ASK IRA: Do injuries raise questions about the Heat?
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.


December 7, 2016

Q: Are the Heat tanking without making it obvious. These injuries seem quite odd. -- Danny.

Q  None of these injuries seem serious. Players have played through them before and now are missing multiple games. Has the tanking begun? -- Jeffrey.

Q: Miami tanking so early? What a disgrace. -- Jay.

(And others).

A: When it comes to injuries, you have to take them at face value, since there are medical professionals involved. And, face it, almost as important as any lottery pick is getting young contributors such as Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson out on the court, if nothing more than to consider their possibilities going forward. The Heat need to know as much as possible about both players. Beyond that, playing shorthanded only increases the stresses on another component of the future in Hassan Whiteside, and the last thing you want to do is give him reason to give in. Actually, if the Heat wanted to extend the absences, they could have traveled players such as Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt and then claim they did not have the opportunity to rehabilitate on the road, further delaying their comeback. Now, if veterans sit in February, March and April, when the standings preclude playoffs, that's when I think you can look at all of this with an askance glance, as was the case late in the 2007-08 season. For now, you just have to squint to count the number of available players, with Goran Dragic now dealing with a very real shoulder injury, and also vowing to play on.

Q: Wayne Ellington is taking advantage of these starter's minutes. He's hustling. -- Chuck.

A: And he's exactly what this Heat roster has lacked: a gunslinger. Even with his 3 of 9, he still was the only Heat player Tuesday with more than one 3-pointer. It used to be that Erik Spoelstra would be reluctant to utilize a player who largely was one-dimensional, which is why James Jones received such limited minutes. But amid this spate of injuries, Ellington has been able to display an energy that has made him a viable two-way contributor. Now, is it because he's so fresh after all that time off, or because of being in the best condition of his career? Ellington's play is going to make it very interesting when Dion Waiters is cleared to return, especially when considering the need to guarantee minutes to Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow. And I'm not sure the Heat can afford to remove Rodney McGruder from the equation, because of his defensive grit. Of course, to be debating the starting merits of Ellington vs. Waiters also offers an indication of where the Heat stand, with both better suited to instant-offense duty off the bench.

Q: Can't watch a team that is forced to give minutes to Derrick Williams. -- Wael.

A: There is a reason for all those stops along this path that led him to the Heat. Unbridled athleticism? Sure. But is there a way to rein that into something useful. I'm not sure if Erik Spoelstra had more available that Williams would have been out there Tuesday night. But options are limited. All these years into it, and we're still not sure what Williams is. Not sure the Heat know, either.

December 6, 2016

Q: Ira, why doesn't Miami feed Hassan Whiteside more down the stretch? Any time you have a Big Guy who's active like Whiteside was against Portland, you must reward him with the proper amount of touches to keep him engaged. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: Hassan was largely smothered at the end of that game, just as he was when Goran Dragic attempted to feed him during the Heat's final possession against the Jazz. But there have been plenty of times when Hassan has gotten an instant mismatch on pick-and-rolls and not gotten the ball. Those are the instances that deserve a second look. Part of that is the Heat playing at times with primary ballhandlers who are not instinctive point guards, such as Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson or even Dion Waiters. Part of that is Justise Winslow being out of action for so long. And part of it is it's not as if the Heat are playing pick-and-roll with Josh McRoberts, who often is the best playmaker on the court. In addition, Dragic is at his best when playing with an attacking approach, which often has him as the one attacking the rim. All of that said, there should be more of a mandate that if Hassan has a positional advantage in the lane, he gets the ball. Period.

Q: Do you foresee Pat Riley attempting to trade for Russell Westbrook or Anthony Davis should any show discontent with their team? I can easily see everyone on the Heat as a trade chip for any of these players. To me, these are the only two players to build a franchise around, with Davis being the number-one target. This might not make "Ask Ira" as it's so far-fetched now but if any of them show just one moment of discontent, I see Riley having them on speed dial. -- Williams.

A: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals (which rarely happens in this space), but gladly will confirm your hypothesis, that if distressed quality merchandise comes on the market, Riley will be front and center with a bid. That's what makes it so interesting about the Heat having the ability to get Chris Bosh's salary-cap hit off the books before the Feb. 23 trading deadline, with that window opening on Feb. 9. All of that said, and to all the speculation about Heat trades, keep in mind the limited enticing resources the Heat have the ability to put into play. It is why having players thrive in games such as these also can serve as showcasing those players.

Q: This is what happens when you have undersized players banging bigger and stronger players. I'm sick of small lineups. -- Leon.

A: I'm not sure how a swollen wrist for Justise Winslow is a measure of casting him at power forward at times, or a sprained ankle for Josh Richardson is a factor of his playing small forward. And Luke Babbitt actually was playing down in position, at small forward, when he sustained his hip flexor. No, injuries happen. What I would agree with is that when players have to play bigger minutes because of injuries to others, that's when they could become exposed to exacerbated ailments of their own, such as Dion Waiters pushing through what initially appeared to be a minor ailment. Same with Winslow.

December 5, 2016

Q: The Heat were much improved during the trip. And despite all Dion Waiters has done, his absence has helped the Heat. If he comes back, the Heat would have an excess of guards. -- Yusuf, Avenel, N.J.

A: It's too early to think about thinning out the perimeter rotation, with Erik Spoelstra still sorting through the possibilities. Plus, Dion will be out for at least another week and a half, and that's only when his injury will be reevaluated. But taking the long view, with Goran Dragic thriving in a ball-dominant role, it only makes sense for Dion to transition back to his anticipated role, as a reserve guard, where the touches will be more plentiful. Keeping Dragic in rhythm is much more important than getting Dion back into a comfort zone. But if you do play Waiters off the bench, minutes still will be an issue, with the need to also find time for Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, let alone Wayne Ellington. What the past week showed is that players play well in extended minutes, be it Ellington, Josh McRoberts or even Rodney McGruder. At some point, Spoelstra is going to have to tighten his rotation. And that leaves Waiters' role a question mark.

Q: The Heat look better with a shorter rotation. Could the injuries be a small blessing? Most of the season has felt like throwing any combo out there and hoping something works. -- Eric, New York.

A: Players generally play better when they can get into a rhythm. They also play better when allowed to develop an extended chemistry with a five-man unit. You see that almost annually when Josh McRoberts is ambulatory and active. But that doesn't mean that depth of talent also isn't a factor. Remember, the Heat have only played three back-to-back sets so far this season. Plenty of fatigue is still on the way. As it is, Tuesday's game against the Knicks opens the Heat's lone stretch of four games in five nights this season. Where the depth kicks in is when the injuries kick in. That, of course, also requires patience, which will be tested for some when the roster gets fully healthy.

Q: Rodney McGruder has grown so fast, that it seems he was the right choice.  I think the McGruder has shown the needed fire. -- Yu.

A: Looking back on the Heat's final cuts, it certainly appears that the forward-thinking approach with Rodney made the most sense both then and now, although I'm not sure the Heat ever envisioned this many starts so soon. In fact, had the Heat been healthy and stayed healthy, there certainly was the chance that McGruder might have found himself on assignment to the D-League. That said, there certainly were moments when Goran Dragic was injured that Beno Udrih could have helped. And there certainly remains plenty of intrigue with Briante Weber and his defensive disposition. That's why it is a shame that the salary-cap machinations mandate that Chris Bosh maintain residence in one of the NBA-maximum 15 roster spots. And then there is the issue of Udonis Haslem holding another one, in almost a coaching-type role.

December 4, 2016

Q: Josh McRoberts has got to do a lot more to make up for the past couple of years, but I'm so happy to see him out as starting power forward. Rightfully so. -- Wael.

A: And now is when it will get interesting when Justise Winslow gets back. With Wayne Ellington sparking the offense, it might have made sense to go with Winslow as the starting power forward. I'm wondering now whether this could leave Winslow in a sixth-man type of role, to enter at any position other than center (or perhaps even then, with McRoberts moving to center). This is all you can ask for, is having to make the hard choices for the right reasons. And these are the choices that Erik Spoelstra wanted to have to have, to consider all the possibilities with all of his players healthy. That, of course, still is a bit away, based on the schedule for Dion Waiters and perhaps others. But it could come down to, on game nights, deciding whether have Luke Babbitt or Derrick Williams inactive, if Udonis Haslem remains on the active list. McRoberts, with his season scoring highs has created the exact type of decisions the Heat had hoped he could create.

Q: Ira, could it be that this is what it has been all about, developing trade chips for Pat Riley to get his extra draft picks? -- Steve.

A: I don't believe that, in any way, was the intention when James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington were added. And, yet, it could be an ancillary possibility if the Heat fall out of playoff contention and any or all of those players are playing well. Dec. 15 is the first day any of those three can be traded, and it's simply too early to expect anything immediately. In fact, the Heat first have to get healthy, have enough ambulatory bodies to consider who to keep and who is expendable. That means getting Josh Richardson, Waiters and Justise Winslow back. Only at that point can Erik Spoelstra determine where his minutes will go. As it is, if the goal truly is playoffs, or at least a playoff push, then, at this point, it would appear that James Johnson, Ellington and Waiters are all necessary components moving forward. At least for now.

Q: Why does it feel like that this Miami heat team is one moment or one play from coming together and being a very good team? Ira, I say we keep James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Dion Waiters. -- Will.

A: And then there is that view. But against all of this you have to weigh the future, and the ultimate goal, which is to rebuild the roster into something that can eventually truly contend. Considering how the Heat allowed Luol Deng and Joe Johnson to so swiftly depart as free agents last summer, and how there was reluctance to extend Dwyane Wade's money going forward, I highly doubt there will be any type of commitments to any players on this roster at the start of free agency. Now, if anyone is willing to wait, that's another story. But, for now, don't expect the Heat to commit anything to next summer beyond what is contractually committed.

December 3, 2016

Q: With many on the current roster being on one- or two-year contracts, or with options, the take by some of the pundits, including yourself, is that they are simply rental players. I disagree. While the team may have a boatload of cash this summer to spend on free agency, they may have trouble actually (wisely) spending it. And right now, they don't have many chips to play regarding trading their way into contention. So, openings are there, if a player really shows he can be a rotation player next year. Obviously, not many in this crew have done that, but two players have the potential to stick; James Johnson and Dion Waiters. And regardless of what they do this season, I don't believe that either will command large contracts in the open market. Johnson is a hustle player who can run the court and play defense, and has shown a little more offense than his career numbers suggest, and may be ideal as a backup in the power rotation. Dion may fit the bill as a sixth man, though the Heat would have to weigh how top heavy they would be at in the backcourt. But, I believe there is opportunity. -- Matt.

A: And you are probably right -- if there is enough money there to sate. I'm just not sure, after what he left on the table, by not picking up his Thunder qualifying offer, and by what he couldn't get on the open market, that Waiters would be willing to offer a significant compromise. Plus, if the future for the Heat belongs to Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, then it would seem the only way there would be a place for Waiters is if there isn't one for Goran Dragic. As for James Johnson, I agree that it could benefit the Heat to continue to sell the benefits of remaining in South Florida. No matter how the roster is reconfigured, his energy would appear a fit with any rebuild. Of the rentals, he could be the one who most entices with a follow-up offer, although we also only now are seeing the possibilities of Wayne Ellington. I guess the best way to put it would be this: If this group proves it can win, then everything and anything could be possible going forward with those who initially only appeared to be passing through.

Q: If a lot of the current Heat players are playing for the next contract, and considering what happened with Dwayne Wade (the closest thing  the Heat have to a Derek Jeter or Kobe Bryant) in Miami, wouldn't there be a tendency in the back of players' minds this season to go it alone. -- Stuart.

A: And that is the counter to the above, and something it is incumbent on Erik Spoelstra and his staff to monitor. I haven't seen that yet, but an air of resignation has yet to form in the Heat locker room, with these victories in Denver and Utah certainly putting some of such concerns aside. The one thing I will say about the Heat is that they tend to do a quality job of screening such concerns out of the process before adding players. Then again, if a player starts looking for his own and gets it, I almost think that would be embraced by this sometimes-struggling offense.

Q: Hi, Ira, long-time fan. Every time I see James Johnson on the court, he seems be able to pull off some high-level moves with excellent footwork. He can handle the ball, shoot and play defense. Why do you think he's always been a bench player?

 -- Eric, Mississauga, Ontario.

A: Because for all those impressive moments, there remain some that, at times, make you shake your head. That's why I believe he sets up so well as a reserve. If you see he is on his game when he enters, then you reconfigure that game's rotation to maximize his possibilities. And if you see it is one of those games where he is reaching for too much, then you can always rejoin your rotation already in progress.

December 2, 2016

Q: Well it might be time to leave Josh Richardson on the bench. Wayne Ellington deserves a starting role. -- Will.

A: I'm not sure the Heat know their starting lineup at the moment, amid all these injuries. Much of the thought with the starting lineup is to create a cohesive rotation that covers all the bases off the bench, as well. And the Heat bench was very good Thursday night against the Jazz. Remember, Ellington has been back for less than a week. Starter's minutes might not be the best idea at the moment, with Thursday's 33 on the second night of a back-to-back at bit of a stretch. Only when the Heat have Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Dion Waiters healthy can they make an informed decision about the starting roles on the wing. And once all those players come back, it is possible that Winslow at power forward again is revisited. Factoring in minutes for Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson, Winslow figures to play plenty at the four, anyway.

Q: James Johnson is better at doing what Josh McRoberts is supposed to do than McRoberts is at doing what he's supposed to do -- Ivan.

A: No, McRoberts does what he does with a calculated and under-control approach. Johnson is more likely to crate wild energy swings. What McRoberts did Thursday night was offer enough offense to complement the other aspects of his game. What Johnson did Thursday night was  harness his energy for good, not evil. There are not many times I would have figured Johnson as a facilitator, but he was Thursday night.

Q: Isn't it the home team that handles the clock? -- Roger.

A: Yes it is, which is what made Thursday's controversy all the more perplexing. The issue is that the math did not align between the shot clock and the game clock when it came to a possible Heat 24-second violation on that finally ill-fated pass from Goran Dragic to Hassan Whiteside. Based on the shot clock, the violation should have come with 4.9 seconds to play. But based on the game clock, with 3.9 (since 10th of seconds don't show on the shot clock initially). The bottom line is both teams set out for a final sequence knowing that 3.9 seconds would be in play. The Heat defended successfully during those 3.9 seconds, if, perhaps not for 4.9. Confusing? Sure. But not nearly enough to overturn a result.

December 1, 2016

Q: Are these guys really injured, Ira, or is Miami tanking now? It seems kind of strange how all of these players are hurt now. -- Will.

A: One of the approaches of targeting the lottery is the slow-playing of injuries, something we certainly saw with the Heat in 2007-08, when the absences grew extended. And it certainly could be an approach this season if the playoffs become mathematically unlikely. However, I just don't see it at this stage of the season. It's way too early to know what your team can or can't be. And these are injuries that are being signed off by the medical staff, such as Wednesday's two-week announcement with Dion Waiters. There is no way that Waiters, who is playing for the 2017 free-agent contract that he expected this past offseason, would agree to sit out one more game than absolutely necessary. As for Justise Winslow, this is a case of protecting an asset for the future, one you predictably plan to build around. Ditto with Josh Richardson, whose possibilities the Heat want nothing more than to explore. It was one thing when the Heat sat out Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem in a season going nowhere, with both knowing they would be part of something better down the road. But I just don't see many, if any, on this roster who would acquiesce, certainly at this stage, to sitting out even a game beyond necessary. And look around the rest of the league: hurt happens. As the Heat is learning with Richardson.

Q: The basketball gods want the Heat to have a top-five draft pick. -- C.J.

A: But what say Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside? And that's the thing, if those two play at their pay grade and to the levels they expect of themselves, then this team has the ability to play itself out of that neighborhood. Wednesday's victory in Denver was the perfect example. Those two being closer to the top of their games made it possible for others to have meaningful moments. So for all those who maintain the Heat are or should tank, here's my retort: How do you get Whiteside and Dragic to pull back when active and in the lineup? If Hassan Whiteside wants to be an All-Star, that means he also should want to win. And Goran Dragic has put up with enough losing and wants to win. So if you truly want to start scouting the top of the lottery, you may have to talk to Hassan and Goran, first. Because their plans just might get in your way.

Q: We are only one player away. We need a superstar as soon as possible. -- Dale.

A: That tends to be the case of just about every team that doesn't have LeBron James or isn't the Warriors. And it's not as if middling teams add superstars in free agency. The stars that do move, as LeBron and Kevin Durant have shown, gravitate toward teams that are on the cusp of a championship. The best bet, at this point, likely is mining in the draft what the Heat minded 14 years ago with Dwyane Wade. And even in that case, you don't know it until you know it. There is no "soon as possible" when it comes to a rebuild, only the need for ongoing patience. Until then, you find yourselves playing to win the winnable games, as the Heat did, and did, Wednesday night in Denver.

November 30, 2016

Q: Obviously, the Heat's record isn't what it could be in a tough league this year with so many close games, but you could see them being able to go on a run if they just had something better out of the four-spot, and could stay healthy? This team needs to use their athleticism. -- Zach, Miami Beach.

A: I agree. On one hand, I appreciate why Erik Spoelstra doesn't want to start James Johnson, in order to have him available to inject vitality into the second unit, a role Johnson has largely excelled at. But when Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson return, the Heat will have ample alternate options off the bench for that purpose. Based on how Derrick Williams has provided little of tangible gain and how Luke Babbitt has been similarly marginal, I could see the return of Winslow allowing for James Johnson to start at power forward, and then moving Winslow to that spot when James Johnson goes out. Eventually, there will be something closer to a set rotation for the Heat when there eventual is health. But when you line up those who most deserve to play, with a healthy roster I'm not sure Williams or Babbitt make that cut. Instead, it would appear to be a first eight (in no particular order) of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Rodney McGruder. And that's not even getting to Willie Reed or Josh McRoberts.

Q: Rodney McGruder is now in a quite good state. I'm so surprised that he played that well. Will the Heat view him as another hidden gem just like Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson? -- Connor.

A: It could be trending in that direction. Not only does Rodney have NBA-level skills, but he also is confident and willing to grow in the team's development program. It will be interesting to see where the rotation leaves him when Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson return. If the placement in the standings doesn't improve, an eye toward the future could possibly see him gain some of Waiters' minutes.

Q: Too bad the Heat couldn't play the entire game against the Celtics like the second half. We would have a much better record. -- M.R.

A: Much of that, of course, is the case of a team building a large lead and then putting it on cruise control, as Boston did on Monday night and the Heat had in previous seasons when their roster was loaded. And, still, the Heat defense in that second half still raised plenty of concern. But you take what you can get, and the takeaway from that game is that there remains hope for the Goran Dragic-Hassan Whiteside combination. It's interesting, that actually was a game you could argue that the Heat missed Dion Waiters. Because if Waiters could have scored enough early to keep the Heat close, then there might have been the opportunity to make more out of that comeback.

November 29, 2016

Q: There is no amount of development that can make this team a playoff contender. Trade Goran Dragic and get a good wing player -- Will.

A: Well, Goran certainly did a quality job of showcasing himself (not that that was the intention) with his performance Monday night, even if it was in a loss. There is no way you can skim past a box score that reads 27 points, 17 assists and just one turnover, while shooting 11 of 12 from the line. Which also is why you back off and see how both Goran and the rest of the league play out by the trading deadline. A few more of these and the Heat could recoup at least one of those first-round picks spent on Goran, and possibly more. So you do what you do Monday; you allow Goran to be Goran and hope that even if the losses add up, so does the value of Dragic. While a trade is by no mean any sort of guaranteed end game here, there also is nothing wrong being able to point at efforts such as Monday's. That made Monday somewhat of a win-win for Goran and the Heat (unless, of course, you chose to instead count the win column).

Q: Udonis Haslem has grit. Why not let him start or play more?  It just might become contagious if he gets on the court. He understands the mental toughness needed to compete at the professional level. Erik Spoelstra has nothing to lose.  -- Stuart.

A: That, of course, is the counter of the above, that if you're going to feature young players, then let the kids play. But the Heat certainly could use the defensive tenacity that Haslem can provide, especially with some of these recent performances. And yet here is something else to consider: When the Heat roster gets fully healthy, who is the player other than Chris Bosh to be listed nightly as inactive? Could that player be Haslem?

Q: Is it time to start James Johnson and have Luke Babbitt come off the bench? Derrick Williams has not shown much. He has had his chances. -- Chris, Orlando.

A: I believe it is an ongoing case of Erik Spoelstra hoping to get whole so he can assess his roster in its entirety. And there are, and will be, many factors in play. If Wayne Ellington can get going with his shooting, it will add that element on the perimeter, possibly lessening the reliance on Babbitt. As for James Johnson, I believe his energy off the bench, especially when playing alongside Tyler Johnson, is one of the few elements that has clicked, and therefore one that Erik Spoelstra might be reluctant to tinker with. But first Justise Winslow has to return, since he is capable of starting at three positions.

November 28, 2016

Q: The Heat have obviously been having a great deal of trouble in getting Hassan Whiteside in scoring position. One of the reasons is Hassan Whiteside's inability to position himself low enough in the post, and the other is a lack of the wings driving to the basket, drawing the defender, and dumping the ball to Hassan for easy buckets, as we've seen in the past. There has been precious little of this since Goran Dragic went down. Josh Richardson, somebody who proved last season that he could go hard to rim, has probably been limited by his knee injury this year. Tyler Johnson's strength is not in taking the ball off the dribble and attacking the rim, and the one player, Dion Waiters, who consistently does take it to the rack defers to nobody in those situations. -- Matt.

A: Pat Riley has spoken of Whiteside eventually emerging as a go-to scorer, but not likely just yet. I believe that was an acknowledgement to perhaps not being able yet to set the table for that. For as much as you make a rational argument for Hassan having to do more to establish scoring position in the post, it's a lot harder when teams are zoning (as the Grizzlies did Friday) or are sagging off perimeter wings (as has been the case with Justise Winslow's defender). And you also have a point when it comes to the Heat's playmaking abilities or lack thereof. By now it has become apparent that when Waiters is on the court with Richardson or Johnson the Waiters becomes the primary facilitator, and he facilitates with an eye on the rim. There, in fact, have been at least two occasions this season when Waiters essentially passed to Whiteside off the backboard and left me confused about whether it was a pass or a shot. All of that said, if greatness finds a way, then Hassan has to find himself to the ball.

Q: Hi, Ira. I'm enjoying the season. We are losing, but guys are competing and we have multiple guys with long-term potential in Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, and Josh Richardson. I've read multiple responses in which you say it is still too early to call it a season and just go all in on development. My question to you: At what point would you feel that you finally call it a season and start thinking development and draft positioning? -- Rene, Westchester.

A: I don't think you ever call it a season, because it's not something you ever need to do. A season basically calls itself as a result of where you stand in the standings as the schedule winds down. What you do is decide, at that point, is how you can maximize the remaining games for the players you know will be with you going forward. It's sort of like NCAA football teams taking bids to crappy bowls just to get the extra practices in to advance the program for the following season.

Q: You put it well when you wrote you did not want these young guys to get comfortable with losing. Isn't that Udonis Haslem's job now? If not, shouldn't the Heat bring in a veteran superstar next season to help push the young guys and the likely first-round pick? -- Gabriel, Denver.

A: And that's what Haslem is doing. It's just that he's not on the court that much. But when it comes to adding a free agent next season, it won't be with an eye toward spiritual leadership, it will be as a player who can seize the opportunity to make it his team. If such a player is out there and amenable to Heat overtures.

November 27, 2016

Q: The Heat rely too heavily on Dion Waiters. I'm afraid that he will hinder the young guys. After all, I tend to believe Waiters is just a passer-by in Heat history, while Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson are the future. -- Majerly.

A: And yet an argument could be made that games such as Saturday's are why Waiters is here and why he makes sense. What Dion did Saturday was keep the Heat close enough so there could be a moment of truth, a moment when prospects such as Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson were able to experience what it’s like to be part of such a moment, make such decisions in real time. Did it work out as desired? No, but it Dion Waiters doesn't score 11 points in the fourth quarter then Josh Richardson doesn't get to experience pulling the trigger for a tie at the buzzer. As long as Dion is willing to defer, as he was Saturday, then I don't see him as a detriment. What I see him as is someone who could at least make the games interesting. And at this point, that's a reasonable place to start.

Q: Ira, so Wayne Ellington is recovering from a injury thigh? Play by December or January? -- Parker.

A: I can appreciate the frustration, considering Ellington's 3-point shooting is desperately needed. But being around the team, I can assure you that Wayne has been working relentlessly and taking treatment around the clock. He understand how much he could help, especially with Erik Spoelstra so willing to go with three-guard alignments. But having seen him limping for weeks after that knee to the thigh in the final exhibition, I can assure you that the injury was real and severe, even if it doesn't sound as such. Wayne is trying to reestablish himself in the NBA. He knows that the best way to do that is to actually get on the court. Based on his pregame workouts, I would tend to believe that his return could be imminent.

Q:  If Miami does not make the playoffs then so be it. If they don't get the top pick in the draft then so be it. If they are a first-round exit then so be it. Erik Spoelstra is trying to develop continuity and that doesn't happen 16 games into the season. -- John, Providence, R.I.

A: No, it does not. But the thing is it appeared that the continuity already was in place during the preseason, when this team was playing far more like a team. I certainly can appreciate the long view with this team, since that what this season has to be about. But you also don't want players to get used to losing, to accept defeat.

November 26, 2016

Q: This is an enjoyable group to watch -- not good, but still enjoyable. The future is bright with Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside. However, just worth noting, this season's draft class is stacked and adding another young player like Lonzo Ball, Harry Giles Josh Jackson would be a game-changer. -- Chris, Chicago.

A: Which is why I believe this season also has to be about deciding whether Richardson, Winslow or even Tyler Johnson are A-level wings or perhaps complementary players going forward. And that's important, because no matter where the Heat wind up standing with Whiteside, this is a league where you have to have dynamic wings. Is that who Winslow, Richardson or Johnson are? Or could the Heat have to reload with multiple perimeter options? Yes, no one likes losing, but this at least is a time you can make judgments on Winslow, Richardson and Johnson without critical consequences. And you have to have time for such judgments, because in order for it to become winning time again, you have to learn whether they can be leading men. To his credit, Johnson stepped up Friday in the victory. Now the question becomes whether he can sustain. Similarly, Richardson provided a needed boost at the start of the second half Friday. Is that what his role could be going forward, as more of a spark than offensive staple? As for Winslow, we still need to see more. A lot more.

Q: Any on-court contribution by Udonis Haslem should be respected. He's a real leader, especially for our ex-D-Leaguers, as an undrafted player since 2003. -- Brian.

A: Which is why Friday's contribution meant so much in the locker room, that when given the rare opportunity, Haslem was able to contribute. Look, in today's NBA, you have to be able to score from every position. Right now, that is not a Haslem strong suit. So instead, it's about moments such as Friday. Had Willie Reed been available, it is possible Haslem might not have even seen action Friday. But he wasn't and Udonis stepped in and stepped up. It is a valuable lesson for any teammate, not only those who started where Haslem did at one point.

Q: Knowing each matchup is different, why does it seem so hard to get Hassan Whiteside touches? Feed the big man right from the start -- Scott.

A: And they try. And then the opposition packs the paint and it comes down to the Heat's 3-point shooting. The best way to get the ball to Whiteside is to play at speed, before the defense, including the Grizzlies' zone on Friday, can get set. And one of the best ways for that to happen is for Whiteside to run the floor, and run hard, and make himself available before a second or third defender can arrive. But that also means having playmakers who can make the immediate entry pass. I'm not sure the Heat had those types of players available Friday.

November 25, 2016

Q: Once Willie Reed gets healthy, would it make sense for the Heat to match up by sometimes playing two big men at once, maybe Hassan Whiteside and Josh McRoberts, with Willie Reed (and, if needed, Udonis Haslem) in the second unit? Although somehow it doesn't seem to be Erik Spoelstra's style. -- Michael, Coral Gables.

A: I don't believe this roster was constructed with that in mind. And by essentially reducing Josh McRoberts to (at best) a role as the backup center, I believe the Heat are convinced that McRoberts no longer can defend today's agile power forwards. I actually see Reed as the perfect fill-in for Whiteside, with his shot-blocking instincts and post presence. He certainly could have helped Monday against the 76ers' tag team of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, or even Wednesday against Andre Drummond when Whiteside couldn't get going. I'm not sure another post player on the court at the same time would be best either for Hassan's own post-up game or for the penetration possibilities of Goran Dragic. But, all of that said, if Spoelstra decides to slow it down amid the Heat's offensive inefficiencies, having more size could prove beneficial. I think, though, he first attempts to explore the possibilities of Wayne Ellington, once Ellington is able to make it back from his preseason thigh contusion.

Q: Pat Riley said he wanted another pick if possible. But the question is: Do we have any valuable chips to get one? And if we really get a first-class rookie, will the growth of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson be hindered by this new guy? -- Flash, China.

A: I, too, was surprised that Pat Riley spoke in his interview of adding an additional first-round pick, considering the lack of chips the Heat could put into play . . . other than Goran Dragic. While I don't think anyone on the current roster would be "hindered" by adding another first-round pick, I just don't see how the math would work unless someone like Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson is dealt, and I'm not sure such a move makes the Heat better. I think one first-rounder (possibly a lottery pick) would be the perfect place to start when it comes to augmenting what already is in place.

Q: So what's the deal with retiring Shaquille O'Neal's jersey now? Is Pat Riley taking a shot at Phil Jackson? Or maybe LeBron James? Riley said that Shaq was the greatest acquisition in Heat history.  Or maybe Riley is trying to show that time heals all wounds? -- David.

A: Your last point is you most cogent, just as Riley eventually will show the same when Dwyane Wade's No. 3 goes up, LeBron James' No. 6 and Chris Bosh's No. 1. This is who Pat Riley is, someone who thinks big and creates big moments, just as he did with the ceremonies for the Michael Jordan and Dan Marino jerseys. The Shaq plans have been in the works for a while, with it now coming at a time when attendance can use a boost when it comes to actual bodies in the building. And by doing it with the Lakers in town, it allows Shaq's contemporaries Brian Shaw and Luke Walton to be in attendance. I'm not sure halftime, though, would be the way I would have gone with the ceremony, considering what the temperature might be in the stands with the way the Lakers are playing and the Heat aren't. 


November 24, 2016

Q: The sad part is that if some teams are scoring so easy on us and scoring so much, that means our defense isn't even doing well. -- M.P.

A: I'm sure part of that is the offensive frustrations carrying over to the other end, which is not unusual, and you sort of saw that Wednesday night with Hassan Whiteside. I did find it interesting, after the Heat had so much trouble scoring in Philadelphia, that Erik Spoelstra basically said that's why you have to hold opponents below 40 percent from the field on those nights. While that math might work, it doesn't detract from the frustration on the offensive end. You have to score in this league. You have to find a way. And that means you have to have scorers. I'm not sure you can point to the absence of Justise Winslow and Willie Reed as a reason for these scoring struggles. And it's not as if the Heat have had Wayne Ellington yet during the regular season. All the running and attacking is fine, but it hasn't led the Heat to a good place yet in the scoring column. Perhaps it's time to get back to definitive sets that get Whiteside open in the post. That, in turn, could activate him on the defensive end, which certainly wasn't the case Wednesday.

Q:  You see how we are all just standing around the perimeter, no one cutting. Just shooting and watching. This is not Heat ball. -- Derrick.

A: It's barely NBA offense. I agree. But NBA offense is mostly about NBA scorers. Right now the Heat are trying to develop Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson into that (and eventually Justise Winslow). But right now, unless Goran Dragic is at the top of his game, the Heat simply do not have enough on the wing to compete in the scoring column. And you can see at times that Dragic is looking for players in places they're supposed to be only they're not there. You can only ride the ups and downs of Dion Waiters for so long before reality -- the current reality -- sets in.

Q: Hassan Whiteside's body language was not good. He quit on plays, yelled at others because he didn't get the ball. -- Manny.

A: I didn't see any yelling Wednesday. But that's a big part of this, as well, to learn to play through adversity, because even when the winning resumes, there will be nights when it's not working. Look, if the Heat do trade Goran Dragic as part of a restructuring, it will make it even more significant that Hassan take on and show the responsibilities of being a leader. You can't babysit or even have to do that with a leading man. As I've said, everyone in the NBA has off nights and bad games. But you have to limit them, make sure you show up at least 70 nights as a leader and contributor. So there at least is still time for that.

November 23, 2016

Q: In a microcosm, Monday's loss to the 76ers if what this season is about. Hassan Whiteside goes off with a career high with 32 points but can't stop the opposing centers who offer up size and agility. It's one thing for him to go off on blocks and rebounds when the other team doesn't offer a big that can play well, but another when they have quality. So the question now is: If we can't beat the 76ers straight up, then what hope is there for us when go up against other young hungry teams with bigs?  Who will step up and lead besides Whiteside? And why the heck is Josh McRoberts on the floor when he either plays "hot potato" with the ball (someone should time how long he actually holds the ball per possession) or worse than that, jacks up an airball trey. I hope Micky Arison and company will be kind when it comes to season-ticket renewals. I, like many others, will be looking for discounts to re-up on this group or the next iteration. -- Angel.

A: Monday was humbling on so many levels, but I'm not sure that Hassan's play would be anywhere near the top of my list. I would start off with the fact that, as Erik Spoelstra said, there were plenty of open looks. Could it be that this group simply can't consistently make such shots? As for McRoberts, you can see that Erik Spoelstra, the organization and even Josh is so trying to make this work. I think what you are seeing at the moment is atrophy after so much time off. What we won't know for a while is whether Monday is as bad as it gets, or the norm for these next months going forward.

Q: Am I the only one happy to see the Heat lose this season, especially at the expense of one of the teams going for the lottery in the 76ers? I hope the Heat lose as many games as possible to get the top pick. Have you seen the debuts of the projected lottery picks (or at least their highlights)? Lots of future stars in this year's draft. I'm excited. -- Francis, Philippines.

A: I simply will never understand this type of thinking during the first month of a season, unless you believe that Heat already have fully explored all the possibilities of their roster. There will be plenty of time to sort out draft vs. playoffs in the months to come. For now, isn't it more important to see where players such as Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and perhaps even Rodney McGruder can take the Heat?

Q: Ira, Goran Dragic is a talented NBA player and is the best guard on the Heat roster.  However, he does not seem to have the instinct or game for a top-line point guard and has no chemistry with Hassan Whiteside, rarely looking to get the ball to Whiteside. He would be a great sixth man on a title contender team. The Heat are in a tough position with him, since I don't believe he is the answer, but he provides scoring on a team that is so offensively challenged. -- Joel.

A: My standard answer to questions such as these is this: If not the player in question, then who? In other words, before you wish away Dragic, what are the alternatives? And, yes, it could be one of the promising point guards in the 2017 NBA draft, but that would likely require bringing in a veteran, anyway, to bridge the development period, while, all the while, the clock ticks off on another year on Hassan Whiteside's massive contract. I actually thought Goran did a nice job finding Hassan in Monday's loss in Philadelphia, although that clearly is a limited sample size. In today's NBA economy, Dragic's contract hardly is overwhelming. And if you move him for scoring on the wing, then what do you have left at point guard? You could, in fact, make an argument that the true overspending came with the notion that Tyler Johnson could one day take over as a starting point guard. Goran Dragic is far closer to what the Heat need at point guard than the level that Tyler Johnson may ever reach at the position (considering Tyler is far more of a shooting guard from a stylistic approach).

November 22, 2016

Q: These guys do not have much of an upside and Hassan Whiteside needs help. I expect trade rumors after this game to get bigger. -- Will.

A: Trade what? You certainly can't/shouldn't trade any future draft picks. That is the lifeline to extended hope. And it's not as if you're in position to trade any of your young players, since, they, too, at least represent better possibilities. As for the Heat's rental players who will become available on Dec. 15, it's not as if you're creating a market for Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams or even James Johnson with this start in the standings, and Wayne Ellington still has yet to play (and boy could they have used him on Monday night with that atrocious 3-point shooting). Beyond that, where exactly is the trade market for Josh McRoberts or Luke Babbitt? And, remember, Tyler Johnson essentially has a no-trade clause, untradeable until Jan. 15 and then able to veto any trade for the balance of the season. So what you're really talking about is Goran Dragic, and it simply is way too early to put that chip into play. So, um, this is it. For now.

Q: Once Willie Reed gets healthy, would it make sense for the Heat to match up by sometimes playing two big men at once, maybe Hassan Whiteside and Josh McRoberts, with Willie Reed (and, if needed, Udonis Haslem) in the second unit? Although somehow it doesn't seem to be Erik Spoelstra's style. -- Michael, Coral Gables.

A: I don't believe this roster was constructed with that in mind. And by essentially reducing Josh McRoberts to (at best) a role as the backup center, I believe the Heat are convinced that McRoberts no longer can defend today's agile power forwards. I actually see Reed as the perfect fill-in for Whiteside, with his shot-blocking instincts and post presence. He certainly would have and could have helped Monday against the 76ers' tag team of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. I'm not sure another post player on the court at the same time would be best either for Hassan's own post-up game or for the penetration possibilities of Goran Dragic.

Q: Do you think Goran Dragic has been rusty the last couple of games because he's still recovering from his injury? Or is it just a rough patch? (A rough patch that this team can't afford to have.)  -- Max.

A: You sort of have to hope it is the recovery from the ankle, because Goran has to be better, has to make shots, has to be crisper and cleaner with the ball. And as much as anything, he has to take charge, get this team into the proper positions on offense, into the proper sets, hold teammates accountable. He is at that pay grade and with that amount of experience. I do not believe there is anything wrong in asking more from Goran than what we've seen this season. I suspect even Goran expects more from himself.

November 21, 2016

Q: Ira, obviously, the 2016-17 Miami Heat lack a pass-first type point guard like Rondo or Chris Paul to facilitate this offense. Yes, they've been prone to committing a handful of turnovers so far in this young season, but too many times have I seen Hassan Whiteside zipping through the lane, uncovered, and not being dumped the ball for an easy layup or slam. While guys like Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson have to feed the big man in little to no traffic, it is also important for Whiteside to contain his emotions on the floor. When not given the ball, I've noticed Hassan jumps up and down in frustration in the middle of a play. How can this offense improve as far as ball movement, exploiting mismatches, and ultimately keeping the big man composed? -- Joe, East Haven, Conn.

A: By constantly feeding the beast when they can. And with more touches, Hassan also could prove more willing to send the ball back out. This still is a very early stage in the Heat's redefinition with the departure of Dwyane Wade and the loss of Chris Bosh. And I recall the Heat going through similar early contretemps with Alonzo Mourning, and even Shaquille O'Neal. If Whiteside is willing to post and re-post then the Heat have to be willing to pass and re-pass. But those split-second moments of a center coming open on flashes through the lane are also when innate, NBA-level passing skills come into play. That's where the Heat halfcourt offense has to get to the next level.

Q: I don't think we're a playoff team, so I'm already looking at this summer's draft. I see a lot of good forwards in the lottery, like Jason Tatum and Josh Jackson. If we could get one of them do you see the possibility of moving Justise Winslow to two-guard? Maybe a better scorer at small forward would benefit the team. -- Brock, Toledo, Ohio.

A: As I've mentioned before, the wing positions in the NBA, be it small forward or shooting guard, are scoring positions, sort of like how your first baseman has to hit for power. So I don't think a shift in semantics (small forward to shooting guard) with Justise is the answer, plus you also have Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson capable of playing shooting guard. However, should the Heat eventually move on from Goran Dragic, the possibilities of Justise at point guard could be intriguing, since he already is being asked to defend premier point guards at times. Of course, no matter the role, if opponents elect not to cover Justise (say as some teams do again Rajon Rondo), it still could leave the Heat playing four-on-five offensively.

Q: It's time Pat Riley pulls an Adam Gase: "Josh McRoberts, if I can't count on you, I am waiving you if I can't trade you." Just as Gase did with Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner. At least the roster spot can go to an experiment that just might pan out. -- Chris, Orlando.

A: Which would all be well and good if the NBA was not a salary-cap league with guaranteed contracts. Remember, McRoberts holds a $6 million player option for 2017-18, so if the Heat waive McRoberts, not only is there this season's salary-cap hit, but also one for next season. Now, if you're talking about not having an available roster spot, I believe the NBA has to come up with something similar to the NFL's Physically Unable to Perform list, for players in Chris Bosh's situation.

November 20, 2016

Q: Are the Heat better without Justise Winslow? The offense struggles when they are playing four against five. It's hard for them to space the floor when Winslow is on the floor. Unfortunately I have not seen any improvement in his shooting from last season.  The Heat will have a tough decision when it's time to extend his contract. -- Joel.

Q: The Heat seems to be comfortable on offense with no Justise Winslow on the floor. How does he fit in a return? -- Kenny.

Q: With Justise Winslow not on the floor, the Heat are a much better team without him. -- Mal.

A: I didn't think it would get this cold there at least until the Heat hit Detroit. It's as if everyone has forgotten about the Heat's success over the second half of last season, with Justise playing a major role as a rookie. Yes, opponents have gone to school on him. But now the Heat coaching staff has to go to school on opponents, when it comes to finding a place for Justise. At minimum, I still believe they could get way with Justise in the type of role Derrick Williams currently is playing. You don't give up on a player three weeks into a season. You don't get up on a player at 20 years old. And you don't give up on a player who pushed through injury for two weeks. To me, this is not a Winslow issue, it is a coaching issue. Find a way to make it work. Right now, that is the only option.

Q: McRoberts? -- Steve.

A: So now we're getting questions phrased as Jeopardy! answers. OK, I'm well aware of where you are coming from, especially when Erik Spoelstra did not turn to Josh McRoberts after Willie Reed went down with the hyper-extended knee against the Wizards that could have Reed out for a bit. Instead, Spoelstra rushed Hassan Whiteside back in and then played through James Johnson and Luke Babbitt in the power rotation. Part of the problem is that the very uniqueness in McRoberts' game that Spoelstra seemingly covets also makes him a unique experience on the court. And if the inclination continues to be not looking to score, then it makes sense to look elsewhere. It's almost as if McRoberts has become like a pitcher who can't throw to first, or a catcher who can't throw back to the pitcher. Until he willfully seeks to put ball in basket, he diminishes his value and ability to contribute.

Q: Rodney McGruder looks great. Man, this kid can ball. Now the Heat need to lock him up this summer. What say you? -- Richie, Miami Lakes.

A: I say that they already have, with a clever contract that has him under a minimal salary not only for this season but also for the following two seasons, as well, with partial guarantees to lock in along the way. Plus, once his current deal expires the Heat then will hold his Bird Rights. It's one of the clever ways, when the Heat are the first to unearth such a prospect, they lock him in early. It's unfortunate it could not have worked out quite the same way with Hassan Whiteside, who was signed in the midst of a season, when the Heat were not operating with salary-cap space.

November 19, 2016

Q: The Heat are fun to watch, even with this record, because no matter how big their slumber gets during a game, their Red Bull comeback is just as big. Maybe playing rotations with four starters and a tryout candidate could be the reason for the lack of cohesiveness. I know you pushed James Johnson in the postgame presser Thursday, and Erik Spoelstra does admit to the slow start (Derrick Williams possibly?). Obviously you want a strong second unit. Does that keep James Johnson behind? Surely there is no question between Derrick Williams and James Johnson. And you have to be curious, what would James Johnson's and Justise Winslow's numbers be if they switched units, from starter to second unit? -- Rich.

A: I just think the Heat have grown so comfortable with James Johnson playing with Tyler Johnson on the second unit that they don't want to impact that chemistry. I'm still not sure I wouldn't bring Justise Winslow, when he again is available, back as the starting power forward, to keep Josh Richardson's shooting in the first unit. The bottom line is neither Luke Babbitt nor Derrick Williams have merited a starting job based on their play, and at this point, I'm not sold either merit rotation minutes, either. So if you start Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic, then you can come off the bench with Willie Reed and the two Johnsons as your top eight, with Wayne Ellington to possibly get his chance.

Q: Mr. Ira, I said it before: The difference in the Heat, to win games, is not Hassan Whiteside or Goran Dragic or Justise Winslow. It is Josh Richardson. Look, since he returned, the Heat have lost two close games by four and three points, and then Thursday night, when as he was feeling more and more comfortable, they swept past the Bucks. -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: I don't think I would go nearly that far, because if Josh Richardson is your best player, then you're not in a good place. But I do believe he is a rotation player deserving of significant minutes. The problem with Josh's versatility is finding a position where he best helps the Heat. And while I offered a scenario above of playing him at small forward, let's not kid ourselves about the risks against bigger small forwards such as LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. It is why I have viewed Dion Waiters as somewhat being in the way of Josh's development, which I believe has to come at shooting guard. But, for now, minutes are more important than positional designation.

Q: Do you think if Hassan Whiteside keeps up those numbers (points and rebounds) he will definitely be an All-Star this season? -- Stephen, Hollywood.

A: You forgot to add blocked shots, which might weigh even more significantly. In a previous era, I would have said he was a slam dunk. But then the NBA, not anticipating the current renaissance at center, decided to reduce the All-Star balloting to three frontcourt players in each conference, which, in the East, leaves it pretty good annual chance of being LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. And I believe you would have difficulty making a case for Hassan over any of those three. So then it comes down to the coaches' ballots for the seven East reserves, with won-loss record likely to figure heavily into those deliberations.

November 18, 2016

Q: Hassan Whiteside postgame even sounded a little bit like a team leader. Hmm, maybe he is growing into the role. -- I.C.

A: Hassan certainly has faith, has consistently stressed his belief that there could be more from this roster than what was shown through the first 10 games. The difference this time was he also got proactive, didn't allow the early foul trouble to foul his night. That, as much as his words, was significant. He also acknowledged that the Bucks were the rare opponent willing to take their game at him. That likely won't happen as often going forward. But to win on the road, you need to win on defense. And the Heat now will be on the road for 10 of their next 13 games. Talk is fine, Actions speak louder. Whiteside spoke volumes in Thursday's second half. What the Heat need now is wash, rinse, repeat -- four times on the road over the next week.

Q: This is your best lineup right now by far: Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside. -- Kiss.

A: I'm not sure the Heat are to the point of a "best" lineup, only because with this mix a lot of it will come down to matchups. And while what you mention could possibly be a closing lineup, you still have to test the possibilities of Dion Waiters on a game-by-game basis, considering how he has been keeping the Heat afloat at times. I do believe there also is some weeding out in play. But remember, even though Justise Winslow was out for this one, his defense when playing from a lead still is significant. Ultimately, I believe there will be situational mixes of eight leading men, once Spoelstra identifies those eight. So I would add Winslow and Waiters to your mix, and perhaps one more player, as well. The stronger team still tends to dictate matchups, and there aren't make games when this Heat roster will be playing from a position of superiority.

Q: Ira, what do you have to say about Dion Waiters now? He looked pretty good against the Bucks. Give the kid a chance. -- Leon, Miami.

A: And he can do that, have moments like he did in the first half Thursday against Milwaukee. The point I had attempted to make was that it also can become easy to sit back and see if Waiters can get it done. But this also is about the future, which why it also was heartening Thursday to see players such as Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and even Willie Reed get involved. Yes, winning still is better than the alternative (and, please, lottery futurists, save your breath in November). The difference this time was that even after Waiters scored early there were enough teammates who got proactive and jumped in, as well. There is nothing wrong with Waiters being part of the process, but there is so much more that needs to be involved to have results like Thursday's.

November 17, 2016

Q: Most of Dion Waiters' minutes should go to Tyler Johnson. Dion is just not a player worth investing in. I'm sure he puts maximum effort. Some players have it and some just don't. -- Chris, Orlando.

A: These certainly are interesting times with the Heat, with Dion standing somewhat as the focus of the Heat's perimeter offense, be that because of other players deferring or Dion's confidence. Understand, after playing alongside Dwyane Wade, players such as Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson have a certain natural inclination to defer. So you wind up with Dion getting the shot totals he has in the past two games (albeit in the absence of Goran Dragic), and taking the most meaningful shots against the Spurs and Hawks. And that's the fine line that Erik Spoelstra has to walk at this still-preliminary stage of the season: Do you put the ball in the hands of your young players and live with the consequences? Or do you go with the player who, at that moment, has the most confidence and experience in such situations. The Waiters situation is similar to the Heat's situation last season with Joe Johnson. There was talk about both continuing on with the team when the salary-cap reality going forward spoke otherwise. The difference at the end of last season with Johnson is that the Heat were admittedly living in the moment. Now it already appears that future moments are the priority.

Q: Haven't we seen all there is with Josh McRoberts over the years? He isn't a scorer. He is a flash-first player and hesitant to shoot even when wide open. His 3-point game is average and not enough to spread the floor. I guess I'm not seeing the upside or possibilities with Josh -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Which is why I believe these current minutes are important, to finally get a read on what you have, to possibly showcase what you have, or to at least then know how to best move forward. This is not a team or an offense that can afford to have bystanders when it comes to scoring. Erik Spoelstra has been very good about issuing green lights, even insisting on it with players, such as Luke Babbitt. The Heat need offense. They need Josh McRoberts' offense. They should consider it almost insubordination if there is not an effort in that area.

Q: Hi, Ira. I see so many questions and comments about trading Goran Dragic right now. However, wouldn't it make better sense to wait until the trade deadline and let other teams' seasons play out? Wouldn't we have much more leverage if a team in the running is in need at that time? We are 10 games in and it's clear that this is a rebuild season, so what's the rush? Am I missing something? -- Wolf, New York.

A: You are not missing anything. And trades don't normally happen this early in a season, anyway. I believe this is more of a case of fans thinking out loud, forecasting what might be the best move for the team, not necessarily when something might happen. The trading deadline makes far more sense, especially when you consider that is when the Heat acquired Goran in the first place. Plus, by then you can have a far greater read of the possibilities at point guard of Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson.

November 16, 2016

Q: Last night I was telling myself, "We are not the 76ers. We are not the 76ers." Ira, please tell me that I'm right. Give me hope. -- Will.

A: But they will be if they need to be or want to be. First of all, 10 games into the season is not when you make such a decision. This is still when you try to make it work, stress the significance of winning to your young players. But if there comes a point when the playoff math proves too advanced, then, yes, I think you'll start to see more young players play, more injured players held out longer, and an all-out effort on maximizing every moment cease. That makes sense when you have your first-round pick this coming June, but quite possibly not in 2018. But that is a decision for another day. For the moment, the goal is not to have the same record as the current 76ers and to win Monday's game in Philadelphia. Although with Justise Winslow being held out, we could possibly already be seeing the start of the Heat taking a long view.

Q: Can the Heat offer Hassan Whiteside to the Warriors for Klay Thompson. We will then have a number-one scoring option and they will have a rim-protector to defend the Cavaliers. -- Shan.

A: The short answer is no . . . not at least until Dec. 15, the first day Whiteside is eligible to be traded. But the Warriors are who they are because of the very fact they have Klay, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. As it is, the Warriors would have to add another piece to make such a deal work, with Whiteside earning more  than Thompson. And I could just imagine what it would be like for Whiteside with that Golden State roster, having to acknowledge the reality of never, ever touching the ball on offense. But this is all early-season silly talk. (Although, knowing the Heat and their faith in their developmental program, I do wonder if they believe they can start making something special out of Willie Reed, need be.) Thompson is an All-Star; Whiteside has yet to get there yet. I would think the Warriors could take less painful paths to rim protection.

Q: Justise Winslow cannot be a starter on this team. -- David.

A: Well, we saw the alternative at the moment on Tuesday night against the Hawks, with Rodney McGruder stepping in. But if not Winslow, who would you have defend the opposition's top perimeter scorer? James Johnson? Josh Richardson? When you are part of a retooled roster, the key is to deliver at least one definitive asset to the starting five. Winslow does that with his defending. Now, if you could offer up a player on this roster who combines Winslow-level defense with perimeter scoring, then maybe it would be a debate. For now, you go with the best you have, aware this also is a development period for the Heat.

November 15, 2016

Q: Now that the Heat are officially in rebuild/youth mode, will Pat Riley admit or regret giving away those two first-round picks for Goran Dragic? -- Rodney, Sarasota.

A: Sometimes it feels like I'm answering the same question over and over, whether it's about the reasoning for drafting Justise Winslow or the decision to trade for Dragic. In each case the answer is the same: Until this summer, decisions made by the Heat were made with the hope that Chris Bosh could be back with the team and that Dwyane Wade would be a Heat player for the balance of his career. Under that scenario, the Heat not only were in win-now mode, but positioned to minimize the sting of those first-round picks sent to the Suns. No one could have forecast even a year ago that Bosh, who said he was not genetically predisposed to a relapse with blood clots, would indeed have such a relapse. That changed everything, including the reasoning with Wade in the offseason. So does Riley regret giving up a pair of first-round picks to the Suns for Dragic? No, he regrets Chris Bosh having to go through this awful medical episode that will forever change Chris Bosh's life. The basketball part is ancillary, just as with any consternation over selecting Winslow ahead of Devin Booker. The world, from a basketball standpoint, was a far different place then for the Heat with Bosh and Wade than it is now.

Q: Goran Dragic needs to be dealt. Tyler Johnson can run point guard and Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow are good enough ballhandlers. I've always been a fan of Goran, but his playing style never suited this team, never will in my opinion. Maybe we could get a first round pick or a decent forward (which we absolutely need).. -- Gunter, Berlin.

A: I disagree about your point regarding style, with the Heat for years searching for a point guard who could create pace, and create easy points. And it certainly worked over the second half of last season. But, again, that was with Dwyane Wade on the roster and the possibility of Chris Bosh returning. What this time without Goran could do is open the Heat's eyes to other possibilities on the roster. Or, instead, open their eyes for the need of something closer to a true point guard, perhaps even raising question about the decision to move on beyond Beno Udrih. Tyler Johnson actually did a nice job moving the ball Monday against the Spurs.

Q: In last year's playoffs many of the Heat players stood around and watched Dwayne Wade. They gave him the ball and got out of his way.  You got the feeling one of the reasons for Pat Riley letting Dwyane Wade walk was he wanted the young players to have a chance to grow.  In fact, Riley said after Wade left, he would see who on the Heat would step up. Erik Spoelstra now talks about the Hear getting it done by committee.  My question to you is: Do you think Spoelstra can coach getting it done by committee?  He had Dwayne Wade for nine years and has basically coached superstars throughout his coaching career.  -- Stuart.

A: I don't think any coach can win to any significant degree by committee. And I'm not sure that even Spoelstra believes that. It's what you have to say when you don't have a A-list scoring talent. I thought Goran Dragic might emerge as that, but that has been put on hold. So you say what you have to say, and then you hope to unearth that gem either in the draft or during free agency. As it is, the reason the Heat stayed in Monday's game was because of Dion Waiters' one-man shot. But it was only one night. Sustainable? His track record says otherwise.

November 14, 2016

Q: You have touched on it several times this week, but what is lacking from Hassan Whiteside is the fighting for early position on both ends of the floor.  It is obvious the opposing centers are all going right at him. Will the Heat staff be able to get him to play with controlled force? -- Robert.

Q: Whiteside needs to be more aggressive like he was last year. He looks very soft so far this year. -- Rene, Miami.

Q: Shouldn't Pat Riley have known that Whiteside doesn't have the "it" factor to lead a team? -- Tony.

A: I stacked these together because I wanted to offer perspective on the volume of questions and thoughts I have receive when it comes to Hassan's body language, and, therefore, perceived effort level. First, I believe it is important to make this clear: I like Hassan as a unique person who has a larger-than-life zeal for so much around him. But there also have been those factors that have trailed him most of his career, including questions about what happens (or will happen) when the stresses increase. What this team needs, has to get, is greatness from a player at that pay grade. It is the same reason fans wanted even more from Dwyane Wade, when he was giving so much already. And the same with Chris Bosh, even as he played at an All-Star level. Hassan is not going to take opponents off the dribble, as Wade did in moments of truth. He is not going to step out and consistently offer relief points, as Bosh did with his feathery jumpers. But what he can do, what the expectations must be, is to play with the fire that Alonzo Mourning provided when he was the Heat's leading man. You can say all you want about Hassan's growth curve, and it certainly has been impressive. But we're past that now. We got past that on July 1. Even with the sometimes-brutal scheduling of the NBA, there still are only 82 regular-season work days, as far as games go. So the one thing you would hope that never would have to be questioned is his effort, because that's what makes him who he is. Clearly, in the third quarter on Saturday night Erik Spoelstra questioned that effort with his quick, and justified, hook. Force, fury and fight -- those are the "F"-ing things, so to speak, that Whiteside has to bring every game.

Q: At the start of the season we knew what we were working with, complementary pieces, as you put it. But still I question the coach on his starting five with Luke Babbitt and Dion Waiters, also the lack of playing time for Derrick Williams. I expect some kind of shuffle in the lineup and a trade move at December 15th. Stop the madness. Heat fans deserve better. -- Lester, Tampa.

A: First, I'm not sure about any type of trade at this stage, certainly not anything to improve this roster, since, as most acknowledge, the Heat's big picture is not about this season. So I don't see the Heat cashing out any future assets. As far as the lineup, I believe we're already in such a transition, but one that only can be truly completed when Goran Dragic returns. I've said this from the start of camp: This season has to be about the continued development of the Heat's young pieces, particularly Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside. Everyone else, including Williams, is ancillary to that process. It also behooves the Heat to see exactly how Dragic does or doesn't fit into the long view, as well as seeing if there still either can be something mined of value with Josh McRoberts, or at least showcased with McRoberts to perhaps find a trade partner for that 2017-18 option year on McRoberts' contract. So that math, by itself, sort of removes Babbitt and Waiters from the primary equation.

Q: When the Heat let Dwyane Wade go, I predicted they wouldn't win more than 25 games this year. They are now 2-6 and looking at their remaining schedule it's hard to find 23 wins on there. This team is bad. Can you see the 23 games they can win moving forward? -- P.B.C., West Palm Beach.

A: There is no way, just 10 percent into a season, to make any type of projections, because, as stated above, we still have no certainty of where Erik Spoelstra's rotation will take this team. What I will say is that if Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic play up to their pedigrees, then there should be ample (if not abundant) opportunities for victories. But will Whiteside maintain fire amid a won-loss record going south? And will Dragic be around long enough to make a season-long difference? The record will be as much a product of where Pat Riley takes this roster as what Erik Spoelstra marshals on the court. But they have to start taking care of business at home. Because, as they will see, the road can be a very lonely place with a roster like this. In fact, will the Heat be favored anywhere on the road? I guess we'll get that answer in a week in Philadelphia.

November 13, 2016

Q: Are the Heat in danger of the bottom falling out? I know it is early in the season, but I'm not sure this team knows or has a plan on how to win. Erik Spoelstra relies on his teams to play defense, which always gives you a chance to win. But this Heat team needs more. They need more offense. -- Stuart.

A: Or could it be they will bottom out because they have a bottom-out roster? There just isn't much there right now, a lot of complementary pieces with no one to complement, especially when Goran Dragic is out. If the thought was that these pieces would complement Hassan Whiteside, then the first component of a turnaround is Whiteside recognizing that he has to lead with energy and effort. When Erik Spoelstra has to pull Whiteside with his team already struggling, it’s tantamount to a white flag. The Jazz had more to put around Rudy Gobert on Saturday night than the Heat did with Whiteside, even with the Jazz without George Hill and Boris Diaw, with Derrick Favors gone less than halfway through the first quarter. Gobert doesn't have to be dominant with this Jazz roster. Whiteside does with what the Heat have.

Q: It's going to be a long year. I don't believe I've ever seen a Heat player as disinterested as Hassan Whiteside. His stats are empty. I hope down the line he becomes a valuable trade chip. -- Juan
A: If Hassan becomes a valuable trade chip it means he will become valued by the Heat as a leader. I believe Hassan's heart is in the right place, but NBA basketball is hard. And NBA basketball in the paint can be really hard. But it also is an area on the floor where heart and hustle can take you a long way. And that's the thing with Hassan, he is both beloved by fans and well-paid by the Heat because of his epic bursts. But now he is in a different place than during his first two seasons with the Heat. He is in a place where he was the Chosen One ahead of Dwyane Wade in last summer's free agency. And that means being an every-night contributor, even when it is difficult. When the going got tough Saturday night, the Heat needed Whiteside to get going. He didn't. So he was summoned to the bench, as it only got worse.

Q: I've already had enough of Waiters. It seems like he plays for himself, trying to get a big contract next summer, even though he should focus on helping the team win. Forced shots, isolations and bad fourth-quarter plays are often deadly to this team -- Pierre, Paris.

A: I might not be able to argue with the results, but I do disagree with your analysis. What Dion does is because he believes it is the right player at the right moment. It is another reason why he makes more sense as a reserve, when you can pick and choose when and how often to play him. In no way is Dion trying to sabotage anything. And next July is too far away to be a consideration. This is just who he has been during his NBA career.

November 12, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. While, I like Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, it is painfully obvious there are no transcendent players on the current Heat roster, and 21-year-old Dwyane Wade is not walking through the doors of the AAA.  Thus, if I am to agree with your premise that this season is all about the future (and I do), wouldn’t it behoove all of us to root for as many losses as possible, while still cheering for the continued growth of the four aforementioned players? -- Rich, West Palm Beach.

A: Why root for losses? Is this team is in as dire straits as you believe, then the losses will just happen organically. And if they don't happen organically, then maybe it will mean that even this roster has found a way to win. What is more important is the continued development of the four players you mentioned. Because if they can come together to develop something youthfully special then it would be far easier to airlift in the needed final, as you mentioned, Wade-like piece, be it in free agency (Gordon Hayward?) or in the draft (Josh Jackson?). Even Tyler Johnson noted at Friday's practice how it was encouraging to have the opportunity to play against the Bulls alongside Whiteside, Winslow and Richardson. So maybe it could be as easy as adding a plus-one.

Q: I agree with Charles Barkley that the Heat lack identity and would say that for a young team early in the season, they are still trying to figure that out. But there are not enough plays called for Hassan Whiteside to make him dominant or affect the outcome of a game. For the most part, his stats are video-game fodder that most times have no effect on the game outcome.  Most times, the Heat either do a simple and infrequent pick-and-roll or look for the lob with Whiteside. Simple plays that can be simply defended. It seems we try too hard to establish our outside game and forget our young, athletic center who we need to keep engaged and active. We have to make better use of him. -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.

A: I agree. (OK, I'll take it a bit further. Hassan also has to be more of an aggressive, active participant. He has to run hard, run into the paint, get two feet in the lane. If that happens, and happens with an aggressive motor, then it's on the Heat's playmakers to make those plays. What Hassan can't be part of are slow-developing plays that have him meandering from side to side. So, yes, more meaning from Whiteside's statistics would be embraced. But he has to be an active participant, demanding the ball in point-blank scoring positions, position that he demands in the paint.)

Q: Why in the world would anyone start or play Luke Babbitt? Don't tell me who else when James Johnson is far better and Derrick Williams would provide energy. This is another wasted experiment for Erik Spoelstra so he can spread the floor. Babbitt is another Steve Novak. -- Allen, Coral Springs.

A: Which is why I would not be surprised if one day soon we look out at the court and say, "Whoa, is that Josh McRoberts out there?" For that matter, I could also see an eventual double-switch when Goran Dragic returns so that the Heat could get more shooting at shooting guard (perhaps Tyler Johnson or Josh Richardson) and then go for more athleticism at power forward (perhaps Williams or James Johnson).

November 11, 2016

Q: Hassan Whiteside needs more dog in him. -- Andy.

A: That was the unknown when the Heat extended that four-year, $98 million contract in July and remains an unknown now. Does Hassan have enough in him to take over a game? Not like last year, when he could play off the skills of others, to get his while the defense was concerned about the likes of Dwyane Wade or even Chris Bosh. But at times like this, when he is the focus? Hassan already has spoken about how he is getting swarmed in the paint, as if anything less could have been expected. You can see that type of fire from Justise Winslow, even when his shot is not falling, considering the way he stood up to Dwyane Wade on Thursday night. And even at times from Dion Waiters. But with Whiteside there still are too many opposing center getting theirs while Hassan gets his, like Robin Lopez during the first half on Thursday night. But then you glance at the stats monitor and there are numbers from Whiteside like Thursday's. No, I don't think Hassan ever will be a leading man, because he has no definitive offense. But I think he can be a team's most essential player, which is why the contract was offered, and why there are games like Thursday night. Still, there has to be more than two points and two rebounds in the final 7:34 of the fourth quarter, as was the case Thursday.

Q: Should I bother trying to remember these guys' names? -- Tony, Big Sur, Calif.

A: Which sounds like a cold, cold question . . . and yet a reasonable one. Look, this season never was about Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt or Wayne Ellington. If any of them have big, productive years, they're going to be gone, either with their expiration of their one-year contracts or opt outs. This season is about, or at least should be about: Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson. At every turn, if Erik Spoelstra has rotation choices, those should be the rotation choices. This is about the future. If you can find wins along the way with them, all the better. Yes, Dion Waiters has spoken of hoping to make this long term. But that's the same thing the Heat said about Joe Johnson when he was signed last season. And you next can see Joe Johnson at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday -- in a visiting uniform, with the Utah Jazz.

Q: Ira, I'm truly amazed that after seven games some are calling for coaches to be fired, young players to be traded. It's just amazing. I think any fan with knowledge of the game knew this team with rent-a-players and young players taking the next step would struggle early on regardless of how the preseason went. I'd like to flip the script and what I see is Hassan Whiteside making strides as a leading big man, Tyler Johnson looks better from game to game, Justise Winslow has shown signs and will continue to have an up-and-down year, there is no way around that he just will. And Josh Richardson back in the mix. I see slow, patient bright things when I watch this group, and probably a year away from being pretty dang good. -- Douglas, Oakland.

A: At some point this season, possibly soon, is when we will see a similar subset of fans, who can appreciate the long view, as well. And that is what Erik Spoelstra has to coach toward. Does/did anyone see this as a championship contender this season? And if you're not that, then you're working toward that. And sometimes that requires patience, not rash, impractical moves. For coming weeks, and likely months, what you see is what the Heat will have to work with.

November 10, 2016

Q: No one really wants to admit it, but Devin Booker should have been the choice. -- Bev.

A: Based on Devin Booker's hot start to the season and Justise Winslow's not-hot start, there has been a lot of second guessing in this forum regarding the direction the Heat chose at No. 10 in the 2015 NBA draft, as opposed to what otherwise would have been available. But with Dwyane Wade returning to South Florida, it also is a time to reset just how different the landscape stood at that moment. When the Heat made that selection in 2015, it was with the thought that Wade and Pat Riley would cook up a cap formula that would keep Wade in South Florida for several additional years, including as the perimeter focus for at least the next few seasons. That also was after Chris Bosh's first bout with blood clots, with the thought that Bosh would be back to a position of offensive leadership. Against that backdrop, Winslow, with his playmaking, defensive and rebounding strengths, appeared to be a perfect complement for a team that already had a No. 1 and No. 1A scorer. Now, against the current backdrop, it is safe to say that if the Heat could have re-drafted in the wake of Wade's departure and the increase reality that Bosh might never play again, you certainly could make the strongest of arguments for Booker. But you can't re-draft a year after the fact. And the Heat weren't looking for a score-first guard at the time. Who is going to be the better scorer? I would say Booker is a safe bet there. Who will best complement a championship roster? That answer won't come until one or the other is put into such a situation.

Q: Dwyane Wade helped the Heat win three rings, yet Pat Riley still has not hit send on his email to Dwayne? From the fan point of view, it does not seem Pat appreciates what Dwayne gave to the Heat. It's time he gives Dwyane a call and makes things right. -- Chris, Orlando.

A: Yes. It does. But I still believe this is more than about just Dwyane, and, in fact, goes back to how it soured with LeBron James and Chris Bosh. By the time it came to the Wade negotiations, it had become clear that a rebuild was necessary. And that became Riley's focus, even more than an email.

Q: When is all these stuff about Dwyane Wade going to end? It is lingering and lingering and so on. What do we owe Dwyane Wade? Really? Let's move on and stop this madness. -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: First, the greatest player in team history will remain part of a franchise's narrative no matter the current uniform. And so much of what Dwyane still does is a reflection of his time with the Heat. Certainly, with Wade's return to AmericanAirlines Arena, it only makes sense to monitor how the parting has played out for all parties involved. If anything, expect more Wade-Heat talk in coming days, especially with Thursday his lone appearance in South Florida during the regular season.

November 9, 2016

Q: At this point, why not start Tyler Johnson and have Dion Waiters come off the bench? He is a better fit with Goran Dragic who likes to play a faster pace. Was that part of the discount deal that Waiters would be a starter? -- Richard, North Miami Beach.

A: Actually, I believe the Heat are waiting for Josh Richardson to get up to speed in his return from his knee injury so he can play as the starting shooting guard, and therefore have Waiters play on the second unit with Johnson, to help ease the playmaking responsibilities amid Johnson's adjustment to point guard. The Heat need to see as much of Johnson at point guard as possible, in order to get a read on what to do with Dragic going forward, in case this season doesn't go forward. Had Richardson not been injured three weeks before the start of training camp, I believe he would have opened the season as the starting two guard. And once Richardson can get slotted into such a role it would make it easier to shift away from the need for Luke Babbitt's 3-point shooting at power forward. To me, the short-term story will be whether the Heat can remain afloat while Richardson works his way back, and while Josh McRoberts tries to get back on the court.

Q: I think Josh Richardson is a great find. But simply refer back to his highlights in 2015-16 and he's not the guy to get this team over the hurdle. He has a slashing, 3-and-D game like Eddie Jones, a great complementary player. But he's not the isolation player needed to break down a defense and create for others. Goran Dragic is gone by season's end. I know it's early, but everybody can see it: power forward and a supernova perimeter player are on Riley’s shopping list. Yours truly, Captain Obvious. -- William.

A: If Josh Richardson is anything close to Eddie Jones, then Richardson is nothing short of a second-round home run. Look, at this stage, you're just trying to upgrade at shooting guard in the starting lineup. As for your long-range hopes, I guess I'll take on your Captain Obvious persona and reply with: Josh Jackson and Blake Griffin. Happy now?

Q: My eyes hurt from watching the Thunder game, but I'm trying to not make any decisions based on this sample size. I mean: Charlotte (5-1), Spurs (5-2), Toronto (4-2), and OKC (6-1). We're just not good enough to beat the top teams, and the Spurs, Toronto and OKC are definitely up there. (I'm not sure how "top" Charlotte is, and we should have won that game). Anyway, patience is required to see if we at least can be a good middle-tier team. Argh. -- Giovanni, Medellin, Colombia.

A: Which is why the Heat needed to win that game against the Hornets, especially being 19 points up in the third period. And, yes, the reality is that certain games with this roster at this stage do not appear winnable. So before playing at San Antonio and then getting the Hawks on the back end of the Heat's first back-to-back set of the season, the Heat need to take care of business in the next two at home, against the Bulls and Jazz. Stumble there and it could turn into a case of falling and not being able to get back up.

November 8, 2016

Q: The other night Goran Dragic said the team needs to move the ball more. The Heat players always play hard, generally with a bent on defense, which is great. But especially this season shouldn't the Heat be more creative on offense or have a better game plan? For lack of a better comparison, the Heat's offense can't be hand off into the line three straight times and punt. -- Stuart.

A: That's why, when the ball was whipping around during the preseason and players were raving about the offense, I warned that everything changes when the score and the stats start to count, especially on a team with so many players on one-year contracts. These players are not only playing for the moment, they're playing for their futures. It's why, if Spoelstra moves his focus to his long-termers, players such as Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and, yes, perhaps even Goran Dragic, you might see a bit more discretion going forward. Yes, you could say that winning also builds a player's value. But does the difference of barely making the playoffs or not truly change market perception?

Q: Watching the lack of quality at the power forward spot, I can't help but wonder where this team would be if Chris Bosh was the starting power forward. -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.

A: And this is why I included this question, so we don't forget where 25 percent of the Heat's salary cap is being spent this season. James Johnson has given them good effort at times at the position, and that may be as good as it gets at the four with this group: good job, good effort. Until the Heat find true answers at the two and the four, it's going to be a slog. And right now, with Josh Richardson back, the outlook is looking brighter at shooting guard. Could we be looking at a Josh McRoberts-to-the-rescue scenario at power forward?

Q: Hi, Ira. How bad would the Miami record have to be before Erik Spoelstra is in the firing line? Or do you think that no matter what happens this year, he'll be fine? -- Max.

A: Not this season. Not with this roster. No way. Not after management let Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson go. In fact, what you're seeing now might be nothing more than what was expected. When you have nothing but inconsistency in your perimeter rotation, how far would you expect any team to go? There are many flaws with this team, and coaching isn't anywhere near the top of that list. It just isn't.

November 7, 2016

Q: Ira, Justise Winslow is quite a ballhandler, sees the court, and has all the physical and mental gifts. Oh yeah, and he can't seem to put the ball through the hoop with any consistency, whether it be short jumpers, threes or drives to the rim. Any chance the Heat go unconventional again, trade Goran Dragic for a solid power forward and have him take over the starting ballhandling duties? Wouldn't that be the essence of "position-less" basketball? We all know this is a rebuild and Goran isn't part of the future of this team in all likelihood. -- Jason.

A: I will tackle your last point first. Even if the Heat go young, that doesn't mean there can't also be a veteran presence. So let's put the matter of Goran, himself, aside and move on to your greater point. Yes, it would be intriguing to open with Justise as playmaker. But even then, when ballhandlers pass, they move into shooting position. So as soon as Justise gets off the ball, he'll get the Rajon Rondo treatment from defenses, with someone simply sagging into the lane, as is currently the case with Justise. Shooting has become as essential with point guards as it has with just about every other position outside of center. Today's NBA requires all players to be "live" in the attack. At worst, you have to at least be a 3-and-D presence. But, again, it's still early for Justise. I think you start shifting him around to too many roles and confusion sets in. As long as he's defending, passing, rebounding, you work through the rest of the process. And remember, and this is very, very important as part of the lager equation -- he's only 20.

Q: Assuming Josh Richardson is healthy do you think he will start vs. the Thunder? Neither Goran Dragic nor Dion Waiters can defend Westbrook and I think Tyler is too small. That's why I think J-Rich has the best chance of defending Westbrook. -- Ryan, Port St. Lucie.

A: While Erik Spoelstra said Sunday that while there is not a definitive minutes restriction on Josh, I would doubt he would go from 11 minutes against the Raptors to something far more substantial.  But I do believe the Heat will look to get him on Westbrook at times. I believe the more logical approach would be to open with Justise Winslow on Westbrook and have Waiters or Dragic on Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson. Expect Hassan Whiteside to be tracking Westbrook's every step, as well.

Q: Ira, I'm somewhat surprised some in Heat Nation are already calling for a Dion Waiters trade. I mean out of the five games, he's had three pretty decent games, Plus, he's only 24. He may night be a starter, but personally I feel when this team is healthy and he can perhaps come off the bench with the second unit, he can give the Heat good productive minutes.  -- Doug, Oakland.

A: You somewhat provided your own answer. Had Josh Richardson been healthy from the start of camp, it would have been easier to settle Waiters into his eventual role as sixth man. Even if Wayne Ellington had been healthy for the start of the season, the Heat might have gone in that immediate reserve direction with Waiters. So I think you still have to give this process time. But I don't think the age factor is much of a factor, considering that Waiters likely is only a rental player, expected to opt out next summer for the larger contract he expected this summer.

November 6, 2016

Q: Ira, can you please shed some light on the Derrick Williams benching? -- Juan, Miami.

A: Well, I can try. Most NBA coaches view the schedule in terms of segments, a certain number of games to see what works, what doesn't, and where to potentially go next. So rather than constantly alter the rotation on a game-by-game basis, where there is little semblance of continuity, I think Erik Spoelstra first wanted to see how this rotation alignment played out. Now, with Josh Richardson back and Josh McRoberts closer, I think you could see a second formulation, one that I would wager would include Williams. The one thing about Spoelstra and the Heat is that they are cognizant of being inclusive. With an athletic player such as Williams, I believe it is important that he gets extended runs, especially with the erratic nature of his shooting. I think the worst thing would have been to try to spot too many players into roles of just 10 or 12 minutes per game, save for Willie Reed in the minutes that Hassan Whiteside sits.

Q: Hey Ira, can the Heat trade Dion Waiters for a pick or right to swap picks or anything on Dec. 15? I'm counting down the days. -- Kevin.

A: Where's the love Heat Nation? (Yes, Dec. 15 would be the first day that Waiters could be dealt.) But I will say this, whether it's Dion Waiters or Derrick Williams or even James Johnson or Wayne Ellington, at this point they're all rental players. With this post-Dwyane Wade, post-Chris Bosh rebuild, I believe the long view has to remain the priority. So, yes, I could envision a point, when everyone is healthy, that the priority moves away from the short-timers on one-year deals (or deals with option years) and instead moves toward an emphasis on the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and perhaps Goran Dragic, or even Rodney McGruder.

Q: During free agency you thought it was crazy for Heat to match Nets contract for Tyler Johnson. Do still think it was a bad decision? -- Shane.

A: First, I doubt I used the word "crazy," considering how unpredictable it can be to forecast future production. My concern then, as it is now, is the financial burden of those final two, $19 million seasons on Tyler's contract. Had the contract been smoothed, it would have created a far more stable financial outlook. But, as I wrote in my Sunday column this week, when you look at the contracts agreed upon at the Oct. 31 extension deadline, the insanity regarding Tyler's contract no longer seems quite as insane.

November 5, 2016

Q: How soon until Josh Richardson is in the Heat's starting lineup? -- Steve.

A: I believe there are factors beyond Richardson in play in that equation. First, if you move Dion Waiters to the bench, does he take it as a demotion? Second, do you act on such a move before Wayne Ellington returns, as you sort through your shooting equations? Beyond that, do you take a bit more time to sort through the possibilities at power forward, with the possibility of moving Justise Winslow to power forward and going with an opening lineup that potentially features Richardson at small forward? As Erik Spoelstra said Friday, he rarely has been able to settle on a rotation this early in the season. If Richardson is going to be limited in his minutes early in his return, then there likely will be no rush to get him into the starting lineup, if that, indeed, is his ultimate destination. In the interim, this could already be a limited opportunity for the likes of James Johnson, Derrick Williams and even Luke Babbitt to show their worthiness for rotation minutes. And that's not even getting to the possibilities with Josh McRoberts.

Q: Tyler Johnson is an incredible offensive threat. Justise Winslow is offensively inept. Erik Spoelstra should give Derrick Williams minutes at the three. -- Kevin.

A: The return of Richardson and the upgraded play of Tyler Johnson clearly will force adjustments to the rotation, but I don't believe it will come at the risk of Winslow's confidence, having restored it by battling back from Friday's 0-for-7 start. I also don't see how it helps Williams' chances, with the Heat far more likely to go even longer with three-guard lineups. If you play Winslow at power forward, then scoring is not as much a necessity. But you also don't give up on a player like Winslow at this stage of a season or this stage of a career. What you do is try to get him the best possible looks. He found those better looks in the second half in Toronto.

Q: Please get rid of Dion Waiters and James Johnson. Tell Erik Spoelstra. -- Mike.

A: It's nice to see the ongoing patience of Heat Nation. As Erik Spoelstra said at the morning shootaround, it's not as if he ever has settled on a rotation this early in a season. With Richardson back, he now has an opportunity to assess even more of his perimeter rotation, with another revamp likely to come when Wayne Ellington is ambulatory. As much as finding out what works is part of the equation, it also is essential to find out who works best together. With subtle adjustments, it is possible Spoelstra finds the right chemistry for Waiters, Winslow and others. We're five games in. Exhale. As it is, James Johnson provided needed energy in the second half against the Raptors.

November 4, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. So I liked James Johnson during preseason as an attacker, decent shooter. But since the start of the regular season, he's been a non-factor. I think it's time coach Erik Spoelstra gives Derrick Williams a shot. I believe he's a naturally better player to begin with. This season doesn't have time to experiment for too long and four games in, James Johnson hasn't cut it yet. -- Marc, Pembroke Pines.

A: And yet I'm not sure James Johnson has gotten the opportunity to get to where he could best serve the Heat, as a perimeter stopper. With the Heat most utilizing Justise Winslow in that role, I still believe there will be an opportunity to utilize Johnson against bigger, power threes, such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, which might be why Spoelstra is keeping Johnson as an active participant in the rotation. But with both Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts resuming contact practices, I also could see a looming rotation adjustment, one that could leave Derrick Williams and James Johnson on the outs, with a primary rotation that could have the current starting lineup and then Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts as the first three players off the bench, possibly with Willie Reed as the ninth and final component.

Q: What's the matter with Derrick Williams? He didn't get even one minute to play in the first four games. I am sure he can be a better power forward than Luke Babbitt or Justise Winslow and make a difference. Winslow can bring the ball down court, that's right, but he is supposed to be trained as a small forward, isn't he? I always regard him as the next Kawhi Leonard. -- Arsennic, China.

A: It is interesting how the Heat at times have gotten away from Winslow as the small-forward-of-the-future as projected by Pat Riley in July. But even if Justise settles into that role, it will have to be alongside a stretch-four, just to create the proper spacing. With Spoelstra stressing position-less, it likely means interchangeable threes and fours. But those players also have to be complementary. I'm not sure the Derrick, with his own shooting issues, is a complement to Winslow. Ultimately, all Heat rotation decisions come down to the players who best complement the Core Three of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow.

Q: When Wayne Ellington, Josh McRoberts and Josh Richardson come back it seems likely that rotations will change. Who will lose playing time and do you think it's possible the Heat look to trade someone? It looks like there will be too much depth once everyone is healthy. -- Doug, Alameda, Calif.

A: As always, never confuse quantity depth with quality depth. Even with a healthy roster, there still will be issues when it comes to needed support off the bench. Right now, Erik Spoelstra is dealing with a buffet of options. But it is figuring out the prime cuts that will elevate the rotation. Basically, once all 14 players are available, that's when the weeding out and the quality control truly will come into play. And, again, beyond Whiteside, Dragic and Winslow, and perhaps Richardson and Tyler Johnson, it could wind up being scramble and scrambled mode for the remainder of the roster.

November 3, 2016

Q: I think the Heat's idea is to play Derrick Williams when either Wayne Ellington is in the game at shooting guard or Josh McRoberts at center, so the floor can be spaced. This likely means Luke Babbitt would fall out the rotation, which makes more sense to me, since he can only shoot the three ball, while Williams can attack, defend, and bring energy off the bench -- Michael, New York.

A: This has been one more of the more cogent missives when it has come to Derrick Williams' absence from the Heat's regular-season rotation. And I would add another name, that of Josh Richardson. Erik Spoelstra has long been cognizant of lineup combinations, which players work best together. Add Ellington, McRoberts and Richardson, and suddenly an athletic presence to get the defense on its heels makes all the sense in the world. But until McRoberts, Ellington and Richardson get back, the Heat have to at least present the threat of 3-point shooting. This is not a case of Spoelstra saying that Williams is an ill fit, an end-of-the-bench presence. I think those conclusions totally miss the point. This is Spoelstra, in my view, finding it difficult to explore all of his roster possibilities without a complete roster.

Q: Two games in a row we've gone to three-guard lineups in the fourth quarter, only to get torched by the opposing small forwards. What makes Spoelstra go down that road? Is our forward depth beyond Justise Winslow that miserable? -- John, Oakland, Calif.

A: Yes. You can make an argument that of all the Heat forwards (amid the reality that there is no true backup small forward), only Justise Winslow would be a regular in the rotation of most playoff contenders. So you either play to your strength, which in the Heat's case is shooting guards, or you make a move for something better for the frontcourt. Based on the stage we're at in the NBA calendar, the best option at the moment is oodles of guards, one really big center, and the best-available forward.

Q: Tyler Johnson has made more "winning plays" than Dion Waiters, and he's been more consistent thus far. You've talked about Waiters being better suited off of the bench, perhaps when Josh Richardson returns. Could Tyler start seeing some starter minutes, or is he too valuable coming off of the bench? -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: As the Heat's lone backup point guard, early foul trouble for Johnson as a starter could create issues for when Goran Dragic needs a rest. So, for now, at least until Josh Richardson returns, Johnson as a reserve makes the most sense. But, as stated above, if the roster is altered, if a backup point guard is added, then the flexibility and possibilities change when it comes to Johnson.

November 2, 2016

Q: We seem to lack a closer.  If Dwyane Wade was here they don't give up an eight-point lead vs. Sacramento at home with just a few minutes left. Thoughts? -- Brian.

A: Of course the Heat lack a closer, because they lack an All-Star. But so did the Kings, unless you want to count on Rudy Gay, which the Grizzlies and Raptors did not appear to want to do. So you experiment, which is what Erik Spoelstra did at the close of regulation against Sacramento. Was Dion Waiters dribbling out most of the clock and hoisting a wayward 20-foot step-back jumper the shot of choice from Spoelstra? Doubt it. But that's what you have to do, see what works, see what doesn't. And let's be honest, there were plenty of times when Wade dribbled out the clock and shot a jumper. Of course there also were many, many times when Wade produced the desired result. The preference here would be Goran Dragic in that situation. But, for whatever reason, Dragic seems too deferential. I believe the next time, depending, of course, on the matchups, you consider Goran. But you are correct, without a take-charge scorer, as the Heat had even the past two seasons with Wade and Chris Bosh, the equation and ability to close out a game becomes more difficult.

Q: Hey Ira, we don't have the Big Three in Miami, but this young team is exciting to watch. The upside is unknown and that is exhilarating. -- Stuart.

A: And that is fine, as long as you're willing to accept the result. Would it have been as exhilarating had the Heat lost on Tuesday night? Through four games, it already has been a wild ride, from the dramatic third quarter in Orlando to the blown lead against Charlotte to the near-comeback against San Antonio to having to go overtime against Sacramento. You're talking about possibly being 1-3 or 3-1. And the ride is only beginning. So buckle up.

Q: Is Ray Allen the best player to retire as a member of the Heat? Alonzo Mourning is the only other realistic candidate? -- M.P.

A: It's an interesting question, with LeBron James having left for the Cavaliers, Dwyane Wade for the Bulls and even Tim Hardaway having had moved on before ending his career. I guess we'll have to wait and see if Chris Bosh has a similar delayed end to his Heat and NBA tenures, depending on what transpires with his health. It is rather remarkable how so many Heat standouts, even in the twilight of their careers, never got that true final ceremonial walk off the court, considering how Zo's career ended with his midseason knee injury in Atlanta and with Ray only now deciding that the comeback opportunities no longer were practical or enticing. When you get down to it, you would have to include Gary Payton on the short list of all-time greats who ended their careers in a Heat uniform, even though with Gary, as with Ray, we weren't sure it was over when it was over.

November 1, 2016

Q: You scoffed at my idea all summer of Willie Reed being a capable backup, and now look at him. He's probably our second-best power-rotation player on the team. As he grows, we will be in better shape moving forward when Whiteside has to sit for longer than anticipated during certain stretches. Also, you need to stop with this Josh McRoberts hope. We know what he is and should know that he's not any more of a difference maker than Luke Babbitt, Derrick Williams or James Johnson. He is claimed to be a decent shooter, yet never pulls the trigger. When he actually pulls the trigger, he is very inconsistent. -- Taylor, Christiansburg.

A: I never scoffed at the idea of Willie being a capable backup. What I scoffed at was Erik Spoelstra always having a center in the game. And I'm still not sure that will be the case if any of the power forwards (yes, including Josh McRoberts) prove capable of moving into the middle with productive minutes. But, yes, if the Heat's power forwards continue as they have over the first week of the season, then Reed is the best Plan B when Whiteside goes out. But keep in mind, just as we talk about the Heat going small, plenty of opponents will, as well. And for all that Reed has shown these first three games, I'm not sure he is a player you want defending Kevin Love or Kristaps Porzingis. That's where there has to be a more versatile Plan B.

Q: With the Heat playing the way they have in the first three games without Josh Richardson or Wayne Ellington, do you think their inconsistencies will be solved with Josh and Wayne coming back in the near future? -- Jorel.

A: First, we're not sure when Richardson or Ellington are coming back, with Richardson possibly still weeks away and with Ellington saying this is the worst quad bruise of his career. That said, I do believe other outside options could alter the thinking, With an infusion of 3-point shooting, it might make Erik Spoelstra less inclined to keep Luke Babbitt in the rotation, as well as less inclined to go with the scoring of Dion Waiters for such extended periods. This is what happens when your roster is overhauled during the offseason and then you deal with injuries during the opening weeks of the season.

Q: Three games in and I already know why Dion Waiters was available and at such a price. -- Patrick, Hollywood.

A: The skills are there, but what has been lacking here and before has been the consistency, and the judgment of what is a good shot, what is a good pass, when to attack, and when to defer. That also is a factor of coaching, and getting a player in the right role. Waiters in a sixth-man role still seems to make the most sense, similar to how the Heat were able to handle the reins with Gerald Green.

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