DENVER — For six months, Chris Andersen waited for an NBA team to call.
The energetic, tattooed center was prepared to sit out the entire season until the Miami Heat finally brought in him for a workout in January and soon signed him to a 10-day contract. Andersen eventually signed for the rest of the season, and the Heat are 29-2 in games in which he’s played.
“Yes,’’ Denver Nuggets coach George Karl said when asked Friday if he’s surprised so much time went by before any team picked up the “Birdman.’’ “The league has a tendency to pick up young players, not old players. But I’m a big advocate that I think that’s overrated.’’
Andersen, 34, was waived last July by the Nuggets as part of the NBA’s amnesty provision. He remained a free agent throughout the summer and the first half of the season.
It obviously factored into matters that Andersen last May had his Larksburg, Colo., home searched in a child-exploitation investigation by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation is ongoing, but Andersen has not been charged with any crime. A lawyer for Andersen, Colin Bresee, said last year the family of a young woman from California who had said she was of legal age tried to extort Andersen for money after he spurned her advances following a visit to Colorado.
“He had the nightmare at the end of the season that was not good for anybody, not good for him,’’ said Karl, who coached Andersen from 2008-12 and has vouched for his character throughout his legal situation.
The Heat vetted Andersen thoroughly before signing him. Since his arrival, he’s averaged 4.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 13.4 minutes while providing great energy off the bench.
“No,’’ Karl said about whether he’s surprised at how well Andersen is playing. “Because he got screwed (when he barely played last season with the Nuggets). He was good enough to play, and I was part of it. We had to play the young guys (big men Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Kousta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov) to find out how good we are …. Bird knows I talked to him two or three times and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ ’’
There’s no need to apologize now. The 6-foot-10 Andersen, after playing in just 32 games last season for the Nuggets, could prove the difference if Miami wins a second straight title.
Prior to Andersen’s arrival, the Heat, who start Chris Bosh out of position at center, were having big problems inside. During Miami’s recent 27-game winning streak, Andersen had six games in which he blocked two or more shots and 13 in which he pulled down four or more rebounds.
“Early in the season, their defense wasn’t as together as it is now,’’ Karl said of the Heat. “I think Birdman is fitting into it. He’s giving them a 15- to 20-minute burst of energy that they didn’t have before, a different energy. It’s kind of animated and dunk-oriented and bouncing around. I think it’s a good piece not only for adding a big guy but the personality that Bird brings to the team kind of lifts them, kind of energizes them.’’
It didn’t take Andersen long to fit in with the Heat. One month into his tenure, he was featured swooping his hands like a bird to open up the Heat’s “Harlem Shake’’ video.
Andersen remains popular in Denver. He had two stays with the Nuggets, also having started his career with them for a 2001-04 stint.
Nuggets assistant coach Ryan Bowen was Andersen’s teammate in Denver during his first stint. He’ll never forget seeing the undrafted Andersen for the first time after, in November 2001, he had become the first player ever called up from the D-League.
“I remember his first day at shootaround,’’ said Bowen, who also played with Andersen in New Orleans in 2008-09. “It was funny. He got called up from the D-League and nobody really knew about him. At shootaround, he couldn’t make a thing. He airballed a couple of shots and some of the guys are like, ‘What in the world?’ The next day in practice, we’re running up and down and here he has a couple of tip dunks and a couple of lobs and it was, ‘OK, this is what this guy does.’ ’’
Like Karl, Bowen is pleased to see Andersen still going strong after it looked last year as if his NBA days might be winding down.
“With what he’s doing now, he seems to be healthy and fresh,’’ Bowen said. “That’s a big thing when you take time off and you come back and you’re in shape. He’s 34, but he didn’t play a year. So he got time to rest, and I wish him the best.’’
All that time to rest wasn’t intended. But it sure is working out now for Andersen and the Heat.