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Ronny Turiaf opts out of Miami Heat contract, but Dexter Pittman will be retained

The Heat has retained one backup center and lost another. Ronny Turiaf on Saturday opted out of a contract that would have paid him the veteran’s minimum $1.2 million next season. But Miami guaranteed Dexter Pittman’s contract (worth $854,369) by Friday’s deadline.

Turiaf’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said his client always intended to test the market. "He’s worth more than the minimum," Bartelstein said. "He had a significant hamstring injury" late in the season.

Bartelstein said the Heat has expressed interest in keeping Turiaf and he plans to speak with Heat president Pat Riley. But the Heat very likely would not offer him more than the minimum.

Of Pittman, Riley said, "We expect improvement. Big guys, when you draft them late or in the second round, it’s a two- or three-year project. He’s going into his third year. We are going to give him a great shot and we expect this year he might be able to really contribute to us."

The Heat drafted LSU center Justin Hamilton with the 45th pick in Thursday’s draft, but Riley said the Heat might stash him overseas next season. Riley, who compared Hamilton to former Heat center Michael Doleac, said he traded the Heat’s 27th pick to Philadelphia for a future No. 1 pick and the 45th pick in Thursday’s draft, because none of the players the Heat wanted were still available at No. 27, and the first rounder from the 76ers "could be 10 or 11 picks better than" 27th.

The first-round pick from Philadelphia is lottery-protected through 2015.

The moves with Turiaf and Pittman leave the Heat with 11 players under contract due a combined $78.2 million. Juwan Howard and Eddy Curry and unrestricted free agents. Miami wants to keep restricted free agent Terrel Harris.

Free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. Sunday and the Heat is expected to pursue Ray Allen and others with its $3.1 million mini mid-level exception.

For more Heat news and comments from Pat Riley, see Florida Sports Buzz on The Herald’s sports home page.

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