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ASK IRA: Can Rodney McGruder be a difference maker for the Heat?
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.


February 22, 2018

Q: I’ve always said Rodney McGruder is our X-factor, so I think it all depends how he plays after his return. He grabs rebounds, defends the best opponent and is pretty consistent with his threes. He’s our energizer bunny. -- Sarge.

A: Or at least he was before his leg surgery. So we first have to see, in real game action, where he stands. And then there is the Part B of the equation. Before Rodney was sidelined, Josh Richardson was being viewed as little more than an equivalent talent, Wayne Ellington was being viewed solely as a 3-point specialist and Dwyane Wade was being viewed as a Cleveland Cavalier. The roster and the rotation have changed since Rodney went down. And that means the chemistry might have changed, as well. All of that is why the sooner the Heat can get Rodney on the court, the sooner they can get a sense of his place going forward.

Q: Hello Ira, if the Heat miss the playoffs this season again, will Erik Spoelstra yet again be allowed to escape any questioning? As apparently when it comes to the Heat, it's always the players fault, and never ever the coach's fault. -- Javier, Doral.

A: That debate comes down to whether you believe that this Heat roster has more talent than at least one of eight other Eastern Conference teams. I am sure you would agree that Toronto, Cleveland and Boston have more talent. I'm assuming you would agree that the Wizards, Bucks and 76ers do, as well. So it comes down to this when it comes to the playoffs: Are you convinced that the Heat have more talent than both the Pacers and Pistons? If you see those teams as more talented, then missing the playoffs could be a matter of coaching a team to the level of its talent.

Q: We need to lose a lot of games I think, because our pick is top-seven protected. I would love to make the playoffs, don't get me wrong. But to lose in the first round is not worth it. We need to get that one more piece and I feel like somebody like Trae Young or Miles Bridges. Do you agree? -- Devin.

A: Neither on your players or your premise. First, the race to the bottom is unlike anything I can recall in recent years. It's as if nearly a third of the league wants their fan bases to trust the process. So there is that. Even if the Heat do not win another game, it is possible that the Suns, Mavericks, Kings, Grizzlies, Hawks, Magic, Nets and Bulls don't match the Heat's current 30-win total. So holding on to the pick that otherwise goes to the Suns would be highly unlikely, with the Heat unlikely to be able to muster anything better than a No. 9 playoff seed, thereby needing quite a bit of lottery luck to move into one of the first three picks to protect their selection for 2018 (and thereby lose their 2019 first-round pick to the Suns). But if the Heat do (bottom out) and can (get some lottery luck), I would be more likely to lean toward DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley or Luke Doncic under the best-available-player premise. But it is a discussion that is moot. That approach over these final 24 games with be playoffs-or-bust. Period.

February 21, 2018

Q: What do you anticipate is the next personnel move to move this team into contention? -- Sherif,  Miramar.

A: While the acquisitions of Dwyane Wade and Luke Babbitt did not dramatically move the needle at the trading deadline, part of that reality is that the Heat did not have much to move the needle with, lacking first-round picks or even cash to throw into a trade. Similarly, the equity the Heat now lack is sufficient currency in the playoff race to entice a buyout acquisition. The last thing a player on a non-contender would want is to give up salary in a buyout only to wind up on a team that misses out on the postseason. That well could leave the Heat moving forward with what already is in place. The key now likely will be maximizing the current roster. And a key to that would be getting Kelly Olynyk back as soon as possible. Even in the losses in Toronto and Philadelphia, you could see how Olynyk could have made a difference.

Q: Why did the Heat apply for that $5.5 million exception for Dion Waiters' injury and not use it? -- Sandy.

A: First, there still is time, with the exception not to expire until March 12. But what does not accompany the exception is an additional roster spot. Beyond that, if it is not a player who can crack the top nine, then the Heat already plenty of players to fill those playing slots. So would you bring in someone to play in place of Dwyane Wade? Luke Babbitt? Justise Winslow? As much as anything, what the exception might do is buy the Heat another month of injury insurance. There was no downside of applying and being approved. But, as stated above, a buyout player likely is not going to look toward a team that could miss the playoffs. That sort of defeats the purpose of a buyout in the first place.

Q: Ira, you have written on more than one occasion that the Heat did not draft Devin Booker because they had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and that Justise Winslow made better sense for them. If that's true, why did the Heat let Wade go, especially given the fact that they had no replacement for Wade? They cannot attract any big names, which makes them overpay for inconsistent players and they have a terrible track record for drafting players, i.e., Michael Beasley, Shabazz Napier, Winslow. Do you think maybe it's time for Pat Riley to retire and replace Erik Spoelstra? I don't expect you to address my questions, but I thought I would try. -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: First, if the Heat kept Wade, do you believe that at his age the past season and a half would have been demonstrably different? At some point you have to move on, try another approach. As for Riley and Spoelstra, I would say this: The Heat have missed the playoffs three times in a four-year span only once in the franchise's 30 seasons, and that was the team's first three seasons. So if there are no playoffs this season, then I would anticipate a top-to-bottom inspection from Micky Arison and Nick Arison, as is their right.

February 20, 2018

Q: I understand the lack of minutes for Hassan Whiteside, considering the contributions from and development of Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. However, it doesn't make sense to have a max player who doesn't play 30-plus minutes per game. It also gives the perception that the Heat are not enamored with Hassan's play. If the Heat opt to trade Hassan during the offseason, I would think the lack of playing time hurts his trade value -- not only does it create a negative perception of Hassan, from a team who knows him better than anyone else, but it also brings down his overall statistics -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: To get to the crux, no, they clearly are not enamored, or at least Erik Spoelstra isn't. but part of that, perhaps a major part of that, is also on Hassan. What he should be doing is making himself an irresistible, unstoppable force, one who forces you to play him for extended stretches, the player we seemingly have not seen since the victory in Dallas. Yes, you could argue he is being tested by the composition of the roster and by a coach who chooses to turn into other directions. In fact, if he truly believes that he is not being maximized, that he would receive a better shake elsewhere, then that should be motivation, as well, to make others want him more than perhaps the Heat do at the moment. A Hassan Whiteside who plays with a fury could totally flip all of this narrative. He still has that power.

Q: Ira, why would LeBron James come back to Miami with their present roster and most players locked up for several seasons, and with Dwyane Wade a shell of what he used to be? If he wants to stay in the East there are so many better teams talent-wise. -- Joel.

A: He's not. But the fact when ESPN polled 48 players about what they thought might happen with LeBron that they even mentioned the Heat shows that, at worst, the Heat remain relevant in players' consciousness. Basically, the NBA players polled still consider the Heat a desirable landing spot. And that is a good thing. But I cannot fathom, as you pointed out, the Heat having enough on their roster to attract such a level of free agent. There was a time when I thought Hassan Whiteside could have been such a lure, but with his role minimized, I don't see that as the case anymore.

Q: Ira, your Sunday column was your best article of the year. We often speak about players needing to find another level or gear and the same expectations need to be made on Erik Spoelstra.  His maturation in his role as head coach has been amazing to watch.  He needs to put his together his list of the best eight maybe nine players for each night for opposing teams, which will leave some players on the bench.  The team has to also be told and embrace these actions.  Egos need to be checked at the door. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale

A: Erik has established camaraderie with his players and a solid rapport in the locker room. But sometimes tough decisions have to be made. It could be sitting Winslow one game, Wade another and perhaps even one of his big men (Whiteside, Adebayo, Olynyk) another. It could be no James Johnson. Or it could be that the train already has left the station when it comes to Rodney McGruder. But first we have to know about Olynyk's shoulder strain (and if that's all it is).

February 19, 2018

Q: Watching these All-Star events reminds me of the blown opportunities with our last two first-round draft picks to select guys like Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell, who both were drafted after the Heat’s selection. -- Mialles, Boston.

A: Not true. Donovan Mitchell was selected at No. 13 last June, with Bam Adebayo going to the Heat at No. 14. Yes, Utah did leapfrog the Heat to trade up to No. 13 to select Donovan, but at the cost of the No. 24 pick and Trey Lyles going to Denver. An equivalent deal for the Heat would have been something like dealing their No. 14 pick and Justise Winslow (selected two picks ahead of Lyles in 2015). Because the Heat lacked another first-round pick, I'm just not sure they would have been poised to make such a move (or would have felt justified at the time). As for Winslow over Booker, it again is important not to create revisionist history. When Winslow was drafted, it was at a time when the Heat had, featured, and planned to continue to feature, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He set up as the better fit at the time than Booker. Times change, so do forecasts. I believe the Heat will be fine with Adebayo. As for Winslow, that comes down to expectations. But let's also wait to see Booker win something other than a 3-point contest.

Q: Did you notice when Dwyane Wade had the ball in his hands in the games against the Raptors and 76ers, some of the guys like Wayne Ellington and Josh Richardson, to name a few, were standing around instead of trying to cut to the basket? Good offense comes from movement. The ball isn't going to go far if guys are just standing around leaving Wade Isolated at the top of the key. -- Richard, Tallahassee.

A: Yes, noticed it, and what teammates have to notice is this is not the same Dwyane Wade who, as recently as the 2016 playoffs, helped the Heat within one game of the Eastern Conference finals. This is, however, a player who still can find open teammates and maximize their possibilities. So some of this also is on Erik Spoelstra to make sure the player movement continues, that the dribble-handoff mindset does not cease simply because Dwyane has entered the game.

Q: Are the Heat better with Dwyane Wade and Luke Babbitt trades? Yes. Is it enough to make a big difference? No. If the Heat want to compete for a championship, bigger trades will have to occur in the offseason/next year. -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: Neither Dwyane nor Luke (certainly) change the overall dynamic. This team will succeed only if Hassan Whiteside plays hard all the time, if Goran Dragic plays at something close to All-Star level, if James Johnson can somehow recapture last season's form, if Dwyane Ellington can succeed against defenses now scheming against him, and if Josh Richardson continues his dramatic growth curve. If those things happen, it will minimize the impact of both Wade and Babbitt. Ninety percent of the Heat's issues, if not more, will continue to revolve around players on this roster before the trading deadline. In fact, within days it is possible that the Heat's biggest midseason addition turns out to be Rodney McGruder.

February 18, 2018

Q: Don't want to pin blame on Justise Winslow, who's a nice young man with lots of promise for sure. But facts are facts, and the Heat seems to do better when he's out due to injury than when he's on the active roster -- both last year and this.  He's got talents, but even a skilled coach like Erik Spoelstra has failed to fit those talents into the pattern of play that suits the remainder of the roster.  Winslow will probably blossom, but it is likely to be with some other team, some other style, some other coach. -- H.S.

A: I do wonder if Justise's career arc will be similar to that of Ted Ginn Jr., who was viewed somewhat as a failed No. 9 2007 pick by the Miami Dolphins (one pick before Winslow was selected in the 2015 NBA draft) and then went on to be viewed as far more productive in ensuing stops with the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers. Basically, it was a case study that when the expectations of being a high draft choice no longer were attached, the contributions were viewed differently. As for the more immediate concern, it will be interesting when Kelly Olynyk returns to see where Justise will slot into the rotation especially with Dwyane Wade being slotted in as a the backup point guard. So while benching Justise certainly never would be cast that way, when Rodney McGruder returns, it is possible that Erik Spoelstra could be faced with such a decision. Because it will come down to these questions: Playing Winslow or James Johnson as a backup power forward? Playing Winslow or McGruder as backup small forward? Playing Winslow or Wade as backup point guard? Playing Winslow or Wayne Ellington as backup shooting guard?

Q: Hassan Whiteside gets stats. I have seen when he is really engaged and focused he is a force. But that being said, I mostly see a lackluster, nonchalant attitude that makes it looks like Whiteside is not interested or focused. I would love to see more energy out of him he can and be a monster every day. -- Juan.

A: Here's the thing: body language matters and I would hope that Hassan would come to accept such a reality. I often focus on Hassan when he's off the ball or even off the court, and you are correct, there are times when it is disheartening when it comes to energy. That's not to say he doesn't care. But, as mentioned in the question above, which didn't even get into Bam Adebayo as an option at power forward, this roster is so loaded in depth that the approach should be -- perhaps has to be -- playing with every last breath. There is no reason not to. And that should mean and engaged and energetic approach at all times.

Q: Any word on whether Miami will pick up Derrick Jones Jr.'s two-way contract?  -- Brandon

A: There's nothing to pick up. He remains under contract to the Heat for the balance of the season, only now with a six-day limit on the remainder of time he can spend in the NBA before the conclusion of the G League season. Unless his contract is converted to a standard NBA deal, though, he would not be eligible for the playoff roster.

February 17, 2018

Q: We need Kelly Olynyk back as soon as possible. I feel that Olynyk is what's missing at the moment. The other night, our bigs were flat on the boards, screens, and passing, but when Olynyk is playing, his intensity is there, and subconsciously I think it keeps the other four in that frame of mind. The ball is sticking in hands, and Olynyk would make sure to look to pass. -- Aristotle, Sydney, Australia.

A: Agree. Olynyk had emerged as a go-to presence in fourth quarters, often sparking the offense when either play sets broke down or fatigue set in for others. That's why it will be curious to get a read on his shoulder strain when the Heat resume practice Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Not to understate issues the Heat were developing even before Olynyk went down, but considering all of the Heat's close losses, a bit of Olynyk could have put the Heat over the top against the Raptors and 76ers, and, if he wasn't hurt in the game against the Magic, perhaps in better shape against Orlando, as well. But that also can't be an excuse, considering the 76ers were without Joel Embiid and the Magic without Aaron Gordon and both still found a way to beat the Heat.

Q: Ira, so many say Hassan Whiteside isn't like Bam Adebayo because Bam can pass out of the post. But am I the only one who thinks he passes out of the post too much? Way too often the guy is constantly looking for dribble handoffs instead of using his size and athleticism to draw fouls. -- Victor, Miami.

A: That actually is more of a factor with Hassan. Basically, when Hassan was sidelined, the Heat moved to the dribble-handoff approach to maximize the skill set of Kelly Olynyk and also take advantage of Bam's athleticism and decision making. And it worked. The problem is it hardly is the most effective game for Hassan, which I believe had contributed to the drop in his statistics and minutes. At this stage, I can appreciate limiting the approaches with Adebayo as he settles into the NBA. And by basically creating a five-out approach with more opportunities to take advantage of the short roll, it also maximizes the Heat perimeter players.

Q: Ira, the Heat play well against the Raptors.  If they can hold on to the eighth seed that may be better than finishing higher. -- Joel.

A: Two things here: First, the Heat are in no position to get creative with the standings. As the saying goes, just get in, baby. Second, with the Cavaliers rejuvenated at the trading deadline and with the Celtics considering lineup changes, I'm not sure that there will be any clarity about the top seeds until far closer to the end of the season. The irony is that the Heat's season finale is April 11 against the Raptors at AmericanAirlines Arena.

February 16, 2018

Q: There are two ways to motivate. Positive reinforcement for behavior you want to encourage. Negative reinforcement for behavior you want to discourage. It is generally accepted that of the two, positive reinforcement works better in the long run. However, you should at least try one of the two. With Hassan Whiteside, Erik Spoelstra uses neither. If Whiteside is doing great, he sits. If Whiteside is doing poorly, he sits. It doesn't even seem to matter when the team is doing poorly with Whiteside on the bench, Whiteside still sits. The message seems to be: I don't care how you play, I just don't like you. How does that possibly get the best out of anyone? -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: If you'll recall, it was Jan. 29, after the victory, when Hassan Whiteside dominated in the victory over the Dallas Mavericks, that he spoke of his hour-long meeting with Spoelstra, how the two had cleared the air. Since then, the minutes have been limited, even after Spoelstra mentioned the need to play Whiteside and Bam Adebayo together more often. The most troubling element is that the latest limited minutes have come with Kelly Olynyk out, further opening time in the power rotation. It would have seemed that once the trading deadline passed, another meeting of the minds would have made sense. Instead, the lasting impression going into the All-Star break was Whiteside sitting in the locker room in Philadelphia discussing the desire for more minutes after the break. It's as if it's Kevin Loughery-Rony Seikaly 2.0.

Q: Ira, the blame for this team's troubles has to be spread among more players than just Justise Winslow. I'd be more concerned with the lack consistency of Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside. They will be taking up a much larger portion of next season's payroll and they have far more to do with our recent string of losses. We don't have any draft picks coming up, Justise's defense is elite, he's young, and his salary is relatively cheap.  What do we have to lose by trying to develop him more? We're not going to get anything for him trade-wise.  Worst case, someone steals him in restricted free agency. -- John.

A: You make cogent points. And I agree this is far more than about Justise. In fact, you basically have gotten to the crux, that what had made the Heat so successful over the second half of last season was the consistency, knowing what you were going to get from each roster component. To a degree, the Heat know exactly what they're going to get from Justise. But they seemingly don't know, from night to night, with Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and some others on this roster. Until there is consistency, these wild swings in the standings might become the norm.

Q: Instead of moving the ball for the better shot now they are looking to pass it to Dwyane Wade. -- Jose.

A: And this is always the concern when you bring in a player that, while still respected as a star, is not the same player as at the top of his game. To his credit, Dwyane also is among the best players on this roster, if not the best, at creating scoring opportunities for others with his playmaking. But just as the Heat succeeded during the best of times over the second half of last season and then the run of success in January, the focus has to remain on ball movement, going from good to better to best with shot attempts, and not looking for any individual to carry the load. Perhaps that is where this eight-day All-Star break will help, the Heat able to move on from the stunning image of Wade walking back through that door.

February 15, 2018

Q: With Dwyane Wade's return, it was said that minutes would be down for other players. In my opinion, those minutes have come at the expense of Justise Winslow. Before Wade's return, Winslow effectively served as the backup point guard, but that spot has been delegated to Wade. So where does this leave Justise? -- Ji.

A: Here's what has to happen now: For as much as has been made about the Heat's depth of talent, you can only play so many players. And, more importantly, you have to play them in the positions that allow them to succeed. What the Heat need coming out of the All-Star break is this . . . all bets are off. Play the players who check off the correct boxes, and if that means hurting feelings, so be it. If it means no Winslow, then don't get caught up in potential or draft pedigree; save that for another day. If Dwyane Wade doesn't fit a certain game's style, then he doesn't play at all; even if it means a tough decision with a franchise icon. If Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo are playing well, and providing needed rebounding, then play both, even if it means shorting others on minutes; that's what a coach does, is find a way to make it work. Yes, there could be ensuing questions about humbling a player, perhaps even leaving him embarrassed. So what? This has gotten beyond that. This. Team. Cannot. Afford. To. Miss. The. Playoffs. If that first-round pick to the Suns turns into a lottery pick (protected for the Heat only through No. 7), then the entire reason for this season goes up in smoke. When the Heat reassembles after the All-Star break, player feelings have to be taken out of the equation. The best players, the best fits, the best contributors play. Everyone else? Deal with it. Erik Spoelstra doesn’t need friends. He needs victories.

Q: Something is terribly wrong with this team. Too many third quarter collapses. This team does not seem to be prepared to play after halftime. Is it players or coaching? We can't keep dancing around this problem. -- Gregory.

A: It is emotionally weak players, that it only takes a 3-pointer or two for the confidence to wane and then disappear. It is one thing to fight from behind, with nothing to lose, as the Heat did over the second half of last season. It is another to maintain a position of strength amid adversity. Perhaps this roster simply lacks the strong minded. We're about to find out over these remaining games.

Q: Justise Winslow is killing the team. Same last year. When he was out last season and this season, our team is well above .500. -- P.M.

A: It has gotten to the point of getting beyond a limit sample size. It will be interesting to see what happen when the talk of winning plays does not translate into winning games.

February 14, 2018

Q: I see Erik Spoelstra starting Justise Winslow to get him some minutes, because if Bam Adebayo starts then Winslow would barely play, with Dwyane Wade being the backup point guard. I hope Justise takes advantage of this. -- Omar.

A: Which makes you wonder what Justise's role will be when Kelly Olynyk returns. Prior to Olynyk's absence, Winslow had served as the primary ballhandler when Goran Dragic was out. I would assume that Erik Spoelstra will break out a spreadsheet and reformulate during the All-Star break. Of course, there is no guarantee of when Olynyk will return. And if Winslow can play as a somewhat reliable 3-point threat then it could be James Johnson who potential gets squeezed, let alone Luke Babbitt. Johnson, though, had a bit of a revival Tuesday, at least in the first half. And that doesn't even get into Rodney McGruder's impending return. Olynyk would make the current rotation 10 deep, with McGruder making it 11, which seems a bit unmanageable. On one hand, you still want to try to maximize Winslow's possibilities. On the other hand, from a evaluation perspective could it be time that the Heat already know what they have.

Q: It seems like the Heat give up the most points at the buzzer. For example, that Kyle Lowry shot at the end of the first half ended up being the difference in the game. This is especially frustrating with so many Heat games coming down to one or two possessions.--- Jorge, Tampa.

A: Because the Heat predicate their success on defense, and, to a degree, slowing pace, they rarely take the two-for-one approach at the end of quarters. Lowry, by contrast, "walked the dog" for one 3-pointer late in the second period, with enough time left in the half to get that second 3-pointer. That was a six-point swing right there. I do not understand why the Heat decline to play by the same math.

Q: I'm Australian and more than happy that Goran Dragic got the All-Star nod over Ben Simmons. That guy in parliament is an embarrassment and has no idea. Don't let it get you down, Dragon. We love you Down Under. -- Nathan.

A: Got a bunch of these from many either in or from Australia. When you get down to it, who doesn't like Goran Dragic? (And after what happened in EuroBasket, who doesn't like Slovenian basketball?) If not for Goran on Tuesday night, it wouldn't have been  a game in Toronto. He did just about all the heavy lifting for the Heat, which sorts of defines an All-Star.

February 13, 2018

Q: Chaos will break out when Dion Waiters returns next year. How do you solve this problem? -- Jim, Miami.

A: That's making a bunch of assumptions, starting with one that Dwyane Wade will continue playing next season at 37. Beyond that, you're assuming that Dion Waiters will be back for the start of next season, with his timetable following ankle surgery still unclear. Then there is the composition of the Heat roster itself, with a draft, free agency and offseason trading period intervening. For that matter, we still don't know if the Heat have the wherewithal to re-sign Wayne Ellington or how they would feel about going into the luxury tax to achieve such a goal. For now there lone goal has to be making the playoffs, so the first-round pick due the Suns from the Goran Dragic trade doesn't turn into a lottery selection for Phoenix.

Q: Brandon Jennings to the Heat would work. What do you think. He said he would do a 10-day contract. -- Charles.

A: But even that would require opening a roster spot, which the Heat currently lack. So would you cut Jordan Mickey, or, dare we say, Udonis Haslem, to open a spot for Jennings? For now, Dwyane Wade appears to slot in as the backup point guard. To me, the greater concern is a backup point guard who can defend fleet opposing point guards, an assignment Wade appears to be beyond. An argument could be made that the Heat already have such a candidate in their pipeline in Briante Weber, but, again, that would require opening a roster spot. For now, I would expect Wade to be the backup point guard when offense is needed, with Justise Winslow possibly getting that role on the defensive end, when possible.

Q: Regardless of where the Heat end up this season, although we want to play as long as possible, Heat fans have already won this season with Dwyane Wade back home in Miami.  LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Wade and such sports icons don't come around that often.  Enjoy every game because, Dwyane Wade has treated fans to unbelievable basketball over the years. In earlier years, you would walk out of the arena going, 'Did I just see Wade do that?'  He made the impossible possible.  That message is powerful. -- Stuart.

A: But the message can't continue to be one of nostalgia. That was fun and fine for Friday's return against the Bucks. But there is a season to be played, games to be won, a playoff berth to be achieved. Those three all have to be the priorities over a nightly dose of nostalgia. I do wonder if that will put Erik Spoelstra on a tough spot.

February 12, 2018

Q: This two-center approach is highly situational, right? Can't imagine it for long stretches against small, fast lineups. -- Daniel.

A: To me that comes down to the range of Bam Adebayo's perimeter defense. If he is capable of defending stretch fours or even dealing with bigger small forwards (dare I mention LeBron James?), then there is little reason to keep him off the court. As Pat Riley has mentioned of Erik Spoelstra's approach, position-less is about the offensive side of the floor. You still have to be able to account for all the necessary defensive responsibilities. The thing is, I believe Bam just might be able to handle the perimeter defensive assignments, as well. Who knows, perhaps he emerges as the Heat's non-Greek freak? Tuesday's matchup against the Raptors in Toronto is an interesting example: Why not start Adebayo against Serge Ibaka and Hassan Whiteside against Jones Valanciunas? I'm not sure the Heat are necessarily sold on Justise Winslow as their starting power forward going forward.

Q: What do you think Luke Babbitt's role will be going forward? I was surprised to see Justise Winslow starting at power forward and thought with Kelly Olynyk out right now that Erik Spoelstra would've started Luke. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: The Heat went nine deep without Babbitt in Friday's victory over the Bucks, and that was with Kelly Olynyk not available. So Babbitt in means someone who had been a rotation player would be out, because you simply can't go 11 deep on a regular basis. In the end, with such a meager cost (with Okaro White already injured), Babbitt might wind up as nothing more than injury protection either for a protracted absence by Olynyk, or should Justise Winslow or James Johnson go down. But it also could be that James Johnson officially is now on the clock when it comes to getting back to something closer to last season's form.

Q: I feel bad for Josh McRoberts. There was great potential with the Heat. I hope he gets and remains healthy. -- Bruce.

A: Two factors soured Josh McRoberts' tenure with the Heat. First and foremost it was the injuries. He almost never was right. But the second factor was losing sight that he was brought in to space the floor as a stretch four. Instead, it's almost as if he got so caught up in being a playmaker that he lost sight of the basket being his friend. I almost wonder if the best option might be a career reset in Charlotte, where Steve Clifford maximized his game.

February 11, 2018

Q: Ira, now that we were unexpectedly able to bring back Dwyane Wade at the trade deadline, do you still believe that it makes sense for the Heat to pursue another veteran point guard coming out of a buyout between now and March 1, if nothing else as a possible insurance policy? If so, whose roster spot would likely be taken? -- Mike, North Miami Beach.

A: Those require separate answers. First, this is where the recent five-game losing streak hurts. Had the Heat been able to remain in contention for third in the East, at least poised for potential homecourt in the first round, I think they would have been a far more attractive destination. For example, there is a reason the Rockets proved so enticing to Joe Johnson and Brandon Wright -- the likelihood of competing deep into the playoffs. I'm not sure the Heat are poised to offer that at the moment. As for the Heat opening a roster spot, usage would suggest Udonis Haslem's spot. But there is no way, after bringing back Dwyane Wade, that Haslem is going anyway (as if he was already). So what you have to ask with any buyout candidate is this: Would/could he do more for the Heat than Jordan Mickey? Ultimately, that would appear to be the only disposable roster spot, and I'm not sure I would necessarily classify it as that.

Q: Ira, it seems that the offseason will be interesting when it comes to signing Dwyane Wade. The Heat would appear to have a fair amount of leverage in future discussions, no? -- Jason.

A: With Dwyane telling NBA TV that this will be his final NBA stop, it seemed like a concession of minimum salary going forward. The last thing the Heat need is to have to consider spending their mid-level exception or any other exception on Wade, with this roster still with enough question marks. I also would think that any agreement would have to be on the year-by-year plan. But this is all getting ahead of ourselves, without first seeing how this next two months play out. Dwyane  has now earned in excess of $180 million just in NBA salary. I would find it hard to believe that money could be a factor going forward.

Q: Ira, isn't Dwyane Wade's return to the Heat the most surprising, astonishing, strangest thing that you have had to cover over the 30 years of writing about Heat basketball? -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: No, that was LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh coming together with the Heat during 2010 free agency. You could almost see this coming, with the way the Cavaliers had struggled. Even LeBron's Heat departure in 2014 was somewhat foreshadowed. That 2010 offseason was one of the most stunning in NBA history -- just ask Dan Gilbert.

February 10, 2018

Q: The Heat may have too much depth, and it could be an issue moving forward. When Kelly Olynyk and Rodney McGruder come back, we will have 11 guys (maybe 12 if Luke Babbitt joins the rotation) that need to get minutes. How are guys supposed to get into a rhythm when there are so many mouths to feed? This may be detrimental to the development of our young guys, especially Justise Winslow. -- Kyle.

A: First, that is a good problem to have, one Erik Spoelstra will have plenty of time to sort out during the impending All-Star break, which is one of the benefits of the new, early NBA trading deadline. And, as I've writing in this space recently, this season is beyond development. This is about getting into the playoffs and  potentially making noise in the playoffs. I think you will see Spoelstra moving to more of a matchup rotation, potentially different reserves against different opponents, beyond the core players. Friday was the perfect example of a big lineup working against the Bucks' height, allowing Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo to play in tandem. In other games, it might require a host of athletic wings. And now, with McGruder, Winslow even James Johnson and Josh Richardson, you can field late-game defensive lineups. It will all work as long as there is an across-the-board buy-in when it comes to everyone accepting being part of an ensemble. To me the questions are not about the rest of this season, but rather what happens when Dion Waiters is adding to the mix if Dwyane Wade stays around. For now, victory has to be the collective priority. On a roster still lacking in star power compared to so many other East contenders, this still will require multiple contributions, similar to what the Heat received Friday night.

Q: Ira, guess you were right, we needed a backup point guard. Obviously Dwyane Wade isn't really a point guard, but a little of his veteran play making went a long way Friday. He may not be the Wade of old, but a veteran with his championship confidence is exactly what this team needed. -- John.

A: But I'm still not sure it answers the question of how to defend the fleetest of point guards, such  as John Wall, or others that Wade, at his age, still could struggle against. I still believe in those situations you still will see Josh Richardson or Justise Winslow as the defensive options. But I do see Wade as being able to settle the offense as a playmaker. As with the above answer, I believe so much will be situational going forward.

Q: Any idea how long Kelly Olynyk will be out? Until after the All-Star break you think? -- Josh.

A: The Heat, as is their way, are not offering anything beyond day-to-day updates. But I think you're on the right track, since after these next two games, on Tuesday in Toronto and Wednesday in Philadelphia, there is a nine-day break. In fact, during that intervening period also could be when Rodney McGruder will return. So I certainly could see Erik Spoelstra utilizing that as a re-starting point. Or perhaps it's more than something minor, since the Heat did go out with their move for Luke Babbitt. 

February 9, 2018

Q: Ira, don't get me wrong, I love Dwyane Wade. But this is not 2006 Dwyane Wade or even Big Three Dwyane Wade. Is this, and Luke Babbitt, enough to get the Heat into a high playoff seed? -- Donald.

A: First, I'm not sure a high playoff seed is necessarily in the cards, considering how much stronger the Cavaliers got at the trading deadline and where the Celtics and Raptors stand. At this point, it's just about making the playoffs and making sure that the June first-rounder due to the Suns from the Goran Dragic trade doesn't turn into a lottery pick (it's only protected for the first seven selections). It will be interesting to see where the Heat go from here, considering they not only still hold a $5.5 million salary-cap exception from Dion Waiters' season-ending ankle surgery, but also their unused mid-level exception. The problem is the Heat also have run out of roster spots to the point where they don't even have one for Derrick Jones Jr., with the NBA days on his two-way contract dwindling. With Dwyane Wade taking the A.J. Hammons roster spot, the Heat would have to get creative to bring in another player. It is possible they could open the Jordan Mickey spot, but I could not fathom them waiving Udonis Haslem. But there are several intriguing possibilities expected to come free on the buyout market, with some dealt players already waived. So this might not be over yet -- if the Heat opt to create roster flexibility.

Q: Ira, so, does this flurry of trade activity and the nearing return of Rodney McGruder mean the heat will roll out the  Goran Dragic-Rodney McGruder-Luke Babbitt-Hassan Whiteside starting  four from last year? The starting rotations have not inspired confidence recently, and that  pairing did well over a reasonable sample size. -- Darius.

A:  From that standpoint, you sub in Dwyane Wade for Dion Waiters and you basically have what you had for much of the second half of last season. But this is about far more than the starting lineup. This is about who gets shoved aside. Assuming a return to health of Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington, by adding in Dwyane Wade and Luke Babbitt, your basically squeezing someone else. So is that Tyler Johnson? Is it Justise Winslow? Is it James Johnson? Does it mean again reducing Ellington to a specialist? More is not necessarily always better. For Erik Spoelstra, the work only now begins.

Q: Does this mean there is a chance for LeBron James next? -- Len.

A: No, it does not. If anything, this was a divorce, of sorts, between the two, with LeBron prioritizing winning in Cleveland over playing time for his friend with the Cavaliers. For all of the options that LeBron James has going forward, I would think trying to make it work with this revised  mix in Cleveland or exploring the opportunities with the Lakers would be the priorities. What the Wade move could do is bring Chris Bosh back into the fold in some potential manner, obviously not as a player, but perhaps to be back around Wade and Udonis Haslem. 

February 8, 2018

Q: It doesn't matter who they're playing. This team is bad, with a lot of average players with bad contracts. Pat Riley needs to make a big trade and build for the future. -- Brandon.

A: But it does matter who the Heat are playing, because they clearly are not, at this stage, built to beat teams such as the Rockets, nor should a victory on Wednesday night against Houston have been expected. The maximum upside of this roster was contending for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs, in other words being good enough to contend for fourth place. The way you do that is by winning the games you are expected to win. If this season comes to a thud, it's not because of games such as Wednesday's, but rather the two losses to the Magic, the two losses to the Nets, and the losses to the Kings, Bulls, Hawks and Knicks, especially the ones at home. Those are the bites at the apple you never get back. All of that said, in a season when the expectation never was -- or never should have been -- title contention, you don't trade based on this season. You trade based on the future. That means working through the youth of the roster, and possibly dealing older players. And at the moment, that could mean Goran Dragic.

Q: The reality is if we can split until the All-Star break we are good, Okaro White and Rodney McGruder and good health, we will make playoffs. With 30 games left, all is not lost. -- Randall.

A: And no one is saying it was or it is. But to avoid being .500 at the break, it means winning at least one of: Friday at home against the Bucks, Tuesday in Toronto, Wednesday in Philadelphia. None will be easy, but the next game has to be a priority, especially to go into the All-Star break with some semblance of a good feeling about playing at home, where the majority of games will be after the All-Star break. I agree that McGruder and White will help, but they won't help where the Heat most need help -- scoring points. Until the Heat become more than an all-or-nothing team with 3-pointers, it will remain a grind.

Q: I thought Spoelstra said he would play Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo together more. -- Ted.

A: And then Kelly Olynyk went down with his shoulder injury and the available options in the middle dwindled. I would expect him to try to get to that when Kelly returns. Of course by then, the Heat well could be going through another lineup dynamic, in this never-ending series of twists and turns this season.

February 7, 2018

Q: Trading Justise Winslow for Tyreke Evans would be an incredibly short-sighted mistake. I’m almost in disbelief that it’s being floated around. Tyreke Evans has been great, but he doesn't come with Bird Rights and it's almost a certainty we won't be able to re-sign him. The desperation Pat Riley has shown to make the playoffs and maybe win a series has led to very questionable decisions that would probably had gotten general managers and presidents fired, i.e., signing league journeymen to hefty contracts, matching Tyler Johnson's contract, keeping Hassan Whiteside when it's clearly time to move on and potentially moving a 21-year-old lottery pick (full of potential) for a few months of Tyreke Evans. What is going on? -- Kevin.

A:  First, everything at this stage, until completed, is just rumor. I do believe there are scenarios where moving Justise would make sense, but most are, as posited yesterday in this space, more about having to utilize Justise as a "sweetener" in a deal in place of the first-round picks that the Heat lack, be it to offload Tyler Johnson's salary, augment a potential Hassan Whiteside trade or serve as part of a bigger overall package. I agree that you don't give up on a player who still has one more rookie-scale season on his deal for a three-month rental. That said, a scorer such as Tyreke Evans is what the Heat could use for late-game situations in the injury absence of Dion Waiters, so he would make sense, at the right price, as a rental. But you often, with patience, can find similar rentals on the buyout market before that March 1 deadline for playoff eligibility.

Q: I think Bam Adebayo has clearly earned minutes in the rotation, but I don't begin to understand Erik Spoelstra sitting Hassan Whiteside so much. There is a lot of talk about how Spo finds ways to win. I think he also finds ways to lose. I don't think there is another coach in the league who would leave a guy like Hassan on the bench. He'd never comment publicly, and rightly so, but what do you think Pat Riley is thinking while he's watching yet another game slip away while Hassan watches from the bench? -- Brian, Mount Vernon, Wash.

A: I'm not in any way suggesting that Pat Riley was involved, but it was curious Tuesday how forthcoming Erik Spoelstra was about needing to find a way to play Hassan and Bam together more often. One of the most unique aspects of Spoelstra's coaching tenure has been designing schemes to maximize the talent on his roster. He did it last season with a bunch of journeyman veterans; he did it prior to that with the Big Three. Both Adebayo and Whiteside deserve to play, and not at the cost of the other's success. But the question remains whether, in today's NBA, you can effectively win with dual center-like players. I guess we're about to find out.

Q: I don’t know what Pat Riley plans for this team. I honestly think he did overpay these guys. He trusted on being able to get rid of these contracts if it didn't work and now he is stuck with them. -- Pito.

A: Obviously with Dion Waiters' ankle surgery, that potential trade option is out the window. And with James Johnson's play, a deal for him would appear highly unlikely. So the question becomes whether the Heat believe they can win, going forward, with those two. If that is the case, then you have to move others to make it work with them, since they clearly are not going anyway. That will make Thursday's trading deadline particularly intriguing.

February 6, 2018

Q: Ira, it seems that you get as much questions about Justise Winslow as you did for Michael Beasley. Your recent comments on the team not knowing what he can be are right on point. I'll go a bit further, though. Winslow is an OK role player whose play won't lose you games, but won't really win a game for you on his individual play. We need to stop worrying about the eighth or ninth player on the team. Yes, he starts sometimes, but it's normally due to an injury. I think I'd take Beasley over Winslow. -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.

A: First, there is nothing wrong with complementary players. And that's what Justise was drafted as, to develop behind Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and then see what develops. This is why the NBA gives teams time to decide on rookie-scale extensions, with the Heat having until Oct. 31 for such a decision on Justise. That's what makes the balance of this season so important, to see if there is leading-man talent there or whether his future will be more as a complementary player. The difference is that because of the rookie scale, the Heat have time for such judgments, as opposed to the all-or-nothing decisions this past offseason with James Johnson and Dion Waiters. My hunch is that if the Heat believe Justise will evolve into a complementary player that they then might seek trade options, either by Thursday's deadline or the offseason. With his low salary, Winslow stands as the ultimate sweetener for the Heat as part of something potentially bigger, perhaps as the means to offload Tyler Johnson's remaining salary.

Q: Is Goran Dragic an All-Star, or the best player on a good team without an All-Star? -- Nate.

A: Yes. He's an All-Star because Eastern Conference coaches had him ninth on their list of reserves and two other reserves were injured (John Wall, Kevin Love). And, yes, he's the most reliable player on a team that has spent most of the past month among the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference. All-Star selections long have been about team success. Do the 12 best players in each conference make the All-Star Game on an annual basis? Rarely. And such selections, particularly among the final selections, often come down to respect beyond the current season. Eastern Conference coaches, I believe, recognized Goran as much for what he has accomplished in his career as for what he has achieved this season.

Q: Dwyane Wade is my favorite Heat player of all-time. LeBron James is a free agent. Let's say LeBron leaves Cleveland. What do you think Dwyane Wade's future has in store? I can't see him staying there without LeBron. Is it time to finish this season and retire gracefully? -- Jon, Vero Beach.

A: Dwyane is in Cleveland for one reason, and once that one reason leaves, there is no long reason for him to stay. So if LeBron does leave Cleveland after this season -- and that is mere speculation at this time -- I believe Dwyane will move on. Does that mean moving on to retirement? Perhaps. But I could also see him moving on to play with yet another friend, which could be alongside Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, or perhaps even LeBron in another destination. As for the Heat, that could create an uncomfortable decision for Pat Riley if he also has to find rotation time for Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow and a returning Dion Waiters.

February 5, 2018

Q: If no trade is made by the deadline and the Heat have that $5.5 million salary cap exception they received for Dion Waiter's injury can they later fill a perceived need with a buyout player utilizing that exception money and possibly then buy out one of their own players like an A.J. Hammons to make room on the roster ? If they can, then if there is no trade to be made by Thursday's deadline, I guess we get to see if Rodney McGruder's return is enough in the short run to lift this team. -- Mike, North Miami Beach.

A: Touching on your last point first, I think Rodney McGruder can't do anything but help. He is that type of player, willing to do anything and everything to contribute. But he also is not a go-to scorer for late-game situations. As to your first point, I do believe the Heat will scour the buyout list, which could be particularly interesting this year with that deadline moved up two weeks, leaving more than three weeks before the March 1 buyout deadline. (To refresh, players on current NBA rosters must be waived by March 1 to be eligible for another team's playoff roster. They don't have to be signed by their new team by then, but must be released by that date).

Q: Ira, yes we lost the last three games we should have won, but another question is how many close games have we won that we could have easily lost?  By my count we could just as easily be three to five games under 500.  Point is, most Heat wins/losses are coming down to final few possessions and screams out the need to trade for a player who can dominate and score when needed. We’ve seen far too many leads squandered with horrendous shooting for nearly a quarter’s worth of play. Now with all these close games, game in and game out, the Heat especially of late have look tired at the end of games. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Because you either are a go-to scorer, have that mentality, or you wind up in something less than attack mode, as we saw with James Johnson at the end of the game in Cleveland. Yes, sometimes the plays, themselves, can make the difference, as we saw with winning baskets by Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington last month. But sometimes they also can be snuffed out, as was the case at the end against the 76ers. The Heat's margin, as you point out, is razor thin. That's where Dion Waiters mattered last season and where a Waiters-type stopgap could matter this season.

Q: What I was wondering is if Justise Winslow has the potential to be in a Draymond Green-type role. I feel like he is too elite of a defender to be just a "regular player." Watching him in games, I think he has the potential to be that all-around player. What do you think? -- Aron, Dallas.

A: What has to come first is delineating Justise's role going forward. With Dion Waiters out, Justise has moved into more of a ballhandling role than expected. But he also has started games this season at power forward. And in the Heat's most recent playoff game, he was the starting center. Now he appears to be slotting in at small forward. Before you can find out who a player can be, you have to decide what that player will be. If the future is as a playmaker, then tightening the dribble could have to be a priority. If the future is to be more Draymond-like, then additional bulk might be in order. At at small forward, there has to be a great scoring threat.

February 4, 2018

Q: James Johnson needs to stay coming off the bench. He had a great game Saturday compared to the games he started. We lost, but he had good effort and was focused. -- D.B.

A: The lineups and rotations continue to remain a puzzle for Erik Spoelstra because of all the injuries. But with James' preference to be on the ball, it makes sense to have him away from the closest thing the Heat have to a true point guard, in Goran Dragic. The issue then becomes what to do with Justise Winslow, who started on Saturday, which avoided the overlapping skills with Johnson. But here's the real question going forward: If the Heat do decide to open with two big men other than James Johnson, say Hassan Whiteside-Kelly Olynyk or Whiteside-Bam Adebayo or even in an injury absence something like Saturday's Adebayo-Olynyk, then what about when Rodney McGruder returns? He could wind up as the perfect complement to such a big lineup when utilized at small forward, perhaps alongside Josh Richardson and Dragic. Yet, while that all would be well and good, then what to do about Winslow? It just seems as if James Johnson and Justise Winslow wind up as an either-or proposition.

Q: I wouldn't panic because of three losses, but instead of a third or fourth seed, it's possible that we miss the playoffs. -- Marcelo.

A: Which is why the losses this season to the Magic, Knicks, Hawks, Bulls, Nets and Kings were so costly. But the NBA season rarely is about the moment, and more about the entirety of the schedule. That schedule now takes a more favorable turn for the Heat, provided they can maximize homecourt advantage, which hasn't always been the case this season.

Q: We've just lost three games that should have been wins and the race is too tight to be losing. We are going to quickly find ourselves on the outskirts if they don’t figure this out. -- Michael, Austin, Texas.

A: Which is sort of how this season set up in the first place, a scramble for playoff seeding. What the Heat have to do is regain is consistency, which is difficult amid myriad injuries. They also have to figure out who and what matter most (yes, I know I'm talking in code there) and we likely will have our truest read on that after the second game of this impending three-game homestand, with the passing of Thursday's trading deadline.

February 3, 2018

Q: We can't score and we roll out the same lineup and run the same plays. -- Wilson.

A: Um . . . yes, save for the late comeback bid at the end of Friday's game. And for Erik Spoelstra it continues to come down to the defense. Look, there is nothing wrong with an identity and primary focus. That is accepted with the Heat. But there has to be something more than what the Heat are calling offense these days. And it wasn't just against the Cavaliers, it also was Friday against a 76ers team entering on a three-game losing streak, before the second unit finally moved the Heat out of their malaise. Just because James Johnson has a solid run at the end of last season as a starter and then signed a four-year, $60 million contract in the offseason doesn't mean he is the best starting option for this team, as configured. It's almost as if Spoelstra is trying to avoid playing Johnson and Justise Winslow in the same unit, with Johnson starting and Winslow coming off the bench. But you can see the need for Kelly Olynyk's shooting and spacing in the first unit. With his reluctance to shoot, Johnson no longer provides such spacing. It all adds up, again, to the need for a scoring upgrade, either from within or perhaps at Thursday's trading deadline.

Q: Pat Riley now has his answer to how the team is doing at the trade deadline. The question is will he ride it out until summer or get a few scoring rentals for now? There's always the thought that eighth is better than staying home in ninth. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: Because of the Goran Dragic trade with the Suns in 2015, the Heat have no choice -- they have to make the playoffs. The Heat's 2018 first-round pick goes to Phoenix unless it is among the first seven. So it won't be like last season, when just missing the playoffs still left the Heat with a Bam Adebayo consolation prize. Miss the playoffs this season, and you're still essentially a spectator at the draft. That nightmare scenario could be enough to push Pat Riley and the Heat front office into action.

Q: The 76ers are better than the Heat, right? -- Max.

A: This season or long term? The Heat's depth of talent might provide a slight advantage this season, with the three remaining meetings to settle that score. But the question I've been tossing out to co-workers has been this: Would you trade the Heat's entire personnel situation for the 76ers? My answer: How could you not, with even if Markelle Fultz doesn't pan out? The only way that even would be a debate would be if Hassan Whiteside could get back to the highest, most-consistent level of his play.

February 2, 2018

Q: I wouldn't mind Iso Joe back. He stunk in the playoff with us, but played so good in them for the Jazz last year. -- Corbs.

A: It certainly is a name that could intrigue, if there eventually is a buyout for Joe Johnson, be it from the Jazz or a team he potentially is dealt to. There certainly have been enough moments where someone with Johnson's reputation as a closer could have come in handy this season, even if just as a decoy, especially with Dion Waiters being sidelined. But again, you would need a roster spot. I believe at least one will come available with the waiving for A.J. Hammons. But should such a spot go to a veteran point guard (as suggested below), a prospect (perhaps Derrick Jones Jr., with the NBA days dwindling on his two-way contract) or a scorer (such as Joe Johnson)?

Q: Ira, it looks as though Chicago is waiving Jameer Nelson as part of the Nikola Mirotic deal with New Orleans. Could he be the answer the Heat have been looking for as a backup point guard? -- A.J.

A: First of all, the Heat have never said they are looking for a backup point guard. That's been more of my prodding than anything substantive on their end. But this is the type of player -- but not this specific player -- that I believe would be quality insurance for the playoffs. As it is, it looks like Nelson will be staying -- at least for a while -- with the Bulls. The delicate part here is not moving too quickly, when other options also could eventually emerge by the next Thursday's trading deadline and in advance of the March 1 buyout deadline (players in the league this season must be waived by that date to be eligible for another team's playoff roster, regardless of when they eventually opt to sign). This is where the Heat's $5.5 million exception for Dion Waiters' ankle injury could come in handy, as could what remains of their unused mid-level exception. But, again, with all this speculation of bolstering the roster, keep in mind that the Heat already are at the NBA maximum of 15, and that doesn't even include the two-way contracts of Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr.

Q: Set me straight, please, Ira. Everyone is crowing about Wednesday night's solid defensive game against Cleveland. I was screaming at the TV screen watching Channing Frye look like LeBron James, in the face of no Heat defensive presence there. Jae Crowder was left open numerous times and scored. On a night when the offense was challenged, two or three of those defensive no-shows could have made the difference. -- Patrick, Coral Springs.

A: You are absolutely correct. And the Heat could not have been much worse defending the Cavaliers' "Elbow Big Curl," which led to layup after layup for Frye off screens from Chicago guards along the baseline. And then there were the 3-pointers from Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver that proved so decisive. And that is why it has to be about more than just the defense. Because if it takes merely two or three breakdowns to swing a game, then you're saying your defense has to be flawless in light of the ongoing offensive struggles. That's why the Heat have to get to something more effective on the offensive end, so they can't withstand such lapses (which are inevitable even from the best defenses).

February 1, 2018

Q: Ira, please help me understand why Erik Spoelstra continues to go with James Johnson down the stretch when he has been an offensive nightmare and liability. -- Elie, Melbourne, Australia.

A: The James Johnson thing is becoming one of the most confounding elements of this Heat season. He has become so reluctant to pull the trigger that it was apparent he was hesitant even without another option on Wednesday's final possession. Go strong and at least you have the chance of possibly getting to the foul line. Think back to last season, when there was so much confidence from Johnson. There was the play were he attacked just before the buzzer in Detroit and Hassan Whiteside won it with his putback. At least Johnson was definitive on that play. And then there was the game in Washington last season where Johnson won it with his driving finish. He simply exuded confidence in those situations. I don't know if it's conditioning, fatigue or perhaps a lingering ankle issue, but he does not have the same look this season. He was hesitant Wednesday. And the Heat lost.

Q: Hassan Whiteside had gotten all of Cleveland's bigs in foul trouble before being benched Wednesday. Especially after watching what Detroit had done in the paint against the Cavaliers the night before, how can we justify 28 three ball attempts with only four shots from Hassan in this type of game? -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

A: Because attempting to win on defense means matching up defensively as the priority. I cannot argue with the decision to ride late with Kelly Olynyk, who played like a finisher as much as any Heat player Wednesday. But in a quarter where you score only 17 points, it would have seemed like an extra easy basket or two would have helped, or at least he could have gotten to the foul line. The Cavaliers were 7 of 9 from the line in the fourth quarter. The Heat did not have an attempt. So chalk it up as another fourth quarter where Whiteside's minutes total read 00:00.

Q: Based on everything I’ve read, Pat Riley is playing the trade deadline perfectly. He is being patient, listening and waiting for the prime opportunity. I believe that he wants to trade Hassan Whiteside, but he's waiting for that Godfather offer. In my opinion, the Godfather offer he is waiting for is from the Milwaukee Bucks, as they have been linked to wanting a defensive anchor such as DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside. If the Bucks strike out on Jordan, that's when we will get the offer Riley is waiting for: Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker for Whiteside plus Rodney McGruder or Okaro White. The Bucks are feeling the pressure right now to make a move and Riley is waiting. -- Aaron.

A: And that all comes down to whether you therefore are confident that Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk is enough in the middle to provide and sustain playoff success. But it also likely would have to lead to a Part B, since it further complicated a crowded Heat perimeter rotation, especially when Dion Waiters makes it back next season. But with a Khris Middleton available, there at least would have been another end-game option available Wednesday.

January 31, 2018

Q: You said a No. 4 seed for the Heat is "looking now like a legitimate reality." LOL. What? It's been a reality. We can even get to third this week. -- Joseph.

A: The point I was trying to make was that with John Wall about to miss significant time with the Wizards because of his knee issue, the Heat are positioned to firm up their grasp on No. 4 in the East (although I wouldn't yet sleep on the Bucks, Pacers or even 76ers, who still have four games remaining against the Heat). And while I am quite aware of how the Heat have been nipping at the Cavaliers' heels for weeks for the No. 3 seed, I still have a difficult time believing LeBron James would ever allow his team the indignity of finishing lower than third in the East, if even that. For most of the season, there was a sense that the Wizards could, or would, find another gear. But when playing without Wall, they're basically down to Bradley Beal, Otto Porter or bust. In fact, at this stage, as mentioned, the greater challenges could come from Indiana or Milwaukee. Of course, as always, injuries will play a significant role in the equation.

Q: Why is James Johnson trying to do everything all the time? His game is not really matching the team ball we've been playing. What's going on with him lately? He's a mature enough and smart enough player (and a captain) and should know better.  --Michael, Austin, Texas.

A: And the thing is, every time James Johnson makes a bad decision, he immediately recognizes and beats himself about it, such as his ill-timed full-court pass to Tyler Johnson late in Monday's harrowing victory in Dallas, when killing the clock would have made far more sense. Those are the types of plays that drove Dwane Casey to distraction in Toronto. James' creativity often can inspire the Heat offense. But I'm not sold on Johnson as a crunch-time playmaker as much as perhaps a crunch-time scorer. The thing is, without a true backup to Goran Dragic at point guard, Erik Spoelstra has been trying to buy time with Johnson or Justise Winslow in such a playmaking role. I would still give Johnson significant freedom over the first 40 minutes, with the understanding that the final eight minutes are different. The Heat's offense is based on good to better to best when it comes to shot quality. But when it comes to Johnson's playmaking, good, more often than not, can be good enough.

Q: It seems that every time the Heat let a team back into the game, it is because the offense bogs down. I understand your point about not having a true backup point guard as a problem, but could Dion Waiters have provided a little more offense when the rest of the team has had trouble scoring? He obviously relishes the role as closer. Could his being out hurt the Heat more than people thought? Winning at Brooklyn and against Sacramento would have put the Heat ahead of Cleveland going into their game. -- Howard.

A: You make a cogent point I think many, including myself, have overlooked. Last season, there were several moments where it looked like the Heat didn't know where to go for offense, and then: Waiters -- dagger! Waiters -- dagger! Game. We even saw some of that in this season's game in Utah. But the question would be whether Erik Spoelstra would have him on the court in such moments, or would prefer to continue to go with a defensive lineup to protect the leads, even as they dwindle. I made a point of including this today because I believe it is easy, when he first was hobbled and now is gone, to forget how much of an asset Waiters stood as for the Heat at times last season.

January 30, 2018

Q: Could the Heat have gotten involved for Blake Griffin? I seem to recall Pat Riley being interested. -- Miles.

A: First, the Heat essentially were linked to any and every free agent in the offseason, so I wouldn't read too much into that. But the priority always was Gordon Hayward. It appeared from the outset that Griffin's decision this past summer would come down to the Suns or his eventual return to the Clippers. As for Blake being dealt to the Pistons, the Heat lacked the primary currency needed to get involved in the bidding -- an upcoming first-round pick. Because of the two first-rounders still due to the Suns because of the Goran Dragic deal, the next first-rounder that the Heat can deal would be their 2023 pick. As for the players involved, it would have required the Clippers to be as interested in, say, James Johnson as Tobias Harris. In addition, the Heat would have needed to throw an expiring contract in the deal, as the Pistons did with Avery Bradley. For the Heat, that would have been Wayne Ellington (there is not much to choose from when it comes to Heat contracts that expire after this season). All of that, however, is moot because of the lack of an available first-rounder.

Q: How have Kevin Durant, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Carmelo Anthony, Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and, now, Blake Griffin all switched teams since LeBron James left Miami and we haven’t landed one star? Don't forget we gave the few assets we had left to Phoenix for Goran Dragic in a panic to make us a contender with the idea of building the team around Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade when LeBron left. -- Mitch.

A: Which basically answers the question right there. And then Chris Bosh developed blood clots and had a recurrence.  The question is not as much as those got away before this past summer, but then the decision to lock in with James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters this summer. Then again, as mentioned above, without draft-pick currency, making a deal would have been difficult, anyway, even with cap space. I do disagree with your assessment about the trade for Goran -- the Dragic move was the right move at the time. Then the times changed. If the two picks forwarded to Phoenix are sent out as non-lottery picks, then I believe that ultimately grades out as a positive deal for the Heat. And with the trading deadline not until Feb. 8, this might not be over yet.

Q: Why can't the Heat comfortably close teams out? Opponents are almost always given a chance to get back in it, like with the Mavericks. Is it a lack of star power? -- Alex Washington.

A: I'm not sure you can say that, because most teams would have their leading men out of games at those stages, anyway. And when Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside returned, it was enough to settle the Heat down. I believe it is more of attempting to play without a true point guard too often. Yes, Justise Winslow again had some impressive moments Monday. But I'm not sure that the ball in James Johnson's hands is the best approach as an opponent is rallying. Those are the moments when true playmaking precision is required.

January 29, 2018

Q: I like Wayne Ellington a lot, Do not forget that his contract is expiring. If he stays hot, he also will get paid this summer. Just wait and see if he stays consistent. -- Felix.

A: While there has been much speculated about Wayne's impending free agency, keep in mind two impactful elements that factor into the equation. First, Wayne has proven to be one of the most essential -- if not the most essential -- contributors to the Heat this season. It would not be a stretch to consider him the Heat's Most Valuable Player at the moment. And you don't cast aside one of your most impactful players simply because of concerns about the luxury tax (an argument could be made that Wayne is contributing more at this moment than most others the Heat cast aside in the name of luxury tax, such as Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen). So there's that. Plus, Wayne appreciates this opportunity for career revival and also recognizes all the other organizations -- and there have been several -- that did not deem him worthy of their time for development. In other words, I doubt he will hold the Heat hostage in free agency, and might even be convinced to wait one more season for his full Bird Rights, giving the team extra time to sort out their payroll. And the one thing the Heat are very good at is sorting out their payroll. Part of the shame of free agency is that it occurs during the summer, when the Heat's built-in advantage is melted away. If that period was in the dead of winter, I'm not so sure that players would be as eager to pursue greener pastures that actually are frozen over.

Q: The last thing that Goran Dragic he needs is an All-Star appearance. And yes, Ira, you can say it again, they need a backup point guard. Maybe Briante Weber? Give him a two-way when one of the next ones expires. -- Bruce.

A: First of all, the way Goran's eyes light up when he mentions his impending vacation during the All-Star break, you can see how much he needs that time after this six-month whirlwind that began in the summer in advance of his championship run with Slovenia at EuroBasket. The last thing he needs are a pair of cross-country flights and then days of media requirements in Los Angeles during All-Star Weekend. And, yes, for all Josh Richardson showed offensively and Justise Winslow defensively in stepping up in place of Goran at the close of Saturday's victory over Charlotte, there is plenty to still be said for adding a veteran point guard, roster space permitting. But a two-way for Briante Weber or any other player is not an option. Jan. 15 was the final day this season to sign players to such contracts.

Q: James Johnson needs to start shooting wide open shots or sit on the bench. -- Brad.

A: Yes. He seemingly has gotten so caught up in trying to be a be-all, end-all playmaker that he is allowing defenses to sit back, knowing that he is not going to attack the available space by stepping into a jumper. Sometimes the simplest play is a simple shot. James' ability to space the floor was a key component to last season's 30-11 finish. That has been missing this season, something Kelly Olynyk provided when he was with the first unit. As has always been the case with Johnson, the simplest game is the best game. For the Heat and Erik Spoelstra, that remains an ongoing puzzle, how to get the best out of Johnson while not stifling the unique creativity.

January 28, 2018

Q: As scrappy and lovable as this "win by committee" Heat team can be, we all know most playoff series are won by the team with the star player(s). How far do you think this team can go if they don't move some assets for a new franchise face? -- Orlando, Hialeah.

A: In the regular season? Contending for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. In the playoffs? Possibly to a competitive conclusion in the second round, with a puncher's chance at the conference finals. That, of course, falls short of the stated goal of Pat Riley, which is why there almost has to be a follow-up move, either at the Feb. 8 NBA trading deadline or in the offseason, if the Heat can find a willing partner. We've already seen enough games to recognize that against the most competitive defenses, closing time can be a challenge, with Saturday's decisive sequence a big frazzled. Just as Erik Spoelstra preaches a relentless pursuit of excellence on the court, the expectation has to be the same from the front office. These players are mostly giving it all they have, and, still, there were the Heat with an all-or-nothing moment at the end of the fourth quarter against a Hornets team playing on the second night of a back-to-back set.

Q: Did Derrick Walton Jr. get demoted back to Sioux Falls? -- Ryan.

A: Technically, sort of. This whole "NBA days" thing on two-way contracts needs some sort of review. Basically, as players get closer to their 45-day limits of NBA service, teams have started getting creative, calling practice days something otherwise and rerouting players during travel periods. I still believe the more significant number for the Heat are the seven NBA days that Derrick Jones Jr. has remaining, rather than the five for Walton. I'm not necessarily sure that Walton is a player of the future for the Heat. I believe Jones could have such potential, especially with most of the Heat's upcoming draft picks dealt elsewhere. It will be interesting to see how the Heat massage Jones' remaining NBA allowance in advance of the Feb. 8 trading deadline, when's possible that the Heat clear A.J. Hammons' roster spot through either a trade or outright release.

Q: Brandon Jennings wants to make an NBA comeback after his contract is up in China, I think he could be the answer for the backup point guard we need. What do you think Ira? -- Daniel, Miami.

A: Too much of a score-first mentality. The preference here would be a get-them-into offense veteran. That will make the buyout deadline intriguing, to see if a veteran sacrifices salary in order to get to a playoff team. Of course, it also will be interesting to see if the Heat can create a roster spot at the trading deadline. There still is time for Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson or Josh Richardson to show they can handle such minutes in the absence of Goran Dragic. Winslow did a nice job in that respect Saturday. But as a playoff-game closer? That's another story.

January 27, 2018

Q: Goran Dragic looked like he ran out of gas at the end of that Kings game. De'Aaron Fox blew pass him for an easy layup, then took the ball from him on the very next possession. Then he failed to box Fox out on that putback dunk. On Hassan Whiteside's sixth foul, Dragic went too early. He did not allow the screen to be set, which resulted in a moving screen. Is Derrick Walton Jr. so bad that he can't spell Dragic for a few minutes at a time? Dragic has to own this one and he can't end a game with one assist. -- Quinn.

A: A few thoughts, but most importantly this: Goran did take ownership after the loss, said it was his fault, citing the failure to box out. But this is more than playing 31 minutes against the Kings. I believe it is the cumulative total of playing since the start of September without any tangible break from the game (mentally and physically). The All-Star break will be significant for him, to recharge. As for Walton, he certainly is not a crunch-time NBA point guard at this stage of his development, basically little more than low-cost stopgap option. I know this is getting old, but there is plenty to be said for having a veteran true point guard for the stretch run.

Q: What will the Heat do with Derrick Jones Jr.? It seems like they really like his potential. -- D.V.

A: He will remain with the team in some form, even if it means being stashed in the G League for a while as the rest of the roster is sorted out. After the Feb. 8 NBA trading deadline, it is far more likely that Jones will be part of the Heat's 15-player NBA roster than A.J. Hammons, who has been with the Sioux Falls Skyforce all season, even when the Heat had injuries to their power rotation. It's not only the coaching staff and management that are intrigued by Jones, but the players, themselves. For a team that is well over the cap, these are the type of low-budget prospects that you can't afford to let go.

Q: Ira, what's the problem with Briante Weber? He's been bounced around the league (Miami, Memphis, Golden State, Charlotte and Houston), but he never gets a long contract. Is he just not that good? I see he’s back with the Skyforce. -- Karl, Kappa, Hawaii.

A: Like Derrick Jones Jr., teammates have sworn by Briante as a locker-room presence, so it’s not that. It's as simple as in a league that has prioritized scoring, that's the one area where Briante has struggled most. He is the perfect fit for a team that needs a pesky defender at the point, but a team that doesn't require scoring, as well. That most likely would be the luxury for a winning team. So, for now, he waits. Again.

January 26, 2018

Q: Now I get why Erik Spoelstra benches Hassan Whiteside in the fourth quarter so often. He's cost us two games in less than a week with less than a minute left to play. -- Wilson, Miami.

A: I wouldn't say, even with his turnovers, that Whiteside cost the Heat in the loss in Houston. The Rockets were the better team and the end of that game was trending in their direction even before those turnovers. As for Thursday's close and the offensive foul for the illegal screen, it wasn't as if the intentions were bad, just the execution. He was, after all, attempting to free a teammate for a scoring opportunity. For all the talk of Hassan slipping too many screens, this was one he was trying to hold. But to your greater point, you constantly have to show in this league that you deserve to play as closer. This has not been Hassan's best week. I would hope he could agree with that, instead of offering up why his screen shouldn't have been called a foul.

Q: Yet again a Justise Winslow return results in a struggling Heat. This is not coincidence anymore. At what point do we have to accept that having Winslow in the lineup puts too much strain on the others? Opponents don't even bother sending a man his way. And he struggles to finish at the rim. On defense, he is not the stopper we once thought him to be -- Kenny.

A: I guess you stop when you decide that the clock has run out for a 21-year-old. But there also has to be a realization of limitations, such as when he attacked  the rim 1-on-2 at speed on Thursday night and failed to score. And I agree, the notion of elite defensive stopper has been somewhat overstated. What will be most interesting to see is how the Heat handle his extension deadline prior to next season, or whether they punt that decision to another team.

Q: Ira, with all due respect to James Johnson, this team seemed to have been doing better when Kelly Olynyk was starting. -- Danny, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Can’t disagree, but also respect the right of a coach to analyze every possible option over the course of a season. Something is just off this season with James Johnson, as if he is trying to do too much, at times more caught up in attempting to create assists from Wayne Ellington shots than working through the offense. A year ago at this time, he was at a different, and better, level than at the moment.

January 25, 2018

Q: Ira what do you think Hassan Whiteside for Kevin Love? We get a 3-point shooter, he is a decent rebounder, plus he will love to stick it to LeBron James. The salaries are similar and he only has two years left on his contract? Is it possible? -- Pito.

A: Is it possible? Sure. What do I think? Who cares? It's what Pat Riley thinks. I actually believe the Heat would be more likely to move on something like this than the Cavaliers. Put it this way, after going after Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward the past two offseasons, I am sure Riley would have gone all-in this summer had Love been a free agent. With Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk on the roster, the Heat would have other options available on the middle, perhaps even adding a low-cost shot blocker in the offseason. The one box that Love does not check off for Riley would be defense. And that could prove problematic when attempting to play Love alongside Olynyk. But you still would have James Johnson for late-game defense at power forward. I'm not sure that LeBron would necessarily sign off on Whiteside, with Hassan's up-and-down play. I'd almost be curious to see how Dwyane Wade would have to say. An argument could be made that it could potentially be a win-win move. But since you ask, yes, I would be tempted.

Q:  They should just put out all the best rookies and sophomores in the Rising Stars Challenge instead of World vs. USA. Bam Adebayo could've made it from that perspective. -- Teri.

A: I agree. Dillon Brooks? From the Grizzlies? At times such as this, with so much divisiveness in our world, do we really need to delineate U.S. players from international players? And if you don't want to play rookies vs. second-year players, then have a draft of the candidates, perhaps even televise it, unlike the process with the All-Stars. This is not to say Bam was snubbed. It would have been a close call with other omitted players, as well. But the format, in something that remains meaningful to the players, should be more about best available talent.

Q: With no Heat player being named as an All-Star, does that give more credit to Erik Spoelstra for coaching a team with zero "All-Stars" and still being a Top 4 team in the East? -- Robert, Falls Church, Va.

A: More credit? No. He already has just about as much credit as a coach can have, appreciated by his peers, respected by his players, and likely headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Questions about the Heat might start in a lot of places, but coach is not one of them.

January 24, 2018

Q: How can a team in the Top 4 in the East not get one All-Star? -- Sean.

A: Because it has been constructed as an ensemble team, without any single player being featured. That requires a huge buy in, and that's what a player such as Goran Dragic has delivered. Now, if the Heat had been holding steady at No. 4 all season, rather than seemingly sneaking up on the entire league, then I believe, as Erik Spoelstra said, there would have been more focus on Heat All-Star possibilities. As it is, I'm not sure you can say any specific Heat player was  snubbed. The thing is, the pressure only now continues, since if Commissioner Adam Silver has to make an injury-replacement selection, it will come closer to the Feb. 18 All-Star Game. So will the Heat be in the same place in the standings then as they are now? If they are, then I hope Dragic has purchased travel insurance in case he has to change his plans. Because in that case, I think could be the next team up, if not necessarily the next team up.

Q: Hassan Whiteside is not a closer. He is always good in the first two quarters, but the fourth is always his Waterloo. The team knows this already. He can play maybe five minutes of the fourth quarter, but must not be in late in the game. Just saying. -- Ronaldo.

A: Look, I cannot disagree that the end of Monday's fourth quarter was somewhat of a Whiteside disaster with the turnovers. But the greater thought it this: If the Miami Heat view Hassan Whiteside as an essential piece of their franchise, then doesn't it behoove them to play him through such situations so he can learn from his mistakes? Playing late in games shouldn't be so unique that it comes off as a unique experience -- if you believe he is a franchise centerpiece. Now, if you don't, that's another story. Yes, seven turnovers in a game are unacceptable. I agree. No matter how they come. But wouldn't you rather he learn from such mistakes in January than during the fourth quarter of a playoff game in April or May? I will agree with this: Whiteside has to play with the same force late as he does early. And fatigue can't be an excuse because Erik Spoelstra goes out of his way to make sure there is ample rest along the way, especially now that he has Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo to provide relief minutes. With Whiteside it has to be as simply as playing hard and playing smart -- all the time.

Q: When will we see Rodney McGruder? The Heat miss his defense and his 3-point shooting. -- T.S.

A: I'm not sure, to be honest, that is what is necessarily missing at the moment. The Heat have ample 3-point options, and enough defensive persistence from James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson to handle most challenges. While I believe Rodney should be back some time in February (don't expect much in the way of advance notice from the Heat), I think the greater priority is the lack of a go-to scorer. Yes, Goran Dragic has been out and he can help in that regard. But you could see at the end of Monday's game the difference it made with the Rockets being able to go to James Harden or Chris Paul. You can win close games during the regular season by committee and by surprise, but I'm not sure that is a successful playoff formula.

January 23, 2018

Q: Erik Spoelstra let Hassan Whiteside play against the Rockets small lineup and it worked. Will we see it more? -- Omar.

A: I was wondering which direction Spoelstra would go after the Rockets downsized in Monday's second quarter, going with Ryan Anderson and P.J. Tucker as their power rotation. To Spoelstra's credit, even after Anderson loaded up, he kept Hassan in and then played through the post. I can absolutely appreciate matching up late in games, when you can't afford even one mismatched defensive possession. But you also can't allow the opposition to erase your advantage through lineup adjustments. But the downside is when Whiteside then was allowed to play as a closer Monday, he committed the turnover off a defensive rebound that effectively ended the game. That's the other side of the equation: Do you play one of your top players in those situations so he can learn from such mistakes? Or are such mistakes too costly to risk, when every game clearly will be essential in the Heat's playoff race? Whiteside as closer, at least for this one night, was a losing equation.

Q: Every year teams pick up serviceable veterans cheap (Joe Johnson. Luol Deng, Birdman) without having to trade young players who, this year, are over performing collectively. Do you see any on the horizon who could give the Heat a boost in the playoffs? -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: It's not really what we see now, but rather what we see as the fallout of the Feb. 8 trading deadline, specifically which teams elect to be sellers and turn their attention to the lottery. That, in turn, will turn the attention of their veterans elsewhere. That is where the $5.5 million injury exception for Dion Waiters' ankle surgery could come in handy. As you know, I'm all in for a veteran point guard, but any addition would requiring opening a roster spot, with no additional roster space accompanying the Waiters exception.

Q: Better by Justise Winslow, yes? -- Steve.

A: Yes, finishing with the right-handed move in the third period Monday, and, before that, converting another standstill 3-pointer. Again, it becomes a case of recognizing your strengths -- and your limitations. Remember, Justise was drafted when the Heat had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, at the time to be a complementary player. Ultimately, perhaps that becomes his NBA niche. But even with these occasional baskets, it has become clear that the opposition hardly is prioritizing defending Justise, which continues to put additional pressure on the other scorers on the court.

January 22, 2018

Q: Ira, I realize anything could happen. But are we in the middle of another 30-11 second half? These guys are playing great. And it looks like we are seeing some of that growth from within that Pat Riley was talking about with Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson, plus the addition of Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. Rod McGruder should be back soon.  We could challenge for that No. 2 spot. -- John.

A: Now, now, let's not get ahead of ourselves, considering it took something verging on a miracle to win in Charlotte and had a late 3-pointer or two dropped in Milwaukee for the Bucks, we could be talking about an 0-4 trip to this stage. But, yes, the Heat appear to be trending in a similar fashion as at this stage last season (ironically, it was a victory over the Rockets that got things started last year, with the Heat to play Monday in Houston). What will be curious going forward is if the sole focus will be on victory, or whether there will be moments to allow struggling players to work their way into a rhythm, perhaps in the cases on Winslow and possibly McGruder. I still believe the Celtics, Raptors and Cavaliers are on another level, and that LeBron James will put his foot down before the Cavaliers fall too far. Still, landing at No. 4 or No. 5 could produce a compelling first-round series against the Wizards, with a chance to advance. I would say the one thing that could get in the way would be injuries, but the Heat haven't allowed that to get in the way to this stage.

Q: We don't need a point guard, we need a wing player. -- Steven.

A: First, with the way the team has been playing lately, it's as if they have all the mix-and-match pieces they need, with Saturday's victory in Charlotte the perfect example. But the one thing I don't think they need is another wing. First, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson will be back sooner rather than later. And then you have Rodney McGruder angling for a likely return in February from his preseason leg injury. Beyond that, with a glut in the power rotation -- with Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson and Bam Adebayo all playing well -- it has become apparent that Justise Winslow's minutes are now more likely to come in the wing rotation. So factor in Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington and that's a bunch of wings to work in, let alone Derrick Jones Jr., and even with Dion Waiters sidelined. By contrast, in moments when the offense has to be steadied, that's when an extra point guard, available only for emergency duty, such as a night Dragic can't go, would make sense. But at the moment, unless you're talk about an All-Star talent, I don't see much in the way of urgent need anywhere on the roster. There is plenty of equivalent talent already in place.

Q: Wayne Ellington was the MVP of the first half of the season for the Heat, agreed? -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariza.

A: The beauty of this roster is that such a designation changes from week to week, often game to game. Goran Dragic twice has earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week this season, which speaks to his impact during those periods. At other times, Josh Richardson has been the most consistent performer. And there have been extended stretches where Ellington and Kelly Olynyk have provided life, let alone the games where Hassan Whiteside has been a double-double machine. It's almost as if the Heat can award their own Player of the Week. And it also is a reason why it is so difficult to delineate an All-Star on this roster.

January 21, 2018

Q: This is why they should be starting Wayne Ellington and Kelly Olynyk. -- Art.

A: I can appreciate the notion of wanting your most productive players -- which in the NBA often are your highest scorers -- in the starting rotation. But when your team has such an even distribution of talent, not a single All-Star in the mix, building a coherent and cohesive rotation can be just as important. As Olynyk showed with his 14 fourth-quarter points Saturday, sometimes it is a change of pace that can swing a game. Similarly, when the Heat are at least mostly healthy, you can open with the attack games of Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson (or, when healthy, Dion Waiters) and then change things up with Ellington's relentless movement for 3-pointers. It's all a delicate balance, particularly with the injuries. You notice there wasn't a single question Saturday about Hassan Whiteside sitting out the entire fourth quarter. I know it sounds clichéd, but with this team it truly is more about who finishes than who starts.

Q: I'm not in the business, but from the speed you post your postgame stories it's clear you have most of them ready by the end. And without a doubt, "Heat blows another lead" was ready for the push of the button. Be honest, did you have to scramble and put together the "Heat miraculously win" version -- Giovanni, Medellin, Columbia.

A: Not going to lie, the way the Hornets turned that game in the third quarter was so eerily similar, at least in terms of the scoring, to Friday's game in Brooklyn, that, yes, I already has a different version ready. That version was about how the odds were stacked against the Heat even before Charlotte's third-quarter surge, what with Goran Dragic being out, it being the second night of a back-to-back set against a rested team, the fourth consecutive road game, etc. In a way, that made it a relatively simple turnaround, merely chronicling all the Heat had to overcome. But, no, I never could have anticipated that script, including the shocking whistling of a foul with two-tenths of a second left for a player who seemingly was in the process of losing control of the ball.

Q: How do Heat accommodate Derrick Jones Jr.? -- Magdiel.

A: I'm not sure how much of a priority that will be once Rodney McGruder returns to the fold, and it could turn out to be as simple as allowing Derrick to finish the season with the Heat's developmental-league affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. With Tyler Johnson expected back soon, the Heat should have enough on the wing. It could come down to whether the Heat feel comfortable enough eating A.J. Hammons' salary for 2018-19 in order to accommodate Jones with a spot on this season's 15-man NBA roster.

January 20, 2018

Q: I know you normally don't address trade questions, but please consider this one. With the recent news of Charlotte considering attaching Kemba Walker onto a trade to unload some of their bad contracts, could this be an opportunity for the Heat to step in and add an All-Star-caliber asset? With the lack of draft picks in Heat's possession and the need for additional primary ballhandlers to assist Goran Dragic, it would seem only fitting to try to trade from a position of strength, which is our frontcourt. I love Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow, but if trading them both and smaller contracts to attain Kemba and a bad contract such as Dwight Howard or Nic Batum, I think it would be something the Heat have to consider, even if attaching a future pick. -- Victor, Bethlehem, Pa.

A: First, the Heat cannot attach a first-round pick until their 2023 selection, so I don't know how appetizing that would be. Second, if the goal by the Hornets is to offload salary, then Whiteside would not appear to make much sense. Beyond that, the Heat are lacking in attractive expiring contracts when it comes to a Charlotte trade partner freeing up offseason cap space. But putting the cap aside, if the Hornets were to deal with the Heat, I would think the preference would be Bam Adebayo over Whiteside, due to simple economics. And, unfortunately, about the only viable cap filler for the Heat at the moment would be Wayne Ellington. So would you trade Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Wayne Ellington for Kemba Walker? And if you do, and move Goran to shooting guard, then what do you do with Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson and Rodney McGruder? Don't get me wrong, I like Kemba. But Pat Riley has never been big on smallish guards. Now, if Charlotte was willing to take on Tyler Johnson, that might be another story, but that hardly plays to the Hornets' priorities when it comes to salary.

Q: Do the coaches who pick the All-Star reserves look at more stats than just points, assists, rebounds per game? If you compare Kristaps Porzingis with Hassan Whiteside, it would seem like a no brainier that Porzingis would be chosen over him. But if you look closer, Porzingis takes 19.4 shots per game compared to Whiteside's 10.4 shots per game. Give Whiteside 19.4 shots per game and he would average 26.67 points per game. Efficiency equals winning basketball and should count for something. -- Dave, Placentia, Calif.

A: But Hassan also has missed 18 games, so I don't think he can even be a factor. I believe coaches prioritize winning, which is why I believe the Heat have a better-than-expected chance to land an All-Star, with that All-Star being Goran Dragic. As the Heat have pointed out in their media notes, no top-four team in the East at the time of the All-Star Game has gone without an All-Star over the past 25 years.

Q: I know it's a small sample size, but Justise Winslow's 3-point percentage quietly has become among the most accurate among the rotation players. Could it be that he's possibly becoming the 3-and-D player that we were hoping? -- Adam, Boynton Beach.

A: If that is the end game, then yes. But I believe Justise wants to be far more, would not be content being cast into such a role, as a second-coming of Bruce Bowen or Keith Askins. So the question becomes whether he helps or hinders when he tries to do more, including his uneven attack efforts and struggles finishing at the rim.

January 19, 2018

Q: Ira, will Goran Dragic make the All-Star Game? The NBA always pushes its international players. -- Carl.

A: This has nothing to do with influence from the league or the league office. This is about Eastern Conference coaches now being charged with selecting seven reserves from the conference, with at least two of the choices being guards, at least three of the choices being frontcourt players, and then two wild-card selections. My thought, the current standings notwithstanding, is that the Wizards' John Wall and Bradley Beal will both be added, so the East backcourt could be maxed out right there if the coaches opt to fill out the remainder of their ballots with frontcourt talent. That said, the frontcourt options in the East are not overwhelming to the point where they will hold eight of the 12 roster spots. So, yes, I believe Goran could receive consideration, with an argument to be made for him ahead of those behind the Heat in the standings, such as Kemba Walker or Victor Oladipo. It also comes down to whether Kyle Lowry will receive coaches' votes. Interestingly, none of the TNT studio analysts had Dragic making it, with the lone Heat nod coming from Kenny Smith for Hassan Whiteside (who seemingly has missed too much time for a nod). It certainly will be interesting when the reserves are announced Tuesday. A Heat shutout certainly is within the realm.

Q: The best way to use Justise Winslow is have him set up plays and have someone else finish them. -- Leonard, Charlotte.

A: Or have Justise cycle back to open space on the perimeter for 3-pointers where he has time to gather himself, which has proven to be a successful component for the Heat to this stage. With Tyler Johnson ailing, this is a good spot for the Heat to see if Winslow can slot in as the backup point guard or whether something else should be considered either by the Feb. 8 trading deadline or the March 1 buyout deadline.

A: Why not play and start Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk more together? They both can tear it up and it would be hard to stop on the floor at the same time. -- Dennis.

A: And ultimately that could be the endgame, as Erik Spoelstra cycles through combinations. The only given about the Heat's lineups to this stage is that there are no givens, no absolutes. Spoelstra has already shown he is willing to tinker even during winning streaks. Beyond Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson and Goran Dragic, just about any and every option already has been attempted. And there still are a few more that could be put into play, as well as cycling back through some favorites. 

January 18, 2018

Q: If Hassan Whiteside gives us this effort three out of every four games, man, what could be. Erik Spoelstra allowed the post to dictate the game against the Bucks. -- Sippy.

Q: When Hassan Whiteside is engaged and giving full effort, it's hard to even think about trading him. -- Robert.

Q: The Wall of Whiteside was back. -- Randall

A: I grouped these questions together to show how so many within and beyond the organization would enjoy nothing more than for Hassan Whiteside to get back to being dominant Hassan Whiteside. And, as the first question points out, part of that is Erik Spoelstra playing through his center, as well. Yes, there are some games where the advantages are elsewhere on the court. And that's what a coach and a coaching staff are charged with doing, finding ways for their team to play from a position of advantage. But if Hassan gets deep post position, runs the floor, inspires teammates with his defense, the rewards go far beyond any statistics. Erik Spoelstra gave Hassan Whiteside a blueprint for success in Milwaukee; Hassan seized upon it. Sometimes it can be that simple and that basic. Now wash, rinse, repeat. Because only now is this playoff race getting truly juicy.

Q: James Johnson is even doubting himself. You can tell. He's missing dunks. He is better off the bench against second units. -- Shyra.

A: And yet, the Heat have lost only once since he was  injected back into the starting lineup (granted we're only talking 2-1, including the ugly loss in Chicago). Based on the season sample to this stage, something clearly appears amiss. He is bypassing open shots and forcing other attempts, almost trying to be more maestro than facilitator. At this stage, it has to be about getting back to the basics. With Justise Winslow back, with Josh Richardson emerging, it's not as if James Johnson has to be as precise. All he needs to do, and has to do, is keep it simple. That would appear the basic starting point for rejuvenation.

Q: Should Miami consider Ramon Sessions for some insurance at point guard? His assists-to-turnover ratio is not great. -- Anders, Chilliwack, B.C.

A: I'm still in favor of another true point guard, especially now with Dion Waiters out and Tyler Johnson, when healthy again, to play mostly at shooting guard. But I have to admit that Josh Richardson has shown he can deftly switch to such a role and handle those challenges, as well. So it comes down to the comfort level you have with the current alignment, in Tyler Johnson's injury absence, that basically has Justise Winslow as the backup point guard. Of course, if you move him away from that role, then finding minutes could prove difficult with Justise.

January 17, 2018

Q: Why would Erik Spoelstra have put Hassan Whiteside back in Monday's game, Ira? It would have forced the Bulls to put in Robin Lopez, who was killing Whiteside. He always seems to get the best of him. Why would Spoelstra risk that continuing with game in the balances? -- Renee.

A: If you want to make the argument of different horses for different courses, I'm fine with that. But it happens so frequently that it just makes you wonder if there is a consistent place for Hassan anymore. Or if there deserves to be one. Yes, Erik Spoelstra for years has sat known quantities with games in the balances, including Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, to name two. And there has been success with the approach. That's what a coach is paid to do . . . live in the moment. Need be, that's why there is a front office and even ownership to smooth things over later. But to me it comes down to this: Do the Miami Heat believe Hassan is a leading man? If they do, then you dictate the matchups, you set the table for how the game is going to play out. However, if you believe that a player consistently puts you at a disadvantage, then perhaps he is not the player believed to be. If Robin Lopez going back into the game was going to put the Heat at a disadvantage, well then that is squarely on Hassan. Because if Hassan cannot win -- or even dominate -- that matchup, when needed, well then your salary cap is in a world of hurt.

Q: Ira, the way I see it, we need to open two roster spots, one so we can keep Derrick Jones Jr. and another for a Dion Waiters/Tyler Johnson replacement, since we applied for the injury exception. Assuming A.J. Hammons is the first, who is next on the bubble? I hate to lose Udonis Haslem, but Jordan Mickey has played too well to cut.  Will Rodney McGruder come back sooner than later and solve this problem?  -- John.

A: I believe Rodney certainly could ease the situation at shooting guard, but I'm not sure that even if Tyler misses two or three weeks that Rodney will be back any sooner. It would be difficult to cut Mickey, but I do wonder what the long view is with Okaro White. But if this, indeed, is Haslem's final season, then it could lead to some soul searching in the front office if another roster spot is needed. Remember, the Heat have the right to keep Jones for the balance of the season, but only have a limited number of NBA days left on his two-way deal.

Q: Do your readers actually watch Justise Winslow play and see the many positive things he's doing on the floor? -- Ty, Miami.

A: I believe they do, but they also see a team that has moved in different directions in his absences. I'm still not sure about the fit. But I also know this: for all the questions about Justise, the Heat could be at a point where perhaps he gets the minutes that James Johnson is playing, unless James comes around with his play. What the Heat need is at least one contributing versatile forward. With Winslow and Johnson, I'm not sure they're getting that from either at the moment.

January 16, 2018

Q: James Johnson is basically an energy guy and not a starter in this league. Gotta let the kids play, Bam Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr. The Bulls pulled away in second quarter when James  Johnson came back in. I get it, they just paid him $60 million, but he is not a starter in this league. Ira, how can Heat look so good with Hassan Whiteside and Bam and then not see it much in the last two games? I'm a big Erik Spoelstra fan, but sometimes. -- Douglas.

A: I agree that James is not the same player he was when the Heat went 30-11 over the second half of the season, almost as if he's attempting to justify that four-year, $60 million contract by being more than he needs to be. And it's almost as if Erik Spoelstra is giving James the benefit of the doubt, possibly because of what he believes James can and should be, possibly because it's hard  not to root for a player as committed as James. With so many of these recent rotations, it's almost as if Spoelstra believes there has to be a higher level for his team, even with the recent success, a level that includes plenty of James Johnson, some of Justise Winslow and a bit of a different mix than what was in place during most of the seven-game winning streak. Of course, with Tyler Johnson's injury, the rotation will have to evolve, anyway.

Q: Ira, are the Heat really playing Justise Winslow because he makes an impact or because of when he was drafted? Sorry, but the guy just doesn't fit with the team and it makes no sense to constantly change the lineup and disrupt the rhythm guys have just to make it work with him. -- Jack, Boston.

A: Now, with Tyler Johnson likely out, there may be no other choice. But what you have seen in the past two games is a team that had moved in a different direction in Justise's absence and it is going to take an adjustment for both Justise and Erik Spoelstra. The moment when both Justise and Wayne Ellington wound up in the same corner, resulting in a Heat turnover against the Bulls, might have been the perfect example. I do know that you can't simply give up on talent, or on potential talent, because that player has been sidelined. But you can ask, in the long run, whether that talent will ultimately fit. And to come to such conclusions means getting a player out on the court so you can make those assessments.

Q: This team developed a great rhythm with Kelly Olynyk -- Cacey, Tampa.

A: Yes, it did. And I was surprised by the move back to James Johnson in the starting lineup. Initially I thought it was to have a defensive counter against Giannis Antetokounmpo on Sunday (which is why it also might make sense on Wednesday night in Milwaukee), but then was somewhat surprised that it stayed that way Monday in Chicago. Still, to his credit, Kelly was solid off the bench against the Bulls, so perhaps he can continue to thrive in that role, as well. But if it truly is about going with the best possible options, then I think the lineup and rotation will continue to evolve.

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