Heat give Haslem backup role
MIAMI -- Without much thought, Udonis Haslem started reciting a long list of players who are good enough to be NBA starters yet come off the bench.
He's now one of them.
Haslem is out of Miami's starting lineup for the first time in six years, paving the way for Michael Beasley to open at power forward. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra announced the starters Wednesday: NBA scoring champion Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers at guard, Jermaine O'Neal at center, Quentin Richardson at small forward and Beasley.
Spoelstra called it a "difficult and uncomfortable" decision.
"I understand where he's coming from," Haslem said. "I've been behind him and this organization 100 percent since I've been here, and this is another situation where I'm behind him again. My role is going to be different, but pretty much still the same."
Haslem has come off the bench in only two games in the previous five seasons, once because of injury, the other in an end-of-season game at Atlanta before the 2006 playoffs.
The Heat spent much of the offseason and preseason tinkering with Beasley at both forward spots, with Spoelstra deciding two weeks ago that this was the way to go.
"I still view Udonis as a starter," Spoelstra said. "This just allows us to get into a rotation with a little bit more balance. I like the way we can start games, theoretically, a little bit quicker. That's something we had to address from last year."
Beasley was Miami's second-leading scorer last season behind Wade, averaging 13.9 points in 24.8 minutes. Haslem -- who perennially leads the Heat in charges taken -- averaged 10.6 points in 34.1 minutes, although he took 341 fewer shots than Beasley a year ago.
And it doesn't mean Haslem won't be someone Spoelstra continues to rely on late, either. Last season, Haslem shot a team-best 62.2 percent from the field in the final three minutes of games.
"We all need to get out of this illusion that him not being a starter means he's not going to be key in certain minutes of the game," Wade said. "At certain times, you need a player like him in the ballgame. ... There's going to be some times where, yeah, I'm going to look over and say 'Get him in."
Beasley said he didn't look at the situation like he beat Haslem for the job.
In fact, he lauded Haslem -- saying he was the one who taught him how to play power forward in the NBA.
"Good teams have a great second unit," Beasley said. "And not too many teams can say they have a starting, championship, power forward on the second unit. You can feel sorry for him, but at the same time, he's still going to play the same role, still going to be the same key guy, still going to have the same responsibility."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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