OFFSEASON

Haslem's return, like Shaq's, remains a mystery

Haslem's return, like Shaq's, remains a mystery

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI While Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers remains optimistic that Shaquille O'Neal will play at some point during their second-round series against Miami, the outlook isn't nearly as rosy for Miami's Udonis Haslem.

Out since November with a foot injury, the Heat were hopeful that their emotional catalyst might be available to play in this series.

While Haslem has been practicing with the team, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra doesn't paint a rosy picture for the 6-foot-8 forward being back in the lineup soon.

"It might not happen in the next week, two weeks," Spoelstra said. "We're all trying to get on the same page about it, but what we're trying to be is objective. We're all eager, and while we all see the light at the end of the tunnel, the playoff series is not going to be our timeline."

As much as he wants to be back on the floor, Haslem knows he's not quite back to being his old self right now.

"It's very hard," Haslem said. "But understanding the situation, and understanding my situation and how much rides on this series, it's not about me. It's about the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics and it's about putting the best five guys on the court at any particular time."

Not that long ago, it was a no-brainer for Haslem to believe that he was one of those five.

As talented as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh might be, Haslem provides a brand of toughness that's not easily replicated especially by Miami teammates.

When the playoffs arrive, often it is the players who understand the need for that brand of toughness - and maybe most important, can provide it consistently - that prove to be difference-makers.

But Haslem's foot injury, which much like O'Neal's right leg injuries, has dragged on longer than most anticipated, only adds to the frustration and disappointment both are coming to grips with as their respective teams try to move on to the Eastern Conference finals.

"Right now, I'm probably not one of those five guys and I understand that," Haslem said.

For now, Haslem will adopt a similar mindset that he had when he was an undrafted free agent trying to latch on with the Heat in camp.

"I have to keep impressing the coaches in practice," he said. "Keep trying to get back to what I was before I got hurt. I understand that's going ot take time, and I'll probably not get back to that level before the season is out. But if I can get close to that level, I feel that I can contribute something whether it's rebounding, defense, knocking down a couple of shots, something."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

OFFSEASON

Kevin Durant solidifying invitations for free agent meetings, including Celtics

Kevin Durant solidifying invitations for free agent meetings, including Celtics

The wheels of the Kevin Durant free agent train have been set in motion.

"Durant’s representatives at Roc Nation are working to solidify invitations" for meetings with a list of six teams, which includes the Boston Celtics, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. The other teams listed are the Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Spurs and Thunder. The Nuggets, Knicks, Lakers, Rockets, and Wizards could "could still find audiences with him," but they are considered outsiders.

Wojnarowski says the Thunder remain the frontrunners, but "the Warriors have Durant's attention."

If Durant chooses the Warriors, it could happen very quickly. Warriors restricted free agent Harrison Barnes could sign an offer sheet for a contract on July 1, which would mean the Warriors would have only have three days to match the deal. They'd likely need a decision from Durant before then, or they'd risk losing one of their valuable pieces without being able to fill his role.

Durant plans on making his decision before July 9 anyway, according to Wojnarowski, because that's when he's leaving for a publicity tour in the Far East.

The fact the Celtics are even on Durant's primary list shouldn't come as a surprise considering his actions after his game in Boston against the Celtics earlier this year. They do have tough competition though. Both the Warriors and Heat have the cap space to absorb Durant's likely max contract worth about $26.4 million, and the Spurs can easily create the space if necessary.

The Clippers are interesting though, because they'd have to deal one of their stars (Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, or Blake Griffin) to free the cap space to sign Durant. If he does choose the Clippers, maybe Danny Ainge could help Doc Rivers swing a deal. How about something involving Blake Griffin and Jae Crowder?

But the Celtics have an edge. They're the only team listed that can sign two max contract free agents. If Durant wants to play with his buddy Al Horford, or anyone else for that matter, the Celtics can make it happen. How about a 2007 draft class reunion with Durant, Horford, and Jared Dudley? It's an odd trio, but Dudley has already expressed interest in joining the Celtics.

No matter what happens though, the Celtics are in the race. Fans might be disappointed after Thursday night, but we're just getting started, folks.

Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA