Erick Dampier Begins to Contribute to Miami Heat's Committee of Centers
After signing with Miami on Nov. 23, Dampier got into five of his first seven games. In those five, he averaged a miniscule 0.6 points and 2.0 rebounds over 9.4 minutes.
But matters started to change a bit Monday at Milwaukee. The center logged 24 minutes, totaling five rebounds, two points and a block in an 88-78 win.
OK, we're not talking Shaq in his prime here. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is hoping the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Dampier will become a factor.
"He'll help us,'' Spoelstra said before Wednesday's game at Utah. "He gives us some elements that we need. Size under the rim. Rebounding. Defensive presence. He's only been with us for two weeks. He has to learn our system and work his way in. But the things he's done on the court in his 14-year career (speak for themselves). He played 24 minutes the other night. He looked (at) the bench every time we had a (play) call. He's still learning. He's trying to do it on the fly.''
Dampier, 35, missed all of training camp as he sought to pick a team as a free agent. A deal with Houston fell through, and he signed with Miami after the Heat lost power forward Udonis Haslem perhaps for the rest of the season due to a torn ligament in his foot.
"I'm not surprised at all,'' Dampier said of his little initial playing time, although his Milwaukee stint led to his seasonal stats soaring to 0.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. "Coming in late and missing training camp, I didn't get that much practice time with the guys. I've come off the bench before. The majority of the time you go into the game against an opposing team's second-string center. So it's an opportunity to hit the glass and to get opportunities around the basket.''
Most of all, Dampier wants an opportunity to win a title. Dampier was on the 2006 Dallas outfit that blew a 2-0 series advantage and a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 3 of the NBA Finals against Miami before bowing out in six games.
Let's just say Dampier did not have a lot of happy thoughts return when he first arrived at Heat headquarters.
"It brought back a lot of memories,'' said Dampier, who has career averages of 7.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. "I'll say that much. I'm not going to say what else I said. It definitely brought back a lot of memories, seeing a lot of pictures. Those guys played great, and they deserved to win.''
Other than Haslem, guard Dwyane Wade is the only Heat player remaining from that series. Dampier says Wade thankfully hasn't rubbed in Miami's victory.
"I look at it as one window closes and one opens,'' Dampier said of joining Miami, with its star-studded trio of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. "It's an opportunity here to win a championship.''
Although Dampier signed just a one-year, minimum deal and is showing some age, he hardly believes this season might be it for him.
"I can play another two or three years, if my body holds up.'' Dampier said. "We'll see how it goes.''
Dampier interestingly took the Heat roster spot of waived guard Jerry Stackhouse, Dampier's teammate in the 2006 Finals with the Mavericks. So that means the list of NBA players currently with teams they once lost to in the Finals remains at three. Forward Richard Jefferson, who fell to San Antonio in the 2003 Finals with New Jersey, and forward Antonio McDyess, who lost to the Spurs in the 2005 Finals with Detroit, are now both with San Antonio.
If the Heat are to win a title this season, its much-maligned centers will need to provide some consistency. Zydrunas Ilgauskas starts, with Dampier, Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire in relief. Well, you can cancel out Magloire, who has played in just six games all season and wasn't even mentioned when Spoelstra on Wednesday surveyed his center crowd.
"People have been criticizing (Miami's center situation),'' Spoelstra said. "But I have no problem playing a three-headed center in one game. All three of them bring something different. Big Z gives us a component that stretches the floor. Our offense a lot of times flows really well with him in there. Damp will give that size, rebounding and shot blocking. Joel is a game-changer with his speed and his energy, especially against the smaller (centers).''
Put those 21 feet of centers together and they combine for averages of 8.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.52 blocks over 47.2 minutes. Those are at least numbers that can be seen by the naked eye.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson