Greg Oden chose Heat because they won’t need him early, dinner at Chili’s

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Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden chose the Miami Heat on Friday night in a move that was widely-anticipated for awhile, but never quite confirmed until the numerous reports erupted across the internet. Most speculated he would choose the Heat because they’re the back-to-back NBA champions, but the oft-injured center gave a few other reasons that made him decide to take his talents to South Beach.

Oden and his agent spoke to Grantland, ESPN and Fox Sports Florida after the decision became public, saying that the ability to work himself back slowly was one of the reasons he decided on the two-year deal with the Heat.

Oden said it was a “big deciding factor” that Heat officials made it clear to him that he “wouldn’t be needed as much early in the season” as he works his way back from more than three years out of the league.

The place that he learned he wouldn’t be needed early was the more interesting story, though, as Oden’s agent — Mike Conley, Sr. — told Fox Sports Florida that his meeting with head coach Erik Spoelstra had a profound effect on his decision.

“He really liked talking with Erik at Chili’s,” Conley said. “I think that played a major role. He just felt very comfortable with him.”

Dinner at Chili’s isn’t usually a precursor to closing the deal, but it apparently worked the Heat. That and the fact that Oden felt wanted in South Beach, anyway.

“Obviously the chance to play with the best player in the world and compete for a championship was a big selling point,” Oden told me. “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.”

It’s going to be interesting watch what sort of scrutiny is put on Oden as he gets ready to play in his first NBA game since December of 2009, especially since he’s fully aware that he isn’t ready to contribute quite yet.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I’m 100 percent,” Oden added. “I am moving (well) and I am feeling good, but I have a lot of work to do.”

If Oden’s ever back to 100 percent, however, it seems the Heat got a steal of a deal. And, if not, spending the veteran’s minimum to find out was a pretty good gamble regardless.