Udonis Haslem turns 34 today. He’s spent all 11 of his seasons in the NBA with the Miami Heat. Haslem came into the league together with Dwyane Wade and won a memorable championship together in 2006. When the Heat persuaded LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Wade in the summer of 2010, Haslem took less money—signing a 5-year, $20 million deal—to stay with Miami. The financial sacrifice to stay with the only team he’s known since joining the NBA has paid off with two more championships.
This season, Haslem appeared in just 46 games in the regular season, starting 18 of them. Despite a post-All-Star break stretch where Haslem returned to a starting spot, his minutes have been down to a career-low 14.2 per game. That’s only dwindled this postseason, as he’s only seen the floor for 13 games despite Wade and James’ confidence in him as a starter. Through the first two games of these Finals, he’s played a single minute. This decrease in minutes is as much about Miami’s changing strategy as much as it is about Haslem’s declining play.
Increasingly, the Heat have moved towards small-ball lineups when matchups have made it possible. In these Finals, Eric Spolestra has tried to catch lightning in a bottle by starting Rashard Lewis in the front court for the first two games. Lewis is a liability on defense, but playing with the Big Three on the floor means he gets a lot of open looks from three, and he’s hit five three-pointers through two games.
The Heat, at times, have eschewed traditional positions in the league, instead opting for five-man lineups on the floor that seem unconventional but can be very effective. For long stretches in these Finals, they’ve not had a traditional point guard on the floor. Their big man rotation in these Finals have been Bosh, Lewis and Chris Andersen when he’s been healthy. The Heat like to spread the floor with shooters when LeBron is on the court, and that’s moved Haslem further down on the depth chart that it seems unlikely he’ll see significant minutes in this series.
Haslem is not the only veteran who has seen his minutes reduced this post-season. Shane Battier—who is retiring after this series—went scoreless in 14 minutes in Game 1, and in Game 2, he didn’t get off the bench and saw James Jones take his usual bench minutes.
Spolestra continues to mix and match to find the right combinations, and in doing so, it looks like Haslem will be stuck to the bench. It’s nothing new for a player who has always made the necessary sacrifices and been a consummate teammate whether he’s playing significant minutes, or cheering on his teammates from the bench.
Follow me on Twitter @steven_lebron