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Greg Oden picks Heat; his agent explains why; Updated with Oden quotes; UM loses recruit

We'll get to Greg Oden in a second, but first a quick UM update six hours from the opening of camp: As expected, ace pass rushing linebacker Devante Bond -- who had 17 sacks in junior college last season -- failed to qualify academically. He told caneinsight.com that he will not enroll at UM this season. Rhyheem Lockley and Derrick Griffin also are going to prep school, with the hope of enrolling UM at a later point.

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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 ½ 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.

The deal, first reported by The Herald, is for two years, with the second year a player option. Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., said by phone Friday night that Oden turned down more money elsewhere to take the $1 million minimum from Miami. He would earn $1.1 million in 2014-15 if he exercises the player option.

The Heat, unwilling to pay a significant luxury tax penalty on Oden's contract, did not offer him the $3.1 million midlevel exception that it has available. And Oden did not demand it.

Conley said the Heat will determine when he takes the court in a game, and Oden 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. “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 but once the season starts, and the pressure hits, you never know. He felt comfortable with coach Spoelstra. Feeling that from the coach was important.

“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.     

“All is can say is he will be in training camp. Erik will determine when he plays. He will be cleared for contact before training camp.”

Conley said some owners and general managers say they will be patient with Oden “but feeling that from the coach made an impact. 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 one 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 one. [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.”

Oden spoke to Grantland.com (owned by ESPN) later Friday night and said it's not yet clear if he will be ready for opening night. He said his goal next season is "to finish the season healthy." He said a "big deciding factor" is the Heat told him "he wouldn't be needed as much" early in the season.

"Obviously the chance to play with the best player in the world and compete for a championship was a big selling point," Oden told Grantland's Mark Titus, who played with him at Ohio State. "But more than that, what I really liked was how they thought I could really add something to their team. They’ve won back-to-back championships without me, so for them to pursue me as hard as they did meant a lot, especially given all that I’ve gone through....

"There’s a lot to be excited about in joining the NBA champions, getting to play with some great players, and living in Miami. But honestly, the thing I’m most excited about is just being able to play basketball again. It’s been a long and challenging road back, so just having the chance to play the game I love again has me more excited than anything else.”

Oden also told Grantland's Titus that "the past six years have been tough for me, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. The past is the past. All I’m focused on is right now. And right now I feel great and I’m looking forward to playing again.”

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 the Heat in this past season’s Eastern Conference Finals.

Oden, a college star at Ohio State, also considered Dallas, San Antonio, New Orleans, Sacramento and Atlanta.

"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 in the past several months – first in Miami with president Pat Riley earlier this year, 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 before being drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, trained with Oden before this year’s draft and told The Oregonian that “he looks unbelievable… He’s running, he’s lifting weights. You might be seeing a comeback. He looks like he is ready to go.

“He’s running, getting in shape. I’ll tell you one thing: For a big seven-footer, that’s all he does — running and getting in shape. He’s looking right.”

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 has been effective, averaging 8.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 82 games. And he has put up those numbers while averaging 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.

He has spent the past year rehabilitating his knee and training diligently in Indianapolis and Columbus, Oh.

Oden gives the Heat 13 players with guaranteed contracts. Center Jarvis Varnado's deal is not guaranteed.

His signing will allow Chris Bosh to play more minutes at his natural power forward position. But Bosh is expected to continue to get heavy minutes at center because Oden's minutes will be monitored.

### Oden's salary will cost the Heat more than $2 million in luxury tax payments, bringing Miami's total tax next season to $19 million, pending further roster moves.

### Oden was the last free agent center available who presumably would have been able to crack the Heat’s rotation. Others still unsigned include journeymen Lou Amundson, Cole Aldrich, Jason Collins, DeSagana Diop, Johan Petro, Joel Pryzbilla, Earl Barron and Chris Wilcox.

Perimeter players still available in free agency include Mo Williams (he has interest in Miami if he cannot find a deal higher than the minimum elsewhere), Richard Hamilton, Dahntay Jones, Lamar Odom, Antawn Jamison, Marquis Daniels, Corey Maggette, Daequan Cook, Daniel Gibson, Sebastian Telfair, Sam Young and Damien Wilkins.

And power forward Al Harrington is also available after the Orlando Magic released him on Friday.

 

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