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Friday, July 9, 2010 | 7 p.m.
Folks in Cleveland burned LeBron James jerseys Thursday night, and much of the nation seemed to make a pact to cheer against the NBA star for the rest of his career after he spurned his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in a manufactured, nationally televised display.
Meanwhile, one person who most likely was grinning uncontrollably was former UNLV center Joel Anthony, who may be returning to Miami for a fourth season and could find himself one of the guys who fills in the few holes between the superstar trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
After helping lead UNLV to the Sweet Sixteen as a senior in 2007, Anthony was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Heat and has averaged a modest 2.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game during the past three seasons.
However, the Miami front office and coaching staff long has been high on what the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Canadian has to offer, including a willingness to do the little things not found on the stat sheet. He's also proven to be a solid defender in the post at basketball's highest level.
"I would think so," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said when asked if he thought Anthony would remain a good fit in Miami. "He's no-maintenance from an ego standpoint. He doesn't need any shots. He'll rebound, he'll separate screens, he blocks shots. The Heat coaches love what he's done.
"It will be a contract situation — does his contract fit what they need to fill out the roster? Hopefully it does, because it'd be nice to see him have that opportunity."
Anthony has earned $1,964,177 in his three seasons at Miami, making him somewhat of a bargain for a center logging right around 20 minutes a night. In 2009-10, he made $825,497 and was a restricted free agent entering this summer's highly anticipated meat market.
The Heat have played their cards right with Anthony so far, extending a qualifying offer to him two weeks ago, meaning the team can match any other franchise's offer to him, but it also ties up an extra $1.06 million against the team's salary cap next season.
In today's NBA terms, that sum of money might not sound like much, but it is right now to the Heat, who are somewhat strapped for cash by inking three players who will make between $15 and $20 million per season.
The salary cap for next season has been set at $58 million.
The Heat created a bit of wiggle room Thursday by shipping third-year forward Michael Beasley — the second overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft — to Minnesota.
But outside of the three big names, the only player under contract is third-year point guard Mario Chalmers.
The other players currently in the fold are a trio of second-round selections the Heat made last month in the NBA Draft — West Virginia swingman Da'Sean Butler, who suffered a torn ACL in April's Final Four, Texas center Dexter Pittman and Mississippi State power forward Jarvis Varnado.
In a diminishing pool of available, experienced big men, a guy who the Heat brass knows it can count on might emerge as the best option out there.
No matter who the Heat fill in the rest of their roster with, Kruger — who coached the NBA's Atlanta Hawks from 2000-03 — said he doesn't think having three megastars on one squad will lead to internal troubles.
"They'll make it work," he said. "Goodness, they made the decision to go there with their eyes wide open, and I'd be real surprised if they don't make it work real well.
"I'd be shocked if it didn't."