Greg Cote: Greg Oden would suit Miami Heat just fine

07/25/2013 12:01 AM

07/25/2013 7:55 PM

The way you might feel to hear a millionaire had just won the Powerball lottery is the way other NBA teams should feel if the Heat manages to sign a healthy Greg Oden. In life, they say the rich get richer. In sports, sometimes the best get better.

That hardly seems fair.

Unless it’s your life, of course.

Or your team.

The Heat’s consecutive championships validate the Miami idea of “positionless basketball” because success is sports’ ultimate argument-ender. It sets everything right. Who needs a true center? Analysts such as Charles Barkley spent all season insisting Miami couldn’t rebound and played too small, and this team’s unsubtle reply was to raise a finger to the critics — no, I mean the one with the championship ring on it — and to throw itself another parade.

A slice of club architect Pat Riley’s genius, though, is to be standing in the midst of the spray of champagne and fall of confetti and still be able to think, “We aren’t good enough. How can we get better?”

So one year ago, he added to his champions Ray Allen, only the best three-point shooter ever.

Now he wants to add Oden, because Riley knows a true center still has a place, even here. Didn’t Indiana and then San Antonio in the NBA playoffs both push Miami to seven games last season largely because of low-post presence and bigger frontcourts?

Interest in Oden and choosing to re-sign Chris “Birdman” Andersen instead of Mike Miller both are indications of an interest in getting bigger.

Remember, too: Riley forged his Hall of Fame path back when the center was a team’s figurative as well as literal hub. He coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Patrick Ewing, then Alonzo Mourning. Even on a team dominated by the one-of-a-kind LeBron James, every molecule of Riley’s basketball DNA must be enticed by possibly adding — by adding the possibility — of the 7-foot Oden.

I know that the risk is there, and that the jokes are easy, and understandable.

One making the rounds: If ESPN’s LeBron announcement show was called “The Decision,” Oden’s should be dubbed “The Incision” because of all of his knee surgeries.

And this much is true: Portland selecting Oden one spot ahead of Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft looks — right now — like maybe the single worst NBA draft decision since the same Trail Blazers chose Sam Bowie one ahead of Michael Jordan in 1984.

Skepticism naturally dogs a player who last appeared in an NBA game in December 2009, and whose most recent of three microfracture knee surgeries was in February 2012.

The interest of Miami and other teams is valid, though. Very. Youth, size and talent remain a rare gem of a combination. For the same reason, Cleveland made a smart gamble in signing Andrew Bynum.

Miami and San Antonio, said to be the front-runners, eagerly await Oden’s decision, expected next week.

New Orleans also is thought to be a contender among a half dozen or so interested teams, assuming Oden does not eliminate that team for its ridiculous Pelicans nickname alone. New Orleans is trying to sell Oden on the idea he can better resume his career quietly and without pressure there, out of the media spotlight.

I’d prefer Miami’s selling point if I were Oden. “We’re back-to-back reigning champions. You can take your time here. Come back on your own clock. And when you’re ready, we think you’ll enjoy playing with LeBron, Dwyane Wade and the rest of your new friends.”

(Also, Pelicans, I suspect that after three-plus years in the shadows, Oden might enjoy a bit of spotlight again.)

Heat fans should hope the chance to play with LeBron and win a ring is as enticing to Oden as the money factor.

Miami would love to get him for the $1 million veterans minimum, but it might take the $3.2 million midlevel exception instead. In Miami’s case, the actual cost would be much more because of the league’s onerous luxury tax. But if you weighed signing Oden at that midlevel against the money the club just saved on luxury tax by waiving Miller, the Heat would still come out about $11million ahead.

The Heat can afford Oden, in other words.

And it can afford to use the 2013-14 season as a no-pressure developmental year for him, with an eye on having him fully back for the following season.

I suspect Riley’s vision might have included Oden, whom he has long coveted, when he said, “When 2014 hits, we’ll be ready to deal with that. We’ll be prepared for anything.”

Every current Heat player will be eligible for free agency next summer. An Oden who is completely healthy then could be a huge asset in convincing LeBron to re-sign long term, the club’s absolute imperative. A healthy Oden also would be a hedge against possibly losing Chris Bosh or others in free agency.

Oden’s immense potential can hardly be overstated. He was a No. 1 overall draft pick. He still is only 25, and a very low-mileage 25, after playing only one season at Ohio State and then parts of two NBA years equating to one full season.

He is 7 feet and 275 pounds, and he is medically set to be cleared for full contact in August and to be ready for the start of somebody’s training camp.

“Oden” and “knee surgeries” have been the word-association game for so long, it is easy to forget, and bears remembering, that in 82 career NBA games — the equal of one full season — he has averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 58 percent shooting in only 22 minutes per game.

His productivity has never been an issue, when healthy. That continues a massive “if” until proved otherwise, but, for Miami, right now, that’s a calculated, smart gamble.

Postscript: LeBron’s high school in Akron, Ohio, and the Indianapolis medical center where Oden has done much of his rehabilitation both happen to be named in honor of Saint Vincent.

Omen?

About Greg Cote

Greg Cote

@gregcote

Greg Cote has been a Miami Herald sports columnist since 1995 and also writes the Random Evidence blog and NFL predictions along with his notorious sidekick the Upset Bird. He has covered Hurricanes football (1984-88), the Dolphins (1990-91) and major events including Super Bowls, NBA Finals, World Series, Stanley Cup, Olympics and World Cup.

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