There were several moments throughout the regular season when Udonis Haslem couldn’t hide his frustration.
The man who had poured so much sweat, blood and guts into the franchise and its three championships couldn’t understand why he only played a career-low 260 minutes and made only 37 appearances when he was healthy for most of this season.
Haslem couldn’t process why coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t call on him more often to set the example on the court instead of being just a voice in the locker room.
So Haslem would go over to his longtime teammate Dwyane Wade, the man who has been with him through all the broken bones and pain and sacrifice, and voice his frustrations.
Wade could understand this wasn’t selfishness but hunger and a desire to prove that even at 35 years old, Haslem could still get the job done.
“Of course he voiced it to me,” Wade acknowledged of Haslem’s complaints. “You expect it. You don’t want a player on your team who is happy without playing, either. Every now and again I want to hear an earful from a guy that wants to be on that floor. That shows me something about him.”
Now, of course, that time has come again, not because of anything Haslem has done, but because of the sprained medial collateral ligament in the right knee of starting center Hassan Whiteside.
Haslem played a season-high 22 minutes 12 seconds in Saturday’s Game 3 loss to the Raptors, and will likely see a lot more playing time as Spoelstra rotates him and veterans Amar’e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts to fill the void at center as the series continues.
Some veteran players who have sat as much as Haslem has this season might still be bitter about having to take on such a small role.
But that’s just not who Haslem has ever been, and it’s why his coach believes he still has plenty of years left in this league.
“He handled it great because his game and his role have evolved so many different times,” Spoelstra said. “And, that’s why he’ll have lasting power. That’s why he’s had lasting power and why he can continue to serve a role with the same franchise.
“A lot of times guys can’t evolve as they get into their career, and they can only remain who they were — and there’s no role for that anymore. Then guy’s careers are over. UD can keep on going. He’ll continue to reinvent and evolve. His leadership was great all year. His minutes — we didn’t wear him out. For a guy that age, he’s fresh right now. He hasn’t gotten beaten up over a long 82-game season.”
Of course, getting beat up is what Haslem has done his entire career.
He has split his forehead open numerous times, requiring stitches, and played with a broken foot, broken fingers and sprained ankles. Now he’s been dealing with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. He has had it since the second-to-last regular season game at Detroit — an injury he said he dealt with himself when he popped it on purpose to provide some relief from the tightness.
“It’s still a little sore, but it’s healed up pretty good,” Haslem said. “I feel good.”
He feels good enough to play another three years at least.
“Thirty-five has never looked so good,” said Haslem, who in recent years has spent his offseasons working out with football trainer Pete Bommarito, pushing sleds and pulling weights in the hot summer sun in South Florida next to Pro Bowlers like Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, Steelers’ running back LeVeon Bell and former Dolphins running back Lamar Miller.
“Age really has nothing to do with it,” Haslem continued. “I can probably run circles around some of these guys in the league. I know I can still play, and I keep myself in great shape. I still want to be here, be around these guys and still contribute, help these guys win a championship. I know my role now is more so a mentor kind of guy. But I know I still have good minutes left in me. I’m not done yet. I’m far from done.”
The Raptors, minus starting center Jonas Valanciunas (sprained ankle) for the rest of this series, don’t have much in the way of frontcourt weapons that put any sort of fear into Haslem. He believes the Heat can win the rebounding battle and that he along with Stoudemire and McRoberts can provide enough.
“With the three-headed monster we have now we can definitely affect the game in a lot of ways,” Haslem said of himself, Stoudemire and McRoberts. “We’ve got a lot of experience, a lot of pride and a lot of hard work in the three of us. All of us bring something different to the table. We just have to bring it.”
▪ The Miami Herald learned from a league source that Whiteside has a first degree sprain, the least severe. Once swelling and bruising subsides — likely later this week — he is expected to take a stability test to see how the knee responds to rest and treatment. He will need to wear a special brace to protect the knee.