After missing more than three full seasons with multiple knee injuries, things may finally be looking up for Greg Oden
. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
There are precious few players of note remaining on the free agent market at this stage in the summer, but on Friday night the biggest remaining name -- and highest-reward gamble left on the board -- committed to the defending champs. According to a report from Marc Stein and Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden will join the Miami Heat on a two-year deal for the minimum salary. This will be Oden's first deal since being waived by the Trail Blazers in March of 2012, and will presumably result in his first NBA minutes since last playing for Portland in December of 2009.
The deal manages to give leverage to both Oden and the Heat. On Oden's end, the second year of his term will be a player option that can give him an extra year of salary in the case of additional injury, or allow him to hit the open market next summer to capitalize on a healthy year. Miami, a team wary of its mounting luxury tax bill, adds a player with serious two-way potential at the lowest of possible prices. There are no guarantees Oden even plays a game for Miami, but it certainly works in his favor that the Heat are in a position to use him as a luxury item; every minute, rebound and block Oden logs will be icing on the cake for a team already poised to contend for a third straight title. Oden won't have to be a symbol of hope through a rebuild or be counted on to fill a major role -- he'll simply be allowed to come along at his own pace, and perhaps become an important contributor for one of the best teams in the league if his body allows.
According to Stein and Goodman's report, that freedom to contribute with so little pressure played an important part in Oden's decision to join Miami over New Orleans, San Antonio, Dallas, Atlanta and Sacramento:
Oden said it was a "big deciding factor" that Heat officials made it clear to him that he "wouldn't be needed as much early in the season" as he works his way back from more than three years out of the NBA.
"When I had a conversation with Coach [Erik] Spoelstra and hearing how much he knew about the training stuff that I was already doing, it kind of made me feel like they know what's best for me," Oden said.
Oden added: "I'm not going to sit here and say I'm 100 percent. I am moving [well] and I am feeling good, but I have a lot of work to do."
It's wise of Oden to take things as slowly as is necessary, and Miami's superstar core will buy him all the time he needs to continue his rehabilitation. If he ever gets to the point where he can play consistently, the fit could prove to be exquisite; while Oden won't be able to blend perfectly into the Heat's frenetic team defense, his ability to protect the rim and take up space in the paint could allow Miami to utilize a more conventional coverage scheme in spots. Terrific perimeter defenders would give Oden the first-line help he needs to be an effective shot-blocker, and between Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, LeBron James, Shane Battier, and Udonis Haslem, Oden would have a solid group of defenders at the forward slots to help share the burden of consistent, timely rotation.
He's not the player who averaged 15.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes in the first 82 games of his NBA career, nor a proven, dependable commodity in any regard. But there's room, still, for Oden to resume his career in somewhat effective fashion and limited minutes.
Miami makes for an ideal fit in aiming for that end, if only because the Heat already excel in so many ways as to be above depending on Oden. He won't be taking this Miami team "over the top" because they're already at the summit. He won't be looked upon as a franchise-changing center because the Heat frankly don't much changing. He won't be asked to do anything more than get healthy and contribute what he can, because this juggernaut is just fine without him. Landing with Miami will attract a certain spotlight that signing with San Antonio, for instance, might not have. But no team in the league is better set to offer Oden so grand an opportunity with so slight a burden.
When all Miami stands to lose is a roster spot, a little more than $1 million in first-year salary, and a small luxury tax hit, gambling on Oden is a fantastic play. It's highly unlikely he'll be ready for the season opener, but the Heat can incorporate him into the rotation slowly to fill a purely supporting role as the season rolls on. He'll feast on help-side blocks and offensive rebounds if healthy. Now he just needs a stroke of good luck -- or even a stretch of normalcy -- for the first time in his NBA career.