Veteran 3-time champion returning to Miami Heat once again

It’s been a wild ride for the Miami Heat since the 2003 NBA Draft.

That’s the year the franchise used the fifth pick to select a promising future star out of Marquette named Dwyane Wade in a loaded draft of stars.

(Two other stars from that draft — maybe the best ever — would eventually join Wade in South Beach just a few years later.)

That season also marked the debut of another player who would make one of the most profound impacts on the Heat in franchise history.

Undrafted out of Florida in 2002, Udonis Haslem spent one year professionally in France before coming back home to help forge the identity of a franchise that would become champions multiple times over.

The Miami resident made his mark in South Beach right away, starting 24 games as a rookie, starting a career that has at least one more chapter in South Florida.

Haslem has agreed to return to the Heat for season No. 15, coming to terms for a league minimum deal, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical.

For his career, the 6-foot-8 Haslem is averaging 7.8 points per game and 6.9 rebounds. Come playoff time though, Haslem has stepped up his game, becoming a valuable role player when the going gets tough in the summer.

The former Florida Gator has been pretty much a veteran presence and ceremonial player in recent years for coach Erik Spoelstra’s team. In 2015-16, he averaged 7.0 minutes per game in his 37 appearances as a reserve, scoring 1.6 points per game and averaging 2.0 rebounds.

Then last year, Haslem scored 1.9 points per game and grabbed 2.3 rebounds, playing 8.1 minutes per contest in just 16 games.

Now 37, it’s hard to believe Haslem will be anything other than a de facto assistant coach for Spoelstra’s team, much like veteran Juwan Howard was during the final days of his career with the Miami Heat — Juwan is now an assistant for the Heat.

Although Haslem will never again be the same guy who lined up on the frontcourt with Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal or even Chris Bosh, he can provide the type of leadership example that president of basketball operations Pat Riley would like to see the other players follow.

While Bosh, Wade and LeBron James were leading the Heat to two of their titles, Haslem was as consistent as he was clutch. You could count on his effort but you could also count on him to knock down an open 12-footer on the baseline.

Fans in Miami must be happy to see the mainstay is running it back for one more year.

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