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Udonis Haslem reveals why he chose to return to Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Udonis Haslem arrived at the Miami Heat facility for a workout one day last week, and was told he needed to sign a waiver before he took the court.

The reason: Technically, he wasn’t on the team.

“That was a little weird, having to do that,” Haslem said.

It won’t be a problem for the next year. Haslem officially signed his one-year, $2.4 million contract with the Heat on Monday, a deal that was struck last week and finally became official when he put pen to paper. Haslem will enter his 16th NBA season, all with the Heat, and that means the Miami native will be with his hometown franchise for more than half of its 31-year history.

“For the hometown kid in me, that means the world,” Haslem said. “I wish I understood how big that is right now, because I really don’t, but I know it’s big.”

Haslem was the seventh-oldest player in the NBA last season – and will rise at least one spot on that list this season, with the retirement of San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili. Vince Carter is 41 and will play for Atlanta, Dirk Nowitzki is 40 and back with Dallas, and Haslem is 38.

“It’s great to have our captain back,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

The others who played last season and are older than Haslem are Jason Terry, Damien Wilkins and Jamal Crawford. They all remain unsigned for the coming season.

So, too, does Dwyane Wade. He and Haslem are the only two players who were part of all three Heat championship teams. Haslem said he’s busily recruiting his business partner – the pair shares several off-court interests, including a pizza chain – to come back as well.

“My mindset has always been for us to finish it together,” Haslem said. “I want us to do a whole season together. Experience the road, dinner on the road, go through that whole process. I want us to experience that together.”

Wade tweeted his congratulations to Haslem when the deal was signed.

“You are (the) most selfless person I’ve ever met,” Wade said in his tweet.

Haslem appeared in only 14 games last season, and hasn’t had much of a role with the Heat in the last three seasons. Haslem believes he can still play – he has kept himself in tremendous condition – but knows that he probably won’t have a big on-court presence again.

Still, a meeting with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra last week helped seal the deal to return.

“Me and Spo were honest with each other,” Haslem said. “Honesty is not always telling somebody what they want to hear. And we both have gotten to that point in our careers where we value each other’s opinions, whether we want to hear them or not. We trust each other. We root for each other. We both have the best interests of this team in mind.”

But even if he doesn’t get much in the way of minutes, Haslem knows he’s valued. Spoelstra raves about the way he interacts and mentors teammates, and Haslem said that was a huge part of his decision as well.

“It’s about my love for the organization and my love for the guys,” Haslem said. “It wasn’t about me. If I was looking for playing time, I could have gone someplace else or played in China or something. But at the end of the day, would it have made me as happy as being around this organization and being around these guys? No, I don’t think it would.”

 

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.