After a long wait in free agency, Erick Dampier is getting what he wanted all along -- a contract from the Miami Heat.
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com on Monday that Dampier, who spent the past six seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, has emerged as the Heat's top choice to replace Udonis Haslem in the wake of Haslem's foot injury. Dampier had arrived in Miami by Monday night, sources said, and will be signed as early as Tuesday as long as he passes a physical.
According to sources close to the situation, the Heat have released Jerry Stackhouse to make the necessary room to sign Dampier to a one-year deal worth a pro-rated portion of the league's $1.4 million veteran minimum.
Haslem went down with a torn ligament in his left foot Saturday in Memphis that will sideline him for at least six weeks and likely much longer, with one source close to the situation saying Sunday that Haslem is potentially out until at least the All-Star break in February. One NBA medical expert told ESPN.com on Monday that such injuries are generally "slow healing" and the team has confirmed that the veteran big man will have surgery Tuesday.
Heat president Pat Riley, in response, acknowledged at a charity event Sunday night that he would likely have to make a signing to address the loss of Haslem, saying: "We need more rebounding, and we need obviously somebody that is going to have a big body in the paint that can make a difference and have an impact. We will consider something like that."
After the Mavericks traded him to Charlotte during the summer and since his release by the Charlotte Bobcats in September, Dampier has been courted by several teams and nearly signed with the Houston Rockets earlier this month before the Rockets unexpectedly backed away from a verbally agreed-upon one-year deal worth $2 million.
Yet sources close to the process maintain that Dampier has been holding off on a decision -- after flirtations with teams such as Toronto, Phoenix, Portland and Milwaukee -- largely because the 35-year-old was determined to land with his No. 1 choice in Miami or another title contender.
The strategy appears to have worked, since Miami is not alone in its pursuit of Dampier. The Los Angeles Lakers have also tried to sign Dampier in recent days given the ongoing absence of Andrew Bynum, but the two-time defending champions have only a short-term need with Bynum expected to be activated next month.
Miami has an urgent need even with a healthy Haslem, given the Heat's struggles through their first 13 games to cope with various power players such as New Orleans' Emeka Okafor and Utah's Paul Millsap.
In 14 seasons with Indiana, Golden State and Dallas, Dampier has averages of 7.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee after last season but has been targeted to supply rebounding, shot-blocking and the physical presence that power forward Chris Bosh lacks.
ESPN.com reported Sunday that, even before losing Haslem, Miami had been reconsidering its October decision to pass on signing Dampier. A source with knowledge of the talks said that the Heat have maintained a level of contact with Dampier since the collapse of the Houston talks.
Haslem is the Heat's leading rebounder and at 8.2 per game, leads all NBA reserves in the category. He also had been developing a chemistry with LeBron James on pick-and-roll plays on the offensive end, averaging 11.3 points on 63 percent shooting in his last four games before getting hurt.
"There's no replacement for UD," James said before Monday night's loss to Indiana. "We all know that."
The Heat will not be eligible to apply to the league for an injury exception worth half of Haslem's $3.5 million salary to sign a replacement unless an independent doctor rules that he is likely to be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst cover the NBA for ESPN.com. ESPN.com's Michael Wallace, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.