The heart and soul of the Heat is coming back for a 15th season.
Udonis Haslem, Miami’s all-time leader in rebounds and a member of all three of the Heat’s championship teams, signed a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum of $2.3 million on Thursday afternoon to return as the team captain and a frontcourt reserve.
About a half-hour before the Heat announced Haslem’s signing, owner Micky Arison tweeted Haslem’s initials and a celebratory emoji.
“It is a great, great, day to have Udonis Haslem sign a contract for his 15th season with the Miami Heat,” Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement released by the team.
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“He isn’t just Mr. 305, he is a true patriarch of the team. Today we are proud to announce that he is back to lead the Heat again.”
Known for his grit, toughness and hard-hitting screens when he was still part of the Heat’s regular rotation through the end of the 2014-15 season, Haslem, 37, has seldom seen the court over the past two years.
He played in only 16 games last season and made just three appearances over the second half of the season, when the Heat went 30-11 — he played a total of 18 minutes over that stretch.
But the Heat clearly values Haslem’s leadership and mentoring of the young players on its roster, including center Hassan Whiteside.
At 12:01 a.m. on July 1, the official start of free agency, the Heat showed Haslem how much it loved him by decorating the gates outside his Southwest Ranches home with four large banners to celebrate his accomplishments with the franchise.
Haslem has reciprocated the love throughout his career, often leaving blood on the court and money on the table to help the Heat squeeze other players under the salary cap.
This summer, Haslem once again showed his commitment to the Heat’s cause when the team hosted free agent Gordon Hayward.
Haslem was there among a small group of players to visit with Hayward at AmericanAirlines Arena.
At the start of summer league ball, Haslem went to the arena and gave the team a pep talk after the first practice. He’s also led organized workouts with players at various points during the offseason.
“I appreciate all the love that I get,” Haslem said after he got a curtain call at the Heat’s final regular-season game in April and received a loud ovation from the home crowd.
“I never take that for granted. It has been an amazing ride, an amazing 14 years. So I can appreciate all that. I got a love for these people. They got a love for me. I’m a hometown guy. So I always appreciate that.”
With Haslem signed, the Heat has 14 players on its roster and only one spot left to fill.
The team still owns its $4.3 mid-level tax exception, something Riley said the team would likely hold onto.
Haslem, who has been the Heat’s captain for the past 10 years and holds the fourth-longest streak by an active player to play for one team — only Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have longer stints — enters the 2017-18 season only 25 games short of tying Dwyane Wade for the Heat’s all-time record for games played.
Haslem has appeared in 830 career regular-season games (498 starts), averaging 7.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 25.7 minutes while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 75.6 percent from the foul line.
Among the Heat’s all-time leaders, Haslem ranks second in games played, starts and minutes (21,372), third in double-doubles, fifth in field goals made (2,625), seventh in points (6,479) and field-goal percentage, ninth in blocks (247) and 10th in steals (721).
In June, he sounded like a man who knows the window of opportunity to play the game he loves is closing.
“I’ve come a long way, and I’ve sacrificed a lot and I’ve had a lot of success, and I would love to continue my career here,” said Haslem, who was a former standout at Miami High and the University of Florida before becoming the only undrafted player in NBA history to lead a franchise in rebounds.
“The time to play is very short; this window is very short. The last thing I want to do is have regrets. My main goal is to play the game of basketball, hopefully for the Miami Heat.
“But at the end of the day, I’ll definitely be a part of somebody’s team and play basketball.”
A look at the list of 10 NBA players who have played for only one team their entire career and 15 seasons or more:
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, 20 (1996-2016)
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks, 19 (1998-present)
John Stockton, Utah Jazz, 19 (1984-2003)
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs, 19 (1997-2016)
Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers, 18 (1987-2005)
John Havlicek, Boston Celtics, 16 (1962-1978)
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs, 16 (2001-present)
Dolph Schayes, Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers, 15 (1949-1964)
Hal Greer, Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers, 15 (1958-1973)
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs, 15 (2002-present)