Mourning could play Thursday
MIAMI -- Alonzo Mourning is back where his championship dreams were born, ready to make one more run at winning that elusive NBA title.
Mourning signed with the Miami Heat on Tuesday, a long-expected move reuniting the seven-time All-Star center and the team with which he spent eight years -- a stint twice interrupted by kidney disease.
And Mourning's lone motivation is winning a ring.
"The opportunity for me to play this game is closing," Mourning said. "And I wanted to be in a situation that would benefit me the most."
Mourning should be in uniform Thursday when Miami visits the New Jersey Nets, for whom Mourning averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 18 games earlier this season. To clear a roster spot, Miami waived forward Wesley Person, who played only 27 minutes since Dec. 4 and was displeased with his diminished role.
Mourning's return to Miami is coming with his doctor's blessing.
"He is in wonderful shape," said Gerald Appel, a kidney specialist at Columbia University Medical Center who performed Mourning's transplant in December 2003. "Alonzo is very goal-oriented. He wants to help the Heat win a championship. He's one of the most motivated people I've ever met."
During his first stay with the Heat, Mourning was the franchise's biggest star. He led Miami to four seasons of 50 or more wins, and carried it to the 1997 Eastern Conference finals -- where the Heat lost in five games to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
Now, the starring role is ably filled in Miami by Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. Mourning will play a much different role this time, and insists that isn't disconcerting to him.
"I've been given another opportunity," Mourning said. "I'm going to treasure it like it's my last."
He completed a two-hour practice with the Heat on Tuesday, then did 30 extra minutes of shooting drills. He's not in game shape, but teammates said Mourning appears to be in super condition.
"He's just going to make us a tougher team to beat," O'Neal said.
"He's very strong. It's going to be great," Wade said.
Miami (42-16) comfortably sits atop the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division, and seems virtually assured of home-court advantage for at least the first two playoff rounds.
Still, Miami hasn't been shy about tweaking its roster -- last week, another Heat alum, guard Steve Smith, was acquired from Charlotte.
Smith enhances Miami's perimeter rotation, but adding the 6-foot-10, 261-pound Mourning could create serious matchup problems for opponents -- especially if he and O'Neal are on the court together.
"He's still a very good defender and shot blocker. Those are the two main areas I look for, his defense and his rebounding," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "As far as minutes and that, or role, or who's going to come off the bench first in the long run, I don't have any idea."
Van Gundy said he won't immediately thrust Mourning into a key role in the rotation.
"When we play on Thursday, I'm going to go to the guys we've been going to who have won games," he said.
Mourning missed the 2002-03 season, his last with Miami, because of his kidney problems.
He signed a $22.6 million, four-year deal with New Jersey, but the Nets soon fell from title contention. Mourning briefly retired after the transplant, yet returned this season and asked to play for a contender.
New Jersey traded him to Toronto, part of the deal bringing Vince Carter to the Nets. Mourning never reported to the Raptors, who bought him out for $9 million to $10 million -- and the Heat gladly welcomed their former cornerstone home.
"It's definitely been a long time coming," Mourning said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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