As is usually the case, the lure of Miami was too strong for a prominent NBA free agent to pass up.
Instead of nailing a free agent player signing this time, the Heat have lured in a formidable ex-player: Shane Battier, who chose the Heat in 2011 during his final major free agent turn, has joined the team’s front office, the club revealed on Thursday:
“We believe Shane is an incredible example of our HEAT program, not only for the present, but also for the future,” said HEAT President Pat Riley. “He embodies everything that we are looking for in our players and staff. We feel he will help us tremendously with his experience and knowledge of the game. Shane is an out-of-the-box thinker and will bring a fresh expertise that can help us evolve as a franchise.”
According to a statement, Battier’s “duties will include the development of analytics in evaluating all talent, including college, free agents and current Miami players.” In the same statement, the 38-year old said that he is “thrilled to be joining the front office” of the franchise he won titles with in 2012 and 2013.
Known as a cerebral on-court contributor, Battier’s acknowledged gifts as a heady forward tend to overshadow the fact that he was a celebrated prep and college star at Duke (he also likes quoting Jimmy Buffett, so let’s get all the gnarly stuff out of the way) prior to working his way toward acting as the No. 4 pick in the 2001 draft.
Taken by a Vancouver Grizzlies team that was about to move to Memphis, Battier established himself as a successful two-way player, but as he approached his prime years (faster than most of his contemporaries from the preps-to-pros heavy 2001 draft) it became clearer and clearer that Battier was best served as a top of the line role player for a group featuring several stars.
The first of those teams to glom onto the idea in practice was the Houston Rockets, which dealt lottery pick Rudy Gay for Battier in 2006 during the first season that general manager Daryl Morey ran the team. Battier flourished with the Rockets, in spite of the team’s ongoing injury woes to stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, earning a reputation that was artfully characterized by author Michael Lewis in his 2009 New York Times piece, “The No-Stats All-Star.”
Read an excerpt:
Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates — probably, Morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. “I call him Lego,” Morey says. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”
It would seem that pairing with Morey in Houston would be ideal for Battier, who was honored by the Rockets for his work with the team earlier in February. From that night’s event, as documented by the Houston Chronicle:
“Houston is as special as any place I played,” Battier said. “First of all, both my babies were born in Houston. They are proud Texans, as they like to remind me.
“For me, I came into my own as a professional basketball player in Houston. I sort of grew up. I thought I had my prime years playing for (Jeff) Gundy and (Rick) Adelman. I look back at those years, and though I’m sad we missed opportunities because we didn’t go further in the playoffs, I was proud to be part of those teams.”
Battier played five seasons in Houston, averaging 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds and was a two-time All-Defensive team selection with the Rockets.
“I’m honored,” Battier said. “I’m much more nostalgic now as a 38-year-old retiree looking back at what I accomplished than when I was in the middle of it. It sounds corny, but I’m really appreciative of people appreciating my career.”
Alas, despite a house full of Texans, Battier chose the Heat yet again.
We suspect that he’ll do exceedingly well in Miami, as we thank Shane Battier for deigning to delight us with his presence in the NBA family, as opposed to chasing down pursuits far nobler than sizing up the No. 12 pick in this year’s NBA draft.
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