Haslem: HEAT Now Understand What It Takes
Miami HEAT big man Udonis Haslem had a very tough 2010-11 season. A foot injury limited him to just 13 regular season games, keeping out of the rotation from November 20th all the way to May 9th where he played in the final game of Miami’s second-round playoff win over the Boston Celtics. As a free agent in 2010 he passed up a lot of money to stay with the HEAT as a key piece of the core along with superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and this year Haslem and the HEAT have unfinished business.
Even after he came back last May for the Eastern Conference and NBA Finals, Haslem wasn’t satisfied with his contributions to the HEAT, so this offseason he focused on getting his body not only back in basketball shape but also becoming more durable.
“I think it’s very important,” Haslem told HOOPSWORLD. “Ninety percent of my game is energy, effort, athleticism – things that I use to compensate for my lack of height. Without my foot, and being as active, as athletic, and as quick as I need to be, it took a lot away from the things I do to be effective. This summer I pretty much stayed away from the basketball court and the weight room, did a lot of plyometrics and core work, a lot of band work. It was a different summer for me, but I see results. These are things you start looking at as you get older.”
These are workouts he had never done before and Haslem feels it will make him more reliable going forward. Now 30, he’s figured out the body doesn’t bounce back quite as quickly as it did at 24.
“Definitely. Me and James Jones spent a lot of time together rehabbing ourselves on the turf, which is more football-like. I didn’t touch a weight.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra is looking forward to Haslem being around all season, all the time. He noted that because of the injury and the rehab required, Haslem wasn’t always around the team last season and his teammates – most of them new – weren’t able to get a true feel for how hard he works and what he brings to a roster. Statements like that only make Haslem work harder.
“It’s good. I look for different ways every year to motivate myself. What people saw last year wasn’t the 100% Udonis Haslem and that’s the standard they expect me to play at. That’s motivation for me to play at another level and show people what I’m really about and what I really can do.”
That other level is something the HEAT need. Despite the key injuries to Haslem and Mike Miller last season, the HEAT still reached the 2011 NBA Finals where they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in six games. For a team with a very different roster than the previous season trying to integrate multiple new stars in LeBron James and Chris Bosh, that’s quite an accomplishment. But still, Haslem knows they can be better, and he’s a big part of that. It ate away at him for a while how he wasn’t able to be his regular self last season.
“All summer. That’s why I altered the way I work this summer in order to be there, because without a healthy Udonis Haslem I’m not much help to the team. I need to be healthy in order to help these guys reach the goal. I made a promise to these guys to get their ring and the only way I can do that to be healthy.”
During the offseason and lockout, quite a few times HEAT teammates popped up in the news together, doing various charity games and appearances. The appearances with James, Wade and Bosh got all the attention, but Haslem pointed out it wasn’t just them spending time together. All of the HEAT players spent quite a bit of time spending time with and working out with each other.
“You saw the time LeBron and Dwyane spent together, but it was the time me and LeBron and Dwyane spent together. I spent time with CB this summer. I spent time with J.J. Me and Mike spent a lot of time together. I spent time with Joel. In different times, different circumstances all of us spent time together all summer, we kept in contact.”
In his mind, that’s what it takes to build the kind of camaraderie necessary to be a champion.
“I think you can’t just come together on the basketball court or when it’s time for practice and expect to be a championship quality team. I think you have to be a family and that starts off the court.”
And yes, being a champion is the only goal. Last season that was the stated goal as well, though many doubted it could happen in Year 1 of the Wade-James-Bosh roster. But now, with a NBA Finals appearance in their rear view mirror, anything less than a championship ring will be a disappointment.
“We understand now what it takes, so we aren’t settling for less from each other and we’re not going to settle for less from ourselves. We’ve pushed ourselves to another level and I think everybody has pushed each other to another level. I think we understand what it takes and there’s only one way we can get it done. That’s the route we’re going this year.”
So what’s different this year? When James and Bosh first came to Miami they were tentative at times, not wanting to step on each other’s toes and definitely not on Wade’s, the incumbent Miami leader. Haslem has noticed a change specifically with those two in training camp and if what he’s seen there translates to regular season and playoff games, it’s bad news for the rest of the league.
“They’re playing basketball like they know how to play, loving the game like they usually do, and just being comfortable like they were in their own respective organizations before they came here. We wanted the LeBron James that was in Cleveland, we wanted the Chris Bosh that was in Toronto. Obviously they’re not going to have the ball in their hands as much, not going to get as many shots, but we want those players. And they’re back to being those players this year.”
If all of this is true, why aren’t we hearing as much hype with the HEAT as we did before 2010-11 began, when everything was new with the roster? Getting the hype isn’t important to Haslem and the HEAT.
“That’s perfectly fine with us. Talking about us or not, we understand what our job is, we understand what our goals are, and we understand what we have to do to achieve them. Whether people talk about us or not it’s not going to take us off course because we know what our ultimate goal is.”
Many championship teams will tell you it’s a process to become a champion – it doesn’t happy in a day or a week or even a season. Miami has now brought this core roster through one season and they are better for it. Even with the injuries last year they reached the Finals, which has to leave them confident as a compressed 2011-12 NBA season dawns.
“It’s definitely encouraging because with all the injuries we did endure – Mike going out, myself going out, D-Wade starting the season a little late because of his injury – and still be able to reach the Finals and win the East says a lot. But that’s not where the goal was for us. We wanted to win it all, so we feel that with a healthy squad throughout the season we can definitely get it done.”
The HEAT feel they have found the one element they were missing last season.
“Grit. On an every-night basis we’re going to play at a high level. There’s going to be nights where we’re going to be tired, there are going to be nights where we’re going to be mentally and physically fatigued, but I’m going to lead the charge with my effort and my energy and I know these guys will follow.”
A comfortable James and Bosh? A team that has run through adversity and still almost come out on top? A team that is stronger and deeper this year than last? All of those are true for the 2011-12 Miami HEAT. Like Haslem said, this year it’s championship or bust for Miami.
Can Miami get it done this year? Leave your comments below! Follow Jason Fleming on Twitter @jfleminghoops.