MIAMI — Samuel Dalembert is now facing the Miami Heat. Next season, he has interest in playing for them.
The Milwaukee Bucks center becomes a free agent this summer. Dalembert, who had discussions about joining the Heat before last season, expects they again will be in the mix.
“The Heat will be definitely an option,’’ Dalembert told FOX Sports Florida before his Bucks lost to the Heat 110-87 in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. “It’s up to them and seeing what’s going to be out there. But at this point you want to be with a contending team. You don’t want to go backwards, so you want to chase that promised land.’’
Dalembert began the season as Milwaukee’s starting center before being replaced by Larry Sanders in early December. While Sanders has emerged into a candidate for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Dalembert didn’t play in Milwaukee’s last eight games or in Sunday’s playoff opener. It appears highly unlikely he will return to the Bucks next season.
During the free-agent frenzy in December 2011 before the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, the Heat looked at Dalembert with their taxpayer mid-level exception that started at $3 million. When Dalembert had reservations about signing for that amount, the Heat soon inked forward Shane Battier.
Dalembert said the Heat continued to talk to him about signing for an even lesser amount before he got a two-year, $13.7 million deal with Houston just before the start of the 2011-12 season. Dalembert, who was traded last June to the Bucks, now says he would be willing to sign this summer for money similar to what he turned down initially from the Heat if it means going to a top team.
“I’d look at the mid-level, whatever’s going to be out there,’’ Dalembert said. “If it is a real contending team, we’ll have no problem. So we’ll see.’’
After a regular season in which he averaged 6.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.13 blocks, the 6-foot-11 Dalembert doesn’t figure to command money approaching what he got from the Rockets before last season.
Dalembert, who turns 32 next month, had interest in the Heat before because he has a home in Boca Raton, Fla., and is a native of Haiti. Dalembert has done relief work in Haiti since the earthquake there in 2010 and often makes trips to the nation.
“I love that option,’’ Dalembert said of the closeness of Miami to Boca Raton and also to Haiti. “That’s an option to move back and forth… I have a lot of family (in South Florida) and we have a lot of concentrated Haitian population here.’’
Whether the Heat might go after Dalembert largely could depend upon whether they re-sign center Chris Andersen, who has provided great energy since joining the team in January. Dalembert was asked if he would be providing the same impact Andersen has if he were with the Heat.
“You tell me,’’ said Dalembert, who then didn’t disagree he could provide something similar to what Andersen has.
Dalembert has career averages of 8.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.82 blocks. But it’s been a very frustrating season for him, one included being suspended for a game in February due to what the Bucks termed a “violation of team policy.’’
After the suspension, Dalembert played in just 13 of Milwaukee’s final 27 games. In addition to continued increased minutes for Sanders, the Bucks also have been giving time to rookie big man John Henson and third-year center Ekpe Udoh.
“It’s been a very interesting season,’’ Dalembert said. “Things change. Suddenly, there is no explanation (about his minutes cut). It’s basically a business. So that was my first year of DNP (did not play due to coach’s decision) in my career and not only one or two. I don’t know how many. I lost track.
“But, for the most part, we’re supporting each other and the young guys are getting a chance like John Henson and Larry is stepping it up real big this year and what Ekpe is doing. So I support the guys and then I try to pass the knowledge you got and then waiting for the resurrection (of his career).’’