INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Greg Oden has every reason to be frustrated and disappointed. The former No. 1 overall pick out of Ohio State has endured three micro fracture knee surgeries, the last in February 2012, and hasn’t played an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009.
This was not the career Oden envisioned.
The former Portland Trail Blazer, however, was all smiles during a press conference at St. Vincent Sports Performance on Saturday. He will leave Indianapolis at Monday morning after signing a two-year, $2.173 million deal with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. The second year is a player option.
“After three years of being out, I’m just going to go out and do what I can,” Oden said. “If somehow (my body) says no, then it says no. But for me, I’m not even worried about that. Just go play and not even think about that.
“I’ve signed on the dotted line, put it like that. I’ve got a contract. As y’all can see this smile, I’ve got a contract. I’m excited.”
There haven’t been many reasons to smile about Oden’s professional career. He’s been labeled the modern-day Sam Bowie — a bust selected instead of a Hall of Famer. Bowie was selected No. 2 in the 1984, one pick before Michael Jordan. Oden was taken one pick before three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant. He’s played a total of 82 NBA games and averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
“Two years ago ... when I was in Portland, there were some dark times for me,” Oden said. “That two weeks after my last surgery ... I was just like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. What’s going to happen? Which way is it going to go?’
“Two weeks later I was like, ‘I’m coming back.’ That’s what I want to do.”
Oden has accepted the new version of himself. He will no longer overwhelm opponents with sheer athleticism. He’ll be a role player off the bench on a team that includes LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen.
Oden was thrilled to play three consecutive games of full-court, 4-on-4 last week. The goal is simple: play basketball again.
“I’m 25 (years old) now ... I’ve got an old body,” Oden said. “I understand. My body is not going to be (like it was) when I was 18 and able to run all day and jump over people. I can’t do that. It’s just not going to happen. My knees, the wear and tear, I understand that.
“But I’m a play as hard as I can. I’m going to try to jump over people and I’m going to try to run all day. If my body lets me, I’ll do it.”
St. Vincent Sports Performance has been the center of Oden’s rehab efforts. That’s where he trained to prepare for the 2007 draft with Mike Conley, Jr. and Carl Landry. Mario Chalmers, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Patrick Patterson have also gone through the NBA pre-draft training program at the facility.
Executive director Ralph Reiff said Oden is no longer rehabbing from the surgeries. He’s fully training to prepare for the season. The Heat had their staff at the facility monitoring Oden well before he signed. Everyone knows his status.
“My body’s just getting used to playing again,” Oden said. “My knees do feel good. I’m able to walk. I’m running, jumping. I’m doing everything.
“It’s going to maintenance for the rest of my life. I’ve got to warm up to warm up and then play. I understand that now.”
So, why Miami? San Antonio, Cleveland, Dallas, New Orleans, Sacramento and Atlanta all showed interest. That smile reappeared, frustration and disappointment a distant memory, before Oden answered.
“My friends told me, ‘If you take out the possibility of getting hurt again, what other choice is there?’” Oden said. “If I take out the possibility of getting hurt, why would I not play with the champs?
“If LeBron decides to get another ring, I get one too, now.”