ASK IRA: Would a Dragic trade to Magic make sense for Heat?
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.


January 16, 2017

Q: Are the Heat really looking into sending Goran Dragic to the Magic? -- Yung.

A: First, this all started with reports of Magic interest in Goran, not about the Heat soliciting interest from the Magic. But this, again, is where timing becomes the issue. While the Magic's lottery pick would be the likely centerpiece in a trade, Orlando remains within contention of making the playoffs, and certainly would have no incentive to tank once such a pick is dealt. The last thing you would want is to trade into the lottery and then not wind up in the lottery, instead selecting at No. 15 or No. 16.  Goran Dragic stands worth way too much to the Heat to be dealt for a pick into the middle of the first round. When it comes to dealing for potential lottery picks, you have to make sure they're actually in the lottery. In this case, patience equals prudence.

Q: The Heat should try to trade Derrick Williams while he still has some value. It's useless to pay him nearly $5 million to sit on the bench every night. -- Doug.

A: I believe it's safe to say there is little to no market for Derrick at the moment, and likely nothing close in free agency next summer to what he received last summer from the Heat, with his one-year, $4.6 million contract. If teams call the Heat about expiring contracts, James Johnson and Wayne Ellington are far more likely to be the ones to create interest. And, again, if a quality draft pick can be secured, it would behoove the Heat to consider such overtures, unless James Johnson makes it known he would be willing to re-sign on the Heat's budget.

Q: Ira, I have a retort for Masoud from Tucson. Micky Arison, Pat Riley & Co. will come out this June/July looking like the usual geniuses. After we secure Lonzo Ball or at minimum Josh Jackson, we will only retain (if reasonably priced) James Johnson from our roster. Erik Spoelstra will then move Goran Dragic to shooting guard to give the main offensive responsibilities to Lonzo. Once we secure the most exciting player in this year's draft, the implosion of the Clippers will have an effect on Blake Griffin. We are the most logical landing spot for him in the East. Yes he has to come East. Boston or Toronto don't have enough money compared to us. After the Griffin signing look for Pat to get a player like Rudy Gay for small forward. Our Biscayne Babies will be best coming off the bench. Those assets will also be the best selling point to Blake. Our bench anchored by James Johnson & Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and one additional role player, maybe Willie Reed will turn what you deem pathetic into a top 2 contender instantly in East. Also towards March of 2018, Dwyane Wade will be bought out and will return to the Heat for a final Eastern Conference championship push against the Cavs. -- Marcus, Washington.

A: OK, works for me. But to land Ball, you likely will have to wind up with one of the first three spots in the draft, which will have as much to do with lottery luck as placement in the standings. And I'm not sure with the new maximum contracts that you can have enough remaining cap space for a free agent of any pedigree if you sign someone like Griffin and also choose to retain Dragic. In addition, that certainly will be nice of the Bulls to offer such a buyout. When it comes to actual realities, don't forget the trade market, which could have a significant place in any Heat makeover. And do have patience, because going from 25 wins to something playoff worthy doesn't necessarily happen overnight.

January 15, 2017

Q: Hi, Ira. I'm actually somewhat nervous about the Heat potentially having so much cap space. In a market where demand exceeds supply, don't you feel the potential to overpay for players is a concern? Let's not forget, this is no longer the Big 3 Era, when players were willing to take a discount to come to Miami. -- Richard, West Palm Beach.

A: Rule No. 1 in free-agency club is you overpay. Rule No. 2 in free-agency club is you never talk about Rule No. 1. With so much cap space available, with an NBA salary cap soon to soar to $120 million, there is little need for anyone to take a discount, which is among the first things LeBron James said when he was preparing for his move back to the Cavaliers. About the only money to be left on the table will be with players who change teams and give up higher raises they could receive, since the final years of such deals tend to be player options, anyway. And don't kid yourself, the Heat overpaid when it came to Hassan Whiteside last summer, because that's what cap space forces you to do in free agency. But don’t forget, cap space also can be utilized on the trade-market, where there is cost certainty when it comes to contracts. I think many are overlooking that possibility with the Heat's impending cap space. Long before Pat Riley was tossing rings in front of free agents, he was cooking up winning deals on the trade market.

Q: Why the assumption in many questions that multiple lottery picks are the answer to a rapid Heat resurgence? The Lakers, 'Wolves, and 76ers show that one-and-done players mean talent but hardly meant instant victories. The lottery process seems contrary to Pat Riley's past, present, and the patience of Heat fans. -- Ed, Miami.

A: I'm not sure anything is "instant" anymore in the NBA, but you are asking me if I would trade the Heat's entire roster and draft situation for that of the 76ers or the Timberwolves, I would do it in a heartbeat. Those two teams should be set for years to come, either when it comes together with their young players, or the ability to utilize their younger players as assets.

Q: Mr. Ira Winderman, go ahead and keep on supporting this pathetic team. I write to you and present legit and good questions, but you answer two out of three questions from Douglas. This is a horrible team and you never get to the basics and just support this pathetic team. Well, you have to make a living. Why don't you post my correct and legit questions, instead of answering these stupid questions by these people like Douglas? I will never write to you and will never root for this team, again, ever again. I go another way and good luck to you and the worst team in this league, called the Miami Heat. I am so sorry for you, for doing this. Very sorry. -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: Well, now you did it, got Douglas good and angry.

January 14, 2017

Q: Ab . . . so . . . lute . . . ly, everyone should be available for a trade. -- William.

A: I to . . tal . . . ly agree -- if a trade produces a net gain. There is no Dwyane Wade on this roster, no untouchable as a franchise anchor. Hassan Whiteside hasn't proven that yet. Goran Dragic comes up a bit short of franchise-player designation, as shown with the contract he signed in the 2015 offseason. And Justise Winslow remains more prospect than proven. So you bet Pat Riley would be open to listening to any and all pitches. And also would be open to casting a net for players who might shake free because of issues at their current locations. Look, there was a point when Glen Rice looked like a franchise player. Then Alonzo Mourning came on the market. Then everything changed. As in 1995, the Heat and Pat Riley are at a stage now where they have to be open to anything and everything.

Q: I really like James Johnson's attitude and energy he brings. I hope the Heat will be able to keep him. Ira, what are our chances of re-signing him? -- Carl, Kapaa, Hawaii.

A: Much of that decision will come down to how the Heat structure their makeover. If the play is to maximize every last salary-cap dollar for free agency, then I would have to figure that James will be squeezed out, the Heat unlikely to put aside $8 million in something close to mid-level money. And with coaches such as Doc Rivers praising Johnson for his play to this point, I'm not sure that his free-agency reach might not even exceed such an amount. As with many players who have found their ultimate comfort zone with the Heat, money still talks. It is why, after similar good-will experiences with the Heat, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson moved on this past summer. The NBA's economics still start with your elite players. After that, it comes down to complementary players being amenable to salary fits.

Q: Hi, Ira. I saw that Pat Riley was at the N.C. State game against Miami. And I was wondering if he was there to get a good look at Dennis Smith Jr.? -- Timo, Germany.

A: Yes, he also has already put in his Lonzo Ball time, as well. What the Heat scouting staff attempts is to put together a scouting schedule that gets Riley in front of the leading draft prospects in the most competitive situations. You will be seeing, I suspect, plenty of those Riley-in-the-stands photos in coming months, and perhaps not as much of Riley across from the Heat bench at home games.

January 13, 2017

Q: Loving Tyler Johnson's game right now. A full year of this and I can only imagine and hope how good he will be next year. -- Douglas.

A: Which is why it is important for the Heat to use the second half of the schedule to define, if possible, his role going forward. It could be as simple as a sixth man, with most of the minutes at shooting guard. That certainly is Johnson's wheelhouse at the moment, with his attacking approach. But if that is where Johnson winds up, then it likely will mean having to explore Josh Richardson's possibilities at point guard.  Yes, we're well aware of Erik Spoelstra's position-less approach. But with the Heat essentially making over the roster going forward, it still is important to delineate roles going forward, as well. There is, of course, another option, and that is starting Johnson just to see how he matches up against starting shooting guards, whether he is up to that defensive challenge with his somewhat undersized build. Again, the balance of this season is not going to be about wins and losses. It is going to be about setting up the future. So for as comfortable as the Heat are at the moment with playing Johnson off the bench, it is just as important to probe every possibility when considering 2017-18 and seasons beyond.

Q: I read your review of our disappointing defeat to the Warriors, where you were "reminded of Waiter's playmaking ability." The man shot 4 of 17 and 0 for 5 on 3-pointers. All I seen is a guy trying to be better than he is, like a Kobe that just can't shoot. Am I missing something? -- Austin, Lake Worth.

A: Yes, what you are missing is a player still somewhat in a developmental stage, with a team that takes pride in player development. If the Heat can tame Waiters' offensive instincts, as Erik Spoelstra alluded to after the game against Golden State, and get him to take only the right shots, then there indeed could be something salvageable there. That is why I pointed out the assists and playmaking. This is not a player who by any means is selfish. He wants to do the right thing. This is where Spoelstra and the Heat have to convince him about those right things.

Q: Luke Babbitt has to be the only 3-point specialist in the NBA that never hits a three and he starts. We've been waiting 30-plus games -- Douglas.

A: With this roster success is relative. And relative to the other options the Heat have started at power forward, it's not as if Babbitt is decidedly that much better or worse, especially with Josh McRoberts out of the mix and James Johnson thriving as a sixth man. But I do believe, once the Heat get past the trading deadline and contracts no longer are needed for potential deals, that this could be a roster spot perhaps better utilized on a prospect. So, for now, it’s mostly a holding pattern.

January 12, 2017

Q: Thank you to Steve Kerr. That is what I have been saying the entire season to fellow fans moaning: It's a rebuild, deal with it. -- C.J.

A: I've touched on this several times in this space, and while results-only Heat fans may not want to accept it, there has been an appreciation from coaches, scouts and opposing players (and I've even had one agent mention it to me), about how hard the Heat continue to play in a situation where the won-loss record is so hopelessly below .500. This is not your typical tank-o-rama, where a team goes through the motion for weeks on end, players looking to escape the locker room and the stench of the losing as soon as the games and practices end. While there is no such thing as Losing Coach of the Year, that truly is where sideline leadership is ultimately tested. Erik Spoelstra has his team, for the most part, playing hard. If you tune into Heat games, you see flashes and cohesion and possibilities. And if you go to the games in person, you see a coach working to maximize each moment (the anguish and disgust on Spoelstra's face was tangible when the Warriors managed to get a scoring opportunity off a Heat free throw with 1.3 seconds left in Tuesday's first half). James Johnson did not dunk over Steph Curry in the final second of Tuesday's first quarter like a player going through the motions. I remember what it was like during the 2007-08 season, when even Pat Riley appeared to be fed up. There still is energy emanating from the Heat locker room. And while that in no way is as important as winning, it is significant nonetheless.

Q: Why lower Goran Dragic's trade value by inserting Dion Waiters in the starting lineup? That combination obviously doesn't work. -- S.I.

A: Because the Heat could eventually have a decision to make with Waiters in the offseason and the only way of finding out what works (and what doesn't) is experimenting with the possibilities. I believe the Heat have come to the realization that Wayne Ellington is not a viable starting option, and with Josh Richardson sidelined, the options are otherwise limited. I suspect that if Richardson was available that he would have been the one lining up alongside Dragic for Tuesday's opening tip. But with Justise Winslow and Josh McRoberts sidelined, the Heat's playmaking options otherwise are limited in the starting lineup. The workaround might be starting James Johnson, with his playmaking skills, which then might make it easier to play a shooter alongside Dragic.

Q: Please tell me why Rodney McGruder keeps getting minutes? -- Vlad.

A: Because that's what this season should be about, seeing what you might have in a budget-friendly prospect. With McGruder under contract for two additional seasons at the league minimum, he still could provide cheap labor at a time when the Heat again will be looking to maximize their salary-cap possibilities. As I wrote in my story about Rodney, don't judge him by the current role. Instead, extrapolate his best minutes into what he might become as a situational substitute. Right now, these are minutes by necessity. Eventually, the minutes will be better suited to maximizing his possibilities.

January 11, 2017

Q: The media claims that everyone on the roster is one the trading block. Part of me hopes so. -- Will.

A: Look, no matter how the Heat choose to cast speculation about their roster, they are in no position to hang up on any phone calls. Because even with the Whiteside swirl, there is the potential for a deal that could better bolster the roster. The Heat say they are not seeking deals for Whiteside. That makes sense. If you are seeking deals for a player six months after you sign him to a four-year, $98 million contract, that would create even more questions. But the fact that they would be taking calls says something, too. Pat Riley often spoke about how trade overtures regarding Dwyane Wade were a non-starter, including even when Shaquille O'Neal was made available by the Lakers, at a point Wade had yet to fully blossom, roughly at the same stage Whiteside stands now. From the get-go, part of the value in retaining Whiteside was not allowing an asset to walk out the door for nothing in return. Now the Heat have four seasons to figure out the best way to utilize that asset. For now, the Hot Line at 601 Biscayne is only taking incoming calls when it comes to Whiteside, per the team's statement Tuesday. But apparently there will be someone on the other end willing to listen.

Q:Tuesday was the most engaged I've seen Hassan Whiteside all year, even positive body language. It's the type of effort the Heat need to see every night. -- Matt.

A: You just hope that it came from a place other than a Twitter beef with Draymond Green. But you're right, he was active, engaged, aggressive, intense. Heck, he even did Heat lineage proud with his hard shove in the third quarter against Zaza Pachulia, channeling his inner Jamaal Magloire. I've said since the start of the season that over the 82 games, even the best of players can be excused for about 10 off nights. The question now is whether Hassan simply opted to use them up over the first half of the season. It has to be every night at this stage, so the Heat can have confidence that it will be every night in seasons going forward, seasons when the results will be far more important in playoff races.

Q: If we're going to speculate on Hassan Whiteside trade rumors, there's one championship contender that needs a shot blocking center, and has enough All-Star-caliber swingmen to send one back in a trade.  Hint: They saw Whiteside up close Tuesday night. -- David.

A: And, yet, unless the Warriors dramatically change their style, I'm not sure that would be a direction Golden State would go, with the goal mostly to feature Draymond Green at center in their closing lineup. And for all the wings the Warriors have, it’s not as if Kevin Durant or Steph Curry are going anywhere. So what you're really asking about are those Klay Thompson rumors. And I'm just not sure the Warriors would be willing to go there before one last shot at the Cavaliers.

January 10, 2017

Q: Ira, I want to help bring clarity to Heat Nation. Justice Winslow is not going to be Kawhi Leonard. He will become our version of Andre Iguodala -- an NBA body that can defend four positions. He will be an OK offensive player, but brings organization with his maturity and intellect. -- Marcus, Washington, D.C.

A: A reasonable comparison, one I believe that most teams selecting at No. 10 would embrace. That is the point I have been trying to make, that you don't write off a player just because he comes into the NBA without a sure-thing jump shot. The Heat will get to witness Iguodala's contributions firsthand when they face the Warriors on Tuesday night. He has shown that when surrounded by talent how much of an asset he can be, as opposed to Philadelphia, when he was asked to perhaps do too much. Now, whether the Heat can reload with anything close to what the Warriors have surrounded Iguodala with is another story.

Q: Who gets cut to open up a roster spot so we can sign a few players to 10-day contracts? -- Robert.

A: For the moment, most likely no one. This is a time when the Heat could use a year's head start on the two-way D-League contracts that will come into play next season. That would allow, amid all these injuries, the opportunities to get sneak previews at the possibilities of Okaro White or Briante Weber. But until the Feb. 23 trading deadline it remains more prudent for the Heat to hold on to even the expiring contracts on the roster, if only to have salaries available to use in trades. There have been times in previous seasons when the Heat have been able to make deals work by amounts far lower that even the minimum salary. So while Derrick Williams and Luke Babbitt may hold less for the future than prospects such as White and Weber, what they hold now is potentially valuable cap space.

Q: Miami has to be happy with this season. We are losing games but our effort and intensity is still high, our young players (except Justise Winslow now due to injury) are progressing. It's the organic tanking you were talking about earlier in the year. We're the second-worst team in the NBA record-wise behind only Brooklyn and the only reason we are not lower in the standings is Goran Dragic. He's a very good player, not a superstar. He makes our offense watchable and I fear without him the games may become unwatchable. -- Ryan, Port St. Lucie.

A: I will say this, during just about every game the Heat have provided watchable moments (I know, I know, that’s somewhat of a reach). They also have shown the promise of their youth. And, as you noted, how Goran Dragic remains a difference-maker in today's NBA. This is not a team quitting on games. This is a team not good enough to win. I know that's not what most want to hear, but it is an undeniable reality of the NBA cycle of life (with the exception of the San Antonio Spurs' cycle of NBA life [although I do recall the Bob Hill era]). Remember, it wasn't all that long ago that the Cavaliers were awful, or even the Warriors.

January 9, 2017

Q: I don't understand the philosophy of bringing James Johnson and Tyler Johnson off the bench because of "how well they work with the second unit." I can't see why that matters when the team is losing almost every game. James Johnson is clearly the most talented power forward on the roster and Tyler Johnson is arguably the most versatile shooting guard. Why not see how we fare for a while with letting our best players start the games? -- Aram, Boynton Beach.

A: And this point, with this roster, and with these injuries . . . I agree. There was a point, when the entirety of the roster was taken into account, that it made sense to hold back a pair of scorers to fuel the second unit. But with all of these injuries, with Justise Winslow out for the season, Josh McRoberts' playmaking out of the equation and Josh Richardson no better than  day-to-day at the moment, I agree that it could be time to recalibrate. With Dion Waiters, you still would have someone to score with the second unit. The issue with Tyler Johnson is whether, with his massive contract, the Heat view him more as a long-term point guard, in which case it makes sense not to play him alongside Goran Dragic. And yet the more and more you see of Tyler, it is clear he is a shooting/scoring guard, no matter his build. So Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Goran Dragic and the wing of your choice (perhaps Rodney McGruder for defense or Richardson when he comes back)? Why not? It's not as if the approach that got you to 11-28 was necessarily working.

Q: You remember when Dwyane Wade and LeBron James used to play for Miami? Man those were the days. -- Will.

A: I've gotten a lot of this in recent days, questions about the Heat selling their souls for what has followed (which, by the way, is ridiculous because Chris Bosh is out of the game due to blood clots and that has absolutely nothing to do with personnel decisions, but everything to do with the Heat operating with 75 percent of the salary cap as the rest of the NBA.) Put it this way, would you rather have done what the Hawks did, climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, load up an All-Star team, never make it over the hump, and then have to blow it up in fear of free agents departing with nothing in return? Remember, for as much as it hurt losing those 2011 NBA Finals to the Mavericks, think of all they have endured in the interim when the Heat went on to an additional three NBA Finals and then within one victory of last season's Eastern Conference finals.

Q: When does Erik Spoelstra start taking some of the blame for how this team continues to regress? -- Justin.

A: When people such as Doc Rivers and other NBA insiders stop praising him for how hard his team continues to compete despite this won-loss record. I've had three separate scouts just on this trip sit alongside me during games and offer praise that a team with such an injury-riddled and limited roster continues to play hard. This wasn't solicited, just offered. And these are people who know when you're faking the effort.

January 8, 2017

Q: Willie Reed deserves to start. -- Leon.

A: And we're back to the backup-quarterback approach, are we, that somebody else is better than what you've been going with? Now, if Hassan Whiteside is not up to starter's minutes, if his conditioning is not up to speed due to the lack of a single practice session with teammates following his Dec. 30 eye injury, that's one thing. But you have invested $98 million over four seasons with Hassan. This is not like the second half of the regular season a year ago, when lessons were being offered by starting Amar'e Stoudemire before Whiteside stepped back in during the playoffs. When the Heat made that free-agency commitment to Whiteside, it was a total commitment, not something that could be backed off from. Granted, Willie Reed offered admirable minutes in place of Hassan these past four games. But if the Heat have not come to believe that Hassan Whiteside is considerably better than Willie Reed, then something is wrong. Seriously wrong. This entire season has been about getting Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson to the next level, so when the Heat again contend, those players can be contending-level players. Whiteside has started every game he has played to this point. That should not change. Not with this record. Not with the strides that still need to be made with his game.

Q: If the Heat's supposed asking price for Goran Dragic is too high, do they really care to trade him at this point? -- Dale.

A: You mean because the team that now owes two potential lottery picks to the Phoenix Suns is holding Dragic in similar regard to what the Suns did? As I wrote last week in my Sunday column, the NBA scout I spoke to said it likely will be difficult for the Heat to get to the top of the lottery for Dragic, and if the Heat covet a pair of first-round picks in exchange, one might come well down the road. That's what this period before the Feb. 23 trading deadline is all about, probing to see how much you can get, before deciding whether it is worthwhile to take the process a step further. Are the Heat asking for too much? At this stage of the game, they had better be.

Q: It's so hard to watch Luke Babbitt as the starting power forward. His performance against the Lakers was my breaking point. -- Doug.

A: As opposed to whom, especially with how well James Johnson has been working with the second unit? I had thought Justise Winslow could emerge as a fixture there, allowing the Heat to utilize additional wings, but now that notion is off the table. And it's not as if Derrick Williams has established himself. So Udonis Haslem? Willie Reed alongside Whiteside? Josh McRoberts isn't coming through that door. Or even Chris Bosh.

January 7, 2017

Q: I'm glad Erik Spoelstra stood his ground and said that. Sometimes you need to speak up when you smell BS in the air. -- M.P.

A: A few thoughts here. But first, for those late to the game, after Goran Dragic was ejected for what appeared to be an attempt to back away from Jordan Clarkson, Spoelstra said after Friday's loss to the Lakers, "It's really shameful, disgraceful that Goran Dragic got thrown out of that game. Gets an elbow to his face, somebody that wants to fight knocks him down on the ground and just a bailout, shameful, disgraceful ejection. There's no way he should be thrown out of that situation." And on he went. First, if it was not an eight-point game at that moment, if the Lakers had already pulled away, I think Spoelstra would have gotten himself ejected, as well. But because the Heat still were within reach and had shown an ability to recover from a similar deficit earlier, there was restraint. Second, when you have two bad, lottery-bound teams, I think the officials are more inclined to simply remove any antagonists from the situation. Face it (and there could be more of this going forward), it's not as if altering the result of a Heat-Lakers game is going to impact the NBA playoff races at the end of the season. So the path of -- literally -- least resistance was selected and the game continued. Fairness doesn't always make it this far down the standings.

Q: Hi, Ira. I think, as the season goes along, Hassan Whiteside will play better the more successful Willie Reed is with the offense. It will at least keep Hassan from getting complacent. -- Eric.

A: And it was interesting how Erik Spoelstra had no time (or was in any mood) to discuss who might start Sunday against the Clippers. But I also don't believe that Hassan is wired in a way where he sees challenges. He simply believes that when he plays, he dominates. Period. Sunday will be interesting, including how many minutes Spoelstra is able to find for Reed going forward once Whiteside fully regains his legs (and eye).

Q: Why doesn't Derrick Williams play more? Here is a guy who can create space for his own shot. -- Stuart.

A: The NBA is a league where you have to do at least one thing very well. That's why, for all the consternation from some regarding Justise Winslow, he already has shown he is, at 20, an NBA-level elite defender. The question with Williams is: What is his special talent? In college, it was as a player able to work his way to the foul line at almost a Harden-like pace. In the NBA, he has yet to find his special place. So it's not as if you can send him out there for a specific purpose.

January 6, 2017

Q: With Rajon Rondo unhappy in Chicago the Bulls in need of outside shooting, here's a trade that might make sense (at least by the numbers): Trade Josh McRoberts and Wayne Ellington for Rondo. Rondo's two-year contract is $14 million per season but only $3 million is guaranteed next year.  Plus, it opens a roster spot for a D-League player. What do you think? -- David.

A: I think that "Ask Ira" readers are a cut above when it comes to creativity. As much as anything, I appreciate the cap thinking, since that's what it's all about, anyway. It also affords the Heat the option of having a veteran fill-in at point guard for the balance of the season if there is a Goran Dragic trade. But Rondo has proven so toxic that I'm not sure if even having to eat that $3 million for 2017-18 would be palatable, considering there remains the outside chance of perhaps unloading all of McRoberts' 2017-18 $6 million player option as part of a bigger deal. No matter, there is merit to this thought, more for the money than about the actual names involved.

Q: Trying to establish a winning culture with a group of role-players is like trying to race a bicycle against a Porsche 911. -- Aura.

A: And then imagine not even having as many bicycles as Porsches. Take Tuesday's loss to the Suns: An argument could be made that the Heat had nearly equivalent talent on the court as Phoenix when it came to the five players in the game at the outset. But that's when the lack of depth hit hard. The reality is that most NBA teams limit themselves to eight primary players in their rotations, anyway. The problem is that some of the depth on this team is not up to winning standards. That may sound harsh, but it's also the truth, and why these players were available to the Heat on the relative cheap in the first place. An argument could be made that three or four of the players the Heat fielded in Phoenix would not have made it onto the court for a playoff contender. It also showed a night later in Sacramento how much of a different it made for the Heat having Tyler Johnson and James Johnson back. That type of depth makes a difference.

Q: With the team struggling the way it is, what stops the Heat from bringing up D-League players? -- Claudia, Miami.

A: Roster space. The Heat are at the NBA limit of 15 players. And there is nothing like baseball's disabled list, where you can call up players to fill in for injured players. The thought in the NBA is that you only play five at a time and are given access to a maximum of 15 roster choices. The Heat should regain one roster spot at some point, once the machinations begin to regain Chris Bosh's salary-cap space. There also is the possibility of a selloff or release of some of the veterans on the final year of their contracts, but that, as chronicled, probably won't happen until after the Feb. 23 NBA trading deadline, in case the Heat need to aggregate salaries in potential deals.

January 5, 2017

Q: This is sad. I wanted to see Justise Winslow keeping growing this year. You have to be on the court to continue to improve. -- Douglas.

A: To me, that's the toughest part, the growth being retarded for a season for a player who had (and still has) the chance to emerge as a franchise cornerstone. But this season-ending surgery is about so much more than that. If there was any thought of trading Winslow as part of a package for something closer to a franchise player, that obviously also is put on hold. Beyond that, with Winslow so unique with his approach, it keeps the Heat from exploring those playmaking possibilities and removes the opportunity for teammates to learn how to best capitalize off those skills. This is about more than setting back a team that likely was heading to the draft lottery regardless. This is about the clock on the Heat's growth from within stopping when it comes to Winslow. It was a devastating blow to both player and team.

Q: Justise isn't an ordinary 20-year-old. Once he gets over the mental hurdle, he'll be fine. -- Goigi.

A: And that has to be the hope, that the time Winslow spent during last season's playoff run, the time he spent training with the Olympic team this past summer will help compensate for this lost court time, that the learning curve still can be a work in progress. When it comes to maturity, this is no typical 20-year-old. Justise had plenty of opportunities to get down on himself as his shots weren't falling this season. Instead, he focused on the contributions he could make otherwise on the court. And he made those contributions. The good news is that unlike his wrist issue in November, this is not his shooting arm. Tyler Johnson worked his way back from his shoulder issue as an improved player. Justise has the same type of makeup, to try to make up for lost time.

Q: Great, now we will get some scoring out of the three spot. That was a huge weakness when the ball swung to him. This league is about offense. -- Tommy.

A: That is the flip side, likely more scoring in lineups, with lots of small combinations to play, as the Heat saw Wednesday against the Kings, as they cycled through the likes of Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson and even Dion Waiters off the bench. It will be interesting how long Erik Spoelstra stays with Rodney McGruder as his starting small forward, or it he goes back to a smaller approach to maximize the scoring and shooting potential of his wings. But with Winslow's defensive abilities lost, it could come down to whether Waiters can pick up where he left off before his groin injury. The Heat will be different without Winslow. As for them being better, you have to consider both sides of the ball.

January 4, 2017

Q: Can we bring back Mario Chalmers as our backup point guard? I think we need a traditional playmaker like Chalmers. -- Timo.

A: Getting beyond whether Chalmers is fully recovered from last season's Achilles injury, or whether he will be fully recovered, think back to when Chalmers was dealt last season to the Grizzlies. While it certainly was a case of reducing the Heat's luxury-tax bill, it also was stressed as a move to clear playing time for Tyler Johnson as the backup point guard, amid concern of whether Chalmers could deal with a tertiary role. To a degree, nothing has changed with that equation, with the goal still of creating time for Johnson (and even Josh Richardson) at the point. So unless the current trio at the point is thinned out, I'm not sure there would be a place for Rio at the moment. But that's not to rule out something down the road. The Heat do have a way of opening the door for encores, with Chalmers spending New Year's in South Florida with Udonis Haslem, Josh McRoberts and other current and former Heat players.

Q: Rodney McGruder is a great pickup for the Heat. He has literally picked up the load of guarding the opposing teams' best wing players when Justise Winslow is out. He is a true 3-and-D guy. I just wanted to point out some good things coming from the Heat this season, since so many injuries and so much bad news has taken place as of late. -- Robert.

A: What McGruder has done is given the Heat a replacement part in case they choose to deal one of their young players, be that Winslow or Tyler Johnson (not that, by any means, am I forecasting such a possibility, nor, in any way, saying that Rodney is better than those two). McGruder likely has his upside limitations, but if it is a matter of the Heat being able to latch on to assets otherwise, he is about as economical an alternative as is available, considering the way the Heat also have him locked in for the future. So if there is a silver lining to a season such as this, it is finding another young player who could fit into the Heat's next rendition. And his attitude is as upbeat as the strides he has made in getting to this point, coachable and eager to learn.

Q: Dorothy: "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."  If the Heat's plan is to rebuild through the draft, then aren't fans looking at a three- or four-year rebuild at a minimum? The last time the Heat rebuilt through the draft, they had to find a Dwyane Wade (who is special) and then made a once-in-a-lifetime trade for an available Shaquille O'Neal? And that took the Heat three years. -- Stuart.

A: But the Heat are looking at it as if they have more building blocks in place, with what they hope will be a franchise center, in Hassan Whiteside, and an experienced point guard, in Goran Dragic. So this time a lottery pick could be added at a time when there also would be massive salary-cap space. For the Heat, the O'Neal acquisition came a year after Wade arrived. This time the Heat are positioned to add a lottery talent and a max-salary player at the same time. Therefore the (at least publicly expressed) optimism for a rapid rebuild.

January 3, 2017

Q: I know we can't telegraph our moves but the true gangsta move for Pat Riley is to trade Goran Dragic in February to either Orlando or the 76ers, securing another pick in this upcoming draft. The Magic's pick will fall around 12 or 13 or the 76ers' pick will be Top 10 from the Lakers. We would then be in prime position to get Josh Jackson or Lonzo Ball with our own pick and the additional pick get Malik Monk, Dennis Smith or Harry Giles. This would be Pat's largest achievement due to the changes in the CBA and no real exciting free agents in 2017. -- Marcus, Washington, D.C.

A: First, I'm not sure Pat Riley is going "gangsta" anytime soon, but that's another story. I doubt any lottery team is going to be willing to part with the selection until they know where their pick is going to fall in the first round. Nor would the Heat want to risk a trade for a pick that could wind up falling below the projected spot, since, in the case of your Orlando example, it no longer would provide a reason for the trade partner to maintain lottery seeding. It is another reason why a Dragic trade, or any big Heat move related to the draft, makes more sense after the lottery and the early-entry deadline. Yes, the upcoming draft looks loaded, loaded enough that a pick even in the early teens could project as a contributor. But teams holding such picks know that, as well, raising the premiums on making such moves. And if Riley is truly forecasting a rapid rebuild (which sounded like a rash statement on his part), then I'm not sure how that happens with a pair of lottery, one-and-done prospects being added to the roster. What I do agree with is that it is hard to envision the Heat adding another lottery pick unless Dragic is factored into a trade equation.

Q: Without Hassan Whiteside on floor it seems like the Heat play better team ball. There's more ball movement and a faster pace. When he's on the court it seems like he slows the game down, takes a lot of possessions, and leaves his teammates less involved at his expense. Do you agree and is this a concern? -- Doug.

A: One of the most frequent questions sent this way has been about Whiteside's lack of touches. From the moment the Heat committed that four-year, $98 million contract to Whiteside at the start of free agency there was no turning back. The Heat have to learn how to make this work, need to learn how to make this work. Part of that is finding Whiteside when he flashes open. Part of it is Whiteside being more decisive with his actions. All of that takes time. But it also takes commitment. So the issue, the only issue, right now is how to make it work best with Whiteside. When it comes to the NBA salary cap, you can't fall in love in July and out of love in January. The dollars don't allow for that. For better or worse.

Q: This team is suffocating me, Ira. Any remedy? -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: Tune in the Heat's D-League affiliate on Facebook live. They win. They're fun to watch. And they just might have one or two Heat players of the future.

January 2, 2017

Q: Do you think the Heat will try and trade or sign Paul Millsap? -- G.L

A: Timing will play a large part in such a move, namely would be team that is making an impending free agent available, as the Hawks apparently are willing to do with Millsap, be willing to wait until the Heat can unlock their potential salary-cap space from the Chris Bosh machinations, a move that won't come before Feb. 9? Then there is the question of what the Heat would be able to offer in return, lacking much in the way of draft picks. So it comes down to whether the Heat would consider trading young talent such as Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson (who can veto any trade for the balance of the season because of how he was re-signed as a restricted free agent). What a team like that Heat can't do is trade for an impending free-agent such as Millsap and then hope that he will re-sign. And based on where the Heat currently stand, what exactly do they have to sell for the immediate future.

Q: Are you sure Sunday's injuries weren't an early April Fool's prank? Get those lottery balls going. -- Jeffrey.

A: No, I'm not. But what I do surmise is that if the Heat were prioritizing victories, that there might be more creative means of getting players back on the court. It is why I asked about Whiteside possibly wearing goggles to return Sunday. And if lighting was, indeed, an issue, potentially wearing tinted goggles. This team has gone through remarkable means previously to get players on the court. This season? It does appear a bit murky, not that I'm a doctor or have any qualifications to play one in this space.

Q: Why the delay in sidelining Josh McRoberts for season and promoting someone from the D-League? -- Juan.

A: Because that's not how it works. McRoberts, even though sidelined for an extended period, has to continue to count as one of the 15 players on the roster (as does Chris Bosh, for that matter). If McRoberts were in the final season of his contract, then the Heat could elect to eat the balance of his contract. However, because McRoberts has a player option for 2017-18, his entire $7 million would stick to the Heat 2017-18 cap in the offseason if waived before the end of this season. Even if McRoberts does not play again this season, he remains eligible for a trade either this season or in the offseason, one that could ease the Heat's salary-cap position. For the Heat to bring up any players from their D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, they would have to open a roster spot, with none of their D-League players under NBA contract.

January 1, 2017

Q: Ira, Erik Spoelstra has had trouble figuring out who to start at power forward. I haven't: James Johnson. -- David.

A: If you are saying that James has been the Heat's most consistent power forward, I would agree, even with missteps like Thursday in Charlotte. But he's been even more consistent in another role, as someone who can spark the second unit, which he showed in his 22-point effort Friday in Boston. In a season when it has been difficult for the Heat to fill in the boxes beyond starting center and starting point guard, I think James' play off the bench has given Spoelstra a comfort level with the second unit that is difficult to move past. But there also is the layer of Johnson returning to the free-agent market in the offseason and perhaps eventually lobbying to get into the starting lineup. With Josh McRoberts out, and with Luke Babbitt and Derrick Williams as the other options, Johnson certainly has a case to move into the first five. As it is, the wheel of lineups again has stopped at Babbitt as the starting forward Thursday in Charlotte and then Friday in Boston.

Q:: Ira, let's stop kidding ourselves that Justice Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson are a nucleus to build a team around. They are nice players who play hard, but they would be reserves on a good team headed to the playoffs. They would make a nice unit coming off the bench, but the Heat need to find starters that can play with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. -- David, Fort Lauderdale.

A: First, if you scroll back through this space, I don't recall calling any of the three you mention as cornerstones. All, at least to this point, have shown to be complementary players. If the Heat had Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as was the original intention, all would indeed be niche players. With the Heat in position to utilize cap space in free agency or a trade in July, and with the likelihood of a lottery selection, I would dare say that of the three players you mention, no more than one would be a starter next season. There is no pretense with the Heat this season. They are playing players out of need. If there is a similar need next season, there likely will be a similar result.

Q: Is this season being sacrificed? We have a bunch journeyman and mediocre prospects. What is the plan? -- Brian.

A: As stated above: To see what the Heat have, and therefore see what needs to be added. Think of this season as a petri dish, with this a season-long experiment in individual assessments. So I think from a fan perspective, the plan should be to focus more on the individual than the collective, see who you feel comfortable moving forward with, and, to use your word, see who merely are mediocre.

December 31, 2016

Q: Ira, when I put on the radio tonight and heard that Isaiah Thomas scored 52 points I thought that the Heat would have lost the game by 20. I was surprised when I heard that it was a much closer game. Am I delusional when I think that this team isn't that far away from competing for division titles? I'm not suggesting that this will be the season, but it won't take too much time until they are in contention. I remember games where the Heat post-LeBron would get blown out by a really good team and the bench didn't contribute and/or we got out-rebounded etc, etc. This team fights and stays in the game for 48 minutes. They don't have a closer, but there are five guys who try to close and, as a result, play better together than waiting for the closer to do everything. -- Eric

A: Look, to win, and to win big in the NBA, you need a closer, which is what the Celtics had Friday night with Isaiah Thomas. But I do wish more fans shared your enthusiasm for the process. For all the talk of the Heat "tanking," find me one player who wasn't playing hit guts out at the end on Friday night. And when a team competes that hard, I agree that there should be respect. For weeks now, I've been asked, "How can you watch that?" My answer is because I don't just sit there and pick up the paper in the morning (and please do pick up the paper every morning), but rather I enjoy the games. And Friday was fun, a lot of fun. And that's a credit to a roster of players who have to be aware that by now the playoffs are the longest of longshots.

Q: This was Isaiah Thomas telling Pat Riley, "You should have traded for me instead of Goran Dragic." -- C.G.

A: And yet we know how much Pat Riley prefers bigger guards. Look, when the Dragic trade was made, it was when the Heat had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Thomas played Friday night without an assist, and there is nothing wrong with that on a roster that demands every last bit of his scoring. Dragic fit the roster he was acquired for better than Thomas. Then times changed for the Heat. It happens. What happened with Bosh, and then the tough decision with Wade, changed everything. Not it's a matter of again sorting out pieces, pieces that might not fit like they once did.

Q: Do you think it would be the right call for the Heat to call up Briante Weber? -- Timo, Germany.

A: That's a tough call, because I'm still not sure Briante is ready to guide an NBA offense and might be a more fitting Heat addition when the roster is flushed out with better talent, where Briante could be called upon to provide 12 explosive minutes a game. The move I would make with the Heat's D-League affiliate is to bring up Okaro White, a move that would require the Heat opening a roster spot. An extended look at him on the wing could help answer questions for the Heat moving forward.

December 30, 2016

Q: Ira, please tell me what is good about Justise Winslow? Hate to say it, but I'd take Michael Beasley over Winslow, and I'm not Beasley fan. -- Juan.

A: First, exhale. Then move past where the Heat drafted Justise, what they bypassed for him, who they could have had instead. None of that matters now. It just doesn't. Then consider players who have upgraded their shooting relatively early in their careers, with Kawhi Leonard among that group. Beyond all of that, ask how Winslow can help, be it his defending, his facilitating, his rebounding. Sorry, but you don't give up on NBA first-round picks at 20 years old. You just don't. There is a reason players fall to No. 10 in the draft. There always is a reason. A reason why someone such as Frank Kaminsky went earlier. The Heat have a shooting consultant now. If this one doesn't work, you get another. And, if needed, another. The good thing is the games don't matter as much in the moment. And around good players, be it at Duke or even during last season's playoff run, Winslow has shown he can make it work, even with the wayward shot. Just don't expect him to be, at this stage of his career, the first-, second- or perhaps even third-best player on your roster. He certainly looked a lot better when Wade, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside were thriving. This season is skewing a lot of appearances with the Heat.

Q: Dallas-area sports radio were glad the Mavericks didn't get Hassan Whiteside. Fears of a low motor after big dollars were founded -- Sergio.

A: I will say this, I do not believe that any of Hassan's lackluster play has anything to do with the four-year, $98 million contract he received from the Heat, beating out Dallas' July 1 overtures. I just don't. Now, the "motor" issue is something that certainly deserves further consideration. And while Erik Spoelstra has mostly said all the right things, the issue at hand is getting Whiteside to appreciate that this is an every-game league. Yes, over the course of an 82-game schedule you're going to have off nights. And you can sprinkle in about 10 during the six months. The concern is that Hassan already has used up most of those. Someone needs to find a way to get through, to draw out the passion. Sooner. Rather than later.

Q: Ira, this is just atrocious. What is happening with this team? Can someone explain how you have a two-time-champion coach and they give him a team full of NBA teams' leftovers, players that didn't help their previous teams (minus James Johnson and Wayne Ellington). Not only that, but we have no closer, no main go-to guy. I mean Pat Riley needs to stop playing it safe and be honest with us fans that this will not be a fast rebuild. -- George.

A: I agree that this team was not necessarily built to contend. The one chance was a fast start, with few injuries. Both of those factors quickly were scotched. What is left is the hope of the draft lottery and free agency. There is nothing wrong with Riley speaking of a rapid rebuild. But now the pressure shifts to the front office, where there must be ultimate success both in the draft and with the salary-cap cash about to come free from Chris Bosh's contract. It is pressure far greater than what currently is on the shoulders of Winslow or Whiteside.

December 29, 2016

Q: What is wrong with Hassan Whiteside? This guy is not up to it physically, doesn't play defense and is too slow up the floor. For the money Whiteside gets, he needs to play at a high level. -- Horace.

A: There are times when too much attention is paid to body language. But body language matters when you are perceived as a team's franchise player, particularly when you call yourself a franchise player. With Whiteside, actions mean a lot. And actions beyond shot blocks and dunks, similarly to how all the skill play in the world can't save DeMarcus Cousins from inspection because of his actions. NBA basketball is hard, physical, demanding work. But you know that going in. It also requires only about 2 1/2 hours of intensity 82 days a year. The next step for Hassan has to be about his motor, a motor that has to rev as highly on the nights when it's not going as well as his 20-15 nights. And, no, that is not too much to ask. For years, as he toiled overseas and in the D-League, Hassan craved the spotlight. Now the glare is as bright on his not-so-best nights as on the ones he dominates. As Erik Spoelstra says, greatness means being an all-the-time player. That is the next level for Whiteside. His next steps have to be eliminating the doubts he can get there.

Q: Hi, Ira. So I asked Santa for outside shooting for my Heat team. -- Cori, Charlotte, N.C.

A: And all you got was a lump of coal? It's not only getting the 3-pointers and outside shots from Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and James Johnson, it's getting them frequently enough so there is respect from the defense. The goal seemingly had become utilizing a stretch four alongside Whiteside to space the offense. And Josh McRoberts was getting there. Now, with McRoberts sidelined again, it will be interesting to see if Erik Spoelstra turns to the outside shooting of Derrick Williams or Luke Babbitt, or tries to find it elsewhere in the rotation.

Q: It's a shame we're slightly better than the other bottom feeders. It would help to lose. -- A.F.

A: This, not the losing, is what makes this season so trying from this perspective, that the occasional feel-good win instantly gets classified into something else. You also are attempting to nurture a winning culture, which only comes with at least the occasional win. So deal. If you get Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson too accepting of losing, you may never recover their winning spirit. You see it all the time on going-nowhere franchises.

December 28, 2016

Q: If Josh McRoberts is going to be out, can't the Heat just cut him and bring in another player? --Vic.

A: The problem with that, with McRoberts holding a $6 million player option for next season, is that the Heat would be on the hook for that entire amount on their 2017-18 salary cap. What the Heat could do is utilize the stretch provision, where McRoberts would receive his full remaining salary, but the Heat can spread out that $6 million over three seasons, for a $2 million hit for three consecutive cap years starting in 2017-18. The only benefit of such a move at the moment would be to open a roster spot, perhaps for a youthful candidate from their D-League affiliate. Of course, the Heat could yet open a roster spot due to Chris Bosh's situation or perhaps by applying for a roster exemption if these injuries continue to again mount. Most likely, the Heat will stick with McRoberts, if perhaps to see if there could be one final chance to make this work, or perhaps one final chance to see if he can be packaged into some type of cap-saving trade (as a plus-one with Goran Dragic?).

Q: Is the Heat's record a good indication of how this team is? Or have we not seen the full potential because of the injuries? -- D.Y.

A: With all of these injuries, I'm not sure we will ever see what this team could have been (which certainly is the case with Chris Bosh failing his preseason physical). And I'm not sure, at this stage, with this record, that it any longer is about seeing what this team could be. Instead, I believe it comes down to this being a season about individual-player evaluation, to see what Justise Winslow can be, what Tyler Johnson can be, what Josh Richardson can be, what Hassan Whiteside can be.

Q: With Goran Dragic out, we now get to see what life without Goran might look like -- Lineiro.

A: I'm not sure that's a direction the Heat will (or should) necessarily choose. But Tuesday did allow the Heat to at least get a glimpse into how the tandem of Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson at point guard might work. With both, I'm not sure they have that innate ability to hit a teammate at the prime moment for a scoring opportunity. But an argument could be made that is why moments such as Tuesday night are significant, for the two to grow into those moments. What Josh Richardson showed is what we already knew, that at this point of his NBA development he is more scorer than playmaker. The same arguably can be said about Tyler Johnson.

December 27, 2016

Q: I really don't understand any of this Goran Dragic trade talk. He has his limits, but he's cheap, he plays hard, and despite the major roster changes since he got to Miami, he seems to want to stay. The Heat are pretty bad right now, but there are some options in the near future without dismantling what assets we have. Everyone needs to chill and watch our young talent develop. I do expect Pat Riley to shake things up once that Chris Bosh money becomes available. He's never been the type to settle for mediocre. -- Tony, Big Sur, Calif.

A: To me, putting aside all the Dragic speculation, it comes down to this: Goran Dragic will be 31 heading into next season, only three years younger than Dwyane Wade. Granted, Dragic doesn't have nearly as much mileage on him. But if the Heat are taking a long view with their restructuring, then age has to factor in. If not, then it would appear too much weight was put on Wade's age. So the best option might be to wait on a draft loaded with lottery-level point guards and then see your position of need, including perhaps trading down to a team that needs a point guard, retaining Dragic, and then adding another asset in the process. The one factor that could sway all of that is a too-good-to-pass-up trade option. To a degree, that's why having Goran's name out there is probably not the worst of all worlds for the Heat, since it keeps him in the thoughts of win-now teams that might consider Dragic's experience an asset.

Q:  I know the Heat will win some close ones. Practice makes perfect, and the law of averages. -- Stuart.

A: If that, indeed, is the goal. Look, this season is like few others in the Heat's 29-year history. Is winning the ultimate goal? The reason I say that is the question of whether they would have (if he was available) inserted Dion Waiters into some of these late-game situations in order to let him work his isolation game or whether the preference would have been to allow the likes of Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson to grow through such moments? If the Heat absolutely, positively were playing to win these games amid all these injuries, they could have waived a Derrick Williams or even Udonis Haslem (temporarily) and gone after a Lance Stephenson or Gary Neal for short-term help. But this season is about more, apparently, than just seizing every possible moment any which way.

Q: Ira, in your opinion, would Serge Ibaka be a good complement to Hassan Whiteside (and Goran Dragic)? The Heat never really got to see "twin towers" with Hassan and Chris Bosh, but could it work? -- Gabriel, Miami.

A: First, there was enough of a sample size with Bosh to raise question about whether Whiteside works well alongside another big man, especially one that does not have complete a skill set as Bosh. Plus this roster, as currently constituted, cries out for a scoring wing, one who could conceivably play as a closer. Remember, with the new collective-bargaining agreement and all of its twists, it is likely the Heat will be able to secure a maximum of one max-level free agent, if even that.

December 26, 2016

Q: Ira, think of all these games when the Heat couldn't have scored at the end when Dion Waiters could have helped. This will be a new team when he returns. -- Steve.

A: Except I'm curious how much, if at all, Dion will play. When the Heat were shorthanded, especially on the wing, Waiters' isolation play was essential. But it doesn't mean that his play necessarily advanced the Heat's long-range goals. What the Heat can't do, with their forward-thinking approach, is allow their glut on the wing to get in the way of the development of Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson. Plus, the approach going forward likely will be more about ball movement than isolation play, especially with Goran Dragic playing at such a high level. So with James Johnson having earned his minutes with his aggressive play off the bench, and with Wayne Ellington, when he returns, having shown the advantages he can provide when spacing the floor, it will be interesting to see where exactly Waiters fits in. While it's all but assured that Dion will opt out of the second and final year of his two-year Heat contract, it will be curious to see if the Heat cover that base with a potential trade of Waiters once all their other wing options are healthy.

Q: Ira, I understand the concept of the Johnsons coming off of the bench to bring energy. However, don't you think that a team's most productive players should play more minutes? James Johnson makes a more palpable impact than Josh McRoberts or Luke Babbitt. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: I'm still not sure what the true story is at power forward, with, as it is, Justise Winslow getting most of the crunch-time minutes at the position, anyway. I think the goal, at the start, was to see if they could make something out of Babbitt as a stretch four, considering they hold his Bird Rights. And with McRoberts, there still are those cap concerns with his player option for next season. Between Babbitt and Derrick Williams is sure seems like a position where the Heat could clear roster space for a younger prospect (Okaro White?), knowing, as you mention, that James Johnson is capable of taking minutes there, as well.

Q: We need a closer. Someone please just emerge from this pile and be a leader. Maybe we just have a bunch of complimentary players. -- Mark, Cooper City.

A: Yes.

December 25, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. How are we to determine which position we need when we still haven't defined positions for Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson? That supposedly is our future young core. At this point, give them all the minutes and trade away players that would cut into their minutes. -- Joshua, Delray Beach.

A: But there are risks with that approach, as well. It's like leaving a pitcher or a goalie in too long when it's not their night. That can shatter confidence. And that's the balance the Heat and Erik Spoelstra have to walk. You want to grow your players, but you also want to grow them in an atmosphere that is not too toxic. So that can mean on the night when Winslow or Richardson or Tyler Johnson to perhaps back off so a 1 of 7 doesn't turn into a confidence-sapping 2 of 15. That also is why you have to play to win the games, so when those players are having good nights it doesn't consistently get soured with a bad overall result. These are testing time for both players and franchise. There are no easy answers, but what you can't do is allow these moments to sour the outlook of your future components going forward.

Q: I think Justise Winslow can be a great No. 2 option. I just don't think his ceiling is Kawhi Leonard. Justise's ceiling is Luol Deng. -- Dallas, Staten Island, N.Y.

A: The Heat can only hope so. In fact, if Winslow can reach the mid-range consistency that Deng developed, he would work well going forward alongside Hassan Whiteside. Look, what you are trying to do with a roster is check off as many boxes as possible. With Winslow, you can fill the category of "perimeter stopper." I don't think any of the teams that coveted Winslow in the draft coveted him as a franchise player, nor necessarily did the Heat at a time they had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. If Winslow can, in fact, as you say, become a No. 2 option, that would put the Heat ahead of the curve. I'm not sure Deng truly even stood at that point in his career.

Q: If Goran Dragic gets traded, it should only be for multiple draft picks. I like his game. I liked him when he was in Phoenix and was elated when the Heat got him. -- Robert, Falls Church, Va.

A: I doubt, with the premium the new collective-bargaining agreement places on draft picks, that the Heat could get a package that includes more than one first-round pick for Goran, especially when considering the Heat could have to take back a similar salary (unless cap space is utilized). Ultimately, those two potential lottery picks the Heat sent to the Suns will come as a punitive reminder of when the Heat never saw these outcomes with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. So all of it comes down to whether you ride with Dragic into his 30s, or turn to youth and potential salary-cap relief.

December 24, 2016

Q: Ira, put aside what Goran Dragic wants, because that almost never matters when a team makes a trade. What you didn't address was whether you would trade him. -- Henry.

A: For all the observations I offer in my blog, and for all of my instant (something too-instant) analysis I offer after trades, I don't actually get a say in the process. That probably is better for all parties involved. What I will say is the Dragic speculation certainly has merit, if only because of how dramatically the circumstances have changed between when he was brought in and now, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh gone. However, I also believe this is not a situation when you act with haste. To me, you trade Dragic if you know you can get a lottery-level point guard who has displayed the possibilities of immediately stepping into an NBA lineup (and June's draft might actually prove prospects at that level) or if you can secure a similar talent in free agency at a more cost-efficient salary-cap price point, something you likely won't know until July. For all the South Florida focus on what Dragic isn't, opposing coaches offer nightly glowing pregame analysis of Dragic, including from Alvin Gentry before Friday's game in New Orleans. When considering a Dragic trade, be careful of what you wish for, and remember the lineage at the position for the Heat between Tim Hardaway and Goran. And also keep in mind how much Dragic wants to be here, including pushing through back spasms in Friday's loss. Put it this way, how many nights have there been when you didn't believe Dragic gave ultimate effort? And then ask yourself about some of the others he has played alongside.

Q: Hassan Whiteside should be the third-best player on a contender. Someone always stat-stuffs on mediocre teams, be it Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, etc. -- C.J.

A: Which is why Erik Spoelstra always gets back to "winning plays." And that's what you have to see when considering the two most important questions with any player in the NBA: Can that player lead you to the playoffs? Can that player lead you to a championship? In some ways, even with his shooting struggles, Justise Winslow has shown that quality. And Hassan was starting to show it during last season's playoffs before he was injured. But what the Heat need to get to with Whiteside are stats . . . and wins. Yes, he faced brutal challenges in the post Friday. But it's also about hustling back on defense when one possession can change a game, which certainly was the case Friday.

Q: The Heat will go nowhere without one guy who can take over a game, and unless some general manager trades a franchise player or any one of the 2017 free agents turns into something they're historically not, I say go for Markelle Fultz or Josh Jackson. -- William.

A: Which, of course, is why there is so much askance viewing of the Heat's current situation. And I'm not sure I can disagree. One colleague told me he is convinced that Gordon Hayward can answer that need for the Heat in free agency. I'm not convinced of that. By a longshot. A nice player? Sure. A franchise player? Not sold. But Hayward, even at his free-agency money, is far more likely to give you something tangible than the all-or-nothing gambit on a one-and-done collegian. I think the ultimate answer for the Heat could be a trade for an overprized distressed property, eventually utilizing Chris Bosh's salary-cap space.

December 23, 2016

Q: I saw some flashes of Justice Winslow trying to lead the team Thursday night, but then I also saw him being out of control, too. Do you see any future with him as a possible leading man rather than a role player if he improves his shooting? -- Darcy, Nashville, Tenn.

A: What the victory over the Lakers showed is that Justise has to play in attack mode in order to maximize his skill set. And he is able to play in attack mode when others are spacing the floor, as the Heat did with their 11-of-22 3-point shooting. This time, Justise took just a single 3-pointer and initiated most of his offense either in transition or from the elbow. Part of that was the way the Lakers defended, and part of it was both teams electing to play small when their centers were out (the Lakers because of injuries; the Heat by choice). But you could see the aggression across the board, with Justise also closing with 13 rebounds, four steals and three assists. Moments like Thursday's are why so many were intrigued during the 2015 draft. The potential is there. And while the range might not be there, there still are ways to activate himself in the offense. Thursday, he clearly was activated.

Q: Ira, the Heat will play hard, but after 30 games, regardless of injuries, I don't think we will see much better than we have seen so far. The young guys will get more experience, but the winning percentage will not change much. Am I wrong? -- Robert.

A: Actually, I believe the winning percentage will improve, if only because of so many bad breaks in so many close games (Serge Ibaka's over-the-shoulder toss in the Magic game, really?). But I agree that the upside of what is in place, with the expected inconsistency of youth, likely would be .500 play the rest of the way, which would yield a 36-46 finish. And even that could be challenging in the short run, with nine of the next 11 on the road. If the Heat are still a mere 10 below .500 on Jan. 14, after their six-game circus trip, then perhaps the 36-win level could be attained or possibly surpassed. But that's asking a lot with the upcoming road games in Charlotte, Boston, against the Clippers and at Golden State.

Q: Do you think Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are good enough to be the foundation of this team? Why with Dragic and Whiteside are the Heat not winning more? -- Verum.

A: Which is a very good question and one that has to be answered sooner rather than later.  I would have thought the answer would have been yes. But until the Heat add a scoring wing to the mix, I'm not sure if we'll get to know. Right now the pressure is on the two to play a two-man game, and there has to be more from any team than the single action of a one-five pick-and-roll. All too often, the spacing is lacking because of a lack of 3-point shooting. So the real question is whether the Heat can afford to bide their time with Dragic and Whiteside while waiting on a wing scorer, or whether something has to be sacrificed in the interim to get that wing scorer. You could see the possibilities on Thursday night, when Winslow, Tyler Johnson and James Johnson were so effective. But that also was against the Lakers' dreary defense.

December 22, 2016

Q: Ira, "franchise player"? "Franchise player"! Hassan Whiteside is not playing the game one against five. Franchise player is not playing the game solely. Send LeBron James out there all by himself and see how many games he wins. Put more than complementary players around Hassan and you will see how they will complement the young man. -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

Q: Tuesday was a fun game to watch. I'm not expecting much from them and I don't think Whiteside is a franchise player. Chris Bosh was our last. -- Edward.

A: The franchise-player debate is a fascinating one, and not something a player can bestow upon himself. It also is not a measure of salary. In fact, I'm not even sure Bosh ever was a "franchise player," because of the limited success his teams had in Toronto and the complementary game he played with the Heat alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, both of whom were. I think it's particularly difficult for a big man to be a franchise player, because it often requires a playmaker getting him the ball (yes, I know there have been exceptions, but many of those big-man exceptions also played with exceptional point guards). I think the "franchise player" portion of Whiteside's comments might have been over the top, but not his desire for the ball. That's a good thing, to want to dominate. But part of it also is learning how to dominate, and that takes time, not just being one or two months removed from being a complementary component.

Q: Does it not make more sense to start Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and play Tyler Johnson more? I think we need to find out if these players are part of the Heat future. Let's play them as much as we can to see if they stick. -- Chris, Miami.

A: And with Rodney McGruder's ankle injury, the Heat were able to get to that Tuesday night. And, I agree, should stay with it. The only way to fully explore Winslow's positional possibilities is to explore them. Is he a small forward or a power forward (which basically is an issue of whether he can defend opposing power forwards)? So not only do there have to be nights like Tuesday where he starts at small forward, but also perhaps some time at power forward going forward, as well. On the other hand, the Heat cannot afford to fall in love with Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson as franchise cornerstones if that's perhaps not who they are. Again, play them and see. There is little downside to experimenting when you have this roster and this record.

Q: Ira, can you foresee a trade possibility with teams like the Celtics (so many future draft picks) or a team in need of a passing big man for Josh McRoberts? -- Luis, Miami.

A: Based on what the word was last summer, when the Heat were considering ways to expand camp space amid the Dwyane Wade negotiations, it won't be as much a matter of what the Heat could get in return, but rather if there is any possibility of offloading McRoberts' 2017-18 player-option year. As was the case then, I would have to believe that any team willing to take on McRoberts essentially could get him with nothing going the Heat's way in return. For now, the Heat continue to showcase.

December 21, 2016

Q: Do franchise players refer to themselves as franchise players? -- Z.Z.

A: To get those up to speed who went to bed early, or at least shortly after Tuesday's double-overtime loss to the Magic, in the wake of getting only three shots combined in the two overtime periods, Hassan Whiteside said when asked if he is getting enough touches, "They say I'm the franchise player. I would think I should get more. But, I don't know, man. I don't think so to be honest. Coach is going to coach." The thing is, what Pat Riley has said is he believes with growth that Whiteside can become the focus of the offense. The problem, at least from this perspective, is that when you go with relative NBA neophytes such as Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow, you're not necessarily going to get the cleanest offense. And while Goran Dragic was on the court for those minutes, he increasingly has been standing alone as the primary perimeter option (although Tyler Johnson did a good job of attacking Tuesday). The dilemma is while you develop the rest of your roster, the clock is ticking on each of these $20 million-plus seasons with Whiteside. And if you draft a rookie point guard, then you're resetting the clock again. But for all the make-nice comments from the team, how are these beliefs from Whiteside going to get resolved? Because it's not as if he wasn't also doing it on his own, when it came to his 15 rebounds and five blocks shots.

Q: Spoelstra should have used James Johnson. -- Leo.

A: I was thinking the same thing during the latter stages Tuesday, when the exhausted Heat needed energy and someone who could create his own offense, perhaps even get a body on Serge Ibaka to slow him down. But what I don’t know, what has not been truly delineated by the Heat, is what is the endgame for this season? Is it to season the younger players at all costs? Which makes such pressure moments as Tuesday invaluable going forward. Or is to compete enough so that the team can appreciate playing to win? Because if that is that case, then based on his body of work, James Johnson deserved to play more than 23 seconds combined in the two overtimes.

Q:  How does losing in such fashion repeatedly help the development of the core young players? If anything, it's stunting growth and establishing palpable fear late in games that trickles down to affect every aspect of decision making. How does the coaching staff address this? -- Adam, West Palm Beach.

A: You address it by mixing in enough that gives you the best chance to win -- if winning is, indeed, the ultimate goal. The mood in the locker room was somber Tuesday, as it has been after so many of these close losses, like the ones the past three games when also factoring what happened against the Clippers and Celtics. This is when one more veteran piece could have helped, like the veteran piece the Magic has in Serge Ibaka, or even what Jeff Green provided in his been-there, done-that minutes. The Heat have lacked that piece this entire season. Injuries certainly have been a factor, and with a Wayne Ellington or Dion Waiters, Tuesday's outcome might have been different. But it wasn't. It only was disheartening, based on the faces in the locker room.

December 20, 2016

Q: Are there at least five players on the Heat that we can see probably getting traded? -- Rolando.

A: Five? Five! I'm not sure anyone will be, because it's the market that creates the interest. I think it essentially is down to whether the Heat trade Goran Dragic. First, you can't rush to Hassan Whiteside's doorstep the first hour of free agency and then turn around and trade a supposed franchise cornerstone. Beyond that, there is a reason the players the Heat added in the offseason were available. So it's not as if any team is second-guessing allowing them to get away. And you can't give up on cost-effective youth at this stage, which puts Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow out of the equation. Beyond that, Tyler Johnson can veto any trade this season, so I doubt any outside team would even make overtures. So, really, it could start and end with Dragic. And that comes down to where the Heat stand on Feb. 23, the NBA trading deadline, and whether such a trade would net affordable long-range assets, such as draft picks or players on the rookie scale.

Q: Would it be plausible for the Heat to trade, say, Luke Babbitt for a second-round pick and then call up a D-Leaguer like Okaro White or Briante Weber? -- Jorel.

A: I doubt there would be any type of trade market for Babbitt or Derrick Williams or any of the other players on one-year deals who have fallen out of the rotation. But there is nothing to stop the Heat from waiving a player such as Babbitt to create a roster spot, and then lock in a White, Weber or any other young free agent to a multi-year deal in order to have insurance against the cap. That seemingly certainly will be the case when Chris Bosh is waived. Remember, Tyler Johnson was a midseason addition from the D-League and that move paid early, affordable dividends.

Q: Erik Spoelstra should know that Tyler Johnson is not a point guard. -- Gene.

A: Spoelstra's response assuredly would be that Johnson is a guard. Period. But you can see that when Johnson is on the floor and Goran Dragic is not that the Heat need another ballhandler, such as Justise Winslow or Josh Richardson. Several opponents, including the Celtics on Sunday, have applied immediate pressure when Johnson enters to run the offense. His ballhandling is not yet at NBA level for a point guard.

December 19, 2016

Q: Ira, I know a lot of us want to see wins every night out or at least the competitive energy from core players every time out. But in reality don't the core young guys have to go through this to get to where we all hope they can get to down the road? I mean we are talking about three second-year players and a 27-year-old that was playing at the YMCA a few years ago. Don't they have to go through the ups and downs of an NBA season to eventually understand how to win and how to want to be that guy every night? I think that's why it's important that those four get the playing time and all of the good and bad that come with it.  -- Doug, Oakland, Calif.

A: Which is why games such as Sunday's might be the perfect mix for the Heat. Players such as Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside all get significant fourth-quarter minutes, the home crowd gets to witness a compelling finish, and no damage is done to the Heat's lottery chances. No, this had nothing to do with tanking, but the result included the means to also advance the younger players, as you mentioned. It allowed Winslow to experience the desperation of late-game situations. It afforded Richardson the opportunity to take big shots. And it showed Whiteside that even more is needed. When is a loss not a total loss? When it allows players to make gains.

Q:  Too many slow starts for the Heat. Richardson and Winslow need to start the games from here on out. Need some more life. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: I thought Winslow should have been in Sunday's starting lineup, and believe that should be the case going forward. Are you grooming him as a backup? Or are you going to take this relatively low-pressure situation in order to advance his possibilities? I can understand appreciating the energy of Tyler Johnson off the bench. But if Winslow's upside is only that of a utility player, then you are in trouble, anyway. At worst, you'll fail forward.

Q: Erik Spoelstra had 6-foot-3 players guarding Jaw Crowder and Al Horford and didn't play Josh McRoberts when he is one of our best defenders. -- Leon.

A: First of all, yes, Goran Dragic did open defensively on Crowder, but it was James Johnson (albeit undersized) who was on Horford during some late possessions. As for McRoberts, it has been three years and I still have trouble with what the Heat actually think of him. He's been deemed worthy of starting, but the minutes remain minimal. I can understand wanting to play Winslow at power forward in some situations, but it does not seem that McRoberts is trusted as much late as early. Just a tough read.

December 18, 2016

Q: Ira, with all due respect to Rodney McGruder, not only is he not a scorer, he's also too small to defend bigger opponents and does not draw defensive attention when he has the ball. You have to have a wing player who knows how to score and defend in order to put yourself in a position where you at least have a chance to win. Once Dion Waiters comes back, do you see McGruder being out of the rotation? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: I understand that Erik Spoelstra put together the current lineup out of necessity, that with Justise Winslow out for all those games, he needed another facilitator, thus the addition of Josh McRoberts. But as this season teeters, it is important not to lose sight of this being the means to greater success down the road. So with Winslow now showing he again is fit enough for starter's minutes, and with Tyler Johnson expected back, I would start Winslow at power forward and Josh Richardson either at shooting guard or small forward (depending on whether Wayne Ellington is able to play). That still would leave the energy of Tyler Johnson and James Johnson off the bench. Winslow and Richardson are the future. While McGruder might be part of that future, it almost assuredly will not be as a starter. Yes, it's early in the season. But it also might be getting late when it comes to meaningful games for the Heat.

Q: The Heat really don't have that closer (like Dwyane Wade or a similar star) who can win a game like against the Clippers. Toward the end of the game, when it got close,  it didn't seem like anyone on the Heat wanted the ball.  It was pass the hot potato. Also Hassan Whiteside didn't get the ball in the fourth quarter as the game wound down.  It's hard to justify $98 million when he isn't a go-to guy.  Superstars find a way. -- Stuart.

A: Which is why you use these games and this season to see who that player might be. Perhaps it will be Justise Winslow, with an attacking style that could get him to the foul line. Perhaps Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson, who has displayed all kinds of courage in fourth quarters. As for Whiteside, if you can't make a free throw, then you are allows giving the defense a potential bailout in those situations. So continue to explore your options, while also making sure that the end-game doesn't turn into hack-a-Hassan.

Q: Do you think the Heat have enough to contend for a playoff seed or do you think the Heat should "rest" their way to the lottery? I know we have legitimate injury concerns now, but I'm not sure that the Heat might not be stretching the recovery times out longer in order to play the lottery. On the other hand, I think Pat Riley would go all out for the playoffs if there was a chance for that to happen. -- Robert, Miami.

A: I agree about Riley and about the Heat not being in a place where they are that far from getting back into playoff contention. But I agree that it appears the urgency of getting players back in the lineup is not quite what it has been in recent seasons. That doesn't mean that I'm not totally wrong. I'm just talking about appearances, and how there have been so few short-term absences this season.

December 17, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. I have been waiting for the new CBA negotiations to end to ask you this question. I know everybody is talking about trading Goran Dragic, even the fans keep saying that, which doesn't make sense. Why would Pat Riley even consider trading Dragic, when he is earning far less than any player of his caliber? -- Gago, Los Angeles.

A: That is a point I've been making since we found out exactly where these maximum salaries are going, which is to a stratosphere double where Goran stands with his $17 million salary next season. But that also could come down to whether the Heat find a value contract at point guard in the draft, or even better value in free agency (which certainly appears unlikely). That's the thing, it's one thing to talk about an upgrade, but how much of an upgrade is actually out there, and how many upgrades would be at a price point similar to Goran's? Of course, if the Heat believe that Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson can handle the position over the long run, then addressing other areas would make sense. I don't see that immediate possibility with either Johnson or Richardson. As it is, performances like Friday's from Dragic show that he can put you in position to win against elite talent.

Q: The Heat should have rested players Friday against the Clippers, with winnable games upcoming against the Celtics, Magic and Lakers. Pat Riley should have said something to Erik Spoelstra. -- Matt.

A: Only you don't do that when you're in the Heat's position and not when you have a day off before and a day off after. But that's where the Heat stand these days, with a roster largely incapable of beating the NBA's true elite, be it the Spurs, Cavaliers and now Clippers. It is why giving away those other home games was so painful. But you are correct that there should be greater hope over the final three games of this homestand against the Celtics, Magic and Lakers And if there is to be any realistic playoff hope, this is a homestand that requires a 5-1 record. So you move beyond Friday's game, hope Tyler Johnson is not ill on Sunday against the Celtics, hope Wayne Ellington can make it back with his hamstring (unlikely) and try to maximize the longest homestand of the season.

Q: How can Hassan Whiteside saying the DeAndre Jordan "just catches lobs" not be seen as insulting? -- Lauren.

A: Context. He was saying that's all that DeAndre has to do in a lineup that also features Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick. In fact, I believe Hassan would it find it anything but insulting if he had to go back to a similar role, with a roster stocked to the point it was when the Heat had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And, you know what, pretty much all DeAndre Jordan does is catch lobs. With the re-emergence of the center position, it would not be shocking to see Jordan go from first-team All-NBA to off all three of those teams. Chalk it up to Whiteside's learning curve. And with his pregame clarification Friday, it does appear that he is making progress in that area, as well.

December 16, 2016

Q: I would really love to see James Johnson re-sign. His play off the bench on a potentially contending team could be huge. My question is how likely is he to stay? Do you see J.J. fitting in the payroll on a salary close to this year, or is he outplaying that level of contract? -- A.I.

A: Johnson is earning $4 million this season and the reason he likely will command far more in the offseason goes beyond his impressive recent play. Under the soon-to-be-ratified new collective-bargaining agreement, the mid-level exception this summer is expected to fall into the range of $8 million, twice what Johnson is earning this season. And with maximum contracts rising to $36 million starting next season, the math is going to get particularly challenging for cap-space teams such as the Heat. Johnson has had nothing but praise about his Heat experience. But a lot can change between December and July. It could come down to Johnson's play reaching a level where the Heat view him as significant as the longshot chance for a second near-maximum free agent. And remember, Johnson does not have any sort of Bird Rights, so cap space will be the only means to retain him beyond a sizeable salary cut.

Q: What's the point in winning, honestly? I mean the ceiling for this team would be anywhere from 10th to eighth place. If by a miracle the Heat actually place eighth in the East they will be dismantled and embarrassed by Cleveland. And if they don't make the playoffs, they will just get a worse draft pick. I just truly don't understand it. This way we will be stuck in mediocrity. -- Bruno, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Because to win, you have to learn how to win. And if you poison Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and even Hassan Whiteside with the notion that losing is acceptable, then you just might be poisoning their careers going forward for the hope that a lottery pick will be at least as good as any of them (which is not a guarantee, especially with that pick likely to be a one-and-done 19-year-old). If you take that approach then you might as well completely clean house, because you otherwise are developing a toxic atmosphere, turning your franchise into something that more closely resembles the Kings.

Q: Ira, did you know Craig Sager? I am very sad. -- Jeff.

A: We all are. He was the same person privately as the one you saw on television, inquisitive and gregarious. As I posted on Twitter, every flight I took alongside Craig was a flight that ended too soon. He not only had stories, he listened. He made sure to enjoy himself and made you enjoyed yourself. I learned a lot from Craig, and it transcended something as insignificance as sports.

December 15, 2016

Q: Is James Johnson the guy left on the outside with Justise Winslow available and Rodney McGruder starting? -- Matt.

A: First, the lineup likely will wind up in as much flux as the rotation, itself. Beyond Udonis Haslem, who has not been playing, the players most likely to fall out of the rotation are Luke Babbitt and Derrick Williams, both of whom were held out Wednesday. In fact, if the Heat seek to create a roster spot before a decision is made on Chris Bosh (and Okaro White has been tearing it up for their D-League affiliate), it would not be a shock if Luke Babbitt were to be waived, with no option or Heat contractual commitment going forward beyond this season. It was a bit of surprise to see Willie Reed in the rotation Wednesday with Winslow back, but that likely was a factor of Hassan Whiteside being called for two first-quarter fouls.

Q: Sometimes . . . that No. 21. -- Mike.

A: Which is why the expectations are and should be high with Hassan Whiteside. Because he can. And the way this team is built and the way the team's salaries are structured, more performances like Wednesday's would be embraced. That's the thing -- he can do it. The next step is as often as possible, accepting that not every player can possibly have it every game over this 82-game grind. To a man, teammates said after Wednesday's game that Hassan is the key to opening this roster's possibilities. He did on Wednesday, with just about every one of those 26 points and 22 rebounds needed.

Q: Would you agree that Miami has found the perfect backup for Hassan Whiteside? Willie Reed is known for his defense but I don't think people are aware of how crafty he is on offensive end. He's a decent mid -range shooter and has skills down in the post. Needless to say, I hope management considers him a piece to go along with Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, and Josh Richardson for the future. -- D.J., Tallahassee.

A: This is a chance, especially at his price point. The Heat attempted to go small earlier in the season. But for all the talk of Josh McRoberts primarily playing at center, that has not been the case recently. Of course, with the way the results have been lately, it's not as if Erik Spoelstra is locked into any approach. A lot of it with Reed at the moment is how the opposition goes off the bench in the middle. If they go small, it will limit his opportunities. That proved to be the case Wednesday, with Al Jefferson limited to 10 minutes for the Pacers. That reduced the need for Reed, who only went seven.

December 14, 2016

Q: Ira, do you think it's best if Miami keeps Justise Winslow out for the rest of the season? The guy has a lot of potential and can possibly be a future star. The last thing you'd want is to damage that, right? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: First, that is not happening, with it looking more and more as if Justise will be back this week. And he needs to get back. And he needs to reestablish his confidence after a rough shooting start to the season. And the Heat have to get a read, as soon as possible, about where he fits in the plans going forward. Pat Riley said in July that the blueprint was to lock in Winslow as the team's small forward of the future. But if the reality shows otherwise, that Winslow might be more of a sixth-man defensive stopper, then the Heat needs to learn that, as well. While there has been plenty of second-guessing about taking Winslow over Devin Booker or even Myles Turner, that's all moot at this stage. But what the Heat have to learn going forward is whether there still is a need for a small forward of the future, and whether that needs to either be mined in the draft (Josh Jackson?), free agency (Gordon Hayward?) or in a trade (Rudy Gay?). The Heat not only need Winslow back, they have to see as much of Justise as possible the balance of this season.

Q: Who said the Heat's turnaround has to be after this year? What about long-term planning? Plan for two years, three years down the road. Have patience to contend. -- C.J.

A: Because that's not the vibe the Heat have been putting out, nor should it be, with the potential windfall of recouping Chris Bosh's salary-cap space and then having the opportunity in both the draft and free agency (or through trades) for immediate splashes. When you are spending like you are spending on Hassan Whiteside, you don't want each of those $20 million seasons to tick away without anything tangible in the standings. If the Heat, indeed, had a three- or four-year plan, then the outlay on Whiteside might have been better spent on a player younger than 27. No, part of what makes Pat Riley who he is is patience that expires after one year. Yes, he has stepped back at times, be it in 2007-08 or even 2014-15. But it's never about doing it with a long-term vision that includes future suffering. That hasn't been the Heat's way since the Heat's way became Riley's way.

Q: The Grizzlies are rolling. Should the Heat have promoted David Fizdale to head coach? -- Rob.

A: I can assure you that there was no way Fizdale ever was going to even consider taking over for Spoelstra, not that it ever was an issue. No, Spoelstra groomed Fizdale for this moment with many of the same tenets that the Heat utilize, with many inside the Grizzlies organization taking note of the imported culture. What it shows is that the Heat's way still has a place in the NBA. And, again, if Erik Spoelstra ever became an ex-Heat coach, his phone would be ringing within a matter of minutes.

December 13, 2016

Q: Can we play the Wizards every night? -- Dan.

A: Because, yes, the Heat are 2-0 against the Wizards and 6-17 against the rest of their schedule. The thing is, with this Heat roster, beating the elite teams is going to be a challenge, so you can more easily move past the two losses to the Spurs, the one to Cleveland, accept the split with the Grizzlies and justify the losses in Toronto, Portland, Atlanta and Chicago. But it's the other ones, against teams similar to the Wizards, that got away that are the ones that continue to sting. If the Heat were able to hold their own against the middling, they wouldn't be in the position they're in, where even a 4-2 homestand still would leave them eight games below .500. Now they have to find a way to quality wins, as well, like on this homestand against the Clippers and Celtics.

Q: Ira, what is the status on Dion Waiters? I would love to see him playing with Ellington -- Leo.

A: He is supposed to be reevaluated this week, but that is just the first step toward a potential return. He was the lone player on the roster not to go through Monday's shootaround. But unless he claims the minutes of Wayne Ellington -- and the Heat appear to relish the spacing that Ellington can provide -- I'm not sure where Waiters fits, now that Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson all are playing significant minutes. At the start of the season, the Heat often had to turn to Waiters' one-on-one offense. The offense is in a different place right now, and it’s not as if Waiters is known for his defense, even though it certainly has been passable this season.

Q: Goran Dragic needs to be traded as soon as possible. This dude is going to cause Miami to miss out on Josh Jackson, and Pat Riley would be stupid to do that. -- Aura.

A: This certainly is a long, strange ride this season, what with solid efforts making players both essential to the moment, but possibly detrimental to the future. I still believe that if Goran can play and stay up to his potential, then at least for coming seasons, he would remain a valuable asset to the Heat. But I do see solid efforts from some players potentially setting up those players for trades. So you could say it's a win-win, unless you are one of those players who is not sure what is going on. All I know is Monday felt good in the arena and in the locker room. And isn't that still part of the equation?

December 12, 2016

Q: Josh Richardson is a flat-out baller and top-notch guy. He and Udonis Haslem are only Heat players I consider untouchables in regards to trades. -- C.J.

A: I chose to respond here not because of any such notion of Richardson or Haslem being untouchable (although Haslem has the right to block any trade because of his contract status), but, rather, to get to the greater question of: Are any Heat players off the table? To be candid, I don't think so, which could make those decisions difficult when purchasing Heat jerseys as Christmas gifts. Start with Hassan Whiteside and all these attempts Erik Spoelstra has made to get Whiteside's motor running at a consistently greater gear. Then there is Goran Dragic, who could be the Heat's ticket to replenishing in the draft. Beyond that, I would have to believe that the right deal could land Justise Winslow, Richardson or Tyler Johnson, if anyone is willing to take on the final two years of his contract (he, too, can block any trade until the offseason). The point being is there are no untouchables here. And based on where this appears headed, that only makes sense. For the right package of prospects and/or picks, I'd have to believe that anything and everything will be explored.

Q: Curious to why Tyler Johnson doesn't start? It seems to me like he outperforms Rodney McGruder and Wayne Ellington on a nightly basis. -- Jacques.

A: First, I would not put stock into anything about lineups or rotations amid all these injuries. But when the Heat were closer to healthy at the start of the season, Johnson helped provide scoring off the bench when Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters were starting. It could be as simple as waiting to see when/if Dragic is traded, to see if Johnson's move into the starting lineup could perhaps come at point guard. As a backup, that's where most of Johnson's minutes have been spent.

Q: Derrick Williams looks lost, lacking confidence, and sporadic playing time has really messed him up. Is his career still salvageable with the Heat? -- Doug, Alameda, Calif.

A: Williams is one of those players that you wonder about from afar, convinced that the athleticism and hustle could and should translate into something. But when you see him up close and often, you get a sense that all that athleticism and hustle isn't translatable into something tangible from a basketball perspective. Derrick looks like he should be capable of contributing. But that hasn't been the case very often to this stage, either with the Heat, or seemingly elsewhere. To add the type of perspective many in this space apparently would welcome: I'm not sure that Michael Beasley wouldn't give you more.

December 11, 2016

Q: Ira, do you see us turning this around at all? I don't think this is an issue of Miami being overhyped in the preseason, but more of us just not playing as good as we should. We're certainly better than we're playing, in my option. -- Anthony.

A: The next step from here, obviously, is health. But how the Heat choose to take their next steps could be a fascinating study. Having already fallen behind the pack, do the Heat go back to what this season always was  about, namely featuring and seasoning young players such as Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and even Hassan Whiteside? Or are veterans and potential rental pieces such as Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt and James Johnson injected back into the mix as a means of upgrading the record, especially with the Heat entering a six-game homestand at a time when some ticket-renewal decisions are due? Again, health has to come first. What follows could be an opening of the window to what's next over these final four months of the season.

Q: When everyone get healthy, can you see Rodney McGruder starting for this team? His defense and effort every night has given the Heat and endless motor. -- Migz.

A: And that's a name I left off above and probably should not have, with McGruder showing the type of potential that Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson offered when they were given their chances. Taking a long view, the most likely slot for McGruder would be in a tag-team role with Winslow, as the Heat's designated perimeter stopper. While I don't see them starting together, I could see them on the floor together at the ends of games, when the Heat need a defensive stand. It probably would be wise to include McGruder on the list of prospects the Heat could increase their focus with if the playoffs are eliminated from the equation. But he has to make himself into more of an offensive threat, although an argument could be made that he's ahead of Winslow from that standpoint.

Q: The Heat were forced to overpay for Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson. They're going to have to be lucky now to build a contender with those contracts. -- C.J.

A: Actually, there likely will be a reprieve with Bosh's contract, potentially as early as Feb. 9, the one-year anniversary of his last game played before he yet again was sidelined due to blood clots. And it simply is too early to define how it's going to play out with Whiteside and Johnson. Both have the ability to play up to their pay grade. With each, it's a matter of consistency. That's what seasons such as these are about, growing that consistency. 

December 10, 2016

Q: Anything on Hassan Whiteside being manhandled and quitting on the team? -- Leo.

A: First, I believe that is being a bit too severe. What I don't think was too severe was  Erik Spoelstra yanking Hassan early in the third period, when the defense went from bad to worse. This is what has to be done, and it's a significant part of coaching. It not only sent a message to Whiteside, but also to teammates that anything less than everything will not be tolerated. I said at the start of the season that an 82-game player is going to have about 10 games when he doesn’t have it. That's just part of the grueling nature of NBA life. But they can't keep on coming without accountability. Friday was a moment that could resonate with Hassan. The shame is that on a roster of so many strangers it is more difficult for the players to handle it on their own in the locker room. The Heat paid Whiteside to be great and Whiteside said he wants to be great. Greatness finds a way. On this team, it has to start and stop with Hassan. And it has to be about far more than stats.

Q:Whiteside just doesn't get the ball in the post. It's inexcusable at this point in the season. They are going around him. -- Victor.

A: No, they're not. And part of that is fighting for such a tight seal and such deep post position that an entry pass can't be denied. Post play is hard work. But at the moment, this has nothing to do with offense. For the most part, that has been turned around. This is about a defense that has to be anchored by an active, aggressive, agile big man. The best way for Hassan to win back teammates after Friday night is to win them back on the defensive end.

Q: There is a reason Miami went from arguably the best defense when Justise Winslow was available to one of the worst defenses when he is out. Miami's defensive foundation should be built around Justise Winslow, sort of like how the Spurs' defense is based around Kawhi Leonard. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: Which is sort of a rebuke to those who say it's all about surrounding Whiteside with four shooters. One upside with all these absences is the Heat also are exploring the defensive possibilities of Rodney McGruder. The upshot of all of this could be a pair of defensive stoppers going forward. So there is that.

December 9, 2016

Q: With John Wall's comment about his teammates, is this the type of opportunity for Pat Riley to capitalize on? -- V.S.

A: Those familiar with this space appreciate that I rarely venture into trade speculation, because there are too many unknowns, including what it actually takes to make a deal (your question offered up the possibility of Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow for Wall and Otto Porter, but I'm not sure the Wizards wouldn't value Porter more than Winslow). Yet the one thing I will acknowledge is that there do appear to be chemistry issues with the Wizards, something a coaching change seemingly hasn't solved. And the one thing about Riley is that distressed property does seem to be his real estate, be it Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O'Neal or even Dragic, himself. Most, if not all, NBA talent scouts, would have Wall, based on ability and potential, rated significantly ahead of Dragic, and it's not as if the Heat are in any position to throw in draft picks to sweeten such a deal, with a pair of first-rounders still owed for Dragic. But the Wall possibilities do appear to grow more interesting by the day, particularly at moments of venting. The Heat's next home game is against the Wizards, on Monday night, so perhaps we'll see if there is a welcome wagon in place.

Q: I feel like Hassan Whiteside needs to pass more and get others involved. -- Doug, Alameda, Calif.

A: And that is the other part of the equation to those emphasizing that the Heat need to get the ball more often to Hassan. The point being that the goal should be creating the best shots possible. Some of Whiteside's early attempts against the Hawks, and then his attempt to go full-court off the dribble, couldn't help but dissuade others from sending the ball into Whiteside. Part of demanding more from teammates is being a better teammate. Some of this comes down to Whiteside being relatively new to such a featured role. But the concept of keeping the ball in motion should be one easy enough to grasp for both Hassan and his teammates. If he expects more from his teammates, then they have the right to expect more from him.

Q: I have a feeling it will only get better once this entire team is healthy. It seems like Wayne Ellington has eased the pressure and everyone is more relaxed. Do you sense a turnaround once that happens? -- Doug, Alameda, Calif.

A: I certainly could see this team playing .500 ball for an extended period once all the pieces are back in place. But that re-start also could come at a time when the Heat are already 10 games below .500, meaning playing .500 from there would, at best, produce something along the lines of 36-46. And that's the problem, the ones that have gotten away in the interim.

December 8, 2016

Q: In almost every  game Hassan Whiteside has played against "elite" centers throughout his career, he's failed to get his game going. I'm not sure he's ever played on par against an elite center, much less got the better of any of them. At some point to be an elite center, you have to show you can play with the top centers, sometimes losing the war, sometimes winning the war. But you have to show up, all the time. That's why, in my opinion, he's not an All-Star big man. You just can't put up big numbers against average-to-poor big men. -- Matt.

A: I believe there is plenty of hyperbole there, but I do agree that to be considered among the best, you have to complete with the best. This is where I sometimes find myself caught up in the argument of Whiteside as "youthful" prospect. On one hand, at 27, he's not so young. But in terms of NBA development, he still is somewhat in his infancy. What I find most troubling is this notion that opposing defenses are loading up against him, taking away his game. That's what they're supposed to do; it's the ultimate sign of respect. And yet, the All-Stars find a way, any way, on almost a nightly basis. So I believe we're arguing the same point: There has to be more consistency, more of a way to find a way. Not every great center has had great pieces around them. And while defensive rules have allowed more packing of the paint in recent years, there still have been ample big men who have thrived. Some of it is up to Erik Spoelstra to make the accommodations. But a lot of it is on Whiteside to be what he wants to be.

Q: I know Erik Spoelstra doesn't like to play one-dimensional players, but shouldn't the Heat try to find at least two more shooters like Wayne Ellington? Remember who Orlando had as complementary pieces when Dwight Howard went to NBA Finals? Remember who helped the Big Three in Miami? Look at Houston, Golden State and Cleveland. Despite all the talent, they have role players that make threes. Getting shooters around Hassan Whiteside prevents the defense from collapsing on him. It seems crazy not to force the opponent into pick your poison. -- Stuart.

A: Thing is, I think the Heat believed they had that shooting, with the ability to surround Whiteside with Josh McRoberts, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic, let alone Ellington And then the shots went up and clanked. And, all the while, the Heat attempted to find a place for Justise Winslow. Interestingly, the Hawks, amid their slide, began to develop the same issue, a lack of outside shooting leaving opponents more comfortable in packing the paint against Dwight Howard. The NBA is undeniably a shooting league, and the Heat need to find their way in that direction. Johnson took a step forward Wednesday, and yet the reality for Whiteside in that packed paint is that the Heat still have to win over the defense's respect.

Q: This whole situation with these "injuries" seems like Pat Riley and Micky Arison just mailing it in. It's very frustrating to watch and understand. -- Dacota.

A: Which makes this the perfect time for Pat Riley to sit down and publicly explain where things stand with the franchise. That shouldn't have to fall on Erik Spoelstra on a nightly basis. We just had a letter to season-ticket holders from Eric Woolworth, the Heat's president on the business side, who spoke about "our dynamic young core." Now it would appear to be Riley's time, as face of the franchise, to reset the front office's perspective. It is what Riley does very well.

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.

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