Perhaps the biggest void for the Miami Heat to fill during their training camp that started Tuesday is replacing a player who averaged 3.9 points and 1.6 rebounds last season and went scoreless in his two playoff appearances.
Sounds easy. It won’t be.
For the first time since 2002 — 1,605 games and three championships ago — the reigning Eastern Conference champion Heat are entering a season without Udonis Haslem on the roster. Last season was his 20th and final before retirement, and the Heat know there’s a serious leadership gap without the Miami native in the room anymore.
“An adjustment, for sure, probably more so for me than everybody else in the locker room,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Teams transition. The guys are used to it, that you have different players. UD’s presence was so unique that you can’t compare it to any other situation in the league. I’ve always known him to be in our locker rooms.”
It’s not like the Heat don’t have other leaders: Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry were starters on teams that won NBA championships, and they both have Olympic gold medals as well — as do Heat veterans Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler.
They just no longer have the player who was their biggest leader.
“It’s weird,” Josh Richardson said Tuesday after the team’s first camp practice at Florida Atlantic. “It’s very weird. Him not here, barking the whole practice, it’s very weird.”
Haslem is expected to be around the Heat eventually in some sort of official capacity. He hasn’t rejoined the club yet and wasn’t there for the first practice since his retirement.
Haslem was the NBA’s oldest active player at 43 when he retired. The three-time champion was the third player to spend a two-decade career with one franchise, joining Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant.
He also became the oldest player to appear in an NBA Finals game, doing so two days before his 43rd birthday when the Heat played the Nuggets in June.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be in the background sending out text messages, probably be around a lot,” Butler said. “He loves the game too much. He loves this organization and the city too much to stay away. And we respect him. We love him and we want him to do that.”
Lowry, entering his 18th NBA season and having spent most of those years as a starter, said Tuesday after practice No. 1 that he’s hoping to remain a starter.
“I’ll do whatever it takes for my team to win basketball games,” Lowry said, “but I expect to be the starting point guard.”
Spoelstra said he isn’t set yet on a starting five. The 37-year-old Lowry averaged 11.2 points and 5.1 assists last season.
After raising eyebrows with, well, a pierced eyebrow — along with a pierced nose, lips and a new hairstyle on Monday — Butler’s look was back to his typical self Tuesday, with braided hair for the workout.