Udonis Haslem trade rumors were swirling around the NBA trade deadline two months ago to the day. Haslem, a miami native and member of the Miami Heat for over a decade now, was the trade target of the Philadelphia 76ers, who offered former second overall pick Evan Turner in return. At the time, Haslem wasn’t seeing much action on the court – some close to the Heat thought it was because of nagging injuries he was battling, others claimed it was because he wasn’t a very effective player anymore. Whatever the case was, the Heat ultimately turned down that offer and any other potential offers that were on the table.
Anyone who hasn’t followed the Miami Heat closely over the years may wonder why they decided to hold onto Haslem. He was undrafted coming out of the University of Florida because of weight issues – Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 draft. Haslem is now 33 years old – Turner is 25 years old. Haslem has a player option for $4.6 million next season – Turner will be a free agent. Haslem was buried so deep in the depth chart that he wasn’t even getting on the court most nights – Turner was playing 35 minutes a night scoring more than 17 points a game (albeit for a terrible team).
I heard a lot of people criticizing the Heat for not taking that offer because on paper, it seemed like the logical thing to do. What these people failed to realize is that championships are not won on paper. Udonis Haslem is a three-time NBA Champion and the Miami Heat’s all-time leading rebounder. The Heat have not been a franchise for that long (since 1988), but some guy named Alonzo Mourning (you may have heard of him) was dominating the paint down in Miami for years and he will be inducted into the hall of fame this August. The fact that Haslem surpassed Mourning on the franchise’s all-time leading rebounding list speaks volumes to the type of player that he is.
The best thing about Haslem is everything he brings that doesn’t show up on box scores. There is no way to calculate what Haslem, a captain on the team, brings on a nightly basis. There is no way you can calculate what he has meant to the development of Dwyane Wade (who both entered the league together in 2003), LeBron James (the most criticized athlete in the history of the NBA), and the rest of the Miami Heat. There is also no way to calculate how much easier the job of head coach Erik Spoelstra has been thanks to Haslem’s presence.
The term “clutch” is one that is used way too often in sports, but Udonis Haslem is clutch. In 2010, Haslem tore a ligament in his foot 13 games into the season – most guys would have simply cashed their checks and called it a season, but not Haslem. Six months of intense rehab found Haslem active late in the Miami Heat playoff run. The Heat were blown out in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Chicago Bulls. In game 2, Haslem came off the bench and scored 13 huge points in just 23 minutes, including a memorable dunk in transaction over then league MVP Derrick Rose. The Heat went on to win the series 4-1 – Haslem’s return had a lot to do with that.
The following year, star Chris Bosh suffered an abdominal strain vs. Indiana that left him out of the playoffs for a few weeks. Haslem was ready as usual to pick up the slack and the Pacers had no answer for his high arching baseline jumper and toughness on the defensive end. Haslem played a key role in the Heat taking control in their second-round series vs. the Pacers despite being suspended for the clinching game 6 because of a message-sending flagrant foul on Tyler Hansbrough in game 5 (Haslem’s intangibles on display once again).
Above all, the strongest argument for the Miami Heat not trading Udonis Haslem boils down to one word – “loyalty.” Haslem was born and raised in the city of Miami and made it well known that he had no intentions of ever playing for another team. Earlier in his career, Haslem took a hometown discount to stay with the Miami Heat. When he became a free agent once again 2010, his future in Miami was uncertain after VP Pat Riley landed the greatest free agent in the history of the sport, LeBron James. Many felt that Haslem was no longer a priority anymore – this was not the case. The Miami Heat organization made every effort possible lock up Haslem long-term, ultimately signing him to a five-year $20 million deal. The important thing to keep in mind here is that Haslem (yet again) turned down more money to stay with the Miami Heat – roughly $14 million less than teams such as the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks were offering.
Loyalty. Had the Miami Heat traded Udonis Haslem, what kind of message would that be sending? Could the Heat, who refer to themselves as “family” more so than any other franchise in sports, really keep up that image? Would LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, who could all potentially opt-out of their contracts at the end of the season, feel as though the organization had their backs no matter what?
The Miami Heat begin their playoff run today in hopes of winning their third straight NBA Finals, something that has only been accomplished five other times in league history. Udonis Haslem, who has played a major role down the stretch for the Heat, figures to once again be counted on to step up when it matters most. Players like Haslem don’t come around very often – that is why you should never trade them if you are lucky enough to have them on your roster. Anyone out there still calling for Evan Turner?