Journeyman Roger Mason Jr. making impression on Heat
Free agent signee Roger Mason Jr. could have an impact off the bench for the Heat.
By CHARLIE McCARTHYFS Florida
MIAMI -- Roger Mason Jr. had been a wanted man by the
Miami Heat before.
Mason spent a few days playing point guard on coach Erik Spoelstra's first summer league team in 2005. That familiarity, combined with his ability to contribute at both guard positions, made him a Heat free-agent target three years later.
"The first day of free agency, they flew me down here and I had dinner with coach (Pat) Riley, Spo and I ended up signing with the Spurs," Mason said Monday. "It was either the Spurs or here."
Five years later, "here" is where Mason finds himself.
The veteran journeyman appears ready to help Miami off the bench as the Heat needs a shooting guard who also can play the point.
"We've been a fan of his for a while because of his ability to play multiple positions," Spoelstra said. "He's a heady player. … He's played in a lot of different systems, so he knows how to fit in."
Mason played three years at Virginia before being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the 2002 draft. Traded to Toronto in his second season, his first tour of NBA duty ended in 2004.
He then spent two years overseas, playing for Olympiacos of the Greece Al League and Hapoel Jerusalem of the Israel Premier League. In between was his summer stint with his current coach.
"You could tell there was something special about him then," Mason said of Spoelstra. "We had complex plays and he's out there coaching hard. You could tell that he may be one of those coaches down the line.
"And now having him, you can tell he's going to be one of the greats."
Mason spent two seasons with Washington before signing with San Antonio. The past three years have been divided between New York, Washington and New Orleans.
"I've been able to be coached by a lot of great coaches and I've been able to travel the world," he said of his numerous stops. "So it's been a blessing."
Mason's best season was with the Spurs in 2008-09, when he played in 82 games (71 starts) and averaged 11.8 points, 2.1 assists and shot 42 percent from 3-point range.
The Washington D.C. native -- his step-dad Otis Wondley was a Washington Redskins running back from 1981-85 -- has impressed, not necessarily surprised, his new teammates.
"He's been exactly what he's done his entire career -- he's been a savvy, smart player," Miami's Shane Battier said. "He's a really good veteran and we're lucky to have him."
In return, Mason has a new-found respect for the Heat's work ethic.
"It's no surprise these guys have won two championships in a row," he said. "There's a bit of intensity that the outside world may not expect from these guys.
"I came in open-minded, but it's something that is not consistent everywhere."
Mason, 33, takes pride in having played for various teams, coaches and systems.
"If you're a fundamental basketball player and you're skilled, you can be plugged in to different systems," he said. "A lot of people talk about the Spurs and how they play -- they play basketball the right way and I was able to play in that system. So coming here, a lot of similarities between the two."
Offensively, Mason has fit right in with Miami, while adjusting to the Heat's defensive approach has taken a little more work.
"It's an unselfish way of playing with this system, moving the ball," he said. "Honestly, it's the type of basketball that I love to play.
"The defense is a little different, so you definitely have to lock in. They've got guys personnel-wise who have high IQs. That's something I pride myself on, being able to come in and pick up on things quickly."
Notes: The Heat waived forward Jarvis Varnado and guards Larry Drew II and Charlie Westbrook to reduce the roster to 17 players.