According to Jeff Goodman and Marc Stein of ESPN, free agent Greg Oden has cut his list down to five teams. The remaining contenders are Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs.
In order to succeed in his comeback bid, Oden must sign with a legitimate title contender.
Goodman and Stein report that Oden will meet with the Heat, Kings and Pelicans this week. With that being said, the Heat and Spurs have been the front-runners to land Oden for over a month.
That hasn't changed.
Sources say that the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks -- which had face-to-face meetings with Oden last week -- also remain in contention for the 7-footer's services. But the Heat and Spurs established themselves as the front-runners to land Oden last month and, according to one source close to the process, remain the co-favorites to sign him.
It certainly makes sense for that to be the case.
Of the five remaining teams, only the Heat and Spurs are legitimate championship contenders as we approach the 2013-14 NBA season. Not only do they present Oden with an opportunity to join a winning culture, but they pair that with something of extreme importance.
Making the Case for Miami
The Heat are the two-time defending NBA champions, boasting a legendary cast of future Hall of Fame players in Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Even with Chris Andersen providing invaluable energy, however, Miami is without a franchise center.
Where better for Oden to ease into a comeback than on a team that will not require him to do much other than provide the fundamental functions of a two-way big man?
Miami's absence of an interior enforcer was exposed against the Indiana Pacers, as Roy Hibbert dominated them during the Eastern Conference Finals. In turn, a team without a superstar in their prime nearly took down the mighty Heat.
Adding Oden can go a long way towards preventing that from happening again.
If nothing else, Oden will provide a bigger body down low than Miami currently possesses, as he stands at 7'0" and 285 pounds. For those interested, the heaviest player on the Heat is LeBron James at 6'8" and 250 pounds.
Consider this a need.
For Oden, he would be able to play limited minutes on a Heat team that will be the leading title contender with or without him. While some might question why he'd want to enter such a high-profile environment, Oden would have the luxury of playing on a team without significantly more controversy than a comeback attempt.
Winning games, playing in a warm environment—anyone with a history of knee issues will tell you the importance of weather—and playing alongside champions is an intriguing offer.
Making the Case for San Antonio
The Spurs are fresh off of a season in which they were a Ray Allen three-point field goal away from winning the NBA championship.
During the offseason, the Spurs proceeded to lock up the lone youth they have in their frontcourt by giving Tiago Splitter a four-year deal.
Even still, the Spurs would be fooling themselves if they think they have a center of the future.
Splitter is proficient at running the pick-and-roll and has made tremendous strides as a defender, both out of the post and off of high screens. With that being said, Splitter is far from a rim protector and doesn't provide the Spurs with the power that has become the counter to small ball.
Oden can be the low-risk acquisition that potentially provides San Antonio with the physical, big body that they need.
In Oden's case, the Spurs would offer him the opportunity to run a diverse offensive game with an emphasis on defense. While no one can teach good health, the Spurs have the one individual that is the poster child for sustainability and longevity in the NBA.
The Final Edge
The Heat would likely give Oden the most realistic opportunity to win an NBA championship during the 2013-14 season. They're the class of the NBA, have the best player in the world as their leader and their competition is either too old to compete athletically or yet to enter their prime.
Even still, the best bet for Oden is to sign with the Spurs.
Oden's comeback is not about winning immediately. Instead it's about finding a way to maintain good health and thus restart his NBA career. While Miami wouldn't prevent that from happening, the Spurs are the perfect organization to facilitate a return.
With Duncan still dominating at 37, there isn't another individual in the NBA who is better to mentor Oden.
Oden is a powerful player that, even on his worst days, can alter shots and crash the defensive glass. The Spurs may be a strong defensive team, but they lacked a rim protector when Duncan came off of the floor, which explains targeting Oden.
In the end, it's not about playing time or publicity—it's about finding a title contending team with the veterans who can facilitate his return.