For 13 years Udonis Haslem envisioned his career ending only one way: with he and Dwyane Wade in Miami Heat uniforms.
Sadly, it won’t, and Haslem, the only remaining member of the Heat’s three NBA championship teams, said he won’t wear the title of last man standing “as a badge of honor.”
“It’s bittersweet, obviously,” said Haslem, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract on Sunday during a flurry of signings the Heat made in the aftermath of Wade’s decision to head home and play for the Chicago Bulls.
“You know it’s something to talk about when I’m done — I was the last one left,” Haslem continued. “But while I’m in right now, it’s still hard. It’s not going to be easy. Like I said, you kind of write the story a certain way. You hope it will end that way. We just always talked about finishing it together. It just didn’t work out that way.”
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Wade’s departure, after he passed on a two-year, $40 million offer from Miami to sign a two-year, $47 million deal with the Bulls, has obviously changed the direction the franchise is going.
The Heat spent what was left of its $20 million in cap space it offered Wade to keep both Haslem and combo guard Tyler Johnson, and then a collection of journeymen who can be wiped off the salary cap next summer.
Although Haslem said he’s ready to take on the Heat’s new path, he still feels like losing Wade “could have been avoided.”
Speaking to local reporters by phone from a golf tournament put on by former Heat teammate Mike Miller on Tuesday in South Dakota, Haslem said he kept in contact with Wade throughout his free agency and the two discussed the offers the 12-time All-Star received from other teams.
In the end, Haslem said he wished he could have done more to try and keep Wade from leaving. But he’s not sure if it would have changed Wade’s mind.
“Obviously, I wanted him to come back,” Haslem, 36, said. “But I just know personally it was a lot of things that he was feeling that I guess maybe he was just burying for a while, and it just came to a head at this particular summer, at this particular time. For whatever reason we — the organization — and him, we couldn’t get to an agreement.
“In hindsight, I think back wondering if I should have pulled a Chris Paul, handcuffed him like [the Clippers] did DeAndre Jordan [after he agreed to a deal with the Mavericks in the summer of 2015] and made him change his mind.”
Filling Wade’s shoes on the court will be a tall order for the Heat. Wade has been Miami’s go-to-man in the fourth quarter his entire career and was the Heat’s leading scorer this past season after 11-time All-Star Chris Bosh was sidelines by blood clots at the All-Star break for the second year in a row.
Haslem said it’s likely the Heat will play a more up-tempo style now similar to the one it did in the second half last season to try and take advantage of point guard Goran Dragic’s strengths in the open court.
As for the team’s leadership responsibilities, Haslem, who has always been a good locker room leader and example setter in practice, said he’s ready to take on more.
“I’ve been looking at Ray Lewis videos and just different things to help me be better for what I need to do for this next phase of my career,” Haslem said. “Even before I signed my contract, once I got the word that Dwyane was going to leave my mind immediately switched to what I need to do to lead these guys and what I need to do to kind of make sure the new guys come in and understand the Heat way and continue the legacy going forward.”
Last season, Haslem, Wade and Bosh shared the captain’s responsibilities for the Heat.
Haslem said Wade used to be the one to handle the coordination of team dinners, trips to the movies and so forth. Haslem said he plans to take over those responsibilities while still being the guy who shows up early for practice, leaves late and stays in the ear of center Hassan Whiteside.
Haslem also said he and Bosh have already begun brainstorming ideas for a team bonding trip together this summer. Last year, the Heat met in California and went camping at Joshua Tree National Park.
While Bosh and the Heat have yet to provide answers on Bosh’s availability for next season, Haslem said Tuesday he’s operating as if Bosh will play.
“Nobody knows I guess physically what the situation is going to be with Chris,” he said. “But me personally as a leader, in my mind, I’m preparing as if he’s going to be here, he’s going to be healthy, contributing. That’s the way we’re going to look at it. That’s the positive approach I’m going to take with him.”
One thing is for sure, the first day of practice this fall is going to feel weird.
“It’s going to be one of those things that once you step in the gym for practice that first day that’s when it’s really going to be real,” Haslem said. “That’s when we’re going to realize obviously Dwyane is not there, and there’s a new core group of guys, a new step and a new direction we’re heading in.”