isolated as the "injury-prone bust." It is not hard to imagine Greg getting a little depressed being the only injured player, or even the only injured big man. Instead, he gets to take part in what amounts to a big man's camp for the first month of the season. All things considered, I would rather Greg have this development time than have come back to start the season with only a few weeks of practice under his belt.
It is not hard to imagine a story being written about this stretch of Greg's career sometime down the road. The bond he develops with Joel, and the opportunity to grow his game outside of the spotlight could be cornerstones of a great comeback story. Many assume this is Joel's last season with the Blazers, but who knows if we'll see a newfound chemistry develop there that nobody could have anticipated? The greatest of all ironies would be if the soul-thrashing injuries to Joel and Greg last season end up contributing to a better final product. Here's to hoping.