Sources close to the situation say the Cleveland Cavaliers were likely Greg Oden’s first choice. But the Cavs went with Andrew Bynum instead, giving Oden a reason to look elsewhere.
Oden is a 7-footer who played collegiately at Ohio State and was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Three microfracture knee surgeries later, he signed a free-agent contract with the defending champion Miami Heat.
That happened Friday, and while the Heat hardly gave Oden a major pact (two years for reportedly just more than $2 million), the majority of the league looked at Oden and took a pass. Makes sense, considering Oden hasn’t played an actual game since 2009.
One of the teams showing interest last season: No less than the Cavs. And Oden was interested in them — attending a game in March and saying Cleveland seemed like a good fit for a Midwestern guy.
But the Cavs, like most teams, were noncommittal, realizing the fairly big risks that come with a big man who is viewed, fair or not, as damaged goods.
The Cavs instead went in another direction, with another center who possesses a similar background, in Andrew Bynum. Of course, Bynum is a former All-Star who missed just last season (with the Philadelphia 76ers). Oden never quite reached those heights. He could never stay on the floor long enough during his stint with the Portland Trail Blazers (2007-09).
Meanwhile, the Heat are the defending back-to-back champions. With names like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade leading the way, they needn’t worry if Oden works out. Anything they get from him is an unexpected bonus.
Teams that don’t have the luxury of James and his cohorts, on the other hand, can’t really afford to take that chance. They would need Oden to produce, to turn into something more than a potential injury waiting to happen.
Oden did hold some workouts for some teams recently. One general manager who attended those workouts told FOX Sports Ohio it didn’t matter if Oden signed or not.
“If we got him, great,” the GM said. “But if not, we sure weren’t gonna cry about it. I don’t think anyone is looking at him as anything more than an emergency backup. That’s nice to have, but it’s not like it’s impossible to find.”
Oden, 25, also drew interest from the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs. But the Cavs and Heat were always considered the frontrunners, sources said. When the Cavs withdrew, it basically made Oden’s decision a no-brainer.
“He’s young enough to maybe be able to get by this, and only time will tell,” Heat president Pat Riley told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel recently. “But if he’s healthy, obviously I think he would be able to help teams, yes.”
Oden’s contract, while minuscule by NBA standards, means the Heat will be penalized by going over the league’s salary cap. For instance, the first year of the deal will reportedly pay him around $1 million — but will actually cost the Heat $2.6 million when you factor in luxury tax.