Udonis Haslem has played 13 seasons in NBA, won three championships and has been to the NBA Finals five times.
One might imagine by now that at age 36 the burn of going undrafted out of college would have been flushed out of his system long ago. But that chip on his shoulder, Haslem said, still sits there today.
“Man, you never lose it,” Haslem said last week at a Miami Heat youth basketball camp at South Broward High. “You never forget that day. You never lose that chip. It’s always a part of you. It’s a part of your DNA, what drives you and what makes you who you are today. It’s no coincidence how Tyler [Johnson] plays. You can see his passion. You can see his hunger. It’s no coincidence how those [undrafted] guys approach the game.”
The Heat enter Thursday night’s draft without a selection. Although Miami could trade its way into the draft (those scenarios are later discussed), the franchise’s scouting department has spent the last few months operating with the notion it will have to unearth another hidden gem that falls into the free agent pool.
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In fact, Chet Kammerer, the Heat’s vice president of player personnel, said last week he and his staff have scoured the college and European circuit with one idea in mind: “We have the 61st pick.”
“I know most people think, ‘Oh you guys don’t have a pick you can take a couple months off.’ Well, that’s not true. We’ve approached it like we have a pick,” Kammerer said.
“In fact, in some ways -- I wouldn’t say it’s more intense, but it’s nothing less. You have to be prepared for anything. Come an opportunity to pick up a pick you need to be prepared. Obviously it might not be a high percentage something like that happens. But you still have to be prepared.”
The Heat can’t buy its way into this year’s draft because it has already spent the $3.4 million allotment for the fiscal calendar of 2015-16. But the Heat can get another team to a draft a player for them and after the new NBA spending allowance becomes available on July 1, Miami can trade cash for that player. That transaction, though, wouldn’t be announced until the league moratorium ends on July 7.
Other possibilities to move into Thursday draft include trading one of the six players currently under contract (Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Josh McRoberts or Briante Weber) or a future pick (which also wouldn’t be announced until after July 1). But those moves aren’t likely to happen.
So essentially Kammerer and the Heat’s scouting department are recruiting potential undrafted free agents as much as they are scouting second round prospects -- just in case the Heat end up making an unexpected trade.
“With the undrafted guys, it doesn’t just happen the night of the draft,” Kammerer said. “We have to prepare in advance and talk to the agent so it’s not like we’re coming at them cold. We’ve built [a relationship]. We’ve talked to them. We’ve said we like the player you’re representing and if he doesn’t get drafted we have interest. So, that’s part of what we’re doing right now.”
Miami doesn’t have a first round pick this season because it’s fulfilling its obligation with Cleveland for acquiring LeBron James back in 2010. The Heat’s second round pick in this draft was used back in Jan. 2014 as part of a three-team trade with the Warriors that sent Joel Anthony to the Celtics and netted Miami guard Toney Douglas.
The Heat has its first round picks in 2017, 2019 and 2020, but no other picks beyond that until 2022. Miami does have a heavily protected 2018 second round pick from New Orleans, but can only use it if the Pelicans are one of the five best teams in the league in 2017-18.
Without a pick in this year’s draft, the Heat hasn’t hosted any prospects like it usually does. Agents, naturally, prefer to send their players to teams that do have picks.
So, Kammerer, assistant general manager Adam Simon and Keith Askins, the team’s director of college and pro scouting, have fanned out to camps and individual workouts run by agents to scout and interview potential undrafted targets. Last week Kammerer said Simon and Askins spent three days in Treviso, Italy for a European camp before heading to New York to get a final look at some college players.
The Heat has a track record of success finding undrafted gems. Johnson is the most recent example and Haslem one of the best ever in the game by any team. Other former undrafted Heat rotation players include Askins, Joel Anthony, Anthony Carter, Chris Quinn and Mike James.
So far Kammerer said he and his staff feel like they’ve identified “about a dozen” players they believe can follow in the footsteps of other successful undrafted players. The challenge, Kammerer said, is getting lucky that some of those players don’t get drafted by someone else and that they can be recruited to sign with Miami.
With the organization’s history of success with undrafted players, though, Kammerer is confident the Heat can land at least one or two players they like and the could eventually help the franchise.
“If you look at almost those undrafted guys what ingredient do they all have? They’re all very competitive players,” Kammerer said. “They’re players that have great work ethic, that are very coachable, personally driven and have an edge to them. We have some great teachers here I think in our system for player development. But a lot of it has to do with finding the right player that has a deep hunger to improve his game. If he has that, then you plug him into our discipline, weight, strength, and conditioning programs and practice habits and then there’s a match.
“Hopefully we’ll find a player that maybe exceeds expectations. That’s what happened with Tyler. He came and we fell in love with his competitiveness, toughness, work ethic, how committed he was to individual improvement over the course of a summer league. Then you go from there.”