Udonis Haslem scores 24 in final game, steps away after two decades, changing Heat


MIAMI — This story would never have been told if Udonis Haslem’s mother hadn’t moved from Miami to Jacksonville. Or if his stepbrother hadn’t been so smart about an airball. Or if Atlanta signed him in 2002. Or if San Antonio did in 2003.

Any of those things happen differently, it all changes. He probably wouldn’t be with the Miami Heat right now. Maybe never.

Haslem, the NBA’s oldest active player at 42 and a three-time champion, scored 24 points in his final regular-season game Sunday. Duncan Robinson added 20 and the Miami Heat tuned up for the play-in tournament by topping the Orlando Magic 123-110.

It was Haslem’s highest-scoring game since he had 28 points on Nov. 14, 2009. He checked out for the final time with 58.9 seconds left, getting the last of many ovations that rained down throughout the afternoon.

He’s the third player to spend a two-decade career with one franchise, joining Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant.

“All I’ve ever tried to do is take care of my people, take care of my city,” Haslem said. “I think that’s why I can sit down with the mayor and commissioners, or I can sit down with people in the ’hood, and be comfortable either way. It’s because of the sacrifices that I’ve made for this city.”

Heat President Pat Riley is more succinct.

“Udonis is Miami,” Riley said.

Haslem was on the NBA’s All-Rookie team in 2003-04. He never was an All-Star, never All-NBA, never even a player of the week out of 438 possible chances. The last time he averaged double figures for a season was 2009.

But ask anyone with the Heat, and they insist Haslem — the team captain who’ll have his No. 40 jersey retired next season — has been vital for two decades.

“He’s the poster child of a guy who was average, supposedly, and yet he became great,” said Chet Kammerer, who has spent 27 years in Miami’s player personnel department. “And how did he do that? Hard work. Great spirit. Great attitude. Never ‘can’t do this,’ never ‘can’t do that.’ And the success that we’ve had, he’s had more of a major contribution over the whole 20 years than people know.”

Take the night Miami won its first NBA title in Dallas in 2006. Haslem played with a separated shoulder. He had to guard Nowitzki, the Mavericks’ best player. Nowitzki didn’t have a field goal in the fourth quarter; Miami won 95-92, Haslem had 17 points, 10 rebounds and a good cry afterward.

“The champagne got me,” he said. Everyone knows otherwise; they were tears.

Other players got headlines that night; Dwyane Wade was Finals MVP, Shaquille O’Neal won his fourth ring. But without Haslem, there would be no title.

“He’s always had tremendous courage,” Riley said. “Whatever endeavor, he rises to another level. And you need that. He was for real. He was that kind of man, someone who has tremendous pride being from Miami.”

Many Miami kids grow up with football dreams. Haslem was one of them. But when his mother took a job in Jacksonville when he was 9, focus began shifting to basketball. (“Football isn’t as big there,” Haslem said.) When he was around 12, Haslem was on the court with his older stepbrother, Sam Wooten. Haslem shot an airball. Wooten caught the ball and scored.

“Nice pass,” Wooten said, genuinely. He, and that moment, had tremendous impact on Haslem; Wooten died in 1999 from cancer and Haslem has a “R.I.P. Sam” tattoo on his neck to pay tribute to his mentor.

Haslem had backboard-breaking dunks as a high school freshman, starred at Miami High, then starred at Florida but struggled with weight and NBA teams passed on drafting him in 2002. Atlanta brought him in for a camp that summer, but signed Ira Newble to its last roster spot instead.

So Haslem played in France, dropping the extra weight by eating only turkey sandwiches. The next summer, he was offered a one-year contract by the Spurs.

“We couldn’t lose him,” Kammerer said.

The Heat offered two years. Haslem signed. He never left. He had multiple chances, often for more money. But he stayed and will remain with the organization in a to-be-determined role; Haslem wants a chance to join the ownership group.

“He’s monumentally important for our organization and our locker room,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He embodies everything that we believe in. And he has a way, because of the respect level, that he’s able to influence and mentor literally every player in the locker room.”

There are many stories of Haslem’s toughness. He’d dislocate fingers in practice and pop them back in like nothing happened. People still talk about his hard foul on Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough in the 2012 playoffs, after the Pacers caused him to get eight stitches the game before and Hansbrough had just sent Wade flying. He often is the one giving impassioned locker-room speeches at halftime, even before Spoelstra gets a chance. The wall outside Miami’s locker room is now a tribute to Haslem moments.

He’s not Miami’s best player. It could be argued nobody has meant more.

“There’s nobody else like him,” Spoelstra said.

Coach, front office moves update: Pistons make Williams hiring official, Borrego or Stotts to Bucks bench?


There are far from settled across the NBA in both the coaching and front office circles, with news still leaking out daily. Here’s an update on things which have come to light in recent days.

• The Detroit Pistons made the hiring of Monty Williams official.

“A week ago, I was not sure what the future would hold,” Williams said in a statement, referencing reports he had planned to take a year away from coaching. “But, after talking with Tom [Gores, team principal owner] and Troy [Weaver, Pistons GM], I was excited hearing their vision for the Pistons going forward. They had a thoughtful plan and I am so appreciative of the emphasis they placed on the personal side of this business. They showed tremendous consideration for me and my family throughout this process.

“They also showed a commitment to success and doing things the right way,” he said. “As we discussed the team and expressed our collective goals, I realized that this would be a great opportunity for me to help a talented young team and build a strong culture here in Detroit. This is obviously a special place with a deep basketball history, and my family and I are looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of this city and organization.”

Williams has a six-year, $78.5 million contract with the team and that reportedly could grow to more than eight years, $100 million if incentives are hit. He was brought in to help build a culture of defense and discipline for a franchise with some nice young players but many questions.

• Kevin Ollie, the former NBA player and UConn coach who was in the mix for the Pistons’ job before Williams was hired, will be on the bench in Brooklyn next season.

• While Adrian Griffin has not officially signed his contract as the new Bucks head coach, he is sitting in on meetings running up to the draft and has essentially started the job, reports Eric Nehm and Shams Charania at The Athletic.

More interestingly, The Athletic reports the Bucks plan to put an experienced, veteran head coach next to the rookie Griffin, and are speaking to former Hornets head coach James Borrego and former Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. Bringing in an experienced staff to put around Griffin is the smart move, with what we saw this season with Joe Mazzulla in Boston as an example of why this is the smart path.

• The Wizards have hired former Hawks head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk to be the right-hand man next to new Wizards president Michael Winger. This is a quality hire. Schlenk was rumored to have questioned Atlanta’s trade for Dejounte Murray to put next to Trae Young — a move ownership wanted — and by mid-season he was pushed out the door. Having Winger and Schlenk in the Washington front office is a lot of brain power, the question remains will they be given true freedom by owner Ted Leonsis to make moves for the long term and not prioritize just making the playoffs? The Wizards have a big offseason coming up with questions about new contracts/extensions for Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis.

• Aaron Nelson, the training staff guru hired by the Pelicans away from the Suns in 2019 to help Zion Williamson and others, appears to be out of the mix in a restructured staff, reports Christian Clark at the Times-Picayune. Zion did not have a great relationship with Nelson, but the question is was Nelson the scapegoat for players issues beyond his control? From Clark’s article:

Williamson’s relationship with Nelson became strained during his rookie season. At different points, Williamson refused to work with him…

Brandon Ingram sat out 29 consecutive games with an injury the team described as a left toe contusion. Ingram kicked the back of a Memphis Grizzlies player’s foot in November. Two days after the injury, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Ingram was “day to day.” Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Ingram did not play again until Jan. 25 — exactly two months after hurting his toe…

Ingram has sometimes seemed unwilling to play through minor discomfort, to the point where some of his teammates have become frustrated with him over the past two years. The Pelicans thought they had solved their player care and performance problem by hiring Nelson. Four years later, Nelson’s time in charge of the department is over.

When the Pelicans have all their stars on the court, this is at the very least, a playoff team in the West and potentially a dangerous one. I’m not going to speculate on the internal dynamics of the Pelicans front office and training team, but after years of injury issues it’s fair to ask if this is a matter of the training staff, or is this on the players themselves?

Knicks’ Julius Randle undergoes ankle surgery, should return for training camp

2023 NBA Playoffs - 	New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks’ Julius Randle sprained his ankle with two weeks to go in the regular season. He returned from that in time to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and their massive front line in the playoffs, but he struggled in that series — 14.4 points a game on 33.8% shooting — and injured his ankle again in Game 5. He did make it back for the Heat series after missing Game 1 but was never fully himself.

Now, as he hinted at during the playoffs, Randle has undergone offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Randle is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in the fall.

Randle had an All-NBA season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, and was part of the reason, along with Jalen Brunson, the Knicks were the No. 5 seed in the East last season.

Randle’s name has come up in trade rumors, mostly with him going out if the Knicks get in the mix for a superstar who becomes available this offseason. If someone such as Karl-Anthony Towns or Bradley Beal hits the market and New York wants to be in play, sending out Randle — set to make $25.6 million this season, with two more seasons on the books after that — is the way to match salaries.

Randle should be healthy and ready for training camp for whatever team he is on come September.

Watch Victor Wembanyama highlights from French league playoffs


Give Victor Wembanyama and his handlers credit — they have got him out there playing. The management teams for a lot of future No. 1 picks would have their guy in bubble wrap by now, not doing anything but solo workouts in a gym, not wanting to risk any injury or risking his draft status.

Wembanyama — the 7’4″ prodigy on both ends of the floor — is on the court in the semi-finals of the French LNB league (the highest level of play in France). His team, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, is one win away from the LNB Finals. While they lost on Friday to Lyon-Villeurbanne (the best-of-five series is now 2-1 Boulogne-Levallois), Wembanyama put up some highlights worth watching.

The San Antonio Spurs will select Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft (June 22). San Antonio — and possibly Wembanyama — will make their Summer League debut at the California Classic Summer League in Sacramento in early July, before heading on to Las Vegas for the larger, official Summer League. While Wembanyama is playing for his French team in the playoffs, how much the Spurs will play him in the summer leagues — if at all — remains to be seen (top players have been on the court less and less at Summer League in recent years).

Spoestra’s biggest Heat adjustment for Game 2? Play with more ‘toughness and resolve’


DENVER — The days between NBA Finals are filled with talk of adjustments. After an ugly Game 1, much of that falls on the Heat — what can Erik Spoelstra draw up to get Jimmy Butler better lanes to attack? How must the Heat adjust their defense on Nikola Jokick?

Spoelstra sees it a little differently.

“Scheme is not going to save us,” he said.

His point is straightforward, the team’s best adjustment is simply to play better. More effort, more resolve. The trio of Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson must do better than 2-of-23 from 3. The Heat can’t settle for jumpers like they did in Game 1, they have to attack the rim and draw some fouls, getting to the line (the Heat had just two free throws in Game 1). Their halfcourt defensive decisions have to be sharper. Those are not scheme-related things.

The Heat saw some of that in the second half, but Spoelstra made it clear the better last 24 minutes (particularly the last 12) was more about effort than the adjustments they made (such as playing more Haywood Highsmith and putting him on Jokić for a while).

“I never point to the scheme. Scheme is not going to save us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve. That’s us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things. That’s what our group loves to do more than anything, to compete, to get out there and do things that people think can’t be done.

“The efforts made that work in the second half, but we’re proving that we can do that with our man defense, too.”

Among the things many people don’t think can be done is the Heat coming back in this series. But Spoelstra is right, proving people wrong is what the Heat have done all playoffs.