PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) Greg Oden was watching from the sideline when the first Miami Heat practice of the season was wrapping up, big icepacks strapped to each of his knees.
No cause for alarm. It's all part of the plan.
Oden wants to be able to play on Oct. 29, when the two-time defending champion Heat open their season against the Chicago Bulls. It doesn't seem like having the oft-injured former No. 1 overall pick available for that game is exactly that big a priority for Miami, which is taking a very cautious approach with the center who hasn't appeared in the NBA since 2009.
"It's step-by-step, practice-by-practice, minute-by-minute," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He was able to do about a half-hour of the work (Tuesday), the majority of it non-contact."
Miami resumes training camp with two more scheduled practices in the Bahamas on Wednesday.
The news that Oden practiced for only about one-quarter of the first session, combined with the size of the icebags on those knees afterward, would suggest that there's a major problem.
Quite the contrary, Spoelstra said.
"That was a big bonus," Spoelstra said of the fact that Oden was able to be on the floor at all. "We'll move on from here ... and see what the next step will be."
Oden's contract is a low-risk, potentially high-reward deal for the Heat. Obviously, they've been good enough to win it all in each of the last two seasons without him, and really without any true center for that matter. If Oden's body betrays him again, it wouldn't figure to seriously impair Miami's chances at a third straight title.
"I'm excited to see what Big G.O. has to offer," said Heat star LeBron James, the league's four-time MVP.
If Oden can add anything to the Heat mix, the team that's already favored by many to win the title would look even more imposing.
"I'm getting my step back," Oden said after the initial practice. "But I'm happy to be out there and be around this atmosphere with the guys."
He looks slim, having dropped about 40 pounds for this comeback bid, and Oden plans to lose even more weight before the season starts. His career path is legendary for all the wrong reasons, with injuries wiping out what would have been his first NBA season - and that was an omen of what was to come, since constant knee problems have limited him to 82 regular-season games, total, since he was drafted in 2007.
The only No. 1 pick to have appeared in fewer games than Oden in the last 40 years was Anthony Davis, and he has a good reason: He's entering his second season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
"We're just going to keep going, do a little bit by a little bit and go from there," Oden said.
His on-court workouts in Miami before training camp lasted about 30-35 minutes, Oden said, so what happened on the first day in the Bahamas appeared to be simply a continuation of that approach.
Yes, he's eager to start playing for real again. But he's also understanding that patience is paramount right now, and is trusting what the Heat training staff is telling him.
"They've got the best plan for me to get better," Oden said.