MIAMI — The deal was close to being sealed at a Chili’s restaurant in Indianapolis.
Greg Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., told FOX Sports Florida on Friday night the free-agent center will sign a two-year deal with the Miami Heat for the minimum, with the second year a player option. Conley said a key reason for Oden joining Miami was the bond he felt with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra when the two met for dinner last week in Oden’s hometown.
“He really liked talking with Erik at Chili’s,” Conley said. “I think that played a major role. He just felt very comfortable with him.”
Of course, it also helped that the Heat aren’t too shabby. Oden, who hasn’t played in an NBA game since December 2009 due to knee injuries, joins a team that has won the past two championships.
“Obviously, the Heat are a very good team and they can bring him along slowly,” Conley said. “And he has a chance to win a championship. I think the coaches have a good feel for bringing him along. … Greg is really excited. It’s been a long process and he’s glad to get it over with.”
It’s a coup by Heat president Pat Riley getting Oden, the NBA’s top draft pick in 2007, for the minimum even though he’s been inactive for nearly four years. The Heat have a glaring need at center, and they didn’t have to dip into their $3.183 million tax-payer mid-level exception and incur further luxury-tax problems.
The 7-foot Oden chose the Heat over San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, Sacramento and Atlanta. Conley said other teams offered more money, although he wouldn’t give specifics.
Oden will make the minimum in his classification of $1.027 million next season. If he invokes his player option in 2014-15, he will earn $1.145 million.
Since Spoelstra and Oden went to Chili’s, it sounds as if the Heat also got Oden for the minimum when it came to meal expenses.
Oden, 25, is a low-risk proposition even though he only has played in 82 games since being taken No. 1 in 2007, one spot ahead of Kevin Durant. Oden was waived by the Trail Blazers in March 2012, near the end of his fifth year, and sat out all of last season while rehabilitating.
“I’m very confident that he’s going to have a successful NBA career,” Conley said of Oden, who has career averages of 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds and had a five surgeries on his two knees. “He’s very determined. He’s been looking good in workouts. I know the Heat were impressed.”
Conley said Oden could be ready for the Oct. 29 regular-season opener. However, he said it would be up to the Heat whether he plays then.
While the Heat plan to bring Oden along slowly, he could give them a much-needed big man if he can return to anywhere near his previous form. The Heat, using natural power forward Chris Bosh at center, have had some problems against big teams.
Heat scout Tim Hardaway told FOX Sports Florida last weekend, “If we get Greg Oden, I think we will win a third (straight) title.” Conley laughed when asked if that puts any extra pressure on his client.
“No,” Conley said. “If they win another title, it will be because they have LeBron James.”
Riley had spoken early this summer about really wanting to sign Oden. Spoelstra and Heat vice president of player personnel Chad Kammerer watched Oden in basketball and agility workouts last week in Indianapolis.
“I think the Heat were really impressed by watching him on the Astroturf,” Conley said of a workout Oden had at the St. Vincent Sports Performance facility in Indianapolis that also was seen by some other teams. “He did a lot of agility drills. He did line drills and a shuttle drill and one where he was catching a medicine ball.”
Oden also worked out for Miami and other teams on the basketball court at an Indianapolis church. He was said to have looked good.