Miami Heat center Omer Yurtseven had high hopes before the season of playing big minutes and, perhaps, being frontcourt partners with Bam Adebayo. Instead, a bone spur injury limited him to just nine games and what had appeared to be a season of opportunity ended up being a disappointment. Still, Yurtseven is choosing to look at the bright side.
“There’s a lot more to look forward to than to be looking back and being let down,” Yurtseven told All U Can Heat.
Reasons for optimism has been hard to come by for Yurtseven and the Heat. A disappointing season could come to an end as soon as tonight’s play-in game against the Chicago Bulls. Even if the Heat do advance as the no. 8 seed, a series with the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks is what awaits. In Yurtseven’s case, he feels as though he could have helped if his season had not been derailed before it began. Plus, as a restricted free agent this summer, it’s unclear if the Heat will elect to give him another chance.
When asked about restricted free agency, Yurtseven said, “I have no idea, but right now I’m just worried about this play-in tournament.” Still, Yurtseven makes it clear he’d like to continue his development and get a chance to show what he could do alongside Adebayo.
The Heat invested meaningful time during training camp test-driving an Adebayo-Yurtseven frontcourt. Yurtseven, the 24-year-old center who impressed as a rookie with the Heat last season, has shown flashes of 3-point range in summer league and during his collegiate career at N.C. State and Georgetown. His combination of size, shooting and knack for rebounding are an ideal fit next to Adebayo on paper.
But on the court, Miami never got more than one game to see the duo. In the preseason opener against the Timberwolves, Yurtseven started next to Adebayo and recorded 11 points and nine rebounds while shooting 1 for 3 from 3-point range. Then Yurtseven was sidelined for the remainder of the preseason with a left ankle injury.
“It felt like something was hitting the bone,” Yurtseven said of the pain he felt leading up to the doctor visit. “And that made sense when they called it a bone spur.”
On November 15, he underwent surgery for a bone spur in his left ankle and the Heat did not provide a timeline for his return. Yurtseven spent the first month on crutches and began rehabbing. With no concrete timeline, all Yurtseven had was the recovery work, family and occasional Twitch stream.
“That initial period was brutal because you don’t have a choice really but to accept it,” Yurtseven said. “But I think it gives you more power if you do so willingly yourself and embrace that, no matter what happens, you still have a healthy body at the end of the day.”
Yurtseven, always the optimist, took solace in the fact that it was a bone injury and not a more complicated soft-tissue injury. Doctors told him there was no reason why he couldn’t return to his peak physically.
“Optimism is strength and pessimism is weakness. I try to stay on the positive and strong side.”
Still, the days dragged on. Yurtseven had never dealt with such a long-term injury and he felt as if his whole life was put on pause.
“It was so boring to not be able to play basketball, work out, lift, because that’s my life,” Yurtseven said. “I love doing that constantly and taking that away, I realized, takes out such a large portion of it all.”
One-hundred-and-fifty days separated Yurtseven’s lone preseason trial and his first regular-season game. When he did return, he did so to a Heat team that was four games over .500 at the time and had been toiling through a frustrating season. Yurtseven spent a lot of those games watching from the bench as injuries and inconsistency afflicted his teammates.
“It was tough to constantly watch and know that I could be playing and contributing,” Yurtseven said.
Yurtseven’s run in the rotation didn’t last long. He played five straight games from March 11 to March 19 before Spoelstra benched him in favor of other options like Cody Zeller, Kevin Love and Haywood Highsmith. Perhaps the scene that underscores Yurtseven’s season the most is when Spoelstra threw his clipboard down during a timeout after Yurtseven made multiple defensive errors.
It’s unclear if the Heat would like to bring Yurtseven back. They’ve developed him and appreciate his upside as a productive scorer and rebounder, but the defensive miscues go back to last season. If he had another year left on his contract, it would make sense to bring him back and hope to get a better sense of his development with a healthy season. Unfortunately, that might not be an option with Yurtseven entering restricted free agency. How this postseason plays out could determine the degree of changes the front office intends to make to this roster.
“Of course all the dreams and hopes before the year were different, but I still think there’s a lot more,” Yurtseven said. “Optimism is strength and pessimism is weakness. I try to stay on the positive and strong side.”
Yurtseven would like to return to Miami and get a chance to earn a role in the frontcourt rotation, but he doesn’t spend long on the subject of his free agency. Instead, he’s focused on doing what he can to help the team advance.
“I’m just worried about this play-in tournament. These do-or-die games are extremely competitive, and that’s what I love to do is compete,” Yurtseven said. “Even if it’s just cheering from the bench, then I’ll exert my energy that way. And staying ready, just in case, because you never know.”