Haslem Accepts New Role, Still Wants to Stay With Heat
But it's going to take more than a little convincing to lure Haslem, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, away from the Miami Heat. Equal offers and a starting role won't get it done.
"Obviously, if it ever comes to that [leaving], it would be a huge adjustment for me. My heart is in Miami. My family is in Miami. I won a championship here. I feel like a big part of this organization,'' he said. "They gave me a chance when no one else would. And I remember that. I kind of feel like this is where I belong.''
The Heat are in a transition season, expecting this summer to add another high-profile star, along with re-signing Dwyane Wade, and change their makeup considerably. Haslem, who is making $7.1 million in the final year of his contact, will be asked to wait until much of the other work is done before he is re-signed.
The Heat have said they want to re-sign him, but much depends on who else they can get. If Chris Bosh comes from Toronto, it certainly won't help Haslem's chances. Teams like New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Memphis will have considerable money to spend.
Haslem was born in Miami, attended Miami Senior High, spent four years at the University of Florida before going undrafted and signing as a free agent in Miami in 2003. There was one year after college when he played professionally in France.
"Yes, it's going to be a business decision, but I see myself being here [in Miami] as long as I'm playing the game of basketball -- then afterward, too,'' he said. "I wouldn't even know how to survive in the snow. Like I said earlier, it would be a big, big adjustment for me to go anywhere else.''
Haslem, 29, has moved this season from the starting role he has had in Miami since 2004 – as part of the 2006 championship team -- into a front-court backup, behind both promising Michael Beasley and starting center Jermaine O'Neal.
It's a move that could cost him considerably in his contract year, if his production dropped. He understandably could have balked at the switch – and with good reason.
But he didn't, which actually might make him more valuable because of his versatility.
Going into Sunday night's game against Memphis, he is averaging 11.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 29.6 minutes. Last season he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in 34.1 minutes. His production per minute has risen.
"I actually feel like I'm playing the best basketball I've ever played in a Heat uniform right now,'' he said. "I actually like this [role]. Being a competitor, you want to start, but when you look around the league, teams like the Lakers [Lamar Odom] and Spurs [Manu Ginobili] have great players coming off the bench who could be starting somewhere else. I kind of see myself like that.''
Heat coach Eric Spoelstra was flexible enough to discuss the issue with Haslem before he made it official. He wanted to get Beasley, the No. 2 pick of the 2008 draft, into the starting lineup, but he didn't want to disrupt the chemistry or upset Haslem, a team co-captain.
"He probably was not overly thrilled about [the move], but but he's adapted like the consummate professional that he is,'' Spoelstra said. "He hasn't voiced any disappointment to me, or more importantly, to his teammates. I think it's been a great example of his leadership and his value to the team. And I think he's beginning to like it now.''
Although the Heat lost at home to Dallas Friday night, Haslem demonstrated how important he could be in his new role. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds. He hit nine of his 10 shots and four of his six free throws.
"I've embraced this,'' Haslem said. "At the end of the day, it's still basketball, and I'm still on the court playing a lot. I can help us win games. It's why I expect to be here a long time.''