Udonis Haslem was the first player to leave millions on the table in the hopes of keeping the Heat’s nucleus together.
Though his decision to opt out of his contract last month wasn’t enough to keep LeBron James in Miami, the Heat on Friday rewarded Haslem for his commitment to the franchise and the city and officially re-signed him to a two-year contract. The deal was made official after an emotional three days that saw former Heat players Mike Miller and James Jones join LeBron James in Cleveland.
“Udonis Haslem has been a fixture in Miami over the last 11 years,” Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement. “He’s a team player, an encompassing all-purpose player that would play just about any position or role in order to win.”
Haslem, a three-time champion for the Heat along with Dwyane Wade, played a limited role during the regular season and in the 2014 NBA Finals, but he likely will be more involved next season since Shane Battier (retired) and Rashard Lewis (signed with Mavericks) are no longer on the team.
Haslem’s new contract, which the Heat will file under the collective bargaining agreement’s “room” exception, is reportedly worth $2.732 million in the first year. His old deal would have paid $4.6 million next season. Under his new contract, Haslem is due a 4.5 percent raise for the 2015-16 season.
LOYALTY TRUMPS MONEY
Haslem has left more money on the table out of loyalty to the Heat than many NBA players earn in their careers. He sacrificed a potential $14 million in 2010 – the year Miami added James and Chris Bosh – to stay with the Heat and pursue championships with his hometown team, and he was rewarded with two more rings.
Haslem is adored by Heat fans and the City of Miami, and the Heat’s ownership and upper management view Haslem as the gold standard for a franchise that prides itself on toughness, loyalty and hard work and preaches sacrifice for the team above all else.
The Heat gave the former Miami High and University of Florida star a chance in 2003 as an undrafted free agent, and he has responded with dedication and loyalty. Entering his 12th year in the league, he is the Heat’s all-time leader in rebounds (5,332) and is averaging 8.6 points and 7.5 rebounds for his career.
“It’s been such a privilege and honor to have him with the organization and I’m so happy that he decided to come back,” Riley said.
Jones, of course, did not.
JONES EXPLAINS DECISION
Jones, the Heat’s other Miami native, said Friday one reason he left for Cleveland was a chance at more playing time. Jones went unused for long stretches over the past four years with the Heat and appeared in only 20 games last season.
“Sometimes you just need to move to grow,” Jones said during a radio interview on the Zaslow and Joy Show (FM 104.3).
The Heat was expected to officially re-sign Chris Andersen on Friday. Andersen agreed to return to the Heat last week after James announced his decision to play in Cleveland. Penciling in Andersen, the Heat now has agreements or binding contracts with 12 players. That list includes free agent rookie James Ennis, who recently signed a deal with the team, and Justin Hamilton, who is under contract with a team option for next season. The Heat is expected to keep Hamilton.
Using the space exception on Haslem locks the Heat in as a “room” team. That means the team cannot use other salary-cap exceptions for any other players except Andersen, who will be signed above the salary cap using, ironically, the CBA’s “Early Bird” exception.
In other words, the Heat’s remaining three roster spots can only be filled by players under veteran’s minimum contracts. Greg Oden and Michael Beasley could be options. The Heat could also leave roster spots open and begin the season with fewer than the maximum 15.