MIAMI (AP) — There were 376 players that started a game in the NBA last season, including 14 who made at least one start with the Miami Heat.
Udonis Haslem wasn’t one of them.
To say that accurately depicts his worth to the Heat, however, would be most incorrect — especially now. The Heat gave him about a 40 percent raise to stick around for his 14th season, tasking him with becoming even more of a locker-room leader and mentor to a team that is going to be without Dwyane Wade for the first time since 2003.
“Obviously I never envisioned finishing it without my brother,” Haslem said Tuesday, the Miami native speaking publicly for the first time since signing his $4 million contract for this season. “But I think the 13 years that I spent with him, the 13 years that I spent playing with some of the greatest players in the league, the 13 years that I’ve spent in this organization has prepared me for the next step and that’s to lead this next group of guys, this next generation.”
Statistically, Haslem’s best days have probably long been over. He scored 80 points last season in 46 regular-season and playoff games.
That’s irrelevant to the Heat. The 36-year-old Haslem stays ready to play in case he’s called upon, is one of the first to arrive and last to leave at practice, and has found himself mentoring not just Miami’s bigs like center Hassan Whiteside but even the guards and wings — positions he hasn’t played in two decades or so.
The stories of him yelling at teammates at halftime when needed are stuff of Heat lore, sometimes even happening before Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has a chance to get into the locker room to try and fix things. That clearly won’t change, with Haslem revealing Tuesday that he’s been studying film this summer in an effort to get better.
Not basketball film, either. He’s been watching how retired football star Ray Lewis motivated teammates.
“Just trying to focus on what my next step is as a leader,” Haslem said. “I’ve been looking at Ray Lewis videos and different things to help me be better for what I need to do for this next phase of my career.”
With Wade leaving for Chicago, Haslem is the only remaining player from Miami’s three NBA championship teams in 2006, 2012 and 2013. Chris Bosh was on the last two of those teams, though his status for next season and beyond remains unclear after blood clots cut short each of his last two seasons at the All-Star breaks.
For now, Haslem is planning as though Bosh will be back.
“I don’t really know,” Haslem said. “Nobody knows what the situation is going to be with Chris, but me personally as a leader, in my mind I’m preparing that he’s going to be here, that he’s going to be healthy, that he’s going to be contributing. So that’s the way we’re going to look at it. That’s the positive approach that I’m going to take.”
Bosh and Haslem have been planning offseason events for new Heat players to integrate themselves into Miami’s culture. Bosh organized a similar trip last summer, and the fact he’s doing it again now seems to suggest he plans on playing.
Then again, as Haslem learned in the last few days with Wade leaving — something that Haslem said could have been avoided — plans are always subject to change.
“These 13 years that I’ve spent with Dwyane, I never imagined it ending like this,” Haslem said. “But I’ve definitely learned a lot. I’ve taken a lot from him. He’s prepared me for this moment in my life.”
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