MIAMI — Greg Oden still needs some time to get ready for the rigors of playing in the NBA.
He no longer needs a new team, however.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick has chosen to sign with the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat, ending months of suspense over where the center whose career has been decimated by a series of knee problems would be attempting his comeback. The Heat were long perceived as the frontrunners to land Oden, and now have a 7-footer to help them try for a third straight title.
Mike Conley Sr., one of Oden’s agents, said Friday night that the former Portland center accepted an offer worth about $1 million for this coming season and would have a player option for 2014-15.
“He just thought that it was the best fit for him, where he’s at and especially for how it relates to him coming back,” Conley said. “He can be on a winning team and be working his way in slowly.”
The contract is expected to be formally signed early next week, Conley said.
“I think a 7-footer can help any team,” Heat point guard Mario Chalmers said. “They’re hard to find. I’ve known Greg since our high school days, talked to him a couple of times about this and you just hope for the best.”
Oden told ESPN.com on Friday night that he still has “a lot of work to do.”
And during their recruiting process, the Heat were obviously cognizant of that. Oden has not played in the NBA since fracturing his kneecap in a game on Dec. 5, 2009, but the Heat surely will not expect him to play big minutes right away, given that they are bringing back most of the rotation that won the last two league titles and will almost certainly be favored to win a third next season.
When meeting with Oden last month in Indianapolis, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra laid out what Miami’s plans would be as far as potential roles and the former Ohio State star’s ongoing rehabilitation, and whatever got said in that conversation resonated throughout the remainder of the decision-making process.
“The fact that Coach Spoelstra said all the right things, understood where he was at and what he wants, that impressed Greg quite a bit,” Conley said.
Oden is the second No. 1 pick on the Heat roster, joining LeBron James, the top overall draft selection in 2003 — and someone who developed quite an affinity for Oden’s game when the center was at Ohio State. Oden wound up leaving college after one season, then was taken by Portland at the top of the 2007 draft.
It was a spectacular failure, thanks to an array of injuries. Oden played in just 82 games — the equivalent of one full NBA season — during his four-plus years in the Blazers’ organization, averaging 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks on 58 percent shooting.
Oden’s health issues have dogged him since he was drafted. Right knee microfracture surgery — a procedure used to develop new, healthy cartilage — ended what would have been his rookie season before it ever started. He made his long-awaited NBA debut on Oct. 28, 2008, and sprained his right foot in that game, sidelining him for two weeks.
His next major injury issue came in February of that season, when he chipped his left kneecap and missed about a month. Oden returned for the final 21 games of that season — 15 before the playoffs, then six more in the postseason, when Portland was ousted by the Rockets.
He’s played in a total of 21 games since, and the fractured kneecap in 2009 came just as he seemed to be hitting his best NBA stride. Another microfracture surgery awaited him in November 2010, and a third one was needed early in 2012, essentially ending his career with the Blazers. He was waived in March 2012.
“Time will tell,” Heat president Pat Riley said earlier this summer, when asked if Oden could still be effective.
San Antonio, New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta and Sacramento also were believed to be seriously vying for Oden this summer, with a handful of other clubs expressing a lower level of interest.
“The scenario at San Antonio made sense for him also,” Conley said. “You have a coach there in Gregg Popovich that’s used to bringing players back slowly and Tim Duncan to learn from. He was definitely impressed with Mark Cuban in Dallas and meeting him, and he’s really good friends with (coach) Monty Williams at New Orleans. It wasn’t cut and dry across the board for Miami.”
Still, the Heat won out, and did so at a bargain price.
Miami used the amnesty provision on Mike Miller last month, a move that could save the team more than $35 million in luxury-tax payments over the next two years. Oden likely could have gotten more money elsewhere, but the Heat have shown many times over the last three summers that they can get players to take less money in exchange for being part of a title-contending team.
“He wants to compete for championships,” Conley said.