Ready to defend: Mourning to re-sign with Heat
Mourning said late Saturday that he intends to return to the Heat next season, which would be his 14th -- not including a year he missed because of kidney disease that necessitated a transplant in December 2003.
Teammates often lobbied him to return in recent weeks, with Shaquille O'Neal chanting "one more" in Spanish -- "Uno mas! Uno mas!" -- at the team's championship parade three days after the title was clinched. Finals MVP Dwyane Wade also openly said he wanted Mourning back.
"Big Zo's in good shape," Heat forward Dorell Wright said earlier this week. "I think Zo could play like five more years, to tell you the truth. Zo's in great shape at his age. I hope he does come back, because he's a good guy, a good teammate and a good voice to have in the locker room."
The 36-year-old center had long insisted that his primary reason for playing last season was the lure of a championship, something the Heat won by beating the Dallas Mavericks in six games in the NBA finals. Mourning has said repeatedly since that the decision to either return or retire would be made in consultation with his family.
Mourning made the announcement at his annual Zo's Summer Groove charity gala, part of a weeklong series of events he organizes to benefit underprivileged children.
There are still some contract details to be worked out. He played last season for a veterans' minimum contract of about $1.1 million, and it's expected that the Heat will not offer him significantly more for this coming season.
Mourning has had interest -- and, presumably, higher-paying offers -- in recent days from several other teams, including the San Antonio Spurs, but he rebuked that offer and said if he was going to play anywhere, it would be in Miami.
He averaged 7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.66 blocks in an average of 20 minutes last season, making 20 starts as O'Neal's backup. He ranked third in the NBA in blocks per game, even though he spent the majority of each game watching from the sideline.
But he played a significant role for the Heat, even in limited minutes. In the Game 6, title-clinching victory over Dallas, he had eight points, six rebounds and five blocked shots -- in only 14 minutes.
"It becomes contagious. When you see a person out there doing what they have to do in order for the whole group to be successful, it filters out to all the guys," Mourning said after that game. "I knew every second I was out there, I said, you know what, I'm going to leave every ounce of energy that I have out there."
Mourning's decision means the Heat will likely have all eight of the primary members of their playoff rotation back next season.
All five starters -- O'Neal, Wade, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Udonis Haslem -- are set to return, along with sixth man James Posey (who exercised a $6.4 million option to stay in Miami at least one more season) and guard Gary Payton, who intends to play a 17th season and second with Miami.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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