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Udonis Haslem belongs on this team

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He barely plays. But he still fills a role.

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game Five Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

As I mentioned last week, rumors of the Miami Heat’s impending signing of Udonis Haslem renewed the yearly Twitter debate about the wisdom of offering a roster spot to the Miami native. Yesterday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Haslem will return for a 19th season.

Those against signing Haslem bring up familiar points. He’s a glorified assistant coach. He takes up a roster spot that could go to a developmental prospect. When injuries hit, it’s better to have a young player come off the bench than Haslem, who Erik Spoelstra doesn’t even sub in during blowouts.

I won’t lie. During moments of Miami’s dreary 2020-21 regular season — when injuries and COVID protocols decimated the roster, only leaving a skeleton crew — I questioned the move to bring Haslem back. When I saw Haslem’s three-minute stint against the Philadelphia 76ers in May, though, I thought, “I would’ve rather seen Haslem on the floor than Chris Silva.” Besides, can we even say that KZ Okpala is a better basketball player than a 41-year-old Haslem?

The argument that Haslem takes up a spot that would otherwise go to the next Duncan Robinson crumbles upon scrutiny. Haslem takes a spot that would otherwise go to another Yante Maten, Jordan Mickey, Kyle Alexander, Okaro White or Matt Williams. (Yes, even I forgot some of those players.)

Since the Big Three era — the last time Haslem was a rotation player — Miami has found and developed undrafted players like Tyler Johnson, Derrick Jones Jr., Rodney McGruder, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, and now, Omer Yurtseven. The 16th and 17th roster spots for two-way contracts weakens the claim that Miami “wastes” a roster spot on Haslem.

Finally, Haslem fits with the tough-as-nails character of this team. In the midst of Miami’s embarrassing first-round sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks, Haslem broke a chair during a timeout huddle. He appeared to be the only player who was disgusted with his team’s performance. Yes, we can talk about the quick off-season turnaround, Butler’s bout with COVID and injuries. But at a certain point, pride has to kick in.

P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris will give the Heat enforcers, a role Udonis Haslem once took on. (Remember his flagrant foul to Tyler Hansbrough as payback for Hansbrough’s foul on Dwyane Wade? Haslem discussed that moment in his recent appearance on The Long Shot podcast.) Every NBA championship team needs one.

The Heat might lead the league in technical fouls committed and drawn. It’s only right that Haslem is on the bench with Tucker and Morris all season long.