Pat Riley is the Dark Lord of NBA executives. Last night we found out Greg Oden would be taking his wobbly knees to South Beach to join the back-to-back champion Miami Heat for a two-year deal, with a player option for the second year, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman first reported via Twitter. Perhaps what’s more incredible is he signed for the league minimum despite better offers from multiple clubs.
The Greg Oden announcement was baffling to some observers since he was basically walking away from money, but those who know him said the decision was based on peace of mind, not financial benefits.
Oden’s former teammate on the Ohio State Buckeyes and 13-year friend, Mark Titus, writes about college basketball for Bill Simmons‘ Grantland. He wrote about Oden’s decision yesterday, with Oden telling him:
“Obviously the chance to play with the best player in the world and compete for a championship was a big selling point,” Oden said. “But more than that, what I really liked was how they thought I could really add something to their team. They’ve won back-to-back championships without me, so for them to pursue me as hard as they did meant a lot, especially given all that I’ve gone through.”
In a lot of ways, Oden’s decision is perfect. He’ll experience zero pressure to dominate on a Heat team that plays a lot of small-ball, but who also has Chris Andersen as their back-up for Chris Bosh at center. Miami’s title fortunes rest on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh, not on Oden, so they’ll be able to bring him along slowly without the stress he felt in Portland as the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. It’s that same strain he might have felt if he signed elsewhere for a team that didn’t already have a nucleus of stars, and would need him to contribute significant minutes right away. About the only person who might be upset about the news is Miami’s third string center, Joel Anthony.
But as Oden told Titus, the excitement about joining the two-time defending champions pales in comparison to just being able to play basketball again. He hasn’t been seen on an NBA hardwood since December 5, 2009 with the Blazers.
“There’s a lot to be excited about in joining the NBA champions, getting to play with some great players, and living in Miami. But honestly, the thing I’m most excited about is just being able to play basketball again. It’s been a long and challenging road back, so just having the chance to play the game I love again has me more excited than anything else.”
Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida, reports that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked with Oden at a Chili’s in his Ohio hometown last week and Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr. said the two formed a special bond that probably augmented Oden’s decision to sign with the Heat.
But the real genius is Riley. The Miami mastermind got Oden to sign a two-year deal at the minimum, but he was smart enough to give him a player option for the second year, rather than the team option other teams were offering, as Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio pointed out on Twitter last night:
Several sources say Heat willing to give Greg Oden assurances other teams wouldn't. If it doesn't work, "burden is on the Heat," says one.
— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) August 3, 2013
Heat gave Oden player option. Others supposedly wanted team option 2nd year. GM who watched workout: "Skeptical, but low-risk for Heat."
— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) August 3, 2013
The league minimum deal Oden signed means he’ll earn less than Chris Andersen, who also spurned other teams and took a pay-cut to re-join the Heat for the chance at another title. So Oden’s deal means Riley successfully avoided creating a possible rift with the Birdman as well.
Riley smartly uses his trump card, playing for a championship with the best player in the world, as a negotiating ploy to entice players—like Oden and Andersen—to sign at discounts. Since signing Oden at the league minimum, the Heat still have their mini mid-level exception to add more firepower.
Riley’s smart to dangle the ring chasing carrot, and it’s worked wonders for him since his ultimate coup in the summer of 2010 when he convinced James and Bosh to take a little less than the maximum to team with Wade for a Miami super team.
Pat Riley is the real king of Miami. Sorry LeBron.
How do you think Oden will do in Miami?
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