Nearly a year removed from his latest knee surgery, former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden has decided to resume his playing career, but is not planning to return to the NBA before the 2013-14 season, according to sources close to the situation.
Sources told ESPN.com that multiple teams already have expressed interest in signing Oden before the end of this season to a multiyear deal that would allow him to continue his rehab until he can get back on the court in training camp in the fall.
The Miami Heat are at the front of the line in pursuing Oden, two sources said, and have been keeping tabs as he recovers while also taking classes at Ohio State.
The Heat potentially could have two roster spots available this season, one of which Oden, formerly of the Portland Trail Blazers, could slide into as he continues to rehab. Team president Pat Riley is known to like gambling on long shots, especially when it comes to big men.
One concern for the Heat, though, is they already are committed to more than $80 million in salaries for next season and likely will have a final payroll coming close to $90 million in a year when the new, more harsh luxury tax kicks in. Oden potentially would be a costly gamble even on a minimum-level contract. The Heat are also currently about $14 million over the luxury-tax line for this season.
Oden had his third microfracture surgery, this one in his left knee, in February 2012. He has not played since Dec. 5, 2009, and appeared in just 82 games with the Blazers while suffering from a series of knee injuries.
In attempting another comeback, Oden’s camp is planning to take a highly conservative approach. So the plan is for him to sit out the rest of this season and summer league to make sure he allows himself the best chance of finally getting healthy.
The Heat, who have been on the lookout for a center for three years, were interested in Oden before the start of last season, when he was a restricted free agent. But he ended up taking a one-year, $8.9 million deal with the Blazers. After a setback in his recovery, the contract was reduced to $1.5 million, and he later had the microfracture procedure.
Oden averaged 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in parts of two seasons in Portland.