Barry Jackson

Miami Heat moves toward Haslem deal and signs rookie forward as it awaits Wade decision

Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem looks on before the start of a February game against Houston. Haslem is expected to return for his 16th season with the Heat.
Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem looks on before the start of a February game against Houston. Haslem is expected to return for his 16th season with the Heat.

While continuing to await a decision from Dwyane Wade, the Heat on Wednesday signed former Kentucky forward Marcus Lee and moved toward an agreement with veteran forward Udonis Haslem.

A source said Haslem is expected to return for his 16th NBA season with the Heat, though nothing was finalized as of Wednesday morning.

“It was a great conversation,” Haslem told The Associated Press of his recent discussions with Miami. “At the end of the day, it’s was a conversation about if they want me back and if I want to be back.”

Haslem, who is expected to receive the $2.4 million veteran’s minimum, is the Heat’s all-time leader in rebounds.

He played only 72 minutes over 14 games last season but was third in balloting for the 2017-18 Twyman-Stokes Teammate Award in polling among NBA players., finishing behind Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili.

“It’s really tough to explain to people outside what he means to this team,” Goran Dragic said earlier this offseason. “Everybody is looking, ‘OK, he’s not playing’ but they don’t know how much he brings to this team, especially with his experience and leadership.

“A lot of guys in this locker room need leadership like UD, especially Hassan [Whiteside]. I think UD can provide that. He’s there where usually some guys would not be, in the toughest moments, when you need something, he’s there. That’s why everybody loves him.

After a six-week stretch of nail biting finishes, the Miami Heat built a 31-point cushion against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena and held onto it for a 115-89 victory.

“He gives to others. He’s not about him any more. He’s there to give his knowledge, his hand, his body, everything to make it easier for those young players. I really have a privilege to be there [with him]. Hopefully, one day I can be like him.”

Meanwhile, Lee is the second former Parade All-American to sign with Miami in the past two weeks, joining former Kansas guard Malik Newman.

Lee, 6-9, averaged 114 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks and shot 56.3 percent from the field in 32 games with the University of California last season after spending three years at Kentucky, where he averaged 3.9 points and 3.6 rebounds over 100 games. He sat out the 2016-17 season after transferring.

Lee set one record at Kentucky, shooting 68 percent in the 2015-16 season, finishing 102 for 150 from the field.

He never attempted a three-point shot in college, at either Kentucky or California.

Lee played with the Cleveland Cavaliers in last month’s NBA summer league, averaging 6.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 15.9 minutes per game while shooting 21 for 30 from the field.

Lee gives the Heat 17 players under contract, with teams permitted to carry no more than 20 in training camp. Haslem would be the 18th. Wade also has an invitation to return but had not informed the Heat of a decision as of earlier this week.

Two of the 17 under contract are signed to two-way deals: forwards Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten.

Lee, Newman and point guard Briante Weber likely will compete for possibly one spot at the bottom of the roster, with teams permitted to carry 14 or 15 players, not counting the two-way contracts.

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