ASK IRA: Do Heat have enough depth in guard rotation?

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Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.
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November 26, 2014

Q: I'm all for signing Hassan Whiteside if he can contribute, but didn't Shannon Brown just start two games because of injuries to Dwyane Wade and Norris Cole? Unless the Heat are planning on signing another player soon, they look awfully thin at the guard positions. -- David.

A: I agree that right now the roster is out of balance, with seven of the 15 spots held by players in the power rotation, when counting Chris Bosh, Shawne Williams, Josh McRoberts, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem, Justin Hamilton and Whiteside. It will be interesting to see what happens at the Dec. 1 deadline, when Hamilton is due the next installment on his guarantee. But with the ongoing concerns with Wade, there has to be something more than Andre Dawkins as the lone true shooting guard in reserve. Perhaps the Heat now see that as a reasonable spot for James Ennis, who had his moments there on Tuesday night against the Warriors. The problem with only playing Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier at guard is what we saw when Golden State simply had Shaun Livingston consistently take Chalmers into the post. The Heat need more length or bulk in their backcourt rotation.

Q: I like the current youth movement. Of course, no one knows if Whiteside or Hamilton will be difference makers, but seeing this team get big and young under the basket should be fun. And they released Brown and kept the rookie Dawkins, am I reading too much into this? -- Chet.

A: I think the move was made as much for what Brown wasn't as what Dawkins is. More than anything, I think it's a realization that Birdman isn't what he used to be and that another rim protector had to be added, thus a somewhat long-term commitment to Whiteside. But it is interesting that the Heat for two years had their eyes on Whiteside but instead worked through the development process first with Jarvis Varnado and now with Hamilton, even drafting Dexter Pittman ahead of Whiteside. I still think filling needs remains more of a priority than development a youth program. And if you truly favor a youth movement, then you have to accept games like Tuesday, when the lack of closing experience cost the Heat.

Q: Is Wade actually planning to play anytime soon? I thought that they were selling this initially as not as serious as last year? -- Stu.

A: First, no one knows how serious last season was with the knees, because just about all of his absences were precautionary. And among the reasons he has missed seven games is because how tightly these games have been packed, including two sets of back-to-backs. I think the schedule actually is the reason he was given Tuesday off, with the four-day break to follow. I would expect that he returns Sunday in New York against the Knicks. If he's not back then, then the concern meter should move to a higher level.

November 25, 2014

Q: Norris Cole for Dion Waiters. Beneficial for both teams. Good backup at shooting guard for the Heat, plus more and consistent minutes for Shabazz Napier. Would you go for it if you were to decide for Miami? How about if for Cavs? Is this possible? -- Frances, Philippines.

A: While I don't usually address rumors (and I'm not even sure this is a rumor), I've been asked about the permutation often enough that I might as well bite. But I preface it with this: There has been absolutely no known discussion, nor even word of potential interest by either of the sides. Beyond that, the Heat are in a comfortable cap position with Cole playing under an expiring contract for $2 million this season, with the Heat in position to match outside offers in restricted free agency next summer. Waiters, by contrast, is due $4.1 million this season and $5.1 million next season, so the Heat would have to find a way to send enough out to make such a deal work under the cap. (And just about any "extra" salary for the Heat would not be tradable by the Heat until at least Dec. 15.) Beyond all of that, Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley often talk about "a Heat type of player," and I'm not sure Waiters would fill that mold. But you (and others who have mentioned the possibility) are correct that it could address issues for both teams. But unless the Cavaliers get comfortable with Mike Miller or James Jones, the reality is that they might actually need Waiters.

Q: Ira, what is going on with the Danny Granger situation, can you shed some light on this? He claims to be rejuvenated and ready to go, but he can't even crack the rotation. Thoughts? -- Daniel, New York.

A: The Heat are taking the slow-go approach with Granger, just as they did with Mike Miller and Shane Battier when they had similar muscular issues. I think Granger starting a week ago in Brooklyn took everyone by surprise, but I think the plan for the short term is to utilize Granger only when needed, and then hope to have more minutes banked for the second half of the season. I still view Granger as instrumental to any playoff or even playoff-race success for the Heat. They need another wing scorer, especially amid the uncertainty with Dwyane Wade. Granger currently is being held out because of his rehab, not because he can't crack the rotation.

Q: Forget about nicknames and first names on those Christmas Day jerseys.  The NBA should just put everyone's salary on them. -- David.

A: Not enough room. That would be like putting Antetokounmpo on everyone's jersey. 

November 24, 2014

Q: Mario Chalmers still thinks he is the best player on the floor. And with his move to shooting guard,  it's sometimes hard to argue with him. -- Paul, Sunrise.

A: I think without the responsibilities of having to facilitate as much for others, or cover the backcourt when a shot goes up, it has been liberating for Chalmers. For years, I have pointed to his innate ability to get to the rim and his passive approach too often against doing so. When Chalmers attacks, or, for that matter any player attacks, it gets the defense moving, which opens opportunities for others. Chalmers in attack mode is significant. The problem is the aggression with his ballhandling far from the basket sometimes gets him in trouble, as it almost did (actually did) near the end of the game against Charlotte.  

Q: The Dwyane Wade situation is getting old. Chris Bosh can't be expected to carry this team by himself. -- Faye.

A: It seems the Heat's reality for these next two seasons will be to try to remain afloat when Wade is out, and then attack the schedule when Wade is available. But, as with any injury, it will be interesting to see where Wade stands when he returns. If there is going to be an extended readjustment period each time he returns, then the absences take a much larger toll on the overall record. For now, it's been one injury. The real issue is how long before the next. The Wade Watch has become the Heat's reality.

Q: Am I the only one who really sees the long-term approach with this team? There's still a lot of talent on this team, but everyone is still trying to get healthy and learn each other. To quote Erik Spoelstra, this is still about the "process." We still have two future Hall of Famers, in Wade and Bosh, two extremely high IQ starters, in Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng, a young point guard, in Shabazz Napier, who, in my mind, will be in the top half of point guards by the end of the season, a sixth man, in Mario Chalmers, who's proving his worth and only getting more comfortable with his role, and Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem, Danny Granger and James Ennis who can provide at least a little something in their limited minutes. They're in a good spot. I can see them making a bit of a run toward the end of the season, so even if they stay at .500 'til the All-Star break, that'd be a good place to be. Once the playoffs hit, the hope is that continuity will be there and they have the talent to compete with any other team in the East, including the Bulls and Cavs. Heat fans should've known that this wasn't going to be easy, but it'll still be fun! -- Martin, Los Angeles.

A: I agree with your point of hanging near .500 and then hoping for one or two big moves that can push the record north and improve the seeding. But there still are many, many, many questions left to be answered.

November 23, 2014

Q: Is Birdman old or disinterested? He hasn't been the same this season. -- Clifford.

A: No, he hasn't, and at times it's very noticeable. I don't think it's a matter of having grown content (at least I would hope that is not the case). Perhaps it's a matter of working back from the rib injury the first week of the season. Perhaps it's being 36. But this team has precious little rim deterrence outside of Chris Andersen, and if he's not playing as a last line of defense, then the Heat often can be defenseless in the middle. But let's face it, the Heat got themselves into a tough position when they basically offered a makeup contract to Andersen for $10 million over two years after he played the previous two seasons at the minimum. In a way, it is similar to the money being spent on Udonis Haslem. The reality is that if Andersen can't offer something in the defensive paint, then the Heat will have to act. I'm not saying it's time to make a move for a Joel Anthony type, but there has to come a time when the Heat make an unemotional, and non-financial, assessment on Andersen. Or, of course, start getting more out of him.

Q: I thought Josh McRoberts was going to bring a "unique" skill set of a big man with excellent passing, outside shooting, as well as being durable. I have not seen any of these yet. I'm not giving up on him so early, but is it time to expect more? -- David, Plantation.

A: Considering he missed all of training camp, then had the blister issue recently, I think he's still trying to find a way, trying to get in rhythm. There was one point during the first half Saturday when he passed up an open 15-foot jumper to instead pass to Andersen for a 15-foot jumper. Another time he passed the ball through his legs and out of bounds between the legs of James Ennis. Look, this might not be the answer you want to hear, but considering what the Heat invested in McRoberts, they have to make it work. The irony is that the Hornets, who face the Heat on Sunday, could dearly use McRoberts as a catalyst, as he was last season in their drive to the playoffs. Instead, the Hornets signed Marvin Williams to replace McRoberts. It was interesting how Erik Spoelstra spoke of wanting to get McRoberts more time on Thursday against the Clippers, then utilized him for only 5:14 against the Magic.

Q: Norris Cole's dislocated middle left finger came while flexing it at LeBron James. -- Richard.

A: Actually, Cole might be among the last players to have that attitude toward LeBron. In fact, he might make sense as potential upgrade to the Cavaliers' backcourt. Oh, and he is represented by LeBron's agent, Rich Paul.

November 22, 2014

Q: Couldn't we start Udonis Haslem at the five for his rebounding and defense and move Chris Bosh back to the four? I think it would really help on the defensive end of the floor. I understand that Pat Riley wants to maximize our cap space for 2016, but if we keep playing this inconsistent, nobody will want to come here to team with a 32-year-old Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts as our starting frontcourt. -- Daniel.

A: The problem with starting Haslem, who I agree might have helped with the Heat's defensive rotations and rebounding against the Clippers, is it is not part of the vision of eventually getting McRoberts alongside Bosh. Until the Heat, and the rest of the league, see what the Heat have with that combination, everything else is moot. By making those the only two players on the roster whose contracts extend beyond the 2016 offseason, Riley basically has gone all-in on their possibilities. If McRoberts-Bosh doesn't work, then the entire plan going forward would be dealt a major setback. That is why Erik Spoelstra has been trying to up McRoberts' minutes. He needs to see how that works before he considering a Plan B or beyond.

Q: Although I am a big fan of the Birdman, this year he has appeared to be a detriment to the Heat. He seems slow, his timing off.  His ballhandling has been sloppy. And he hasn't been anywhere near the boards. I tend not to be critical, but I am just not seeing good basketball. Am I wrong?  Am I missing something? If he is still injured, he should sit. -- Bruce.

A: Your observation is correct. And that's the risk of paying a player for past service. It's a concern with the way the Heat brought back both Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem. Yes, loyalty goes a long way with this franchise, but this also is what happens when the plan is to take care of a player down the line for previous financial sacrifice. Birdman was the Heat's lone option for rim deterrence against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on Thursday night, and that clearly did not work very well against the Clippers. It will be interesting to see if the Heat try to pace Andersen in a bid to keep him fresh for the games when he is needed most. The reality is there are many questions with the Heat's power rotation, from Haslem and Andersen, to exact what Justin Hamilton actually can provide.

Q: OK, we probably will not win 50 games this season.  Patience is necessary. In my perception, when we play with Shabazz Napier on the court, the team shows something different, despite turnovers, something Norris Cole can't add. At this early stage, is there not enough for a starting job and 30 minutes a game at least? -- Rafael, Chapeco, SC, Brazil.

A: I think the Heat might be gravitating toward that possibility. But I also think they still want to get a definitive read on exactly what Norris Cole is, or isn't, capable of achieving. And I think they would like the rest of the league to take note, as well. Look, I've long said an NBA team needs three point guards, and with LeBron James gone as facilitator, that is as true as ever for the Heat. But the question becomes whether Cole could deal with potentially being third-string at the position.

November 21, 2014

Q: I'm tired of everyone pretending it's not over. Dwyane Wade is done. Just retire. It's not that he's old; it's that he's broken. Forget it. -- Johnny.

A: Really? Three weeks into the season, after he misses four games with a sore hamstring? Look, if this is one of those injuries that the Heat keeps minimizing and then Greg Oden doesn't show up until midseason, that's one thing. But he took the same misstep he could have taken at 22, 26 or 30. Players, even young players, miss time with hamstring injuries. It's over when Wade is out so long that all semblance of continuity is lost (although that is getting close). We're talking a week here. And, to be candid, if he can make it back for the weekend's divisional games against the Magic and Hornets, then holding him out against the Clippers is prudent, even with what happened. It might be a new reality for the Heat, but divisional, conference and head-to-head tiebreakers again are part of their big picture. If Wade had been playing poorly when we went down, that would have been one thing. But he had been playing well, with little reason to believe that it can't happen again.

Q: Well, as you had maintained, even in the preseason, this Heat team will go as Wade goes. Without Wade, this team isn't winning any playoff series. Without Wade, this team is not even a playoff team. The Heat need to trade for a shooting guard. -- Martin.

A: Actually, I think it's as Wade AND Chris Bosh go. They need both, with such a drop off in talent thereafter. While Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts are nice players, they basically feed off Bosh and Wade. While Shannon Brown had his moment in meaningless minutes against the Clippers, something a bit better could make these Wade absences more palatable.

Q: Thursday showed it: It's not fair to Chris Bosh to have to play center against DeAndre Jordan. The Heat need a true center. -- Boris.

A: I'm not sure anyone was stopping Jordan on Thursday, considering the average distance of his attempts was about one foot. That's more about defensive rotations than any single defender. And the reality is, especially in the Eastern Conference, there aren't that many beefy centers. The Heat have six players in their power rotation in Bosh, Chris Andersen, Josh McRoberts, Shawne Williams, Udonis Haslem and Justin Hamilton. If that isn't enough, then the better question is why are they here and why wasn't something better culled in the offseason?

November 20, 2014

Q: In a strange way, taking Mario Chalmers out of the starting lineup allows the Heat to better showcase his versatility to the league. He is flourishing as a two-guard, in the class of Louis Williams or Nick Young, only a much, much headier player who can keep the ball moving. Do you think that Chalmers could be moved down the road? I know that the Heat roster is thin at shooting guard, but it's empty at rebounding. -- Juan, Denver.

A: When it comes to guards the Heat might move, I think it would be more likely to be Cole, considering the Heat opted not to extend him at the Oct. 31 deadline. If the Heat re-sign him in the offseason (unless he takes the one-year qualifying offer as a restricted free agent), it would carry his money past the 2016 offseason, when the Heat are trying to mass their cap space for free agency. Chalmers, by contrast, has a contract that ends just before the 2016 offseason. Advantage Mario. Ultimately, moving either could come down to the confidence that Shabazz Napier instills as the point guard of the future (his money goes beyond the 2016 offseason, but at the affordable rookie scale).

Q: I'm very excited about our team, the bench doesn't look too bad, and we can only go up from here. My only problem is Chris Bosh not yet embracing his role as a leader. He shrinks in games like he used to do in the Big Three era. Do you think Bosh will take the mantle and be the complete leader, or will he always defer to and always see this as Dwyane Wade's team? - Howard, Miramar.

A: Oh, Chris very much has emerged as a leader. He was the voice of disgust in the locker room after the loss in Atlanta, and he has been setting a tone with the rookies in practice. And with Wade figuring to miss far more time than Bosh, Chris is going to have to lead. I also disagree about Chris "shrinking" in games. Sometimes you just miss shots. You "shrink" when you stop shooting. Because Chris did not "shrink" in that respect in Brooklyn, he was able to step up with a pair of game-deciding jumpers. In fact, Chris is one of the most passionate players I've been around, including Dwyane and LeBron James.

Q: At 6-5, we are in agreement that this is right in sync with, at least my (non-emotional, objective) opinion, where we should be. As we struggle to get the rotation going with all the injuries, I think we may need to accept that this is not an exception but the rule in the NBA, and without depth to get you through we will be in the middle of the pack. What do you think (or know) the issue is with Shannon Brown? He has experience, athleticism and can defend. I'm not getting it. -- M.J., Miami.

A: To answer your last question first, the reality is the Knicks had no use for Shannon, and they're a mess. Beyond that, if the 15th man is a concern, then you have more concerns than merely being in the .500 range. To your greater point, we can have no idea about the depth until Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts show what they do or don't offer. Moving McRoberts into the starting lineup means moving Shawne Williams' 3-point shooting into the second unit. Getting more out of Granger means far more versatility in the wing rotation. With Granger and McRoberts contributing, and with Williams emerging, and with the possibilities of James Ennis and Shabazz Napier, the depth could be far more reliable at midseason than it is now.


November 19, 2014

Q: Ira, I read your Ask Q&A's every morning first thing as soon as I wake up, so thank you for putting this much effort in every morning. As a passionate Heat fan, it kills me to see all of our bigs either injured or ineffective. With how little Andre Dawkins is playing, is there any chance Khem Birch comes on and fills in right away? -- Manny, Miami.

A: There is a reason that coaches sometimes shy from utilizing players either in the preseason or during garbage time, and the reason is the fallout of performances in moments that just don't matter. It's time to move beyond the Khem Birch-as-savior talk. Yes, he had his moments during the preseason. To repeat: During the preseason. If the Heat were to bolster their power rotation, it's not as if he is the only possibility. But beyond that, the Heat already have Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, Shawne Williams, Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem and Justin Hamilton in their power rotation. That's nearly half the roster right there, and doesn't even include the possibility of spotting Luol Deng or Danny Granger at the four. What Erik Spoelstra first has to see is if that is good enough. And if it's not, I'm not sure that Dawkins necessarily would be the odd man out, considering he played Monday ahead of Shannon Brown.

Q: I liked what I saw from James Ennis against Brooklyn. I can only wonder how he would look playing with a guard that can actually pass. Any chance we see him and Dwyane Wade on the court more together? -- Mike, Coral, Gables.

A: Again, because of the injuries, because of the time Danny Granger has missed and Josh McRoberts continues to miss, it's difficult for Spoelstra or anyone else to get a read on how the roster and rotation shakes out. It's almost as if the Heat have to see more of Granger, if only to see if playing Ennis ahead of him is the right move. This team needs all 15 available. Only then can Spoelstra truly fit the pieces of the puzzle.

Q: Without LeBron James, Spoelstra's coaching is getting exposed again. He always had a knack for cooling his own hot hand, letting the score run away before calling time, putting bad combinations on the floor. Against Indiana, Shawne Williams played 22 minutes even though he was hitting shots when no one else could. Against the Bucks, Ennis and Shabazz Napier scored 17 in the first half and two in the second. Where is the coaching? -- Patrick, Hollywood.

A: The coaching is getting the game to the point where the veterans can win it at the end. The Heat were positioned for victory in both the games you mentioned. And, as mentioned above, Erik is still finding his way through. The reality is that we're one-eighth into the season. Yes, Shawne, Shabazz and Ennis all have had their moments. But it's also about finding combinations that do or don't work. Remember, the opposition is making adjustments, as well. It only makes sense during the early stages of the season that Spoelstra turn to those who helped his team advance to four consecutive NBA Finals.

November 18, 2014


Q: The Heat made a statement holding on to win without Dwayne Wade.  The statement is, "We are going to be competitive in every single game." -- Martin.

A: I don't know if against the players formerly known as the Nets you can make much of a statement (I mean, geez, there are so many known quantities, you would think that Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett would add up to more than we've seen). But what I would say is this: I'm not sure if we haven't already seen more "fun" games this season that last season, when counting the shorthanded victory Monday in Brooklyn, the performance in Dallas and even the home victory over Toronto. Yes, there have been missteps, and that's what happens when it's no longer a Big Three reality. But there is something to be said about being able, at least at times, to pull for a little team that could. Eventually, though, it also would be nice to see Wade, Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger on the same court at the same court, just to get a read on those possibilities, as well.

Q: We definitely shouldn't have lost to the Pacers, maybe the Hawks, and definitely not the Bucks. Especially after beating the Raptors, Wizards, and Mavericks. -- Bryan, Mountain View, Calif.

A: But when you factor in the games the Heat might not have been expected to win, this is about where the Heat were supposed to be at this stage, especially now that Wade has missed three games, Granger has gotten on the court only once, and McRoberts has yet to make his strides. As bad as some of the losses were, the Heat were competitive in each, to a degree giving away a few. And that's the thing, if you can pinpoint in November the little things that would have turned losses into victories, it bodes better for what's ahead. That's sort of what happened Monday in Brooklyn: The Heat stepped up, after they had previously shrunk in such moments. As Erik Spoelstra would put it, this time the Heat met the challenge.

Q: What would it take to get James Ennis in the dunk contest? -- Brian.

A: Going back and forth against Blake Griffin on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Every time the Clippers get a dunk from Griffin, Spoelstra should call timeout and sub in Ennis. For once, the Heat might have a young, athletic counter to what Griffin delivers. Clearly, TNT was thinking in terms of Ennis vs. Griffin when they booked the game. Now, Spoelstra has to make it happen.


November 17, 2014

Q: Clearly the Heat need help, when Dwyane Wade is out. There is just not enough depth. I don't expect Chris Bosh to stay in a slump, but the team can't hit a free throw to save their lives. I thought the James Ennis played well enough to give him more minutes, but if Danny Granger cannot get on the court soon, they will have to find another way to score somehow. -- Chet.

A: Look, any team would need help when their leading perimeter scorer and top facilitator is out. I just never fathomed that Pat Riley would allow for such a drop off, knowing that even in the best-case scenarios Wade would miss at least 10 to 12 games. Yes, Chalmers played well at times Sunday, just as he did Friday. But Spoelstra was reduced to mostly an eight-man rotation Sunday (with limited minutes for Udonis Haslem), when it was the first night of a back-to-back. I just don't understand: If not now for Shannon Brown, then when? The free throws will come around, as will Bosh. And perhaps it all will come down to Granger stepping up just like Mike Miller did after his initial injury issues with the Heat. But the depth has been compromised by the injuries. Right now, this Heat team has no right to believe it is better than any team other than the 76ers.

Q: For everyone who keeps saying it's a long season, the Heat are in no position to give up any games. -- Faye.

A: And it's not as if that is the approach. The Heat know very well what it means to lose at home to a diminished Pacers roster and to a young Bucks team. Those, essentially, are a pair of teams most figure to miss the playoffs. If one or both do advance, it could spell real trouble for the Heat. These are conference losses at home. That means plenty. The Heat are well aware.

Q: You are always answering all questions putting yourself against the development of young talent. Enough is enough, man. LeBron James is not here anymore. We need to play James Ennis, let the guy improve his game by having some real playing time. We are not going to be champions with this roster, anyway, so why not let Ennis' game flourish to become a ready-to-go player when 2016 offseason arrives? Don't go on me with all the talk about his flaws and rawness. There is nothing more stupid in the world than having Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole make mistakes at the same time on the court. Is that OK for you? -- Fabio, Sao Paolo, Brazil.

A: Is 36-46 OK with you? With the loss of LeBron James, Micky Arison and Pat Riley stressed continued playoff relevancy. That means winning games, at least half, and probably a few more. I'm not sure you get that with such a raw prospect. You want Ennis to grow? Then appreciate the minutes he is getting; it's a start. As for Cole and Chalmers, I do agree that the mistakes that previously could be compensated for, with LeBron James on the roster, no longer can be as easily tolerated. But those are players who already have proven themselves on the biggest of NBA stages.


November 16, 2014

 Q: This is not pretty, but not unexpected. Nobody should be surprised that Dwyane Wade is out, too many back to games and minutes.  -- Chet.

A: And that's the balance the Heat are going to have to take with Wade this season, to sit him whenever he is injured, no matter the opponent or the schedule. A 32-year-old player can be prone to injury. What the Heat have to do is protect against anything that becomes protracted. But that said, it sure would have been helpful to have something more in support behind Wade than a former point guard (Mario Chalmers), a neophyte swingman who's not ready (James Ennis) or a journeyman who does not appear to be inspiring any trust (Shannon Brown). This is where the offseason losses of Ray Allen, Shane Battier and even James Jones take a toll. The Heat need more at the position than Wade and a prayer. Depth, quality depth, is essentially when you're talking about a safety net behind an older player. The risk now is to start approaching it with the view that a slightly hobbled Wade is better than the alternatives. That's a recipe for disaster. What seemingly is needed (or was needed during the offseason) is better alternatives.

Q: I don't see the Heat buying into Erik Spoelstra's defensive schemes. I just don't see it. I have seen enough games this year. The effort and hustle is not there on a consistent basis.  I don't see anything that convinces me things will change. -- Stuart.

A: Oh, it will change, because anything less will not be tolerated, cannot be accepted. When you have a roster that lacks anything in the way of rim deterrence beyond a 36-year-old backup center in Chris Andersen, the only way to make the defense work is through lockstep cohesion and effort. While Spoelstra is less likely to bench a player for an offensive slump, anything less than the required maximum will not be tolerated on defense. And while there are several newcomers, there also are enough returning players in place to set the tone. This has become a ball-movement league, which also makes it a defensive-movement league. The teams that don't rotate smartly and aggressively get left behind, as was the case with the Heat on Friday night in Atlanta.

Q: We have seen it for years under coach Spoelstra. How much does sporadic minutes lead to an inconsistent performance and lack of confidence in players? -- Stone, Miami.

A: While I agree that players have to have the confidence to be able to play through struggles, I think that pertains more to veterans with a proven body of work, or those who have been in a similar role for an extended period. In other words, I have no issue if Spoelstra cuts back on Norris Cole's minutes during a game, with Cole still making the transition from instant-energy reserve to starter, or, for that matter, Spoelstra pulling the plug quickly on the James Ennis experiment as a starter on Friday night. What matters more is allowing a player such as Luol Deng to play through struggles, with Deng finally gaining traction in the second half against the Hawks after an uneven start in Atlanta.

November 15, 2014

Q: Ira, I don't know if Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts are more Greg Oden or Mike Miller? Do the Heat sign healthy free agents? -- Steve, Miami.

A: They sign players they believe eventually can contribute. With Miller, even after his initial injury contretemps (and a few later ones), the signing worked out just fine. The start of the season has far less meaning than what can follow. Obviously, with Oden there simply wasn't much left. Look, the Heat knew that McRoberts was coming off toe surgery, so an argument could be made that they saw this coming (although they say the latest "third-degree" blister is not related to the toe surgery). And with Granger, it was a calculated gamble based on the favorable price point he signed at. As with Miller, if McRoberts and Granger coming around and bolster the rotation, these lost opening weeks quickly will be forgotten. But the Granger situation is starting to seem like the Oden situation, where sooner might actually turn out to be later when it comes to getting on the court.

Q: So now it's starting? Dwyane Wade looked fine in the fourth quarter against the Pacers, their big rival, then sits out before another back-to-back. Who can we believe? -- Rolf.

A: Believe that this season when Wade sits out, there are no strings attached, that he actually can't play. Instead of the Heat picking spots for Wade, this time they're letting his body make those decisions. But hamstrings are tricky, and a strain can become even more of a tear. The games simply are bunched too tightly to take chances. Already, the back-to-back against Milwaukee and Brooklyn looks tenuous. But, again, it will be Wade's body making the decision, not the Heat cherry-picking a schedule for him based on the calendar or the opponent. This is where a bit more depth at shooting guard (or a healthier Danny Granger) would have helped. By not starting Shannon Brown on Friday night in Atlanta, you have to wonder if the Heat are wondering about what's actually left with Brown.

Q: If you want a rookie to get better, you have to give him minutes. James Ennis started and played what, five minutes? -- Juan.

A: In all, after a rough early start, James playing 6:12 total against the Hawks. Look, this is not Shabazz Napier coming in off a pair of national championships at UConn, polished and ready to go. This is a raw talent whose previous prime time came at Long Beach State as well as in Australia and Puerto Rico. For now, James is better suited as a spark off the bench when needed, rather than someone stepping into the type of role that Spoelstra gambled with Friday. The reality is that time in the D-League, against a higher level of competition than Ennis faced at Long Beach State or in Australia or Puerto Rico also could prove beneficial once the Heat roster heals and is whole again.


November 14, 2014

Q: With Danny Granger coming back to the lineup soon, could you see him playing the four for long periods of time? His size and shot would really stretch the floor, like having LeBron James on the floor with Dwyane Wade handling the ball. I could see a really lethal lineup with Norris Cole, Wade, Deng, Granger and Chris Bosh. I think I could see Granger stealing the starting role from Shawne Williams if he can get healthy. What do you think? -- Vinnie, San Diego.

A: First, if anyone is going to replace Williams as the starting power forward, it's going to be Josh McRoberts, which I see eventually happening, if only for the contract the Heat extended in the offseason. That's probably inevitable. But that doesn't mean that Granger and Deng won't be playing side-by-side at times at forward. And just like during the preseason when they played together, it won't be clearly delineated which is the four and which is the three. But I think Granger can serve a much more important role on this roster, especially the way it is constituted, and that's by serving as a reliable scoring wing off the bench. That basically is something the Heat are lacking, save for the moments of promise provided by James Ennis. I think Danny Granger can fill a very, very, important role on this roster, namely making Wade feel comfortable enough to actually take some time off.

Q: If the Heat were to pick up a valid center later in the season, say an Emeka Okafor, could you see Bosh moving back to power forward? Or maintain the same rotation? -- Stephen, Chicago.

A: Why mess with a good thing? Bosh currently is thriving at center, save for Wednesday's missteps against the Pacers. But I could see the Heat eventually moving toward depth at center, be it Okafor being healthy enough to sign, or perhaps a veteran returning from China toward the latter stages of the season, perhaps someone like Andray Blatche. I still think, though, the Heat could cycle back to some minutes in the middle for Udonis Haslem, if Chris Andersen shows his age.

Q: I could envision Pat Riley putting a package deal together next month involving Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Justin Hamilton, perhaps even Josh McRoberts. First and foremost the Heat's success depends on how the players grasp and execute Erik Spoelstra's playbook flawlessly. Not everyone can do it, while for others it's intuitive. Those are the players the Heat are looking for. -- Frank, Miami.

A: Um, the Heat basically had their foundation ripped apart in July, when LeBron James left. I highly doubt there will be any massive makeovers this season or even any time before the 2016 offseason, when the Heat have set themselves up for a major move. When you look at the Eastern Conference and where the Heat stand, there certainly is no need for any type of panic. As long as Chris Bosh is scoring and Dwyane Wade is ambulatory, you exhale and move on.

November 13, 2014

Q: Who told Mario Chalmers he can take the final shot over Dwyane Wade? He blew the game. He is not the hero for the Miami Heat. This is the second time they've laid an egg against a team they should have beaten easily. -- Joe.

A: Mario Chalmers did not blow the game against the Pacers. No single player blows a game on a night a team is 8 of 18 from the foul line and outrebounded 53-28. Now, did he have to go for the contact on his late drive, when he likely could have finished without embellishment? That is a reasonable question. But there also is a need to get over your final point; there is no team that this Heat roster should expect to beat easily. Unless they play their game, with great ball movement and greater effort, they can be beaten by anyone, as Wednesday showed. Take Friday in Atlanta. An argument could be made that Atlanta might not have the one-two punch the Heat have in Wade and Chris Bosh, but if the Heat play there like they did Wednesday, they are going to have a tough, tough time trying to win.

Q: I think we can quiet all that talk about Wade. He looked like the player from last year in that he didn't have it when needed? -- Faye.

A: I think the worst thing that happened for the Heat was that it came so easily for Wade in the first quarter, so easily that the Heat got back to the type of one-on-one play this roster cannot afford. Then Wade scored only one point over the second and third periods combined. But he also stepped up with a late 3-pointer and hardly was the culprit for the loss. What he wasn't this time was a facilitator, with only three assists.

Q: Pathetic performance from the Heat players. There was very little energy and ball movement. And the rebounding effort was non-existent. -- Steve.

A: The rebounding you might have to live with, with this roster (although this might have been a game for a bit more Udonis Haslem, who has had his moments against the Pacers). What you can't get away from is the energy and ball movement. When you do that, you effectively take Luol Deng and all of his off-the-ball movement out of the game. That's what happened Wednesday. As the ball movement goes, so goes Deng.


November 12, 2014

Q: So far this has been one of the most fun Heat seasons of all time. While the last four years were sublime, it seemed like the team began to get a little weary of the limelight that comes with being a perpetual favorite and having the accompanying targets on their back. Now the Heat can play freer and integrate youth and more players into the rotation. In contrast, Cleveland (I know it's early) looks like a team playing under the heavy weight of expectations. So here is the question: Given the Heat's success, newfound energy, and need at back-up shooting guard, and given the Cavs struggles and relative dysfunction through the first few weeks, is there any chance of a Heat return by Ray Allen? While it didn't look like he fit in the offseason, now it looks like if he truly values winning and the organization, Miami may be a far better opportunity than he previously realized. -- Marty, Chicago.

A: I just think with the way it ended last season that several players felt the need for fresh outlooks and the Heat felt the need to cut ties, for some of the reasons you mentioned. The reality is that Ray was closer with LeBron and James Jones than many of the Heat players who remained behind. No, I think part of the reason why this has worked is the new life breathed into the franchise by some of the newcomers. I would consider it the longest of longshots that Ray would return. I think he's just waiting to see how the situation sorts itself out in Cleveland (or with the Clippers?), as well as waiting for some of the grueling stretches of the schedule to pass.

Q: Might the Heat consider starting Shabazz Napier in first and third quarters to get the game in rhythm and a good flow, prime the pump? Then bring in Mario Chalmers to attack as an offensive bulldog. And close out the halves with Norris Cole as a lock-down defender to stop any attempted rallies. -- Abe, Hollywood.

A: Or keep it the way it's been going during the 5-2 start. And I'm still not sure the Heat aren't somewhat showcasing Norris, perhaps as a means to find another shooting guard or wing option. There could be many reasons why the Heat would want Norris to thrive as a starter.

Q: Dwyane Wade has led the team in assists in just about every game thus far. Why not start him at the point and start Mario Chalmers at the two? I understand Wade doesn't want to chase the opposing point on defense, but they can switch on defense. -- Serge, Homestead.

A: Or keep it the way it's been going during the 5-2 start. Not only is defending the opposing point guard taxing, so is advancing the ball each possession. Again, I'm sure there eventually will be a point of greater clarity with the Heat's three point guards. For the moment the only clarity is 5-2.

November 11, 2014

Q: I know it is early, very early, but Dwayne Wade could turn out to be one of the best stories of the NBA season. It reminds me of the Converse commercial they ran for Wade when he first came into the league, fall down seven times, get up eight! -- Stuart.

A: It also is early, very early. Wade's maintenance program this season is making sure than any minor ache or pain doesn't become something bigger. So rather than cherry-pick spots through the schedule, it is possible that when Dwyane does miss time, he misses multiple games. And that still leaves the Heat with the challenge of finding someone who could step in for those absences that inevitably will come up. For now, the answer likely would be starting Mario Chalmers alongside Norris Cole and then cycling through three guards when factoring in Shabazz Napier. But this also is when it would be nice to get a read on Danny Granger, to see if he can be the extra wing who could carry the Heat through a potential void without Wade. In fact, if Granger shows some of his previous abilities, it might make it easier for the Heat to lighten the load on Wade. Backup shooting guard remains a concern. For now, Wade is masking that concern by showing up every night, playing as long as needed.

Q: How much longer until we should expect Shabazz Napier to take Norris Cole's starting spot? -- Nekias.

A: It ain't broke, so I don't see the Heat tinkering with the lineup. Shabazz has benefited by being able to enter when the elite opposing point guards are taking their rests. Then, at the ends of games, he benefits by playing alongside the Heat's four other starters. Sometimes it's not about what a certain player is or isn't doing, but rather about how the rotation best fits. Napier has thrived in a well-defined role. I don't see the Heat tinkering with that just because Norris Cole has had some uneven moments. At least not yet.

Q: Someone asked who is considered the third-best player on the Miami Heat. I think we have our answer now. -- Joe.

A: Yet I wouldn't get too comfortable counting on Luol Deng for 30 points a night. And with the Heat moving the ball so well, I think it could be more of a case of having five players in double figures on some nights than necessarily a 30-point scorer on a regular basis. Even when Deng was thriving Sunday in Dallas, Chalmers was having a night of his own. And Josh McRoberts also is capable of having a moment, as is Cole. The reason the Heat attack is working is the ball is finding the right player, no matter who that player tends to be on a specific night.


November 10, 2014

Q: Luol Deng looks better and better every game. -- Chet.

A: Which exactly is what you would expect from a player whose greatest skills are his ability to play off of teammates and to facilitate for teammates. To a degree, it is the same thing with Josh McRoberts. And with both, you could see during Sunday's victory over the Mavericks how the chemistry is growing. No, Luol might not have those scoring totals on a nightly basis, but he showed Sunday night in Dallas what he can be when it all is working. And while his numbers weren't nearly as gaudy, McRoberts also offered signs of why he was sought in the offseason. The Heat have adopted and adapted to a system where selfishness cannot be tolerated. That's what makes players such as Deng and McRoberts, with their selflessness, such good fits. The Heat this season have to play as a team to win. They did that Sunday. And it was a delight to watch.

Q: Ira, how about we sit down and have a bottle of Scotch each with some Tequila chasers so that we could be qualified to sit down and make the NBA schedule. Your choice of drink is open to your own palette, but the back-to-back games must stay so that we can see teams at their worst -- Bob, Deerfield Beach.

A: Oh, I see, sarcasm. But I totally agree (even without imbibing). When you are seven games into your schedule, six of your games should not have been part of back-to-back sets, as has been the case with the Heat. What I will say is this: If you are going to play 16 back-to-backs, as the Heat do this season, there is something to be said about getting rid of three only 12 days into the season. But, as I have repeatedly said since training camp, the NBA needs to go from eight to four exhibitions, add two weeks to the regular-season schedule, and with those 14 extra days basically be able to remove all the back-to-backs from the schedule. Credit the Heat, they went 4-2 in those three back-to-backs, with Dwyane Wade playing all six games. And they pushed through the fatigue Sunday.

Q: What does Shannon Brown bring that Tyler Johnson doesn't? At what point do the Heat tinker with the end of the roster a little? -- David.

A: First, it almost never matters who your 14th and 15th men are, since you only dress 13. And if you are playing so deep into your roster, then your depth of talent likely isn't good enough, anyway. Before the Heat tinker with their roster, Erik Spoelstra first must get through this initial round of tinkering with the rotation, seeing if Norris Cole as a starter, Mario Chalmers as a backup shooting guard, James Ennis as a part-time rotation player make sense. Only then can he and management truly know what direction to go. Look, I had pushed for years for the Heat to carry a third point guard, which they now do. Recently, I proposed another big man, due to the injuries to Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Justin Hamilton. And now I probably could make the case for another shooting guard. The problem is the tricky 15-player roster limit. For now, it's probably best to exhale. Then on Dec. 15, when the majority of players signed in the offseason around the league become trade eligible, that's when consideration of roster tinkering would best be served. For now, enjoy the moments.


November 9, 2014

Q: Ira, I wrote you in July that Danny Granger was washed up and you said it was a low-cost gamble. What kind of gamble is it when someone doesn't play? -- Guy, Tamarac.

A: The kind of gamble you make in today's NBA at $2 million a season when you have the cap space and room under the tax. The Heat did not sign Granger for the first two weeks of the season or the first month. They signed him for when Dwyane Wade wears down and another perimeter option is needed. If Granger can give the Heat 40 quality appearances, then it is money well invested. And if the Heat's approach is to make sure Granger is healthy before he takes to the court, there is no issue there. Now, if injuries keep Granger from developing a rotation rhythm, then you win. Because the Heat have to find another dependable wing option, something Shannon Brown hasn't panned out to be and something that James Ennis shouldn't be fast tracked into.

Q: Last season the Heat had no stopper against the Spurs' offense in the last three games. The series was tied 1-1; only three games out of the 100-plus contests during the season gave the Heat a black eye. Come playoff time, the Heat will need that stopper, which they don't have now. -- Bill, Hollywood.

A: Two things: Defensive stoppers aren't easy to find (neither are deterring centers). And in today's NBA, teams are looking for players who also can at least offer something on offense. The Heat certainly had a stopper last season in LeBron James. Dwyane Wade has been that at times during his career (but I'm not sure it any longer is that time). I do think Luol Deng can fill that role. Like many players, once Deng develops a rhythm on offense, I think he'll settle into more of a groove on defense. Ultimately, though, I think it will have to be the Heat defensive system that has to prevail. And that's why the Heat spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday's shootaround working on defensive repetition. They know it has to get better.

Q: When will James Ennis get more playing time? -- Derick.

A: When he's ready? The reality is that he soon could get less playing time when Granger returns. What he has to show now is that he can thrive in short minutes, be a difference make in that type of role. But I still think there will be games when Dwyane Wade sits and it will be all hands on deck for offense. Those are the games when Ennis' ultimate opportunities could come.


November 8, 2014

Q: Any time you're blitzing high pick-and-rolls you will always have a corner three open after all the rotations go through. -- Alex.

A: But that's where closeout speed comes into play. Two seasons ago, when LeBron James was still around, when Dwyane Wade's knees were in better shape, when there were the likes of Shane Battier on the roster, the Heat were far better in recovering in those situations, almost tempting you to set up those shots. Now the closeout speed is not even close (and it wasn't last season, either). And there isn't the type of defensive guile that Battier helped provide. The reality is that when you bring in new players, and utilize so many young players, the learning curve can be substantial. Another reality is that the Heat do not have the luxury of funneling players in those situations into a shot blocker. So they try to compensate away from the rim with what they're not built to handle at the rim.

Q: Tell us why the Heat will not get a true five? Or why let Tim Hardaway go when he should be working with Shabazz Napier? What is going on here? -- Roper.

A: First things first. How many true fives are there, particularly the type of rim-protecting centers described above? And how many of those shot-blockers can also remain active in the offense (something the Knicks struggled with last season with Tyson Chandler). As for Tim Hardaway, his style at point guard was so unique, and so shot-oriented, I'm not sure his game could translate into Napier's game. The one thing Napier has going for him is the polish already in place with his play. He is mature and NBA-ready. Now it's just a matter of experience, which Spoelstra is providing with ample playing time. The kid will be all right.

Q: What's the process if the Heat wanted to add Khem Birch? Would they just have to waive someone and sign him? -- Paul.

A: Yes, but that's if someone else doesn't want to offer more or move to sign him first. Birch is no more the property of the Heat than of any of the other 29 NBA teams. But knowing going into the season that Udonis Haslem was banged up, that Danny Granger wasn't ready, that Chris Andersen is 36, that Justin Hamilton is unproven, you might have thought depth in the power rotation might have been a priority. Instead, Shannon Brown and Andre Dawkins sit and watch from the backcourt rotation.


November 7, 2014

Q: Who is the third-best player on the Heat? -- David.

A: This, of course, was a major topic of discussion when the Heat had Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning, with the Jamal Mashburn critics never happy. Then came the Big Three and all was  forgotten. Now, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, we're back. And the reality is, based on both salary and the efforts they made to get him, that the answer has to be Luol Deng. But the question is more complex. While Deng is a glue player, he might not be the No. 3 scoring option. He does not create much of his offense, instead playing off of others with his cuts and movement off the ball. So what many really want to know is who can best complement the scoring of Wade and Bosh with points of their own? And the answer to that question might be Danny Granger, once he gets on the court. The way the Heat look now, Granger could provide a needed boost and make it easier for Erik Spoelstra to rest Wade and Bosh.

Q: Ira, Shabazz Napier has been a great addition, but is it just me or is James Ennis being underutilized and becoming the new Michael Beasley? I think coach Erik Spoelstra needs to learn from Gregg Popovich on how to use his young talent, don't you? -- George.

A: It's one thing when your young talent is Kawhi Leonard, another when it is Beasley or now Ennis. Ennis remains raw, without the type of handle needed at the position. I also think Spoelstra is waiting on Danny Granger to see who best fits for such a sixth-man type of role. And it's also not fair to compare Ennis to Beasley. Michael was a No. 2 draft pick who arrived to the NBA with a highly polished skill set, but with limitations when it came to fitting into team concepts on both ends. Ennis is a young, raw talent who can be patiently groomed, as he learns the NBA game. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is fast-track such a player. The reality is that he is in the rotation at the start of the season for a playoff contender. That's significant by itself. Another reality is Napier is far more polished, again, as a first-round pick should be.

Q: I always enjoy a good game. Don't get me wrong, I would rather have a win than a loss. But we are growing together. I can be patient. Let's go Heat. -- Carolyn.

A: And so apparently can Erik Spoelstra, which is why he is staying with Norris Cole as his starting point guard and Mario Chalmers at shooting guard. He has a vision, a week would be a bit hasty to immediately turn in another direction.


November 6, 2014

Q: Our point guard play is not good. We need  a center. And will someone please tell Mario Chalmers to try to score instead of looking for a foul. -- Joe.

A: And so it begins, the second-guessing after the euphoria of the 3-0 start. OK, I'll bite. Yes, the play at point guard is as uneven as almost could have been expected, with the Heat more about quantity than quality at the position, especially since Norris Cole's opening night. But Shabazz Napier also is developing nicely. And it's still more about who finishes, and Napier now has played all 12 fourth-quarter minutes in three of the last four games, which also might be too much. As for a center, Chris Andersen, without question could have made a difference in the past two games. And Udonis Haslem previously had his moments against Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, so that might have helped, too. As for Chalmers, the Heat is counting on him to be a scorer, perhaps too much of a scorer, when Dwyane Wade is out. That's where Danny Granger could help. Again: no Birdman, no Granger, no Haslem. We have yet to see this team at full strength, let alone Josh McRoberts at full health.

Q: So is Wade noticeably healthier, or it is just no longer a sensible option to try and keep him healthy for the playoffs? -- Ignarus.

A: Playoffs? You're talking playoffs? (Sorry.) Put it this way, Hornets guard Gerald Henderson said Wednesday that Wade is noticeably healthier in his approach, looks like he did before missing all that time with his maintenance program. So there's that. There's also the reality that without Danny Granger, and with Luol Deng banged up, the points have to come from somewhere. The quick turnaround between Saturday's home game against the Timberwolves and then the long flight for Sunday's game in Dallas could be a truer test of how far the Heat are poised to take this with all-Wade, all-the-time.

Q: Don't you think the Heat are relying too much of a perimeter game? Where is the promised low-post game from Chris Bosh? We take too many jump shots. Thoughts? -- Alex, Boston.

A: With Bosh, think "post" game, not "low-post" game. Even at his highest-scoring best, Bosh did plenty of his work from the mid-post, where he largely is setting up again. That's his game, using his speed to face up and blow past bigger defenders. When it comes to "post" play, that might be more the province of Wade, an approach that also could help reduce some of the wear on his knees with those hard drives and hard cuts. You could say the Heat take too many jumpers, but this has become a 3-point league, and that's what teams do. The difference in recent seasons was how the Heat were able to get out on the break and at least get into their early offense. Now the freight train of LeBron James is gone.


November 5, 2014

Q: Ira, when will Erik Spoelstra learn to stop having his players chase double-teams when they can't outrun the ball? Tuesday was what we saw with the Spurs in the NBA Finals. The ball moves faster than players. Houston had too many open 3-pointers. It's a rerun of what I wrote you about after the Finals? -- Steven.

A: No, it's not, and here's why: Among those Spoelstra had on the floor in Tuesday's fourth quarter were Justin Hamilton, Shabazz Napier and James Ennis, players who were not on the Heat's playoff roster. For weeks, months and even longer, fans have been pushing for the Heat to play their younger players. Well, with the injuries to Chris Andersen, Danny Granger and Udonis Haslem (as well as the limited mobility of Josh McRoberts), Spoelstra didn't have any other choice. Those players have to learn to play the Heat's defense, how to read and react. Houston plays the 3-point game to a far greater degree than even the Spurs. But to your point, if the Heat were again exposed Tuesday, then good. Better the first week of November than when the games grow exponentially in importance. No, the Heat did not look good in being outscored 25-14 in the fourth quarter and losing by 17. But if lessons can be learned, the Heat can grow from the experience.

Q: Ira, one thing folks might not have focused on is how much of a grind the regular season was the past four years because the Heat always got the other team's very best game. Now that the Heat are just another team in the mix, it might actually be easier for them to win more regular-season games based solely on effort (much like the Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway era or the recent Bulls teams while everyone else was focused on the Heat). While this says nothing about the playoffs, might it mean a 50-55 win season this year? -- Leon, Washington, D.C.

A: Of course, I still think they would have rather remained a Big Three and retained LeBron James, and dealt with any accompanying pressures. And I also think the "best game" thing tends to be overrated. Most teams bring their best game when properly rested and when healthy, both of which are greater factors than motivation for an upset. In fact, it is the Heat who will have to bring their best game to remain competitive, and that means bringing Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the lineup, keeping them healthy. Teams still want to beat the Heat, because the Heat remain a relevant playoff team, especially teams that know they will be jockeying with the Heat for seeding position. It sure looked like the Heat got the Rockets' best game Tuesday.

Q: After the NBA Finals loss last season against the Spurs, Erik Spoelstra, in a highly admiring tone during the Game 5 postgame press conference, referred to San Antonio's thorough drubbing of our Miami Heat as "exquisite basketball." I think Spo and probably every other basketball coach in the entire world would like to model their system after what the Spurs had last year. Do you think he has the mind and the roster to pull off a version of that, along with some streaky players like Patty Mills and Danny Green? -- Jason, Miami Lakes.

A: While many teams model themselves after successful teams, I'm not sure emulating the Spurs is the easiest of tasks because I'm not sure where the next Tim Duncan is coming from (although the Pelicans might have come closest with Anthony Davis). What I think you try to do is emulate a style that produces success, and I do think the Spurs' ball-movement approach is an enviable model. But you also have to have players willing to move the ball, and enough talent on the floor to make the equal-opportunity approach efficient. What you can't do is what the Heat did on Tuesday night: move the ball to the tune of 19 turnovers.


November 4, 2014

Q: Dwyane Wade as facilitator is easier on his knees since he doesn't have to jump as much. Wade is extremely smart and savvy, so perhaps he'll transition into a quasi point guard, which is less physically demanding than a shooting guard, but requires great court vision. And Wade can really dish out assists, while remaining fresher himself. Mario Chalmers coming off the bench helps deal with his issues of committing needless fouls. As a starter he would often get into foul trouble early, which leads to a double whammy of taking himself out of the game and putting the Heat into the penalty situation. -- Jay.

A: But this team has to get more than facilitating out of Wade. With the way this roster is built, they're going to need about 20 points at night. At least. If he can do that while also facilitating, all the better. But a Dwyane Wade who relies in jump shots is not going to be a Dwyane Wade who helps create openings for teammates. He has to remain in attack mode, even if it's not attacking the rim with quite as much fury. As for Chalmers, the new role has worked early. But it's early. Eventually the Heat are going to run into an opponent where playing Chalmers alongside Norris Cole or Shabazz Napier simply leaves them too undersized. I still think Erik Spoelstra is in his exploratory stage.

Q: I know it early, only three games into the season, but you really have to love how the ball is moving on offense for the Miami Heat, the Equal Opportunity Offense.  Are the Heat doing something different this year with offensive schemes or are the players just energized? And how do the Heat keep this up? -- Stuart.

A: Playing basketball the right way should never turn into a matter of keeping it up. Perhaps it's a bit of the Spurs rubbing off on them. Perhaps it's the reality of not having a singular perimeter star. Or perhaps it's opposing defenses not yet being in tune with the Heat's altered approach. Three games is way too small a sample size to make judgments. Sometimes it's as simple as hitting open shots. So perhaps it's as simple as: as Shawne Williams goes, the Heat go (or something like that).

Q: Is it me or does this team (real early in the season, I know!) remind of the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons? They play hard, together and they seem to trust each other early in the season. Plus, they've got this power forward, in Shawne Williams, that can shoot the 3 ('Sheed), and no one expects them to go further than the second round. I have no idea how far we'll go, but this is going to be an exciting journey being the underdog, counted out team.  (That tearing of the shirt thing Josh did?  Sexy!!!). -- Cheryl, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Hmm, so does that make Mario Chalmers the Mister Big Shot of the group (of which I'm sure Mario would not take exception)? The reality is that "hard-working teams" have to keep working hard, all the time. That's why teams with stars tend to endure. Equal opportunity for the most part only gets you so far. And that Pistons teams had lockdown defensive types in Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince that I'm not sure this Heat team features. What matters most is maintaining the hunger that those Pistons displayed. A week in, it's difficult to make any such judgment. As for Heat players that fans might want to see with their shirts off, I'm not sure Josh is at the top of that list.


November 3, 2014

Q: You can really start to see the potential of this Heat team. Justin Hamilton can only get better. Josh McRoberts needs conditioning but he will be terrific. And I like our rookies. I'm even beginning to understand the Mario Chalmers move. He's played well. -- Chet.

A: But those are just the complementary pieces. It's worked well to this point because, for the most part, it has worked well with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. And, beyond that, it has worked well with Luol Deng's cuts off the ball, and even Shawne Williams' ability to make plays as McRoberts works his way back. The concern at the outset was that the Heat had quantity depth, not necessarily quality depth. Now different players are stepping up at different times, which is exactly what this roster needs. And still, there are two other components who have yet to show how they might fit, Danny Granger and Udonis Haslem. I still think the Heat will need Granger, especially on those days (and it will happen) when Dwyane Wade can't go. The Heat need to get Granger going before that happens, so Granger can regain the needed confidence. So far, though, it has been a communal effort.

Q: Not to belittle LeBron James' massive contributions in the past, but we are playing like a championship team. I think the determination of players and staff -- and yes it is way too early to start talking Finals and all -- is amazing. When you look at the turnover and new additions and how well the Heat are playing like a team this early while others are still talking about "coming together as the season continues" reflects directly on them being true professionals and a drive to win. Again, it is early and many things can happen, but I love how we look and for anyone who says that Erik Spoelstra won only because of LBJ is truly blind to the fact that he is one of the best coaches in the NBA. He gets little credit nationally which has been a shame. But I think if the Heat continue like they are playing for the year, he will finally get the credit that I think goes so overlooked. -- Michael, South Korea.

A: As much as anything, there is nothing wrong in living in the moment. Heck, with the Rockets also undefeated, Tuesday's game at AmericanAirlines Arena essentially will be for the championship of the first week of the season (to be televised  on NBA TV, no less). Look there also will  be three-game losing streaks along the way, and, as mentioned above, there still are many components the Heat have to fully work into the mix. As for Spoelstra, the only debate left really is about the Hall of Fame. He already has all the respect he could want from the people who matter most.

Q: Shouldn't we be talking about the kids more? Having some youngsters that we drafted and are actually playing in games is exciting. It's something Heat fans aren't accustomed to. -- Jason.

A: Seeing Shabazz Napier and James Ennis pan out certainly would be encouraging. But this remains way too small a sample size. What follows next is what matters, when opponents begin to game plan for them, attack their weaknesses. That's when you can start to get a read of where this is headed. What is encouraging now is the faith being shown by Erik Spoelstra, although I think with Ennis there could be an adjustment once Danny Granger is healthy enough for regular rotation minutes. As for Napier, he appears to already have rotation trust from Spoelstra, and deservedly so. He, by far, is the most polished of the Heat's young players.


November 2, 2014

Q: We might have just opened the door to losing another ascending player whom we groomed by failing to extend Norris Cole, while we keep a player with no upside in Mario Chalmers. The Heat hold on too long to players that have flat-lined or are at the end of their careers, while missing opportunities to grow youth from within. -- Stone, Miami.

A: Actually, as I wrote, I think waiting was a prudent move for both sides. With Norris, it allows him to show over the course of a season whether he deserves to be paid like a starter. For the Heat, it allows them to get a full-season read on Cole, while also evaluating the development of Shabazz Napier. And the reality is that with Norris to be a restricted free agent, it is quite possible he just takes the qualifying offer of $3.03 million for 2015-16 so he can become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, when the new television money kicks in. Norris is betting on himself. You have to appreciate that in a player. And don't sell Chalmers short. At $4 million a season, he remains a value player for the Heat, especially if he can provide needed depth at both point guard and shooting guard. I highly doubt the Heat would allow Cole to walk . . . unless they are certain there is something better available, possibly in 2016 free agency. The passing of the extension deadline hardly was a game-changer for the Heat or Cole.

Q: It is really fun and enjoyable to watch Chris Bosh's inside game. I'm still not sure why Bosh's inside game couldn't have been incorporated into the Heat's last four seasons. It seems like another weapon that would have made it even easier for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat's offense. LeBron's game /Bosh playing inside was always presented as an either/or, as opposed to having them working together to make everyone better. So was that LeBron's domination or Erik Spoelstra's coaching? Now we know why Jeff Van Gundy said the Heat could have gone 72-10. -- Stuart.

A: I think the Heat tried that the first season the Big Three were together and what it did was dissuade LeBron to play in the post. Then, when he got the ball in the post against J.J. Barea, he wasn't sure what to do. Like Spoelstra often said, Bosh "sacrificed." Now it's his turn to play on his terms.

Q: Mario Chalmers is a far better player as a sixth-man/shooting guard. He does not have to think as much and just "act" on instinct. And Shabazz Napier and Chalmers have great chemistry. Cole and Wade have good chemistry. Maybe this Heat team should play with different "lines" like hockey? -- Martin.

A: Give Spoelstra credit: He saw the possibilities in Chalmers, and through two games (granted, a tiny sample size) it is paying dividends. Similarly, finding the right combinations also means plenty, and Spoelstra may be finding it by, to borrow hockey parlance, juggling his lines.


November 1, 2014

Q: Ira, my version of the "David Letterman Top 10 list" of, "Excuses LeBron will give us . . ." -- Martin.

10. It's too cold here for me to ride my bike to the games anymore.

9. Kevin Love does not know how to do a photo-bomb.

8. I look to pass to D-Wade, but he doesn't play here.

7. Dan Gilbert promised that I could be the governor of Ohio, but he lied.

6. There is no South Beach here. Instead I have to party at the local 24-hour Wal-Mart

5. Ray Allen is not here to bail me out.

4. I misunderstood my wife: When she said that she wanted to go home, she meant back to the mansion in Miami.

3. The Cavs regular cheerleaders resemble the Heat's Golden Oldies.

2. The Cavs GM is not Pat Riley.

. . . and number 1 (drum roll) . . .

1. Coach Blatt does not understand why his plays do not work when they worked so well against Lebanon and Morocco. -- Martin.

A: Well, we now know who LeBron won't be calling when it comes time to script his next commercial. Nice effort. Clearly there is a slightly different take in South Florida than the national narrative. Doubt the sneaker and soft-drink people will be calling you to for their next poetic efforts about LeBron.

Q: What do you think Josh McRoberts will deliver when he gets back? -- Art.

A: A unique game for a power forward, one that will again have Erik Spoelstra frothing about position-less possibilities. With so many point guards who have scoring inclinations, McRoberts' passing could be a major boost in the halfcourt, and his 3-point shooting would be a welcomed bonus. The Heat bet big on McRoberts during free agency in terms of years. We'll apparently soon be able to get a read on that investment.

Q: Don't you think there are too many back-to-backs at the beginning of the season? -- Bill.

A: Do I ever, including the Heat, after their season opener, being thrown into a set of four games in five nights, or the Lakers and Thunder being forced to start with compact schedules that don't allow them to regroup after their injury devastation. This is a time of year when practice still matters, when teams are still coming together. If ever the schedule needed to allow time for teams to regroup it would be now.

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