Photo By DavidRosario.com
(Sun-Sentinel – Ira Winderman) – The last time Udonis Haslem went into an offseason without a contract, he entered the process with a sense of appreciation for the Miami Heat rescuing him from the French League two years earlier.
He was an NBA starting power forward, on a team that had just advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. For the Miami product, his free-agency decision practically was a debt of gratitude.
“The first time I was a free agent, when I get this deal that I just finished, my deal was basically signed as soon as the free-agency period started,” he said last week.
Only days into the July 2005 negotiation period, Haslem agreed to the five-year, $33 million contract that expires June 30. Despite starting all 80 of his appearances in his second season, he accepted a contract for what then was the league’s average salary.
After completing those negotiations, Jason Levien, who then served as Haslem’s agent and now is assistant general manager of the Sacramento Kings, estimated he left about $10 million on the table in order to meet Haslem’s hometown desires.
This time around, Haslem neither expects anything swift nor as smooth.
Forced to play off the bench this past season amid the Heat’s bid to fast-track the growth of 2008 first-round pick Michael Beasley and ending his season 10 days after the playoff started, Haslem finds himself at a different place in his career.
At 29, this next contract could be his last contract.
“I would love to stay in Miami, but the bottom line is there’s a business part of this and sometimes you really can’t let emotions get involved and you’ve got to think about what’s best for you and your family,” he said.
No sooner did the former Florida standout sign in 2005, than he began to feel that he left too much on the table, especially after helping the Heat win the 2006 NBA championship.
Asked about offering a hometown discount, in light of the expansive estate he has built in Southwest Ranches, Haslem said, “I gave one of those before. No, I’m just kidding. It’s going to be a big decision. I really hate talking about it, because there’s so much that weighs into it.”
Shortly after signing his now-expiring contract, Haslem parted with Levien, now working with Henry Thomas, who is best known as the agent for Heat teammate Dwyane Wade.
Yet while Wade affectionately has spoken about looking out for his close friend’s best interests, Haslem is not angling for a package deal.
“In our conversations, my future gets overshadowed with the $150 million he’s going to make,” Haslem said with a grin, overestimating Wade’s impending six-year max deal by about $20 million. “So we don’t really talk about that. It’s going to be a big summer for both of us, but whatever happens, we both deserve whatever we get.”
Haslem said the possible end of his Heat tenure hit home not with Tuesday’s season-ending loss in Boston, but rather when he reentered Sunday’s Game 4 at AmericanAirlines Arena in the fourth quarter, for what possibly could prove to be his last game there in the home whites.
“When we were making our comeback, me and Dwyane walked to the scoreboard and said, ‘If this is going to be it, then let’s fight for it,’ ” he said. “The most difficult thing is the brotherhood that I built with Dwyane for so many years and obviously the organization that gave me a chance when nobody else really want to.”
The Heat won Sunday’s game, but whether it can win over Haslem with what’s left from a salary-cap war chest targeted for Wade and an A-list free agent is another story.
“I’ve been through a lot of tough things,” Haslem said. “But, at the end of the day, I’ve always felt like I made the right decision. So the reality of the situation is I could possibly not be here next year.”