Miami Heat

Bam Adebayo ready for ‘big opportunity,’ and explains why he feels like a ‘Heat Lifer’

The move was expected, but it still means something to center Bam Adebayo.

The Heat announced last week its decision to exercise the fourth-year team option on Adebayo’s rookie-scale contract. The move locks Adebayo into a $5.1 million salary for the 2020-21 season, after he earns $3.5 million this upcoming season.

“It’s definitely a confidence builder,” Adebayo said Tuesday evening at a meet-and-greet event leading up to Wednesday’s cheeseburger-eating contest against competitive-eating star Takeru Kobayashi at BurgerFi in Pinecrest. “It’s one of those things that a lot of guys don’t get to see, but I’m glad it happened to me. So we’re going to keep this thing going and see if we can win some more games.”

The Heat had until Oct. 31 to make the decision on Adebayo. Instead, Miami made the move more than a month before the deadline to make him the first player from the 2017 first-round draft class to have his option picked up.

Adebayo, 22, is eligible for restricted free agency in the summer of 2021, but the Heat can offer him an extension next offseason.

“They’re pushing me to be more of a leader,” Adebayo said of his Heat duties entering the season. “So, yeah, I do feel like I’ve become a Heat Lifer type of guy and just being more involved and having like a [Udonis Haslem] responsibility when it comes to my teammates.”

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Even though Adebayo is still on his rookie deal, he’s expected to take on a bigger role this season. With the Heat trading center Hassan Whiteside to Portland this offseason as part of the four-team Jimmy Butler deal, Adebayo is expected to be the Heat’s starting center.

“I wouldn’t consider it pressure,” Adebayo said. “I would more consider it an opportunity, a big opportunity for that matter. And just going out there and just playing positive, staying positive and showing everybody what I can do.”

Adebayo, who is entering his third NBA season, averaged 8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 23.3 minutes while playing in all 82 of the Heat’s games last season.

Even with Whiteside on the roster last season, Adebayo started in 22 of the Heat’s final 23 games. Adebayo averaged 11.6 points on 59.7 percent shooting, 9.1 rebounds, three assists, 1.1 steals, and one block in that 23-game span, and Miami outscored opponents by 45 points in that time.

Adebayo told the Miami Herald earlier this offseason that he believes he can average 16 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists per game this season. Russell Westbrook, Nikola Jokic, and 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo were the only three players who finished with those averages last season.

Here’s what else Adebayo had to say Tuesday ...

For the first time since Adebayo was cut from Team USA last month in advance of the FIBA World Cup, he spoke about his training camp experience with the national team.

“Just the atmosphere, because everybody that comes from different teams are like No. 1 or No. 2 options,” he said. “So just being out there with a lot of guys and just hearing the stories from the locker room, their perspective and just sharing mine. It’s just like a cool ordeal.”

Of being cut after a week of Team USA training camp practices, Adebayo said: “It wasn’t tough at all. I knew where I was going, I was going back to Miami to work on my game.”

Following two losses, Team USA ended the World Cup earlier this month in seventh place.

“Honestly, the games were too early for me,” Adebayo said when asked what it was like to watch the national team struggle in China. “I didn’t get to see a lot of them, but I got to see a couple of reruns off of ESPN. But it’s the way it goes. In life you live and learn.”

Adebayo pointed to guard Kendrick Nunn as a player who has “really stood out” in Heat offseason workouts. “He’s still progressing and just getting better as the days go by,” Adebayo said of Nunn.

As for Wednesday’s cheeseburger-eating contest, Adebayo said he’s not worried about gaining extra weight, even with the Oct. 1 start of training camp looming.

“I’m not consuming six cheeseburgers. I’m trying to achieve a half of one because I eat slow,” Adebayo said with a smile. “So I’m going to be behind.

“[The Heat] know I’ve been eating good all this summer and working on my body, so this one little event won’t hurt me.”

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.