Mourning expected to start practicing

Updated: February 16, 2005, 11:51 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MIAMI -- Alonzo Mourning's return to the Miami Heat is imminent.

Heat president Pat Riley said that he expects Mourning, who cleared waivers on Tuesday and underwent a physical immediately thereafter, to be at practice with the team on Monday.

Mourning, a seven-time All-Star, underwent a kidney transplant 14 months ago, played just 30 games in parts of two seasons with the Nets, who traded him to Toronto on Dec. 17.

Mourning spent eight years in Miami, a stay interrupted twice by his fight with kidney disease. No contract will be signed until the physical is done, a process Riley said may take a couple days. Mourning, who cleared waivers Tuesday and became a free agent, could be in a Heat uniform by early next week.

"This is not about sentiment. This is about winning," said Riley, who coached Mourning during the player's first stint with the Heat. "We want to win and it's all about business, and it's about business with Zo. We have an opportunity to get a big man, and if it wasn't Alonzo we'd be searching out there to get another big man."

Heat coach Stan Van Gundy wouldn't comment on Mourning's return, saying he's focused on players currently with the team. Shaquille O'Neal, however, sounded absolute that the deal was done.

"Now that we've got Mourning, it's really good for us," O'Neal said.

Calls to Mourning's agent, Jeff Wechsler, were not returned Tuesday. If Mourning plays for the Heat this season, Miami will become the first team ever to have three players play for one team in a season who were the top three players selected from one draft. Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner went 1-2-3 in 1992 draft.

Mourning's contract with Miami most likely will be for a prorated share of the $1.1 million veteran minimum salary, meaning the Heat -- whose 39-14 record is tops in the Eastern Conference -- will pay him only about $375,000 for the rest of the season.

Money probably isn't a major motivator at this point for Mourning: He's made more than $120 million in the last nine seasons, including the buyout of $9 million to $10 million from the Raptors. Toronto acquired him in the trade sending Vince Carter to New Jersey, but Mourning never played for the Raptors.

"This is a no-brainer," Riley said.

Mourning averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds with the Heat, yet made only one trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls ousted Miami in five games in 1997.

He left Miami after the 2002-03 season -- which he missed with the kidney problems -- and signed a $22.6 million, four-year deal with New Jersey, saying that was his best shot at a title. But the Nets dropped out of the league's elite ranks, and Mourning wanted out to play for another contender.

Mourning made his desire clear: to play in his home city, where his charity is based and where he could contend for a title.

"He was the face of this franchise," Heat guard Eddie Jones said. "I'm sure the fans still have a lot of respect and love for him."

Mourning was once the team's unquestioned leader. Now, his role on court and off will be much different. O'Neal is the locker-room voice, Dwyane Wade is the budding superstar and Mourning most likely will be asked to provide only key minutes off the bench.

"We've had a long conversation about this," Riley said. "He wants to fit in. He understands this is not what it was three years ago, four years ago. ... I don't think it's going to be any problem."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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