The Heat of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade -- underwhelming so far -- are trying to make room for Erick Dampier.
Yes, the longtime Dallas Mavericks center is officially a Super Friend, signed on Tuesday, weeks after an agreement with the Houston Rocketsfell through. Dampier finally became a priority for the Heat after blue-collar forward Udonis Haslem went down indefinitely with a foot injury.
Dampier, however, isn't joining a smiling, barnstorming, Harlem Globetrotters-type team that most envisioned. The Heat are 9-7 after Friday's 99-90 win at the Philadelphia 76ers. Wade's had injury issues, James hasn't possessed the same electricity he showed nightly in Cleveland, Bosh's inside game has been criticized and there's constant chatter that team Godfather Pat Riley is breathing down the neck of young coach Erik Spoelstra, plotting another return to the bench.
The 6-foot-11 Dampier, who averaged 6.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last of six seasons with the Mavs, seemed to be intent on joining the Heat once he knew he wouldn't be back with the Mavs.
"I'm looking forward to it. It’s going to be an experience," Dampier said during a phone conversation this week. "They’re [Wade and James] arguably two of the best players in the league. It’s going to be an experience to play alongside those guys. They have the opportunity to have something special in Miami. I know they’ve gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, but it’s a learning process. Once they learn how to play with each other they’re only going to get better."
Certainly no one expected the Heat to get off to the kind of start in which the Indiana Pacers could blow out such talents on South Beach. If some of the luster has diminished, it remains a spotlight game at every arena in the NBA. The Mavs are no different. They raised ticket prices for the game and created a ticket package in which fans had to buy seats to two other games in order to purchase tickets to see the Heat (the Mavs did the same with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs).
As for Dampier, he said he's remained in good physical condition with the help of a personal trainer in his home state of Mississippi. He didn't play Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic, the Heat's third consecutive loss to that point, but said he could be acclimated enough to get in against his former team Saturday. However, he was a DNP in the win over Philadelphia.
"It will take a couple of days to pick up some of their stuff and get to know the guys," Dampier said. "I've been working out. I was getting my work in because I knew something would happen."
Dampier's time in Dallas was often an exercise in frustration for fans. Owner Mark Cuban paid him handsomely after Dampier averaged a double-double for the Golden State Warriors. But Dampier never really came close to matching that one free-agent-to-be season, and fans often were left flinging their arms in the air because of his excruciating inability to consistently catch and finish around the rim.
Yet both former coach Avery Johnson and current coach Rick Carlisle continually praised the lead-footed Dampier for performing those harder things to quantify, such as setting screens and anchoring the defense.
He called his end of the line with the Mavs "business" -- a non-guaranteed final year that eventually saw him traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in the offseason for starting center Tyson Chandler-- and he described his time in Dallas as "an experience of a lifetime." The Bobcats released Dampier to reap the instant financial savings and Dampier had been without a team until the Heat called.
"When I came to Dallas the thing was to have a chance to win a championship," Dampier said. "We were in the playoffs every year, 50-plus wins. Unfortunately, we just didn’t win it all that year (2005-06 to, of course, Wade and the Heat)."
Although challenged, Dampier, 35, never relinquished his starting job with the Mavs for long, whether it be DeSagana Diop, Ryan Hollins or Brendan Haywood. If Dampier, who now will team with veteran center and longtime James teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas as well as Joel Anthony, plays against the Mavs, he'll go up against the new Mavs center tandem of Chandler and Haywood.
"Dallas got younger," Dampier said. "They signed Haywood and that pretty much locked up their center position for years to come."