Immediately after word got out that free agent Greg Oden would be signing with the Miami Heat, he discussed why he chose to sign here and where he's at right now with his rehabilitation from a multitude of serious injuries that has kept him off the court for the last few years.
In an exclusive interview with Mark Titus on Grantland, Oden explains he simply couldn't pass up the chance to play with LeBron James, but there was certainly more to his decision than that.
"Obviously the chance to play with the best player in the world and compete for a championship was a big selling point. 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.
"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."
The long road to recovery has been a painful one but with the renowned Heat medical staff, Oden will have all the support he needs to bring him along at the right pace.
"The past six years have been tough for me," Oden said, "but there's nothing I can do about it now. The past is the past. All I'm focused on is right now. And right now I feel great and I'm looking forward to playing again."
Reports of depression and alcoholism surfaced during his long time off the court, but right now Oden is in a good place and cautiously optimistic about his future playing career with the Heat and it looks like he has the right attitude going in.
"The cool thing about playing for the Heat is when you're LeBron's teammate and you screw up, nobody gets mad at you for missing a shot or turning the ball over - they get mad at LeBron for passing to you in the first place," Oden joked to Grantland.
His agent, Mike Conley Sr., is confident his client will be able to contribute for the world champions, in remarks to Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida.
"Obviously, the Heat are a very good team and they can bring him along slowly," Conley said. "And he has a chance to win a championship. I think the coaches have a good feel for bringing him along. ... Greg is really excited. It's been a long process and he's glad to get it over with.
"I'm very confident that he's going to have a successful NBA career. He's very determined. He's been looking good in workouts. I know the Heat were impressed."
In addition to his interview with Grantland, Oden also spoke with Marc Stein of ESPN.com and shed more light into his thinking process. He referred to Miami as the "best place" and "best fit". Smartly, both the Heat and Oden know not to rush the process and that the team can afford to bring him along at the right pace - a "big deciding factor" for the former #1 overall draft pick.
"I could be ready to go but it's still a work in progress," Oden said. "My minutes and amount of playing time and all that is going to have to be monitored."
After one particularly good meeting with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra at a local Chili's (and he signed for the minimum, you have to love this guy already if you're a Heat fan), Oden felt even more comfortable returning to the court and doing it as a member of the undisputed best team in the NBA.
"When I had a conversation with Coach Spoelstra and hearing how much he knew about the training stuff that I was already doing, it kind of made me feel like they know what's best for me," Oden said.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I'm 100 percent. I am moving [well] and I am feeling good, but I have a lot of work to do."
As for that supposed "extra" pressure he might be facing by making his comeback with a team always in the national spotlight for their superstars and multiple titles, Oden made it clear that it wasn't a detriment to his recovery.
"[The Heat] are in the spotlight, what can I say? But for them to come after me with all the stuff I've been going through -- for them to think I can still be an important piece of their team -- I'm really excited about that. The scrutiny ... that's going to be there with any team I signed with. I just want to play.
"I want to be able to finish the season healthy. [After] everything I've been through, I want to be able to say I played the game and I had no problems."
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