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UD Hungry for Season, Freedom

While much of the Heat's internal discussions this offseason have been focused on a (so far) failed effort to Haslem convince Dwyane Wade to sign a contract extension, the only other player on the roster who contributed to Miami's 2006 title run essentially has received the silent treatment.

Forward Udonis Haslem (pictured right) has been just as eligible for an extension entering the final season of his contract as Wade has been going into the last guaranteed year of his deal.

But that's where the similarities end in their respective predicaments. Whereas Wade finally went on the record in the Miami Herald last week to say he won't sign an extension and will wait until next summer to consider his options as a free agent, Haslem suggested Tuesday that he would have jumped at the opportunity to tack another season or two onto his contract with the Heat.

But there was only one problem. The offer never came. Not even minimal discussions about one. Heat president Pat Riley has long planned to maximize salary cap space for a potential blockbuster summer of free agency in 2010, so the relative silence with Haslem was expected.

That doesn't necessarily mean it was embraced.

But barring a change in the next two weeks, Haslem will enter the Sept. 28 start of training camp having survived another summer of trade speculation. He was linked to rumors (legitimate or otherwise) in which he may have been headed to Toronto as part of a package for Chris Bosh. Then, it was to Phoenix with accessories for Amare Stoudemire. After that, it was to Utah in exchange for disgruntled Carlos Boozer. And perhaps even to L.A. as a last-ditch effort to swing Lamar Odom.

It's a process Haslem has grown so accustomed to in his six seasons with the Heat that the South Florida native has even convinced himself that a change of scenery or a chance to expand his role elsewhere might not be the worst thing that could happen.

"With so much trade buzz going on about me, I've got to believe that other teams want me," Haslem said Monday during a promotional event to donate computers and supplies to a Miami Beach middle school. "So maybe I will look forward to the free agency market, too."

UD-Beasley While Haslem's value to the Heat and job security as the starting power forward has been deeply debated by fans, there seems to be a completely different perception of him among teammates and Heat executives. Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra have shown nothing but support and appreciation for the heart, hustle, leadership, dirty work and consistent approach that have defined Haslem (pictured left, with Michael Beasley in the background) over the years.

But this is a contract year, and Haslem would like nothing more than to emerge from the box in which he's been widely labeled as a consummate role player.

"I get put in a category, but I'm much more than a utility player," said Haslem, who has averaged 10 points and 8.1 rebounds over six seasons. "If I wanted to score 20, trust me, I could. I've settled for a lesser role to help my team win because I'm all about winning. Make no mistake about it. The thing that makes me special is that I can do other things without the ball. Whether other people respect that or not, that's a skill in this league. A lot of players, you take the ball out of their hands and they're non-existent."

Still, Haslem knows he has a hard time making his case. Especially being a player who brings a rugged Ford F-250 mentality to a position defined by sleek and slick Maybachs. As we continue our preseason position rankings, we place Haslem 9th overall among power forwards in the East based on factors that include statistical production, value, potential, impact and intangibles.

Here's the list: 1 - Kevin Garnett, Celtics. 2 - Chris Bosh, Raptors. 3 - Elton Brand, Sixers. 4 - Boris Diaw, UD-Varejao Bobcats. 5 - Troy Murphy, Pacers. 6 - Josh Smith, Hawks. 7 - Antawn Jamison, Wizards. 8 - Charlie Villanueva, Pistons. 9 - Udonis Haslem, Heat. 10 - Tyrus Thomas, Bulls. 11 - Yi JianLian, Nets. 12 - Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers. 13 - Brandon Bass, Magic. 14 - Jared Jeffries, Knicks. 15. Hakeem Warrick, Bucks.

Haslem (pictured right, against Varejao) has mastered the art of tuning out skeptics and critics, and he'll continue to forge ahead amid the beckons by some for Beasley/Bosh/Boozer to unseat him at power forward. Haslem would have welcomed some sort of extension offer from his hometown team. But he understands why it didn't happen, despite the fact he's one of only two power forwards in the East on the above list to help his team win a title. There are just too many unanswered questions with the Heat's roster to hitch longterm to anyone not named Dwyane.

Now, Haslem is ready to move ahead with his season and future - here or elsewhere. 

"Coach Riley has an obligation to do what's best for the team," said Haslem, who will earn about $7 million in the final year of his contract. "Obviously, if he's kept me here, then he feels this is the best situation. I love Miami. I love being here and I want to be here. This is an exciting year for everybody. I'll have the ability to see the free agent market. I'm looking forward to it as well."

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

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