MIAMI – For 14 years Udonis Haslem has been slipping on a Miami Heat uniform, longer than anybody in the franchise’s 29-year history.
Haslem has suffered through a 15-win season and enjoyed a 66-win season. And he has played on as many championship teams (three) as teams that did not make the playoffs.
Now, Haslem is watching president Pat Riley and GM Andy Elisburg retool the franchise for the third time during his career with the Heat, and, as the team captain, he’s doing what he can to help with that process.
“I think the goal is to keep this group together and to give a healthy group with a little bit of experience under its belt another opportunity,” Haslem said Saturday from the Mountain Dew NBA 3-on-3 fan experience at Bayfront Park.
Haslem is all for that – especially after Miami recovered from an 11-30 start last season to finish at .500 and miss the playoffs by one game. Why else would he continue to take this group – that includes six potential free agents (including Haslem), five players who will have guaranteed contracts and others with deals not fully guaranteed who almost surely will return – under his wing?
Haslem, who turns 37 this week, was back in the weight room one week after the Heat’s season ended. “The more years you put in the smaller your window for vacation becomes,” he said. His objective is to stay connected with his younger teammates and make sure they realize the potential for this team next season.
“In the midst of keeping myself in shape and keeping myself healthy, I’m also making sure those guys are staying in shape, staying healthy and doing the things that they’re supposed to be doing, as well,” he said.
This, of course, is assuming that Haslem returns for a 15th season with the Heat. While both sides have expressed that desire, nothing is guaranteed.
The Heat will have approximately $38 million to spend in free agency and have several ways in which to go with that money. Haslem, though, would not command more than the $1.6 million veteran minimum, which should not be too much of a sacrifice for someone who has earned $56.5 million during his basketball career.
“I’ve come a long way and I’ve sacrificed a lot and I’ve had a lot of success, and I would love to continue my career here,” Haslem said. “But at the end of the day, I’ll definitely be a part of somebody’s team and play basketball.”
Haslem, though, has prepared himself for the day his basketball career ends. The transition from wearing a Heat uniform to a business suit will be easy. He has an impressive portfolio that includes five Subway sandwich shops, two Auntie Anne’s, a Starbucks and an Einstein Bros. Bagels in Miami, with additional Starbucks’ and Einstein’s set to open. Last month the company co-owned by Haslem was awarded Franchise Company of the Year at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit Small Business Awards ceremony in Houston.
Last season, Haslem reached a one-year, $4 million agreement with the Heat 10 days into free agency. That was four days after Dwyane Wade, who was a fellow rookie with Haslem in 2003-04 and among his closest friends, decided to end his 13-year relationship with the Heat and sign with the Bulls.
Riley, who has praised Haslem for his devotion and dedication to the franchise, said following the season, “we have 15 rosters spots and I hope Udonis fills one of them.” Riley added that Haslem would have to earn that spot.
Haslem’s value, though, is much more than what he provides in the box score. Last season he was as close to a player-coach as anybody in the league, mentoring many of his teammates. He was on the roster the entire season yet played just 17 games. With 831 games played, he is 24 shy of equaling Wade’s franchise record.