MIAMI (AP) — Greg Oden has taken his physical, done a bit of house hunting in South Florida and signed on the dotted line.
Nearly four years after he last played, he’s officially back in the NBA.
The former No. 1 overall pick signed his contract with the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Wednesday, the last in a series of formalities that needed to be completed before the team could finally announce the move. Oden announced late last week that he was accepting Miami’s offer, one that will pay him about $1 million this coming year and includes a $1.1 million player option for the 2014-15 season.
“I am very excited and happy to be here,” Oden said. “I’m thankful to the Miami Heat organization for bringing me in and I’m ready to get to work.”
Heat President Pat Riley said Wednesday that the team will take a cautious approach with Oden, who has been through the cartilage-repair procedure known as microfracture surgery three times.
“It’s a great challenge for him,” Riley said in a statement released through the team. “We know all about his past injuries, but we feel that there is a huge upside and the possibility of him helping us. We will continue his program and then we will tackle basketball issues after that.”
Riley said the team spent “many months” getting to know Oden, evaluating him both on and off the court before coming to the realization that the time for his comeback may be now. And when he decided to accept Miami’s offer — there were about a half-dozen serious suitors in all for the 7-footer — Oden said he was won over in part by how the Heat will not have the expectations for him to play big minutes right away.
Oden’s last NBA appearance was Dec. 5, 2009, for Portland against Houston. He went up to defend a layup attempt by the Rockets’ Aaron Brooks, fracturing his left kneecap on the play and doing so without even making contact with anyone. Oden collapsed to the floor in obvious agony, was wheeled off the floor after a delay, taken for surgery and the Blazers quickly announced that his season was over.
At the time, no one knew that the following three seasons were basically over as well.
Oden’s health issues started overshadowing his NBA career before it even started. What would have been his rookie season coming out of Ohio State was lost after he had microfracture surgery during the summer of 2007 to repair cartilage problems in his right knee.
In February 2009, he chipped his left kneecap and missed about a month. And when he broke that kneecap 10 months later, he was playing like an All-Star — matching a career-high with 24 points against Chicago a couple weeks before that injury, and setting a career-best with a 20-rebound game against Miami on Dec. 1, 2009.
Four days later, he was gone, and NBA fans haven’t seen him play since.
Another microfracture surgery awaited him in November 2010, and a third one was needed early last year. The Blazers waived him in March 2012, and nearly a year and a half later, he’s getting another shot.
“Congrats Greg,” Heat managing general partner Micky Arison wrote in a tweet. “The journey continues.”