Sports

ASK IRA: Has Henry Walker become a rotation player?

Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.
Submit your questions in the form below

 


February 26, 2015

Q: Is it too early to call him Hammerin' Hank? -- John.

A: Well, while Henry (formerly Bill or Billy) Walker also goes by Hank, I think it might take a bit more before we get into nicknames. Then again, if ever there was a night when a legend could be born, it had to be Wednesday night and what Walker did with his two 3-pointers at the end of regulation in Orlando. I mean that was epic. I am not too ashamed to tell you about the complete story I had written about the Heat's devastating loss to the Magic (perhaps I could offer it on pay per view). Instead, Walker turned a horror story into the kind of moment the Heat just might be reflecting back upon in a month or even beyond. As Erik Spoelstra said, Walker was up to the moment. What the Heat have done with their D-League pipeline this season has been impressive, whether from afar (with Hassan Whiteside playing in Iowa for the Grizzlies' affiliate) to how they patiently waited for this moment to decide Walker was the right choice for a call-up. Walker has every opportunity to become a rotation player, as the clock ticks on his 10-day contract(s?). Then again, the Heat just might tear those up and show him the money now, on the type of favorable deal that also puts him under a team option or with a partially guaranteed contract for next season. Bill Walker used to burn the Heat with 3-pointers when he played for the Knicks. Now, Henry Walker is doing it for the Heat.

Q: Ira, does Goran Dragic's game provide a means for extending Dwyane Wade (if he stays uninjured) past next season, say another two or three years? -- Socrates.

A: I think it is a boost for Wade on two fronts. Foremost, it alleviates Wade having to be both the primary ballhandler and the primary scoring wing. With the Heat's struggles at point guard early in the season, Wade had to get his teammates into offense as well as create many of his own scoring opportunities. Dragic alleviates one of those burdens. Beyond that, Dragic makes the Heat better, which also should hearten Wade when it comes to pushing through minor aches and pains. When the overall possibilities for success are greater, there tends to be more incentive to contribute. That's just human nature. While the Heat will have to wait on Chris Bosh to get the whole band back together, Wade no longer has to function as soloist and supporting player. When the Heat acquired Dragic, Wade's life got easier. And when/if the Heat re-sign Dragic in free agency, Wade's life will be reduced of many of the stresses he had to handle at the start of this season.

Q: At times playing smaller with Luol Deng at power forward may make sense for short periods of time if we have a good defender at small forward on the floor. I don't like playing small for too many minutes, but it would be interesting to watch a power forwards try to cover Deng. -- Morris, New York.

A: But in Erik Spoelstra's position-less approach (which he insists remains alive and ticking), just because Deng is cast at power forward at times doesn't necessarily mean he won't necessarily be defending the opposition's best wing scorer. There are enough matchups in this league where the opposing power forward is not necessarily a scorer. But your concern about the Heat's defensive deficit on the wing is legitimate. In fact, the Heat's lack of depth on the wing might be every bit as much of a concern as the lack of depth in the power rotation without Bosh. I guess I would ask in return: Are you more comfortable utilizing Udonis Haslem at power forward or James Ennis at small forward? Consider this my submission to "Ask Morris." Then again, perhaps Henry Walker could turn into an answer for both of us, regardless of whether the question is power forward or wing. 


February 25, 2015

Q: First of all, I'm glad Chris Bosh is OK and hope he gets better soon. But on the basketball side, what will the Heat do now (make the playoffs or not)? The Heat are not going anywhere with just Hassan Whiteside (as much as I like him), Udonis Haslem and Birdman in the frontcourt. Getting someone from the buyout market or a player overseas will not really elevate the level of this team to a contender. As much as I like the addition of Goran Dragic, this team will not go anywhere without Chris Bosh. Granted that the Heat are in the Eastern  Conference, but we have a very slim chance of getting past the first round. I much rather get the pick and draft a wing or power player to back up Wade or C.B. -- Frances, Philippines.

A: Not sure where to start here, so I'll take your points in order. I do believe the Heat will make the playoffs (at least going into Wednesday's game in Orlando). As for the power rotation, an argument could be made that Whiteside-Chris Andersen is as good as any center tandem in the Eastern Conference. Yes, there is a need at the moment for more at power forward, but the hope is that Bosh can resume his basketball career. I do believe the Heat will add at least one player from the market, but also believe there is little downside in waiting until the March 1 buyout deadline for playoff eligibility to see who hits the market. As for the playoffs, I think you have to appreciate just how much a playoff berth would mean to this team going forward, knowing, with the offseason re-signing of Dragic, just how much of a step forward is possible after at least a taste of the playoffs. As for your final point, I believe the Heat are beyond tanking for a lottery pick because there is little way of assuring themselves of a draft position in the Top 10, in order to retain their first-round pick.

Q: As a fan, it was great to have James Ennis on the team for the whole season. Now, it is apparent that he needs a lot of work on his game (his handle, shooting). What's next for him? Who does he work with one the coaching staff and does he go to the D-League next season for a stint?  -- Eric.

A: I'm not sure another round of summer league is in the cards, although it is possible, which would have him working again most likely with Dan Craig. I do think the D-League could have its benefits. I think his shooting will be fine. He has shown promise with his 3-point stroke. But major work needs to be done with his ballhandling, which was questionable even during last year's summer league.

Q: Goran Dragic has come in and told Erik Spoelstra and the Heat players, 'Give me the ball and follow me.' You have to like his attitude. That is a Pat Riley type of guy. Leadership 101. -- Stuart.

A: I wasn't around for that, so I'll have to take your word for it. But he clearly has a chip on his shoulder, and those players tend to provide a payoff. This team needed a bit of attitude. It has been refreshing.


February 24, 2015

Q: I saw your post about Pat Riley being at Monday's game. I'm glad he's better. Now get him back to work, Ira. This roster isn't good enough without Bosh. -- Rob.

A: Good enough for what? Good enough to win a championship? I'm not sure the roster with a healthy Chris Bosh and an acclimated Goran Dragic would have been that. Good enough to make the playoffs? Sure. This is, after all, the Eastern Conference we're talking about. Still, it was a bit eye-opening when the Heat closed Monday's first quarter with Chris Andersen, Henry Walker, Mario Chalmers, James Ennis and Shabazz Napier. No, really. The first decision has to be where Luol Deng plays. If the majority of his minutes now come at power forward, then there is a desperate need for a wing. If Deng remains at small forward, then another power player, preferably with an offensive skill set would help. Perhaps that's what these next few games will be about, sorting out the rest of this roster to get to the next stage. Remember, players receiving buyouts must be waived by March 1 in order to be playoff eligible with another team (they can be signed at any point thereafter, until the final day of the regular season). So the Heat should have a better read on the available pool by week's end. While Henry Walker had his moments Monday, there is no downside in adding another proven NBA player. This season has moved beyond assuring playoff time for James Ennis.

Q: How good is "Lil" Dragic? Is Zoran Dragic a guy who can play small forward and make an impact while being on the floor? Or is he a bench-warmer who will not see any minutes? I'd like to see the Dragon brothers run the floor with each other. -- Anthony, Lauderdale by the Sea

A: Clearly the Suns did not view him as a ready-to-go player. And, as stated above with Ennis, this Heat season has moved  beyond the development stage. I doubt Spoelstra strays much from the backcourt rotation of Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Mario Chalmers, with Shabazz Napier probably the next man up there. While Spoelstra hinted at possible D-League time for Zoran, it's not as if that would clear an extra roster spot for the Heat.

Q: I think D-Wade has to go back to playing off the ball. Dragic should handle the ball and make plays. -- Ananth.

A: And I think that's exactly what you'll see. It's also a way to reduce the wear on Wade. Plus, among the reasons Dragic became disenchanted in Phoenix was not having the ball in his hands as much as last season, when he was forced this season to play alongside Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. With Dragic an impending free agent, putting the ball in Dragic's hands also is a prudent overall approach by the organization.


February 23, 2015

Q: How many open roster spots do the Heat have, and could they get another medical exception? -- Scott.

A: The Heat are at 14 players under contract, which includes Henry Walker, who is on a 10-day contract. Although sidelined, Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts both count against the 15-man roster limit and will continue to do so for the balance of the season. So the Heat have room to add at least one player and certainly could easily accommodate two, considering Walker's status. As for Bosh's lung clots, it is too late in the season for the Heat to apply for such an exception. And there only would be one for next season if he is declared out for 2015-16, which is too premature to consider. The real question is whether the Heat would be willing to go above the luxury tax line to spend most or all of the $2.65 million disabled-player exception they hold for McRoberts' knee issue. While Micky Arison has repeatedly shown a willingness to pay to win, there also has to be perspective about entering the "repeater" tax with a roster that clearly is not in championship mode. Minimum contracts, which are pro-rated, or even 10-day contracts, will not push the Heat into the tax. I expect those are the directions they'll go. You can offer a player up to two 10-day contracts before he either must be released or signed for the balance of the season. They do not have to be offered consecutively over a single 20-day period.

Q Do you think they have legitimate interest for Michael Beasley, knowing he can help score with Bosh out for the season? -- Frank.

A: I am answering a Michael Beasley question because I believe it is a name that at least has to be considered at this stage. But it could come down to where the Heat plan to play Luol Deng, who said he is braced for minutes at power forward, possibly to move into Bosh's role. What the Heat really need is an athletic, scoring wing. I'm not sure if that is Beasley. But I do know that the moment, at least at this moment, is looking too big for James Ennis. He remains a prospect, but the Heat have moved into must-win mode.

Q: I've never seen a big man have stats like Hassan Whiteside without impacting the game in any manner. His stats look good on paper, but they appear hollow. Or maybe he's just a talented young big on a lousy team. -- Matt.

A: I believe it's the latter, since there are plenty of quality of players on this team who have been productive without a payoff in the win column. It just shows how much continuity matters. But I do think having both Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic on the floor alongside will make Whiteside a better player. He's still growing, not in stature, but in learning how to contribute to victory.


February 22, 2015

Q: If the price was right, he will stay. After what the Suns did to Goran Dragic, I doubt he trusts any team right now. -- Will.

A: But the question had to be asked, and based on the way Dragic answered it, it will continued to be asked. Look, there already are reports out of Los Angeles of the Lakers being confident of contending for him as a free agent in the offseason. And with mostly a non-answer, the questions won't go away. They can't, not with the Heat on the hook for two first-round picks that could both be in the lottery. So much hangs in the balance the balance of this season, from Chris Bosh's chances of a return to how Dwyane Wade can endure, to whether the team will make the playoffs. Perhaps even whether Erik Spoelstra utilizes Zoran Dragic. There are a lot of moving parts, in fact more than last season with LeBron James, when it ultimately came down to whether the Heat would beat the Spurs in the Finals. Does he stay? I can't fathom that Pat Riley ever would have gone this deep into these waters with any assurances. But not even Riley can truly know what these final two months of the regular season will bring. Saturday certainly was ghastly. I doubt you'll see a "Going . . . going . . . Goran" headline this summer. But as the temperatures rise, there is at least the chance of the Heat having to sweat.

Q: The Heat had the best starting five in the East for about three hours. -- Stuart.

A: Ladies and gentlemen, the story of the 2014-15 Miami Heat. And even before the Dragic signing, the trio of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside had started a grand total of two games together and had played in just three together. Now the question becomes when or even if Bosh will get a chance to play alongside Goran, with so many factors in play, from Bosh's illness to Dragic's free agency. On paper, this could have been a heck of a season. The Heat could yet win a 2K video championship when inserting their top players into a lineup.

Q: What about Larry Sanders? Any possibility? Pat Riley can get him back on track. -- Juanfer.

A: Sanders might have more long-term upside than many of the other current names on the buyout and  free-agency lists, but the Heat need ready-to-go contributors. It remains uncertain when, or even if, Sanders will regain his hunger for the game. The next player the Heat sign isn't about the future, it's about contributing to the rotation as soon as this week.


February 21, 2015

Q: Any comments on the reports that Goran Dragic wants to sign with the Lakers this summer? -- Big Dog.

A: I did catch the report out of Los Angeles that the Lakers still plan to target Dragic in free agency this summer. And that's among the reasons why I'm holding off on grading this trade. No, not because of the Heat dealing away Norris Cole, Danny Granger, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton. No one in that group had a long-term future in South Florida and the Heat had been trying to get out of Granger's 2015-16 money. But in the balance hang those two first-round picks the Heat forwarded to the Suns. Yes, I know exactly what Pat Riley thinks of draft picks and young players, but those picks still are currency. The 2017 first-rounder is protected through the five seven selections in 2017 and 2018, unprotected in 2019. The 2021 first-rounder is totally unprotected. So if Dragic should, for any reason, walk in the summer, that's two significant chips with nothing to show for it. Once Dragic puts pen on Heat contract in July, then you can weigh the deal and exactly what Riley pulled off.

Q: Let's bring back Michael Beasley and also Andray Blatche. -- Ritchie.

A: I'm not sure about Beasley, since that has become James Ennis' role this season. If the Heat revisit a previous roster, and if he's healthy, I'm not sure that Rashard Lewis wouldn't be a better fit, since he can play like a stretch power forward like Chris Bosh (OK, not exactly like Bosh, but he can space the floor). As for Blatche, it doesn't exactly provide the spacing, considering Hassan Whiteside and Chris Andersen are the Heat's primary post players. But based on where this roster stands, and based on the need for flexibility, I nonetheless would move toward Blatche, a move that certainly could happen in the short term, especially with the Heat holding their $2.65 million disabled-player salary-cap exception for Josh McRoberts' knee injury.

Q: Is it possible the Heat do not use the medical-exception money from Josh McRoberts? -- Chet.

A: Anything is possible, but I can't fathom having the ability to add more than a minimum-scale contract and bypassing the opportunity. It would be one thing if the Heat could say: We have 15 better players on our roster than anyone we could add at the moment. But, at the moment, they don't have 15 players and soon will be working with Henry Walker on a 10-day contract. With the deadline for the $2.65 million exception not expiring until March 10, I believe that money long has been earmarked for the buyout market. To refresh: A player who has been in the NBA this season must be waived by March 1 in order to be playoff eligible for another team (the date of the signing is not a factor). Beyond that, a player who has not been in the NBA this season, including those who have played overseas, such as Blatche and Jordan Crawford, can be added with playoff eligibility until the final day of the regular season. So when teams start bidding for those types of players, the Heat would have the advantage of being able to offer a little bit more. But also remember that the disabled-player exception only can be used for a contract for the balance of the season, which means it still could be trumped by multiple-year offers elsewhere. All of that said, I believe the Heat will utilize the exception.


February 20, 2015

Q: So, I know Thursday was a huge day for the Heat in that they picked up a very good player in a position they desperately needed one. But I have a larger concern: Giving away so much must mean we are willing to sign him to a max or near-max contract in the offseason. Does that mean that we are out of the running for another max player such as Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant, especially if the plan is to keep Whiteside? I don't want to be pessimistic but part of this feels like Riley's last move. -- Nick.

A: It could be. Even if the cap skyrockets to the $80 million range for 2016-17, you're talking about Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, based on their salary demands (Dragic) or potential (Whiteside), eating up about 75 percent of that number. Then there is the issue of taking care of Dwyane Wade because of his previous givebacks. And that doesn't even speak to the possibility of re-signing Luol Deng should he opt into next season's option on his contract. The Heat's Big Three at the moment is Wade, Bosh and Dragic, with the promise of Whiteside. Starting in 2016, the Heat's Big Three, based on cap space, could be Bosh, Dragic and Whiteside. Unless, of course . . . Chris Bosh stops being part of either of those equations. Basically, Whiteside is on the clock the next two seasons in order to get his 2016 money. But Bosh might be on the clock to show that he can work as a max player in this new alignment, as well as the one to follow. On Thursday, everything changed.

Q: Reasons I am happy today: 1. Goran Dragic is already the best Heat point guard since Tim Hardaway. 2. My faith in Riley is restored (it was a little shaky for a while). 3. Goran and Zoran -- priceless! Do they have any more brothers? 4.This lineup has a chance to knock off the Cleveland LeBrons in the playoffs. 5. Slovenian Heritage Night is gonna rock! 6. That's two fewer first-round draft picks Riley gets to waste. 7. An empty roster spot means everything is set for Michael Beasley's return. 8. Chris Bosh will almost definitely be the best fourth option in the league. -- David.

A: Ah, the rare Top 8 list (unless your email somehow cut off). Look, this is what Riley does: He targets free agents and pursues like a rabid man with a large wallet and enough draft picks to bait a trap. And, to your last point, by having a legitimate point guard, Chris Bosh should result as the lead option, not some sort of afterthought.

Q: People can say what they want about Pat Riley trading draft picks, but at the end of the day, Riley is getting proven talent for the unknown. Most of us would do that trade any day. -- Stuart.

A: Actually, teams without an owner willing to spend like Micky Arison might not do that, with many teams coveting rookie-scale contracts more than they sometimes covet the prospects acquired. To play the way Riley plays, through the trade market and the free-agent markets requires a significant pocket book to make it all work. This Heat team might be back in the luxury tax sooner than many might have anticipated.


February 19, 2015

Q: Why would Pat Riley risk anything before 2016? This team isn't going anywhere and Riley has never played for second place. -- Jason.

A: First, I think 2016 has been widely overstated. If Kevin Durant does goes anywhere, it likely would be back home to Washington, if he leaves Oklahoma City at all. And Anthony Davis will be a restricted free agent in 2016, and I don't think the Pelicans can survive as a franchise if they have to endure another Chris Paul-type episode. As for LeBron James, this time he isn't going anywhere. Basically, I'm not sure 2016 is going to be anywhere as dramatic as 2010, except for the scale of the contracts extended. What 2016 does is allow teams to maximize their window of patience. Plenty can be done at this trade deadline, during the 2015 offseason, and at the 2016 trading deadline. A quality acquisition at any point is a worthwhile investment. That's why Riley and the Heat are sorting through anything and everything. In a perfect world, Riley gets his team back into championship contention sooner rather than later, if only to maximize Dwyane Wade's possibilities. I highly doubt Riley would be willing to endure another season like this one.

Q: The Heat just don't have the assets to make a good deal. Even the best poker players can only do so much with a pair of deuces. -- Martin.

A: Which is Part II to the answer above. Among the reasons why the Heat likely won't be able to fast-track is because of their lack of assets. The Heat's greatest hope remains the $50 million-plus they might be able to put into play in free agency with the new 2016 salary structure, with the boost of the new television money. But I've seen Riley make chicken soup out of chicken feathers before, so I would never sell him short when it comes to sooner-rather-than-later possibilities.

Q: Is there any chance Danny Granger will be bought out if they can't move him at the trade deadline? -- S.I.

A: Not with Granger holding an option year for 2015-16. Players with more than the balance of the current season on their deals rarely are bought out, unless they agree to waive their option year. And those tend to be players coveted elsewhere. When Amare Stoudemire gave up cash from the Knicks, it was because he already had his Dallas landing spot lined up. I doubt there is a team, even through back channels, that has let Granger know there would be replacement money in place for him. Granger's best chance for playing time most likely remains with the Heat, unless Riley packages him out of town.


February 18, 2015

Q: I think trading the Birdman at this point would be a mistake. With Hassan Whiteside getting injured every now and then, and with Chris Bosh still not entirely sure of his place in this team, who will effectively help man the paint? Justin Hamilton? -- Ann, Perth, Australia.

A: First, I am not advocating the trade -- or non-trade -- of any player. The whole Chris Andersen scenario is based on the realities of his age, the fact that he may have value to a contender, and the emergence of Whiteside, as well as a likely return next season of Josh McRoberts. Basically, the Heat have very limited currency when it comes to the trade market. They don't have prospects to deal and essentially are banned from trading a first-round pick because of the top-10 protected pick due the 76ers. Then again, it's not as if Birdman has been mentioned elsewhere as a target. In fact, there has been far more Luol Deng speculation of late. I agree that Birdman-Whiteside is a nice combination in the middle, as good as it's gotten for the Heat at center since Shaq-Zo. Chris Andersen being on the roster Friday is far more likely than him being shipped out. So we watch and wait.

Q: Ira, Michael Beasley did shoot 50 percent from the floor last year, 40 percent from 3 off the bench for the Heat. He had a good season in China. With this team lacking a true instant-offense guy off the bench, doesn't it make sense to bring in a guy that knows the system and can score? -- Dom, Miami.

A: First, the system has changed. Dramatically. Second, bringing back Beasley would basically mean putting James Ennis on hold, a player the Heat have under contract for the next two seasons. Considering how the Heat have so distanced themselves from much of last season's roster, I don't see the likelihood of a Beasley return . . . unless Deng actually is moved in a trade. Then all bets would be off.

Q: In my opinion, the Heat Lifer campaign and the chest-beating about loyalty, organization, etc., has hurt the Heat, more than helped: overpaying those past their prime (Udonis Haslem, Bird, Mario Chalmers, Bosh), an unwillingness to trade/jettison players who are not contributing, etc. I would love to hear your opinion.  -- Nar, Glen Allen, Va.

A: It has been stressed to me that the Heat's marketing campaign and roster management are two separate entities. What is legitimate is taking care of those who have made past sacrifices, a loyalty aspect that often is successfully sold to those considering signing on as free agents.


February 17, 2015

Q: In your recent article, I agree that Luol Deng would be a coveted glue player for a contender. I also agree that the Heat are more in need of an alpha wing/guard. Thus, wouldn't you agree that the Heat and Thunder may be aligned as the perfect trading partners? As an impending restricted free agent, Reggie Jackson is a luxury that Oklahoma City can no longer afford. It is similar to the way Houston acquired James Harden. If you look at the list of unrestricted free agents in 2015 and 2016, for what the Heat need, it doesn't get much better than Jackson. The Heat would be acquiring a player the same caliber and age of an Eric Bledsoe, without having to give up Chris Bosh, whom Pat Riley can use in a future trade for another young alpha. Mike Conley is simply not going leave Memphis once Marc Gasol commits there. By doing this deal now, you incorporate Jackson into the Heat culture, and gain the upper hand on the Lakers and Knicks, who don't have a Luol Deng to entice Oklahoma City. I'd even throw in Birdman if the Thunder insisted. To make the numbers match, the Heat would be taking back Kendrick Perkins' expiring contract. Since Deng is likely to opt into his $10 million player option for 2015-16, I would think Oklahoma City would want Deng for next year, too. I especially love that Jackson is five years younger than Deng.  So where am I going wrong? -- Rich, West Palm Beach.

A: Here's where: the Heat's desire to maximize their cap space for 2016 free agency. By trading for Jackson and then giving him the type of contract he is seeking, that would be another chunk of cap space taken out of the Heat's 2016 free-agency cash stash, similar to the money due Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts. It's not a matter of fit, it's a matter that Deng's number comes off the Heat's books in 2016 (or earlier), while Jackson would further reduce the Heat's 2016 cap space if a new contract if worked out this offseason. While there is something to be said for a bird in hand, you would hate to find out later that by having extra cap space, you could have done more in 2016 free agency. So the real question is whether Bosh, McRoberts, Hassan Whiteside (provided he is re-signed), Dwyane Wade and Reggie Jackson is your idea of a championship core.

Q: I actually envision Goran Dragic to a Heat guard and it would be great to see him play as a Heat player. Is there a way The Dragon could be breath fire to the Heat? Is there a possibility for this to happen at all? -- Jorovan, Philippines.

A: First, there is conjecture about whether the Suns want to trade Dragic before he becomes a free agent this offseason or whether they want to re-sign him. But, for argument's sake, if Phoenix would want to be proactive with a Dragic deal, the Heat do not have the type of first-round pick or young prospect available to entice Phoenix. So then you're looking at a three-way deal, which isn't the easiest proposition with the trade-deadline clock ticking.

Q: What can we get for Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole? I don't think there is any more significant trading value on the team. I feel now is the time to move to get better or to get assets. If we can get a starting point guard, a shooting guard and draft picks, I would certainly tank. -- Joaquin.

A: Um, yeah, you're not getting that much for such a package. And with the Heat's dearth of guards, I don't think you're in position to trade both Chalmers and Cole.


February 16, 2015

Q: Enough about Chris Bosh already. His inconsistent play is not the main reason for 30 losses before the All-Star break. Mediocre guard play and a mediocre bench is. The addition of Hassan Whiteside and the mostly stellar backup play of Birdman is just not enough to make up for those deficiencies and Dwayne Wade's recurring injuries. Even when Dwyane comes back, it will still be all hands on deck and if any of Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng or Hassan Whiteside have to miss any significant playing time, winning games will be a difficult challenge with this bench. I'm sure I am not the only Heat Lifer wondering why at the very least, the injury exception for Josh McRoberts has not been used already. It's time to acknowledge that Danny Granger, Norris Cole and Shawne Williams are just not working out. We have to tolerate the inconsistent play of Shabazz Napier and James Ennis to get them experience and see if they can improve. Pat Riley needs to get some guards and at least one 3-point specialist who really can hit threes and space the floor. Maybe because I want to see the Heat win so badly, I'm just not seeing or understanding the big picture moves that Pat Riley and Heat management have in mind for this team. I always thought it was to field a team to try to win championships every year! Please don't respond with how you can't anticipate injuries. Every team has them and it's the reason why you are supposed to have back up talent coming off the bench. -- Mike.

A: I agree the depth has not worked out. But I don't think the goal is championship every year. I think it's to make sure they are working toward a championship every year, whether it's actually playing for one or setting up the salary cap in order to build for one, as they currently are doing. But I see no reason not to spend the $2.65 million disabled-player exception received for McRoberts' injury by the March 10 deadline other than retain Justin Hamilton in his current roster spot. It is difficult to believe there is not a player available anywhere at $2.65 million who wouldn't make this Heat roster better.

Q: Ira, don't you think that Erik Spoelstra needs to do a better job of getting Chris Bosh going early in games, specifically down low in the post. The problem with Bosh's game is that it is relying too much on the outside shot. When that isn't falling, then he is ineffective. Like it or not Bosh is our main horse so we have to make sure he gets going. Now that we have Hassan Whiteside, they certainly can't collapse on Bosh without consequences. The bottom line is Spoelstra needs to start out with an inside-out game plan. -- Max, Fort Lauderdale.

A: I agree. But he also has to get Wade going now that Dwyane is back after almost a month off. The reality is that there are as few as 30 games remain for the Heat, and this is no time to hold back with anything or anyone. There should be a steady diet of Wade and Bosh the rest of the way, with both playing in attack mode, with Whiteside there to clean up when they miss.

Q: I've been reading about the Heat being interested in Jameer Nelson. Why? -- Charles.

A: Beats me, unless they already have something in mind with a Norris Cole trade, in which case an extra point guard who could make 3-point shots would make sense. I can't fathom adding Nelson to a roster that also includes Mario Chalmers, Shabazz Napier and Cole, and can't fathom Pat Riley thinking that way, either.


February 15, 2015

Q: Ira, Shabazz Napier This kid is starting to impress me. He is improving and hitting some shots. -- Chet.

A: Napier is starting to remind me somewhat of Anthony Carter, in that he does a lot of intangible things at point guard that can help you win, but when he's off with his shot, he's really off with his shot. Many of Napier's misses rekindle the Carter shooting experience. Actually, I'm curious about what comes next, once Dwyane Wade is back in the mix. I'm assuming that Mario Chalmers continues to start alongside Wade, but it will be interesting to see how much the Heat utilize Napier alongside Wade, two players who both are at their best with the ball in their hands. The Heat clearly have to get a read on Napier-Wade going forward. But they also clearly have to start winning games. Napier was an afterthought for much of the season prior to Wade's latest absence. Has he done enough the past two weeks to retain a significant role in the rotation?

Q: Will Hassan Whiteside get more plays drawn for him during the second half of the season? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: I don't think that's how the Heat view Hassan. I think he mostly will remain an alley-oop and offensive-rebound weapon. His post-up game remains mostly raw and there is almost no back-to-the-basket element. Among the reasons you draw up plays for centers is to engage double-teams. Whiteside is not to the point where opponents automatically send a second defender, if at all.

Q: Could the Heat petition or challenge the NBA with regard to the protected 2015 draft pick they must give up? Based on the player not staying for the full six years, and opting to leave early, it seems to me the Heat should not have to surrender the pick. At the very least, this rule should come under review, and since Adam Silver seems like a progressive commissioner, may be worth a challenge now? Thanks. -- Rand, Miami.

A: Caveat emptor. Obviously if Pat Riley knew then what he knows now, he could have made the picks sent to the Cavaliers in the 2010 sign-and-trade conditional, based on LeBron James remaining with the Heat in the intervening years. He had the option to write the terms that way (whether the Cavaliers would have acquiesced is another matter). Chalk it up to a lesson learned. And, no, this is not the type of matter the commissioner should address. This is a team that learned a lesson the hard way, clearly blindsided by the fact that four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals wouldn't be enough to maintain the relationship. In the end, based on what the following four seasons produced, I doubt the Heat would have done anything differently in July 2010.


February 14, 2015

Q: All we hear about is "next week" or "after the break." Maybe if the Heat stopped waiting and actually do it, I'd enjoy watching the games instead of telling at my TV. -- Michael.

A: The one thing I will say is that they're trying, or at least say they're trying. The lack of continuity has robbed the Heat of any chance at developing a rhythm. And for all the optimism about Dwyane Wade returning next Friday in New York, the Heat basically will need him to play each of the final 30 games, at a time when we're not even sure he will be up to completing the back-to-back set that includes a home game against the Pelicans the night after the Heat play in New York. The good news for the Heat is that only four back-to-back sets remain on their schedule. The bad news for Wade is that four back-to-back sets remain. Even if the Heat play .500 ball the rest of the season, it would still mean a 37-45 finish. To finish .500, they would have to go 19-11. It's not a question of "waiting." It's a matter of whether they are good enough. And the only way we'll see that is if they stay healthy. To a degree, these final 30 games are as much about getting a read on next season's possibilities as what may happen during the impending playoff race.

Q: Hi Ira, I heard Amare Stoudamire is negotiating a buyout with the Knicks. What are the chances that we can sign him if he gets bought out, for the disabled-player exception of $2.65 million? I know we have a smaller need for him now with Hassan Whiteside's emergence, but it would still be nice. Your thoughts? Thank you. -- Maayan, Aventura.

A: Players generally push for buyouts to get into the thick of the playoff race, which is why Stoudemire has been linked to the Suns and the Mavericks. I'm not sure a player would give up a portion of his salary for the chance to battle from where the Heat currently stand. Buyout players generally are looking for one of two things: more playing time than they're currently receiving or playoff exposure. I'm not sure the Heat are in a position to guarantee either. But you are correct that the disabled-player exception could come in handy if bidding against other teams.

Q: How do the Heat acquire Aaron Affalo? -- Stuart.

A: By sending back a first-round pick they can't afford to send. Until the Heat's top-10-protected first-round obligation is paid off to the 76ers (through the Cavaliers [from the 2010 LeBron James sign-and-trade] and through the Timberwolves [Thaddeus Young trade]), the Heat basically don't have a first-round pick they can deal. That's why the best outcome going forward would be to make the playoffs, send their 2015 first-round pick to Philadelphia, and then regain flexibility to trade future first-round picks (since, by rule, you cannot trade successive future first-round picks). But Afflalo would make a lot of sense for the Heat's current roster.


February 13, 2015

Q: Chris Bosh makes far too many excuses. Despite a handful of good shooting games, and after a strong start to the season, he's been a major disappointment. His shooting has been poor, as has been his rebounding for a person his height and length. The B.S. about teams loading up on him, they didn't do that in Toronto? Besides an erratic jumper, there's no aggression going to the hoop. Maybe he is exhausted, as he's played a lot of games in the past five years. But quit making excuses, and start playing like the star that he's being paid to be. (Everything with him is a "season-long adjustment." When he played center, we heard about was what an adjustment it was. Now that he's back at his natural position, he talks about that being a "season-long adjustment.") -- Matt.

A: Look, the mailbag was full of these (as you can see below) after Chris' performance Wednesday. And deservedly so. He did not play well against the Cavaliers and acknowledged it after the loss. He has to be better, better than he's been in several recent games. But he also is a complementary star, something he was asked to do the past four years. Even Erik Spoelstra warned going into this season not to expect the same Chris Bosh who was a stand-alone star with the Raptors. So when Wade is available, he is a floor spacer with his shooting. When Wade is out, he is expected to be a pivot player. That is, of course, unless Hassan Whiteside already is planted in the paint. He started the season as a center alongside Shawne Williams, moved to power forward in some bigger lineups, moved back to center when Josh McRoberts played, was injured, and now again is a power forward. And you're right, those also can be excuses. He needs to be better. He said as much after the loss to the Cavaliers. Now we'll see.

Q: Once again, Chris Bosh was basically a no-show Wednesday. I look at other teams whose lone star shines when the other is out. Houston comes to mind, with James Harden. And where is our star player? Bosh has done nothing so far to justify his maximum salary. -- Faye.

A: Except Harden is a wing player, can take charge of the attack by himself, doesn't need somebody to set him up for scores. This is a wing-oriented league now. You don't see many stretch fours dominating the ball. For all of his skills and salary, the reality is Bosh still needs someone to get him the ball. And have you looked at the Heat's point guards lately? A lack of execution and cohesion tends to take a significant toll on Bosh. It just does.

Q: I see Chris Bosh says a lot after a game in post interviews but can you give insight as to how he is with other players in practice or during a game? I figure if he is the person he appears to be (cerebral, introspective, funny), he'd back up his talk in postgame interviews to not be a diva. -- N.T.

A: He is quiet, reserved, and tends to keep to himself, which is why he is not a captain. He cares deeply. But he's not a rah-rah type. He wants to let his play do the talking. But, as mentioned in the answer above, his game is the type that requires teammates in support. This season, those who Bosh relies on either have been injured or ineffective. That is not an excuse. He is neither aggressive in personality nor in play. But he can be effective in the right situations. And he can slump, which is where he finds himself these days. He is an All-Star, respected as such to the degree that Eastern Conference coaches voted him into the All-Star Game despite the Heat's record. He is respected and he plays trying to justify that respect. He cares.


February 12, 2015

Q: I don't think Hassan Whiteside is eligible for Most Improved Player. But if he is, I don't see a way he doesn't win. -- Michael, Hollywood.

A: I don't see any reason why he would not be eligible. I initially thought Most Improved Player would be a runaway for Jimmy Butler, with the way he has bypassed Derrick Rose as the Bulls' leading man. Then I thought Draymond Green might be the frontrunner, the way he has helped fuel the Warriors' winning streak. But the Whiteside currently on display is a completely different player than the center who previously struggled with the Kings. Hassan already is the most-improved player to have arrived from Lebanon and China. To some, it's almost as if he's a rookie, since he looks nothing like what he did in his previous NBA incarnation. If Whiteside does make such a breakthrough, he would be the Heat's first winner since Ike Austin in 1997, with Rony Seikaly previously winning for the Heat in 1990. The criteria on the ballot reads, "This award is designed to honor an up-and-coming player who has made a dramatic improvement from the previous season or seasons. It is not intended to be given to a player who has made a 'comeback.' " I think most would agree that "dramatic improvement' has defined Whiteside's play with the Heat since the turn of the calendar. It's about sustaining it now.

Q: Either the Heat are very poor in drafting good talents, or very poor in developing talent. Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Justin Hamilton are just few examples of failures. Either way something has got to change. -- Ananth.

A: I'm not sure you "develop" four-year collegians, which is why I think some teams shy from them. With Chalmers and Cole, they drafted ready-to-go players, and Chalmers showed his value by helping immediately push the Heat into the playoffs and Cole showed his value by helping the Heat win championships in his first two seasons. With Whiteside, James Ennis and Tyler Johnson, I think you'll see the Heat move back into development mode, with each arriving somewhat raw. But, as with Chalmers and Cole, I'm not sure how much more the Heat can do for Shabazz Napier, who might just be what he is after his extended developmental time at UConn. That said, Wednesday was one of Napier's better nights and he probably has developed most with the playing time he has received amid Dwyane Wade's absence.

Q: I was one of the fans that praised Pat Riley and Micky Arison for moving as quickly as they did once LeBron James bolted. I was also very quick to criticize the contact given to Mario Chalmers. Dwyane Wade is a superstar, with repeat health issues, no surprise at his age to the Heat or us fans. The team as built is not going anywhere, even if everyone were healthy. We just don’t have the pieces to match up with the better teams. So, should Pat Riley stay with the cards he has or do whatever it takes to get better now? -- Chet.

A: There isn't much that he can do at the moment, other than perhaps move Chris Andersen, Norris Cole, or other minor pieces for minor pieces. Riley has said he will have an open mind as the Feb. 19 trading deadline approaches. The emergence of Whiteside has made Birdman somewhat expendable. Also, Napier's move up the rotation has lessened the need for Cole, who probably won't be retained in free agency, anyway. But there has to be perspective on what players such as those might bring in return. The buyout market might provide more of a yield for the Heat.


February 11, 2015

Q: As much as I love having Chris Andersen in Miami, Birdman would be pretty valuable to a playoff contender. And with Hassan Whiteside's emergence and the fact that there are other bigs Miami could sign for depth (Samuel Dalembert, Andray Blatche, Khem Birch), he may be our best trade piece. -- Jake.

A: I've got to be candid here. I find myself waffling on Birdman and the trade market. On one hand, he's one of the Heat's few assets who might be able to fetch a quality draft pick or prospect from a championship contender. On the other hand, you see nights such as Monday against the Knicks and recognize the value he has to the Heat, especially with foul trouble an ongoing concern with Whiteside. The Heat have shown, with their defensive struggles, they clearly are better with a rim-protector, something Udonis Haslem or even Justin Hamilton cannot provide if Birdman or Whiteside are not available. I think your point about replacement big men is particularly cogent. For the Heat to put Birdman on the market -- if playoffs remain a definitive goal -- they first would have to know who they could line up as a replacement. As the list you offered shows, there are replacement candidates out there, perhaps even more on the buyout market after the Feb. 19 trading deadline.

Q: Hassan is awesome, but the fouling is an issue. -- Dallas, Staten Island.

A: What Whiteside has to learn is what are good fouls, and what are those that must be avoided. He simply cannot be taking fouls on the perimeter, being over-aggressive too far from the rim. And he has to avoid fouls while setting screens. Fouls and shot-blockers go together; it's part of the package of aggression. What Whiteside has to do is take his fouls only on the defensive end. And only in the paint. In that case, six should be more than enough.

Q: Seriously, signing Tyler Johnson for the remainder of the season? Is this throwing in the towel and hoping for a first-round pick?-- Bruno, Pompano Beach.

A: No, it is developing talent, or at least inspecting young talent, when there is a roster spot available to do just that. When Dwyane Wade returns, Johnson likely will return to a full-time developmental role, perhaps not even dressing on game nights, perhaps back in the D-League, on assignment with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. But Erik Spoelstra is only going to play nine or 10 players, anyway. So why not have someone with promise who could potentially emerge as low-cost alternative? I believe it was a prudent move. And there always is Justin Hamilton's roster spot, which has become somewhat of a luxury, with Whiteside's emergence, if the Heat want to add another player.


February 10, 2015

Q: Hassan Whiteside passes out of the double team to Ray Allen. Allen for three, yes! Can't you see it this April? If somehow the Heat players can stay healthy and Ray Allen is willing to re-sign with the Heat, aren't the Heat just a point guard and maybe a lockdown defender away from having a very competitive team that can make a deep run in the playoffs? Come on Ray, come back to where you created magic. Come back to the team where you hit the shot that could be remembered as the greatest shot in NBA Finals history. -- Steve.

A: First of all, there are a lot of "ifs" in your equation. So why join a team that could be eight games under .500 when Allen makes his decision, as opposed to at least assuring a playoff opportunity? Considering he already lives here, if Allen wanted to return to the Heat, he would have done so already, at least to het in rhythm with so many new players. But I also believe he stayed in South Florida because it's a place to retire to. And I think retirement is the clubhouse leader when it comes to his plans.

Q: Where was Hassan Whiteside during Monday's fourth quarter? Mario Chalmers picked up his fourth foul and Erik Spoelstra didn't flinch. Why is Whiteside getting the Michael Beasley treatment? -- Rich.

A: Where was Whiteside? Watching Chris Andersen have one of his better fourth quarters as a member of the Heat. Birdman blocked three shots in the fourth quarter and also made all three of his shots in the period, passing for a pair of assists, as well, during the quarter. There was no reason to force Whiteside back, after the Heat extended their lead, nor any need. For all Whiteside has accomplished, it's not as if he fits alongside Birdman. And there have been plenty of times Spoelstra has gone away from Chalmers for extended periods Remember, Whiteside was coming off a sprained ankle. There was no need to extend his minutes. He set the tone with his play in the third quarter, when the Heat regained the lead, then turned the challenge over to Andersen.

Q: Einstein said the definition of "insanity" is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Shabazz just isn't ready for a starting role, yet. Wouldn't Tyler Johnson and Mario Chalmers be a better solution as the starting guards whenever Wade is out? -- Jay.

A: Perhaps. But this also is about taking stock of what the Heat might have for the future. While playing in the absence of Wade is not optimal, it also affords the Heat the opportunity to weigh the merits of Napier in games that matter. That's the dichotomy at this stage: playing to win and playing to develop. If Napier isn't an answer going forward, better to know now than too late. He actually had his moments in Monday's second half, as did Chalmers and Norris Cole. Then again, perhaps that says more about the state of the Knicks' point guards.


February 9, 2015

Q: It shocks me how uncompetitive we look out there against other teams when Dwyane Wade isn't out there dominating the ball, and then people sit there and complain that we play to much hero ball or iso ball when he is playing. -- Bryant, Boynton Beach,

A: All of today's answers are going to come from a similar perspective (yes, the first "Ask Ira" theme day). The NBA has become a league of wing players, scorers, who, against ever-evolving NBA defenses, can create their own offense when points are needed. Yes, the Spurs and Hawks are whipping the ball to victory. And, yes, team basketball still is the best basketball. But this still is a league when sometimes it's incumbent on one player to make a play. For the Spurs, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili can do that. Jeff Teague can do that for the Hawks (or Dennis Schroder). You need that player. And that's where this roster is a fail for the Heat. Luol Deng is and always will be a complementary wing (and that's fine, and that's a good thing). Otherwise for the Heat, it's a bunch of point guards of questionable shooting and scoring ability (Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Shabazz Napier), a raw rookie (James Ennis) and an immobile veteran (Danny Granger). Yes, the Heat have big men who can score (Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside), but you first have to get the ball to them in their scoring positions. The lack of offensive creativity is what makes Wade so essential, arguably too essential.

Q: Hey Ira, what are the chances of Tyler Johnson starting for Dwyane Wade until he returns? Will he be effective because there are times when he's more patient with the ball in his hands than Chalmers and Napier? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: The previous answer is why it was refreshing to see the Heat retain Johnson at the end of his second and final 10-day contract. Johnson, in many ways, is what the Heat lack. He can attack, he can shoot, he can create. In other words, the type of guard they have lacked outside of Wade. Is he polished? Heck no. There still are times he puts his head down and drives to disaster. But he drives. He attacks. And he can score from distance, something this team suddenly lacks. He is the type of player the Heat need. And, yes, he can help when Wade sits, because Wade will sit again. And again.

Q: I know we don't have enough for a trade involving Reggie Jackson, but do you see Pat Riley making a drastic move for him, maybe with Luol Deng? It's clear at this point that the Heat do not have shooters, but the main problem with the offense is they lack of playmakers. It's incredible to me nobody except Wade know how to create offense, with talented offensive players such as Bosh, Deng and our future savior in Hassan Whiteside. -- Willie, Miami.

A: Which sort of sums up the theme of these three questions. If not Jackson, then somebody who can make plays and stop opposing surges. That's what the Heat lacked when the Mavericks, the Pistons and the Timberwolves went on their rolls, that one player to step up, score a relief basket, take charge of the offense when all else is coming apart.


February 8, 2015

Q: Chris Bosh might care, but again he doesn't step up big in San Antonio after making his comments. He's a very good player but not great and not a player to build a team around. He has evolved into an excellent role player. -- Joel.

A: While it's easy (and accurate) to get caught up with the salary, for a moment let's put the business side aside and assess where Chris Bosh stands with this team. The reality is it's probably close to where he previously stood with the Heat, and thrived: as a third wheel. Based on the past month, the focus of just about any positive energy regarding the Heat has been Hassan Whiteside. His play has been a revelation and his statistics are those of a leading man. Then there is Dwyane Wade, who is invaluable (as evidenced by the recent results) in the perimeter rotation. Wade has to be on the court and has to be on his game for the Heat to succeed. So that leaves Bosh, who was reduced to third wheel alongside LeBron James and Wade, and now appears to be there again. And he thrived in that role previously. So the equation with Bosh essentially comes down to whether Whiteside can keep this up and whether Wade can stand up to his injuries. If those two are thriving, Bosh slides in exactly where needed, albeit at a pay grade above his contributions. To me, you only think about moving Bosh if you believe Wade cannot stay healthy, or at 33 is simply too old to be dominant on the wing.

Q:  If Pat Riley waits until 2016 to make moves, Hassan Whiteside will leave. So Riley better start making some key moves now. -- Aura.

A: I think Whiteside is surrounded by ample talent, if that talent can stay healthy. I'm not sure Whiteside is going to do much better for himself than a supporting cast of Wade, Bosh and Luol Deng, with enough exception money in place to firm things up at point guard. It's not as much what Riley can do, as what Wade, Bosh and Deng can do to show Whiteside that they are his best option. Whiteside has particularly thrived along Wade. Now Wade has to find a way to stay on the court.

Q: Hey Ira, I know it's easy to say we need a trade, but I have to beat this drum, with Dwyane Wade (favorite player) sidelined with not only knee injuries, but now it looks like hamstring as well. We need a two-guard, slasher type with a consistent jumper, I suggest Arron Afflalo. I know the guy has jumped around, but he's a scorer and we need someone when Wade isn't in the game or resting. -- Bryant, Boynton Beach.

A: You are preaching to the choir. But I'm still not sure the Heat have enough assets for such a move. Plus, with the Heat's current record, it's not as if players are necessarily angling their way to Miami anymore. Miami might not be a preferred destination on the buyout market this season.


February 7, 2015

Q: In the wake of your article about Hassan Whiteside becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2016, I have to admit, I was blindsided by this news.  I assumed the Heat could sign him to a long-term contract before he hit the open market. Since it will be Whiteside's first real chance to cash in, I expect him to prioritize the dollars. Assuming he keeps up this pace, I would expect many teams to bid for his services. Thus, even if the Heat retain him, they could be paying $16 million a year for a $10 million player. All it takes is one team to jack up the price. In a salary-cap league, that's what is most disappointing. Aside from giving him a more lucrative contract before seeing the potential (which no one could blame Pat Riley for not doing), is there anything Riley could have done to prevent this from happening? -- Rich, West Palm Beach.

A: I've received a lot of similar reaction. The reality is there are two sides to any contract equation, and just as the Heat were able to get Whiteside to take a non-guaranteed 2015-16 season, Whiteside was prudent not to extend the contract beyond that stage. With some players, as the Heat did with James Ennis, you are able to make the contract three years, on your terms, with Bird Rights following. In theory, the Heat could convince Whiteside to take a smaller deal in 2016 with a payoff down the road. But considering how far Whiteside has come to reach this stage, with time in China and Lebanon, that would appear highly unlikely. And July 2016 is still an abstract at the moment, when it comes to both where the Heat might stand and Whiteside might stand. For now, enjoy the moment. And next season, enjoy the bargain. And when 2016 comes, figure on Riley having a definitive game plan and championship visions in place.

Q: "Good enough" was Pat Riley's strategy for the Heat's backcourt this year. -- Pablo.

A: I think his strategy was having enough Dwyane Wade that it would mask many of the deficiencies. But amid Wade's third hamstring absence of the season, it clearly hasn't played out that way. Riley also didn't know what he had in Shabazz Napier until he got him on the court against NBA regular-season competition, as it hasn't looked pretty lately. He clearly needs some type of shot doctor. As for Norris Cole, it seemed like once both sides bypassed an extension in October, it went south quickly, after what appeared to be an energized offseason by Cole. But to his credit, Cole has played better lately. Even Mario Chalmers has had some moments lately. But when a player on a 10-day contract leads you in scoring, as Tyler Johnson did Friday in San Antonio, that says plenty, too.

Q: It feels like Chris Bosh is pointing fingers for the Heat's poor play, but his play has not always been stellar. -- Joel.

A: But with one captain not playing (Udonis Haslem) and one injured (Dwyane Wade), someone has to step up and say something. I give him credit for that. He cares. With the Heat's current predicament, that's not a bad place to start. 


February 6, 2015

Q:  Leadership is lacking with this team. -- Leon.

A: While terms such as "leadership" tend to get overstated, considering "talent" tends to mean a lot more, there is an interesting dynamic with this Heat team. You have one co-captain, in Udonis Haslem, who barely plays. You have another, in Dwyane Wade, who has had three separate extended injury absences that have kept him from being around the team on a routine basis. Then you have a team leader in Chris Bosh who tends to be soft-spoken by nature and, when he does vent, tends to only erupt in interview settings. And then you have leftover players from the trips to the NBA Finals who previously had looked to LeBron James for leadership and now do not see anyone in the locker room close to such a dominant personality. As for Erik Spoelstra, he is in the difficult position of trying to justify what Pat Riley has given him as being enough to produce the desired results. As for Riley, he has made it a point to stay in his own lane, even as his team is being run over on a regular basis. Someone, anyone has to step up, be it a captain, another player, a coach, or someone from management, and demand something better.

Q: That Norris Cole-Hassan Whiteside play was so bad, the NBA fined me for flopping. -- Jerry.

A: Plays like that are the reason why you drill and drill and drill the minutiae during those endless practices during camp and off days. The big takes the ball out and the guards position themselves for the inbound pass. You do it one way, the same way, and you never have an issue. With so many players, usually on losing teams, you often see them with the "my bad" gesture. Well, this is the NBA, the highest level of the game, where "my bad" isn't good enough. Look, I'm not equating it to a surgeon or airline pilot having no margin for "my bad" error. But in the sport of basketball, on the NBA level, plays such as the Cole-Whiteside "who's on first (to inbound)" can't be part of the routine. There are limits when it comes to teams issuing fines for such blunders, but when you consider the price in salary teams pay for each victory, plays such as that simply can't be blown aside with a "we'll make sure it doesn't happen again."

Q: So I understand that the vets on this team have played a lot of basketball, through June the last four years, and they may be burnt out on the chase and needed an "exhale." But gosh darnit (I'd love to use the other words!) the time to "exhale" was November and December, not friggin’ February! Maybe it's best that we don’t make the playoffs. Then those "getting-paid-extremely-well" veterans can "exhale" from April 'til September! And losing out on the lottery (top-10 protected) will be the icing on this bad-tasting cake! - Cheryl.

A: Or maybe these players simply aren't good enough, at least not when combined in this mix? And maybe instead of exhaling, they're simply gasping to remain competitive.


February 5, 2015

Q: Chris Bosh was visibly frustrated after the game. He said the Heat are not concentrating on defense, not executing simple sets on offense, and are not learning from their mistakes. So what is that? That is not lack of talent.  Maybe Bosh needs to get in some players' faces. Something isn't right with this team. You tell me a guy named Hassan Whiteside is going to go 24 and 20 and the Heat still lose. I would say no way! -- Stuart.

A: I tried to push Chris on that after the game, perhaps even a bit too much, considering what he and the team had just been through. But that's what I don't get about this team this season. Say what you want about strategy and approach, but Erik Spoelstra, you can see, is taking these to heart seemingly more than any of his players, save for Bosh. Again, I hate to go back to the same place, but it's almost an attitude in the locker room of, "Hey, we went to four straight NBA Finals. Everyone deserves a chance to exhale." And they're right. But that's why I think such an effort was made to infuse so much new blood into the roster. With the way he has fallen out of the rotation, co-captain Udonis Haslem no longer is positioned to make demands of his teammates. And while Bosh has, his seemingly has been the lone voice of outrage. As for Dwyane Wade, it's hard to be a captain when you're a thousand miles away.

Q: If the Heat's execution was so poor in the fourth quarter (as stated by Spoelstra in his post-game press conference), why didn't he call a timeout and set up a play at the end? Isn't there a play to get it inside to Whiteside for an easy shot or a misdirection play that uses Whiteside to free up a player for a 15-foot shot?  -- S.R.F.

A: Which is why I also asked that question postgame. I was fine with Mario Chalmers' drive. That was a heck of a look, better than anything you're going to design. But when Luol Deng gets his offensive rebound, there are 3.9 second to play. And when Norris Cole hoists his 3-pointer, there were 2.9 seconds to play. Again, it was a one-point game. You didn't need a three. And Spoelstra has been very good about running onto the court to get a timeout. Considering how opponents have maximized such short time frames against the Heat, and considering how something going to the basket could at least get you to the foul line, my question was about what happened after Deng's rebound. When it comes to playing percentages, a Cole 3-point shot, even after he just made one,  doesn't seem like the best possible play.

Q: Tell me Nate Robinson wouldn't be better than what the Heat currently are playing with? -- Faye.

A: I can't. If the Heat's point guards can't defend, which they certainly couldn't against D.J. Augustin on Tuesday night in Detroit, then they might as well have someone out there who can match those baskets on the other end. The Heat's play at point guard this season has been indefensible, even with the uptick on Wednesday from Chalmers.


February 4, 2015

Q: Erik Spoelstra continues to switch the rotations completely. How can you call upon the guy who hasn't played in several games and not play the guy who regularly is the backup? It makes no sense, destroys continuity, and players who should be given the opportunity to get more development minutes usually get the shorter end of Spo's wild rotations just because one guy is out. -- Ben.

A: And yet, there is some logic to how he has been utilizing players such as Shabazz Napier (when Dwyane Wade is out) or Danny Granger (when Luol Deng is out). It is about more than next-man-up with this roster, especially when the next man up might have a skill set that meshes better with the second unit, or against second-unit opponents. For example, when Wade is out, the Heat lose their primary playmaker. And while Napier has struggled with his shot, he does know how to get a team into offense, with enough of a handle not to be flustered by pressure. Similarly, when Deng was out, by utilizing Granger, it did not force James Ennis into immediate action against frontline opponents. Ideally, what you want are true sixth-man-type components. But with the salary cap, and how the Heat have spent elsewhere, that is not possible with this current mix. There simply is not a definitive sixth man. So sometimes when the 3-point shooting is off, Shawne Williams get his turn. When the toughness isn't there, Udonis Haslem is brought out of the deep freeze. This is not a roster you can line up one through 15. It gets very hazy beyond Wade, Chris Bosh, Deng and Hassan Whiteside. Thus the rotation roulette. It's more of a personnel issue than how the personnel has been utilized. Face it, no matter how you mix and match the guards beyond Wade, the answers are not going to be all that appetizing, as Tuesday in Detroit showed.

Q: Granger showed the last couple of years he couldn't do it any more (injuries). You're much better going with young guys with potential than older guys already going downhill. -- Dave.

A: And that likely is the reason the Heat were reported to be looking to dump Granger's contract on the Pistons in a possible Norris Cole deal. Stan Van Gundy spoke Tuesday about how the Pistons decided to sign John Lucas III to a 10-day instead of taking on unwanted salary in a trade. That trade likely could have been a Granger/Cole package from the Heat. So the Heat very much could be evolving away from Ganger, unless he shows anything close to what he did for a brief period in December. There was a flash in Tuesday's fourth quarter, but by then it was too little, too late.

Q: Andray Blatche would be fine with Chris Bosh alongside at power forward, but I'm not sure such a lineup with Whiteside at center and Blatche at power forward could work. -- B.A.

A: I think the Heat re-visit Blatche, once he is eligible to return from China, only if they opt to first trade Chris Andersen by the Feb. 19 NBA trading deadline. Should Birdman be retained, then I think the Heat would have greater needs for their $2.65 million disabled-player exception (received for Josh McRoberts) that expires March 10, perhaps on a point guard or a wing. The frontline certainly was not the issue in Tuesday's debacle.


February 3, 2015

Q: I believe Shabazz Napier to be the worst starter in Heat history. I also believe Pat Riley needs to stop burdening Erik Spoelstra by having him on the roster. Anyone who has spent any time watching basketball can see he cannot compete on this level. He is lost. Tyler Johnson is light years better. Why isn't he sent to D-League? -- Brian, Boca Raton.

A: I believe that when Dwyane Wade returns, further seasoning in the NBA Development League for Napier might be the proper move. For now, I think Spoelstra has stayed with Napier as starters as a means to retain continuity with his rotation in Wade's absence. But the reality is that Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole (even with his wayward shooting) and Johnson are offering more in the backcourt. The last time that Napier was with Sioux Falls, he did not get the full opportunity at point guard, with Larry Drew also in the lineup. Now, with Drew with the 76ers, a Skyforce reassignment would allow Napier to operate in a role he needs to play in the NBA. I don't think you simply give up on a first-round draft pick at this stage, but you are correct that he has been outclassed in most of his recent appearances.

Q: Danny Granger has been a huge disappointment. James Ennis always plays hard and outperforms Granger on a consistent basis. With Ennis contributing more and more, is it safe to say he'll back up Luol Deng from now on? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: As I mentioned above with Napier starting in place of Wade, I think Granger is somewhat of a space-holder at small forward when Deng is out. With Granger, it has come down to whether he is making shots or not. While Ennis plays with far more energy than Granger, that energy sometimes can be out of control. And it late-game situations, especially on offense, there is something to be said for Granger finding space for his shots. Granger has struggled of late, but he did have his moments in December. The best of all worlds for the Heat would be for Granger to recapture that rhythm, if still possible. But Ennis has looked good the past two games, a return to his early-season play after a hitting a bit of a rookie wall. His energy, like that of Tyler Johnson, can make a difference.

Q: As much as Hassan Whiteside has obviously helped in the rebounding and blocks department, his input offensively has quietly been pretty good. He's been averaging 16.5 in his last four games. Can he continue that? -- Jackson.

A: I actually think it will get easier for Whiteside once Wade returns, with Wade having created more room for Whiteside in the post simply because of Dwyane's ability to space the floor with the threat of his penetration. I still believe the majority of Whiteside's points, when the Heat are at their most efficient, will come on alley-oops and second-chance opportunities. The reality is that the Heat have several superior post-up options, including Chris Bosh and Wade.


February 2, 2015

Q: Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson and James Ennis are getting extended playing time.  With the trade deadline coming up, are the Miami Heat showcasing these players or are they truly trying to develop them? -- Stuart.

A: There is no showcasing here. This is the long-awaited restart of the Heat's development program, and Sunday was particularly intriguing, particularly against a Celtics team that is in the midst of a full-fledged developmental program. Whiteside has moved past flash-in-the-pan status, considering how he continues to display different ways to contribute. First it was the alley-oop dunks. Then there was the shot-blocking. Then it was the rebounding. And now it's the offensive repertoire that included hooks shots and jumpers Sunday. With Johnson, it is about finally having athleticism and energy in a backcourt rotation that had grown stagnant. And those types of younger components also create a game where Ennis can flourish. Interestingly, the one young name you didn't mention was first-round pick Shabazz Napier. The reality is that once Dwyane Wade returns, whether that's this week or beyond, you could make a case for keeping Johnson in the rotation and sending Napier back down to the D-League for seasoning. Frankly, I don't think anyone would have thought at the start of the season that Napier would rank fourth among this season's Heat newcomers.

Q: Why is Mario Chalmers still all over the place? -- Diego.

A: I wish I had an answer. The thing is, he plays hard and he means well. But part of growing into a veteran is appreciating when gusto is required and when prudence is necessary. I'm not sure he has been able to differentiate between the two. He knows what to do. That I'm sure of. He just doesn't always do it. With this roster, the Heat need him to win. At this stage, Chalmers is beyond the developmental stage. But it's almost as if he still needs a mentor.

Q: Who has more to prove Tuesday: Erik Spoelstra against Stan Van Gundy, or Stan Van Gundy against Pat Riley? -- Steven.

A: I can guarantee you that neither is looking at that game as anything more than staying afloat in the playoff race. Van Gundy's sole focus is trying to find a way to succeed in the void of Brandon Jennings' season-ending Achilles injury, while Spoelstra will measure the hours leading to that game by gauging whether Luol Deng can return. There is nothing personal when playoff-race desperation is involved.


February 1, 2015

Q: Hello, Ira. Every other pro sports team at one time in the process of extremely underperforming questions and puts pressure on the coach. Not just internally, but most importantly externally by the media, fans and analysts (i.e. David Blatt with Cavs, Jacque Vaughn with Magic, heck Stan Van Gundy with Heat back when Pat Riley took over). Sure the Heat have had injuries, but when a professional NBA team can't score regularly, it usually means that the team does not have a good offensive system or training. Defense is more a product on player effort and the Heat aren't doing bad at it. It's the offense that is really underachieving, and that's on the coach. When will Erik Spoelstra be questioned? It might force him to improve his strategies and improve the team's play. Pat called for him to evolve and it seems he has not done so enough. -- Javier, Doral.

A: I can appreciate the frustrations, and agree that there have been more than a few shaky moments from Spoelstra this season. But that also has been true from just about everyone on the roster and even Riley, with some of his personnel moves (and non moves). Here's the rub: This team went to four consecutive NBA Finals, and whether it was because of LeBron James or more than that, that earns you a bye. In fact, that's what I think this season has turned into, the Heat's "bye" season, where the effort is not always there from those who have returned, the sharpness has not always been there from those who have had to make the decisions, the passion not there when the reality is something less than championship visions. So instead of "media, fans and analysts" putting pressure on Spoelstra, I think the realities of this season have done that. The injuries have destroyed continuity. But I agree that this is about more than continuity. So I think you take whatever this season delivers and then you (or perhaps Micky Arison) make it clear that the Heat's new reality requires new approaches, new visions, new attitudes. I don't think those can come in the midst of such a morass. But I do think the Heat, and Spoelstra, can be held accountable for such re-expectations going forward. In other words, for all involved, as Spoelstra likes to say, "everything has to be on the table" after this season. Until then, the Heat's "bye" season will play out.

Q: Chris Bosh has to step up because he's not playing anywhere near a max player. And if he can't, maybe it's time to listen to offers. -- Xavier, Gainesville.

A: I will say this, if the Bosh-Dwyane Wade combination can't get it done (and the Heat have struggled at times even when the two are healthy and in the lineup), then I could see the Heat considering transactions where they could receive multiple players in exchange for Bosh, perhaps from a championship contender looking for one final piece. It's not as much about Bosh stepping forward as it is Bosh and Wade stepping forward as a tandem. That's what these next two seasons, at least, are about.

Q: Shabazz Napier is outmanned and outplayed by everybody. -- Juan.

A: At this point, it is getting difficult to commit meaningful minutes to Napier when the payoff has been so minimal. Even Spoelstra appears to have shortened the leash. The question is whether Napier can overcome his physical limitations, and lack of shooting ability, with his playmaking and savvy. Right now, he is nothing more than another body in a mess of a mix at point guard.

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