Q&A: Udonis Haslem

Courtesy of Anthony Chiang

Q: What did you say after the game?

Udonis: “Coach Spo did a lot of talking so there wasn’t much to say. Guys were very emotional. My message to the guys was that they have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s been an amazing ride for me coming from somebody who’s won three rings and been around 14 years. This has probably been one of the more enjoyable rides for me [this year] with the way the guys carried themselves. Like I said, I have been on some championship teams, but for me this was probably the most fun team I have had the opportunity to play on. Coming in every day to work, putting the past in the past, nobody was cynical. Everybody loved to be around each other and they just enjoyed the ride.”

Q: Have you ever been around a team that loved each other more than this one?

Udonis: “Probably not, man. We loved each other with the Big 3. Don’t get me wrong. We loved each other during those championship runs. I created bonds with those guys that will never be broken. But, I think toward that end of that run we forget to have fun. And I think this group never forgot to have fun no matter what was going on around us.”

Q: What the ending to this season as emotional or as tough as losing in the Finals?

Udonis: “Yeah. This was probably the first time I felt like this even after losing in the Finals. This was the first time I really felt like this. When we lost in the Finals, I wanted it so bad for myself and for my teammates. But this time I took myself out of the equation and I just wanted it for those guys. I wanted those guys to achieve that. I wanted those guys to understand what that feels like. They worked so hard and those guys deserved that. To me, it was the hardest for me just because I wanted it so much for those guys.”

Q: What emotions are you feeling?

Udonis: “Disappointed. But I’m proud of those guys. It’s mixed emotions. I’m extremely disappointed we didn’t have a chance to keep it going. But as a captain, I can’t be more proud of them, the way these guys responded. Like I told these guys a couple months ago, people were kicking dirt on us. We stayed with it. We talk about gym rats. These guys are real gym rats. I am so happy to be a part of their maturation, a part of their success and a part of their growth.”

Q: Were you happy to get some playing time near the end of the regular-season finale? The fans gave you a standing ovation.

Udonis: “It was cool. I enjoyed it. I appreciate all the love that I get. I never take that for granted. It has been an amazing ride. An amazing 14 years. So, I can appreciate them. I got a love for these people. They got a love for me. I’m a hometown guy. So I always appreciate that.”

Q: The way you’re talking, it sounds like this could be the end of your NBA career?

Udonis: “Nah. When you get to this point of your career, you’ve got two options. You can either be a part of a rebuilding process, which is what I’m doing now, or you go be a part of a championship. If you’re part of a rebuilding process, you’re probably not going to play because the younger guys are going to play. If you join a championship roster then you’re probably going to get minutes. Those are the decisions you’re faced with. You look at the guys that are my age, they’re guys in the playoffs. The other guys my age not in the playoffs is me. You’ve got two choices to make whether you want to be a part of a rebuilding process and not get the minutes or you go to an organization and compete for a title and then you probably get minutes. For me, I would love to be here. I would love to be a part of these guys’ process and maturation, and when the time does come I want to be in a situation where I was able to help those guys get to the playoffs. Not making the playoffs is not the way I want to end. I still got a lot of gas in the tank. We will see what happens.”

Q: What will you take away from this season and what do you hope the young guys take away?

Udonis: “I just hope these guys understand how great they can be and what they can really accomplish. A lot of these guys came here with a lot of question marks, not only from other people but they had probably question marks about themselves. They probably had question marks about good they can be or what they can really do because they bounced around, never really found the right situation, never had people believe in them. So I want them to understand what they can accomplish if they put their minds to it, if they focus in, if they have the right intentions. The way [James Johnson] performed this year, the way he came in and lost weight and his overall professionalism. The maturation of Tyler, Dion, Willie, all these guys. Rod, coming from the D-League. Okaro. All these guys have been doubted at some point. For those guys to really get that boost of confidence, finishing out the season and leading out into next season, I just want them to understand what they’re capable of.”

Q: How much does this roster remind you of yourself 14 years ago?

Udonis: “This is probably the closest team of guys who are like me. The teams I played on, you might have a couple guys like me. But you talk about we had seven or eight guys who are pretty much cut from the same cloth as me. There is no coincidence we were able to finish the way we were able to finish. 70 percent of this league don’t play hard. The thirty percent that plays hard might not have the talent. We were fortunate enough to play hard and have talent. So, when we were able to put it together in the second half of the season, you saw the results.”

Q: There were a lot of guys who left here in tears. Were you one of them?

Udonis: “I felt bad, man. I did tear up because I did want it so bad for those guys. I really wanted it for those guys. If there’s ever been a team of guys that deserve to make the playoffs it was those guys, man. They never had a break. It was injury after injury. We could have found excuse after excuse. But they never did that. They just came in and worked and already talked about coming in to work this summer. JJ is going to spend some time with me. Dion is going to spend some time with me. Tyler is going to spend some time with me. They want to know the secret of how to make 36 look so good. I’m going to make sure I spend time with them this summer and they get prepared for next season regardless of what my situation ends up being.”

Q: How do you think Erik Spoelstra handled this team this season?

Udonis: “It was amazing. One thing about Spo is that he was smart enough to know that he wasn’t going to be able to do it on his own. So he leaned on his coaching staff, he leaned on myself and collectively we were able to get it done. This is probably, in my opinion, the best coaching job that he’s done. I was happy to be along for the ride and be a part of the success of this team and a part of his growth. I think he learned a lot about himself this year, as well.”

Q: Did Pat Riley see enough from this team in the second half to bring this group back?

Udonis: “I think so. I think we have some good pieces. Like I said, Dion, JJ, they played well. Luke shot the ball well in the second half. Willie was a great backup to Hassan. You saw what he can do when Hassan was hurt. There’s some good pieces. Obviously there’s ‘whales’ out there that you have to go after and take your shot at. But, we have good pieces in here to put around a whale if get one. If we don’t, we still have confidence in what we have.”

Q: What could this team do with a season of full health?

Udonis: “I mean it doesn’t make it easy just because everybody is healthy. You’ve still got to put the pieces together and build those relationships on the court. But if we got a full, healthy roster and we’re going and we have all guns blazing, we know what our game is now. I think the first half of the season we were trying to figure that out. We know what our identity is now. We’re physical. We’re hard-nosed. We play defense and we compete. We understand what our identity is now.”

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