1. The act or process of reclaiming.
2. A restoration, as to productivity, usefulness, or morality
One of the intriguing storylines from this year’s Miami Heat squad is the opportunity Greg Oden and Michael Beasley have to make the final roster and help the team win a third consecutive championship. Either due to injury (Oden) or a perceived lack of effort (Beasley), both players have failed to reach the high hopes expected of an early draft pick. With undrafted free agents or resurrected careers, the Heat has historically helped players fulfill their potential, whether expected or not.
Below are the best examples throughout the team’s 25-year history of how the Heat front office has turned reclamation into a fine art.
Born in Queens, New York, Rafer Alston earned his reputation on the concrete courts as a gifted streetball player with incredible dribbling skills. After an undistinguished collegiate career, he failed to make any inroads professionally. From 1998 to 2003, Alston endured stints in the Continental Basketball Association, the NBA Developmental League and unproductive seasons on the bench for the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. Alston, known as "Skip 2 My Lou" on the playground, seemed destined to become another of a long line of streetball legends that had neither the talent nor discipline to make it in the NBA.
Pat Riley traded for the skilled point guard at the start of the 2003-2004 season and Alston finally turned the corner. Joining another skilled guard in the backcourt, rookie Dwyane Wade, "Skip" made the most of his opportunity and played in 82 games for the Heat that season, averaging 4.5 assists and over 10 points per game. Alston left after just one season with the Heat, joining other reclaimed point guard projects such as Eric Murdock, Keyon Dooling and Rod Strickland, and went on to play for various teams (including another short stint with the Heat in 2010) over the next six years.
Chris "Birdman" Andersen was probably never meant to be an NBA superstar but he was determined to follow his dream of playing in the league. His early pro career led him from the Chinese Basketball Association to the International Basketball League in New Mexico and the NBDL. He broke out with the Denver Nuggets in 2001, displaying incredible effort, timely rebounding and a nearly-manic intensity on the court. Following a drug suspension in 2006 while playing for the New Orleans Hornets, Andersen was released after his reinstatement in 2008. He rejoined the Nuggets for three years before being released by way of the amnesty clause. Out of work and linked to a sexual relationship scandal with an underage girl, it seemed unlikely the Birdman would soar on the hardwood again.
Assured that the scandal was part of an elaborate hoax (recently proven to be true), Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra lobbied Riley to sign Andersen midway through the 2012-2013 season. The 6’ 10" forward/center had an immediate impact, working particularly well in the paint and finishing off shots at the hoop with authority. The Heat rang up a 27-game win streak and finished with a regular season record of 39-3 in games Birdman played in. A key part of last season’s title run, Andersen re-signed with the Heat on their quest for a third consecutive championship.
In many ways, Joel Anthony seems to embody the stereotype of his native Canada – without pretense, dependable and under-the-radar. At the University of Nevada (Las Vegas), Anthony was named Defensive Player of the Year for the Mountain West Conference in 2007. Being a team that prides itself on defensive intensity, the Heat invited Anthony to training camp where he signed a 1-year deal.
Despite an offensive repertoire that could be generously summarized as "limited", Anthony continued to impress team officials and was re-signed in 2009 and again in 2010, the latter signing for five years. While his questionable hands and unpredictable scoring frustrate Heat fans, he has earned a reputation as a lock-down defender. Particularly tight defense against New York Knick Amar’e Stoudemire led local radio host Dan Le Batard to dub Anthony "The Warden". The nickname became a fan favorite and Anthony has continued to start on and off over the last three years, helping clinch three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
Issac "Ike" Austin
Ike Austin’s NBA journey read like a movie script. From junior college to Arizona State, Austin was then drafted by the Utah Jazz, where he spent two seasons on the bench. He joined the CBA and, after one year, played in Turkey and France. Despite inflated numbers in international play, NBA doors were closed to him until Riley brought Austin to training camp to serve as Alonzo Mourning’s backup.
In two years on the Heat roster, Austin started numerous games while Mourning nursed injuries and provided quality minutes in reserve, earning the 1997 vote as the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Unfortunately, Austin’s improved play during a contract year would eventually make him an unaffordable luxury and he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 1998. Austin would play for four teams over the next four years but he will be warmly remembered as a part of Riley’s reconstruction of the Heat into an Eastern Conference powerhouse.
Like so many other players, Bruce Bowen needed to find his specialty before latching on to an NBA roster. For Bowen, it was unquestionably his tenacious defense. After years playing in the CBA and France, Bruce bounced around teams in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago before finally getting his break in Miami. In the 2001-2002 season, Bowen averaged nearly 8 PPG (mostly on opportunistic three-point shooting) while earning recognition as a defensive stopper and a vote on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.
Bowen would go on to further cement his reputation as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, and become a vital component of three championship teams. While his legacy has been tarnished by accusations of cheap fouls and malicious intent, Heat fans will always remember the constantly-moving hands and feet as he stayed in front of an opposing team’s best scorer. Like former player James Posey and current member Shane Battier, Bowen was willing to do the little things on defense that lead to a team’s success.
For 10 years, local product Udonis Haslem has displayed gritty endurance, a decent mid-range game and a willingness to take on opposing players when he feels he or his teammates have been disrespected. Constantly chewing on a mouthpiece dangling from either side of his snarled and scraggly face, "U.D." has earned his way into Heat fans’ hearts. While Wade and LeBron James may be, in the words of New York Yankee legend Reggie Martinez, the "straw that stirs the drink", Haslem is the glue that holds the glass together.
A burly forward-center out of the tough neighborhood of historic Overtown, Haslem was a high school standout at Miami Senior High, part of a Stingarees team that also included future NBA journeyman Steve Blake. Haslem joined the University of Florida and, at nearly 300 pounds, bulldozed his way through the college ranks, even leading the Gators to the 2002 NCAA Championship Game. But, generously listed as 6’8", Haslem was clearly overweight and had little chance of realizing his dream of making it to the NBA.
After one year of professional basketball in France, a slim and rejuvenated Haslem was brought to Heat training camp by Riley. A three-time NBA champion, Haslem has sacrificed both statistics and money to remain a part of Miami and a beloved player to Heat fans.
The Rest of the Best
Among the other players that have built or restarted careers as members of the Heat are Anthony Carter (nearly 5 PPG over a 13 year career; instrumental contract blunder led to unexpected salary cap space that allowed Miami to sign forward Lamar Odom); Keith Askins (undrafted Heat lifer who spent nine years as a player and 13 as an assistant coach; a tough man-to-man defender that could knock down the corner three-point shot; his fire on the bench as an assistant coach was on full display when he ran courtside to take on then-named Ron Artest when he dared put a hand on Riley in 2003); and Voshon Lenard (a 5-year Heat veteran out of the CBA that knocked down crucial long-range shots during the late ‘90s Heat playoff runs).
While every team can lay claim to a reclamation project as part of its history, Miami has clearly refined its approach to scouting and relied on more than just a little luck. Stories are already swirling around Oden’s recovery after a 4-year hiatus and Beasley’s enlightened approach to redefine his failed career. As the regular season unfolds, look for these latest examples to prove the Heat’s established excellence at finding the proverbial diamond in the rough.