In January, Udonis Haslem said “90 percent of my mind is made up” on retirement. On Tuesday, Haslem announced he will return to the Heat for a 17th NBA season.
“For me, there was a lot that has to do with other people,” Haslem explained Wednesday, as he met with reporters on the Heat’s practice court at AmericanAirlines Arena. “For me, if it was just all about my decision, whenever that decision needs to be made, I’ll just not come back and tell the coaching staff and tell the organization and not make it a thing. But I do understand at some point, there’s a lot of people that sacrificed to see me be in this situation — my parents, a lot of family support, a lot of support around the city.
“So when that time does come, those people deserve the opportunity to know that that’s that time and to have some more access and engage more when my last game or my last situation is. Not giving people that opportunity last year, I feel like I shorted a lot of people who supported me throughout the situation.”
Haslem, 39, signed a one-year, $2.6 million veteran minimum contract to return to the Heat for a 17th season. He declined to definitively label this season as his final one, instead putting the pressure on his Heat teammates to make him feel comfortable enough to step away next offseason.
“You have to ask my teammates if this is my last season. It’s up to those guys,” Haslem said. “If they send me out the right way, you don’t have to worry about me no more. But if they don’t take care of business, then I might be back again answering the same question again next year, ‘Is this your last dance?’ So it’s up to the guys. For me, I just want to get the most out of my guys, and I want these guys to have an amazing, amazing season.”
Haslem feels like his work isn’t done with the Heat.
“I have a responsibility as a captain, as a leader to get the most out of these guys, to get the most out of my guys,” he said. “To finish the season, it doesn’t always have to be a championship, but to finish the season and fulfill our goals of giving it everything we had. The last couple years, I just feel like we had more to give, and we can do a little better. We had injuries, a lot of things happen that you can’t control. But given the opportunity with a healthy situation, I just want to give these guys everything I have and give these guys an opportunity to have an amazing season.”
The Miami native, who attended Miami High, has spent each of his 16 NBA seasons with the Heat and currently holds the longest streak by any active player with only one team in the league.
Undrafted out of Florida in 2002, he has played a role on each of the franchise’s three championship teams and is the Heat’s all-time leading rebounder with 5,738. Haslem is the only undrafted player in NBA history to lead a franchise in total rebounds and has served as a Heat captain in each of the past 12 seasons, the longest tenure in team history.
But Haslem has played less of an on-court role and more of a leadership role in recent seasons, as he has logged just 277 minutes of playing time in 40 regular-season games since the start of the 2016-17 season. The 6-8 forward played a total of 75 minutes over 10 games last season.
That trend is likely to continue this season, with Bam Adebayo, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard expected to be ahead of Haslem in the Heat’s frontcourt rotation. Haslem understands his playing time in games will again be limited.
“I play in practice every day,” Haslem said, pointing to the Heat’s practice court. “I understand what my role is. But I understand when I step between these lines on this practice floor, that is my game. That’s my approach to it and that lights a fire for these guys, that encourages these guys, that drives these guys, that pushes these guys.
“Do I expect to play a lot of minutes? No. Most likely not. I think everybody understands that situation. But do I stay ready? Yes, I will stay ready. If Spo [coach Erik Spoelstra] calls my number, will I be ready? Yes, I will be ready. Can I still play? Yes, I can still play.”
With the addition of Haslem, the Heat looks to have the 14-man roster it will carry into the regular season: Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Johnson, Olynyk, Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, Leonard, Tyler Herro, Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr., Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, KZ Okpala and Haslem.
While Dwyane Wade had “One Last Dance” that was full of postgame jersey exchanges and ovations in visiting arenas last season, Haslem doesn’t view this season as his farewell tour. He views it as one last chance to invest in his teammates.
“Like I said, I can’t have a farewell tour,” Haslem said. “Me and this game of basketball is solely dependent on my investment in these guys. I got three rings, I have the rebounding record, I have the personal accolades. ... I’ve gotten all the things I’m probably going to have, personally. So for me, I just want to continue to give to these guys, man. I feel like I can continue to drive these guys, and I want these guys to know what it feels like. I want these guys to know what it feels like to be on top. Whether that be winning a championship, whether that be winning the East, whatever it is. I want these guys to know what it feels like.”