MIAMI -- Alonzo Mourning is coming back, one more time.
Ending nearly three months of suspense about his future, the
Miami Heat center said Sunday night at his annual Zo's Summer
Groove charity game that he'll play again next season -- a choice he
kept secret to the end, insisting he was still deciding just hours
before the actual announcement.
Truth was, Mourning's decision was made weeks ago. The Heat's
reign as NBA champions ended with a first-round sweep this past
season by the Chicago Bulls, and he simply isn't willing to let
that be the final chapter in the book he's writing on his career.
"I want to redeem myself and try to help this team redeem
ourselves as an organization and try to get back on track,"
Mourning said. "That wasn't the Miami team you saw in the playoffs
last year. ... I was embarrassed. I was truly embarrassed by that
outcome. I know for a fact we're a better team. It left a sour
taste in my mouth and it's time to really end it all on the right
This was the third straight summer Mourning considered
retirement before choosing to keep playing. Next season will be his
15th in the NBA, not including a full year he missed with kidney
problems that led to him getting a transplant in 2003.
"It will definitely be my last year," Mourning said.
Mourning averaged 8.6 points last season for the Heat, and his
5.44 blocks per 48 minutes led the NBA by a wide margin. He started
more than half of Miami's games last season while Shaquille O'Neal
recovered from knee surgery, and the Heat clearly wanted him back -- especially since his $2.8 million salary for next season makes the
seven-time All-Star a bargain.
Some of his teammates weren't surprised by the decision.
Heat forward Dorell Wright, who played in the charity game along
with a list of NBA players that included Carlos Boozer, Sam Cassell
and Damon Stoudamire, predicted before the game that Mourning would
be back, simply based on the weightlifting regimen he'd been
following this offseason.
"I love having Zo in the locker room and out on the court,"
And Mourning's decision suggests that Heat coach Pat Riley may
be returning as well.
Mourning said repeatedly in recent weeks that Riley's status for
next year would weigh heavily on his decision. Riley started a
lengthy vacation this weekend and was not immediately available for
comment Sunday night, but Mourning indicated that he expects the
coach of five NBA champions to be on the sideline again.
"I think it's only fitting that he comes back for my final
year," Mourning said. "I think it's only appropriate. I'm going
to throw that at him. ... He has to come back and be a part of my
last year. He has to do that. It's only appropriate. We started
together and hopefully we can end it together on a positive note."
Mourning's return is the first offseason personnel move that
worked out to Miami's liking.
The Heat lost 3-point specialist Jason Kapono to Toronto in free
agency, may see free agent forward James Posey sign elsewhere in
the coming days, and Mourning said guard Gary Payton won't be
coming back to Miami -- although neither Payton nor the team has
publicly expressed those sentiments.
Miami also missed out in its pursuit of Milwaukee point guard Mo Williams, who agreed to take a $52 million, six-year deal and stay
with the Bucks. But Mourning said he's certain the Heat will find
help elsewhere before next season begins.
"There's other players out there that can possibly be
available," Mourning said. "Decisions have to be made in order to
possibly obtain them. I'm going to leave it to Pat Riley."
He also promised that he would be a vocal force in the Heat
locker room next season.
"I want us to finish off on a very strong note," Mourning
said. "I'm speaking on behalf of the organization. I don't think
we're going to settle for anything less than getting to the finals
and having an opportunity to win a championship."