MIAMI (AP)—Add Udonis Haslem(notes) to the list of players taking less money to play for the Miami Heat next season.
Haslem signed a five-year deal Monday worth around $20 million, roughly $14 million less than he could have received if he accepted more lucrative offers from the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets.
LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) all took less money in their Heat deals last week to allow Miami the flexibility to sign certain players, and Haslem—Wade’s teammate for all seven of their pro seasons—was at the top of their collective wish list.
“This is a combination of having a great opportunity to win, which is why we play this game, and an opportunity to still stay close to my family and be with my mother,” said Haslem, whose mother has been ill for some time. “And also, the opportunity to be a part of something special. We all play this game to win. I’ve never been a person driven by money.”
Counting what James, Wade and Bosh elected to forego in their deals, Heat players have now signed for more than $60 million less than what they could have commanded under the collective bargaining agreement.
“He is the epitome of what the Heat is about,” team president Pat Riley said. “He is our anchor, he is a true warrior and a great professional.”
That’s why Wade reached out to Haslem constantly during the free-agent process, if only to remind him that was the case.
“I would be changing my DNA if I left just for money,” Haslem said.
A week ago, Haslem expected he would sign elsewhere, but then the combination of a $58 million salary cap ($2 million more than expected) and the decisions by James, Wade and Bosh to take less money made it possible for the Miami High grad to stay where he wanted.
“Happy UD is staying put in Miami,” James wrote on his Twitter feed. “Wouldn’t have felt right if he wasn’t a part of this.”
Another factor for Haslem was Mike Miller’s(notes) decision to join the Heat— something the team still hasn’t formally announced. Miller and Haslem are extremely close friends, both former Florida Gators as well.
When Miller decided, Haslem knew he wouldn’t play anywhere else.
“Nothing else for me to consider,” Haslem said. “That’s my boy from Day 1.”
Miller’s agent, Arn Tellem, wrote on his blog Monday that Miller talked with four teams, not including the Heat, but that his future “hinged on LeBron’s.”
LeBron picked Miami, so Miller followed, and Tellem compared Miller to the Ringo Starr on this new Heat team of stars.
“Mike welcomes the chance to be the Ringo in a hot combo that already includes LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh,” Tellem said.
Haslem has averaged 10.0 points and 8.1 rebounds in his seven Miami seasons.
His signing was announced about an hour before Miami’s trade with Minnesota became official, in which the Heat sent Michael Beasley(notes) to the Timberwolves for a pair of second-round draft picks.
Beasley took over Haslem’s job as the starting power forward last season, something Haslem went along with without complaining openly. Bosh will be the starter now, and Haslem doesn’t mind that whatsoever.
“Coming off the bench behind a guy like Chris Bosh who has multiple—what is the game they play in?—All-Star game appearances, different things like that, I have no problem,” Haslem said. “The hardest thing I had to deal with was just to give my job up.”
With Bosh preferring to play power forward, and with the Heat not having an established center on the roster, that could mean the 6-foot-7 Haslem has to spend some time at the pivot this season.
If that’s what coach Erik Spoelstra wants, so be it, Haslem said.
“We’ve already sacrificed,” Haslem said. “Why stop sacrificing now? I’m committed to do what it takes to make this team successful.”
He said he was watching Friday night’s lavish introduction of James and Bosh, along with the re-introduction of sorts of Wade, with his son. Haslem was undrafted when he came to the Heat, was with the team through its first rebuilding phase, was a crucial factor in the 2006 championship run, then endured the indignity of the 15-win season in 2008.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Haslem said. “It just didn’t seem real. It seemed like something out of a video game or something like that.”
Nope, it’s real.
And knowing his role will be to help protect Miami’s new Big 3, Haslem said he’ll keep his trademark braids—although he considered getting a haircut after turning 30 earlier this summer.
“With the bulls-eye that’s going to be on these guys’ backs, I’m going to need these braids this year,” Haslem said.
Tim Reynolds, Associated Press