Loyalty, money and a big shiny championship ring were the main reasons Chris Andersen packed up his former life in Colorado and moved to South Florida.
He’s giving serious thought to living in Miami long-term after his basketball career is over, and he hopes to keep playing for the Heat until he retires, which isn’t far off. With one eye on a life after the NBA, Andersen weighed his free-agency options this summer – including joining LeBron James in Cleveland – and stuck with the team that gave him a job when no one else would.
“Living in the city where you won a championship is probably good for business,” Andersen said.
Udonis Haslem is Mr. 305 and everyone resides in Miami-Wade County, but there’s certainly room for the guy who calls himself the Birdman – or, most recently, Birdzilla – among the constellation of South Florida’s most beloved stars. He was already popular here before this season, but Andersen’s decision to return after James and other players from the championship years left has endeared him to fans in a way that rivals the love for Haslem, Wade and Chris Bosh.
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But none of that really matters as the Heat heads into its second week of training camp. Right now, Andersen just needs to get in shape.
The Heat’s backup power forward didn’t do much in the way of training this summer, and it has showed.
“I lifted boxes,” he said when asked about his offseason workouts. “I walked in the Texas heat. I walked up and down a mountain at 11,000 feet.”
On Wednesday, he was held out of the team’s open scrimmage with a sore calf muscle, and he has been trying to shed weight before the season starts. It’s a slow process for Andersen, who is used to doing everything at full speed all the time. An injury prevented him from doing just that during the NBA Finals, and with Andersen limited the Heat was throttled by the San Antonio Spurs in five games.
That’s not to say Andersen’s injury was the primary reason for the Heat’s poor showing in The Finals, but it was a factor.
Perhaps with that feeling of unfinished business in mind, Andersen didn’t need much convincing to return to Miami this summer on a two-year contract. The Heat took care of their colorfully tattooed sparkplug, giving him more than $10 million. He said recently that he knew he was returning to Miami before free agency even started, but he was uncommitted publicly in the weeks before James made his decision.
Now 36 years old, Andersen says he is in the process of trying to develop his midrange shot into a consistent offensive option while also remaining one of the league’s most active reserves.
“I was told a long time ago that even though I’m called Birdman, you can’t jump forever,” Andersen said. “Like [Shaquille O’Neal] says, you have a certain amount of jumps. You’re limited to a certain amount of jumps in your career, but I’ve been blessed to be able to jump at 36, so I’m going to be able to use that a couple more times, but I want to be able to shoot it, too.
“That will prolong my career another three years … maybe.”
Andersen’s role this season might include a few more jumpers, but his primary responsibilities will be the same as they were before – create havoc, alter shots, rebound and finish at the rim. Andersen shot a career-high 64.4 percent from the field last season while delivering 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Considering its dearth of rebounders, the Heat made it a priority this offseason to keep Andersen. Miami was ranked last in every rebounding category last season, and this season’s projected frontcourt starters – Chris Bosh (8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes) and Josh McRoberts (7.5) – do their best work away from the basket.
With the Heat’s coaching staff contemplating a strategy that will pull defenders further away from the basket than even last season, the inside work of Andersen and Haslem will be vital in the first season of the post-LeBron Era.
“That’s the whole point of me trying to lose a little bit more weight and trying to get a little bit more of my speed and agility back as far as moving laterally and horizontally,” Andersen said.
He wants to keep the flight time of those Birdman-like leaps last as long as possible.