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.
Though there's no denying the risk involved for a Miami team that could have as much as $85.6 million committed in payroll next season, there's also no refuting the ingenuity behind this potential marriage.
The Heat need a center, and it shows.
Since the dawn of the Big Three era, Miami has been plagued by a lack of size and the absence of consistent rebounding. Nearly halfway into the 2012-13 crusade, it's become clear that the Heat's defense has failed them as well.
At present the Heat are 29th in rebounds per game (39) and 17th in points allowed per game (97.3) as well. They're also allowing 40 points in the paint (11th in the league), an increase over the 37.1 (second) they relinquished last year.
Miami needs help on the defensive end badly. But not too badly, and that's important here.
Despite deficiencies on the glass and defense in general, the Heat still hold the NBA's fourth-best record and are among the most formidable of championship contenders.
The Heat don't need Oden.
Which is perfect.
Should the seven-footer sign with Miami, he'll be exposed to an entirely different environment than the one in Portland. With the Blazers, he was supposed to be a pillar for the future, a star they could build a perennial contender around.
That's the type of pressure that won't exist with the Heat. Miami already has a star-studded triumvirate to carry its cause. Oden would merely be a complementary piece.
Thus, not only does the defensively-conscious Oden provide the Heat with a skill set they don't have, but they provide him with a nurturing ambience as well.
By the end of his stay in Portland, the Blazers weren't afforded the luxury of patience. They had waited on him for five years and couldn't wait on him any longer.
But the Heat can. They don't need and wouldn't expect the world of Oden. They don't need him to put up 20 points and 10 rebounds a night. They don't even need him to match his career output of 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds.
All they would ask is that he do a little of what he was brought in the league to do—play some defense, grab a few rebounds, contest shots and perhaps score some in the post.
How is that not a perfect situation for Oden, a player who is still coping with the reality of being a recurrent disappointment?
Oden has failed to meet expectations for more than five years. He can't afford to land anywhere where overly ambitious presumptions have already been made.
Even as a seven-footer, this may very well be Oden's last chance. If he is asked to do too much or he falls too hard, his career stands to be crippled under the weight of deficient knees and lofty assumptions.
Or he could find himself with the Heat—a team that expects next to nothing yet is prepared to offer him everything.
A team that believes in him because it has nothing but a few bucks (luxury tax penalties included) to lose if its faith is rendered futile.
A team that can offer him something he arguably hasn't had since he underwent his first of three microfracture surgeries in the fall of 2007—a chance to succeed.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of Jan. 9, 2013.