Oden to begin NBA comeback with Heat
The No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft who has been out of the league since a Dec. 5, 2009 appearance with the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday agreed to terms to begin his comeback with the two-time defending NBA champions.
Oden will sign a two-year contract with the Heat at the NBA minimum, at $1 million for 2013-14 and $1.1 million on a player option for 2014-15. The terms are a victory of sorts for Heat President Pat Riley, who earlier this offseason got backup center Chris “Birdman” Andersen to accept a similar minimal contract.
Having undergone the third of three knee microfracture surgeries on Feb. 12, 2012, the 7-foot center two weeks ago went through a series of workouts in front of NBA scouts, executives and coaches, with those non-contact sessions limited to drill work.
Coach Erik Spoelstra and scout Chet Kammerer represented the Heat at an Oden workout in Indianapolis, with Riley previously having met face to face with the former Ohio State standout.
An NBA source told the Sun Sentinel that Oden’s formal signing is expected to be completed next week.
It is unclear when Oden will be able to participate in game conditions, with the Heat’s depth at center affording the hulking big man the opportunity to make a gradual return.
The Heat not only have starter Chris Bosh and Andersen, his primary backup, under contract at center, but also Joel Anthony and second-year Jarvis Varnado at center, with Udonis Haslem, LeBron James and Shane Battier also utilized in the team’s power rotation.
The Heat struggled at times against the size of the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs during their run to the 2013 NBA championship, lacking a center with the bulk of Oden, who reportedly is down to 275 pounds after gaining considerably more weight during his layoff.
The Heat attempted a similar reclamation project with a bulky center in 2011-12, with Eddy Curry failing to make an impact during his single season with the team.
With the addition of Oden, it is possible the Heat now look to move Anthony’s contract, which has two seasons remaining, as a means of reducing their luxury-tax bill, having recently released swingman Mike Miller under the amnesty provision due to such concerns. In addition, Varnado’s contract does not become partially guaranteed until opening night.
Oden, 25, also attracted recent interest from the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Hawks and Spurs. The Cleveland Cavaliers previously had been considered a front-runner for Oden before instead signing free-agent center Andrew Bynum, another player attempting a comeback from knee problems.
The Heat bypassed an opportunity to sign 39-year-old veteran center Marcus Camby as they awaited Oden’s decision. Camby instead signed with the Houston Rockets.
Asked recently about Oden, Riley said, “There have been a number of players that started their career missing two or three years with injuries and then all of a sudden they never had another problem again.”
Riley had direct interaction with two such players: center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and forward Kurt Thomas, who both offered productive minutes for the Heat.
Since being selected one spot ahead of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant in 2007 by the Trail Blazers, Oden has played in 82 career games, the equivalent of one full NBA season, with averages of 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots in 22.1 minutes per game. By contrast, Durant has appeared in 461 career regular-season games.
Amid his absence from the game, Oden has dealt with a drinking issue as well as depression, according to an interview with ESPN, practically reclusive at times.
Despite his time away from the court, Oden has previously earned roughly $23 million from his NBA contracts.
“He’s young enough to maybe be able to get by this, and only time will tell,” Riley said in his recent assessment of Oden. “But if he’s healthy, obviously I think he would be able to help teams, yes.”
Because of the Heat’s position against the NBA’s luxury tax, Oden’s contract will cost the Heat roughly $3 million this coming season.
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