For all the glitzy personnel moves the Miami Heat made last summer to largely reshape the NBA's balance of power, there was one deal the Dallas Mavericks desperately wish never happened.
And we're not talking about the ones LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh signed.
Nope, the Mavs were hoping to land Udonis Haslem a year ago when he hit the open market. Given what he did against them in the 2006 NBA finals — and what he's doing so far in the 2011 series rematch, which resumed Tuesday night with Game 4 — it's easy to see why Haslem was in such high demand.
He averaged a less-than-whopping 5 points and 4.3 rebounds in the first three games, but with Haslem, the stat line never tells anything remotely close to the entire story. He is Miami's grittiest player, and the way he forced Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki into a missed jumper on the final possession of Game 3 ensured that the Heat not only would win that night, but also reclaim the home-court advantage in these finals.
"We would have loved to have him," Nowitzki said. "Unfortunately, obviously, he stayed there. I guess a good move on his part."
Maybe a real good move.
Haslem gave the Heat one heck of a hometown discount last summer, when the Miami native agreed to a deal worth $20 million for five seasons, over 40 percent less than what he likely potentially could have collected from Dallas, Denver or other suitors. That's what being around family means to Haslem, and when he says that, he's not speaking of his relatives. The Heat are as dear to him as anything, especially after they took a chance on him eight years ago.
"It wasn't a hard decision," Haslem said. "This is where I wanted to be and I couldn't see myself leaving."
Haslem averaged 6.2 points and 6 rebounds in Miami's six-game win over Dallas in the 2006 finals, yet it was what he did in the title-clinching game that made a giant impact on the series.
Playing with an injured shoulder, Haslem — who turns 31 on Thursday, when Miami and Dallas will play Game 5 — scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and nagged Nowitzki on defense for much of that game as well. He earned a reputation as a bit of a Dirk-stopper in that series, and with control of the 2011 finals in the balance on Sunday, Haslem took a turn guarding Nowitzki again.
Nowitzki caught an inbounds pass at the top of the key with 4.4 seconds remaining and Dallas down by two, then tried to drive right before spinning back toward the foul line. Haslem stayed draped on him the whole way, kept his arms high as Nowitzki tried to shoot, then left them up until the ball bounced harmlessly off the rim. Only then did he punch the air in celebration, knowing the Heat had just gotten their biggest win of the season.
In Game 2, Nowitzki made a game-winner at the end, that time with Bosh guarding him.
Haslem demanded the job in Game 3.