Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra confirmed Monday that center Omer Yurtseven, out since the preseason, has been cleared to return to contact work from his November ankle surgery.
Yurtseven, who is not with the team on the four-game trip that continues with its second game Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, had been projected for a significant role this season, having started the Heat’s preseason opener.
“It is exciting, for him and for us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a lonely time when you’re injured and you’re away from the team. And it’s made the most sense for him just to really focus on that, in Miami, in our facilities, when we’re on the road. But that is really tough.
“There is probably nothing tougher for an athlete, from a mental and emotional standpoint. But he’s been diligent with his entire process, and this was the next planned step. So there weren’t setbacks, which was great.”
In the absence of Yurtseven, veteran big man Dewayne Dedmon began the season as the Heat’s primary backup to starting center Bam Adebayo, but has not played since exchanging words with Spoelstra on the bench in the Jan. 10 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder and then being suspended for the following game for conduct detrimental to the team.
Dedmon told the South Florida Sun Sentinel he has not been told by the team when or whether he might return to the rotation, facing the possibility of being dealt before the Feb. 9 NBA trading deadline.
Yurtseven thrived last season when Adebayo was lost for seven weeks at midseason due to thumb surgery, but then was shuffled out of the rotation when Adebayo returned. He will be a restricted free agent in the offseason.
The timetable for Yurtseven’s return has been at least after the Feb. 19 NBA All-Star Game.
“There’s not,” Spoelstra said when asked about a timetable for a Yurtseven return. “No, there’s not. Because now you just have to see how his body responded to weight-bearing workload.”
Undrafted rookie Orlando Robinson has been playing as Adebayo’s primary backup recently. However, Robinson will run out of NBA days on his two-way contract by the end of February, which then would mean either spending the balance of the season in the G League or being converted to a standard contract. The Heat currently do not have enough space under the luxury tax to convert Robinson to a standard deal until late March.
The Heat had worked extensively during training camp with lineups featuring both Adebayo and Yurtseven, with one playing as a floor spacer, but then settled in utilizing only a single big man in alignments, with undersized Caleb Martin starting at power forward.
Asked if there could be enough time to reexamine Adebayo playing alongside Yurtseven, Spoelstra said: “I’m not even at that point right now. Omer’s not available on this road trip. This road trip has enough for me to focus on.”
Monday was only the third time this season the Heat held a practice on the road that was not on a game day. Sunday’s sobering loss to the Charlotte Hornets was fresh on all minds during the session.
“That’s what has kept the head coach encouraged by this group, their response to disappointing moments,” Spoelstra said after the practice and video session on the Cavaliers’ practice court. “You’re going to have disappointing moments, you’re going to have frustration, you’re going to have games that you just reflect on and you can’t believe that it happened that way. It really is how you respond to those moments collectively. Is it going to strengthen you? Are you going to correct specific things and get better?
“We have a group that does that. When that happens, then you can improve if you do the necessary things to ultimately get you to the next step and, big picture, hopefully get you what you really want to accomplish.”