Chris “Birdman” Andersen established himself as a key cog with the Miami Heat midway through the 2012-13 season. His energy, hustle and shot-blocking off the bench have been huge for a team dependent upon its three stars, but it appears as if he’ll be yet another name diving into the free-agent pool this summer.
The 35-year-old veteran has a player option to return for the 2014-15 season at a salary of approximately $1.4 million, per ShamSports.com. There’s reason to believe Birdman could earn more money on the open market, but he may simply be mulling his options due to uncertainty surrounding the Big Three.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all exercise early termination options this offseason. If all three choose to do so, the only player left with a guaranteed contract is backup point guard Norris Cole. Also, veteran big man Udonis Haslem has a player option for next season at about $4.6 million, which he likely won’t turn down.
The Heat fell short of a third straight championship during the 2014 NBA Finals. Those wounds are still very fresh, but Miami’s front office has to be thinking about the team’s long-term future.
Obviously, keeping its four-time MVP has to be priority No. 1. James, however, can’t win titles without a rock-solid supporting cast (which is true of every star in the Association). Bringing Andersen back as a reliable role player and fan favorite can’t hurt Miami’s chances of getting back to the Finals.
Still, as USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt wrote, Andersen isn’t the only frontcourt piece needed for Miami to contend: “Chris Andersen is a good fit and know (sic) his role yet the front-court needs more, too.”
Rebounding has consistently been Miami’s Achilles' heel, but Andersen’s presence has helped out on the glass.
The tattooed big man inked consecutive 10-day contracts with Miami in January 2013 before getting signed for the remainder of the season.
Shortly after he was signed, the Heat went on a historic 27-game win streak. Andersen appeared in every game during that span.
During postseason action, Birdman simply got better. In 20 playoff games en route to Miami’s second straight title, he averaged 6.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and shot an absurd 80.7 percent from the floor. He made all 15 of his field-goal attempts through the first five Eastern Conference Finals games against the Indiana Pacers.
During the 2014 playoffs (18 games), he averaged 5.1 points and 5.9 rebounds. Throughout the 2013-14 regular season, Andersen posted a player efficiency rating of 18.6—fourth on the team behind James, Wade and Bosh.
Although he hasn’t been a part of Erik Spoelstra’s system as long as D-Wade or LBJ, Andersen carved a niche with Miami through hustle plays that have endeared him to teammates dating back to his days with the Denver Nuggets.
When the big man was re-signed last year, Heat president Pat Riley said, “We are ecstatic that Chris Andersen has decided to stay with the Miami Heat,” per NBA.com. “We would not have won the championship without him.”
Birdman will undoubtedly have plenty of suitors vying for his services this summer, but he’ll also turn 36 in July. His athletic ability won’t last forever.
The Heat should still prioritize bringing him back for another campaign, but that decision may ultimately be tied to those made by James and Co.