A 6-Pack Of Takes On Dampier With The Heat

Erick Dampier is taking his DUST Chip to South Beach. The star-studded Heat – losers of two straight games and lacking depth – are planning to add the long-time Mavs center to their roster as early as today. As somebody who has watched every single game Damp has played for the last six years, I consider myself qualified to offer a Six-Pack of Takes on Dampier's membership in the "Superfriends'':

1. The DUST Chip is dead. … buried … and three teams ago.

The Mavs once hoped that Dampier's Ultimate Sign-and-Trade (D.U.S.T.) contract – a unique insta-expiring deal – might be swapped in the Summer of 2010 to a team in need of cap room … and maybe even for a player of the caliber of LeBron, Wade or Bosh.

Instead, Dallas salvaged the valuable piece by swapping Damp to Charlotte and acquiring Tyson Chandler (a deal that isn't the hoped-for home run but is turning out to be a solid double). … and Dampier – after the Bobcats used the trade as a money-saver only and waived him – was free to shop himself.

Miami was an early contender, but Damp apparently wanted more than the vet's minimum. The Rockets, Raptors, Suns, Bucks and Lakers were among the teams that flirted with him, too. … and some think it is telling that Dampier wasn't coveted by every team desperate for big-man help.

But Miami turns out to be most desperate of all. So instead of Dampier and DUST being traded for LeBron or Wade or Bosh, Dampier gets to join them. … and for that same $1.4 million minimum that he seemingly found so distasteful a month ago.

2. The reasoning here? Oh, Dampier isn't going to solve all that ails the 8-6 Heat, who are probably done speculating about their ability to threaten the 1995-96 Bulls' 72-win record, and instead need to figure out how to be better than the Pacers, who crushed them in Miami on Monday.

But Udonis Haslem might be done for the season after having to undergo surgery on his foot. Haslem represented Miami's only true upfront depth (something the Heat didn't seem too worried about when they were conducting celebratory press conferences and producing TV and film specials about themselves).

Miami has an awful bench.

Of course, Erick Dampier probably won't be a part of that bench. Because …

3. Sometime soon, he'll be the starter.

This will be dictated not by young Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, but rather by his boss, Pat Riley, who history says is ready to swoop downstairs and take over a team that is a great coach away from true title contention. The last time Riley did that was in the 2005-06 season, when he tabbed himself as Stan Van Gundy's in-season replacement and led Miami to the NBA Finals, where it defeated a Dallas team with a starting center named Erick Dampier.

4. Damp is 35 now. His condition is probably not great. But his health – aided by nightly ice-downs of those knees -- is good. There are things he can do that the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire (the incumbent Miami centers) cannot.

Mavs fans have their punchline here: "Yeah, he sets good screens.''

4 Over the years, Dampier has been the subject of criticism for having been overpaid – a $10-mil-a-year screen setter with terrible hands, no offensive game, a bullish body that underachieved, a less-than-passionate competitor.

I will always argue in Damp's favor that he was a (pretty-much) full-time starter on a perennial 50-win team … helped Dallas to a franchise-record 67-win season … and helped Dallas to a Western Conference title and an NBA Finals appearance.

He was a dirty-work compliment to Dirk Nowitzki. Asking him to be more (as Dallas coaches sometimes did, as Avery Johnson and others worked fruitlessly to involve him as an offensive threat) was a mistake then. It would be a mistake now.

If Damp was a dirty-work compliment to Dirk, can't he be the same thing to two Dirks in LeBron and Wade?

5. Erick Dampier is an intelligent dude.

In 14 years, how many outrageous things did he ever say? (Citing himself as "the second-best center in the NBA'' is one. …)

To my knowledge, he's taken care of his money; when he first arrived in Dallas, he bought a suburban home. Very modest. Not a mansion, not even a McMansion. … a home not unlike a sportswriter might be able to afford.

He socialized, but he was quiet about it. After Mavs games, he'd visit a club or two in Uptown … dressed immaculately … often arriving by himself and leaving by himself. Smart.

And this move fits that: Erick Dampier is still smart. He's way on the back end of his career, and he gets a chance to become a starter on a terrifically talented team that really needs a center? He waited to sign … some of that his doing, some of that due to some teams' misgivings … and he gets to try his hand at being the Superfriends' caddie?

Erick Dampier is an intelligent dude.

6. He is not beloved in Dallas (where he is scheduled to appear at the American Airlines Center as a visitor on Saturday) … and statistical mediocrity is among the reasons.

In 14 NBA seasons in three cities, Dampier's averaged 7.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. But smart NBA-watchers remember that in his contract year of 2003-04, he was a 12/12 guy … and that in the last three seasons in Dallas, he was exactly half that.

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