If it’s up to Erik Spoelstra, Udonis Haslem will return for his 17th NBA season.
“I would love to have him back, unquestionably,” Spoelstra said Friday during the Heat’s season-ending interviews. “There’s no more definitive way that I can say it than that.”
But Haslem, who turns 39 on June 9, is still unsure what he’ll do. He can decide to retire this offseason and end his career with close friend and longtime Heat teammate Dwyane Wade or he can decide to continue his playing career.
Haslem made it clear “it would strictly be a family decision,” and his family wants him to receive the type of appreciation Wade got in his final season.
“Me and my wife have talked about, me and my family have talked about it,” Haslem said Friday. “Although nothing on the scale of what Dwyane has done for his ‘One Last Dance,’ a lot of people feel like I should take the time to be celebrated at some point. Even though personally as the person I am, I’m kind of like whatever.
“But I feel like the Haslem family as a whole deserves the opportunity to celebrate when my career does come to an end. So that has some effect on the decision that we make, and my wife is adamant about me letting people celebrate me at some point.”
Haslem, a Miami native who attended Miami High, has spent each of his 16 NBA seasons with the Heat. Undrafted out of Florida in 2002, he’s played a role on each of the franchise’s three championship teams and is the Heat’s all-time leading rebounder with 5,738 rebounds.
As a team captain, Haslem has been used in more of a leadership role in recent years. He’s logged just 277 minutes of playing time in 40 regular-season games since the start of the 2016-17 season.
“It’s been about me for so long, so it has to be a situation where it’s comfortable for everybody around me,” Haslem said of his impending decision. “The questions of how long are you going to be gone used to be few and far in between with my kids, and now they’re coming more and more often. And honestly, I used to be OK with being away two, three weeks at a time. Now it just gets harder and harder.”
Haslem’s decision will be about his family and how comfortable he feels with a Heat locker room that doesn’t including Wade or himself. The Heat has had either Wade or Haslem, or both, on its roster since the 2003-04 season.
Goran Dragic, who turns 33 on May 6, and James Johnson, 32, and Haslem served as the Heat’s tri-captains this past season.
“There is a responsibility to guys like myself and Dwyane, just like there was a responsibility to Brian Grant, there was a responsibility to Eddie Jones, there was responsibility to Alonzo [Mourning] to make sure that when they walked away, the culture and the Miami Heat way and the things that we preach and the things that we truly honestly believe in has the next caretaker of it,” Haslem said.
“We have guys that are making their way toward that position. But for me, it would bother me to walk away knowing it hasn’t been 100 percent solidified who that guy would be and how it would be taken care of moving forward. That’s why a lot of the things that people ask me, I don’t have answers for because it’s not all about me.”
For now, Haslem is focused on his wife and three sons, and his golf game. And the Heat wants Haslem to take his time with his decision.
“Nothing needs to be decided right now,” Spoelstra said. “We’re in the middle of April and he deserves to catch his son’s baseball games, relax, go on vacation. Three months from now, we can revisit this and I’m sure he’ll have plenty of time to reflect on this season, his career, and the possibility of re-energizing to think about another NBA season.
“I think I speak for everybody here, we would love to have him back. His leadership is something that everybody and every franchise in the league is looking to add to their team. We have it in-house, built-in.”
With the Heat already more than $20 million over the projected $109 million salary cap for 2019-20, the expectation is Haslem would play another season at a veteran minimum salary, which is $2.6 million, if he returns.
Some would say retiring this offseason makes sense, especially with the memorable way Haslem’s season ended. He recorded his first double-double since April 5, 2015 in the Heat’s season finale in Brooklyn, and also made a jump shot to give Wade his 10th assist of the game and the fifth triple-double of his career.
“It’s tough to walk away with that ending and it’s tough not to walk away with that ending,” Haslem said. “It’s tough because if you look at it from the aspect of just making the shot, it shows for all the people that are out there and were like, ‘He never plays,’ it’s like, ‘Well damn, he can still play.’ That was kind of cool to get that. I haven’t felt that in a while.
“Then to walk away after that, it’s like OK I walked away. At the end of the day, it was an amazing shot and it was an amazing moment. But it was Dwyane’s moment. I was blessed and fortunate to be a part of his moment and I’m so thankful for that moment. My stepmom wasn’t there, my father wasn’t there, my wife wasn’t there, my kids weren’t there. So that wasn’t my moment and that’s what makes it hard either way.”