The Heat’s first significant acquisition of the offseason is a big one, literally and figuratively.
Seven-foot center Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick of the 2007 NBA Draft who hasn’t played in more than 3 1/2 years because of knee problems, has decided to sign with Miami, a move that addresses the Heat’s most serious shortcoming, provided he can stay on the court.
Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., told the Miami Herald on Friday night that Oden turned down more money elsewhere to take a two-year deal with Miami, with the second year a player option. He will make $1 million this season and $1.1 million next season if he exercises the player option.
Conley said the Heat will determine when he plays in a game, and he likes the fact the Heat has no plans to rush him. Conley said Oden will be cleared to play before training camp starts, but it will be coach Erik Spoelstra’s decision when he plays.
“It could be Day 1, it could be Game 10, it could be Game 30,” Conley said. “All I can say is he will be in training camp. The most important thing is the Heat doesn’t need to pressure him to be ready because of the level of team they have.
“Some teams can tell you that but once the season starts, and the pressure hits, you never know. He felt comfortable with Coach Spoelstra. Some owners and general managers say they will be patient, but feeling that from the coach made an impact.
“Erik said all the right things. What Erik said about minutes is, ‘I don’t know today. That will be determined when it’s determined.’ All he said is whatever it will be, will be good.”
Taking it slow
Oden told ESPN later on Friday that it’s it not yet clear if he will be ready for opening night and said his goal is “to finish the season healthy.” He said a “big deciding factor” was that the Heat told him he “wouldn’t be needed as much early in the season.”
In explaining Oden’s decision, Conley also said “the roster of the Heat makes a lot of sense. It’s a team he can work his way into and they don’t need him from Day 1 to win games. He can slowly integrate himself in and be ready for the playoffs.
“What he does may be monitored and minimized from Day 1. [When he plays] is going to be up to the progress that he is making throughout training camp and whenever the doctors and coaches feel he’s ready.”
Conley said San Antonio and Dallas also got strong consideration and it “was a tough decision.
“[But], obviously, who would not want to be on the Miami Heat right now? There is a level of excitement playing with the Heat.”
Conley said Oden feels “like a kid in a candy store when it comes to” going for a three-peat.
“LeBron James has reached out to him via text,” Conley said. “He’s excited about the team chemistry.”
If healthy, Oden, 25, would give the Heat a skilled rebounder and defender who can be used in stretches to combat some of the league’s best centers, including Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, who created problems for Miami in this past season’s Eastern Conference finals.
“If he’s healthy, obviously I think he would be able to help teams,” Heat president Pat Riley said earlier this offseason. “He’s young enough to maybe be able to get by this, and only time will tell.
“Sometimes, you can go back to a half a dozen athletes that started their careers, Kurt Thomas with the broken feet, [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas. 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.”
The Heat had interaction with Oden twice this year, first in Miami with Riley during the season, and again last week, when Spoelstra and vice president/player personnel Chet Kammerer watched him work out in Indianapolis. Feedback from that session was positive.
Deshaun Thomas, who attended Ohio State (Oden’s former school), trained with Oden before this year’s draft and told The Oregonian that “he looks unbelievable.”
Portland bypassed Kevin Durant to draft Oden first overall in 2007, but he didn’t play in his rookie season because of a knee injury, then appeared in 61 games in his second season and just 21 in his third.
He hasn’t played in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009, and has undergone five knee procedures — including three microfracture surgeries, the most recent in February 2012.
But when Oden has played, he was effective, averaging 8.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 82 games and just 22.1 minutes per game.
While away from the game in recent years, Oden reportedly battled depression and alcoholism, but there has been no indication of any recent setbacks.
Oden gives the Heat 13 players with guaranteed contracts. Jarvis Varnado has a non-guaranteed deal. His signing will allow the Heat to play Chris Bosh more at power forward. But Bosh will continue to log heavy minutes at center because Oden’s minutes will be monitored.