By Surya Fernandez
Just last week, free agent center Samuel Dalembert had the Miami Heat as one of his top choices. This wasn't a rumor from an unknown source, it was straight from his own mouth.
More precisely, it was on November 27th where Dalembert told Fox Sports Florida's Chris Tomasson that joining the Heat "would be fantastic."
Fast forward to present time and for reasons unknown to us, Dalembert is now telling Tomasson that the very same notion of playing for the Heat "would be tough". Having said that, he kept the door slightly open.
"But you never know," he offered. "There are trades and things that you could do."
Pat Riley is likely prepared to do whatever "things" are necessary, however vague that sounds, to bring in a huge upgrade at the center position. But it has to be within reason and it's doubtful the Heat would want to engage in a complicated sign-and-trade for the likes of Dalembert. The Heat's core from last year remains and as long as the Big 3 can stay healthy, there shouldn't be much resistance in a shortened season for the Heat to get a solid playoff seeding with or without an average or above-average center. And remember, as fantastic as the Heat's numbers were last season on defense, it was accomplished without their defensive stalwart Udonis Haslem.
Plugging Haslem into the lineup, along with a suddenly beefed up Chris Bosh claiming to be more at ease playing an increased role in the middle, will likely be enough for the Heat most nights. Dexter Pittman may still be raw but could be useful for a few minutes here and there, certainly against lesser competition or blowouts. Additionally, there will always be a room for an aging big man that can take a spot on the bench at the minimum, like Kurt Thomas. There's also the $1.9 million bi-annual exception that the Heat could utilize.
Still unclear is the sudden pessimism from Dalembert about his chances with the Heat. The circumstances would appear to have been unchanged, unless the Heat and Riley are moving on and have been concentrating on other free agents that truly are willing to give up less money to play with the Big 3 and a solid chance at a ring. Indeed, the only chance of the Heat signing any of the elite big men on the market like Nene, Greg Oden or Tyson Chandler would have to consist of Riley convincing one of these players from turning down bigger offers from other teams to become the elusive "final piece" for a championship run.
The Heat's pitch will undoubtedly be compelling coming from Riley - no one should doubt his powers of persuasion - but it's one thing for free agents to talk about how much winning is important to them and another is for them to turn down more lucrative offers. Lesser teams, like the Sacramento Kings who would love to retain Dalembert, must meet minimum payroll requirements implemented by the new CBA and will have no choice but to throw money at just about any free agent willing to listen to them.
In Dalembert's interview with Fox Sports last week, he was certainly aware of the Heat's financial situation and how much they could realistically offer him, which is in the neighborhood of around $5 million a year.
Dalembert wouldn't say he would agree to that. But he did say "what is best for you might not be for the most money." And he definitely likes the Heat.
"I'm keeping all my options open, but Miami could be a good fit for me," Dalembert said.
Of course, circumstances can change greatly by the time NBA teams can actually sign players to contracts and Dalembert and his agent are simply doing what any free agent should do and test the market. After engaging in conversation with several suitors and weighing all his options at the end of the day, he can then make an informed decision and determine what's best for him and his family.
Speaking of family, the Haitian native has been hearing from his fellow countrymen about where he should sign...
"All the Haitian people I talk to say, ‘You have to come to Miami,"' Dalembert said.
Could the pitch from Riley and the Big 3, a chance at a ring or two (or three, four, etc.) and the sizeable Haitian community in South Florida ready to cheer him on be enough to make him sign on the dotted line?
Get more great Miami Heat stuff over at Hot Hot Hoops.