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ASK IRA: Who should start at shooting guard for the Heat with Waiters out?
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.


September 19, 2018

Q: Now that Dion Waiters' return is delayed, Erik Spoelstra has a new decision to make. Does he start Josh Richardson at shooting guard and Justise Winslow at small forward or just plug in Dwyane Wade? -- Skip, Tampa

A: First, the Heat are not necessarily looking at it as Dion's return being delayed, but rather as on the timetable initially forecast. That said, it will be a delicate decision for Erik Spoelstra, particularly with the knowledge that Dion could be back relatively early in the regular season. So if you start Dwyane Wade and then Dwyane proves productive in that role, then what happens when Dion returns? Remember, Dion still has three seasons left on his contract, while this will be the last for Dwyane. In the case of most short-term absences, Spoelstra has shown a preference for lineup continuity, by merely slotting in a placeholder as starter in order to leave the rest of the rotation in place, similar to the way he utilized Jordan Mickey last season. In other words, if the goal is to play Justise Winslow off the bench and to again utilize Josh Richardson at small forward, then your Richardson-Winslow pairing might get in the way of continuity. There could be similar thought if you move Tyler Johnson into the starting lineup only to eventually move him back to the bench. So this is what I would do: Start Derrick Jones Jr. At worst, it would give you a chance to get a better read on a player with promise. It also would keep the rest of the rotation largely intact. There will be precious few opportunities to test drive Derrick this season with such a crowded perimeter rotation. This is one of them.

Q: Trade Dion Waiters when he's healthy. -- Samad.

A: It is going to take more than that to get Dion to market, if that becomes the Heat's ultimate end game with their crowded perimeter rotation. It will take an extended period of renewed health, likely months, perhaps longer. There are enough perimeter options out there without lingering ankle issues, let alone one who is still owed $25 million over the two seasons beyond this one. On a roster of players viewed as untradeable, Dion might now be right up there with Tyler Johnson.

Q: Do you think the Heat regret not having a guard on a two-way contract now with Dion out? -- Lex.

A: No, because there still are plenty of wing options on the current roster. When it comes to two-ways, they should go to players you believe have the most upside at that price point. For the Heat, that remains, at least at the moment, Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten, the undrafted forwards.

September 18, 2018

Q: So right now guess the lineups will look something like this: First team -- Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside. Second team -- Tyler Johnson, Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo. Third team -- Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, Derrick Jones Jr., Duncan Robinson, Udonis Haslem. Sure looks pretty interesting. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: Only it doesn't work that way, and there hasn’t been a team since Hubie Brown's Memphis Grizzles that have subbed in and out five-man units. Getting quality minutes for even 10 players is difficult enough, rarely accomplished. And the fact that you leave Wayne Ellington out of that first 10 seems a bit off, considering how significant 3-point shooting is in today's game. And that's the rub regarding all the emotion about Dwyane Wade's return. If Dion Waiters can pick up where he left off two seasons ago, and if Tyler Johnson can provide value, then a case could be made for Wade not being in that top 10. And I'm not so sure that Derrick Jones Jr. doesn't deserve greater inspection.

Q: Curious to see who gets the 15th spot or if Pat Riley leaves it open for later in the year. -- S.B.

A: For years now, whether it is because of luxury-tax or flexibility concerns, Pat Riley has spoken about starting with 14 roster players, one below the regular-season maximum. And for years, he has gone with 15. But of the 20 invited to camp, I'm not sure I see a 15th man. There is absolutely no reason to rush Duncan Robinson or Yante Maten into that group, with ample time for a low-cost inspection on their two-way contracts that don’t count against the cap. And the other four in camp appear headed to Sioux Falls as affiliate players (Briante Weber, Jarnell Stokes, Malik Newman and Marcus Lee). Player No. 15 could well wind up either someone still on the free-agent list, or someone to be trimmed for another roster.

Q: Ira, there is a big difference between Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Kobe was a self-centered player and individual, it was all about him. Conversely, Wade has always been unselfish and team oriented. In fact, he put his money where his mouth was many times. So my sense is the last dance this year will be true to Wade's past practice, which will be about team and winning. With a full season of Wade, the Heat could be looking at 46 to 48 wins this year and maybe a slightly better position in the playoffs, where they could get to the second round.  -- Chris.

A: Dwyane has shown overwhelming fellowship with those on the current roster, so you certainly could be on to something. And yet, with all the drama in his announcement about this being his final season, it's almost as if he is anticipating a few signature moments of his own. The question, as with any NBA optimal offense, they can come within the flow.

September 17, 2018

Q: Ira, with Jimmy Butler having his meeting with the Timberwolves and also becoming a free agent next summer, shouldn't the Heat use Dwyane Wade to recruit Butler? The Heat already have shown what they can do with Marquette players. -- Erin.

A: Could have seen this one coming, since whenever there are rumblings of a leading man moving on, Heat fans begin the plotting. First, there is no guarantee of a Timberwolves-Butler divorce. But if there is going to be one, considering how much Minnesota gave up to trade for Butler, for what could prove a one- or two-season rental, the price figures to be steep. The 'Wolves traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. So an equivalent Heat package could be something along the lines of a 2019 unprotected Heat first-round pick, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. The issue, as it was with all those Kawhi Leonard permutations before he was dealt from San Antonio to Toronto, is that you could be looking at a one-season rental, with plenty of speculation that Butler and Kyrie Irving land somewhere as a package deal next summer (when the Heat again will lack significant, if any, cap space). And while Dwyane is close to Jimmy, it's not as if Butler is going to base a decision on a player who essentially is looking at a retirement tour, having experienced nothing better than .500 results alongside Dwyane with the Bulls in 2016-17.

Q: Hassan Whiteside is so talented and it would be so disappointing to see him fail. So what so you expect from him this season? -- Ethan, Syracuse.

A: Greatness -- if he returns with the same passion, drive and health that he displayed at the start of his Heat tenure. To me, the entire Whiteside equation comes down to drive and effort that forces the hand of Erik Spoelstra to keep him in the game no matter who else is available in the power rotation.

Q: Does Pat Riley make a big trade before camp or does he wait till December/February trade window? -- Skip, Tampa.

A: What exactly is there to trade? And I'm not sure that enough value could be built from what currently is on the roster to create deals at the February trading deadline, let alone the Dec. 15 date when players signed in the offseason become trade eligible.

September 16, 2018

Q: Is there anything on a rumor that Dwyane Wade wants a multiyear deal? -- Bev.

A: I'm not sure where that talk started, since Dwyane said last week that he is letting his agent handle the contract details. But, as I've mentioned, perhaps the best way out of the Heat's salary limitations -- limited to either the $2.4 million veteran minimum or the $5.3 million taxpayer exception -- with Wade would be to construct a multiyear deal with single-season expectations. In other words, offer two years at the mid-level, for a payoff of $10 million-plus, with an agreement that Wade would collect on the second year even if he plays only one, final farewell season, similar to what the Spurs did by honoring the final years on the contracts of Tim Duncan and now Manu Ginobili for a season after their retirements. While such an approach would put an additional $5 million-plus on the Heat books for 2019-20, that does not appear to be a cap-space offseason for Pat Riley and his front office. In many ways it would be a way to make Wade whole, while also offering him more than the Heat offered to Wayne Ellington to get into the luxury tax this offseason in the first place. At this point, $10.8 million appears a reasonable number for what Wade could offer in a final season.

Q: Dwyane Wade needs to retire. When you aren't 110 percent sure you want to play, it's time to not play and let people that want to play, get that roster spot. -- P.M.

A: While I would not overstate the 20th roster spot for training camp, which essentially is what the Heat are holding for Dwyane, we actually are talking the 14th (or better regular-season roster spot, considering Udonis Haslem's likely status as 15th man). And that could be player who moves up into the rotation if there are significant injury absences. So, yes, there could be something to be said about clarity in advance of the Sept. 25 start of training camp. That said, in light of all Dwyane has done for the franchise, he should retain the right to his own timetable.

Q: Ira, what if Bam Adebayo wins the starting job at center? -- Wallace.

A: I don't see the Heat ever letting it get to that point as long as Hassan Whiteside is ambulatory. At best, you want to attempt to resurrect his game to something closer to what was on display prior to last season. At worst, you want to attempt to resurrect his game to create a tradeable commodity.

September 15, 2018

Q: Ira, I know the Heat have to get a read on the youth they have under contract, but don't you think Erik Spoelstra still has to be fair and play the guys who deserve to be out there regardless of their age or contract? If you have players that continue to make countless errors game after game, the right thing to do is to exchange them for another player that can do what's required to win. -- Katia, San Francisco.

A: That comes down to what this season is about. If it's about the highest possible playoff seed, then it has to be whatever it takes to win on any given night. But when the highest possible seed likely still has the Heat out of the playoff in the first round then there is something to be said about taking a longer view. And that's where the coaching staff and front office have to be on the same page and honest in their appraisal of the roster. Yes, Erik Spoelstra will offer his "why not us?" talking points. But the reality might be more of a case of "why not us in the future?" at a time when you truly have studied the possibilities of your younger players. When Josh Richardson was attempting game-ending shots last season, it at least opened eyes to the possibilities. When Justise Winslow was playing meaningful playoff minutes, it allowed evaluation of his big-moment promise. It would seem that would be more important at the moment than whether James Johnson can set up a winning play or whether Dwyane Wade gives the Heat the best chance to close out a regular-season victory.

Q: Ira, you've mentioned a few times about how Hassan Whiteside's fate -- and playing time -- is mostly up to him, that he can force Erik Spoelstra's hand when it comes to playing him. But how many times over the years (OK, not so much last year, but in years prior) was Hassan in the midst of a game where he was doing everything (and more) that Spo asked -- engaged, aggressive, high motor, etc. -- only to be pulled from the game? Or only to sit most of the fourth quarter. I imagine that at some point that tends to break a player's spirit, no? -- Aram, Boynton Beach.

A: You raise a cogent point (with a few of last season's moments the exception.) So what it could come down to is whether Spoelstra believes that a player with Hassan's skill set can succeed amid today's playing style. In the NBA, it often comes down to who is going to match who. So if, for example, the 76ers were to believe that Dario Saric can defend Hassan, when would Spoelstra believe he can make it work on the other end? It is interesting in that much of what the Heat do from a positon-less standpoint is based on maximizing their personnel. So does Spoelstra believe he can maximize Hassan's skill set in today's NBA?

Q: How can anybody be upset with Dwyane Wade taking so long with his decision? Would you rather he commit to return and then leave suddenly when he realizes it isn't right for him? Or retire only to realize he misses the game? -- Len.

A: The only issue with the indecision would be a concern about the commitment while lining up for a franchise that stresses an all-in commitment. From that standpoint, it certainly is better to be firm with the decision. But one would think that after doing this for 15 years, the internal clock would say it is decision time. That is the part that creates pause.

September 14, 2018

Q: It's hard to imagine Dwyane Wade still doesn't know with camp right around the corner. Maybe he's just building up the excitement/mystery. -- Linda.

A: Got to admit, Thursday felt a bit odd -- for the exact reason you cite. Dwyane certainly has the right to take whatever next step he chooses. He doesn't owe anybody anything with his decision. But Thursday also was strange in that Dwyane stressed that it was not about having a decision in place and waiting for a dramatic announcement. To me, if he truly is waffling -- another factor that is difficult to read -- then perhaps that says something this close to camp. On one hand, you have Udonis Haslem, who is facing a season of nights not only on the bench but potentially also in a sports coat, and yet he made clear the desire to push forward. Then you have Dwyane, two years younger, who spoke with no conviction either way in his voice. I do agree with what Pat Riley said earlier this month, that Dwyane Wade as an invested participant makes the Heat better. But how invested does he stand at the moment? The plot seems to have thickened.

Q: The Dwyane Wade situation has gotten a little weird. -- Howard.

A: Yes. Players always talk about how their internal calendar lets them know when it is time to get both physically and mentally prepared for a season. Dwyane has been through this drill 15 times already; certainly the internal calendar is letting him know that camp is less than two weeks away. And yet he still is deliberating, or at least has doubts? It seems so uncharacteristic for a player who has been so decisive throughout his career.

Q: If Dwyane Wade doesn't return, does it mean one of the two-way players could make the team? -- Howard.

A: They've basically made the team already, eligible to spend at least 45 days with the Heat this season (plus the time before G League camp starts and the time after the G League regular season). So Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten already are accounted for on the season-opening roster. My thought is that if Dwyane Wade doesn't return and if Dion Waiters isn't 100 percent for the start of camp, then it might be time to return to the free-agent list to consider a veteran wing, perhaps one who could be signed without a guarantee.

September 13, 2018

Q: Ira, I'm glad the Heat re-signed Bam Adebayo. And Josh Richardson also is a good contract. What happens with Justise Winslow? -- Wayne.

A: First, Bam simply was a case of picking up a nominal extension that is not much more than the minimal salary and less than exception money for a replacement player. And, yes, the Josh Richardson extension sets up as a value contract regardless of whether he is a starter for the term of the deal. For Justise, an extension could be a matter of timing -- bad timing. At some point, the Heat are going to have to decide who their $10 million players are and who are going to support those players. As it is, they already have put Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Richardson in that realm, with even larger deals with Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson. Because Justise is somewhat last in line, I certainly could see the Heat deferring the decision until restricted free agency next summer. And by then, they also could have a better idea of whether a contract in such a realm also would be in the cards with Bam. Basically, the Heat are so loaded up in the middle of their salary structure that something is going to have to give.

Q: Much of Hassan Whiteside's fate is in his own hands. I think Erik Spoelstra will give him plenty of rope. Even with 28 minutes, he is easily capable of 16/14 nights. That is nothing to scoff at even in this NBA era. Progressing in his level of maturity and focus will be vital to his success and the team's, as well. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: But how do you measure motor? Is it a matter of in-the-moment motor? Sustained motor? Enduring motor? A lot of that comes down to pushing a player to test the limits. To best take measure going forward, it could mean allowing for a considerable sample size each game. The problem with this everyone-is-equal roster is where that would leave Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk when it comes to playing time.

Q: Ira, I remember during the second half of his rookie year, Josh Richardson played more off the ball and stepped into his shots with confidence. But last season when the ball was in his hands more, he seemed a bit too timid and made a few reckless errors. Could it be that the Heat are using him wrong? -- Lola, Fort Lauderdale.

A: I'm not sure about wrong, but perhaps asking too much. I would believe that with Dion Waiters back this season (and Dwyane Wade possibly, as well), that there won't be nearly as much need for Josh in that type of role. In fact, if the Heat truly want to figure out what is next for Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow then it would make sense to have the ball in their hands more often -- and therefore less often in Josh's hands.

September 12, 2018

Q: Looking at the draft going forward, I can't remember the last time the Heat held three of their four next first-round draft picks. With the draft rules almost assuredly changing in the next two years to include high school players again, do you see the Heat putting a premium on keeping their picks going forward? Or do you see them putting them in play as they have in the past? It seems they are comfortable building through their G League, but it's also interesting how they have stood firm the last few years in not dealing any first rounders. I have a feeling they are holding them to throw at a team looking to unload a superstar, otherwise they are content drafting and building the team. I don't seem them trying to let them go for salary/cap relief. Do you get the same feeling or vibe from what you are seeing and hearing? -- Aaron, Coconut Grove.

A: I believe that as long as Pat Riley is in place, the Heat will prioritize star, proven talent. So if it means at least trying to keep LeBron James for an extra year or acquiring a player on the level of Goran Dragic, the preference would be to go with the established player at the cost of picks. What likely has changed is a willingness to utilize picks as sweeteners, which likely is among the reasons for the current stagnant roster and luxury-tax position. The problem is that because the Heat are perceived as a franchise that refuses to go to the bottom, their future picks have lesser value, such as the unprotected 2021 pick the Suns dealt to  the 76ers. That's the rub, that Heat picks rarely are viewed as lottery picks. To me, the willingness to trade a future first-round pick, beyond the rules that limit which picks can be dealt, comes down to the development of players such as Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr. If the Heat believe that they have reestablished their youth base, then it is possible they would be more willing to move a pick going forward. If not, then those picks will have more value.

Q: Ira, is it your view that the Miami Heat are possibly looking at Bam Adebayo replacing Hassan Whiteside when his contract expires in a couple of years? He's young and athletic. -- Rodney, Sarasota.

A: That's a bit down the road for such considerations. And yet, unless something dramatically changes between Erik Spoelstra and Hassan Whiteside, it would be difficult to envision Hassan being with the team at the completion of his 2019-20 player option. But things also can change, perhaps as quickly as these two years when Hassan seemingly has fallen out of favor. A lot of it will come down to where the game itself goes. If the NBA continues to move forward with a style of switching everyone on the pick-and-roll, then it could come down to Bam's defensive footwork being viewed as more essential than the long arm of Whiteside.

Q: So when does Everyday Ray’s jersey go up to the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena? It was probably the greatest shot in NBA Finals history and certainly the biggest in Heat history. His work ethic embodies what Heat Culture is supposed to be about. -- Mike, Austin, Texas.

A: Ray Allen's moment in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals against the Spurs has been commemorated in many ways by the Heat, including in championship alley between the court at AmericanAirlines Arena and the Heat locker room, but there has to be a tenure longer than two years for a jersey to be hoisted. What I can guarantee is that, unlike with the Celtics, Ray will be invited to any and every Heat 2013 championship commemoration.

September 11, 2018

Q: Who fits best alongside Hassan Whiteside in the frontcourt? Excluding Bam Adebayo for reasons you've stated previously, do you go with James Johnson or Kelly Olynyk? Or undersized Winslow? -- Eddie.

A: I'm not necessarily sure that the equation is a product of finding the best fit alongside Hassan, because I'm not sold on the Heat believing they are building a lineup around Hassan. Based on where today's game is headed, including the increasing belief in switching everything defensively, James Johnson would appear to make the most sense. Plus, I believe the change of pace that Kelly offers off the bench adds a nice twist to the Heat's rotation. I'm still not sure how Bam Adebayo fits into the rotation, beyond Hassan possibly opening that door with less-than-dominant play. As for Justise, I could see the power rotation coming down to either Whiteside or Olynyk at center, and either James Johnson or Justise at power forward. That is, of course, if Justise isn't utilized as a backup point guard. I would, very much, like to see what happens if Derrick Jones Jr. gets rotation minutes.

Q: How does Hassan Whiteside develop grit? We can't have Erik Spoelstra take away his passion. Obviously, he doesn't on purpose. -- Stuart.

A: Or did Heat contribute to that by drafting Bam Adebayo with their most recent lottery pick and then going with Kelly Olynyk as their most recent larger-scale free-agent addition? As coach, Erik Spoelstra has an obligation to utilize his most productive and most intriguing players, which he has done. Caught in the middle is Hassan. What I most what to see this season -- if Hassan can make this happen -- is what Spoelstra will do if Hassan plays with unrelenting passion in his minutes. To a degree, the next step is for Hassan to force his coach's hand.

Q: Pat Riley has made some very good investments in stability for this team, which is way better than tanking. No matter what all the naysayers have to say, this is a fun team that can take anyone down on any given night. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: Agree. I don't think there is a single game on the Heat schedule that will set up as a no-chance game. But if the ultimate goal is playoff success, that's another story. And that is where the questions remain, whether there is enough talent to compete in best-of-seven against playoff-level competition.

September 10, 2018

Q: When you think of the Heat, currently most people look at Josh Richardson, Justice Winslow and Bam Adebayo as the future of the team. I think each one showed improvement and flashes last season, and with at least a season under their belt I think the Heat should start each one this season and get a good look at each one and determine how they will fit into our future. So start Hassan Whiteside, Bam, Justice, Josh and Goran Dragic, and if it doesn't pan out, we will know how to handle the extension of Justise, we get a good draft pick, we know if organic growth is the right way to go. If it goes right, we reach higher ceilings. -- Aaron.

A: And it goes against the Heat's fundamental approach of minutes are earned and not given. Then there are the issues of floor spacing and perimeter defense when it comes to starting Adebayo alongside Whiteside. In your example, it also would mean playing Dion Waiters off the bench, when an argument could be that he, too, could become a building block of the Heat future, a player whose possibilities the Heat have yet to fully explore. My expectation is that Whiteside, Waiters and Dragic will be locked into the starting lineup, if healthy, with the two other starting spots potentially open to competition (although I still believe Richardson will go in as a starter). To me, power forward will be the most likely (and perhaps only) positional battleground in the starting lineup (with James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Winslow and Adebayo all possibilities there).

Q: Even with Dion Waiters back this year there will be no true closer on this team. It will once again be closer by committee. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: I'm not sure there is such a thing. At the moments of truth, some players have it and some don't. The NBA is replete with players who pad their stats well before games are in the balance.

Q: Ira, seeing as Erik Spoelstra is a .500 coach (if you take away the LeBron James years) and the whole Heat Culture thing has failed to attract any real consideration from any stars, doesn't it make sense for the Heat to consider changes to the coaching staff and maybe front office? Especially when you take into consideration Spoelstra's inability to keep professional NBA players motivated, when is enough, enough? -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: First, the Heat are above .500 without LeBron, either in the playoffs or in contention in each of those Spoelstra seasons. As far as free agency, that transcends coaching, with roster composition, cap space, championship contention far more influential. Where I would take greatest issue is the motivation question, with the Heat arguably squeezing as much out of this level of roster as possible. Still, if you want to make that a debate point, I can understand. That is why I am curious to see where the Spoelstra-Hassan Whiteside situation stands in the wake of what appeared to be last season's tough love.

September 9, 2018

Q: Ira, which players do you see closing out the fourth quarter this season? Given the limited amount of minutes to be distributed among the many deserving players, I'm really interested to see how this all shakes out at the end of games. -- John.

A: The fact that the assignment fell to Dwyane Wade at the ends of games at the end of last season spoke volumes about the rest of the roster. I am sure that, in his mind, Dion Waiters envisions stepping into that role this season. And it well could be time for the Heat to get such a read, considering Dion missed the ends of each of his first two seasons with the team. There was a point last season when Josh Richardson offered promise of playing as a closer, and that likely is a direction the Heat have to explore, as well, considering the future of the franchise is its youth, the players who might be around when true contention is a reality. Every time a young player steps forward late, it offers promise for the future. Every time Dwyane Wade was asked to step up late last season, it spoke volumes about what otherwise was lacking. I'm probably supposed to mention Goran Dragic here, as well. But, for whatever reason, he simply has not been cast in such a role during his Heat tenure.

Q: Would it really matter if the Heat trade Goran Dragic, considering the Heat's position-less approach? I know position-less basketball is more of a defensive concept, which allows for switching, but it seems like the Heat could also play position-less offense. The Heat's large forwards/centers -- such as James Johnson, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, and Bam Adebayo -- can all handle and distribute to some degree. Erik Spoelstra mentioned that Josh Richardson played point forward at times. I also remember during Bam Adebayo's post-draft interview that Spoelstra said he could play a very long lineup, but he would only be able to do this if the players in the lineup are multi-dimensional. Anyway, the point is that the Heat have emphasized multi-faceted offensive players, regardless of position. Perhaps playing without a true point guard would benefit the Heat, by forcing them to move the ball a lot more, which would theoretically make them more unpredictable -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: And I would contend that that's what the Heat have been doing. If you were to watch tape of the Heat, without being told Goran was the point guard, I'm not sure you would easily be able to define his position. So I agree that position does not necessarily matter. But I also would posit that Goran is one of the Heat's best players, and therefore should be on the court in any lineup. What this team needs are players of All-Star or at least star quality. The only reason I have suggested a Dragic trade is to possibly set up a better future, at a time when true contention appears unlikely for the Heat. That said, Goran should be valued, no matter the positional delineation.

Q: Ira, I don't get some Heat fans. We were not able to land an All-Star player because we didn't have cap space and I believe that the market was bad for trades, and people were saying Pat Riley lost his touch. What's wrong with this team? I mean, we won't get to the Finals but just like in 2003-04 when we had rookie Dwyane Wade, Lamar Odom, Eddie Jones and Brian Grant, that team was fun to watch and then next year we got Shaquille O'Neal. -- Ricardo, Brazil.

A: I believe it comes down to the perceived lack of charismatic players. At the moment, if Heat fans were to buy a player jersey, would there be a clear-cut choice? Perhaps part of that is the ugly playoff demise at the hands of the 76ers. Perhaps it is the lack of offseason activity, which some blame on the contracts signed during the previous two offseasons -- therefore the inspection of Riley. If any Heat team in recent years has needed to get off to a fast start, it is this one. It's as if fans need Hassan Whiteside or Dion Waiters or some of the young players to give them reason to embrace this roster, just as fans have embraced previous underdog Heat teams.

September 8, 2018

Q: I think it is unrealistic to think that the Heat can contend for an upper echelon position in the playoffs. The Celtics, Raptors, Sixers, Bucks, Pacers and Wizards clearly have more talent. Their talent in no better than the Pistons and Bulls. Looking at it honestly, they really only have two legitimate NBA starters (Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, and Dragic is more a shooting guard playing the point). I see them fighting for a playoff spot more so than fighting for a top seed. -- Joel.

A: Agree. Except . . . except for the fact that while many contenders tend to coast during the regular season (as well as teams that believe they are contenders . . . Did anyone say Wizards?), Erik Spoelstra tends to place a higher value on the regular season than many others. Plus, for the exact reasons you have cited when it comes to a star-less roster, an argument could be made that the Heat are better positioned to withstand injuries. That said, it would be difficult to fathom the Heat in the same company as the Celtics, Raptors or likely even the 76ers. But the Pacers, Bucks and Wizards still have enough warts that it could be possible to pounce on their missteps. Look you could make an argument that the top of the Pistons roster is better than the Heat's (Andre Drummond over Hassan Whiteside, Blake Griffin over Goran Dragic, Reggie Jackson over the third-best Heat player of your choice). There is a reason many are looking at the Heat as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed. And when you are viewed in that company, you also are viewed as vulnerable for a trip to the lottery.

Q: A third of this team is now 30 years or older. We needs more youth for the 15th spot. -- Skip, Tampa

A: There is plenty of youth, when you consider Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and the players on two-way deals. To me, it's not as much about the volume of youth as it is for the minutes committed to them. All three of those players should play, so that should allow for significant growth. But you also have to win games, and there still are enough names on the free-agent list to at least leave the option open of adding an experienced veteran.

Q: If you think grown professionals need Udonis Haslem to get motivated we are running a high school program here. Sick and tired of, 'We need to motivate the guys.' -- Bret.

A: And yet the respect in the locker room is such that his teammates swear by him. So for a team that stresses making players one-percent better, there should be something said for a player that teammates say helps make them even more than that. Look, unless you are in a locker room, you can't truly appreciate how that locker room operates. It could be that Udonis has his teammates playing more committed to the task than any 15th man could.

September 7, 2018

Q: Ira, has something changed with Udonis Haslem where Erik Spoelstra has decided that he will play him? If not, what does it say about everyone else in training camp who won't have a chance at that roster spot? -- Ed.

A: I believe the Heat have that mostly mapped out. Briante Weber, Marcus Lee, Jarnell Stokes and Malik Newman are almost certainly targeted for the G League and Sioux Falls. So that takes the mix down to 16 (assuming Dwyane Wade returns). Then you have Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten on two-way deals, which do not count against the 15-player regular-season limit, which takes the roster total down to 14. In other words, if the Heat do not add another player, they could go into camp with Weber, Stokes, Lee, Newman, Robinson and Maten battling for a roster spots, which should provide needed incentive, motivation and competition. Plus, since Robinson and Maten can stay with the team until G League camps open, the Heat could yet cycle through another candidate who could claim that 15th roster spot, should the Heat, amid their luxury-tax concerns, elect to go with the regular-season maximum. As for Udonis, I would suspect that Erik Spoelstra would say anyone and everyone will be considered for regular-season playing time. But based on recent history, I don't see that happening.

Q: Ira, you said Ray Allen won't have his number retired by the Heat because he was only there for two seasons. Shouldn't hitting the biggest shot in team history be enough? -- Bake.

A: It's enough for a spot of honor in the arena, with a major commemoration in the Heat's Championship Alley between the court at AmericanAirlines Arena and the locker room. Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Gary Payton, Jason Williams, Antoine Walker and other contributors also had major moments in Heat championship runs without their numbers hanging from the rafters. I believe what make such displays special are how exclusive the company stands. As it is, spots in the rafters essentially already are reserved for Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Pat Riley.

Q: How long are we supposed to wait on Dwyane Wade? -- Chance.

A: Likely as long as he chooses. With the Heat's position against the luxury tax, it isn't as if they instead are going to go out and sign a veteran with their mid-level exception. And there still are enough names on the free-agent list to add a camp replacement if needed.

September 6, 2018

Q: Erik Spoelstra is a metrics stud it's been said and some say a great coach. However, every year it’s the same issues: struggling with the lineup until the last game of season, not adjusting in games, same stagnant offensive sets that opponents say make Miami predictable. Even his Big Three years, that team wasn't seen as invulnerable like say Golden State or San Antonio. It's time to stop pretending Erik Spoelstra isn't part of the problem of the Heat and needs to do better. -- Links, Miami.

A: I'm not going to turn back to the Big Three era, except to note that these Warriors have far more than those Heat teams did. As for living in the moment, I can't fathom Erik being on the clock this season with this team, if only because of the roster he will be fielding, one that few expect to contend. As for the issues you raise: 1. This is a roster that makes it difficult to move forward with a definitive lineup, with so many equal talents. 2. You can question the adjustments, but it again comes down to so much equivalent talent. Unless you trim each player to "specialist" minutes, sometimes it requires allowing players to play through less-than-optimal matchups. 3. It is easier to design efficient sets with efficient, star players. Until the Heat define (or acquire) a star, the result often is playing in the moment, riding the hot hand. But does Spoelstra need to do better? In many ways, he may have to do his best coaching job to get the Heat into the upper half of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and not leave this franchise simply treading water.

Q: Having seen the summer-league games, I believe that if coached up properly Duncan Robinson can be the most effective of our younger guys. He's already the most consistent and best shooter we have. Yante Maten looks like he might be an alternative to Justise Winslow (except he's a better shooter than Winslow). Do you think these guys will be given a chance to show us there potential during the preseason games? -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: Oh, they'll get tons of chances then, when the Heat expected to rest their older players. But there would have to be significant machinations to get them on the 15-player roster, and therefore away from the 45-day NBA limit. While the Heat might be able to convert one of the two to a standard deal, I can't fathom doing it for both. But because it doesn't matter when the 45 days are utilized, it also could be a decision deferred.

Q: Are the Heat making moves or trades before training camp or are they already in the process? -- Tamisia.

A: Based on the way management has stood by the approach that has delivered this roster to this stage, I believe they will first attempt to maximize what they have in place, which also is a way to showcase what they have in place.

September 5, 2018

Q: I get that Justise Winslow may have made a few more 3-pointers here and there during the second half of last season, but don't you think the Heat still need to be careful giving him a contract extension? Even though he made more shots from long distance then we're accustom to seeing him make, the defense still didn't respect him enough to contest his shots, and the guy still struggled to score around the basket. -- Samantha.

A: To me, going to any significant lengths with a contract is a product of whether you believe that player can be a starter at least at some point of that contract. The Heat clearly felt that way last summer with Josh Richardson's extension, as well as when they offered the free-agent contracts to James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk. But that also raises the question, if the Heat believe that Waiters, Richardson and either James Johnson or Olynyk (or both) are starters going forward, then are they looking to pay Winslow reserve money? And will reserve money be enough to satisfy Justise? Granted, sixth men often get paid like starters, but would Justise even be that at the start of an extension?

Q: Bam Adebayo has no shot yet at power forward. He's more of a center for now. -- Nivac.

A: And yet there are times when you look at Bam in the post and he comes off as undersized. The problem is that if Hassan Whiteside gets back to being Hassan Whiteside and re-earns the trust of Erik Spoelstra, there won't be more than 16 to 18 minutes a game available at center, a position where Kelly Olynyk also can make a claim. So if Bam can't be cast at power forward, then his opportunities could perhaps be even more limited than as a rookie, when Hassan was dealing with his lingering knee issues.

Q: I prefer to stay put and see how far we get with what we have. Getting Dion Waiters back is a plus. In two years we can reassess who is a keeper and the free agents to pursue. -- R.L.A.

A: And that very well could be the prudent play. But do the Heat (and Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra and the Arisons) have two years of patience in them? Can/will be playing to finish in the top four of the conference enough for the Heat until re-setting for camp in 2020?

September 4, 2018

Q: Why don't the Heat use their 15th roster spot on Joe Johnson? He knows the system and can contribute this team. -- Daniel, Miami.

A: While I agree there are several names on the remaining list of free agents who could provide an upgrade for the Heat, with Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford in the group, I can't fathom the Heat going anywhere near a shooting guard in light of their glut at that position. That said, if Dwyane Wade doesn't return, or if Dion Waiters is not all the way back from his ankle issues, then that is a different story. Three weeks remain before the start of camp, so there's still time -- and names available -- should such a move be necessary.

Q: I'm all for position-less basketball, but Justise Winslow is too good to be playing power forward. -- S.B.C.

A: Agreed, and, candidly, too undersized as well. I remain intrigued by Winslow as a point guard, particularly if he shows he can stay defensively with quicker opponents. It would seem that his ultimate NBA home would be at small forward or shooting guard, but that would require consistency with the outside shot and a better job as a finisher. It's one thing to fling wide-open 3-pointers when cast in the power rotation, another thing to do it against opponents with the speed and quickness, who would turn those into contested shots. We have yet to reach the point of confidence with contested Winslow 3-pointers, which has become essential for today's wing players.

Q: Should we anticipate another season of our highest-paid player glued to the bench and the fans asking, "What gives"? -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: If Hassan Whiteside is healthy and motivated, then I cannot foresee that. If he is not healthy and not motivated, that is another story. Based on his social media, Hassan appears to be back to speed physically. Based on every message he has put out since season's end, he is as motivated as any point during his Heat career. So if all of that is true, and falls into place, then the only reason for a lack of playing time is that he is not good enough to fit into today's NBA game. What he has to do is make it difficult, if not impossible, for Erik Spoelstra to remove him from games.

September 3, 2018

Q: The Suns are actively shopping for a starting point guard and to me it makes so much sense for them to target Goran Dragic, given his past relationship and popularity with the Suns plus their new coach is his national team coach for Slovenia, and Goran has a fair contract. For the Heat, given Goran's age, this is the time to trade him and get something of quality back (picks/players) and give Justice Winslow and Tyler Johnson a shot to run the point (along with Dwyane Wade) and get under luxury tax camp. Do you agree and what can we expect to get back? -- Peter, Miami.

A: I agree that if you are not in contention for a conference championship in the foreseeable future that it important to take a long view, so there could be something to be said about moving on from a 32-year-old player. But if moving Goran is under consideration then it has to be with any eye on every and any possibility. A move with the Suns might have made more sense when Phoenix still retained the Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round pick (which since has been moved on to the 76ers). And it's not as if the Suns still don't need all the draft help they can get. Now, if the Suns were willing to give up one of their first-round picks over the next two drafts, that could be a starting point. But it also would mean the Heat essentially cashing out over the next two seasons, unless a cost-efficient replacement could be found at point guard. At this stage, I'm not sure either Tyler Johnson or Justise Winslow is a playoff-level point guard.

Q: Ira, why would the Heat ever consider trading Goran Dragic? He is the best player on the team and the most consistent offensively, as well as the only one that can break down opposing defenses. -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: Correct, which is why there would have to be a significant return, starting with a potential lottery pick. That effectively would remove the incentive of dealing him to a contender (which such a pick to come no earlier than No. 15). Still, that is where Dwyane Wade could potentially help the Heat buy time. The reality is the Heat will not be able to recoup the two first-round picks they sent out for Goran, and at this stage, with most of the league capped out, the hope would have to be one quality pick and taking back a similar salary that expires after the coming season.

Q: Luol Deng is a free agent after the Lakers bought him out, so that's another Tyler Johnson landing spot down the drain. How about Deng for your 15th spot veteran on a minimum contract? -- Skip, Tampa.

A: The Lakers were never taking on the two years left on Tyler's contract, particularly when they had Deng not only at a lower figure, but also willing to give back part of his salary in a buyout. And as I've mentioned on Twitter, Luol is at a stage of his career where he is almost solely a power forward, a position where the Heat already have James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and possibly minutes for Justise Winslow. Plus, there likely are more appealing win-now destinations for a 33-year-old with plenty of mileage on him, even with last season's Lakers-forced hiatus.

September 2, 2018

Q: Derrick Jones Jr. may prove to be one of the sleepers of the season. I understand it was only summer league, but he appeared to be the real deal. His shot is greatly improved, and he his athleticism had him aggressively and successfully in attack mode. -- Matt, Miami.

A: It always is interesting to see if summer stories remain just that, stories of summer breakthroughs that result only in regular-season setbacks or roadblocks. In many ways, Derrick is precisely the type of player the Heat need, a dynamic lengthy wing with athletic potential on the defensive end. But, as always, it comes down to opportunity and playing time. If the hope and potential are real, then it would seem as if he could set up as the primary backup at small forward, behind Josh Richardson. But that would mean either playing Justise Winslow as a backup power forward or even point guard. The Heat, of course, already have a variety of big men they need to fit into the power rotation, and if Winslow is shifted into the backcourt, then there is the glut to consider at guard. In other words, to what lengths will the Heat go to see if Jones can emerge as a rotation player? 

Q: People too often act like Dion Waiters being out completely killed the team, but the team was fine. Guys always are gonna miss games. It's not an injury-plagued season if a few guys miss 10 to 15 games. -- Jacob, Palm Beach.

A: Agree. And if the Heat play the depth card as one of their advantages, then injuries -- at least the nagging type -- shouldn't and can't be overstated. The lone injury absence that would significantly hamstring the Heat would be one to Goran Dragic. There does not appear to be a suitable replacement at point guard on the roster. That, in turn, would necessitate playing one or more players out of positon and rotation spot in order to compensate. But the occasional missed game, or even week, from any other player should not be viewed as more than a typical NBA setback.

Q: Ira, can you dust off the ol' crystal ball and prophesize for Heat fans, looking for their next star? Or do you believe Hassan Whiteside, a youngish player himself, has the best chance at emerging as a star for the Heat in the coming seasons. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: I still hold out hope for Hassan, based on the way he took the league by storm upon his Heat arrival (while also appreciating that the role of NBA big men has changed significantly in the brief interim). But if you're asking for the Heat player beyond Goran Dragic or Hassan when it comes to All-Star potential, I would go with Josh Richardson for the reason that he has the tools to make such a jump, with consistency and reliability the next hurdle.

September 1, 2018

Q: Wouldn't you agree that this upcoming season is about whether or not Dion Waiters can return to the form he was in the year this team went on a 13-game win streak? -- Ron, Brooklyn.

A: While I appreciate that Dion might represent the best chance for a mostly stagnant roster to take a step forward, I also would not overstate such expectation or anticipation, considering we are talking about a player who has yet to display All-Star ability. It is logical to assume that Dion will make the Heat better, but for that to happen, it means he has to be better than the players who were filling his spot when he was sidelined. That means better than Tyler Johnson. Better than Dwyane Wade. Perhaps even better than Josh Richardson, as the Heat consider the entirely of their perimeter rotation. To a degree, the anticipation is that the Heat are getting a returning All-Star. They are not. They are getting back a player who was trending in a positive direction, but one who also had been discarded by two previous teams. For the Heat to make greater statements, first Dion will have to make greater statements.

Q: Ryan Anderson was traded with no picks attached. Anything is possible. -- Chris.

A: The trade of Anderson from the Rockets to the Suns without an attached first-round pick also offers insight into the reality that one might not have been available in some of the speculated Heat-Rockets permutations regarding Tyler Johnson. Beyond that, Anderson offered a giveback to the Suns on the second season of his contract that certainly would not have been a given with Tyler. For now, Tyler's contract looks as untradeable as it was when the Heat agreed to match the Nets' offer in 2016.

Q: All we had to do was go hard in the draft from 2015 to 2020. Instead, we rely on the crock of a free agent is going to come and save us. The story of the Big Three will be followed by total miscalculation and false hopes. -- Marcus, Washington.

A: Or an organization belief that it is better to remain in contention with every game being meaningful rather than punt in the hope of an all-or-nothing breakthrough. And keep in mind that during the timeframe you mention, the Heat still were dealing with some of the Chris Bosh illness fallout. Say what you want about the futures of the Suns, Magic and Bulls, who are among the teams that followed your suggested blueprint, but is there truly a pot of gold at the end of their tank-a-thon rainbow of expectations?

August 30, 2018

Q: I think with Kelly Olynyk getting lean it makes him a little more agile to be a nice stretch four, and he actually was consistent on offense. -- H.L.

A: I think of the Heat's three centers, it makes more sense to play Bam Adebayo defensively at power forward, if one the three is to be cast in such a role. Again, position-less is an offensive approach, and Kelly certainly has as much range as any Heat big man. No matter Kelly's physique, he would be at a defensive deficit against just about any smaller-ball counter. Adebayo, by contrast, has shown at ability to stick defensively on the perimeter with several wings, at least for possessions. Of course, if the Heat gets drawn into the switch-everything approach that we saw from the Cavaliers, Rockets and Warriors in last season's playoffs, then there will be issues about even utilizing one center, be it Hassan Whiteside, Olynyk or Adebayo. Having two of those players on the court at the same time still figures to be a challenge. Then again, for Erik Spoelstra to figure out this roster, that may have to be the approach more often going forward, particularly if Hassan is poised for a bounce-back  season.

Q: Dwyane Wade is all but set to be the backup point guard for the next two years. I just see him playing very little at shooting guard, unless Erik Spoelstra goes to a closing lineup of Goran Dragic, Wade, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow.  -- Skip, Tampa.

A: Could be, and perhaps it would be fitting for Dwyane to close out his Heat/NBA career at the position where he started his career. That, of course, is if Dwyane opts to return. But, as with the question above, it is one thing to cast a player in an offensive role, another to make it work on the defensive end. At this stage, even again backups, I'm not sure you can rely on Dwyane to stop opponents both quicker and younger. In those instances, you likely would have to cross match, perhaps with Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson or Justise Winslow taking that challenge.

Q: You've written about Yante Maten and Briante Weber this week. Do you see either making the 15-player roster? -- Andy.

A: I do not. But I believe each has an interesting backstory, which is why I wrote about them, and that each will at least be given an opportunity to compete in camp. My hunch is that even if Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem return, that the 15th and final roster spot well could go to a veteran wing who remains on the free-agent market, or perhaps one to eventually be cut elsewhere.

August 30, 2018

Q: You could make a case The Heat have devalued their own players by having so much similar talent.  It'll be interesting to see where this season takes us. -- John.

A: It also will be interesting to see how contracts figure into the equation. For all Erik Spoelstra will say about minutes being earned, does it come down to the organization having to justify the outlay by ownership? For example, could Tyler Johnson, at $19 million-plus this season, wind up in a limited-minutes role, especially of Dwyane Wade returns? Could Bam Adebayo, even with continued growth, have to sit because of a need to build back Hassan Whiteside's value? Then there are the contracts signed by James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters a year ago and the need for a payoff. Beyond that, the Heat went into the tax to re-sign Wayne Ellington, so could that tax bill be allowed to sit idly by? The coaching staff and management certain will all say the right things about competition in advance of camp, but what if Derrick Jones Jr., Bam Adebayo or even one of the camp newcomers play their way into the conversation? That's when what is left unsaid could speak volumes.

Q: Dwyane Wade should just play two more seasons with the Heat, but play only home games and some away games, except for the playoff push or in the playoffs. -- Ben.

A: Which is exactly the type of situation the Heat want to avoid, and perhaps why the decision is lingering. A week ago at a community event, Pat Riley said of Wade, "We want him back as a player. We want him back as a competitor. We want him back as a winner." In other words, either all in or all out, similar to the decisions Manu Ginobili has had to make in recent years, including his retirement this week. What the Heat seemingly don't want are dual game plans -- one for the games Wade plays and one for the games he skips. It's not saying it would mean playing all 82 games, just that there can't be a variety of pre-scheduled absences.

Q: Is there still time for the Heat to get Ryan Anderson and a draft pick in a Tyler Johnson trade? Swapping bench players while acquiring a first round pick, doesn't seem like a bad deal. -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: But swapping those two players, even with the sweetener of a draft pick, still makes the Heat's position against the luxury tax even more onerous.  Now, if there were to be more than a pick -- perhaps help in easing the Heat's tax crunch or even adding another pick -- that's a different story. And it's not as if such a permutation couldn't visited down the line, especially if one of the Rockets' guards were to be injured. The start of camp hardly means an end to trade considerations.

August 29, 2018

Q: Erik Spoelstra is all about the next man up. It has been discussed before with you on who gets what minutes. I believe the best rotation for the Heat would be: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside as starters. First off the bench would be Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, with a splash of Dwyane Wade and Rodney McGruder. With Whiteside and Bam playing together, I think Whiteside would stay motivated throughout the game, and you have a great second unit frontcourt coming off the bench behind them. -- Hash, Greenacres.

A: I'm not sold in today's NBA that you could make Whiteside-Adebayo work as a starting power alignment, even if you want to make the argument of Bam being able to defend the likes of Gordon Hayward, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (which I believe can succeed only in situational moments). On the other end, it would severely limit spacing, even if Richardson, Waiters and Dragic are there as outside threats. But I will acknowledge that the Heat worked Bam extensively in a James Johnson type of role during summer league, perhaps with those type of visions. To me, the most curious lineup question will come at power forward, with James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow and Adebayo among the options as starters. It will be interesting to see if the Heat again are willing to play James Johnson, at his price point, in reserve.

Q: Ira, I'm sure it's been talked about before many times, but I'll say it again: It is so hard for teams to lose superstars to injury, free agency, etc. and those teams are usually never the same for quite a while. Look at the Kings after losing Chris Webber (haven't made playoffs in over a decade) or the Cavs after losing LeBron James the first time. I just want to say I'm really proud of how the Heat have managed to transform this situation into a playoff team after losing LeBron with nothing in return, the unexpected health issue of Chris Bosh, and the unthinkable exodus (and thankfully a return) of Dwyane Wade. It's just commendable on the front office, coaching and dedication of its players. I just had to say that after reading so many fan responses along the lines of "Pat Riley has lost his touch" and "We made terrible signings recently." -- Marc.

A: And expected to make the playoffs this coming season, rated as an 81-percent probability according to ESPN's latest modeling. In fact, that is what will make this coming season's Cleveland Cavaliers such an interesting case study, to see how they fare in the wake of such adversity.

Q: There's a bunch of teams that wished they had this roster. Pat Riley has a bunch tradable chips to play with before the trade deadline. Something will happen this year for sure. -- Candela.

A: That far I wouldn't go. I'm not sure there is another team that would have assembled this roster. That also is what sets the Heat apart, their vision of growing players into successful elements of their equation. To some, that is loyalty to a fault, standing by players that other teams have cast aside. The Heat build their rosters through their core values. I'm not sure any other team would adopt such an approach, For the most part, it has proven to be a successful enterprise.

August 28, 2018

Q: Ira, with Manu Ginobili retiring, does that send a message to Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem that the game is changing? -- Burt.

A: Actually, I believe it might be a reminder of something different, of how Manu derived pleasure from the game through his 40th birthday. As for the game changing, the roles of Dwyane and Udonis would be close to what they were last season, Wade as limited-minutes scorer off the bench, Haslem as de facto player-coach. If anything, the lesson from Manu is that a player such as Dwyane could continue on for several years, as long as there is an appreciation for when to try to take over and when to stand aside. Dwyane handled that role particularly well after his return last season. What will be missed from a Heat perspective are the celebrations by those Argentine fans who would fill the stands at AmericanAirlines Arena when Manu and the Spurs made their annual regular-season visits (as well as their two NBA Finals visits).

Q: Has Dion Waiters been cleared to return? -- Ryan.

A: I don't think there necessarily will be any "clearing" announcement by the Heat, but rather a gradual return process during camp and the preseason. Last year, Dion made it clear at the start of camp that he still was playing in discomfort, which the staff continually downplayed until it became apparent surgery was necessary. I would expect something similar at camp this year, minus the updates from Dion. In other words, the only expected public notice of Dion's return schedule will be his time on the court, when in public view (with Heat practices closed to the public and most of them closed to the media until the very end).

Q: Getting under the cap by the deadline, while adding some draft assets, is a must. The Heat need to thin out the guards, move Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow to their natural positions, at shooting guard and small forward, and give Hassan more minutes to evaluate if he should be kept next year. -- Gabriel.

A: First, getting under the tax might mean sacrificing assets, not adding them. That will be among the Heat's concerns, considering the second-round picks it cost to get under the tax in 2016. As for delineating positons for Richardson and Winslow, I'm sure Erik Spoelstra's answer would be, "Positions? What positions?" Getting past position-less, I'm not sure you can get Josh to shooting guard with Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington and possibly Dwyane Wade on the roster. As for more minutes for Hassan, how with Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo also on the roster? That last issue could be the most fascinating in camp and during the season.

August 27, 2018

Q: I'm still extremely optimistic about a tax move and a potential star move between now and February. Pat Riley's not done just with the signings of Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem by a very long shot. More moves are definitely on the way. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: I certainly can see a tax move, just as the Heat got out of the tax in 2016. But I'm not nearly as sold on a star move, simply because at some point you have to develop a plan and stick to it. And at this stage, it sure seems like a focus on 2020 free agency. Now, that doesn't mean that something attractive can't come available this season, but is this team just one move away? It certainly does not appear that way. The lesson of 2010, or even 2005, is that when you make a move, you make a big move. Other than that, the moves the Heat have made in recent years (from Shane Battier to Ray Allen to even Goran Dragic, or even any signing outside of Hassan Whiteside) have been to augment what already has been in place. When there isn't much in place -- at least in terms of leading men -- it is difficult to sell yourself on a singular move. The Celtics went for Kyrie Irving because they thought it was their time. The Raptors went for Kawhi Leonard, because they are trying to find the one piece to make the rest of their pieces work. Frankly -- and perhaps sadly -- is there a singular player out there who, with this group, make the Heat elite? Doesn't seem that way at this August moment.

Q: The Miami organization is like a big, stale bureaucracy. The same old people always get the opportunities and never tries to adapt or change. There is no effort in finding gems in the rough. -- Hanuk.

A: I don't believe that. You may not be content with James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk and other recent signings, but it's not as if the Heat haven't worked through a variety of options since the Big Three era. And this roster, it could be argued, may still have too many gems in the rough, amid the uncertainty of where the Heat stands with Bam Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr., Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Duncan Robinson, Yante Maten and others signed recently to round out the camp roster. When it comes to diamonds, the Heat very much are roughing it.

Q: Ira, I get that two of the remaining roster spots are for Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, if they decide to play this season. But are they waiting to fill that other roster spot? Do you think they will re-sign Luke Babbitt or someone new? -- Daniel, Miami.

A: As the end of last season showed, with James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Justise Winslow there just isn't room for Luke to recapture the role he held at the end of 2016-17. The focus seemingly has to be more on an athletic wing to round out the roster, which is why, to a degree, Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten may also prove redundant, albeit in their limited roles.

August 26, 2018

Q: I disagree that this season should be about developing younger talent. Development is for the offseason and potential doesn't mean anything if the players you have out there don't make wise choices on the floor and cost this team much-needed victories. This might sound harsh, but you get minutes by proving you are more reliable than everyone else there, not because you want to see how someone like Josh Richardson, or Justise Winslow, two of the most inconsistent players on the team, perform under pressure. -- Jeremy, Fort Lauderdale.

A: You can still develop players without having a race-to-the-bottom season. But you also have to accept that sometimes there is more than trying to win every game. Particularly with Justise Winslow, should the Heat elect to bypass an extension by that Oct. 15 deadline, it remain to see where his ceiling might stand. That means putting him in situations to test his possibilities, everywhere from backup point guard to undersized power forward. And even with Richardson, who is about to begin his four-year extension, there still is plenty to learn about how he fits into the greater picture. So, at times, that might mean experimenting instead of making the highest percentage moves. If Winslow and Richardson are as inconsistent as you believe, then all the more reason to find out during a season when you are likely not challenging for anything of significance.

Q: Panic and sentiment has led to some unfavorable contracts. The Heat are a good team, but overpaid. Given the timing, Hassan Whiteside should have only warranted $17 million per year, James Johnson $9 million per year and Tyler Johnson $9 million per year. That's an extra $24 million, which means the Heat should have their current roster plus a $24 million-per-year player, which I would hope would have been of All-Star caliber. -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: The Heat could not have had Hassan at $17 million because Dallas was offering $22 million, the same as the Heat wound up paying for the first of the four years on the deal. So it was having him at the current price or not at all. And it would be hindsight for fans to say they should have let him go, with the league, itself, not aware at that time of the impact of smaller-ball going forward. As for Tyler, you are talking only $3.5 million, on average, above what you suggest, and that also would have been a case of another team then securing his rights (which was certainly a worthy debate at the time). With James Johnson, it is more the length of the deal at his age than the starting point, since he could have gotten more than you suggest elsewhere on a shorter deal. I agree that not all of the Heat's contracts have panned out to this stage, but I doubt they could have opened max space without taking a significant step back in the interim.

Q: None of this stuff between Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley makes any sense. All you have to do is pay the guy a $5.3 million dollar exception, yet it seems he doesn't want to even do that. -- Victor.

A: I believe Pat mostly wants a read on how invested Dwyane will be this season, since it would eat into the playing time of players with longer-term outlooks with the team. If Dwyane is as all-in as he was over the second half of last season, then offering the most they are allowed is the least the Heat could do. I agree.

August 25, 2018

Q: So who will be the backup point guards for the Heat this year: Dwyane Wade? Justise Winslow? Or maybe even Malik Newman? -- Skip, Tampa.

A: The problem here is that if I attempt to answer this then the pushback becomes that it doesn't matter, that in a positon-less approach players should not get put into such boxes. And that sounds all well and good, and you certainly could include Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, among others, as playmakers on this roster. And yet, for a team that can struggle to score points, could it be that having a definitive backup behind Goran Dragic, a true NBA-level playmaker, could help get more out of the offense rather than a you-bring-it-up-this-time-and-I-got-it-next-time approach? If you had to designate a backup point among the players most likely to make the roster, I still believe that the delineation would go to Tyler Johnson. But remember, Pat Riley indicated Thursday that it remains possible the Heat take one more look at the free-agent market. And it also is possible that a veteran point guard shakes free when cut downs are made elsewhere. I am not going to overstate Jameer Nelson or Ramon Sessions of much of what remains unsigned. But I am going to remain true to the conviction that being an NBA point guard is innate. And there remains something to be said about carrying an innate veteran point guard in reserve.

Q: I don't see how a center can be engaged if you don't have a point guard in your lineup. Hassan Whiteside is playing with eight shooting guards who are all looking for their shots. Name every All-Star center and you have next to their name a good point guard. -- Bret.

A: And with the exception of his one-man fast breaks, Goran Dragic often plays like a shooting guard. You make a legitimate point, which is another reason for a veteran point guard. Yes, the Heat have plenty of playmakers, but a playmaker isn't the same as a point guard (as I now head to the position-less penalty box).

Q: Forget the mid-level, pay Dwyane Wade whatever he wants. He's earned that from the Heat. I would do whatever it takes. -- Marc, Miami Beach.

A: I've gotten a bunch of these the past few days in the wake of Pat Riley being non-committal about the Heat offering the mid-level exception to Dwyane. So this is the reality: The Heat cannot offer Dwyane more than the $5.3 million exception. They can't do it with a signing bonus, they can't do it with a wink-wink promise of a future job, they can't go over the cap to do it. The only way the Heat could offer more would be to offer multiple years. And with the Heat most likely to be over the cap next summer, as well, perhaps the answer is some type of two-year package. The problem is that a two-year deal at the minimum removes the share the league otherwise would kick in, the share that doesn't count against the cap or tax.

August 24, 2018

Q: What is Pat Riley waiting for with Dwyane Wade? -- Wes.

A: He isn't waiting for anything, when it comes to a commitment. If Dwyane wants back, he would be welcomed back. Now, Riley might be waiting to see what Wade sets as his price point. But even then, I cannot fathom, in the wake of how the 2016 offseason played out, that Riley would allow the luxury tax to get in the way (and remember, it is not the last contract in that establishes the tax level, but rather all the contracts in place, so it is not as if Wade is putting the Heat into the tax any more than Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson or any other player). Listening to Riley, what I believe he also needs to hear is an all-in commitment from Wade, that it would not be a case of a retirement tour, but rather of adhering, as best as possible at 36, to the Heat's approach across the board. Parsing Riley's Thursday words (and this is just the conclusion from this vantage point), I think what Riley doesn't want is an entrepreneur who also happens to be playing basketball.

Q: Ever since LeBron James left, Pat Riley has been getting exposed. A lot of players have horrible contracts and he hasn't attracted any big superstars. -- S.W.

A: Moving beyond the uncertainties of free-agency recruitment, I'm not sure that "horrible contracts" as a plural isn't a bit of an overstatement. If the Heat didn't give Hassan Whiteside his four-year, $98 million deal the Mavericks or Trail Blazers would have. I don't think South Florida would have been accepting of such a loss that summer. With Tyler Johnson, four years at a $12.5 million average is not far off the going rate these days. And the structure of that deal was foisted upon the Heat by a rule so arcane that it since has been changed. As for Dion Waiters and James Johnson, I certainly agree that the length of those deals was questionable, but, again, there also is the matter of going rate in today's NBA. Even with Kelly Olynyk, there appears to be after-the-fact acceptance. If anything, it is having so many contracts that in retrospect created a glut of questions. But "horrible"? Not sure you can go there.

Q: Did Pat Riley say that Briante Weber, Jarnell Stokes, Malik Newman and Marcus Lee are headed to the G League? -- Matt.

A: Not in as many words, although he appeared to indicate as much. But there also will be three intervening weeks of camp to change minds, just as Rodney McGruder did in 2016. That's mostly what each has been given with their camp invitations -- a chance.

August 23, 2018

Q: If Hassan Whiteside is engaged on both ends of the floor, wouldn’t you agree that it would be foolish of Erik Spoelstra to restrict his minutes? I realize fans have been critical, and that we may have Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo under contract. However, let's not act like there weren't games where Hassan should've gotten more minutes than he did, and with all due respect to Olynyk, and Adebayo, Hassan can do things that those two can't. -- Trevor, Baltimore.

A: You essentially answered your question and it is the only answer that is required. If Hassan Whiteside is engaged on both ends of the floor then he plays as long as he's engaged on both ends of the floor. If that means attempting to go with Kelly Olynyk at power forward, so be it. If it means not playing Bam Adebayo, so be it. If Hassan Whiteside is engaged on both ends of the floor, he takes the decision making out of Erik Spoelstra's hands, because if Hassan is engaged on both ends of the floor then he pulverizes undersized opposing lineups and makes it apparent that his coach has to leave him on the floor. Now, can any player play all out for 48 minutes and 82 games? Of course not, so there always will remain opportunity for others. But for all the debate and conjecture the past month, no one remains as in control of what's next for Hassan Whiteside as Hassan Whiteside. The ball is in both ends of his court.

Q: Ira, why do the Heat always fool themselves into thinking that prioritizing defense over offense is the best approach. Let's see how much of a defensive bulldog Briante Weber is when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum (among others) shoot over him with ease. Don't you think that maybe a veteran point guard would better suit for our squad? -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: And that remains possible. Ultimately, I view the move with Briante more as a payoff for loyalty over the years and the willingness to play in the G League for the Skyforce. There certainly are plenty of veteran free agents available to step in behind Goran Dragic if needed. To your greater point, there are several layers on the Heat roster who would be considered offense-first, from Dragic to Kelly Olynyk to Dion Waiters to possibly a return by Dwyane Wade. I believe the Heat appreciate that you can't win in the 90s in today's NBA. Now, do they have enough scoring? That is a reasonable question. And, at the moment, I would say no.

Q: Birdman was named Defensive Player of the Year in the Big3. Bring him back. The fans loved it when he came here last month. -- Michael, Miami.

A: Being Defensive Player of the Year in a halfcourt league, when you essentially don't have to move, is a completely different animal than the NBA. With all due respect to both Chris Andersen and Amar'e Stoudemire and their play in the Big3, it is looking more and more like their NBA days are behind them, especially at a point when centers are becoming NBA dinosaurs.

August 22, 2018

Q: Ira, has Briante Weber's all-around game improved enough to warrant the 15th roster spot this year or would Duncan Robinson be the better option?  I'm still very interested to see how the battle between Weber and Malik Newman plays out at camp next month. --Skip, Tampa

A: First, there might not even be a 15th roster spot, especially if Dwyane Wade doesn't return, which is another way of saving against the luxury tax. But of those on the roster, I certainly can see doing worse that having a defensive bulldog at point guard such as Weber to wear down opposing point guards. While you could make an argument that you can never have enough 3-point shooting, I'm not quite sure the Heat would get deep enough into the rotation to need Robinson or Newman. Plus, Robinson always will be available in a pinch on his two-way deal.

Q: Am I safe to say that this is do or die for this team? I mean the excuses are over -- James Johnson's injury, Hassan Whiteside not being 100 percent, Dion Waiters' ankle. So if things go south, does Pat Riley start making trades at deadline? Or does Erik Spoelstra get some heat for this? -- Skylar, Miami.

A: I guess that depends on what you consider "do or die" and what you consider "going south." For example, if the Heat get back to the playoffs, is that enough? Does success mean advancing to the second round? Does it mean a competitive first-round series? That's the thing, you have to be realistic. With this roster and in this situation, you also have to be reasonable about setting the bar, especially when it comes to the players. If this roster, as presently constituted, advances to the second round, then I believe the players and Erik Spoelstra will have more than met their mandate. If they produce a to-the-wire first-round series, as the Pacers did last season, I believe that also would be ample, if unsatisfying, payoff. And I don't believe you start making trades at the deadline just to get over the first-round hump, when the reality is that you are building for something down the road. It's all about expectations. Mine, at the moment, are that getting into the second round would be just about maximizing what is in place.

Q: It's wild that Heat should have tanked years ago, won’t tank this year with top talent available, but for sure are going to tank in the future when draft class is down. -- Miraz.

A: What's done is done. With this coach and these players, tanking not only won't happen now, it likely couldn't happen, considering how many teams, in the East, alone, are closer to tank mode. As for tanking going forward, it is a tenuous proposition when your 2021 first-round pick is due to the Suns without protection. If nothing else, the Heat are true to who they are and what they believe in. So, at worst, at least there won't be regrets.

August 21, 2018

Q: Ira, from Pat Riley to you to posters on "Ask Ira," I keep reading of the logjam the Heat have with so many wings and power-rotation players. I see that differently. The entire rosters of all NBA clubs are composed of wings and power-rotation players. I mean, what else is there? I think if there is any problem, it's that real contenders have starters that deserve and play starters minutes, and backups that play backup minutes (with a few sixth-man exceptions), be it 8 to 12 to15 minutes per game. It's pretty much a given. With the Heat, there simply are a lot of players with marginal differences in their skill set. Outside of Goran Dragic at the point, there aren't many, if any, Heat starters that have a skill level that shouts he should be playing 33 to 35 minutes a night and the backup 10 to 13 minutes. That's for Erik Spoelstra to figure out. But we shouldn't have a logjam. Decide your starters, and give them starters' minutes. And decide your backups, and give them backup minutes. -- Matt, Miami.

A: Fine. But even if that happens, when do those decisions come? Do they come based on play at the start of games? Do they come based on play in practice? Or are they preset, with the hope that the correct decision is made? Many who want/expect a clear delineation believe it should be made in advance, that the minutes not only should be constant in a game to develop rhythm but also through the course of several games, to maintain rhythm. At the moment, I believe that would be wrong and unfair. Now, if I'm able to report that a certain player or certain players are having breakout camps, that is a different story. But one thing Erik Spoelstra has not done before -- and I would not expect him to start doing now -- is to gift minutes based on the hope of getting it right. When the competition is so even, those minutes have to be earned. To me, the best-case scenario is being able to have five starters develop enough separation that there is no question about the distribution of minutes, as was the case during the 30-11 finish two seasons ago. But that does not mean I'm dismissing your concerns. I agree that uneven minutes only lead to uneven play.

Q: Jarnell Stokes is another player we're going to cut before we give an actual chance. -- Rob.

A: First, there already was a chance in 2015-16, as well as opportunities to showcase with the Heat's developmental-league affiliate, the G League Sioux Falls Skyforce. This time it likely will come down to whether Udonis Haslem returns. Jarnell is an NBA-level rebounder, so it could become a matter of competing for the the roster spot vacated by Jordan Mickey's release and then move to Russia.

Q: Do you picture a future where if Chris Bosh gets medically cleared we may see him return to the Miami Heat as Alonzo Mourning did after his health scares? I feel Miami is like a home for him and the people love him. I can imagine the cheers and ovation that would ensue as he walks toward midcourt to be substituted in and how great it would feel for him, the organization, the fans, and let’s face it, the man can probably still play at an NBA level. -- Abdiel, Minneapolis.

A: Part of the unique one-time agreement that allow the Heat to clear Chris' contract from their salary cap and luxury tax was that they could not re-sign him going forward. Beyond that, we're talking about a player who is 34 and has not appeared in an NBA game in 2 1/2 seasons. I believe both he and the NBA have moved on. But if there were to be a return, making it closer to his Los Angeles-area home alongside LeBron James with the Lakers certainly would be intriguing, if also highly concerning considering the proximity to where basketball lost Hank Gathers.

August 20, 2018

Q: Are the "throwaway" Nos. 12-15 roster spots better filled with aging veterans (for old time's sake) or with aspiring, young players fighting to crack the rotation with the chance to practice against legit NBA starters? Yes it is great to play every day in the G League but so few are actually brought up to the real deal it seems a waste to fill coveted roster spots with locker-room mentors. -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: That's where there is a delineated and clear difference between Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. Even with his shooting struggles after joining the Heat last season, Dwyane proved that he could produce enough meaningful moments to make him a meaningful part of the process. As for the ESPN projection that the Heat would be worse should Dwyane Wade return, the difference is the Heat won't have to rely on him as much this coming season as they did over the second half of last season. That is the difference with Dion Waiters returning. Now Dwyane, if he returns, can return for Dwyane moments, without having to sweat the minutiae. That said, if Haslem occupies the lone "mentor" spot, then it is not a case of "mentors" in the plural sense. Even with those two, you still would have plenty of development opportunities with Derrick Jones Jr., Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and even Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten, who can give you about 100 days of contributions, as well, on their two-way deals. You even could make a case for Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder still being in developmental mode, possibly Kelly Olynyk as well.

Q: Ira, I believe it is wise for the Heat to leave their 15th roster spot open for camp. How else can you create preseason competition? -- Wayne.

A: I'm not sure camp competition would trump the right veteran at the minimum, with plenty of rotation-worthy talent still on the free-agent market. But I agree that it would be a tempting carrot to have in play with all of the youth that also would be in camp, at least leaving the door open for one of the two-way players to possibly earn a roster deal. Still, we remain a month away from camp, so there yet could be moves that either increase or reduce the potential available spots on the final 15-player regular-season roster.  

Q: Some decent moves would have been nice, but not worth losing picks over or swapping like for like. Change just for change sake is not always a good idea. -- Daniel.

A: And that ultimately stands as the story of the Heat's offseason, the drawing of the line in the sand when it comes to future cap space and draft picks. Neither ultimately was put in play. The Heat at the moment look, at worst, like a playoff team, with the chance, as mentioned above, to develop pieces to be incorporated into the team's next iteration. The upshot is that Erik Spoelstra again will have plenty of mix-and-match pieces to fit into a rotation that simply will lack the minutes to keep everyone happy.

August 19, 2018

Q: Do you think Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow at times were both guilty of trying to do too much last season? Whenever Josh Richardson had the ball in his hands, not only would the ball stop moving, but Miami would have a lot of wasted possessions caused by him doing an attempted Steve Nash impersonation and dribbling underneath the basket until there was hardly any time left for his teammates to fire a decent shot. Justise Winslow on the other hand would always force a bad shot going one on two in transition, instead of accepting what his limits were athletic wise and waiting for his teammates so Erik Spoelstra could draw up a good play. I get that both guys may have had their moments, but I still worry and have my doubts about whether or not both guys are rotation players. -- Wendy, Orlando.

A: Both are rotation players, considering rotations go eight, nine, 10 deep. But that's not the point here with the points you raise. What the Heat have to do is determine their go-to players, those who should take charge of the offense. It's a lot easier when you have definitive All-Stars, as opposed to when so much of the talent is equal. I would be willing to wager that Dion Waiters will assert himself as an offensive leader this season, based on his personality and confidence. That is why the Heat well could sink or swim with Dion. I believe with Josh and Justise the view has to be whether they can be quality complementary players when the Heat again are positioned to contend. To maximize this roster (assuming no moves) likely means maximizing Waiters, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside in some order. From there, it comes down to who best complements, something I believe both Josh and Justise can handle.

Q: If the Heat are willing to go into tax for Wayne Ellington going a little further for Dwyane Wade should be an easy decision. -- Mook.

A: Of course, and one the Heat should have recognized would have been required when the decision was made to bring Dwyane back last season. At this stage, the Heat have to offer the mid-level if that is what Dwyane desires as part of a return. This can't turn into 2016 again. Once you're in the tax and the repeater clock starts, it doesn't matter how deep into the tax you go, other than the cost of the payroll. What we still don't know is if the Heat already have a plan to move out of the tax at the overage level with Ellington, but could not escape from a point any higher.

Q: Hi, Ira. Should they start the commission on Michael Beasley statue as well? -- Vincent.

A: Well, of course, actually one for each of his Heat tenures.

August 18, 2018

Q: Ira, over a month ago Pat Riley said in a press conference that he still needed to ask Micky Arison permission to offer Wade Miami's mid-level exception. Wade wants to come back Miami wants him back. Is there any explanation other than Arison once again balking on paying big tax for a player who won't be "worth it" on the court? -- Mike.

A: First, it was less than a month ago when Riley offered his summer update. Beyond that, the Heat already are in the tax, after the agreement with Wayne Ellington. And I cannot fathom the Heat allowing money to get in the way (or for Dwyane to let it get in the way if he truly has the desire to play on). Remember, the tax is calculated at season's end, so even if Wade were to get the mid-level and the Heat were to go deeper into the tax, there would remain the possibility of trading back out of the tax. But you are correct, it did somewhat sound as if Dwyane was referring to the money math when he spoke last weekend about his future. Riley's comment was, "As far as the tax goes, that's the abyss we all deal with in the NBA. As we proved in the past, if you've won a championship or you're a championship contender every year or you're heading toward that, you treat that differently. That's always the owner's call because of the nature of the tax and how punitive that it can become year to year. The fact we are over the tax and whether we would offer that exception to Dwyane, that's going to be a question I will ask Micky." The candor is commendable as is the commitment to fiduciary responsibility. But after the way Wade's 2016 free agency played out with his move to the Bulls, the hope here is that the Heat would not allow something as arcane as the tax get in the way. The thing about the tax is that once you are in it, no matter the level, it starts the clock toward the particularly onerous "repeater" tax. So the question now could be whether the Heat believe they have the flexibility to get out of the tax from their current position versus getting out of it if the mid-level is utilized. The other factor, from a basketball standpoint, could be whether they believe that the mid-level could yet be utilized on an impact free agent, either now, during the season or perhaps at the March 1 buyout deadline.

Q: Ira, since you were talking about Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley statues, I didn't see a mention of Micky Arison. I would very much like to see that, as it is very much deserving. I don't know how he's like behind the scenes, but it seems he has been an exceptional owner, working extremely well with Riley and he just seems very respectful in general. He is just as instrumental in the Heat Culture. Now, if he's the kind of humble personality where he doesn't want his own statue erected (which I believe he actually is) than that's a different story. But as a fan, he is right up there for a statue -- Marc.

A: And that's the thing, as the final voice on such (and all) matters, it likely would come off as presumptuous. These are the types of moves that franchises make after the passing of such an iconic figure. But you are correct, if the tree of success goes from Pat Riley to Dwyane Wade, then it starts with the man who hired Riley, even at the cost of a draft pick and fine.

Q: Do you think if Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten have standout rookie seasons they could serve as cheap replacements for Tyler Johnson and James Johnson in following seasons? -- Sam, Miami.

A: I don't think you need to view that in terms of specific players they could replace. There is plenty of room on this roster now and going forward for young, developing talent, similar to how Derrick Jones Jr. went from a two-way deal last season to a standard contract this season. As for the Johnsons, Tyler is young enough to also be considered part of youth movement.

August 17, 2018

Q: Ira, I don’t understand. If Dwyane Wade wants to come back, and if the Heat want him to come back, then why does this team still have so many guards on the roster? Dwyane Wade is arguably the greatest athlete to play in South Florida, and has paid a lot of dues. If he comes back right now, he may not get any playing time and he doesn't deserve that -- Gary, Gainesville.

A: Oh, he will get playing time, I have no doubts about that. But you also can't build a roster based on the whim of a 36-year-old guard. To a degree, Dwyane, should he return, would return as a plus-one, in a role that Erik Spoelstra will have to specifically tailor while also being mindful of who else deserves to play and needs to play. To me, it's almost as if the Dion Waiters/Dwyane Wade role would be a job share, with Dwyane to step in when Dion is hurt or in foul trouble, otherwise to be called upon only in, so to speak, special-teams situations. But I also don't believe that is factoring into Dwyane's decision. To me, Tyler Johnson still has to be the third guard off the bench behind Waiters and Goran Dragic, if only to attempt to realize a payoff on Tyler's contract. And Wayne Ellington's special purpose cannot be overlooked when it comes to the rotation. It is why, ultimately, Erik Spoelstra is paid the big bucks.

Q: Hi, Ira. Do you think once Dwyane Wade retires that they'll put a statue of him in front of the AmericanAirlines Arena? He truly deserves it. -- Dietrich.

A: Yes I do. But I also believe there should be a Pat Riley statue, as well. And I'm not sure which should come first, since, on one hand, it was Riley who changed the culture even before Dwyane's arrival, but, on the other hand, it is possible that Dwyane steps aside before Pat. That, at least for the moment, is where I would draw the line with statues. As for banners inside the arena, I believe there should be ones for Wade, Udonis Haslem, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Riley, in addition to those already in place. With additional playoff success, there could be one for Erik Spoelstra, as well. Based on longevity, I believe Eric Reid also should get his own tribute for his three decades with the team, as well, just as there is a banner for former trainer Ron Culp.

Q: Is Luke Babbitt coming back? -- Force.

A: Considering the best Luke could do last summer was a partial guarantee with the Hawks, he well could remain unavailable until well down the road in free agency. I would think the only way he returns would be if one of Dwyane Wade or Udonis Haslem don't return. Although, even then, the Heat still would have a roster spot available. To be candid, I believe you could do a lot worse with a 15th man than someone who can drain 3-pointers and already knows the Heat system. I'm a Babbitt fan and would have no issue with such a signing. 

August 16, 2018

Q: The Heat aren't winning a championship this upcoming season. Bring Udonis Haslem back along with Dwyane Wade, keep improving the young core and enjoy a man that's been with one team his entire career. And what young talent's spot is he taking that's going to come in and contribute that some keep mentioning? -- Douglas.

Q: The Heat need to get past the "loyalty" and nostalgia and replace U.D. with someone who can contribute on the court. Harsh reality, but it's a wasted roster spot at this point. -- R.M.

Q: I hope this is his last year. Time to move on. -- Bev.

A: I never thought Udonis Haslem would stand as a polarizing presence in South Florida, in the wake of all he has done for South Florida, both in the community and on the court (only he and Dwyane Wade are three-time Heat champions). But in light of his limited playing time last season, and likely a similar approach this coming season by Erik Spoelstra in light of a loaded power rotation, it does come down to what a different 15th man would deliver instead. A Haslem return would not, at least at the outset, impact Duncan Robinson or Yante Maten, who already are on two-way contracts. So, for the moment, it comes down to whether you believe that such a roster spot would be better off going to Briante Weber, Malik Newman or Marcus Lee, or to a free agent who remains available. While Goran Dragic and James Johnson also are captains, I'm not sure either holds anything close to the sway in the locker room that Haslem holds. So, basically, would a different 15th man make a difference on the court or in the Heat developmental program?

Q: With Marcus Lee, if the Heat sign another short and limited power forward, I'm going to gag. -- William.

A: I would not overstate the Briante Weber, Malik Newman or Marcus Lee signings. The Heat long have prioritized the possibilities for their developmental-league roster and this could be nothing more than taking the long view with such players. Even if Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade return, there still would be room for the Heat to consider an unsigned veteran free agent, and I would not be surprised if that is the direction the Heat go with what would be their 20th and final camp spot. The Heat over the years have come up with such players on the eve of camp, and that again could be the case this year.

Q: Are these folks really forgetting about my man Philly Cheese? Dion Waiters played on one leg last season, but he was one of the best guards in basketball when he was healthy. Getting him back healthy is huge for us. Time to prove em wrong again. -- Tyler.

A: And in the balance could be the Heat's season and even their short-term future. Because if Dion is not borderline All-Star, I'm not sure that anything other than a low playoff seed would be possible. To this point, Dion has been nothing more than a flash for the Heat. Sustainability is now the question.

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