He did his recovery work in a physical therapy center just a few miles from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, in the city where he grew up and went to high school. The Pacers didn't need to look far if they wanted to take a chance on a gimpy center with a comeback dream.
But they passed on Greg Oden anyway.
The Heat's only true weakness in the Big Three Era is size and intimidation at center, and so they spent the off-season exploring a cheap way to patch the leak with a 7-footer. One such player was available and he came with championship and All-Star experience.
But Andrew Bynum's price tag and risk were a bit much for Miami.
See where we're going with this? The two teams fighting for pole position in the East had the same needs and yet they went in opposite directions to find answers. They took small gambles on centers who may be difference-makers in the chase for the conference title. The only question is which team, if any, put their hopes on the wrong guy.
Would Bynum have been a more secure option for Miami?
Did the Pacers whiff when they didn't press hard enough to sign Oden, someone from Indianapolis, of all places?
We might not know until late May. Until then, there's plenty of time for Oden and Bynum to work their way into decent minutes in the rotation, find a niche, try to recapture as much of the past as possible and gain the confidence of their teammates and coaches. How weird would it be if one of them winds up with a ring and actually stays upright long enough to earn it?
The Pacers didn't sign Bynum to keep him away from Miami, because the Heat had no strong interest. They grabbed Bynum to pad their bench and give Roy Hibbert a breather, which allows them to keep a 7-footer with All-Star experience and size and a presence at both rims for the full 48 minutes. Hibbert and Bynum, a tag-team that could pay off big, should a best-case scenario happen.
"He's someone we can throw the ball to, and I don't see it as being anything but a good addition to the team," said forward David West.
The only potential downside is whether Bynum, whose image has taken a hit, will get with the program. He refused to do that in his last two stops, first Philly and most glaringly Cleveland, where Bynum lashed out at coach Mike Brown - which seems to be in vogue among Cavs players these days - over playing time. Which of course begs the question: If Bynum was irked over getting spot duty in Cleveland, how's he going to respond to cleaning up after Hibbert?
It's something that team president Larry Bird and the organization had to weigh at least a little before signing him last week. The Pacers have a rock-solid locker room led by respectable vets like West. There's no sign of selfishness or jealousies; even Danny Granger, a 25-point scorer in better days, has come to grips with allowing Lance Stephenson to shine. Also, Bynum is trying to land a bigger contract and extend his career, and players in that situation often turn territorial and greedy.
Too much is at stake for the Pacers to allow that to happen, and so there's a wait-and-see approach within the locker room regarding Bynum, who's expected to suit up by Thursday. There is one clear distinction between the Pacers and Bynum's last two stops: They aren't Cleveland and Philly, places dealing with losing and simmering discontent and a lengthy rebuilding process.
"The last few places he was at, it was about him," said West. "There's no pressure on him here. We're going to keep rolling. We handle our business differently in here. It's about the group, not any particular individual. When he gets here, we're going to welcome him and hopefully he gets himself right physically and is ready to play."
That's code for Bynum Better Behave, or else.
"This team is as close at it gets," said Paul George. "I don't know what it was like with other teams he was with. I think with him, he was just used to winning. When he first came into this league, he was with a team that was always dominant. He didn't know any other way until he left the Lakers and found out what the other side was like.
"Not to downgrade any other team, but he'll find that this is a winning program. Right away he'll understand where this team is trying to get to, because he's been there before. He has the chance to come in and win, and win the right way. This is a great organization."
It's a low-risk move because the Pacers can just cut Bynum if things don't work out or if he gives coach Frank Vogel the Mike Brown treatment, and nobody will remember that he ever was around. He's at the point in his career where he needs the Pacers, not vice versa. So those types of players, who hold no leverage, tend to walk softly.
The Heat snoozed on Bynum last off-season mainly because of money. He wanted more than the minimum and Miami, already taking a $25 million luxury tax hit with the current roster, didn't feel he was worth the extra $12 million (salary plus additional cap penalty). You can understand; the Heat went to the Finals three straight years without a decent interior big man (not counting Chris Bosh, who's more of a power forward). Why should they invest so heavily in a guy coming off multiple surgeries and missed last season completely? So they actively explored Oden instead, and when the interest was mutual, it was an easy call.
They knew Oden wouldn't be ready until after the holidays at the earliest, which wasn't an issue, because they didn't need him right away. By allowing him to heal properly from four years of surgeries, both physically and mentally, the Heat knew it was buying time and giving Oden every chance to be ready for the playoffs and join the committee of Heat big men against Hibbert.
The plan appears to be working, because Oden not only looks more comfortable since his Jan. 15 season debut, he hasn't had an injury setback. He's on a diet of 10-12 minutes and one or two games a week, depending on the number of days off between games.
"There's no question you can see his impact just in terms of the size, extra possessions, the physicality on the glass at both ends," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "I've been trying to get (his minutes) in, and it's not easy."
What's easy to forget is Oden and Bynum aren't old players, or even middle-aged. They're both 26 and Oden just turned that age two weeks ago. That's why, even though they have roughly 8 knee procedures between them, two contenders were willing to chance it. The upside appears steeper than the price Indiana and Miami paid.
March 26 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is one of those spots on a long NBA calendar that deserves a red circle. Miami will be in town and maybe the East will be up for grabs. There'll be a few other interesting subplots, like George testing his All-Star talents against LeBron James and the never-ending drama regarding Dwyane Wade's health.
At one point, maybe Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum will share the floor. That hasn't happened since 2009, which was a long time and many surgeries ago. They were barely out of their 20s and on their way to a lengthy, healthy career. Or so they thought. Right now, they'll settle for a lengthy, healthy season that lasts through the end of June.