The joy, the sense of hope, radiated from Greg Oden’s face as he walked around the AmericanAirlines Arena floor on Monday, doing interview after interview.
After battling depression and enduring multiple knee surgeries that sidelined him for 3 1/2 years, Oden on Monday pronounced his knees healthy — “the best it’s felt in three years” — and said he could play short minutes in a game today if needed.
But the Heat will be extremely cautious with the 7-foot center, who hasn’t played in a game since December 2009. And Oden — who has appeared in just 82 games since being drafted first overall by Portland in 2007 — is comfortable with that approach.
“There is no timetable,” coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked when he might play in a game. “If it happens in two months, if it happens in three months, who knows? We’re going in with an open mind. No expectations.”
Oden has been doing some on-court work, mostly stationary shooting. “I’ve been shooting a lot,” he said. “I’ve been out there twice running up and down with the guys, and the timing wasn’t there yet. Three years away, I’ve to get that back and get back to being comfortable on the court.”
Oden said he realistically could play in the preseason and in the Heat’s regular-season opener Oct. 29 against Chicago. But that seems ambitious, based on Spoelstra’s comments.
“I would like to play as soon as possible, but that’s up to the trainers,” he said. “They know what’s best. I hope it’s sometime soon. I’m anxious. I know I can’t overdo it. I want to make sure I can play and finish the year. I just know I feel good. I would love to play in the first game, a couple preseason minutes. I understand I won’t be playing 20 minutes a game.”
Though Oden is at the arena five hours a day, the Heat is being careful with his workload.
“When I go up and down, it’s only a couple minutes,” he said. “When I work out, it’s only 30 minutes. They don’t want to overdo it to the point where my knee blows up. They want to keep it where my knee feels good when I stop working out.”
Oden has dropped 40 pounds since last summer, to 278, and said his goal is to get to 265 to 270.
“With all the running and knee problems, lighter is better,” he said. “Last time I was less than 270, I was running up and down the court like a deer. I look like a professional athlete now.”
Oden said he watches tape of his 21-game stretch in Portland late in 2009 — when he averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 23.9 minutes — “to see what I was doing, to see if I can get myself back to that. It will be a work in progress.”
Oden said he bonded with Spoelstra when they spent time together in Indianapolis in August, and Oden was impressed that Spoelstra knew more about his rehabilitation than most. He also has developed a good relationship with former All-Star center Alonzo Mourning, the Heat’s vice president/player programs, who has taken Oden out to eat on three occasions.
“They’re a good team. It’s a winning atmosphere. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?” he said. “Every morning you see the sun. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”
He cracked that it’s difficult to go under the radar “when I’m the biggest guy on the team and look like LeBron James.”
Still only 25, Oden said, “I have a lot to prove to myself. It’s been a long road for me. I’ve been rehabbing for three years.
“When I am able to go in that first game, even if I just play five minutes, just to be able to end the game and be healthy, that’s going to be a big step. Success to me is walking on the court and walking off healthy.”