The Heat, Udonis Haslem and the value of a 15th man
MIAMI — This is about the measure of a man. It also is about the value of a
15th man. It’s about Udonis Haslem. It’s also about separating the emotion from the business/ basketball side of the equation.
With Haslem and the Heat working toward an agreement for a return for a
16th NBA season, the discussion has centered more on the utilization of a roster spot on a player who doesn’t play than on the NBA minimum salary Haslem would collect, which essentially would carry the same hit against the salary cap and luxury tax as any other minimumscale player.
Considering that Haslem finished third in last season’s league-wide voting for the NBA’s 2017-18 Twyman-Stokes Teammate Award, the respect for the leadership of the Heat tri-captain is undeniable.
The reality, though, is that Jamal Crawford, the Minnesota Timberwolves guard who won the award, played 1,653 minutes last season. Runner-up Manu Ginobili, the San Antonio Spurs guard, played 1,299.
Haslem? Just 72 minutes in 2017-18. And just 130 the season before.
That’s less than the equivalent of five regulation-length games over two seasons — a span of 164 games.
Which brings us to the value of the final spot on a
15-player NBA roster and whether leadership, character, professionalism can outweigh depth, development, flexibility.
For the Heat, the place to start might be to look within, about how the team has utilized that final roster spot over the last decade.
While the list is somewhat subjective, based on playing time and contributions, for the Heat, going Udonis Haslem, who played 72 minutes minutes last season, is working toward an agreement with the Miami Heat to return for a 16th NBA season.
backwards over the past 10 seasons, it goes something like this: Haslem (2018), Haslem (2017), Briante Weber (2016), Zoran Dragic (2015), Greg Oden (2014), Juwan Howard (2012), Eddy Curry (2012), Jamaal Magloire (2011), Yakouba Diawara (2010), Marcus Banks (2009).
Essentially, the split mostly is between end-ofbench veteran leadership and developmental/experimental projects.
At times, the reach for veteran stability over developmental promise can go south, an example of that with the Heat coming during the final roster cuts in 2010, when the choice was made to go with Eddie House over Patrick Beverley.
The difference these days is that teams also are afforded a pair of two-way contracts that do not count against the 15-player regular-season limit. That allowed the Heat, while retaining Haslem, to develop Derrick Walton Jr. and Derrick Jones Jr. last season and allows the same with current two-way players Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten (or possible eventual two-way replacements) for the coming season.
Taken further, consider the 15th men for last season’s
NBA finalists. For the Cavaliers, the choice was veteran big man Kendrick Perkins, who, like Haslem, seemingly was in place to do everything but play. By contrast, the Warriors opted for the need for Quinn Cook amid the injury that sidelined Stephen Curry at the start of the playoffs, even though it cost them the veteran shooting of ailing forward Omri Casspi.
But then also consider that neither Perkins nor Cook were in uniform for the concluding game of the
2018 NBA Finals.
And that’s something else that needs to be considered when it comes to the Heat and Haslem and each side trying to do right by the other: Only 13 players can be in uniform per game.
Last season, despite appearing in only 14 games, Haslem was not listed as inactive a single time. The only time he was not in uniform was when he was away for two games to pay respects to his late agent. Otherwise, the Heat’s
2017-18 inactive list instead included players such as Jones, Walton, Jordan Mickey and Luke Babbitt, as well as those who missed time due to injury, illness or rest.
Then consider these 13
players who almost assuredly would be called upon by coach Erik Spoelstra for minutes ahead of Haslem based on the precedents of the past two seasons: Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, James Johnson, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Jones, Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder and Dwyane Wade, should he decide to return.
Over the past two seasons, Haslem has scored 39 points, grabbed 46 rebounds and not once been asked by Spoelstra to remain out of uniform. This season, with a return as well by Wade, that could prove to be a decidedly different challenge.
There is no question that the player in the No. 40 jersey that one day will be lifted to the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena has earned the right to dictate the terms of his Heat career, including the end game. There is little evidence, based on how the Heat have utilized that 15th roster spot in recent years, that retaining a playercoach would prove limiting on game nights. But season 16 could prove one that produces a uniform challenge.
As he again mulls his own Miami Heat future, Dwyane Wade said last week he has no issues with players seeking out new vistas in the NBA, be it Kawhi Leonard going from the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Raptors or players moving on in free agency. “You don’t know what happened with anyone inside,” he said. “It’s just like anything else. Certain guys in college, they transfer to another school because the opportunity wasn’t there for them. I mean, I left my parents’ house at 16. There’s so many different reasons that people want out of something. They want a change. They want something different. That’s life. That doesn’t just have to be at the NBA level. Until you know exactly what that reason is, you can’t really speak on it.”