Udonis Haslem has been the heart and soul of the Miami Heat since beginning the 2003 season with Dwyane Wade. Haslem remains a team captain even while LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the party, and has continually put his place with this franchise first over money and playing time.
But Haslem had a poor showing in the 2013 NBA Finals. Udonis started most of the season in the frontcourt alongside Chris Bosh, and all throughout the playoffs. Yet, he was replaced in Games 4-7 of the Finals for Mike Miller. Haslem then played only 21 minutes for the remainder of the series, including sitting out the entirety of Game 6.
So how does one go from being a starter to a DNP-Coach's Decision?
I'm not sure we will know. One thing we do know is that Udonis has knee surgery this off-season to repair some cartilage and fix a few things. He expects to be ready for the start of training camp, but what will his role be? Although Mike Miller isn't here, will Haslem still be called on as a starter? Or at 33, with Spoelstra elect to take a different route?
Here are the options:
Replace Haslem with Shane Battier
This was the model for the 2012 Championship, and Battier came through in Game 7 of the these Finals quite nicely going 6-8 from beyond the arc. But the Heat tried this route, and it seemed the regular season grind of Power Forward was too much for Battier. At 34 years old, and on what he says is his last year in the league, I don't think Battier is the best option. With the departure of Mike Miller, Battier will need to fill that bench role more effectively now more than ever. James Jones will get some run here and there, but Shane should stay a reserve.
Replace Haslem with Rashard Lewis
This seems even more unlikely because Lewis played very little last season in meaningful time. But Lewis has the tools and length to be effective in a lineup with the Big 3. He can stretch the floor, but will his defense and rebounding hurt that unit? No signs point to Lewis taking Haslem's minutes, but it is an option.
Move Bosh to forward and start a traditional center
This will not likely be the first option that Spoelstra explores if Haslem is not healthy or effective. Chris Andersen has been highly effective alongside LeBron James, and maybe he would be in a starting lineup. Could Greg Oden eventually fall into this role? Doubtful, but powerful if he could. This is worth the exploration at some point, especially with the East having some big bodies in the way (i.e. Indiana, Brooklyn, New York). Joel Anthony also has experience as a starter.
Keep Haslem in the lineup with reduced minutes
This seems like it is comfortable for Spoelstra, allowing Haslem to get run and having ample time of cross-matched lineups with Ray Allen, Battier and Norris Cole filling across multiple roles. Haslem is comfortable in the starting lineup and is used to knowing his spots playing alongside the Big 3.
In all truthfulness, even if Haslem isn't all that effective, this seems like the most logical choice. Despite UD being benched and forgotten in the Finals, Spoelstra should have full confidence in going back to him. In fact, he also benched Norris Cole and Chris Andersen during the Finals, and he will go back to them. Haslem is warrior, and we are hopeful that his jump shot will return to full stroke, which will make his the weapon he used to be.
Haslem in the starting lineup makes the most sense. The Heat do have 2 open roster spots, assuming that they do not guarantee Jarvis Varnado's contract by the time the season starts. This will give them some flexibility moving forward in adding either another guard or maybe even a forward who can help fill this role. Either way, Haslem will accept any role that is given to him.
That's the way he roles.