All the biggest dominoes have fallen in free agency this offseason. When the biggest questions left on the open market are when Nikola Pekovic is gonna give up on waiting for an imaginary team to blow away the Wolves’ $50 million offer, whether or not Brandon Jennings will sign his qualifying offer and try again next season, and what team Mo Williams will sign a minimum contract to come off the bench for, you know you’re officially in the dog days of the NBA summer, with a lot of hours to fill with non-hoops-related intrigue and entertainment. There’s only one real story left, and it’s likely to be resolved by the end of the week: Who’s gonna get to the chance to resurrect Greg Oden?
I doubt there’s ever been a free agent quite like Greg Oden before. Here you have the chance to sign a former No. 1 overall pick that never really busted as a pro — he has a career PER near 20 and according to Basketball-Reference was worth 6.8 wins in his first 82 games, about how many second-year sensation Jimmy Butler was worth in a full season last year. Unfortunately for Oden, those 82 games came over the course of two seasons in six years, and represent the sum total of the basketball he’s played thus far, with knee injuries upon knee injuries cheating him out of getting to establish himself as a pro. Now he represents a free agency lottery ticket to make even Andrew Bynum seem like a safe bet, a guy who at age 25 still has that franchise center potential sheen to him, if you can overlook the fact that he hasn’t laced up his sneaks in four years and may never be fully healthy again.
Unsurprisingly, a number of teams are interested — particularly since with his miserable track record of health, Oden probably can be landed for a minimal financial investment. At last count, it sounded like Oden was debating between a half-dozen teams in pursuit: the Pelicans, Kings, Mavericks, Hawks, Spurs and Heat, all of whom have seen Oden work out (“looks quite lean & is moving quite well,” reports Marc Stein!) and all of whom should be making their offers sometime this week, in a kind of low-rent version of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.
I fear, however, that I already know where Oden is headed, and this Marc J. Spears tweet doesn’t help: To me, it seems all but certain that Oden is going to Miami.
The pitch that Miami can make to Oden is obvious and undeniable. They’re the two-time defending champs. They have LeBron. They have Pat Riley. They have South Beach. They have a borderline-desperate need for size and rebounding. They have enough media pressure at all times that Oden’s rehabbing can go under the radar as never being more than the third-biggest story surrounding the team at any given point in time. And after last year, they have a proven track record of veterans taking lesser or even minimum contracts to play there, and certainly looking like they have no regrets about doing so. The Heat are the gravitational center of the NBA now, and resisting their pull will take some serious effort from the former No. 1 pick.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the Heat also now have Chris Andersen. Like Oden, The Birdman was out of the league for some time — albeit for dramatically different reasons — but filled a potential need in the middle for the Heat during their stretch run last season. Once signed and slotted in, he instantly performed at a high level for the rest of the season, and a near All-Star level during the playoffs, where he led all players in offensive rating, true shooting percentage and Win Shares per 48 Minutes, hitting 18 straight shots over one stretch of games. If Oden is looking to be put in a position to succeed instantly after his long NBA sabbatical, he’ll find none more opportune than Miami, and Andersen is pretty good evidence of that.