April 27, 2015
Q: Which Heat player do you think has to improve the most over the offseason? I know you may say Hassan Whiteside, with a whole summer under his belt, and the coaches changing the playing style to better incorporate him. I'm thinking more in terms of Shabazz Napier, Tyler Johnson and James Ennis. -- Brian.
A: You make a good point about it likely being someone other than Hassan, who certainly still has plenty of room for growth. But Whiteside ended the season as a force, so he will enter his first full season with the Heat as a known quantity. Honestly, to me it has to be Napier, because you have to see how much upside is there. The problem is that you also don't want to burn his remaining confidence in summer league, where he struggled with his shot last year, and where it is not easy to create quality looks amid the ragged style. But with such an uneven ride last season for Napier, the Heat have to get a better read on whether there is something to work with going forward, or whether they are working with a playmaker who lacks outside consistency and athleticism.
Q: About your questions about Erik Spoelstra, part of it has to be players, cough, cough, running plays called by Spo. The coach has to adjust, no doubt, but freelancing hurts. -- Sean.
A: But that also is part of coaching, convincing players such as Dwyane Wade to move the ball, to go with what is called in the huddle, to maximize the time on the clock for the best possible shot and as many opportunities as possible. Part of it also is convincing your players to have confidence in teammates, that Whiteside or Goran Dragic or Chris Bosh also can get the job done. With greater continuity should come greater confidence.
Q: Does Kevin Love's injury have a similar impact to the Cavaliers as when Chris Bosh got injured in the 2013 playoffs? -- Danny.
A: Actually, you're referring to the 2012 playoffs, when the Heat lost Bosh in the second round against the Pacers and didn't get him back until late in the next round against the Celtics. That had LeBron James taking on more of a power role, which again could be the case, this time in Cleveland. It also had the Heat moving more toward small ball. The reality is that the East is down enough that the Cavaliers likely could survive a short-term absence. But the Bulls, with the size of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and even Nikola Mirotic, loom, which could make Love's health a major issue. Then again, those Pacers were pretty big against the Heat in 2012 without Bosh.
April 26, 2015
Q: Will Erik Spoelstra be next season's Mike Budenholzer? The Hawks' record last season was comparable to the Heat's this year. Bud formed a new identity for the team with Coach of the Year results. Gregg Popovich developed Kawhi Leonard and Pat Riley did likewise with Dwyane Wade. Erik Spoelstra never needed to do that because he had a young Wade and then LeBron James. This season injuries caught him unaware, but he discovered Hassan Whiteside. Hopefully he will have the summer to update his game plan. -- Leonard, Aventura.
A: First, I would give plenty of credit to Stan Van Gundy for the development of Wade. But, to your greater point, I can appreciate your comparison to how Budenholzer took largely the same roster and found a way to make it something better. I know the Heat talk about the "Heat way" and the "Heat culture," but times change and teams and coaches have to adapt. Erik did that subtly during the Big Three era, but now is probably time for something more substantive. With Whiteside and presumably Goran Dragic, this is a completely different dynamic than what Spoelstra previously had to work with in a camp. But Dragic did praise the Heat for having a defensive focus, so you can be assured that side of the court will not be ignored.
Q: Wouldn't a little lottery luck give Pat Riley ammunition to make a trade for another superstar like Kevin Durant with his impending 2016 free agency and the firing of Scott Brooks being a possible concern? -- Brandon, Sunrise.
A: I don't know about Durant, but I do know that moving into the first three selections would change everything, just as it did for the Cavaliers last year, with the rights to Andrew Wiggins opening doors that might not have otherwise been there. Even retaining the No. 10 pick would significantly increase the possibilities for the Heat. May 19 stands as one of the most significant days of the year for the Heat, no question.
Q: Do you think Pat Riley's public statements about LeBron will have any effect on any Heat recruitment efforts in any way? I watched the press conference clips and that "smiling faces" line didn't seem like an off-the-cuff remark, more like a prepared one, though it's tough to tell. -- Phillip, Singapore.
A: None of that matters to free agents, who first want to see the money and then want to know the game plan. I cannot recall a player who came to the Heat and later would say it was not right for him. Some left for money or greater playing opportunities (and one supposedly to go back home), but I think one cheeky moment is not going to change the greater outlook.
April 25, 2015
Q: In his exit interview, Pat Riley mentioned Mario Chalmers coming off the bench next year. I normally bite my tongue as there is nothing I can do about it. So please help me understand: Why do we continue to give Mario big minutes? Year after year the only thing I can count on with Chalmers is inconsistency. Why now count on him as a sixth-man, when this year was filled with the same: one good game and five bad ones? He comes into most games and quickly picks up multiple fouls, turns the ball over, gets beaten off the dribble and slows the offense down. He hits a three and all is forgotten. What am I missing and is anyone expecting his game to improve? -- Stone, Miami.
A: First, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to Mario's role next season, with the free-agent market to have a major say in the Heat's rotation next season. But, again, we're talking about a player earning less than the league average who has made some very big plays for this team at some very big times. And I think your ratio of good-to-bad is a bit skewed by the ones that truly go wrong. Based on what the Heat have at the moment, and what they have to spend this summer, Mario could very well again be cast as the first guard off the bench.
Q: Ira, Pat Riley is a legend's legend when it comes to all things NBA. But any NBA coach would not want to be micromanaged to the point of seeing said legend after every single game waiting in his office to rehash everything. Don't you think Riley needs to step aside and let his coach do just that without having the principal waiting to see him after every game? Surely after already having to explain every misstep to the media the last thing Erik Spoelstra wants to do is explain during losses, and I'm sure wins, as well, what worked and what didn't. Riley's press conference also sent some not-too-subtle grenades towards his coach as well. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.
A: That's not what Pat was saying. He was saying that he is there for Spoelstra after every home game and when Spoelstra needs someone to bounce ideas against. I can also tell you that Riley has made a point during practices and shootarounds to make it clear he stays off the court and out of coaching matters. And I can't recall any "grenades" toward Spoelstra, unlike last year, when he offered the "reinvent" quote. In fact, Riley went out of his way this time to downplay any notions of Spoelstra having to reinvent.
Q: Can teams who are not in the playoffs make trades now? -- Martin.
A: Yes, as long as all parties involved in the trade are no longer involved in the postseason. Such opportunities tend to be limited because it limits the pool of possibilities. Plus, most teams prefer to wait until after the draft lottery, which this year is May 19, in order to get a better sense of which teams draft when. The busiest trade period tends to be around the draft itself, which is June 25.
April 24, 2015
Q: Getting only one third-place vote for Defensive Player of the Year will be more motivation for Hassan Whiteside. Now he can go in saying, "Last season I only received one vote." -- Rubens.
A: I've never felt Hassan has lacked motivation, considering where he stood for the two seasons before joining the Heat. But it will be interesting to see if he can make a season-long impact as a rim-protector. A lot of that will be learning how to stay out of foul trouble, when to go for blocks, and when to sit back and protect the boards with his rebounding. The reality is the Heat don't know exactly what Whiteside will be over a full season, or even if he can maintain his focus over 82 games. But it's safe to say that if Whiteside reaches his potential that he should finish higher than this season's tie for 15th in the race for Defensive Player of the Year.
Q: I know there is a lot up in the air to make any decisions now (including Goran Dragic and the possible draft selection), but what are the odds the Heat trade Shabazz Napier? If Dragic re-signs, with Tyler Johnson and Mario Chalmers, if we don't get a first-round pick, we could trade Napier to get a pick in the first round. -- Jorge.
A: Considering how late Napier went in last year's first round, and how limited his contribution was this past season, I don't think there is much of a market. The Heat would be better off continuing to develop him, considering his limited hit against the cap as a late pick in the first round. If the Heat continue to prefer Chalmers as a third guard, then there still would be the potential for Napier to start the games Dragic is unable to play, since he is more of a point guard than Johnson.
Q: I have always been very curious about NBA player conditioning during the offseason and preseason. Notwithstanding top conditioning, we see injuries happen all the time to players on every NBA team. Do the Heat have their own conditioning program for all players which they discuss with each player (taking into account that younger players should be on a different conditioning program than a veteran player who has been in the league for a while) or do they just expect each player to undertake their own conditioning program during the offseason so that each player will on their own show up to the first pre-season practice in top condition? -- Michael, Miami.
A: The Heat offer year-round conditioning and training to their players, as well as year-round access to their workout facilities. I've always felt one of the issues has been players working with private or personal trainers in the offseason, some who think they have a better way of handling conditioning and training. While some are very good, some also work with different goals than the Heat have in mind. Through my experience, the players who arrive and stay in best shape, in the type of condition the Heat require, are those who work with the team as much as possible.
April 23, 2015
Q: I think with Rick Carlisle's statement on Rajon Rondo, we can assume that Rondo will be playing with Kobe Bryant. Goran Dragic's second-preferred destination was the Lakers. We can assume Miami is the clear cut favorite and maybe only destination. -- Julio
A: The one thing I learned after last summer is to assume absolutely nothing until pen is put to paper. And you have to wonder, after seeing what Rondo has looked like without Pierce, Garnett and Allen, is if that is the best investment of the Lakers' resources. While Rondo might want the Lakers, I wouldn't be surprised if the Lakers first make a pitch for Dragic. The reality is that I don't know how much of a market there will be for Rondo, especially at the price point he is expected to be looking at. I do agree, because of the simple math I had laid out, that a player at Dragic's age might find the Heat's possibilities too much to walk away from, especially with his brother under contract to the Heat. I agree the Dragic scenarios could be relatively simple. I think the Rondo situation could grow remarkably complex. Then again, the Knicks never have been shy about throwing money at whatever is available.
Q: With Luol Deng, isn't it fair to say that he may opt out for a multi-year deal elsewhere? -- Joe.
A: No. Remember, Deng also could opt out and work out a multi-year deal with the Heat, starting with 20-percent raises over last season's salary. So it is possible for Deng to opt out and essential force the hand of the Heat, who would lack the salary-cap resources for a replacement. Deng basically could opt out and then suggest to the Heat he could return for four years at $40 million. So he does have options, including options that could force the Heat into a long-term decision.
Q: Let's just say out of hypotheticals, we get lucky and move into a Top 5 position with the lottery. What would be Miami's best course of action? -- J.F., Miami
A: First, the only positions the Heat could draft at would be Nos. 1, 2, 3 or 10, since only the first three draft slots are determined by the random-but-weighted lottery, and because if the Heat are pushed back in the draft order the pick would go to the Philadelphia 76ers to complete that trade (to the Cavaliers through the Timberwolves). I assume your question is whether the Heat would draft one of the prominent big men, in light of the Heat appearing set in the power rotation. All I could say at this stage, two months before the draft, is that if Pat Riley lands a chip like that, it is likely he would listen to any and every offer, and also trade to create a few himself.
April 22, 2015
Q: I wholeheartedly agree with Pat Riley that the best teams in the NBA have rosters completed with developed players. But the developed players brought in must complement the team's identity, on-court philosophy and the skill sets of its core players in order for the team to be fluid, consistent, and, ultimately, successful. Miami now has a core of the emerging Hassan Whiteside, the versatile Chris Bosh, and the still-capable-of-getting-it-done Dwyane Wade. Yet, there are so many decisions to be made due to the many holes that remain in the roster. Obviously, a backup shooting guard and knockdown 3-point shooters must be brought in. Also, I believe the team needs to bring in a younger, athletic power player behind Whiteside/Bosh who has some post moves, a nose for rebounding, and has the lift to finish at the rim (Birdman and Udonis Haslem are actually getting to the "over-developed" stage in their careers, if you will, and along with Josh McRoberts, each has a deficiency in one or two of these categories). Then there are the spots taken by three young or undeveloped prospects on the roster who all showed some promise at one point or another during the season, but that's probably two too many, as the Heat will most likely make a first-round selection in this year's draft. Finally, there is the upcoming free agency of Goran Dragic and Luol Deng (everyone knows the detriment of potentially losing Dragic after giving up so much to acquire him midseason, so no need to discuss what he brings on the court). I know what Deng brings to any team. He's a stat sheet stuffer and is still one of the league's best wing defenders (he was excellent against Chris Paul in a win over the Clippers in Los Angeles this past season). But, in my opinion, he does not fit offensively with Wade. Wade seemingly will continue to be a shooting guard who can still score 40 points on a given night without making a 3-point shot. Therefore, a small forward with better spot-up consistency would be a better fit. I believe if Deng opts out, Miami would greatly minimize the loss if (and that's a big "if") they could land Jeff Green (and also add Wesley Johnson to come off the bench behind him). Am I too far ahead of things or do you think Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra already have their sleeves rolled up so that they will be ahead of situations instead of being "late to all the parties" this offseason? -- Nikki.
A: Oh, I can guarantee you that this summer everything from Plan A to Plan Z will be in place. But, moving past the timing of LeBron James' decision last summer, the reality is that there always are moving parts in free agency, and when you are looking to make multiple moves, it often comes down to the timing of those you are considering. So as much as the Heat would like to have a neat, well-packaged approach, the reality is that while waiting for one I'll-get-back-to-you-on-that free agent, another free agent might insist on an immediate answer. I do agree on many of your points. An upgrade on the 3-point shooting is essential; it simply is the way the league is going, and there were too many nights when I tweeted, "Heat now 0-for-(some considerable number) on 3-pointers at the moment." Defensive athleticism on the wing also is needed no matter Deng's decision. And while I agree with your take on the power rotation and an injection of vitality, the reality is that Chris Andersen and Haslem will be back, so there might be only so much you can do without getting overloaded in that area.
Q: I have never seen Riley refer to an incident in the manner he does LeBron James' defection. You know it cuts him deep. Imagine LeBron not taking your calls, so you know he could be moving on, yet you're unable to sign anyone as he may just be coming back. -- Patrick, Hollywood.
A: But, as I mentioned in the answer above, there also has to be perspective. Every year free agents put teams on hold as they consider other possibilities (just as teams do when considering other free agents). And the NBA doesn't make it any easier with the "moratorium" waiting period, where even an agreement with a free agent can't be made official until the formal signing date. I think more than the timing of LeBron's decision, or even the way LeBron handled it, what stung (and apparently still stings) most was that after four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, one of Riley's players walked away.
Q: I just finished watching the full Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra exit interviews. Compared to Riles being specific and candid with his answers, Coach Spo answered with cliche after cliche, no real specifics. Who does he think this benefits? Why not just give a specific answer to the question? This to me feels condescending and like he is running from or insulating himself from the truth. -- Stone, Miami.
A: The difference is Riley has the franchise's final say, so, save perhaps for Micky Arison, he doesn't have to answer to anyone for his perspective. Spoelstra does. So if Erik would come out sharply in one direction and Riley would offer a contrasting view, well, that would create all kinds of questions. For the most part, I find Erik and Pat in lockstep. In fact, it was Pat who largely ducked specific questions about Spoelstra and the coaching staff.
April 21, 2015
Q: It sounds like Pat Riley wants to run. He mentioned he was a fastbreak coach. Erik Spoelstra said he wants to run. We know Goran Dragic wants to run. So what happens when they don't run? -- Paul.
A: Seemingly every coach wants to run going into a season. But that also means rebounding, which the Heat do not do particularly well. Or it means forcing turnovers, which the Heat did a lot better before this past season. It also means players will have to be willing to run lanes (and then run back on defense), and move the ball. If Hassan Whiteside rebounds over a full schedule like he did over the second half of the season, then the transition opportunities should be there (it will be interesting to see if the opposition tries to jam the rebounder to test his outlet passing). And, of course, it comes down to how Dwyane Wade would work in such approach (although he is just a year removed from a dynamic transition game with LeBron James). Bottom line with all talk of running: Believe it when you see it.
Q: I had to laugh when Pat Riley seemed to lament his "buzzard's luck" this season. If there's one thing Pat and the Heat have not had, it's any type of bad luck. (This year alone: Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic becoming available, being "just" bad enough to probably keep their pick in a great, deep draft). --Anthony
A: But also losing Josh McRoberts just over a month into the season and then Chris Bosh at midseason. In the end, I don't think "luck" had much to do with the Heat's demise, especially when playing in the Eastern Conference. With one more victory, they would have been in the playoffs. And there were plenty of losses over the final weeks of the season (perhaps beyond the Milwaukee game) where "luck" had little to do with the equation.
Q: Pat made no mention of the coaching staff's gaffes. I still have some serious concerns about this coaching staff. -- Gary, Delray Beach.
A: And I doubted he would. As a former coach, the last place I would expect Pat to evaluate his coaching staff is in front of the media. As he said, he has no problem with passing along notes to his staff. And I'm sure he did that plenty both during and after the season.
April 20, 2015
Q: You have to like a starting five, at least on paper, of Goran Dragic (assuming he comes back), Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng (assuming he comes back), Hassan Whiteside and Chris Bosh. That's potentially a top-five NBA starting lineup, if the group stays healthy and Whiteside takes another solid step forward in developing his game. The key, outside of health, is depth. We need help on the perimeter in regard to defense and 3-point shooting range. -- Matt.
A: Spot on. The drop-off often was substantial when the Heat went to the bench. Yes, playing without Bosh and Josh McRoberts compromised the depth. But their absences had little to do with the wing depth, or with wing defense. If Danny Granger had worked out, that still would not have addressed defensive wing depth beyond what Deng could offer. Now the resources are even more limited (remember, last summer the Heat were able to work with salary-cap space once LeBron James left). The answer could be as simple as a three-and-D wing (I'm not sure James Ennis is there yet). But there has to be more for the games that Wade misses and the ones that Deng (or his potential replacement might miss). Ennis and Tyler Johnson aren't there yet.
Q: One takeaway from the last two seasons was gambling on reclamation projects doesn't work for the Miami Heat. Maybe it succeeds for other teams, but the Heat aren't built that way. -- Leonard.
A: Granger certainly set them back. And I agree that this time, already with older players in Wade and Chris Andersen, plus others, that the Heat can't be waiting on players who might work their way back. It's one thing to gamble on players who haven't quite found their way, such as what Boston did with Evan Turner. It's another thing not knowing if a player even will make it to the court.
Q: What about Shabazz Napier? -- Robert, Fayetteville.
A: That is a really, really good question, and takes us back to the question of whether the Heat would have traded up for him in the draft if he was not necessarily LeBron James' draft pick of choice. Should Goran Dragic re-sign, and should Mario Chalmers remain as the third guard, it would mean spot minutes, at best going forward. And what the Heat could really use from a fourth guard is the 3-point consistency that Napier has yet to show.
April 19, 2015
Q: Wouldn't it be wiser for owners to sign marquee or star free agents now long term and pay whatever luxury taxes are due rather than waiting on 2016-17 where lesser quality free agents will be getting approximately those same amounts? -- Ryan, Naples.
A: That's why the Goran Dragic free agency comes at a favorable juncture. A max deal this offseason will be nothing like a max deal in future offseasons. There is plenty to be said about getting contracts in order this offseason, which is perhaps why a re-worked Dwyane Wade deal could make sense with his opt-out. The problem for the Heat is Hassan Whiteside will become a free agent in the 2016 offseason, and there is nothing the Heat can do to preempt that. With Whiteside, who is at the minimum next season, it could create one of the largest one-year raises in NBA history.
Q: Ira, how much of a wakeup call was missing the playoffs to Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley? I know in the offseason everyone expected LeBron James to come back and they played catch up after he left, and yes we were ravaged by injuries, but at the same time I did not see much difference in the game the Heat played until at least Hassan Whiteside came into his own late in the year. The open threes by opponents never stopped and seemingly no effort was made to replace our own 3-point specialists. Picking up Goran Dragic and Luol Deng was great but again the Heat struggled to tailor to their games. With a lot of the players coming back, do you see big changes or will the Heat again just rely on the same strategy and hope the return of Chris Bosh and possibly Josh McRoberts to fix any ills we have?-- Joe, Plantation.
A: What happens this time is Riley has an entire offseason to deal with the realities of no LeBron, and Spoelstra gets a full training camp to incorporate his pieces. That puts both on the clock. Riley now knows there has to be better wing depth, Spoelstra knows what didn't work with this group. The Teflon of LeBron is gone. The grace period was the 2014-15 season.
Q: Norris Cole didn’t look bad against the Warriors. He could have helped the Heat. -- Si.
A: He certainly shot the ball far better after he left the Heat, which could have been a factor of the spots the Pelicans put him in. But backup point guard was not major issue for the Heat after his departure, and isn't now. With Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Mario Chalmers all able to handle, the deficit for the Heat is on the wing, with a need for players with more length than Norris.
April 18, 2015
Q: Here is only one person I believe in affiliated with the Heat: Pat Riley. Pat will do what's necessary to put the Heat back in the hunt. But a run like they just had with LeBron James, fans need to know it doesn't work quite that easy. Not even the Spurs have had a run like that, four straight NBA Finals appearances. So I agree with Charles Barkley on this one: The Heat might make the playoffs in the near future, but they won't be elite. There are too many holes, too many aging players they depend on. If they can put a team together like when they had Tim Hardaway/Alonzo Mourning, I'd be happy with that. But this talk of they're going to be a top team in the near future, they will have to prove that one. -- Wesley.
A: And that has always been my issue with Pat Riley, this all-or-nothing bravado, that it's championship-or-bust. It's not. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting for the stars, and it certainly keeps fans engaged in the process. But that's what it is, a process, normally one not completed until you feature a definitive star, whether it is the development of Dwyane Wade on the way to the 2006 championship, or the addition of LeBron James on the way to the 2012 and 2013 titles. But this season also featured a bunch of "hustle" teams that rewarded their fans with playoff berths, including the Bucks and Celtics. And those proved to be enjoyable seasons to fans in Milwaukee and Boston, no matter where the journey takes them. And that will be the next step for the Heat. With Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Wade, they should be a competitive team. But to win a championship, you have to ask yourself whether you have a LeBron or a Duncan, or a Nowitzki or a Pierce in their primes. I'm not sure Bosh or Dragic are at that stage. So I'd say the Heat look like they're headed halfway between Barkley and Riley, to a better place, if not a championship place. And there's nothing wrong with that. And that at least should have you playing into May.
Q: The postmortem on this season boils down to injuries, poor coaching and management decisions, lack of deferral on Dwyane Wade's part and difficulty integrating new talent. I thought Erik Spoelstra did a poor job and had difficulty adjusting without LeBron James on the floor. In addition, I heard Dirk Nowitzki lamenting the difficulty in bringing in a point guard (Rajon Rondo) in the middle of the season. Well how about a point guard and center? LeBron left Pat Riley in the lurch and thus the composition of the team was lacking with poor chemistry, and he gambled and lost on going into the season with statistically abysmal point guards and backup wings. But the future looks bright, especially if a draft pick is available and a talented wing player can be obtained and Goran Dragic can be re-signed. -- Howard, Palm City.
A: There certainly are a lot of moving parts. And I think the reality is that cleaning up in the wake of a whirlwind departure like LeBron's takes time. We'll never know for sure, but even now, nine months after the fact, I truly believe if Riley had time to map out a post-LeBron game plan, many of the moves might have been different, from the drafting of Shabazz Napier to the signing of Danny Granger, to the way other free agents were courted, including Pau Gasol. What it essentially forced the Heat to do was play catch-up from the start, with a nice recovery with the additions of Whiteside and Dragic.
Q: Can we assume that Spoelstra has this job for as long as he wants? -- Neal, West Palm Beach.
A: No. And we probably can assume he might be on the clock next season. That's the reality of coaching, even in an organization that stresses continuity and loyalty. And that's not a bad thing, either. Having to produce can get a coach to raise his game, just as it can with a player.
April 17, 2015
Q: Who do you think Erik Spoelstra is going to keep for next season? Henry Walker is three or nothing. Was Wednesday a farewell game for James Ennis? Is Josh McRoberts coming back? Michael Beasley scored his season high in the last game. Can he get more minutes next season? Is Tyler Johnson likely to leave as well? And Zoran Dragic played surprisingly well Wednesday. I am wondering what would happen if he played more during the season. -- Bric, Fort Lauderdale.
A: First, those decisions primarily belong to Pat Riley, although Erik's deal does include personnel input. It also is way too early to consider ancillary components of the roster, with so much still to play out. The Heat first have to see if they will have a first-round draft pick, with that fate not to be determined until the May 19 draft lottery (all the Heat have right now is a lottery seed). Then there is the question of who stays and who goes, with Luol Deng and Goran Dragic holding the right to become free agents. And then there is the matter of who might be available in free agency. If I were to speculate at this stage, I would guess that Ennis and Johnson would be back, and that Walker and Beasley would be put on the backburner. And I do wonder if Zoran Dragic could become the outside specialist and floor spacer the Heat lacked this season.
Q: I think Luol Deng not exercising his player option next season might be overstated. Luol buying a Mediterranean bay-front estate in Morningside last summer might be an indication that he'd like to settle in Miami for more than one season if he has a choice. Otherwise, he might have rented instead of making a nearly $5 million real-estate investment. I know things like major home purchases might be ancillary in a player's decision, but it's something to think about that maybe he's not ready to uproot so shortly after getting settled. -- Jason, Orlando.
A: I'm no expert on the resale market, and think there are matters of greater priority when it comes to such a decision. Primarily, will Deng be allowed to play his game, one where movement off the ball is rewarded? If Dragic returns and if Josh McRoberts gets back to where he was in December, then the style could be perfect for Luol. But based on body language, his upbeat spirit in the locker room and the few comments he has offered, I believe it is more likely he returns than he doesn't.
Q: Ira, is it possible that a Dorell Wright reunion could take place? With the possibility of Luol Deng leaving, there will be a glaring hole at small forward. -- Bryant.
A: Dorell certainly has matured since he departed the Heat, developing into a reliable three-and-D threat. But I think the Heat need to inject youthful vitality, not continue to play the game of worrying about injuries with players with too many years on their odometers.
April 16, 2015
Q: As a fan and season-ticket holder, I had hoped the Heat would be in the playoffs. As a realist, missing them was destined to happen this year. Looking forward, it will be exciting to see how Pat Riley utilizes his current assets to reinvent this team. With Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, assuming he re-signs, the Heat certainly have some special talent going forward. As you and others have said, Dwyane Wade is the key going forward, if he can accept a different mentality and role on this team. The Heat have to get younger, faster and just overall better. -- Chet.
A: As I've said in recent days, while the championship contention would have been the best-case scenario in the wake of the loss of LeBron James, the second-best outcome was finding a center and point guard. With Whiteside and Dragic, the Heat ended the season in a far better position at those positions than where they started. As for Dwyane, I've never felt he had a Kobe Bryant type of ego, where he would get in the way of progress. He deferred to LeBron when he was here, and even deferred to Chris Bosh at the start of this season. This summer, I'm sure Erik Spoelstra will define a speed game for Dragic and a post game for Whiteside. Then Wade will know how and where he fits best. Give Dwyane a blueprint that looks like it will succeed, and he willingly hops aboard. The problem this season was the Heat never had the opportunity to develop a trustworthy blueprint.
Q: What's wrong with this picture: The Bucks and the Celtics are in the playoffs and the Heat are not? Ira, you can't tell me they have better players. Better coach? -- Alex, Miami.
A: Everything is wrong with that picture, other than showing how much hustle, commitment and perseverance can carry a team in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks lost their first-round pick early in the season and a previous cornerstone shortly thereafter, yet found a way to thrive without Jabari Parker and Larry Sanders. The Celtics showed how playing within a well-designed structure could produce results, even after trading Rajon Rondo. Neither of those teams had better "talent" than the Heat. What it shows is that talent is just one part of the equation. And it's not as if the Bucks or Celtics didn't have their health issues, too. If anything is infuriating it has to be missing out on the playoffs by a single game to the Nets, a team they went 4-0 against this season. In the end, all those blown leads were the reason the Heat aren't playing on.
Q: We need to look at shooting guards this summer who can back up Wade. Both Geralds (Green and Henderson) would be solid pick-ups. Aside from them, most shooting guards are too expensive or not what we need. I don't say this because of the "Wade needs to take a step back" bandwagon, but because our second team is sad offensively. -- Jonathan.
A: I agree that either through the draft or free agency adding an additional wing is essential. Right now there is not enough to back up at the three or the two. Danny Granger being unable to play created a season-long problem. The Heat gambled on his health and lost. They can't afford such a risk again this offseason. Then again, Zoran Dragic did show something on Wednesday night.
April 15, 2015
Q: This team needs an offseason to catch up with the new talent and the aliments from the roster. -- Joel, New Britain, Pa.
A: There's been a lot said about how, after four years of advancing to the NBA Finals, that this roster needs an extended offseason. I think that's rubbish. First, the only players remaining from all four runs to the Finals are Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers (with Chris Bosh sidelined in February for the balance of the season). First, Haslem has been reduced to a limited role and Chalmers to sixth-man. So it is doubtful physical fatigue is an issue for either. And the reality is that Wade had a 23-day break at midseason because of his hamstring and then the All-Star break. If Bosh and LeBron James were still on the roster, then the talk of championship-series fatigue would be more legitimate. Exhaustion from the past four years is one of the last reasons for why the Heat's record has gone this far south. Adjusting to the influx of new talent is another story. The Heat did a reasonable job with Hassan Whiteside (although he clearly has shown an ability to do even more offensively in the post), but adjusting to Goran Dragic's pace is best done with a reworked playbook. And say what you want about Erik Spoelstra on game nights, but he is at his best when given time in the offseason to match a system to his talent.
Q: The NBA playoffs have moved from South Beach to Cleveland. I guess LeBron James is the BOAT (the best of all time). The fans of Cleveland get to enjoy what we have enjoyed in Miami, basketball from April until late June, for the last four years. Enjoy. And special thanks to Pat Riley for creating a great four years. Not having playoff basketball this spring will help us appreciate what we had the last four years. -- Stuart.
A: And it's not as if we haven't seen this current reality coming for weeks, if not months. And I have an inkling that the Cavaliers' television ratings with be second to Cleveland in Miami, albieit likely for different reasons.
Q: Luol Deng says he is happy with Heat organization. I wonder if Dragic being on team has something to do with it, because both are soccer enthusiasts and may have developed a bond over it. Perhaps Dragic will lead the team to more fast-paced, European style of play. -- Leonard, Aventura.
A: That's what makes the timing of the Heat's free-agency issues so intriguing. Deng must decide on his 2015-16 player option before the Heat can even begin discussing a free-agent contract with Dragic. I do think the lure of Dragic as floor leader and pace-setter could prove intriguing to a number of potential free agents, even with the Heat's limited resources. But the Heat first must establish that they will play through Dragic and move away from the current slower, isolation approach.
April 14, 2015
Q: I do think in implementing a new offense, Goran Dragic should be the primary ball handler, and that the shooting should be more balanced and not be where Dwyane Wade takes over most games, especially in the fourth quarter. The Heat would have to have a more balanced offense with five strong to very strong scoring options on the floor. -- Matt.
A: The reality is what unlocks an NBA offense is outside shooting, an area where the Heat fell decidedly short this season, after cruising along with the likes of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and James Jones. Part of that was that Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts were supposed to space the floor as stretch fours (or fives). The best way to get the ball moving is to get the ball moving to shooters to help space the floor. The reality at the end of this season is that by starting Hassan Whiteside and Udonis Haslem, the Heat allowed opponents to pack the paint. Still, your point resonated yet again at the finish Monday against the Magic, a game the Heat very much were trying to win. Wade took 10 of the Heat's 21 fourth-quarter shots, in a period they were outscored 27-16. On one hand, Wade also scored half of the Heat's points in the period. On the other hand, with a bit more versatility, it may never have gotten within six points late.
Q: When does the Heat's pick become "locked" and automatically forwarded to the 76ers if it's outside the top 10? Let's say the lottery happens and the Heat ended up with the 11th pick and someone else (say the Pacers) have the 10th. Does the pick immediately become Philadelphia's? Or could the Heat, say, talk to Indiana immediately and offer to swap picks and throw in some cash or a second-rounder or something to get back into the Top 10 to keep it? -- Kyle, Madison, Wis.
A: As soon as the lottery is completed. If the Heat exit the lottery with the No. 10 pick or one closer to the top of the draft, they keep it. Period. If it is 11th or worse, it instantly goes to the 76ers. What the Heat do from that point forward no longer is impacted by the terms of the trade, including trading out of the first 10, or even trading the player selected with the pick. But the Heat will continue to owe the 76ers a pick until that trade is satisfied (Top 10 protected again in 2016, unprotected by 2017, which is the latest it could be completed).
Q: The Heat are counting their chickens before they hatch. They cannot assume Chris Bosh or McRoberts will ever return to their pre-injury/illness strength. I would not rely on damaged goods ever becoming whole again, e.g. Derrick Rose. We know that Dwyane Wade, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem will only contribute limited minutes due to health and age. -- Leonard, Aventura.
A: I agree that the aging portion of the roster is a concern. But athletes who have come back from what Bosh went through (blood clots on his lung) mostly continued on as they previously performed. And players have returned from ailments similar to McRoberts', including Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose this season. But I do agree that this roster can't remain stagnant, and that there has to be enough depth in place to allow for additional time off for Wade and Deng when needed.
April 13, 2015
Q: At what point do the Heat start preparing for a new shooting guard? You mentioned earlier it's a delicate situation with Dwyane Wade, but obviously he's not the player he was four or five years ago. Do the Heat find themselves in situation like the Lakers, where Wade has meant so much to this franchise (like Kobe Bryant) and has been so loyal to this franchise (like Kobe) that you pay him and ride it out for two more years? I see Wade more as a Manu Ginobili-type player now, where it can happen in spurts and on some nights, but not at the All-Star level over a season. His body just won't allow that to happen anymore. Fans, media and coaches a like all see it, just as with Kobe. -- Doug, Oakland, Calif.
A: And thus you have dropped the elephant into the room. And you are correct, that you cannot put your entire perimeter fortunes in the hands of a player likely to miss at least a quarter of your games each season, even while still capable of a 30-point effort, like Saturday against the Raptors. And I do wonder if the issue is addressed ahead of Goran Dragic's expected free agency, so Goran can get a read of whether he will remain a complementary piece. Now, this certain does not have to be any formal announcement, but rather private discussions with Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra about two-way loyalty and a consensus on what is best for the team going forward. Wade has proven willing to sacrifice before. Now comes a different type of sacrifice. You're Ginobili comparison makes a lot of sense, and would leave Wade still in a featured role, just as Manu is with the Spurs. It also could potentially elongate Wade's career, as it has for Ginobili.
Q: It is hard to believe that Danny Ainge's Boston Celtics and Jason Kidd's Milwaukee Bucks both finished ahead of the Miami Heat this year. The Bucks had 16 wins last season. Boston has been in the lottery the past few years. -- Stuart.
A: And the Bucks have been ravaged by injuries and absences, while the Celtics were developing young talent, with many additional assets at their disposal. As I've said before, when you start the season with Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh-Luol Deng and when you end the season with Goran Dragic-Wade-Deng, that should be enough to get you into the playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference. That's why this postseason has to involve a detailed reevaluation of depth, injury prevention and chemistry, with the latter including the approach and game-planning from the coaching staff.
Q: Ira, putting everything else aside, would the Heat have been in the playoffs with everything that went on this season if LeBron James still was on the roster? -- Ray.
A: Yes, a team with LeBron James basically starts the season with a playoff designated next to its name in the standings. The Heat previously showed they could survive absences of Bosh and Wade as long as LeBron was around. They showed they could win with a lack of depth with LeBron. They showed they could win with Spoelstra's game-planning with LeBron. They also may have gotten too comfortable with LeBron.
April 12, 2015
Q: Four starters on the bench at the same time starting very important fourth quarter? Three-guard offense finishing the quarter, why? It's not like Tyler Johnson was playing too great to take out. I would rather have a real power forward on the floor, or at least Michael Beasley, who can make a shot. How many huge leads did we blow in the third quarter? Other teams adjust at halftime; we don't. Because our coach is very stubborn. When your team is always blowing leads, you need to adjust. Even Saturday in the fourth quarter our defense was once again everyone playing the ball, no one playing open shooters. Threes at the wrong time are a dagger. I know Erik Spoelstra is regarded as a good coach, I just don't get it. -- Morris.
A: I understand that Goran Dragic wound up playing 38 minutes and Wade 33, but it's not as if there wasn't a day off before, and a day off after. Heck, the Raptors were playing on the second night of a back-go-back, and Kyle Lowry, who supposedly was on a minutes restriction after returning from his back issue, played 39. There is plenty of time for rest, apparently, for the Heat, starting Thursday. Look, a coach and the team's trainers know how much everyone has in their tank. And the way Mario Chalmers was playing, the options were limited. And it's not as if Michael Beasley ever has inspired late-game confidence, but I just thought this was the game to play everyone and anyone as long as needed. And, yes, Tyler Johnson for all 12 fourth-quarter minutes, even against a team playing small, seemed like a bit much. But I also thought this was not the night to start volleying strategy questions postgame, amid everything else going on.
Q: We should thank Henry Walker for effort provided this season. We must be respectful of service provided by Michael Beasley. We must thank and trade Mario Chalmers, who has reached his plateau (just a fairly good combo guard). We must find a way to exorcise Zoran Dragic. There, you have four spots to fill. I know it's not as easy, but just a start. -- Leon.
A: I agree that there has to be a degree of makeover, if nothing other than to refresh the attitude. And the reality is that with Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts coming back, there likely won't be great need for Walker or Beasley. I disagree about Chalmers, only so far in that I'm not sure you are going to find a better fit as the third guard at his pay grade. Even if Shabazz Napier progresses, he is not a combo guard and cannot swing between the two positions. As for Zoran Dragic, it essentially remains the price of keeping Goran Dragic (although I do wonder with the lack of playing time whether Zoran returns to play in Europe).
Q: You think James Ennis will get enough minutes over the next two games to pick him up to fill the gaps in my first title game? -- Vinny.
A: Look, I am no fantasy-basketball maven, but if you have to count on Ennis to round out your fantasy team for a championship round, well, I'm impressed that you were able to get there in the first place. Yes, Ennis has become a rotation component for the Heat. But this also is a team in desperation mode, so he likely will remain mostly an if-needed component. Of course, if the Heat are eliminated, he could turn into a late-season fantasy superstar. So there's that.
April 11, 2015
Q: Assuming the Heat finish ahead of Charlotte, but behind Brooklyn, Boston, and Indiana, are the Heat considered 10th or 11th if they're tied with Utah? The two teams split the season series. -- Rich, West Palm Beach.
A: There are no preset tiebreakers in the lottery order. Each tie is broken by random drawing. So if the Heat, say, are tied for Nos. 10 and 11, something as simple as the flip of a coin could leave them without a first-round pick, unless they luck into a top-three selection in the random-but-weighted drawing. Even though the Pacers have the tiebreaker over the Heat for the playoffs by virtue of winning the season series 3-1, when it comes to tiebreakers for the lottery, the team enter on even footing.
Q: Hi, Ira. I want to start off by saying Dwyane Wade is my favorite basketball player. I have loved his game since day one. He has been the best player Miami has ever had put on the Heat uniform. It has been my opinion through observation that at this point in his career that he is content with his accomplishments and career accolades. For the last two seasons or so it has been evident in his play. I know injuries have a lot to do with his limitations on the court and his game. However, the gritty, hungry, hustling player that in our eyes was once an MVP candidate, those intangibles are not there on a nightly basis. I watch a player like Kawhi Lenard and forget about his talent, just watch the focus, the grit, the hustle. I catch myself thinking that was Wade not too long ago. Now we've come accustomed to not getting back in transition, losing assignments, getting beat on the defensive end by mediocre players. Again, I am a huge fan and will continue to be, but I'm also real with how I see the Heat and their players. -- Joel, New Jersey.
A: Which is why, in moments of truth, the Heat might have to come to a new world order next season, especially if Dragic returns. Wade actually had deferred to Chris Bosh at times at the start of the season when it came to scoring, but of course Bosh is not a primary ballhandler. I'm not sure you can ever change Wade's nature of trailing plays defensively, but you can build your team around an acceptance of what he is now: a player who still will wow at times, but one who also has to appreciate that his team is evolving, with other components who deserve a teammate who can be more complementary. Can Wade be that player? It is one of the most difficult transitions in sports.
Q: Ira, if every game counts and Henry Walker is injured, why not cut him and pick up another big man, with Chris Andersen still in pain? -- Nate.
A: With three more games remaining, I think what you see is what you've got. Teams who add players at this stage, and you can add until your final day of the regular season, tend to be teams that are taking the long view with the playoffs, looking to add a player who can help bolster the roster for weeks, if not months. Remember, the Heat are playing the Magic on Monday night, and it was Walker's late-game magic in that one that added a victory to the Heat's win column, his finest moment in his brief Heat tenure, one that helped earn him a contract that carries through the offseason into next season. Cut him now and the Heat lose out on an extended look. (Although I think to freshen the outlook next season that neither Walker nor Michael Beasley will be brought back.)
April 10, 2015
Q: So frustrated watching Thursday. Do you believe the removal of Bob McAdoo and Ron Rothstein had an adverse impact on the team this season? Yes, the injuries have been devastating. But it seems like the move to new coaches didn't pay off. This team's identity, particularly on the defensive side, disappeared. There's little continuity. The substitutions and rotations have been erratic and all the late-game collapses suggest potential issues with the quality of the coaching collectively. Shaking my head. Wondering if a shakeup of the staff next season is in order. --Michael.
A: Well, remember how Pat Riley at the end of last season said that Erik Spoelstra had to reinvent himself? I'm not sure that his staff might not get reinvented, to something more closely along the lines of having a defensive coordinator and an offensive coordinator, to immediately address such lapses. In fact, in light of the lapses and amid the need to reformulate strategy with this new roster, including possibly adding a big-man coach, I certainly could see a review of the entire coaching staff going forward. Someone has to be there with more answers than are currently being provided.
Q: How come Erik Spoelstra hasn't figured out a way for the Heat to get some easy baskets when the Heat are on a downward spiral? Dwyane Wade said the ball stopped moving and everyone was forcing shots. You know what Gregg Popovich does in those situations? He clearly let's his ballplayers know the right way to play the game. -- Stuart.
A: Getting the ball into the post, to Hassan Whiteside would have been a start. Yes, the Bulls were packing the paint, but that's where creative coaching comes into play, or a lineup with more 3-point spacing. Of course, this roster lacks 3-point shooting, so that becomes an issue.
Q: Another embarrassing loss. Let's look towards next season. There is something wrong when a team continuously blow large leads late in games. It becomes mental, and that's where coaching comes in to the picture. Someone has to sit Dwayne down and show him love, namely he has to know when to take over and when to let Goran Dragic run the offense. He does not have the wheels to consistently carry the team. Sharing is paramount for an aging Wade and Heat to succeed. -- Leon.
A: And that has to be handled very delicately. But it has been clear recently, save for his first basket Thursday, that Wade has lacked the exposition to do anything but shoot pull-up jumpers. That's where deferring to Dragic makes sense. That might have to be a postseason conversation with Pat Riley even more than one with Spoelstra.
April 9, 2015
Q: So wait, you're telling me that Goran Dragic finally gets more touches than the other three or four players on the team that he's better than, and the Heat win? I would've never guessed it! Giving the ball more and running plays around your second-best player on the team gets you wins? What a concept! I'm amazed! -- Nathan, Virginia Gardens.
A: Ah, sarcasm. (And truth.) I think the Heat still are learning to play with someone closer to a true point guard than they have had in years, perhaps since Jason Williams/Gary Payton. Since then, it's been mostly combination guards, players who certainly had their places when it came to the roster's overall versatility. But think about it, when is the last time you've heard Erik Spoelstra mention "position-less"? Instead, the Heat, for the first time in years, are most playing with a true center (Hassan Whiteside or Chris Andersen) and a true point guard (Dragic). I think, if Dragic re-ups in the offseason, that will have the Heat coming back with a decidedly different playbook next season. And I do believe that remains one of Erik Spoelstra's strengths, distilling his players' skills into a system that best fits. The playbook already has changed plenty this season. But it's the offseason when an approach truly can be defined and refined.
Q: Earlier in the year when playing with the newly constructed roster and even to some degree as of late, I believe that Dwyane Wade (who's still a superstar and has that superstar's mentality) didn't trust his teammates that much. That, in turn, led to him trying to self-will some games and/or him taking the all-or-nothing, ill-advised long jumper at the end of some very bad losses. However, Wade's postgame comments after Tuesday night's game on Dragic were, "He carried us tonight offensively. It's great to have another guy that can do that." Utilizing all your weapons keeps the pressure on the defense. Going forward, should Coach Spo and Wade now trust and realize that in Dragic, Wade and the team do have another option out there that can lead to better late-game execution on critical possessions and last second plays? -- Nikki.
A: Yes, as stated in the answer above, the two months since the trading deadline with Dragic have basically been exploratory, to see what works, what doesn't, and what needs work. This offseason, Spoelstra will be better positioned to incorporate that into his approach, and Wade will have more time to gain an appreciation for the possibilities of what Dragic can do for him, and what he can do for Dragic. If the Heat get everyone back, and get everyone back healthy, I think training camp next fall could be a heck of a laboratory for Spoelstra.
Q: For those who want the Heat to focus on their lottery pick, they need to take a good look at this past season and understand Pat Riley. Should the Heat secure a lottery pick this year, the chances of that player getting court time is minimal. Neither Shabazz Napier nor James Ennis were given enough NBA court time this year to round out their games. -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.
A: The difference was Napier was a late first-rounder and Ennis a late second-rounder. The No. 10 pick this year, in what is shaping up as a deep draft, will be a player of far higher pedigree, likely a ready-to-go prospect, should Riley get the pick and move in that direction, perhaps similar to what the Heat got in Caron Butler when selecting in that range.
April 8, 2015
Q: Tuesday, the Heat played with a full roster, excluding Chris Bosh, at home, against a Charlotte team minus three starters, in a must win game . . . and never really pulled away, despite getting the W. (I understand players are hurting, but Luol Deng, Dwyane Wade, and Goran Dragic appeared to be moving pretty well.) Repeatedly, I've heard national broadcasters and pundits comment that if you took this lineup and add Bosh, that you have one of the very best starting fives in league. Sounds good, but I'm not at all confident of that. Are you? -- Matt.
A: There are two parts to the equation. The lineup is one of them. But the other, as the Spurs have shown, and even the Hawks this season, is the system they are put into and whether it best utilizes their talents. There have been plenty of on-paper lineups that have gone nowhere, including as few recently with the Lakers. Erik Spoelstra went to school after the Heat's first Big Three season with LeBron James and came back with something that best utilized his roster. Once the Heat get contract matters squared away with Dragic and Deng, Spoelstra then can get to work in the offseason to come up with a system that best suits the new mix, something that has been almost impossible with the current mix because of all the injuries. So when you ask whether Wade-Dragic-Deng-Bosh-Whiteside can become an elite lineup, I would extend that equation/question to Wade-Dragic-Deng-Bosh-Whiteside-Spoelstra.
Q: Dwyane Wade was 0 for 5 with three turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Heat are better with Dragic running the offense. It opens up much more options. -- Mo.
A: And, as stated in the answer above, that will have to be part of Spoelstra re-setting the strategic equation next season. But you raise an interesting point, as far as what might have happened if Dragic was the set-up man at the end of recent close losses, rather than Wade trying to it on his own.
Q: I'm very disappointed in Heat management right now, taking this fight to the death stance could very well have us in the no-man's land between missing the playoffs and missing out on our pick. I'm a staunch Heat fan and it hurts to say it, but throw in the towel, don't risk another injury, and get this pick. -- Niko.
A: I don't think you can tell players to try not to win. So Wade will only sit if he wants to sit. But it has to be his decision. Ditto for Dragic. And Deng. They've earned the right to decide their playing status. And frankly, as long as playing isn't creating any stresses for a long-term injury, there could soon be plenty of time to fully heal back up.
April 7, 2015
Q: I get pride. I get six straight playoff appearances, a nice streak that makes for a nice TV graphic. I get wanting to make the playoffs in the year you lose LeBron James. I get wanting to make the playoffs despite losing Chris Bosh. I get wanting to make the playoffs for Dwyane Wade. I get pride. Here's the thing though: Pride isn't always a good thing. Certainly, too much pride is never a good thing. "A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." -- C.S. Lewis. Lewis likely was not looking up at a draft board when he wrote this but, hopefully, someone in the Heat organization is if they read it. We retain our pick if it is a Top 10 pick. If the lottery plays out by record, as of this writing we have the 10th pick. We need to be looking up at the lottery, not the standings. Sunday night, when the Heat flashed the TV graphic of the teams with the most consecutive playoff appearances, I saw the Heat, but I also saw the teams around the Heat. The Hawks: The last time they missed the playoffs? They drafted Al Horford. The Pacers: The last time they missed the playoffs? Paul George. This team should be proud. It rebuilt itself within days of losing LeBron. It rebuilt itself within hours of losing Bosh. It is playing hard now even though Wade is hurt, Goran Dragic is hurt, Hassan Whiteside is hurt, and so on (the "so on" here, of course, continues to list injured players for quite a while). This wouldn't be tanking, it wouldn't be letting the foot off the gas. It would be turning the car away from the game of chicken we've been playing with Wade's knee, Dragic's back, and Whiteside's hand. This organization did everything it could this year to give the city a great team and a fun season. Whatever it has been chasing, it can stop. To state the somewhat obvious, it should stop. -- Ian.
A: Wow. Not only did I just learn who C.S. Lewis is (a novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, according to my close personal friends at Wikipedia), but I also learned that tanking isn't always tanking, but rather, at times, a mercy rule. Thanks for putting it so eloquently.
Q: There is no point in tanking. We fight until the end, regardless of the situation. Pat Riley will retool, regardless, in the offseason. -- T.J.
A: Presented as a means to offer equal time to the above. Because it is possible to still have it all, playoffs and personnel upgrades, even if they don't come from the lottery.
Q: James Ennis has moved much more instinctively, with more fluidity, over the past three, four games. He's more aggressive. He's the starting small forward in 2016. And he's going to be an exciting one, a major contributor. -- Matt.
A: Your passion is laudable (and, to digress here for a moment, the passion of Heat fans this season has been remarkable. Every time I look up and see the standing-room lines above the balcony, it is an abject rebuke to naysayers of basketball fans in this town as front-runners. The crowds this season at AmericanAirlines Arena have been remarkable. And those who know me, know I don't shill.). As to your point, I agree that James has been a late-season bright spot. And once he solidifies his ball-handling, he has a legitimate shot. But small forward next season likely will come down to Luol Deng's decision, of whether he doesn't opt out, or whether he tries to get that one, final large contract this offseason. But, yes, it does appear as if that light bulb flashed on for James in recent weeks. It's a nice story of perseverance.
April 6, 2015
Q: Is the glass half full or half empty? Should Erik Spoelstra be commended for the great job he has done with a team that has four guys on the team (Whiteside, Henry Walker, Tyler Johnson and Michael Beasley) signed off of 10-day contracts and still is in playoff contention, or is the small-ball style beating the Heat up? -- Stuart.
A: To me the real inspection comes down to what happened before the injuries, before Chris Bosh went down, when there were still plenty of games they could've won that they lost. To me that's where the season turned. Even with Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in the lineup, this team was not playing to its pedigree. It is paying the price now with this frantic (possibly futile) fight to the finish that did not have to be quite as frantic (or possibly as future). It will be easy, when it's all over, to chalk it up to the lengthy absences of Wade and Bosh. And while it is true that Bosh and Goran Dragic never got the chance to play together, there still were many games when the Heat had a talent advantage and still came up short. For four seasons, LeBron James helped mask many of the warts. After this season, whenever it ends, it is important that the one-answer-fits-all perspective does not become about injuries. It has to be about a defensive system that leaves wide-open 3-point attempts by the opposition. It has to be about an offensive system that too often bogs down. It has to be about either conditioning or training methods or whatever it takes to keep the sprains and strains away. It has to be all encompassing, and not a whitewash about bad fortune. Yes, that is a big part of it. But only a part.
Q: With regards to Goran Dragic's pending free agency, I am convinced he wants to be with the Heat long term. He respects the organization, and the opportunity to play with two bigs such as Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside will override any trepidation he feels about Dwyane Wade's knees. More of a concern might be Wade's willingness (or lack thereof) to defer to Dragic at end of games. However, at the end of the day, both are high-IQ players and will work that out. What I am most interested in is seeing if Pat Riley can convince Dragic to accept a contract in the neighborhood of five years, $85 million, as opposed to five years, $100 million? After all, the Lakers and Knicks can only offer four years, $80 million, and Dragic might only be a $5 million-a-year player in his age-33 season. Plus, no state income tax in Florida. -- Morris.
A: You reasoning and logic are sound, and perhaps Goran and his agent already signed off on a verbal agreement when the trade was completed. Otherwise the reality is that Riley dealt two potential lottery picks and absolutely has to re-sign Dragic, or else the steal of the trading deadline turns into something closer to a disaster. Dragic's agent knows that. So in that situation, if you were the agent, wouldn't you demand the absolute maximum? As always, who blinks could be a part of the equation.
Q: I like Josh McRoberts' attitude. He knows how good the Heat can be next season and can't wait. So let him heal up and leave him alone. -- Sid.
A: First, I merely asked where he stood and asked him to compare his meniscus injury to those of Kemba Walker (who already has returned this season) and Derrick Rose (who is poised to return). That is all. He said his surgery was more complicated. Fine. That's what happens when you actually get the opportunity to ask a question directly, instead of speculating. That made Saturday's interview after shootaround a win-win. And I agree that it was refreshing to hear him talk about relishing the opportunity to play alongside Hassan Whiteside, Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic next season. But I still don't see the Heat going with a starting frontline of Whiteside, Bosh and McRoberts in 2015-16, because there simply is no one in such an equation to defend on the wing. That's why I'm still not sure that Pat Riley doesn't sit back, if Luol Deng doesn't opt out, and consider moving McRoberts for a wing. But if Josh is willing to play as a reserve, it could leave the Heat well stocked in the power rotation next season, with Birdman and Udonis Haslem also available.
April 5, 2015
Q: Ira, doesn't Erik Spoelstra ever set up a play at the end of games? It's always Dwyane Wade settling for a long shot. Why not a pick-and-roll with Hassan Whiteside? This loss is on Spoelstra, as are many of the tight game losses. -- Joel.
A: There is one other factor in the equation, and that is Wade, himself. No matter what is scripted -- and I can't fathom any coach in this league, with as many as five seconds left in a game, not having multiple actions and options -- it comes down to Wade running the play and considering all the options. If Spoelstra's call is to get Wade to the top of the floor and then . . . nothing, then there is a considerable issues here. Before this past season, Spoelstra restructured his coaching staff, which any coach who advanced to four consecutive Eastern Conference finals should have the right to do. But this offseason, perhaps if David Fizdale gets a head job elsewhere, it might be time to consider adding an offensive coordinator, someone who could script in the final seconds as Brad Stevens has done in Boston. There is no shame in a coach bringing in another perspective, and even yielding at times, if necessary. Because you are correct, a team with such little margin for error has been marginal, at best, at the close of close games. And this wasn't a case of being left with Michael Beasley and no other options at the end of the close loss in Washington. This was the loss in New Orleans at the finish, Part II.
Q: Can you in all honesty tell me that is the best (play?) Spo can come up with when there are five seconds left in the game after a timeout? The play (I use the word lightly) wasn't any better the possession before. As a coach, he has to do better than that. -- Alan.
A: I got a lot of this in the postgame email. And the reality is that with a few more of these situations handled correctly, the Heat could be resting veterans (and centers) now, and preparing for something meaningful in the postseason. I have a difficult time believing Pat Riley finds any of this acceptable. And I have to wonder about when Goran Dragic considers coaching in his free-agent equation what these final sequences will have him thinking.
Q: At least Michael Jordan would attack and if he didn't have anything. All Wade does is dribble at the top, run out the clock and heave it up. -- Stuart.
A: Look, certain situations call for certain approaches. But being down one point with five seconds left doesn't call for a 3-point shot. It doesn't necessarily even call for getting to the rim. All it calls for is getting to the foul line, if to do nothing else than extend the game. Amid all the chaos of the blown lead, there still was time for clarity at Saturday's defining moment, and there was none.
April 4, 2015
Q: I think I am about ready to shut this season down and try and reclaim a Top 10 pick. I know the team has fought all year and given their heart and soul to make the playoffs, but I'm just tired of seeing our guys go down with injury and I don't see the point of going after a playoff seed other than pure pride. I think we let Dwyane Wade's offseason start now, rest up and get healthy. Get our pick back and bring in a guy like Sam Dekker, who just seems like the Pat Riley type and someone who could help us right away. It's time to look to next season and let our guys who have played something like 33 percent more games than anyone else in the league over the last four years get some well-deserved rest. I know it seems like the easy way out, but I think it's the right move. -- Andrew, Miami.
A: While I'm not a proponent, and neither are Riley and Erik Spoelstra, at least with the public way both have come out against such an approach with this roster, I think that ship also might have sailed. Among the Heat's remaining games (at this writing) are the Pistons, Magic and 76ers, teams that already have moved into lottery mode. So you could wind up with a few of those games (and we've seen plenty of them in recent weeks, such as that doozey between the Lakers and 76ers) where neither team is prioritizing winning. And remember, even a bottom-10 finish doesn't guarantee that the first-round pick due to the 76ers won't be forwarded, because a team seeded beyond No. 10 in the lottery that makes a longshot jump into a top-three spot would then push the No. 10 lottery seed to No. 11. (Remember, the terms of the deal for the pick that first was sent to Cleveland in the 2010 LeBron James sign and trade, are that if the pick is not among the first 10 this season, it must be forwarded). And, for umpteenth time, I remain a proponent of paying off that debt and moving forward, preferably by making it a selection in the mid-teens. The debt does not expire, so why have it hanging over the team for another season?
Q: Ira, should the Heat just try to get the 8th seed instead of the 7th seed? I think we have a better chance in a seven-game series against the Hawks rather than facing the Cavs. Can you see the Heat beating the Hawks if we were to stay on the 8th seed? -- Daniel.
A: At this stage, the Heat don't have much of a choice when it comes to seeding preference. Based on the tightness of the standings, there could be the possibility of going into the final game of the season, because of tiebreakers, of playing for either the seventh seed with a victory or the lottery with a loss. Now, that could change over final week and a half of the season, but right now the ability of manipulating the seeds has fallen beyond the Heat's means.s
Q: Will Dwyane Wade expedite the transition to sixth-man next season in order to lengthen his career? -- Orlando, Miami.
A: I can't fathom Wade, with his pride, allowing himself to go from a starter in four consecutive NBA Finals to a reserve after just one interim season. It is something that possibly could happen down the road, but I doubt it would happen any time soon. And the other part of the equation is finding a player who would make such a shift worthwhile.
April 3, 2015
Q: Ira, do the Heat have to win out to make the playoffs? And what are the odds of that? -- Charlie.
A: I think 38-44 should get them in and that 39-43 would. So 4-3 might be good enough and 5-2 should be. Of course, that also would represent some of their best sustained play of the season, let alone more optimism that might be warranted in light of Dwyane Wade's bruised left knee. I do think Sunday's game against the Pacers will be particularly significant, because of the possibility of multiple-team tiebreakers, with the Heat 1-2 against Indiana, but 4-0 against Brooklyn and 3-1 against the Celtics. In fact, Tuesday against Charlotte also could be significant on that count, with the Heat 1-3 against the Hornets. Look, they're getting the Pistons on the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday in front of a Detroit crowd that largely will be preoccupied with Michigan State in the Final Four, so perhaps they could skate by without Wade in that one (although they needed all of his 40 points to beat the Pistons at home this past Sunday). And beyond Sunday's game in Indiana, their only remaining road game will be the season finale in Philadelphia. And with the way they had been playing at home prior to the loss to the Spurs, they should be able to be competitive against Charlotte, Chicago, Toronto and Orlando. Of course, with this team, health means everything. And now Wade's left knee means everything.
Q: Sadly, a third time around with Michael Beasley wasn't the charm. He often looks clueless in games, is a liability defensively, and even his scoring punch against decent defenses gets watered down. -- Eric.
A: There always is a reason a player is available on the cheap in late February or March. The Heat were desperate and Beasley did help on a few occasions early on. The trouble began when the Heat had to start counting on him. It was something that was not anticipated, and might have been a case of asking for too much. It would be interesting if the Heat make the playoffs to see if he would be in a playoff rotation, which tends to get significantly shortened without any back-to-back games. As it was, James Ennis was the choice to start the second half Thursday in Cleveland. And when Beasley did play, he struggled. That option the Heat holds on Beasley for next season certainly looks like it will be bypassed. For the second season in a row, once Beasley was guaranteed for the season, his play went south.
Q: I am really starting to get concerned with Goran Dragic's production. This can't help the Heat in re-signing him. -- Ted.
A: Clearly he is physically beat up, having to carry more of a load than he ever could have anticipated, first when Chris Bosh was lost for the season on the very day he was acquired, then with Wade dealing with multiple bumps and bruises. When you look at so many of the Heat's lineup combinations, you almost feel for the positions Dragic finds himself. And you wonder if he is starting to wonder about hitching his future to Wade, amid the recent issues with that left knee. It's almost as if Dragic and the entire roster need a mental health break at a juncture when there is no time for one.
April 2, 2015
Q: Ira, I know you don't do trade rumors, but humor me. I asked you earlier in the season about the Heat trading Josh McRoberts back to Charlotte for Lance Stephenson and you said McRoberts was starting to play well. Well, he isn't playing at all now. So, sir, I ask you again. -- Randy.
A: Much has changed since then, even beyond McRoberts' knee surgery, foremost the arrival, development and ascension of Hassan Whiteside. And if the plan going forward is to play Whiteside alongside Chris Bosh, then Josh becomes more expendable then he was when you initially asked. The reality is Charlotte has not been the same team since McRoberts was there as the point power forward, and Stephenson has been a bust for the Hornets, often removed from the rotation. But that also creates pause, with Stephenson at $9 million next season and McRoberts at $5.5 million. But with Lance having only one more guaranteed season on his contract, it might be a risk worth considering. With Stephenson, the Heat would get the type of depth behind Luol Deng (provided Deng does not opt out) that they have lacked this season. A power rotation of Whiteside, Bosh, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem, with a rotation at small forward of Deng and Stephenson, plus Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in the backcourt could be formidable. The Hornets, of course, signed Marvin Williams as a replacement for McRoberts, so it would require some maneuvering on their part, as well.
Q: Ira, four reasons not to re-sign Goran Dragic: 1. He looks exhausted the last few games and his role is going to get bigger as Dwyane Wade ages. 2. He's 28 going on 29. 3. His physical style of play at both ends is conducive to injury. 4. He is going to command $20 million a year, money that should be used on re-signing Whiteside. Am I crazy? -- Raul, Naples.
A: Yes. The ship has sailed when it comes to deciding on whether the re-sign Dragic. The Heat have no other choice, considering they sent a pair of draft picks to the Suns that both could be in the lottery. The Heat have to re-sign Dragic. Anything short of that would make February's trade a disaster. Yes, disaster. And based on the quantum leap the salary cap will make in 2016-17, the Heat, even with a max or near-max deal for Dragic, still should have ample cap space to satisfy Whiteside. The Heat need Dragic to maximize the remaining years Wade has in the league.
Q: Why does Erik Spoelstra insist on starting Henry Walker against bigger teams? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.
A: Because his hands have been tied due to injuries. Many times when Walker has started at power forward it has been because Haslem has been needed as the backup center, due to time missed by Whiteside or Birdman. So many times while lamenting the Heat's rotations and lineups we tend to lose sight of the reality that the Heat's top two options at power forward, Bosh and McRoberts, are both sidelined. Put it this way, it is likely that Henry Walker starts more games this season than he does the balance of his NBA career.
April 1, 2015
Q: When is Luol Deng not hurt? Birdman and Dwyane Wade, too. We have the most injury-prone team I've ever seen. -- Cory.
A: To a degree, that's always a risk you run when you have older players in their 30s. But the reality is that the most serious Heat injuries this season were not because of the age of the roster, but rather Josh McRoberts' knee injury in Phoenix and the blood clots on his lung that Chris Bosh developed. Even Hassan Whiteside's shredded right hand was a freak accident. If Bosh had been available after the All-star break, the likelihood is the Heat would not be in this desperate state when it comes to making the playoffs.
Q: Thirty lineups, just another stat we beat the Cavs at. -- Andrew.
A: Yay? Of course, when you have LeBron James and his play-every-day mentality, it makes the rest of the lineup largely moot. But even this season, LeBron took an extended break in January. The rapid-fire pacing of the schedule is hurting the product. Fortunately, the schedule is something Adam Silver said he would like to address. It's something the players' association should want addressed, as well. To many teams are showing up at less than 100 percent. The Spurs showed on Tuesday night just how good an elite team can be when 100 percent.
Q: Can you help me? I'm trying to figure out which team's I should be rooting for that will help Miami make the playoffs? I'm assuming Boston and Brooklyn, since we own tiebreakers. -- Gary, Port St. Lucie.
A: Exactly, the Heat finished 4-0 against the Nets and 3-1 against the Celtics, so they not only would win the head-to-head tiebreakers against both, but also a potential three-way tie with those two for seeding. Actually, the Heat could be in decent shape in tiebreakers if they win their remaining games against the Pacers and Hornets, since they would close out those season series at 2-2. The problem is any hope of getting up to No. 6, after closing 0-4 against the Bucks. In fact, if the Bucks fade, the Heat also would have trouble in any multiple-team tiebreakers that involve Milwaukee. That could turn into an issue, as well.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times