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ASK IRA: Is Heat depth the antidote to adversity?

SunSentinel.com
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.

 


October 22, 2017

Q: Playing 10, 12 strong can win games over the course of the season and not suffer a big setback with an injury. No one is saying that Rodney McGruder is a star, but I think the "next man up" approach is a valid NBA model. We certainly tried to get a superstar, but they're hard to get. Injuries will play a significant part in the league this year. In a way, you have to be lucky to avoid them. With a team like the Heat, you can hedge your bets with injuries and have a chance to win every night. -- Joe, Jupiter.

A: Which sort of is what we saw Saturday night against the Pacers, with Hassan Whiteside out and so many other teammates stepping forward. The important delineation is between overall success and regular-season success. Yes, I believe you can wear opponents down with personnel depth and depth of approaches during the regular season, especially when facing a tired team like the Pacers playing on a back-to-back. That could be a Heat advantage over the first 82 games. And by then, perhaps a star will emerge, perhaps Dion Waiters or James Johnson or Josh Richardson will take another step. But just because a roster is deep doesn't mean it can withstand multiple absences. That's why this Dion Waiters ankle issue was such a concern, and why his solid play Saturday was such a relief. In addition, the Heat are not necessarily built to withstand the absence of Goran Dragic, with no true backup point guard on the roster.

Q: I was really excited to see Jordan Mickey play. This man can ball. -- Dan.

A: It certainly said something, when the Heat, already loaded with contracts in the offseason, went ahead and offered Jordan a guaranteed deal, something not typical with a player with mostly developmental-league experience. Now you can see why. In today's undersized NBA, Mickey sets up well as an undersized big man. He certainly showed  that with his two-way prowess in the paint Saturday, His play against the Pacers may leave Erik Spoelstra no choice but to play 10 deep when Hassan Whiteside returns. Even in the interim, it appears Jordan will get the minutes some expected for Bam Adebayo in the absence of Whiteside.

Q; So we can win without Whiteside? -- Brad.

A: Sure, for a night or two or against second-tier opposition playing on the second night of a back-to-back set. But that doesn't matter. What matters is maximizing every element of talent on a roster. The Heat are a better team with Hassan Whiteside. To say otherwise is foolish. Now, does that mean that his game can be made to better mesh with the style offered Saturday? Certainly. And that's what happens over the course of every season: you start in camp and work forward to maximize the chemistry, as will be the case when Hassan returns.


October 21, 2017

Q: With Hassan Whiteside out, what if this starting lineup excels? This is similar to the Cleveland five-out lineup, then brings in Tristan Thompson. Would Hassan make such a sacrifice if not now, later down the road? -- Miko, Lithonia, Ga.

A: No. Not because of anything Hassan has said about the issue, but because of just about everything else he has said about everything. Hassan wants to be a star, an All-Star, a leading man. And you don't find those coming off many benches. He wants to be more than Tristan Thompson. What this absence can, and likely will, do is show whether Kelly Olynyk is better off playing away from Hassan in the rotation. If anything, it could mean that when Whiteside returns that the Heat go with a five-out reserve unit, as we saw with Olynyk during the preseason. For now, though, it's about survival, including a defense designed to funnel the ball toward Hassan. This is where the Heat could miss Willie Reed, who wound up taking the minimum from the Clippers, a minimum the Heat had available at any time.

Q: I had higher hopes than the Orlando game, against a team I consider to be beatable. With Dion Waiters limping and team's shooting off, my question is, although it's quite early: Is it time to hit the panic button? -- Erik, Plantation.

A: Um, let's wait until at least the second game. But for all the humor in the Heat getting off to the same 0-1 start as the Warriors, what mattered, and stung, about that loss in Orlando is that the Magic are the type of team the Heat need to beat to have a buffer when playing teams with greater talent, perhaps such as the Celtics and Spurs on this impending homestand. The same thing with Saturday's game against the Pacers. When you starting giving away wins against potential lottery teams is when you get yourself in trouble, which proved to be the case last season against the Magic, 76ers and Knicks.

Q: What would make this a good homestand? -- Chris.

A: I would have said, prior to Whiteside's injury, at least 4-2, figuring you have to get the games against the Pacers, Hawks and Bulls, and the perhaps challenge for one against the Spurs, Celtics and Timberwolves. But now with the type of injury that could either keep Whiteside out or limit him for the entire homestand, all bets are off. What will now define this six-game homestand is enough players stepping forward to create optimism about the remainder of the schedule.


October 20, 2017

Q: Do you think they need to shut Dion Waiters down and have him get an operation on his ankle. It doesn't seem like it's getting better? -- Carl, Kapaa, Hawaii.

A: I'm going to take this question and head into a different lane, as I have been wont to do (guilty, as charged). Getting beyond Dion's ankle, since there is no way he is going to bypass the opportunity to earn his $1.1 million bonus for appearing in at least 70 games, to me there is a greater issue at play. The NBA is a league of scoring wings. Look no further than some of these season-opening scoring totals. So if you consider Goran Dragic purely a point guard, then if you take away Dion, the Heat have only two scoring wings: Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson (I consider Wayne Ellington more of 3-point specialist). And while Goran certainly can score from the perimeter, that freedom comes, in part, from playing alongside Dion. So with Rodney McGruder out, if Dion misses any significant time, then this misaligned roster, with eight power-rotation players, falls further out of whack. Now, perhaps Justise Winslow becomes a respect perimeter scorer. But that likely will take time, To come full circle with your question (yes, I did take a hard left turn there), there just aren't many scoring options on the perimeter on this roster. The Heat have to not only have Dion Waiters, but need the best of Dion Waiters.

Q: Ira, I'm a big Josh Richardson fan and hope he's in Miami for the next ten years. I don't believe, however, that he's an NBA-caliber small forward. I think Justise Winslow needs to be the starter. He's got the size and athleticism to defend well and make big plays. I understand the need for spacing, but with Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters, we have shooters in the staring five. -- Mike, Southwest Ranches.

A: And that well could be the case. But don't kid yourself, Rodney McGruder was just as undersized at small forward last season and the Heat still found a way. As with all Heat early-season rosters, I would expect the starting lineup to be fluid until something clicks. But Justise can be very ball-centric, which is why he was able to take control with the second unit when James Johnson was in foul trouble in the first game. I'm not sure such opportunities would be there with the second unit.

Q: With Gordon Hayward possibly out for the season, how do you think it affects the Heat's chances to move into a top-three place in the East? I just don't fear the Wizards or Toronto? -- Mike, Pembroke Pines.

A: Putting aside the rest of the conference, I believe anyone who is writing off the Celtics is making a huge mistake. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are exceptional young talents, the types of players who would be starting for many, if not most, teams in the NBA. The Celtics have a depth of talent at that position, plus the talents of Al Horford and Kyrie Irving. When it comes to Big Threes, Irving-Horford-Brown/Tatum certainly remains up there with Washington's John Wall-Bradley Beal-Otto Porter or Toronto's DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry-Serge Ibaka. So this notion of the Celtics careening? Don't see it.


October 19, 2017

Q: I have a question for you, Ira. If Hassan Whiteside is the highest-paid player on the team why don't they play through him? He deserves outside looks, inside looks, and should shoot 25 shots a game. He needs to be recognized by his own team before he will be recognized by the league -- Ben.

A: I was thinking the same thing during Wednesday's game, considering how much Hassan had to work on the glass for opportunities, with so few post touches. It used to be if you could get at least one foot, or better yet, two feet, in the paint that you would get the ball. Granted, the Heat have moved more toward a drive-and-kick game. But when you're shooting 8 of 30 on 3-pointers and your top outside threats are struggling, as was the case in Orlando, then why not feed the beast? And if you do that, then you also slow the pace in a game when you wind up scoring one fast-break basket. I know the format here is supposed to be you ask the questions and I answer them, but in this case, I'm at a loss, as well. Look, there always is more to the equation than who is making the most money. But you invested in post play and shouldn't that investment go beyond rebounds and blocked shots? It seems like there has been less than a full embrace for Hassan as post scorer, even with the work invested by Juwan Howard and  so many on the staff.

Q: Why do the Heat have to be desperate before they play with energy? Shouldn't this team play with more urgency after last season's disappointing ending? -- Stuart.

A: Because the scoring came so easily in the first quarter Wednesday, with those 37 points, it was as if the Heat thought they simply could win on offense, as if that was going to multiply out to 148 points. By the time the Magic started making and the Heat started missing, it was as if the Heat had to get their motor back up to speed. You would have thought the necessary lessons would have been learned from last season. Perhaps not. But by now it should become evident that the easy way is not the winning way for this team. On a team lacking in star appeal, this will require work. Hard work. The trouble Wednesday was by the time the Heat truly dug in, it was too late.

Q: Ira do you think Dion Waiters has difficulties determining when to either score or dish the ball for an assist. I know he and Goran Dragic are great at the drive-and-kick, but there were times during the preseason and the game against Orlando where he passed up a lot of good looks and seemed to be over-thinking too much. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: I couldn't agree more. And not just Dion on Wednesday night. Yes, the 3-ball has become the shot of choice in today's NBA. But there also is something to be said about getting to the line, slowing a running opponent. The Heat shot 8 of 30 on 3-pointers and 13 of 17 from the line. There were times when the Heat could have done more at the rim, times when a single extra effort could have provided more than just Hassan Whiteside's paint points. Sometimes the eyes have to remain on the rim, even as shooters space themselves for seemingly open looks.


October 18, 2017

Q: Hi, Ira. I think that if the Heat had brought back the same team as they did last year, and everybody stayed relatively healthy, that they had the potential to be a team that could produce 48 to 50 wins. You would look for the vets to play at the same level, and also to see organic growth from young players such as Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Dion Waiters. And you could throw Whiteside into that group, as I think he can get to another level. Now, things have changed. A few of those players are now gone, and the team has to incorporate Kelly Olynyk and Justise Winslow. And that means, the scheme that made this team so successful in the second half of the year, will have to be changed. At least somewhat. Olynyk as a starter, alone, alters the game. He brings a more well-rounded skill set than Luke Babbitt did, but it's doubtful he'll have the same effect on spreading the floor. The loss of McGruder will hurt, but Richardson can certainly step in and fill that void. But then the team has the task of fitting Justise Winslow into a scheme that worked well last year, without him. (Or change the system.) -- Matt.

A: To me, it comes down to whether Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson can take their games to another level. I'm not sure you can expect Dion Waiters and James Johnson to be more than they were last season, with each essentially having a career year, and Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic return as the pillars they were last season. The McGruder absence hurts, but the Heat have invested far more in Olynyk and Richardson than they did in Babbitt or Willie Reed, so there is a certain expectation there. The wild card is Winslow. In many ways, he is the Heat's swing player.

Q: Send Bam Adebayo to South Dakota? Bad move. He brought his mother to Miami, bought her a condo in the same building so he can go downstairs for some home cooking. Sioux Falls would destroy his morale. There's also the question of self-esteem: first Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra praise him to the skies, then they want to send him off to the middle of nowhere? It's not the right way to treat a kid who should be made to feel important. And then there's proximity to Juwan Howard, who should be ready to perform the same kind of wonders on Bam that he did on Hassan Whiteside. -- Hanan, Tel Aviv.

A: You raise some reasonable points, but don't discount the need for a player to actually play. And while South Dakota certainly seems like a remote outpost, I'm not sure there is any G League city that embraces its players more than Sioux Falls. Unlike the majority of G League teams that play in the equivalent of practice gyms, the Skyforce offer their players a true arena setting. Plus, the coaching staff there is an extension of the Heat's coaching staff, with the Skyforce staff having spent training camp with the Heat preseason roster. Yes, the praise has been significant, but there also is something to be said about a player understanding that there also are pressures to produce and grow. If the G League is viewed as a demotion, then the NBA has failed in it deployment of his developmental league. And if players view it that way, then it might say more about them.

Q: Who would you guess starts Wednesday? -- Phil.

A: Well, we know the Whiteside, Dragic and Waiters part of the equation. My expectation is Olynyk and Richardson at forward. But I would not be surprised to see James Johnson at the four to start, considering how Aaron Gordon had the advantage on Olynyk when the teams met in the preseason.


October 17, 2017

Q: I'm not sure if we have the room to sign him, but do you think Jameer Nelson would be a good back up vet for Miami? -- Oliver.

A: Anyone familiar with this space knows how I feel about depth at point guard, that you can say you're fine without it until you need it. The irony is that in previous years, it was the push here for a third point guard. Now you can make the argument that the Heat have one true point guard, in Goran Dragic, and that the best backup option might actually wind up starting at small forward, in Josh Richardson. Yes, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson all can handle, and you could even make a case defensively against opposing point guards with those players. But point guard might be the most innate position in the NBA -- either you are, or you aren't. The irony with Jameer Nelson is he is the player the Heat bypassed in the 2004 NBA draft, taking Dorell Wright at No. 19, one pick before the Nuggets took Nelson at No. 20. That's not to say that I'm in favor of a 35-year-old point guard at this stage (which also is the same age of Beno Udrih), but I am curious how the situation, with this roster, would get complicated if Goran were not available. I asked Pat Riley about this during the preseason, and got this. "If we didn't feel comfortable with Tyler and with Josh and also with Dion, then we would have gotten probably, exactly what you're talking about -- a veteran, 10, 12 years in the league, can really play, smart, can run an offense, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But we don't feel like we need that. And if we did, then it would have been easy for us to acquire that kind of player." So there's that.

Q: Should the Heat have kept DeAndre Liggins over A.J. Hammons? -- David.

A: From a basketball perspective, it would have made all the sense to have more on the wing, rather than an eighth player in the power rotation, when counting Hammons, Bam Adebayo, Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, Udonis Haslem, James Johnson, Okaro White and Jordan Mickey. But this also is a salary-cap league and a transaction league, and that's where the financial side comes into play. Remember, any player signed in the offseason cannot be traded until Dec. 15, at the earliest. So if they Heat need salary ballast to fill out a deal before then, Hammons is one of the few that meets the criteria for that. I will say this, even after the response above about point guards, it should never come down to what your 14th or 15th men can provide. If you're going that far down the roster, then you're probably in a shaky place, anyway. But in a league that has gone toward small ball, it is interesting how much of the Heat roster leans toward the power element,

Q: If I'm not wrong, the Heat are at the max of players right? Is it possible for the NBA to give the Heat an injured exception for Rodney McGruder? -- S.J.

A: Not unless at least two more players also are sidelined for an extended period. That, as I've stated before, is why teams have at least two inactive players per game, with only 13 allowed to dress. As it is, with two-way players this season, teams could have as many as 17 choices for those 13 active spots on game nights. So it's not as if there is a dire need for such roster exceptions.


October 16, 2017

Q: A few days ago I wrote in about the possibility of James Johnson playing at the three. In light of the injury to Rodney McGruder, do you think it is worth examining now? -- Antonio, Tallahassee.

A: I believe that James can help at small forward from the perspective of defending opposing threes, certainly the bigger ones like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. To a degree, that's what he originally was brought in for. And he does play more like a wing that a power player. So, yes, he will be cast in such a role at times. But as far as starting at the three, that's a longshot. I'm just not sure Erik Spoelstra would play him in lineups that have two of these three alongside: Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. Now, would he play as the de facto three when a big man and Jordon Mickey are on the floor, that certainly is possible. And if he is alongside Justise Winslow in the second unit, then which is the power forward, anyway? It's something you will not know until the defensive assignments are evident. Remember, position-less, position-less, position-less.  

Q: The Heat could use veteran depth that can hit threes. Should the Heat sign Gerald Green at the expense of a prospect? -- Martin.

A: I'd say zero chance, but I've seen stranger things happen, including Michael Beasley return . . . and then return again. But it was a bit of a wild ride with Gerald the first time around, so I believe the Heat have moved on. And Gerald did not exactly feel embraced by the Heat in light of his playing time at the end of his tenure. That's not to say that Gerald can't give someone three or four games where his scoring makes the difference.

Q: Is the injury to Rodney McGruder a blessing in disguise? This team is already loaded at guard and with how well Josh Richardson has played during this preseason it seems like it's the perfect opportunity for him to start at small forward and take the next step in his development. -- Mialles, Boston.

A: It is never an advantage to lose a quality component, which Rodney has developed into. Even if he eventually was shifted away from the starting lineup, Rodney stood as an asset. Now, if you're hoping to find a silver lining, it would be if Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson play at a level that it becomes difficult to keep them off the court. I don't mean this in an unfair way, but the Heat were able to survive and thrive in the absence of Justise Winslow last season. Now it is the other players in the perimeter rotation who have the opportunity to do the same.  


October 15, 2017

Q: Hi, Ira. Just when you needed a small forward Richard Jefferson pops up? No long-term commitment required and still has some game left. -- Terry, Liberty City.

A: It's interesting that not so long ago there was concern from Heat followers about Rodney McGruder taking developmental minutes from Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, with many of those same fans pointing to Dwyane Wade, at 35, being a bit too long in the tooth. But now that Jefferson's name has popped up after his trade from Cleveland to Atlanta and then subsequent waiving by the Hawks, it's as if none of those concerns are in place. Look, I never rule out veteran possibilities when it comes to Pat Riley. But also consider that at 37 Jefferson is just two years younger than Shane Battier. I do believe that Heat will scour the waiver wire for options in the wake of McGruder's leg injury, but I'm not sure their move will necessarily be one for the ages.

Q: Ira, was a side of you disgusted at how much drama Joel Embiid try to start against Hassan Whiteside. I personally don’t get how a guy who’s been in the league three years and only played 31 games can be so talkative. -- D.J., Miami.

A: Because that's who Embiid is, a highly confident -- if somewhat brittle -- presence who believes the game should be fun, similar to Whiteside's approach, at least when it comes to social media. I have no issue with players having big personalities as long as it doesn't impact their play and productivity. Both Embiid and Whiteside took Friday's exhibition in Kansas City exactly what it was for, a meaningless close to a meaningless preseason. There is no way Erik Spoelstra would have kept Whiteside in a regular-season game after those two quick fouls. And I'm not sure the referees would have officiated those situations with the same quick whistle if it were not an exhibition. So you have fun, you tweet and you move on. The NBA embraces personality. Embiid and Whiteside have two of the bigger ones in the NBA.

Q: If a player such as Rodney McGruder is injured and out for the season is there an "injured reserve" he can be placed on to remain under contract, but have his roster spot filled? If not, why not? -- Andy, Coral Gables.

A: Because the NBA allows for a 15-player regular-season roster limit, with only 13 players eligible to be in uniform on game nights. So the league effectively already has a means to address such a situation. Only when multiple players are deemed out for an extended period is relief granted beyond the 15-player limit. Also, with McGruder at the NBA's minimum salary, there effectively is not cap relief, since a disabled-player exception would be less than the amount a team would have to sign a replacement. So figure Rodney to be one of the Heat's two inactive players on game nights moving forward.


October 14, 2017

Q: Ira, LeBron James called DeAndre Liggins a "diamond in the rough" for the Cavaliers last season. Shouldn't that make him good enough as a possible fill-in for Rodney McGruder? -- Neil.

A: And perhaps an unlikely twist of fate just might position Liggins for a second Heat tenure. When DeAndre was signed Tuesday, it was for a nominal $25,000 guarantee and likely one-way ticket to Heat's developmental-league affiliate, the G League Sioux Falls Skyforce. But that was before the Heat learned that Rodney McGruder would be out months with the stress fracture in his left leg. As it is, because of his previous brief tenure with the Heat and his time with the Skyforce, he already has a gasp of the Heat system despite his arrival this week. It certainly would be easier to plug Liggins into the roster than, say, wait to see who might be waived elsewhere in advance of Monday's NBA roster deadline (although, curiously, Derrick Williams, who started 11 games for the Heat last season remains a free agent, with Richard Jefferson soon to be available). Unlike the G League rule that limits the money that can be guaranteed for a player to be cut and be eligible for a team's affiliate, Liggins is free to earn any amount while under a non-guaranteed Heat contract and still eventually be cut and signed by the Skyforce. So this could all come down to whether the Heat, in light of the loss of McGruder, become  willing to eat the two remaining years on the deal of A.J. Hammons. If you asked at the start of this week whether Liggins would be with the Heat at the start of the regular season, the answer would have been a definitive no. Now? Not so sure. Still, Liggins hardly was overwhelming when given the start Friday in Kansas City against the 76ers.

Q: Ira, haven't the Heat gone too far with this position-less basketball thing? OK, maybe having one point guard on the potential 15-man roster was acceptable, but what about having one -- if that many -- "natural" small forwards?  Even before McGruder was injured, they were very thin at that spot; he was sort of make-do. Now they have Josh Richardson, who they kind of use as the point backup, and Justise Winslow, who looks and plays more like a  power forward. You can say it's all part of the plan, but it looks an awful lot like poor planning. -- Hanan, Tel Aviv.

A: I will defer to Pat Riley on this one, when he said position-less is a factor on the offensive end, but you still have to take care of the defensive end. So put aside offensive skill sets and ask which players on this Heat roster can defend opposing small forwards. Among the answers there are James Johnson, Winslow and Richardson, and possibly even Okaro White or Dion Waiters. So the question becomes whether those are good enough defensive answers.

Q: Matt Williams is a pure shooter that we lack from the wing. Will he make it to final 15? -- Romeo.

A: Actually, Wayne Ellington is a pure shooter that the Heat don't lack from the wing. That said, Matt could, but with the Heat still having a second available two-way contract (the other is committed to Derrick Walton Jr.) there is no pressing need to open a full roster spot. By converting Williams to a two-way contract, the Heat can assure that no other team poaches the 3-point specialist out of Central Florida, while committing no more than $275,000 for the season. Plus, should the Heat create a roster spot down the road, they can convert a two-way deal to a full NBA contract at any time.


October 13, 2017

Q: Now what? -- Ed.

A: I found this reaction to the news of Rodney McGruder's injury fascinating in that if a similar injury was diagnosed a year ago, the resulting reaction likely would have been more along the lines of, "So what?" That's how much the respect has grown not only over the last 12 months, but, really, over these three weeks of training camp. Where there previously were doubts about McGruder's place in the rotation, there now are concerns of the Heat being within a bona fide starter. And it is a significant loss, not only because it removes a roster component from the equation, but because of the trickle-down impact on the rotation. No, we're not talking about an irreplaceable player. But we just might be talking about a player who needs to be replaced. I would keep a close eye on the waiver wire once the bulk of the league's cuts come on Saturday. While the Heat have stressed being wed to those who have been in camp, this injury may create enough pause for the Heat to consider outside options.

Q: Do you see more potential in the development of Jordan Mickey vs. Okaro White? Both are the same height, at 6-8, but Mickey is two years younger and is 20 pounds heavier at 235. I have seen some great blocks from Mickey already. His athleticism is apparent, and he can shoot the three. I like White, but he may be reaching his ceiling and be a third-string backup. We obviously didn't need another power forward right now and I believe the Heat really saw something in their crystal ball in signing Mickey. This is how you grow for the future without draft picks. -- Joe, Jupiter.

A: This reminds me of last season's decision to go with McGruder over Briante Weber at the end of training camp. The difference is the Heat have enough room on the roster, at least at the moment, for both White and Mickey. Now, whether they have the need for both is another story. As it is, Mickey already is guaranteed for the season, so he is not going anywhere. White, however, only has a partial guarantee, so he could remain in play as other prospects come available amid cuts by other teams. I would agree that Mickey appears to have greater upside. From that perspective, it will be interesting to see how far the Heat's loyalty goes, after White committed so much to the Heat's summer league and summer program. Remember, if the Heat cut White, he is not allowed to sign with their developmental-league affiliate, because of the size of his contract guarantee. He was drafted by the Grizzlies' G League affiliate and therefore would have to go there, instead, should he opt for more developmental-league time. As it is, this latest shoulder injury could complicate any decision.

Q: What is the difference between buying out A.J. Hammons' contract and waiving him and sitting him on the end of the bench, rarely if ever playing, and paying him for the next two seasons? -- Jack, Miami.

A: The answer here is similar to the answer above: The Heat, at the moment, have enough roster space to accommodate Hammons' contract, without a dire need to otherwise utilize that space. Because Hammons is guaranteed for both this season and next season, he could yet come in handy as potential trade ballast. And, yes, sometimes even a minimum salary can make a difference when it comes to meeting the salary-cap requirements in a trade. So I guess the real answer is that, at the moment, the Heat don't have a real answer for his roster spot otherwise. That doesn't necessarily mean he makes it through the balance of his contract, let alone the balance of this season. As for fit with this group, it is difficult to make an argument, with the Heat having a tough enough time finding minutes in the middle for Bam Adebayo. 


October 12, 2017

Q: Rodney McGruder is just a very solid player. I think he is much better than Justise Winslow right now. -- William.

A: First, what Rodney is or isn't is a separate issue from Winslow. But Justise also is just 21, still developing. The difference is Rodney's development has come outside of the glare, in places like Hungary and the developmental league. Minutes invested in Justise at the moment are minutes invested in the future. And it's not as if the Heat are in championship mode. So the real question here, and perhaps the only question, amid this scrutiny should be this: Has Justise Winslow reached his ceiling? If you truly believe that, you move on. If not, you take last season for the wash that it was and consider this his second NBA season, or what in the old days would have been his third collegiate season. I get it, the scoring part of the game has been very, very difficult to this stage. But like a stock purchase, do you sell as soon as it goes down fearing the worst, or do you still hope to cultivate that investment? There certainly is risk-reward involved here, but this is an investment that hardly has reached maturity. Amid the rough patches, it is important to repeat this, "Justise Winslow is only 21." So for now you take the assists, the rebounds, and you, work, work, work on the shot. Which is exactly what he has been doing.

Q: Why does Erik Spoelstra have such a man crush on Rodney McGruder? I don't get it. He is taking up minutes that should be used for developing Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. -- Ryan, Denver.

A: And then you get questions like this. While there certainly still is a chance that Josh Richardson evolves into the opening-night starting small forward, sometimes you can have too many alphas. Moving Winslow into the starting lineup could similarly complicate the mix, with his need to handle, as he did at the end of Wednesday's exhibition Again, don't overstate someone with the Heat being a starter. Erik Spoelstra is known for his token starters. Just ask Luke Babbitt. But Rodney McGruder has been playing well enough to merit minutes somewhere in the rotation. Even Wednesday there was a quiet nine points on 4-of-8 shooting with five rebounds in 25 minutes.

Q: Bam Adebayo is playing better than Kelly Olynyk. -- Shyra.

A: Actually, playing different. Bam showed Wednesday how active a presence he can be on the block, making himself available in the lane. His skill set is overt. You see what you're getting. With Kelly it is a bit more subtle, but this rotation also needs that type of subtlety in the power rotation to as a balance to the force of Hassan Whiteside. Basically, Olynyk is polished, Adebayo is intriguingly raw.


October 11, 2017

Q: What are the chances DeAndre Liggins makes the 15-man roster? I think he would be a great addition because he's a good defensive player. -- Daniel, Miami.

A: The Heat are more than covered from that aspect, when counting Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Rodney McGruder. I'm not sure I wouldn't toss Josh Richardson into that group, as well. And based on the timing of the Liggins signing, this was a move made solely with the intention of getting DeAndre back to Sioux Falls, in the developmental league. But if you're asking whether he is among the 15 most talented players on the current roster, you have a legitimate argument. Because the roster's elephant in the room is A.J. Hammons, who was acquired as the cost of dumping Josh McRoberts. But with Hammons having this season plus 2018-19 on his contract guaranteed, that might be a move too costly to make to simply accommodate a different 15th man. Erik Spoelstra has called this a no-cut camp, with each of the now 20 players on the roster either to be with the Heat or with the team's affiliate in the G League. But Hammons' contract does not allow him to be sent to the Skyforce if cut. So unless "no-cut"' takes on a different meaninh, it appears he's safe -- even if there has been scant reason other than salary to make that so.

Q: I’m now convinced, Bam Adebayo should open the season in Sioux Falls and brought back in March or when needed. -- Gabriel, Miami.

A: March? I certainly could see times, with breaks in the schedule, when action for Bam in Sioux Falls would make sense. But that only happens if Erik Spoelstra is comfortable enough in breaking open Udonis Haslem in case of emergency in the middle. With all  due respect to the Heat's developmental staff in Sioux Falls, the Heat are better positioned to develop Bam on the practice court in Miami, where he can work against the diverse games of Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk. Would/could Bam spend some time this season with the Skyforce? Sure. But nothing along the line of a four-month banishment.

Q: Do you think we'll see a small-ball lineup of Justise Winslow at center? It was effective his rookie season in the playoffs and seems a better way to get him and James Johnson on the court at the same time. It also allows more time for Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk to play together. -- Dave, Placentia, Calif.

A: The thing about utilizing an undersized player as a stretch four or stretch five rests in the "stretch" part of the equation. Until Justise can consistently drain a shot from the perimeter there would be little need for opposing power players to step beyond the paint other than to avoid a 3-second violation.


October 10, 2017

Q: With Dwayne Wade named to the starting lineup, and Kevin Love moving to the five, the 2017 Cavaliers are starting to look a lot like the 2012 and '13 Miami Heat. Are you surprised? -- Stuart.

A: That's where the NBA is going, a five-wing circus, which makes the Heat a dual outlier with the decision to start a pair of 7-footers, in Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk (at least for now). And it will be intriguing to see what Whiteside can do against Love and even Olynyk against Whiteside, with the defense certainly to be tested. As for Wade starting, I wouldn't overstate any Cavaliers lineup until Isaiah Thomas returns. Only then, which is expected to be after the turn of the calendar, will be know how Cleveland's chemistry shakes out. With Love and a loaded lineup of wings, the Cavaliers are a perfect spot for Dwyane with his lack of outside consistency. He found the right place, and he knew it. And yet, are big early-season minutes in his best interest at this stage of his career.

Q: Regarding Bam Adebayo, his fans don't know history. Bam is barely out of his teenage years. The one-and-done movement has warped perspectives. Should Bam get more time than Okaro White or Jordan Mickey? -- Leonard, Charlotte.

A: Monday's first half provided all the perspective needed, with Adebayo at a minus-10 in his 3 minutes, 8 seconds, with one rebound, no points and three fouls while playing with the rotation regulars. There clearly is a need for seasoning there, perhaps not enough of a need to send him to the developmental league, but likely little more than the spot minutes we saw Monday. Confidence will never be an issue with Adebayo. But there is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of perspective. Monday's first half provided just that, with Dwight Howard even trying to hidden-jersey-grab trick on one rebounding sequence.

Q: Why do you keep implying 32 minutes each for Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson?  For the Heat to be successful, Whiteside needs to play more minutes than the other two. -- Joel.

A: Just trying to show where the numbers could fall, when dividing three rotation players into the 96 minutes available per night in the power rotation, and then adjust from there. I see Hassan at 36 to 38 a night, shaving those from Johnson and Olynyk, unless Johnson also gets some time at small forward. The rub could be where the Heat opt to play Justise Winslow, which remains an open-ended question.


October 9, 2017

Q: Our best hope is for Justise Winslow to develop into a megastar, who can then draw other stars here via free agency/trade. Otherwise, it will be a fun, limited team. -- Daniel

A: I disagree. I think this is the time for the Heat to try to make something more out of Hassan Whiteside, to show available players the unique opportunity to play alongside a unique big man. There are plenty of Winslow types around the NBA. I'm not sure the same can be said for Hassan. The growth has been incremental to this stage. This is when the Heat, and Spoelstra, have to find a way to max out that $98 million investment. Kelly Olynyk said as much after he started Saturday in Orlando, that he appreciated the need to create scoring opportunities for Hassan.

Q: Is the Heat's ensemble approach stunting players' growth? Move Johnson & Johnson to the starting lineup, Tyler looks ready to break out.  Bring Dion Waiters off the bench, ego be darned.  -- John, Ocala.

A: Your reasoning certainly could be valid. But the Heat also have to balance their investments. What I mean by that is if they view their players as assets, then they also have to be in position to showcase them. That is part of the dilemma, as well. Actually, based on what we've seen to this point, you could make more of a case for starting Tyler Johnson than James Johnson. But this is just a three-game preseason sample size, compared to what James Johnson delivered over the second half of last season. Dion Waiters certainly looked more like Dion Waiters in Saturday's game in Orlando. Basically, he has to be good in order for this mix to work. The concern is he played well in the game Goran Dragic missed. The Heat need to get back to 7-Eleven, which has been limited in its offering to this point of the preseason.

Q: Ira, why isn't Bam Adebayo getting a chance to play more minutes? He draws fouls enough and gives effort. He needs minutes to develop. -- P.M.

A: If you truly believe that, then he may be off to Sioux Falls for seasoning (which I don't believe will be the case). That was part of the issue when the Heat went big in the draft, knowing that James Johnson was expected to move to power forward. And that was before the move was made toward Kelly Olynyk (although still when there was the chance of a Willie Reed return). To reiterate what has become a familiar theme in this space: there are 96 minutes available in the power rotation in an NBA regulation game. So divide that by three and  you come up with an ample 32 each for Olynyk, Johnson and Hassan Whiteside. Can you create an opportunity for Adebayo in that window? That comes down to which player cedes some of those minutes. But would it be in Bam's best interests to create limited minute that could prevent any semblance of rhythm. I do believe there will one game this preseason when Bam gets his big-minutes turn, most likely Friday in Kansas City against the 76ers.


October 8, 2017

Q: Can you see Erik Spoelstra keep James Johnson coming off the bench in order to give the second unit more fire? The second unit doesn't have enough consistency and James Johnson and Tyler Johnson played very well together last year. -- Roman.

A: You could see it even in Saturday's exhibition, the undeniable chemistry between the two Johnsons when they entered in tandem in the first quarter in Orlando. But among the reasons it worked Saturday is that Josh Richardson started, with Goran Dragic given the night off. If Richardson gets back to that second unit, then you could again have too many ball-intensive players on the court with James Johnson. Look, having such versatility is a luxury, it's just a matter of sorting it all out. And, again, perhaps it's as simple as starting Richardson in a lineup that doesn't feature James Johnson. It's funny how most have been ranting about the length of previous preseasons, and then you get a sense that the Heat would welcome more time to sort this out. My sense is the sorting will continue into the regular season. Erik Spoelstra indicated as much after Saturday's game.

Q: Is Tyler Johnson the one player destined for a breakout season? Since his contract, he has quietly and consistently produced. Pat Riley said he sees this team having breakout players this season. Could Tyler Johnson turn out to be that player? -- Rodney, Sarasota.

A: I don't think so, if only because of how evenly the minutes, touches and shots are to be sorted out. What Tyler can be is someone who injects himself into the equation for the Sixth Man Award. And if he does that, the Heat will better for it. This still is a team built around Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic. Everyone else merely has to fit in. Tyler can do that, and do that in a way that also makes teammates better. The trouble for this team could be when any player, including Dragic and Whiteside, try to do too much. We've seen that at times during the Heat's more inefficient moments during the preseason.

Q Josh Richardson needs to start at small forward, with Kelly Olynyk at power forward and Hassan Whiteside at center. -- Alen.

A: What I most agree with is that Josh Richardson has to play, and play a lot, if he plays like he did Saturday in Orlando. That is what has to matter most. Because of his versatility, the position is the least of the concern. Rodney McGruder's minimalist approach when it comes to usage might ultimately work best in any first unit. As with Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson should make you play him extensive minutes -- no matter in what role they come. 


October 7, 2017

Q: I know it is preseason, but the Heat played with no passion against the Nets. These are hard to watch. -- Stuart.

A: This is important, and by no means because the preseason is in anyway important. With the Heat lacking the star power of several other teams, their entire reason for being is competing every time they step on the court, the very reason they were able to rally to a 30-11 finish last season while several other teams were going through the motions. A team with average talent (at least on paper) can't afford to play with average intensity. It sounds trite and cliché, but this only works if the Heat outcompete and outhustle. Otherwise, they are ordinary, at best.

Q: Should Erik Spoelstra find a way to move Tyler Johnson into the starting lineup? He may be the most consistent scoring guard next to Goran Dragic. -- Mike.

A: But a lineup is about more than the best five players being on the court for the opening tip. It is about chemistry throughout the rotation. And it is about massaging ego, of which Tyler has a blessed benign approach. Take Dion Waiters out of the starting lineup and you well could lose him, after all of his career struggles to reach this point. Of all the roles on this roster, I think Tyler best fits his niche as energetic sixth man. Plus, Waiters has shown excellent 7-Eleven chemistry with Goran Dragic. He has yet to truly develop that with any other roster component.

Q: When the team is told to go from good to better with its shots why doesn't Hassan Whiteside have to follow that rule? -- Alison.

A: There certainly were several times when Whiteside forced the action in Thursday's loss in Brooklyn. And, yes, that has to be the next step in his development, that if there are two or three defenders on him in the post then it means someone else is wide open. On the other hand, though, you also don't want to diminish that aggression. The reality is that he is strong enough to power his way to the rim and, at worst, at least get to the line. The other part of it is he has developed a reliable mid-range jumper, a shot that also helps open the paint. The difference this season is the Heat had two space-holders in last season's starting lineup, in Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt. Now, with James Johnson in the group, Hassan is playing with a great variety of scorers. It is something he has to recognize for this alignment to succeed.


October 6, 2017

Q: James Johnson can't start. He has to run the second unit. -- A.F.

A: As I mentioned in my postgame blog, James Johnson certainly has not been overwhelming with the starters to this point. But, again, we're only talking about a pair of preseason games with nominal minutes, so I'm not sure you can reach conclusions this early. And yet, there was a moment in the third quarter of Thursday's loss in Brooklyn when James Johnson fed Tyler Johnson in transition for a score that rekindled memories of just how special that collaboration had been over the second half of last season. With Dion Waiters locked into his new contract and into the starting lineup, it's not as if Tyler Johnson is going to be promoted to the first, so it could come down to whether Erik Spoelstra believes he has an alternate workable option at power forward for the first unit. I don't see Kelly Olynyk opening alongside Hassan Whiteside, so it could come down to whether Justise Winslow and James Johnson swap roles between the bench and the starting lineup. The Heat, of course, also invested $60 million in the offseason on James Johnson, so there also is that. In a perfect world, James Johnson's final four exhibitions are better than his first two.

A: Ira, if the starting five keeps playing like this in the preseason, you think Erik Spoelstra will shake it up? -- H.T.

A: The thing about Erik Spoelstra is that I believe he will shake things up, anyway, as his teams evolves and he gets a better read on how his players are performing in 2017-18. Remember, the Heat not only are working Kelly Olynyk into a new system, they're also bringing Justise Winslow back into a far different dynamic than what he experienced before last season's shoulder surgery. With so much based on chemistry last season, even the injection of a mere pair of elements can shake things up dramatically. But I also believe that Erik Spoelstra has been around long enough to have needed perspective when it comes to the preseason. The real work for the Heat will not come in these exhibitions, but on the practice floor.

Q: Something we aren't hearing much about is this Heat team will be extremely tough to score against late in games. Several above-average defenders might just make this group a dark horse to come out of the East (presuming the offense scores enough). -- Jim, Savannah, Ga.

A: You parenthetical, however, is the rub. Good scoring always finds a way against good defense in this hands-off era of the NBA. For as much as Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Rodney McGruder can be pests, the end game for the Heat could come down to Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic and another scoring wing, which could limit the defensive adjustments. As it is, it hardly looked like the Heat had any defensive stoppers based on the way they played in Thursday's preseason loss in Brooklyn.


October 5, 2017

Q: Kelly Olynyk appears to be the player the Heat wanted Josh McRoberts to become, had he not been injured during his Heat tenure. -- Chris, West Palm Beach.

A: Understand that the Heat wanted nothing more than to make it work with Josh McRoberts, kept going back to that drawing board  to maximize the possibilities of a high-post passing big man who could also defend opposing centers. Had Josh remained healthy, the Heat: 1. Might not have had to spend on Olynyk. 2. Might not have had to forfeit all of the money they could throw into a 2017-18 trade, as they did in the McRoberts deal to Dallas. 3. Might not have had to take on these next two seasons on the contract of A.J. Hammons, who is redundant with this roster. I had shied from such Olynyk-McRoberts comparisons, because I felt it would be taken as some sort of disrespect toward Kelly. But there also are differences. First, Kelly has far more solid build to defend muscular big men in the post. Second, he sees nothing wrong with the simple pass, which wasn't always the case with McRoberts. This roster was built to work with McRoberts' skill set, which is why it has been such a seamless transition to Kelly's game. Clearly, Pat Riley favors big men with big passing games and big hair games.

Q: Although we Miami fans might think we accomplished great things last year, to the non-locals we were a lottery team. Respect is earned. -- R.G.

A: And that is exactly the point Erik Spoelstra was trying to make Wednesday when he was asked about Hassan Whiteside being overlooked in the NBA's annual poll of general managers. As with most NBA teams, there is plenty of talent on this roster. But talent often goes overlooked  when it is not accompanied by winning. And that makes sense, because the ultimate success in the NBA is team success. At 11-30 at midseason last season, it was  difficult to make a case for a Heat All-Star. Similarly, without a winning record, the Heat justifiably found it difficult to draw respect for individual accomplishments. If the desire for individual notice creates a better record to start this season, all the better. But, as Pat Riley notes, if the players make it about individual success then the team record could falter. Selflessness seemingly is the only path to success for this roster. The upside is that the players appear to appreciate as much. As much as Pat Riley once had stressed 15 Strong, in this case, 10 Strong, with a deep nightly rotation, could be critical.

Q: You think the All-Star game new format is the NBA test case for postseason changes down the road? -- J.D.

A: No, if that was the case, then the league would have allowed voting on the 30 best overall All-Star candidates, rather than retaining the selection process of 15 from each conference. There simply would be too much travel at the start of the postseason to have series such as Portland at Boston, or Toronto at Denver. There is enough travel already, let alone such a trip on what could be as short as a three-day turnaround from the end of the regular season.


October 4, 2017

Q: What is Hassan Whiteside's trade value? -- Kevin.

A: Really? One good scrimmage and exhibition game by Kelly Olynyk and we're here? OK, I'll bite from the perspective of salaries, that with all this cash outlay going forward on the likes of Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Olynyk and Josh Richardson that there might have to be a salary review from the standpoint of an impending luxury tax. But what makes the Heat second-unit approach so intriguing is the way it runs counter to the post-up, pick-and-roll approach with the opening group. It is the yin-yang between Whiteside and Olynyk that makes the overall approach fascinating. As long as Hassan continues to make strides forward with his overall team play, he will remain valued. However, if he stands as anything less than one of the two most significant elements of the overall approach, then, yes, it is possible the Heat take him into account when considering overall payroll.

Q: I really like what I saw from Kelly Olynyk. He'll look good next to Hassan Whiteside. Agree? -- James.

A: Don't agree. With today's power forwards closer to wings than post players, who exactly guards the Carmelo Anthony types between Whiteside and Olynyk? There are too many power forwards with perimeter games for the Heat to consider shared court time between Hassan and Kelly. That, to me, as I stated yesterday, is going to be the challenge for Erik Spoelstra, to find a way to get Olynyk and Whiteside each on the court for more than 24 minutes per game. I'm still not sure how/if that happens. But Spoelstra said Tuesday it would. So we await.

Q: I am waiting for the Heat vs. Cavs when Rodney McGruder and Justice Winslow on defense tie up Dwayne Wade and LeBron James in knots. With all the depth on the Heat, can the Heat just go so hard on defense that they wear teams down? -- Stuart.

A: I'm not sure anyone locks down LeBron. But what the Heat can do with Winslow, McGruder and James Johnson is offer different looks, and plenty of fouls, against opposing scorers. Justise has stressed during camp that the defensive end remains a priority, with the Heat at their best when Johnson prioritizes that side of the court, as well. You can never have too many perimeter defenders. And I'm still not sure that McGruder's size isn't a detriment against bigger wings.


October 3, 2017

Q: When James Johnson was a starter at the end of last season, Dion Waiters was injured. Now with Waiters back, J.J. may not have the ball enough in his hands to be a point forward. Goran Dragic, Waiters and Hassan Whiteside are all high usage guys. J.J. seems uncomfortable as point forward with Waiters back on the court handling the ball so much. -- Leonard, Charlotte.

A: Two thoughts: First, don't overstate any single exhibition game or even the entire preseason. Second, that's what a coach is for, to design a system that makes a lineup work. The counter to that is that a coach also has to find a lineup that makes his system work. Sometimes it comes down to reps. Remember, James started only five games last season, and Waiters was sidelined for all five of those at the end of the season. So perhaps what they need is exactly what they got on the court Sunday, time to work out the kinks. And if the preseason shows that the lineup does not work, at least you sort that out before the games count. Both James and Dion showed an adaptability last season to the greater good. This starting lineup might require such sacrifice this season, as well. But I do agree that subbing in James into the spot you had Luke Babbitt last season clearly means someone else in that first group is not going to be on the ball as often. And among the reasons you gave Johnson $60 million in the offseason was to maximize his ballhandling, playmaking and facilitating. In the end, this should be a good problem to have.

Q: Last year Hassan Whiteside averaged 32.6 minutes per game. Can you see a reduction in his minutes due to the need to play Kelly Olynyk? It would give Whiteside a little more energy and aggressiveness for not worrying about fouling out. Secondly, since Olynyk shoots a great free throw percentage, could you see him closing out games to counter the "Hack-A-Shack" strategy? -- Joe, Jupiter.

A: Erik Spoelstra did not utilize centers in tandem last season, but that also was with Whiteside and Willie Reed far closer to traditional centers than what the Heat have in Olynyk. With Whiteside on a $98 million deal and Olynyk on a $50 million contract, I doubt the Heat want to settle for just 24 minutes from each. So, yes, there will have to be a way to make it work with both on the court for at least a few minutes each game. I don't believe there is any design on reducing Hassan's minutes, but you do raise a good point about the free-throw shooting aspect.

Q: I just hope we will have a healthy year. -- Andres.

A: And sometimes it is that simple. Remember, the Heat opened last season without Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Josh McRoberts, and with Justise Winslow dealing with a sore wrist. The beauty of this team is the depth and versatility. And while Whiteside and Dragic are the centerpieces, remove one or two of the complementary components and plenty changes.


October 2, 2017

Q: Erik Spoelstra took the easy way out with Rodney McGruder starting Sunday. One of Josh Richardson or Justise Winslow need to be developed, to have a higher ceiling as a team. -- N.C.

A: There is far more about development than starting. In fact, you could argue that by playing him off the bench, the Heat are developing Justise as a power forward. And Josh Richardson's versatility might better mesh with the second unit. But, again, don't ever read much into preseason lineups. Or, for that matter, early-season Heat lineups. For years, Erik Spoelstra has cycled through combinations until hitting on something successful and enduring. And who is to say that McGruder won't evolve into an enduring NBA presence? He made the Heat better last season. It would benefit the Heat if he could again. He certainly showed Sunday that he can complement the Heat's other starters, as he did alongside James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters.

Q: Ira, with Kelly Olynyk having good range and great passing ability, Bam Adebayo's athletic ability and better-than-expected outside shot and Hassan Whiteside's inside game, don't you think this lineup offers huge match-up issues?  We could offer the tallest lineup in the NBA and second-chance opportunities should be huge. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.

A: I don't see Erik Spoelstra going in that direction at all, nor would opposing lineups allow the Heat to defend the forward positions with such an alignment, even if you want to argue that Bam could defend threes at times. What Sunday's second quarter, when the Heat played five-out, showed is that Spoelstra is far more likely to create an open lane for his attacking players than clog the paint. With Olynyk facilitating from the top of the circle, the Heat had nothing but straight-line openings to the rim. That, of course, will continue only if Justise Winslow can keep opposing fours honest with his outside threat. Winslow is far more likely to play at the four than Adebayo at the three or even Olynyk at the four.

Q: Any reason Bam Adebayo didn't get any minutes in Sunday's first half? -- Y.S.

A: Because right now he sets up no better than 11th man in the rotation. That doesn't mean he won't get ample minutes in the preseason, with five more exhibitions to follow, just that there is more ahead of him on the roster. His time will come in the games when Hassan Whiteside is injured or in foul trouble. But, as stated above, it appears highly unlikely that the Heat will regularly utilize three centers, with Kelly Olynyk setting up as one of those three on this roster.


October 1, 2017

Q: The Heat's scrimmage showed raw athleticism. Bam Adebayo needs grooming. He's not ready for prime time. -- Steve.

A: And he doesn't have to be, at least not yet, as long as Hassan Whiteside is healthy and not in foul trouble. Based on what we've seen from Erik Spoelstra, it sure seems like Kelly Olynyk is setting up as the backup center. And with the Heat favoring smaller ball during last season's 30-11 second half, it's not as if there are going to be more minutes in the power rotation than what Whiteside, Olynyk, James Johnson and perhaps Justise Winslow can handle. With the Heat without first-round picks (most likely) in 2018 and '21, Bam doesn't have to be an instant success, but merely an enduring one. Yes, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, he still is better off with the Heat, being groomed by Spoelstra against Whiteside and Olynyk than perhaps being featured in the developmental league, where, as you note, his athleticism could potential provide enough comfort into believing he is complete as a pro. Flashes of Bam likely will be the story, at least early on for the Heat this season.

Q: Dwyane Wade passing us up to go to the Cavs is a tough pill to swallow. He could have been a Heat lifer playing his entire career here and ego got him to mess that up. Shame, as I love the guy and appreciate all he did for us. But at this point I rather we never keep looking back for a reunion, but look forward to the future as his game does fit better with the Cavs than with us at this stage. Thanks for the memories, D-Wade. -- Peter, Miami.

A: I'm not sure Dwyane passed up a reunion, at least this time, because I'm not sure there ever was a definitive offer on the table. And I'm not sure that "ego" played a huge part. Chicago, as constituted last season, initially set up as a far stronger playoff contender than the Heat, certainly as Cleveland does this season. You can't begrudge a player who prioritizes winning.

Q: Pat Riley's "assets" are four-year contracts that no team will trade superstars for. At least Danny Ainge has/had first-round picks. -- Aura.

A: You don't have to get a superstar, you have to get a player you believe can make such a jump. Or, you simply step forward and win now with what's on the roster, which is the immediate approach. It's sort of like those carnival booths, where you can trade up for a bigger prize. Pat Riley could yet could trade in his bean bags for a big stuffed giraffe.


September 30, 2017

Q: Everyone had Russell Westbrook going to the Lakers. Now Paul George could stay with OKC and Carmelo Anthony might not opt out. Pat Riley knew what he was  doing when he locked up his core. Keven Durant and Gordon Hayward might be the last two to leave for a while, and Riley saved up for both of them. -- Arn.

A: Westbrook certainly did raise some eyebrows with the extension he agreed to with the Thunder, and  you are right that his move could impact others with the Thunder. But Paul George still will be a free agent next summer, so a departure remains possible, since there won't be an extension there. As for Carmelo, it certainly would make sense not to risk his $27.9 million player option for 2018-19. But that doesn't mean that LeBron James won't be moving on. There always will be talent to chase in free agency. And some would contend that Riley locked up nothing more than mid-level talent. But I do believe we are seeing a change in the approach, that the movement comes not in free agency, but rather in forcing relocation while in the final years of contracts, as we've witnessed with George, Anthony and even Kyrie Irving two years out. So, in the end, collecting trade assets could benefit Riley, just as it did the Celtics. Of all the free agents Riley could have chased  going forward, it was difficult to envision Westbrook ever heading to South Florida. If anything, he was going West or to one of the league's largest markets. Now that speculation is moot.

Q: What is Plan B if Dion Waiters reinjures his ankle? Wayne Ellington? Josh Richardson? Why am I nervous? -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: You're nervous because there isn't a Plan B, just as there wasn't when the Heat dealt with so many injuries at the start of last season. Take Waiters out of the equation and the entire backcourt is compromised, as is the ability to play small ball in three-guard lineups. You have every right to be nervous until you see Dion playing loose and free, without a limp in his gait during the preseason. The Heat effectively had put a stop to the questions. That doesn’t mean there isn't necessarily a question.

Q: The Heat should explore having Bam Adebayo open the season with the Skyforce where he can get significant minutes. Considering Okaro White is unlikely to benefit as much from more G League minutes, this seems to make the most sense. Am I wrong? -- Gabriel, Miami.

A: Yes, because while Bam might not be a rotation player at the outset, he also stands to be the situational starter at center should Hassan Whiteside be sidelined, so as not to alter the remainder of the rotation. If Bam is in Sioux Falls, it is difficult to rush him back on short notice. I would think that A.J. Hammons and Jordan Mickey might be the most likely players on the regular-season roster to get early season minutes in the developmental league.


September 29, 2017

Q: What's really with Justise Winslow? He appears to be a really fine young man, probably a notch or two above the usual NBA newcomer despite his relative youth?  But considering his style of play, it's hard to escape the impression that he's a round peg the Heat is trying to fit into a square hole, considering his dubious shooting ability and that he doesn't seem right for the upbeat style that brought 30-11. Considering his apparent limitations, it's hard to imagine him as a three, even in Erik Spoelstra's position-less approach, perhaps more suitable as a four. But Pat Riley went and got two bigs, maybe more, in addition to James Johnson.  And even when he will get a chance, how much rope will Riley give him before  recognizing that  his greatest value is as a trade "resource."All the best. -- Hanan, Tel Aviv.

A: First, Justise is putting in the work on his shot during camp, but you are correct that some players simply don't excel in all areas. A bunch of us media types actually were searching for a workaround and came up with a possibility that addresses your positional concerns, but also could leave Bam Adebayo as the odd man out. First, you open with Rodney McGruder as somewhat of a nominal, placeholder starting small forward, in the type of minutes Luke Babbitt played last season as a starter. He would be flanked by James Johnson at power forward, Hassan Whiteside at center, Dion Waiters at shooting guard and Goran Dragic at point guard. Then on the second unit (and, yes, I know there is no such thing as a true five-man second unit, but indulge here), you could play Kelly Olynyk at center, Justise at power forward, Josh Richardson at small forward, Wayne Ellington at shooting guard and Tyler Johnson at point guard. While Tyler is not a true point, you still would have Winslow's ballhandling and playmaking in such an alignment. But, again, that would leave Adebayo as nothing more than an 11th man, at best (ahead of only Okaro White, Jordan Mickey, Udonis Haslem and A.J. Hammons).

Q: Three jerseys in three years and four in four years come next year is a real bad look for Dwyane Wade. He's only hurting himself, becoming a mercenary. It will look bad years from now. -- Martin.

A: Or not. Again, the reference point here is Paul Pierce, who remains as beloved in Boston as Wade will again be in South Florida. The difference is Pierce is one of numerous Celtics legends, certainly not the singular franchise icon, as Dwyane could have and would have been with an uninterrupted Heat career. But these are different times than the ones of Magic and Bird. Even Michael Jordan aligned himself with the Wizards and Hornets after his Chicago tenure. Again, Dwyane could have stayed, at the Heat money he believed he deserved, but that would have meant no Hassan Whiteside going forward and no audience with Kevin Durant. Similarly, the Bulls certainly could have balked at a buyout with Dwyane, but how would that advanced their rebuilding project? Circumstances conspired for these relocations, as well.

Q: Why is A.J. Hammons here when they already have three centers, counting Kelly Olynyk? -- Phil.

A: It was the price of doing business with Dallas for the unloading of Josh McRoberts. For now, it is difficult to envision him as much more than salary-cap ballast for a potential trade. I would think Okaro White and possibly even Udonis Haslem would get the call before Hammons, who could often find himself in a sports coat on the Heat bench or perhaps getting reps in Sioux Falls. 


September 28, 2017

Q: Look at what happened when Ryan Tannehill decided not to have knee surgery and ended up injuring it again, but even worse than before. -- Matthew.

A: I received several versions of this question regarding Dion Waiters confirming Wednesday that he was offered the option of surgery last March when he sprained his left ankle, also saying that he continues to experience ongoing swelling. But this is different than the Tannehill situation for one significant reason: Dion stood as an impending free agent when the surgical option was presented, with, according to Dion, an eight- to 10-month recovery timetable. That meant that even if he underwent the surgery on the first day he missed a game, March 19, he would have been sidelined at least into November and possibly January. That simply was not an option with his impending free agency. And if he waited until after securing his deal in July to have the surgery, that would have had him sidelined at least until March, if not through all of this coming season. As it turned out, he signed an incentive-bolstered deal that includes basically a 10-percent pay bump, $1.1 million, if he appears in at least 70 games this coming season (missing no more than 12). That also factors into the equation, since it could leave Erik Spoelstra with a player who is less than 100 percent but also insistent on playing. For his part, Spoelstra has downplayed the concerns at every turn. And he is far more familiar with the diagnosis than any outsider. It certainly is not unusual for an NBA player to undergo constant treatment on a certain body part throughout a season. Pain management is a significant part of the NBA routine. Teammates have said that Dion has looked good during scrimmages. So, for now, as with Tannehill during the preseason, you hold breath and hope for the best, and not what the Dolphins wound up with.

Q: Hey, Ira. While it will be strange to watch Dwyane Wade in a Cleveland uniform, am I alone in not being devastated by this news? From a current basketball standpoint, it makes sense for Wade -- and the Heat is fine this season. Bigger picture: D-Wade will retire as a member of the Miami Heat. This is a temporary stop to play with (and payback for?) a close friend. I think Heat fans should give Dwyane a respectful round of applause at introduction, then enjoy this unique rivalry for a season. -- Danny, Aventura 

A: I agree that seemingly all parties came out ahead in this, with the exception possibly of the Bulls, who wound up paying Dwyane $39 million for a single season. The Cavaliers get a player they actually need in light of Isaiah Thomas' timetable. Dwyane gets an opportunity to compete for a championship. And the Heat get the season they need to fully explore the possibilities of Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Dion Waiters without having to carve out additional playing time for another guard. As for Heat fans, after the 13 season Dwyane provided in South Florida, how can there be anything but cheers anytime he returns?

Q: Heat fans don't want to hear any of this makes-sense-for-all stuff. We get it, but it doesn't make it feel any better about him in Cleveland. -- David.

A: No, it doesn't. Athletes have the right to weigh legacy against other factors. For Dwyane, the equation led him this time to Cleveland, no matter his ultimate Heat legacy. As was and is his right.


September 27, 2017

Q: Ira, do you see Dwyane Wade as Paul Pierce 2.0? -- L.D. Muscat, Oman.

A: This is a fascinating comparison, a player who spent the first 15 seasons of his career with one team, then jumped to three others briefly before retiring. Like Wade after 13 seasons with the Heat, Pierce left Boston close to the top of his game. Then there was an uneven playoff season in Brooklyn for Pierce, another uneven playoff season in Washington, followed by a pair fall-of-the-map seasons with the Clippers. Pierce simply was never the same threat he was in Boston, wound up hopscotching around the NBA without much of a team identity. Now there is Wade first in Chicago for one nominal playoff season, off to Cleveland, and then likely to move on yet again if LeBron James makes his expected shift elsewhere next season. And yet, through, it all, Pierce never lost his iconic stature in Boston, where he ceremonially retired, to now have his number retired. That's what should also be considered here, that once you make your mark in the NBA, you continue to be identified with the franchise you made your mark. So Paul Pierce is forever a Celtics. Patrick Ewing forever a Knick. And Dwyane Wade, soon enough, forever a Heat.

Q: One hundred percent Udonis Haslem's jersey should be retired first before Dwyane Wade's. He's been a captain for a while and he's a legit Heat lifer. -- D.G.

A: This was in response to my tweet about whether the Heat should go ahead and retire Haslem's No. 40 first, ahead of Wade's No. 3, should Udonis retire from the NBA first. To be honest, I had expected Dwyane's No. 3 to be the third Heat jersey to be retired after Alonzo Mourning's No. 33 and Tim Hardaway's No. 10. But Pat Riley then stepped in with the decision to retire Shaquille O'Neal's No. 32. To me, once that happened, all bets should be off when it comes to order. But I don't see LeBron James' No. 6 or Chris Bosh's No. 1 going to the rafters ahead of Wade's No. 3. As for Haslem's No. 40, it well could stand as the Heat's fourth number to be retired.

Q: Why didn't Dion Waiters get surgery on his sprained ankle? And how concerned should we be about this being a recurring theme for the 2017-18 season? -- Ze, Rio de Janeiro.

A: First, I haven't heard whether there could have been a surgical solution. Second, Dion was a free agent, so the last thing a player would want in that situation are any complications from a procedure. But it was awkward after the first practice of training camp with Erik Spoelstra downplaying the ankle and then Waiters saying it is an issue that will require ongoing treatment.


September 26, 2017

Q: How is a small-market team like Oklahoma City able to pull off two major trades in one offseason? I really believe that Pat Riley has lost a step. We need an All-Star and fast if we are going to be able to attract free agents. Hands down, Sam Presti is the Executive of the Year. -- Conrad, Hollywood.

A: It's all a matter of assets and timing. Remember, Carmelo Anthony had a no-trade clause. He first said he only would waive it for Houston, then added Cleveland and Oklahoma City into the mix. So any Heat-Knicks negotiations would have been moot when it came to Anthony, with the Thunder in a far more competitive state than the Heat. As for Paul George, there is question as to whether the Pacers would have been willing to trade within the conference, and whether the Heat's young assets were viewed as more attractive than Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. In each case, it could have been a case of a one-year rental, with George and Anthony eligible to become free agents next summer. But, yes, those are the types of high-risk, high-reward moves that defined Riley's front-office reputation. For now, the Heat have to be in a holding pattern, with players signed in the offseason not trade-eligible until Dec. 15 at the earliest.

Q: For the readers out there who preferred Dwyane Wade to move on from the Heat, remember what happened to the 2016-17 Heat once Dion Waiters went down with an ankle injury? They played well but lost. For all the blocks from Hassan Whiteside and the scrambling pace of offense, the only player that has that last-second killer instinct was Waiters and he was gone. The '17-18 Heat are the same team from last year. More experienced and cohesive but with no last-minute leader. Imagine if we could have subbed in Wade for those final games last season. -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.

A: But you can't carry a player just for last-second shots. He has to get warmed up along the way. And that's the rub. Last-minute Dwyane Wade is still a feared presence, at the minimum an ultimate decoy. But there also are the minutes you need to develop Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, build confidence from Goran Dragic, and have Waiters ready for moments of his own. If this was baseball, and you could carry a player only for situational play, then, yes, there still is something to be said about Dwyane Wade coming out of the bullpen. But even then, in the NBA most such specialists need 3-point range for spacing.

Q: Will Heat "retire" Goran Dragic's EuroBasket jersey as they have done for Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway? -- Raul, Doral.

A: I doubt it, since the banners at AmericanAirlines Arena are for Olympic gold medals, and do not include what used to be the World Championship. Goran basically won the championship of Europe, which would be like honoring Larry Drew II for winning the Tournament of the Americas this summer if he made the regular-season roster. But knowing the Heat, I fully expect some sort of midcourt commemoration and video-board commemoration for Dragic's accomplishment.


September 25, 2017

Q: I'm not even sure the Heat really need/want Dwyane Wade back, apart from emotional reasons. There are so many good players who need to develop. -- T.O.

A: That's why Pat Riley could be so at ease with his answer to my question Friday about a possible Wade return to the Heat. At the time, there was no actual possibility, with Dwyane still under contract to the Bulls. Now that has changed, and now it will be curious to see the Heat's approach going forward. It could wind up being far less complicated for the Heat if Dwyane instead moves toward a leading contender, which then would not put the Heat in position of having to decide about how to handle a potential Wade return. I never overstate middle-of-the-pack players in the NBA, so don't overstate the complications regarding Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson or Josh Richardson. But the reality is that the Heat have laid out over $140 million in contracts to those three, who, at least at the moment, aren't going anywhere. And that does not even get to the reality that Goran Dragic finally broke out with the Heat after Dwyane's departure. If Dwyane opts to move on to the Cavaliers or Rockets or Thunder, then Riley could simply point to those teams being better positioned for a 35-year-old player seeking a win-now opportunity. However if Dwyane makes it publicly known that a Miami return would be enticing, then it will be interesting to see how the Heat frame whatever would follow. When you bring back Michael Beasley twice, it's not as if you're in any position to balk with Dwyane Wade.

Q: If Wade goes to Cleveland there's no turning back between him and Pat. Choose wisely Wade, your legacy is in Miami. -- Cesar.

A: Except that's not how it works. This coming season is not about the Heat vs. the Cavaliers. It's about the Heat continuing to make strides forward. And to get petty about a franchise icon moving on to the Cavaliers to join LeBron James would only allow LeBron to gain another upper hand. Dwyane's No. 3 will be retired by the Heat regardless of his career path going forward. And from a playing standpoint, there is an opportunity to start in Cleveland that most likely would not be there with the Heat. A year with the Cavaliers actually makes plenty of sense for Dwyane at the moment, other than it meaning spending a year in Cleveland.

Q: Dwyane Wade, Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson? It seems like overkill. -- James

A: And that's not even getting to Rodney McGruder and Justise Winslow as other Heat perimeter options. And it would be overkill. But it also could lead to the thinning of the pack, perhaps with one year of Wade allowing the Heat to move on from Tyler Johnson's contract now and then having a year to reassess Waiters and his higher-tier contract. Look, there also were moments last season where Dwyane Wade could have helped, because he's . . . Dwyane Wade. Again, as with all these questions, Dwyane could make the Heat's decision easier by not having them have to make a decision.


September 24, 2017

Q: Ira, can this Heat team be compared to a version of Pat Riley '90s Knicks teams? I know there's no All-Stars, but Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic could be. -- Ricardo.

A: I'm not sure I would compare Whiteside and Dragic to Patrick Ewing and John Starks. And the styles are completely different, as is the overall approach in the NBA these days. The most pronounced comparison would be having a major roadblock in place -- Jordan's Bull for those Knicks teams, the Warriors and Cavaliers for this Heat team. But if you're asking whether this team can maximize its assets, that certainly is possible, potentially with more interest in regular-season success than the Cavaliers, Raptors and perhaps other East teams viewed as superior. But as I wrote in my Sunday column, the reality is that this roster does not have a player who ever was an All-Star. While Riley pointed out during his Friday media session that there are only 12 All-Stars per conference each year, there isn't even All-Star lineage on this roster. Yes, Whiteside and Dragic certainly could have their moments. And that's the point, that they practically have to rise to something closer to All-Star level for the Heat to become a legitimate East contender. Then again, with Carmelo Anthony dealt to the Thunder, that is another All-Star spot available on the decidedly star-lacking East roster.

Q: We're locking in this team for four, five years of mediocrity. -- Rob.

A: But, again, there was what Pat Riley tossed out there Friday, when he said, "one step away could be a move that could bring a player here. I do think we have the assets for that." The Heat are convinced they have moveable pieces, if needed. When Chris Bosh's salary was still on the cap, the Heat salary scale was skewed to the point that it became difficult to even come up with trade math. Now there are pieces that can be mixed and matched. That, alone, creates options over the next four or five seasons that you cite, in case the current mix can't take the next steps.

Q: I think Cleveland offers Dwyane Wade a bigger role than the Heat if there is a buyout from the Bulls, possibly starting at shooting guard and the opportunity for 18 points per game. But I'm not sure how happy he would be representing that franchise. -- Lex.

A: For now, there is so much in flux around the league that I think Dwyane, if he does get a buyout from Chicago, likely would sit back and analyze his best options. I do wonder, though, if he would be willing to go year-by-year, team-by-team at this stage, winding up like Patrick Ewing did in Seattle and then Orlando. It might make more sense to sit back and take the long view. Or, of course, do what many have done over the years, and simply ease into retirement in Florida.


September 23, 2017

Q: Ira, you buried the lead. When Pat Riley discussed bringing everyone back, he also said he would be willing to trade all of them. -- Pete.

A: That's not exactly how he phrased it. What he said Friday was, "I think we're one step away from being a very good team. One step away could be the collective effort of an ensemble cast of very gifted players or one step away could be a move that could bring a player here. I do think we have the assets for that." Remember, players signed during the offseason cannot be dealt until Dec. 15, at the earliest. That also means the league-wide trade pool is relatively shallow until then. So that gives the Heat, with the NBA's early schedule start, two full months to show the possibilities of this roster. I don't think there are any visions at the moment of, so to speak, flipping this roster. What Riley said was he made long-term investments into these players, but also could realign his portfolio if necessary. The lessons we learned this offseason, with players such as Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Kyrie Irving being moved, is that the biggest deals tend to get done around the draft of during the offseason. So there certainly is ample time for this roster to justify its reason for being.

Q: We need somebody to run the offense when Goran Dragic is not in. If that were Dwyane Wade that would be a huge W. -- Lex.

A: But if you listened to Pat Riley on Friday, he is convinced that there is enough on the roster to handle both the playmaking and defensive challenges at point guard for the time that Dragic is out. Whether you agree or disagree, that also means that anyone added in such a role would reduce such opportunities for those already on the roster, be it Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson or Dion Waiters expanding their games as ballhandlers, or perhaps Justise Winslow attempting to smother opposing point guards defensively with length. To me, that, more than money, is the crux of a Wade reunion (if that even is something Dwyane would consider). Riley's general tone is that the backcourt already is covered with ample options. That, of course, is not to say upgrades wouldn't be welcome. It's just what you consider an upgrade.

Q: All these people whining about sponsors need to catch up with the rest of the world. It's been happening for decades in all other sports. -- Daniel.

A: And the NBA went out of its way to make the uniform patches as unobtrusive as possible. At least for the moment. Because if the revenues for the patches are what Adam Simon has projected, then just imagine the possibilities for entire uniforms, as has been the case now in the WNBA. As long as fans and viewers are more concerned about the players in those uniforms, it is a non-issue.


September 22, 2017

Q: The Bulls are saying they're open to a buyout for Dwyane Wade, but does anyone know if he's open to the Heat? -- Stoney.

A: Dwyane has carefully removed himself from the buyout equation, including an escape into an awaiting vehicle in front of TMZ. With the Bulls expecting a considerable giveback from the $23.8 million Dwyane is due this season, it hardly would make sense for Dwyane to offer any public pronouncement on plans. Obviously the Cavaliers will always make sense because of the LeBron James connection. And the Rockets could make sense because close friend Chris Paul is now in place in Houston, with the possibility of Carmelo Anthony arriving there, as well. Then there is the Los Angeles angle, with Dwyane spending a good deal of time during the offseason extolling the virtues of his home there. Of course, there also is the issue of his children enrolled in school in South Florida and his recent workout at the University of Miami. To a degree, it seems like Dwyane has been linked to just about everywhere but Chicago this offseason. But, again, at what cost would there be a push for a relocation, when it became apparent with his departure from the Heat in July 2016 that this was all about money from the outset? Beyond that, the Heat are about to go to training camp with an abundance of guards, seemingly lacking the ability to create rotation minutes for Rodney McGruder and Wayne Ellington. With the money guaranteed to Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson, should the Heat cut into those minutes as well? Wade in 2018-19 might make more sense for the Heat than in 2017-18.

Q: Miami Heat jersey sales will take a huge hit this year. The NBA has commercials. There's no need for sponsor logos. -- Franky.

A: The versions sold in retail outlets will not include sponsorship patches, save for those sold at the Heat's direct retail outlets. As it is, there is only minimal change between the previous Adidas versions and the new Nike uniforms, so there might not be a rush for replacements, anyway, unless you insist on a Kelly Olynyk or Bam Adebayo version. Still, jerseys with advertisements have become so prevalent in soccer that you almost forget about being a walking billboard amid the desire to be like Messi or Ronaldo. The patches are tiny, and during the action of NBA games it is doubtful they even will be noticeable, let alone obtrusive.

Q: If Hassan Whiteside doesn't make the All-Star team over Dwight Howard and Joel Embiid, Whiteside should be traded for DeMarcus Cousins by the trade deadline -- Aura.

A: Buy you have to remember that there is no specific voting for centers for the All-Star Game, either in the combined fan/player/media vote for starters or the coaches' voting for reserves, merely spots for "frontcourt" players. What has to matter is that Whiteside improves as a player. If he does that, then he should, at the least, be on the cusp of an All-Star invitation. With Howard aging and on the downside, and with Embiid possibly again to be limited in his minutes, I don't believe you are setting the bar that high.


September 21, 2017

Q: Sorry Ira, if Dwyane Wade comes back, Goran Dragic should be the captain over him. Unless, of course, it's part of a banana-boat team. -- Gabriel, Miami.

A: This goes back to my reference of how much of a veteran leader Goran emerged as in Slovenia's run to the EuroBasket championship, as well as Udonis Haslem's limited opportunity to serve as captain while on the court. Now a year removed from the shock of Dwyane's departure, and clearly a different team than during Udonis' prime run as a contributor, it would seem as if Goran deserves the right to lead more than just the offense. Yes, being an NBA captain is largely ceremonial, and it probably is not even a concern of Erik Spoelstra. But as the Heat transition, it would seem like the perfect time to transition to the next level of leadership. This is not about taking away Udonis' captaincy, but rather adding another component, as the Heat have done before, when Chris Bosh was named a tri-captain along with Wade and Haslem in 2015-16. Again, it could get complicated if Dwyane were to return, or if the Heat have trade plans with Goran. But, otherwise, it seems like a natural progression.

Q: Screw ESPN's computer model. The season needs to hurry up and start. I'm sick of the doubters. -- Tammy.

A: Actually, I'm not sure that ESPN's computer analysis is that far off when it comes to a sixth-place projection in the East, although the projection of 42.9 wins might be selling the Heat short. On paper, it is difficult to make argument that the Heat possess more talent than the Cavaliers, Celtics, Raptors, Wizards or Bucks. As for the win total, it took 30-11 over the second half of last season to close at 41-41, with scant little done to augment the roster in the offseason beyond the additions of Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. This again will come down to chemistry and cohesion, which are not easily inputted into computer or analytical modeling.

Q: If we only had held on to Michael Beasley . . . -- Carter.

A: Look, the one thing Beasley never lacked during any of his Heat tenures was confidence, so it's no surprise to see him forecasting a fifth- or sixth-place finish in the East for the Knicks, as well as a breakout season for himself. That's who he has been since his over-the-top recruitment to Kansas State. And he can flat-out score. But there also is a reason so many teams moved on from him beyond the Heat, such as the Timberwolves, Suns, Rockets and Bucks. And I hope he does well in New York. But as with Derrick Rose last season in New York, it is going to take more than a remnant of the 2008 draft to turn things around.


September 20, 2017

Q: Ira, with the Heat locked into so many contracts over the next few years and approaching the luxury tax, are the dollars there for Justise Winslow? What kind of deal would you anticipate Winslow getting? Should the Heat wait on him to see if he can develop a shot?  Based on last year he was more a liability than an asset as indicated by the Heat's play in the second half of the season. -- Joel.

A: That is why Tuesday's move essentially was a no-brainer for the Heat, picking up Justise's $3.5 million option for 2018-19, rather than having to make a decision about him in 2018 free agency. What the Heat did was basically buy another tryout year for pennies on the dollar. Justise will now be subject to a $4.7 million qualifying offer in the 2019 offseason, which the Heat undoubtedly will extend and then see what transpires in free agency. Then it will get interesting. In 2019-20, Hassan Whiteside is in line to earn $27 million in his option year, Goran Dragic $19.2 million in his option year, Tyler Johnson $19.2 million in his option year, James Johnson $15.3 million, Dion Waiters $12.1 million, Kelly Olynyk $11.7 million and Josh Richardson $10.1 million. So, yes, something likely would have to give by then. That's what these next two seasons will be about, to see who and what fits. If Winslow emerges, as Pat Riley once projected, as the Heat's starting small forward of the future, than the necessary salary and roster accommodations will be made. But if Justise stands eighth among those players, then anything beyond Richardson-type money could be in question, at least from the Heat. That two-year clock essentially begins . . . now.

Q: I wish we would've had Devin Booker instead of Justise Winslow. -- Gago.

A: But then there might never have been Waiters Island along the glistening shores of Biscayne Bay.

Q: Ira, Goran Dragic, without a doubt, not arguably, but without any doubts, played for Slovenia with his heart and passion. After all, playing for foreign club is much different than paying for your home country, homeland, mother land, where you were born and grew up in and will return to someday to spend your retirement and be buried there. It was obvious that he played with a sense of nationality and pride for his country, with the "Slovenian blood" running through his veins. Now, all that said, do you think Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley can motivate and push him to play the same way when the season begins and continue until his contract is up?  -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: Getting beyond where Goran might be buried, he already has shown that exact type of passion with the Heat, playing through shattered teeth and a bludgeoned eye. The difference is Goran was the accepted leader of the Slovenia national team from the get-go. When he arrived to the Heat, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh already were in place, let alone the presence of Udonis Haslem. I agree that Goran's leadership can rise to another level -- if allowed. Because of that, I would name him co-captain this season along with Udonis Haslem. As it is, there well could be nights this season when Udonis is not in uniform. I believe having a captain actively involved with the game would allow Goran to resemble something closer to what we saw with his national team on the way to the EuroBasket championship. (The one caveat could be if the Heat have a sense that Dwyane Wade might return this season, in which case in might be wiser awkward with Wade back and Dragic a captain.)


September 19, 2017

Q: Does the team believe that Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside can co-exist on the floor for long stretches? I assume they do, or else they've paid a high price for Olynyk to be a backup center. The situation at the power forward spot still has me puzzled. James Johnson has rarely been a starter. I assume they would continue to bring him off the bench in the same role that saw him flourish last year? -- Ben, Kansas City.

A: I am sure that the very discussion of specific positions would have Erik Spoelstra gnashing his teeth. The certainly is the case with James Johnson, whose role as a forward could have him as much ballhandler and post defender. As for Olynyk, there is no way the Heat would have paid a $50 million free-agent price tag for a backup center. So when that move was made, it had to be made with the thought of a game that aligns alongside Hassan. Now, that doesn't mean he has to start, but what it likely means is that in the Heat's power rotation, you could see 96 minutes split nightly between Whiteside, Olynyk and Johnson. Plus, there also could be times when James Johnson is cast at small forward, perhaps opening the door for minutes for Bam Adebayo or Justise Winslow in a power role. It could come down to the opposition's approach, as well. I certainly could see James Johnson defending Carmelo Anthony at the four. I'm not sure that could be the case with Olynyk. And that could be the rub -- Olynyk's time could be a factor of how many teams, particularly in the East, continue to play with something resembling a classic power forward.

Q: Ira wouldn't you agree that Goran Dragic winning the gold medal for Slovenia at EuroBasket is similar to when Dwyane Wade won gold for the U.S. back in '08 and is this a sign that Goran will have a big year? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.,

A: I'm not sure that you can equate one motivational moment to another. It still comes down to the quality of the team. But it was hard to watch EuroBasket and not come away with a sense that he is as dialed in as ever. The next few weeks will be the ultimate challenge for the Heat's therapy team to get Goran's body realigned with the NBA schedule. What I see is a player coming back as far more of a leader. Could a captaincy be in his future?

Q: Absent internal development, the Heat lack the assets to acquire or lure a mega-star. Justise Winslow's development is our best shot. -- Daniel.

A: It's interesting, we're almost at a stage where Winslow fascination has reached the point of what was Beasley intrigue. To a degree the cases are similar, lottery picks viewed as potential breakout stars who have yet to break out. Remember, Beasley was gone after two seasons, to clear the salary-cap space needed for Mike Miller. But also remember that Justise is only 21, with plenty of room for growth. The hope is that, in the end, there is more stability to Justise's career than Beasley's. I would say that is a safe bet.


September 18, 2017

Q: Goran Dragic has to keep the beard when he comes back. -- A.F.

A: And hopefully keep the flex, as well (who knew those muscles were there?). Until he went down with his cramps Sunday, he was every bit of the international star he always has been, as well as the player who was third-team All-NBA with the Suns. If there were any doubts about what Goran could and can be, go back and watch his inspired play at EuroBasket these past three weeks. But also appreciate that he is best when he has the ball in his hands, which is why the chemistry was never perfect with Dwyane Wade, and why it is important that Dion Waiters remain somewhat deferential in their backcourt pairing. Still, seeing Goran taking treatment on the bench at the end of Sunday's championship-game victory over Serbia was somewhat disconcerting. The good thing is that it was only cramps. The bad part is that also is a sign of fatigue. While the regular season doesn't open until Oct. 18, it will be interesting to see the approach Erik Spoelstra takes during training camp and the preseason. Fortunately, the Heat return almost intact, so getting in sync with teammates shouldn't be an issue whenever he steps back in.

Q:  Ira, who is your guess for Heat breakout player of the year. -- Gabriel, Miami.

A: I'm going with Justise Winslow, because Erik Spoelstra has a way of finding a game to maximize a player's skill set, and the Heat very much would like to make this work with Justise. Two summers ago, it was Pat Riley coming out and saying that he envisioned Justise as the Heat's starting small forward of the future. This past offseason, Riley took particular umbrage to the suggestion that the Heat might put Justise into a trade. In other words, Riley wants to make this work. If you recall, two seasons ago, when Justise was having difficulty finding his offense, Spoelstra started running him along the baseline, and all of a sudden the points were there. I'm not saying Justise will be the Heat's leading scorer or anything close, but in terms of where he stood prior to last season's injury, I believe, with health, he remains a player who could yet be molded into someone with considerable upside.

Q: Ira, let's imagine this scenario: It is the very last game of the next season and Dion Waiters has appeared in 69 games. Now, he is either hurt and unable to play, or Erik Spoelstra is going with a totally different lineup that night. What is going to take place?  -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: As I wrote yesterday, getting Dion to his 70-game bonus threshold is not a concern  if he remains mostly healthy. You certainly can spot in for a sequence in a game to make sure he hits that total. And that is money that the Heat want to play. The contract was written that way only to also have the cap space for James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington. More problematic could be getting Kelly's 1,700 minutes if he misses injury time along the way. That, by contrast, is not simply spotting a player in a game and then removing him to avoid injury risk. But September is probably a bit too premature to concern yourself with either.


September 17, 2017

Q: Do more teams do bonuses like the Heat did with Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk? Sounds good, and hopefully will keep the players engaged and ready throughout the year. -- Douglas.

A: On the face of it, there certainly appears little downside in paying players for actually playing, which is the case with Dion's $1.1 million bonus for appearing in at least 70 games, after playing only 46 last season, or incentivizing Olynyk with a bonus for playing at least 1,700 minutes. It also allowed the Heat, by shifting salary to bonuses, to find a way to fit in the contracts of James Johnson, Waiters, Olynyk and Wayne Ellington this offseason. And there certainly is no issue with Johnson's conditioning bonus. But when it comes to statistical minimums, that's where it could get touchy. For example, what if Dion needs time off to be fresh for the playoffs, but also is chasing that bonus? Or what if the Heat medical staff suggests additional time off for an injury that puts Dion's bonus in doubt? As for Olynyk, what if the Heat find rotation combinations that limit his minutes? What it does is potentially put Erik Spoelstra in a tough spot, with priorities that differ from management trying to get players paid. And that's what this is all about. The Heat want to pay the bonuses; they want players to know that the shifting of salary had nothing to do with scrimping. And it's something they want players to agree to down the road, by showing the payoffs will come. So now the meters begin, the countdown to 70 games and to 1,700 minutes.

Q: If Goran Dragic becomes the Eurobasket MVP, how does this affect his game? Do you think it'll bring some confidence like Dion Waiters got last season? -- Ricardo. Pindorama, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

A: I'm not sure that Goran has ever lacked for confidence (but I'm also not sure that any player can reach a Waiters Island level of confidence). From afar, it appears the EuroBasket experienced, advancing to Sunday's title game against Serbia has rejuvenated Goran. And once you get a taste of success, you usually want more. Goran never had to prove himself to Slovenia. But with the Heat about to pay off the first of two first-round picks to the Suns from the 2015 acquisition of Goran, this would be the perfect time to show that it was a price worth the cost. Goran has grown during his time with the Heat, but EuroBasket has shown that even at 31, the growth continues.

Q: Why do I have the feeling that Miami is going to give some unknown player a $200 million contract like the Wizards did? Insane. -- Willy.

A: If you are talking about John Wall's $170 million deal, I hardly would call him an "unknown." As for Otto Porter's $104 million contract, I agree it was a bit extravagant (albeit forced by the Nets' offer sheet). As for Pat Riley being willing to spend, yes, he would have gone all-in for Gordon Hayward, and likely will in the future for someone at the top off a free-agency class. But, for now, he has topped out at Hassan Whiteside's four-year, $98 million deal. Yes, the Heat have a lot of mid-size contracts. But they also have a lot of mid-tier talent. So the pay scale seems to make sense.


September 16, 2017

Q: Miami is becoming a team with a high payroll. It seems a little much for a team who will fight for the last playoff spot. -- Hanuk.

A: Getting beyond a potential playoff spot, as well as the reality that teams such as Golden State and Cleveland are in completely different salary stratospheres, I believe that is where you get in trouble, when you look at the sum, rather than the parts. In this case, the focus had to be singular, on whether Josh Richardson, at $42 million over four seasons, was a value move. I find this part of the equation, considering his youth, hard to argue. Now, if you want to talk about going out four years with James Johnson or the investment in Kelly Olynyk, or even taking on the structure of Tyler Johnson's contract, those certainly are reasonable debating points. In fact, of all the moves the Heat made this offseason, this might have been the most efficient from a team standpoint. As to your greater point, yes, if the ultimate upside of this roster is a No. 8 seed, then I would agree it would be fair to question the dollars spent, and the players themselves. Almost to a man, this roster asked for the opportunity to prove how competitive it could be. Now comes the time to justify the payout with a payoff. Getting at least to No. 6 would be a reasonable starting point, if only to avoid the Celtics or Cavaliers in the first round. Challenge the Wizards or Raptors for a playoff seed and it could prove to be money well spent.

Q: Do even average players merit max contract extensions? I like Josh Richardson, I just don't understand how everyone gets $10 million a year now. -- Javier.

A: First, this was nothing close to a maximum extension, at $42 million over four seasons. Again, Josh's extension starts at $9.3 million next summer, when the full mid-level exception will be $8.7 million. So it basically is a mid-level deal. Taken further, next summer's salary cap is expected to fall at about $108 million. So divide that by 15 players and you wind up with an average salary of $7.2 million. So what it really is is an extension that starts just above the average salary. So my counter would be: Is Josh Richardson an average NBA player, or even one just slightly above average?

Q: Playing for his country stands above anything else for Goran Dragic, which is how it should be. He'll be fit when he gets back to the circus. -- Kevin.

A: And you certainly can see the pride as he heads into Sunday's EuroBasket championship game. Now, if the Heat were to start meaningful games upon his return, then there would be concerns. But the Heat do not play for real until their Oct. 18 season opener in Orlando. Beyond that, Goran has already demonstrated reliable chemistry with just about everyone he will be playing alongside this season, save for Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. If this was a year ago, with so many newcomers, then something could be said for maximizing camp and preseason reps with rotation players. But it's not as if Dion Waiters, James Johnson or Wayne Ellington have to learn where Goran likes the ball or where he likes them. Whenever Goran is rested and ready, he merely needs to get back to what he offered over the second half of last season.


September 15, 2017

Q: Goran Dragic is playing for the love of his country. He's been the MVP of the tournament so far. -- Asier.

A: The joy was undeniable with Goran both on the court in Thursday's semifinal victory over Spain at EuroBasket, as well as during his postgame media session. And you also can see his emergence as a leader, taking so many of Slovenia's young players under his wing. Goran certainly has shown similar passion during his time in the NBA, but what EuroBasket shows is that if the Heat get to the playoffs, they will have a point guard who is ready for the moment and appreciates any and all possibilities. On another level, what has made Slovenia's 8-0 run at EuroBasket so impressive is that they are playing the very type of ensemble style that made the Heat so efficient during the 30-11 run over the second half of last season. Whatever toll EuroBasket might take on Goran, it also will pay dividends of rekindled basketball passion for The Dragon. That was undeniable as he was flexing Thursday in Istanbul.

Q: I told you we are winning this championship. I'm taking my Miami Heat Jersey No. 7 and flying to Istanbul. Trade up and draft Luka Doncic next summer -- Toni.

A: Considering the Heat traded next June's first-round pick in the 2015 deal for Goran Dragic (unless it is among the first seven selections) to the Suns, the Heat likely will continue to be limited to a sole Slovenian. The passion for the game from the Slovenian team and its fans has become infectious over these past two weeks. And, yes, Doncic has the makings of something very special, as Goran told us last season as he was preparing to return to the national team for one final time. I also remember Goran talking about the challenges of Slovenia's opening-round group in Finland, and look at where they are now, one victory from the most unlikely of European championships.

Q: All due respect to Micky Arison and the Miami Heat. -- Tim.

A: Rhetoric is one thing, but stepping up with the cash when needed is another. Thursday's announcement of a potential $10 million in relief effort was a major commitment at a time when this community needs one. So is the Heat's pet rescue that will have Udonis Haslem and Erik Spoelstra working in concert with the Warriors and their staff. It is a comforting ending to a brutal week.


September 14, 2017

Q: The Heat are going all-in on homegrown talent. Nice. I like it. -- Brandon.

A: In today's NBA economy, Josh Richardson's four-year, $42 million extension that will kick in starting in 2018-19 practically is a bargain, that salary putting him seventh on the Heat 2018-19 payroll, as it now stands. In other words, it's not as if the Heat have created pressure to play him in a featured role to justify the extension. In fact, even with limited cap space around the league in 2018, I'm not sure that Richardson didn't sell himself short. He is a two-way talent with considerable upside. The move was particularly prudent from the Heat's perspective because of their lack of upcoming draft picks, with a pair of first-rounders still due to the Suns from the Goran Dragic trade, and every second-round pick dealt until 2022. Pat Riley stressed at his July media session that the focus has to be on growth from within, citing Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Richardson, which is why you can be assured that the Heat's next move will  be picking up Winslow's 2018-19 option before that deadline at the start of the season. I like the move with Richardson from a Heat perspective. And, again, as with many of their offseason moves, it creates another chip that always could be put into play going forward, need be.

Q: Good move for the Heat. I bet Josh will become an All-Star. Don't bother telling me any different. -- P.F.

A: But I will, anyway. The Heat certainly intend on featuring Dion Waiters (and Dion Waiters certainly intends on featuring Dion Waiters). Plus, Goran Dragic already is making statements in EuroBasket. And there still is that $50 million contract for Tyler Johnson that has to be justified. So I'm not sure that a player who won't necessarily be spotlighted by the Heat will receive anything close to All-Star-level exposure. But that Heat also don't need that. From any of their players. What they need is to continue the ensemble approach that proved so efficient over the second half of last season.

Q: Josh Richardson basically got a five-year, $43.5 million contract, since he gets $1.5 million this year. An $8.7 million average isn't bad at all. -- Swerve.

A: What it is in today's NBA is mid-level money. And I believe it is safe to say that on just about any free-agent market, Josh Richardson is, at the least, a mid-level talent. It also shows the value you can derive with second-round picks. Fortunately for the Heat and their dealing of so many recent second-round picks, they stand poised to receive similar, if not better, value from the contract they hold with Rodney McGruder. Deals such as these offset some of the questions with the deals for James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters.


September 13, 2017

Q: Erik Spoelstra should give Goran Dragic an extra week off. -- Toni.

A: Considering that Goran now will be playing with Slovenia in EuroBasket through Sunday (either in the championship or third-place game) in Turkey, then first returning home and packing up before heading to South Florida for the Sept. 26 start of Heat training camp, I am sure that the Heat coaching and training staff already have contingencies in place to ease the rapid transition. To me, camp or even the preseason aren't the issue, but rather the reality that the NBA season has been moved up this year, with the Heat playing for real on Oct. 18. That will leave Dragic with a one-month turnaround. And that has to be a concern. Expect to see plenty of Larry Drew II, Derrick Walton Jr., Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson running the point during preseason. The counter is that Goran will arrive in game shape for a team that absolutely has to avoid a repeat of last season's awful start. He has looked very, very good at EuroBasket, including against some high-level competition. Thursday's semifinal against Spain and Ricky Rubio should be particularly intriguing.

Q: Is it just me or do you think winning Tuesday against Latvia meant something to Goran, knowing Kristaps Porzingis was the reason he didn't make the playoffs, so he got him back -- Timmy.

A: Of all of Goran's driving factors, I doubt a late-season Heat loss to the Knicks and Porzingis was what fueled him while wearing Slovenia's national colors. Goran's sense of national pride has been evident from the moment his team first took the court in Finland for the opening round of EuroBasket. Knowing that this will be his final run with the national team has provided all the fuel required. And I'm not sure, as Erik Spoelstra noted, that any single loss kept the Heat from the playoffs -- more like starting 11-30.

Q: Without superstars, it comes down to high energy, collective effort. That is how the Heat accomplished 30-11 in the second half of last season. -- P.F.

A: But it's one thing to do it when some teams are tanking for the lottery, some teams are resting for the playoffs, and some teams aren't taking you seriously after an 11-30 first half of the season. As sustained as 30-11 was, it also wasn't enough to make the playoffs in a league where 16 of the 30 teams do just that. Yes, you can still make the playoffs without a superstar, or even an All-Star, but it also means no one on the roster taking nights off. That's a grueling way to succeed, when a superstar isn't there for the heavy lifting. That's also the road the Heat have chosen. So what will be the biggest game of the season for the Heat? Whichever game is next on their schedule.


September 12, 2017

Q: If Justise Winslow isn't able to beat out Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson with ease, why are we keeping him? He has more talent than both of them put together. If he can't use that talent and beat out the 40th pick in the same draft as him and a former D-League player, we don't need him. At some point having talent is meaningless if you go long enough without utilizing it, and we're almost at that point for Justise. -- Nico, Charlotte.

A: But starting isn't about having your five best players on the court. It's about chemistry. And with James Johnson so integral to the Heat's success over last season's final 41 games, and with 3-point shooting so essential to the starting group, it could be that Justise winds up best paired with Kelly Olynyk in a second unit. It is interesting that we haven't heard anything about a Richardson extension at a time the Heat have to decide about the next stage of Winslow's contract, as if weighing those two options collectively. Nonetheless, I believe the Heat continue to take a long view with Winslow, which has to be the approach with a 21-year-old.

Q: Let's play the what-if game: If the Heat struggle out of the gate once again, let's say not because of talent but because of injuries like last year, does Pat Riley get impatient? Does he begin trading his pieces off come trade deadline or let them play it out like last time with the hopes we would still have a better chance at a final playoff spot because of more bad teams this year? -- Karl, Fort Myers.

A: First, if we're playing the what-if game, then what if the Heat get off to a solid start, could Riley then look to move spare parts for yet another component for the moment? (Sorry, but had to go there, in fairness, since we don't know how the season will start.) As to your point, yes, with the commitment to Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside during contract years over the past two seasons, I believe there will be an expectation of satisfactory early results -- or else all bets will be off. The patience came over the second half of last season. But there is a statute of limitations when it comes to the eventual goal of consistent victory.

Q: Hassan Whiteside has led the league in blocks and rebounding, yet he is still not consistently ranked as a top-five center in the NBA. What can Hassan improve upon, in order for him to be considered one of the NBA's best centers? Is his lack of recognition a matter of his team's success (or lack thereof, with Hassan as leading man), or is there still work to be done as far as his personal game is concerned? -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: First, based on the Heat's ensemble approach, I'm not sure the Heat necessarily want Hassan chasing individual recognition. What he needs, more than any factor, is consistency, game to game, quarter to quarter, minute to minute. If the best of Hassan turns into more than a sometimes thing, then I believe his rating among the league's limited pool of elite centers will rise organically. What there can't be, as there still have been, are those moments during games when Heat fans wonder, "What's going on with Hassan?"


September 11, 2017

Q: I know its early and Erik Spoelstra never sets a rotation, but could you see him putting Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo, James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic together? Could you image the terror that lineup would cause defensively if Winslow improves his shot and Bam is free to switch and roam around the perimeter? -- Ricky, Dallas.

A: Could Spoelstra get to it at some point? Certainly. The Heat utilized upwards of 250 five-player combinations last season. But what I can tell you is there will be no starting lineup without Dion Waiters, not for what the Heat invested in the offseason. Then there is the Adebayo portion of the equation. While he set up as a rotation player before the Kelly Olynyk acquisition, I'm not sure that still is the case. The Heat played Willie Reed nominally last season, to the point where he became a free-agency afterthought. There possibly are at least 10 players ahead of Adebayo in the Heat rotation at this point, when counting Whiteside, James Johnson, Winslow, Dragic, Waiters, Olynyk, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and perhaps Rodney McGruder and Wayne Ellington.

Q: Why do people even think Dwyane Wade would be a good fit here? The Heat have 75 shooting guards. Goran Dragic, Wade and Dion Waiters can't play together. -- Ivan.

A: Actually, part of the issue is whether Wade and Dragic can play together, in light of how Goran finally flourished last season in the wake of Dwyane's free-agency departure last summer. If Dwyane were to return, I am sure that Erik Spoelstra would find a way to make it work, with Dwyane still a productive presence. But, again, all of this remains speculation, with Wade still under contract and therefore under Bulls control.

Q: With all the talks of this roster, trades, Dwyane Wade's potential buyout, etc. one thing I have yet to see addressed are the new Nike uniforms for the Heat. Obviously, that is a minor concern in comparison, but with teams already releasing Classic Edition uniforms, I'm anxious to see what is in store. Any idea on when those will be released? Thanks. -- A.J. Des Moines, Iowa.

A: I've been told part of the reason for the delay could be the decision on whether to release an advertising patch with the release of the jerseys, which will include a throwback version to the team's inaugural season in 1988-89. First-round pick Bam Adebayo already has been photographed during the rookie symposium in one of this coming season's uniforms, which is almost identical to what the Heat wore last season.


September 10, 2017

Q: Ira, based on your educated guess, where would Dwyane Wade end up after his probable buyout: Miami or Cleveland? -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: To me it becomes a factor of . . . when. If Cleveland winds up getting solid play from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green, and if Isaiah Thomas is back earlier rather than later in the season, then I think you have to consider chemistry before making a move. Plus, I'm not sure at this stage that playing as a fourth-string guard would be Wade's preference. By contrast, if the Cavaliers prove to need additional backcourt support, perhaps if Iman Shumpert is traded, then that is a different story. The timing of when Wade is set free from the Bulls, if at all, likely will play a significant factor in his landing spot. Similarly, if the Heat are in contention when/if Wade is bought out by the Bulls, then do you look at him further bolstering the core, or compromising the core? "When" matters in this case.

Q: The only positive for Miami that I can see with Dwyane Wade is Wade helps Dion Waiters improve in certain areas of his game. -- Willy.

A: And we already know that Dion has said he would embrace a Wade return. Plus, recall that it was Wade who took Justise Winslow aside during Winslow's rookie season to tutor him on undersized post-up play. Still, I can't see Dwyane, after a productive season last season, settling into a Udonis Haslem type of role solely as a non-playing uniformed mentor.

Q: Miami needs to move on from Dwyane Wade. They're not competing for a championship. Let the young players develop. -- J.B.

A: And that's the question: Is there a need for development of young players? Are Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson who they are going to be going forward, or are minutes critical to their development? The same could be said for Rodney McGruder, or even Justise Winslow on the wing. In other words, could you carve out 18 to 20 minutes a game for Dwyane Wade without retarding the development of your potential longer-term components? In other words, it is the rare case where a team has to prioritize sentimentality.


September 9, 2017

Q: All the buyout talk with Dwyane Wade doesn't make sense unless it happens soon. -- Morris.

A: While it would be nothing like had Kyrie Irving reported to Cavaliers camp, it certainly will be awkward to have a 35-year-old impending Hall of Famer report to a rebuilding team with eyes more on the future than the present. But, again, it all comes down to how much either the Bulls or Wade are willing to concede to end their $23.8 million 2017-18 relationship. And usually when it comes to a battle of wills in the NBA, it become a protracted battle. Still, Dwyane did acknowledge during his appearance at the Hall of Fame that his goal is to be in a competitive state as his career winds down. So that begs the question of whether the Heat would be deemed to be in such a state. We know that there is considerable distance between the Cavaliers, Warriors and the rest of the league. And there is a next tier that includes the Rockets, Spurs and perhaps even Celtics and Timberwolves before you reach the Heat's tier. So for all the considerations about a clean career finish in South Florida, it is possible that other locations could prove more desirable. But he also said that if there is not another championship moment, there also is a feeling of contentment having won three and been to five finals. Basically, in light of these latest comments, it is hard to fathom Dwyane finishing the season in Chicago. So until a move is made and a new landing spot is decided, a Wade reunion in South Florida certainly will remain a legitimate source of discussion.

Q: Wade will head to Miami on his last year when he's ready to retire. Until then, he's making more stops on other teams. -- P.F.

A: And based on the aforementioned comments about playing for a contender, you're probably right, with friends such as LeBron James and Chris Paul better positioned in 2017-18 for a title run. But I do believe that if there is another stop before a Miami return that it will somewhat tarnish his image as South Florida's own, as was the case with Dan Marino (and even Udonis Haslem). The irony is that if Dwyane does return in 2017-18 (or later) for a final go-round with the Heat, it could come in the roster spot currently being held by his close friend Haslem.

Q: I'm buying tickets to Istanbul for the EuroBasket finals. This will be a historic tournament for Goran Dragic and Slovenia, mark my words. -- Tony.

A: Considering how Goran and his national team went 5-0 during pool play, in a pool that also included France and Greece, I would not downplay at least a run to the tournament's Final Four. Next up on Saturday is a Ukraine team that lacks a single NBA player. After that, it could be Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia in the quarterfinals, or Nikola Vucevic and Montenegro. From there you're talking about a semifinal that could be against Spain, Turkey or Germany. I do wonder if the Heat have mixed feelings, since a run to the championship game will keep Goran involved until Sept. 17, with Heat camp opening Sept. 26.


September 8, 2017

Q: Am I the only one who thinks Cleveland got better and Boston not so much? Healthy Isaiah Thomas is on par with Kyrie Irving. You add Derrick Rose who's better than Deron Williams, and you add Jae Crowder and Jeff Green, whereas Boston took a step backwards. Like I said, I.T. and Kyrie are equal, but you lose Avery Bradley and Crowder. My whole purpose to that is pretty much saying, I believe Miami can actually be as high as No. 2 in the East as we've had Washington's number lately and Toronto has lost an edge. I like our chances against Cleveland if it came to that. -- Marc, Grand Prairie, Texas.

A: But you failed to mention Gordon Hayward with the Celtics (perhaps selective Heat amnesia?). I agree that Cleveland has not lost much, if any, ground, provided Isaiah Thomas doesn't miss the season's most important games. And I believe Derrick Rose will be better with the Cavs than the Knicks. I also agree about the added benefits with Jae Crowder, but am not sure that Jeff Green still is even a thing in today's NBA. As for your Heat optimism, I agree that Washington might be getting too much hype for a team that has created a Big Three of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter (should a trio like that even be considered a Big Three?). And Toronto is basically the same as it ever was, a team that goes as far as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry take it. Still, with LeBron-Isaiah, Hayward-Kyrie and Wall-Beal, does the Heat even have a single player better than any of the top two on any of those three teams?

Q: Ira, anyone on the Heat that might pry that Brooklyn pick from the Cavs? Are we sure we're in a win-now mode? They sure are. -- Jason.

A: The unprotected Nets 2018 first-round pick that Cleveland acquired in the Irving trade was the reason that deal got done. There is no way that the Cavaliers do anything with that pick until they find out if LeBron is staying beyond this season. If he offers those words, then, yes, I could see Cleveland moving that pick. I'm not sure, though, that anyone on the Heat roster short of Hassan Whiteside would allow the Heat to even enter such a discussion. For now, that draft pick is the key for Cleveland to potentially salvaging a LeBron-less future.

Q: Stop with the trade-Hassan Whiteside questions. He's not going anywhere. People just don't seem to get it. -- Robert.

A: Nor has it been suggested anywhere that the Heat ever have put Hassan into play since he signed his four-year, $98 million contract in the 2016 offseason. But when so many big names have been dangled out there, such as Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving, you have to recognize that it often takes a star to get a star. So if you're asking if Hassan essentially holds a no-trade clause, I wouldn't go that far. In Pat Riley's word, everyone has a price.


September 7, 2017

Q: Larry Drew II is like the Eddie House of the exhibition season. -- Steve.

A: You mean the Eddie House the Heat once kept on their roster in place of Patrick Beverley? I doubt that happens this time around, Drew earning a roster spot ahead of one of the Heat's developing players. But the signing makes sense for training camp considering how deep into EuroBasket that Goran Dragic will be playing, now at least until three weeks before training camp, with Slovenia having advanced to Saturday's start of that knockout round, in the round of 16. Extra bodies for training camp are good, although I still would expect the Heat to continue to experiment with Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson at the point during the six exhibitions. The commitment to Drew, as much as anything, is a commitment to those who have committed themselves to the Heat organization, as Drew has with his stints with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. When it comes to roster longshots, Larry would appear as much a longshot as any of the 18 currently on the Heat camp roster.

Q: The Heat's two-way contracts will come in handier than believed, because a week off for weary 30-year-olds Goran Dragic and James Johnson comes in handy. This gives maybe extra week to completely heal. -- Leonard, Charlotte.

A: I'm not sure that necessarily will be the approach with the Heat's two two-way contracts, with one already going to Derrick Walton Jr. and the other likely to go to 3-point specialist Matt Williams Jr. I believe the emphasis there will be on development, likely with the work to come with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. But by already having young, developmental players in the pipeline, it makes it easier to carry other veterans on the roster, such as Udonis Haslem. I do, however, believe that both of the Heat's two-way players, whoever they turn out to be, will receive all or close to all of the 45 allowed days on the Heat's NBA roster, if only to allow them to maximize their earning potential and show future two-way players that the Heat are willing to go to the maximum $275,000 for such deals.

Q: Why is it so hard to believe that a team that's run well from top to bottom, full of talent and starting to come into its own like Dion Waiters, a guy who I think is going to be a breakout star, can't go for it all? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: Because NBA success is measured partly off an 82-game full-season sample size, not just 41 games, but mostly by the ability to thrive in the playoffs. That is something we still don't know about this roster. It is why a playoff berth would have been so meaningful last season and has to be added to the equation this season. We know this roster can succeed over a 41-game regular-season span. But, for the moment, that's all we know.


September 6, 2017

Q: What would it take to make this Heat team a contender in the Eastern Conference? Hassan Whiteside becoming a legitimate All-Star and All-Defensive player? One of the Heat's young players -- Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, etc. -- emerging as a legitimate star? Goran Dragic taking his game to another level? Or are the Heat simply capped at being a middling team? -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: By contender, I'll assume you mean playoff contender, because this team, as built, certainly could challenge for an upper playoff seed based on the regular-season commitment shown over last season's final three months. To your point, I believe it has to be what it has been since the 2015 and '16 offseasons: greatness, sustained greatness, by Whiteside and Dragic, getting the Heat back to a center-point guard combination similar to what the Heat offered with Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. Yes, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk are being paid considerable wages, but I believe their prime function is to complement Whiteside and Dragic. So what you're really asking is about the upside of Whiteside and Dragic. Dragic has already shown the ability to play at an All-NBA level and this summer is looking sharp at EuroBasket. So the ball may be in Hassan's court.

Q: Ira, while I agree that we must see improvement from Justise Winslow this season, those saying he must have a breakout year or he's a bust need to pipe down. Look for incremental improvements. He's coming off an injury and he just turned 21 in March. Compare that to James Johnson, who only now just realized his potential in his 30s. Relax people.  -- Gabriel, Miami.

A: Justise certainly has moved into "most polarizing" territory with the Heat's fan base, but I believe that is more a function of being drafted at No. 10, with the Heat lacking the draft resources to continually restock in that manner. Even the Warriors -- with no disrespect toward Zaza Pachulia -- don't have All-Stars at every position. What you want to field, however, at least is NBA-level talent at every starting position, with minimal flaws. Because that's what the NBA is all about, seizing upon opponents' weaknesses. The less Justise gives opponents to "seize," the better off the Heat will be, and the quieter the skeptics will be.

Q: I ain't even worried about Cavs now. -- Dacota.

A: I get the feeling there will be a similar impression around the league during the regular season, which has been of only nominal interest to LeBron James even before the Kyrie Irving trade.  But the Cavs will be -- and with LeBron always have been -- a different playoff team. Not only could I seed Cleveland finish No. 2 in the East during the regular season, I could see the Cavs potentially fall to No. 3 or No. 4, particularly depending on the health of Isaiah Thomas. But I guarantee that if you polled the other teams at season's end about which team they would least prefer to play on the playoffs, it would be Cleveland.


September 5, 2017

Q: Do sportswriters, media commentators, bloggers and "experts" unfairly create reputations, good and bad, that brand a player's career? Many think we should have picked Devin Booker, not Justise Winslow. But Booker, the 3-point wonder, shot a mediocre .363 from 3, ranking him in a tie for 87th in the NBA. Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Luke Babbitt were better, and Booker is a poor defensive player. This last year virtually the Heat's entire roster were branded as misfits, castoffs and middling journeymen but despite a great finish stretch last season are picked to post virtually the same record this year. My point is too much is vested in star saviors and too quickly we cycle through players with unrealized upsides because the wise men say so. The Heat seem to have a reputation for bucking popular opinion and doing it their own way. -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: As often is the case, what tends to become imprinted in memory are an athlete's best moments, not necessarily the overall body of work. So, in this case, you're talking about a player who scored 70 points in an NBA game -- 70! (It was, of course, in a loss, but that easily becomes glossed over.) Again, when the Heat were drafting in 2015, they had Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and greater concerns than a pure scorer. What I can't do is sit here and tell you that Justise Winslow is better than Devin Booker. What I can say is that at 21 and with only 1 1/2 seasons of NBA experience, there still is plenty of time and room for Justise to emerge as something greater than we've seen at this point. What has to come first, though, is the point you raise, the ceasing of comparison to other players. That part of the equation doesn't and can't matter. We're not redrafting 2015, not going back knowing the eventual fates with Wade and Bosh. So, instead, ask this question: Which player is more likely to contribute to a playoff contender -- Justise Winslow or Devin Booker? That essential answer is one we still lack.

Q: Rodney Stuckey? -- Ryan, Atlanta.

A: Yes, I've seen where the free-agent guard is taking visits in search of a 2017-18 landing spot, most likely at the NBA minimum salary or a piece of a team's exception (both of which the Heat still maintain). But keep in mind that Stuckey is now 31, having been sidelined last season by foot and knee issues, waived in March by the Pacers and unclaimed since. Usually such players are seeking landing spots where they can play themselves back into a steady salary. I'm not sure there would be such an opportunity on the Heat's guard-heavy roster. Basically, I'd counter with this: Would you rather, this season, see Rodney Stuckey on the court for the Heat, or Rodney McGruder or Wayne Ellington?

Q: "If a video-game ranking impacts your NBA play, then you're probably not cut out for this line of work. And if you're going to stress about video games as an NBA player . . . then switch to Madden or FIFA." That quote is like saying if grades in college stress you out, then you're not cut out for college, and find another line of work. Take up a line of work where there is no stress and you never get ranked, rated or receive grades on your skill level. Settle for lowest lifestyle possible, so as to never have to worry ever again about people judging you. Simulations are neutral: depends how a person uses them.  NBA2K18 is neutral: depends how the player perceives their ratings. The wise player uses the ratings on how to help the team win games, e.g. improving shot selection, or knowing the opponent's weaknesses and exploiting them. I don't agree the statement that ratings or grades have no place in a professional's career, and have professionals totally ignore them because it would stress them out. Doctors, lawyers, movies get rated on their performances all the time. Ratings give a gauge of a professional's strengths and weaknesses, which he could use to improve his level of performance. The player chooses how to use the rating system: the system itself can be used or abused. -- Leonard, Charlotte.

A: I never said that metrics and analytics aren't significant in how a player is evaluated. They are. And teams spend hundreds of thousands on such studies (and on employees charged with producing such metrics). Those proprietary analytics are shared directly (and confidentially) with the players. And those matter -- a lot. Not some sit-in-your-underwear-and-play-video-game ratings. The next NBA executive who says video-game ratings are part of their player evaluations will soon be known as a former NBA executive. Yes, NASA types, doctors, professionals get rated by significant analytics and metrics. But I doubt those studies include Mario and Wario.


September 4, 2017

Q: As a longtime Heat observer, it struck me that the most under-appreciated aspect of last season's turnaround was the outside shooting of Wayne Ellington. I think he really helped Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters by spreading the floor and distracting defenders with his constant motion. -- Scott, Palmetto Bay.

A: But he also got those opportunities because of the injuries and lost time for Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and even Dion. So if you are putting aside minutes in the perimeter rotation for Goran Dragic, Dion, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow, what does that leave for Wayne? And that's not even getting to any potential minutes for Rodney McGruder. I would expect Wayne to be considered a specialist by Erik Spoelstra, with his unique skill set. So the question becomes how much time can there be in a rotation for a specialist? One answer could be more minutes for Winslow in the power rotation, but that could mean few for Bam Adebayo, when also considering power-rotation minutes needed for Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk.

Q: I am dumbfounded. It doesn't make sense to me. If it makes sense to you, Ira, please clarify: "The Heat paid the Mavericks $5.1 million to take Josh McRoberts off their hands, at the cost of absorbing center A.J. Hammons' $1.3 million 2017-18 salary." They paid near the equivalent of McRoberts's salary to Billionaire Mark Cuban to get rid of the guy, when he finally was healthy and a 7-footer. Why not keep the man and pay this money to him and have this tall and smart guy on your roster? Paying his salary, but not have him!? This is in addition to paying 1.3 million to Hammons, whom they will never use. --Masoud, Tuscon, Ariz.

A: The simple answer rests in the question above: Had the Heat not unloaded Josh's salary, they would not have been able to retain Wayne Ellington. Yes, they probably could have "stretched" Josh by this past Thursday's deadline and tinkered with the contracts of Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk to make that math work, but sometimes you have to move forward. As listed above, if Justise Winslow plays more in the power rotation -- along with Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Olynyk and Bam Adebayo -- where would the minutes have been for McRoberts, anyway?

Q: Why are people obsessed with making this team out to be more than it is? A fun, competitive team, but stop expecting a Finals trip. Enjoy it. -- Gabriel, Miami

A: I don't think anyone is doing that. And without landing a star in the offseason, I think just making the playoffs would be a satisfying result for just about all involved. And that will be essential when getting a read on whether the games of James Johnson, Dion Waiters and others on the roster translate into the postseason.


September 3, 2017

Q: Hi, Ira. I'll be honest with you as a long-time season-ticket holder, it is do or die for Justise Winslow. This year for me will define whether he is a star or just a 3-and-D guy or maybe not even that. The problem is we have a similar player already in James Johnson who is exhibiting star-like potential. Will Winslow fade into Erik Spoelstra's bench if he cannot hit a three? -- Jeremy, Miami.

A: Erik Spoelstra often talks about finding the right game for a player, as in to create a role that maximizes a skill set. By now the Heat know what Winslow is, or at least what he could be. So an argument could be made that the challenge now belongs as much to Spoelstra as Winslow. Could, for example, Justise be utilized as more of a roll man alongside an outside-shooting big man, perhaps Kelly Olynyk or James Johnson? Or might he get back to the style that had him playing along the baseline, to compensate for his lack of outside shooting? Winslow's level of success could come down to Spoelstra finding the needed complementary lineup combinations. It will be interesting to see the syllabus and Spoelstra School.  

Q: It seems like Goran Dragic is getting better with age. -- A.B.

A: And yet, while Goran followed up his opening 30-point performance in EuroBasket against Poland with a 29-point effort Saturday against host Finland, it was curious how in his postgame media session he said that he was limited to five second-half points because of tired legs. That's the last thing you want to hear in early September when training camp opens at the end of the month.

Q: NBA2K may be only a video game, but it's a reality check some players refuse to accept. -- Leonard, Charlotte.

A: I really, really hope not. If a video-game ranking impacts your NBA play, then you're probably not cut out for this line of work. And if you're going to stress about video games as an NBA player . . . then switch to Madden or FIFA.


September 2, 2017

Q: Tony Allen, Beno Udrih or Deron Williams could be nice and cheap pick-ups for the Heat. Same for David Lee, Mike Dunleavy and Boris Diaw -- M.G.

A: This came in response to my posting of the list of the top unsigned free agents. Those players, of course, are unsigned for a reason, most because they are well into the backstretch of their careers. On one hand, it would not surprise me for the Heat to take advantage of the desperation of those situations to see if one of the aforementioned names, or perhaps another unsigned free agent, is willing to sign for the minimum. On the other hand, such a move would require the Heat to eat a degree of guaranteed money, be it the partial guarantee for Okaro White or the full minimum-scale salary of A.J. Hammons (a player I'm still not sure fills more of a need than one already served: easing the offloading of Josh McRoberts). The thing is, for such a veteran to sign for the minimum would mean trying to revive a career, and I'm not sure that the minutes would be there for players such as Lee, Dunleavy or Diaw. The exception (yes, I know, I've gone here before) would be at point guard, where I'm still not sold on the Heat having an alternative for the games that Goran Dragic might miss. (And, yes, one of the workout videos posted recently by Beno Udrih showed him working out in Miami.)

Q: When are we going to start making real moves and start being relevant? -- Luis.

A: The next time, I think, the Heat go all-in is when they truly believe there is a path to the NBA Finals. For now, I think you sit back and see how things shake out in Cleveland and Boston. If LeBron James departs in the offseason, then everything changes for the Cavaliers. And for all the talent amassed by the Celtics, will they lose the defensive grit that made them so effective last season? Until then (although I'm sure the Heat would never articulate this), I think the goal is to try push into the conference top four and therefore get homecourt advantage in at least one round of the playoffs. I believe the Heat already think they are capable of such a goal with this roster. At worst, try to at least get to the No. 6 seed to avoid the Cavaliers and Celtics in the first round.

Q: I can't blame Kyrie Irving. It was time for him to move on for better or worse. -- P.F.

A: And yet watching Friday's press conference in Boston, it was as if Kyrie was saying he felt smothered in Cleveland alongside LeBron James. It got me to wonder whether others felt that way alongside LeBron with the Heat, or whether that was the difference between how Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra handled the situation in Miami compared to what Dan Gilbert orchestrated (or failed to orchestrate) in Cleveland.


September 1, 2017

Q: EuroBasket is better than people know, fast and physical, a lot of 3-poiners anywhere. Good for The Dragon. -- Jack.

A: Look, I'm never going to overstate scoring 30 points against the Polish national team to anything close to NBA competition, but Goran Dragic looked good in Slovenia's tournament-opening victory in EuroBasket (for those asking, ESPN is streaming the games online). The one thing about Goran is that when he plays, he goes hard. All the time. The hope has to be that he does not arrive to camp worn down, with only a two-week turnaround to the start of camp should Slovenia make it to the final stages. I do believe that is why it is important the Heat have other options at point guard for drill work during camp and exhibitions. Derrick Walton Jr. could help in that regard, as will Tyler Johnson. But I do wonder if the Heat will attempt to play Josh Richardson more often at small forward going forward than the experimentation at point guard. As for Dragic, the early-round schedule for Slovenia is relatively tame, save for the opening-round games against France and Green. Host Finland is up next on Saturday.

Q: That 2020 second-round pick via Miami that Boston sent to Cleveland to complete the Kyrie Irving trade will probably be like around 50th in the draft, equivalent to a bag of chips. -- P.F.

A: I'm not so sure, since that would mean having one of the 10 best records in the NBA in 2019-20. Remember, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic have player options for the 2019 offseason. And by then the Heat will have had to make decisions on Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Rodney McGruder. So I'm not sure what it might look like then, with the Heat's 2018 first-round pick also due to the Suns. Plus, there is the question of Pat Riley's long-term stewardship. But it also is moot, since the Heat dealt that pick in 2015 to Boston. As it is, the Heat have operated under the belief that they can identify and develop undrafted talent, with a solid history in that regard.

Q: Does the Lakers' $500,000 tampering fine make it easier for the Heat to sign Paul George next summer? -- Sean.

A: First, the Heat likely will not have the salary-cap means for such a move (although plenty could change in that regard, if needed). But, no, the NBA's tampering sanction did not also include a ban on George-Lakers negotiations going forward. So we'll first have to see how the season plays out for George in Oklahoma City. But even with that fine, the Lakers remain a frontrunner to lure George during 2018 free agency, particularly if it comes at LeBron James' behest as a plus-one.

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