Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Saturday, August 3, 2013
Greg Oden is a good fit for the Heat

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

The Miami Heat did it again.

They won the competition for Greg Oden, another free agent multiple teams were chasing. And they got him to take less money than was being offered elsewhere. This has happened time and time again over the past four summers and it's a central reason they're two-time champs who are the oddsmakers' favorite to do it again.

Because they got Oden at their price and on their terms -- assuring Oden that he'll be brought along slowly with an eye toward the playoffs, above all else -- the Heat have set this up as an all-reward, no-risk transaction.

Oden's story is well known. The five knee surgeries, the no games since December of 2009, a grand total of 82 games since being drafted No. 1 in 2007. Because of all that there is hardly any meaningful way to project what Oden will be for the Heat this season.

In an effort to put some sort of perspective on him, stories about Oden's return have recently included what his player efficiency rating was for a 21-game stretch in 2009. This, of course, has virtually no value now. Even the workouts Oden had for various teams recently, which were controlled by him and done at relative low speed, hold little predictive value.

What the Heat know for sure is that Oden is 7-foot and he's attempting what is likely a final comeback at age 25. What they think they have is a motivated player at a position of need who is willing to play for $1 million, which sounds like a lot for someone who hasn't played in four years but actually is less than Oden was offered elsewhere.

Over the past two years, the Heat barely played an injury-prone Mike Miller during the regular season. Battling a myriad of injuries, the Heat usually didn't need Miller to still have plenty of success from November to April. But in the playoffs, Miller frequently came up big by delivering clutch shooting performances. The fans loved him for it and the Heat accepted that the best way to use Miller was to save his body for those high-value moments. They paid him $6 million for this role.

Essentially, this will be the same game plan with Oden. The Heat will approach the first months of the season as a long, slow training camp for him. They'll try to ease him into shape, let him adapt to the culture of a team that right now has 13 returning players, and apply exactly zero game pressure. The entire process will be aimed at getting Oden ready to contribute for a handful of games in May or June when the Heat are likely to be in a playoff series in which they'll need a dozen or so helpful minutes from a 7-footer.

That's it. That's what they want from Oden, to help to win a playoff game or two. If he does that, he'll have earned his million dollars in the Heat's eyes. Anything else would be considered a bonus. That's all the Heat wanted out of Chris Andersen last season when they signed him. When he averaged five points and four rebounds in 15 minutes a game for the last half of the season, he turned into a cult hero in Miami.

The burden for Oden's success, believe it or not, will be even lower. If he's able to limit Roy Hibbert for a few quarters, keep Joakim Noah away from a couple of key offensive rebounds and make Brook Lopez move a bit, then he'll have done his job.

That is why the Heat feel good about this move and why Oden will go in with a reasonable chance to achieve the objective. If it doesn't happen, it will not define the team's season. And it won't make a very large dent in their payroll, which is a guiding principle these days.

Adding Oden will cost the Heat $3.6 million, including luxury taxes, and that bumped their current commitments to more than $100 million this season when figuring in the new tax rules. That's certainly a premium price for what is a premium roster.

But Oden was in the bargain bin and, as a plus, he's a bargain worth rooting for because of everything he has gone through in his career. For an August signing to a minimum contract, that's about all that can be asked for.