October 27, 2016
Q: Why wasn't there any Derrick Williams against the Magic? -- Doug.
A; Because if Luke Babbitt starts, I'm not sure there is a place for Derrick. When you turn to reserves, you turn to someone to do something specific. James Johnson can deliver defense. One more of the guards can let you space the floor with a 3-point guard alignment. And Willie Reed gives you size. So if you go with any power forward other than Derrick Williams behind Babbitt, then you're basically reducing Williams to a 10th-man role, especially with Justise Winslow to get minutes at power forward. That had Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Reed and Rodney McGruder in as Williams watched Wednesday. And if/when Josh McRoberts gets back, it could put Williams in an even more precarious position. As it is, only two available players against the Magic didn't see action and both are power forwards: Williams and Udonis Haslem.
Q: What will it take for you to believe in Tyler Johnson? -- Dan.
A: Oh, I believe that Tyler Johnson is a capable NBA player who can make a difference. What I don't believe Tyler Johnson is is a point guard. That's why I was so curious to see how he would be utilized in the opener with Beno Udrih and Briante Weber both waived. And I like what I saw, with Justise Winslow utilized as the primary playmaker when Tyler Johnson was paired with Dion Waiters. That's how you maximize Tyler, just allow him to be a backcourt "athlete," which is basically how he functioned against Orlando. By getting the ball in the right hands, the Heat limited themselves to 10 turnovers against the Magic.
Q: They look good. They could be a surprise. -- Sykes.
A: Yes, they could. But it's also as early as possible. And even before Wednesday's game I saw the Magic behind the Heat in the East, because I'm not really sure what they're doing. Now, granted, the lane would not nearly have been as open had Bismack Biyombo played for the Magic. But the Magic's wings hardly are inspiring, and Serge Ibaka very much could be passing through. These next two games, against the Hornets and Spurs, will present different challenges. So I would wait a bit before making any definitive pronouncements about the Heat's ultimate possibilities.
October 26, 2016
Q: Ira, what will likely be the roles for both Joshes? I see them both starting coming back from injury. Josh Richardson might be the best shooter, can absolutely spread the floor, also has explosiveness, and can guard point guards for Goran Dragic. I see him as the most important backcourt player on this roster. And McRoberts has the ability to stretch the floor and distribute the ball when he's at his best, and he can fill the void of the lack of playmaking at point guard. -- J.S.
A: I agree that both of them could add a significant boost if they are what the Heat hopes they can be. Josh Richardson makes as much sense as anyone to start at shooting guard, and then could be cycled through the rotation where he also plays alongside Tyler Johnson and alleviates some of the ballhandling responsibilities. And based on what we've seen at power forward in the preseason, McRoberts showed more during the best of times in Charlotte than any of the other power forwards on the roster have shown during their careers. The question, of course, is whether McRoberts can recapture that Charlotte magic. The fact that he also has gotten work on the practice court at center says that the Heat very much want to salvage the project. I would place both Joshes among the top seven or eight players on the roster.
Q: The Heat are underestimated by a lot of NBA fans in China now, but I know Pat Riley will never be a man who prefers to tank. With the current lineup, do the Heat have any possibility to get a ticket to the playoffs? -- Arsennic, China.
A: I believe they will have as good a chance as the teams that will be battling for the playoff spots in the East beyond the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors. But we also will know soon enough. The early-season game against the Magic (on opening night), Hornets (the home opener), Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington will be the ones that will offer a glimpse into the possibilities. If the Heat, even early, aren't competitive in those, then the focus could change dramatically.
Q: Ira, I don't understand why everyone seems to be discounting Dion Waiters as a potential option moving forward. The guy is 24 and rather talented at basketball. He's too young to be a journeyman, instead being on teams that wouldn't/couldn't allow him enough growth. The Heat will have a ton of money and will need players and it's not like they're paying him much now. It's really just a matter of him playing defense, no? -- Jason.
A: The problem is they won't have Waiters' Bird Rights, which means they will have to cut into whatever salary-cap space they can create. And we know that Pat Riley will be looking at the biggest names first. That's what happened this summer, as, all the while the likes of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson headed elsewhere. Basically, the Heat will have no home-team advantage with Waiters. So it won't be a case of how they assess him among their own players, but rather how they believe he measures up against all available free agents.
October 25, 2016
Q: Ira, is there any chance that Archie Goodwin comes to Miami? -- Nico.
A: I've received a bunch of questions like this, regarding recently waived players. Most teams, including the Heat, are still taking stock of what they have. Now, there certainly are exceptions, especially with teams dealing with injuries, which is why you saw the Pistons' move for Beno Udrih. But for all the evaluation during preseason, teams want to see what works and who is essential when the regular-season rotation comes into play. That's a long-winded way of saying that I don't think the Heat are actively scouring the waiver wire at the moment. But I also wouldn't view many on the back end of this roster as locked into season-long spots. For example, Andre Dawkins was a surprise as the final player kept by the Heat in 2014. He also was gone before midseason. So it might be a bit premature to view Rodney McGruder, at this stage, as a Heat lifer.
Q: Mario Chalmers is still a free agent. Would he fit with the new Heat? -- Carl, Kapaa, Hawaii.
A: I was going to scoff as been there, done that. And a secondary reason, beyond the tax relief, that the Heat dealt him to Memphis last season was uncertainty that he could deal with falling to the bottom of the rotation at point guard behind Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson. But the Heat also have shown an affinity for former players, and if Michael Beasley can be brought back twice, it probably is wise not to rule anything out. If there is an injury to Dragic, or even Johnson, and if Chalmers is still available, then who knows?
Q: Hi, Ira. Erik Spoelstra has done a masterful job so far. I figured the Heat would have trouble scoring and that Hassan Whiteside would slow down the offense on fast breaks. But, to my surprise, it's been the exact opposite. This team is really fun to watch. -- Bryan, Davie.
A: And all of that from the preseason means as much as the exhibitions standings, themselves. Now the rotations are tighter and it's about only the elite players on each roster. So it's not as much a matter of how players Nos. 10-15 on the roster are moving the ball, but what the rotation players do. We'll get our first insight into that Wednesday night in Orlando.
October 24, 2016
Q: If Hassan Whiteside has the chance to score 40 points in a game or the chance to become dominant offensively in the league on most nights (which could make teams think twice about playing Heat), will the Heat let Whiteside flourish even if it means at times playing a little out of the Heat system? Do the Heat run plays for Whiteside? How far can Whiteside go? -- Stuart.
A: The Heat almost always attempt to run their initial offense through Hassan, and I believe that will continue to be the case. Now, that also means Hassan having to recognize double-teams and then kicking the ball back out. Otherwise he will be smothered to the point of ineffectiveness. I don't believe there is any "system" at this stage beyond doing what works on a particular night. But Hassan has to be engaged, decisive and emphatic. And that has to be consistent. Basically, how much Whiteside scores will come down to how hard Hassan works. If he is aggressive in transition, plants two feet in the paint against a single defender, then he should get the ball every time. And if he gets the ball every time in that situation, the scoring opportunities will be there.
Q: Justise Winslow's lack of offense skills should be a real concern for the Heat. How long before he loses his starting position and sees reduced minutes? Defense alone no longer cuts it in today's NBA. Long term do you think Josh Richardson takes that position and proves to be the better player? Do you think the Heat stubbornly stick with Justise Winslow so Pat Riley doesn't have to admit he made a mistake drafting Winslow so high. -- Joel.
A: While much has been made about the Heat's versatility at power forward, I think it's actually more of a case of quantity over quality. Because of that, I believe you will see plenty of Winslow at power forward, which would mitigate his lack of wing scoring. When Josh Richardson returns, the Heat's strength will be in their backcourt. That (if not sooner) is when I think you will see plenty of three-guard alignments, which, in turn, would shift Winslow to power forward. Winslow will never be a high-scoring wing. That's not who he is. So his success will be dictated by what is featured around him. Now it is up to Erik Spoelstra to play the lineup chess game against opposing coaches.
Q: Ira, John Stockton and Chris Paul, two elite point guards, have never won a ring. Stephen Curry isn't an assist-first point guard, neither is Kyrie Irving. With Rodney McGruder, Erik Spoelstra was looking at entire team picture. Dion Waiters is capable of bringing ball up the court and initiating sets. John Wall, Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry didn't bring their teams a ring. -- Leonard, Aventura.
A: And that's fine. But it is far easier to go without a pure playmaker when you have a veteran roster with enduring continuity, which is what some of those scoring guards you mentioned have had. This is a Heat team of newcomers that is not exactly loaded with scoring options. It will be interesting to see what happens when opponents load up with full-court pressure when Goran Dragic is out of the game. Will the Heat's other guards be able to advance the ball swiftly enough to allow ample time for the Heat to set their offense?
October 23, 2016
Q: I obviously like Rodney McGruder a lot. He has many NBA skills and is lengthy and quick and a good defender. But I also like having a second true point guard on the team, such as a Beno Udrih (Briante Weber hadn't done enough to convince me he was worth keeping right now). Is there any way we could have kept both? (Cough, cough, Wayne Ellington). -- Tyler, Dallas.
A: I, too, an concerned about not having something closer to a pure point guard behind Goran Dragic, whose attack style could leave him open to the occasional absence (or in-game dental visit). When he can't start, then what? And, again, as stressed here before, you can convert a two into a one, but playing point guard can be as innate as being a quarterback, you either see all the open possibilities on the field of play or you don't. That said, the more I think about it, the more it appears that Udrih's contract was more about loyalty than any particular vision of the 2016-17 roster. The Heat kept the best players they could keep, when factoring in contracts, as well. With Josh Richardson likely to miss several games at the start of the season, and with Wayne Ellington dealing with a quad bruise, McGruder just might find himself as a rotation player when the Heat go to three-guard alignments early in the season.
Q: Briante Weber will be the next Patrick Beverley, waived by the Heat and become a beast for another team. -- Chris.
A: Where Weber would work best would be with a veteran team, where he could provide a 10- to 15-minute burst of energy each game, perhaps wear down the opposing point guard with his full-court defense. That way his 1 for 3 doesn't turn into a 2 of 9. He might have had that opportunity with a Heat team that featured Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That would not have been the case with this season's Heat roster. He suddenly found himself with more playmaking and scoring responsibilities than he is suited to at this stage of his career. Remember, it took Beverley a while to find his game before landing with the Rockets. It could wind up being the same with Briante, who has an inner drive similar to what drives Beverley.
Q: I think we would have been better served letting Tyler Johnson go and re-signing Luol Deng. I just can't justify paying Johnson that much money to come off the bench, and Deng has at least three more solid years left as a starter. -- James, Boca Raton.
A: I'm not sure that Luol's game would have suited this current roster. And Tyler's deal might not look nearly as extreme when you consider that the new collective-bargaining agreement has been linked to a 50-percent rise in exception amount. If that's the case, the mid-level exception could come in at about $12 million, which would wind up making Tyler's four-at-$50 million deal essentially a mid-level contract. What I'm not sold on is Tyler at point guard. I still believe that Josh Richardson has greater point guard instincts.
October 22, 2016
Q: Will Josh McRoberts have a role on this team? -- Chris.
A: That is a really, really, really good $12 million question (the remaining salary left on Josh's contract over the next two seasons, including his $6 million player option for 2017-18). Based on his skill set, I still believe that Josh stands as the best option to start at power forward for this team, unless the Heat go with an undersized approach with Justise Winslow at the four. The Heat need shooting? McRoberts can score from distance, when he actually decides to shoot. The Heat need playmaking? McRoberts creates scoring opportunities, The Heat need height? He's tall. And yet it has been so long since we have seen any of that (other than the tall part) that it certainly is within reason to have doubts. But when the other options at the position are Derrick Williams, Luke Babbitt and James Johnson, I still think there is a chance for McRoberts to make this right, to make the Heat rotation stronger with his presence, potentially as the backup center, as well. The Josh McRoberts the Heat envisioned when he was added is a player who would make most teams better. A Josh McRoberts out of uniform and on the inactive list is an ongoing source of frustration for many, including Josh himself.
Q: This team has the rare chemistry that might lead to a surprising season. -- C.J.
A: Yes, but I still believe that will be Erik Spoelstra's greatest challenge. No one complains about lack of touches, shots or minutes during the preseason. But now the games are about to count, and the statistics are about to count. Keeping players happy, and therefore fostering chemistry, is far easier when playing time doesn't matter. Dion Waiters signed on to play and to shoot. Will those shoots be there, in ample enough supply, during the season? Will Derrick Williams or James Johnson be content in limited roles, with so many options at power forward, including the aforementioned possibility of a Josh McRoberts return to the mix? And when Josh Richardson returns, how does Spoelstra sate all of his guards? If the chemistry continues through all that, and even through a few more losses than endured during the preseason, then, yes, this would be special team with special chemistry.
Q: You have raised the question about whether Goran Dragic is a championship-caliber point guard. He is certainly as good as Jason Williams and Mario Chalmers, Miami's previous championship point guards. Obviously, those teams had Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James, etc. But Dragic isn't being paid like a superstar. He is being paid like a solid NBA guard. So why would you expect more than that from him? -- David.
A: Because with this roster you have to, or you have to turn that cap space into a championship-level player. The best of all worlds would be a breakout season for Dragic, with this rare chance to be a leading man. But if he comes closer to J-Will or Chalmers, then that is not what the Heat signed up for, no matter the salary. The preseason, though, certainly was encouraging.
October 21, 2016
Q: As well as Rodney McGruder has played, it doesn't make sense from a roster standpoint for him to make it. Then you would have Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington. -- Michael.
A: Unless you are rounding out a championship contender, then I think with decisions such as these, when you could add a potential component for the future, you follow the draft advice of taking the best available player. Josh Richardson has taken minutes at point guard, as has Tyler Johnson. If this is a season of growth and discovery, then explore what might work. No, I don't believe that Tyler Johnson or perhaps even Josh Richardson are up to consistently advancing against full-court pressure. But I do think the Heat can field lineups with enough ballhandling to compensate without minutes with a true point guard. And if you do prove to be in a battle for playoff seeding, there still is time to add a true backup point guard, if needed.
Q: Briante Weber looks too raw for the NBA. He needs seasoning to be a viable NBA point guard. -- Brian.
A: Correct, and it's not as if the Heat have the luxury of keeping him as a roster player and then sending him down to Sioux Falls while under NBA contract. If anything, Briante's uneven preseason likely will have NBA teams shying from any immediate attempts to pry him from the Heat's sphere. Instead, starting the season with the Skyforce in the D-League and working with Anthony Carter, who is an assistant there, could be the best option for both Weber and the Heat. If the Heat are as position-less as Erik Spoelstra has stressed, and if a guard is a guard, then McGruder at this point gets the nod ahead of Briante. So the next question becomes what will happen with Beno Udrih. Weber showed undeniable progress this preseason, including with Thursday's assists, but beyond his steals, he doesn't quite have an NBA game yet. That in no way means the Heat should write off the investment, but rather see if it is possible to grow it into something that yet could contribute on this level.
Q: If NBA reduced their exhibition schedule by 10 days then they could start the regular season earlier and not have any back-to-backs. -- Martin.
A: Correct. Because you don't need eight of these. And, as it is, even with seven exhibitions on their schedule, the Hornets still elected not to travel some of the prime players on Thursday night for their Friday exhibition finale. If there were fewer exhibitions, you would get games when both teams actually were living in the moment. Instead, you wind up with games such as Thursday's in Charlotte, where the Hornets were playing it for real, and the Heat were just playing it.
October 20, 2016
Q: Ira, I've thought Dion Waiters has looked good from the beginning of the preseason. I see where you are saying Josh Richardson will probably start at the two when he gets back. Is it because of his style of play? I believe Dion to be the better player. -- Juan.
A: But with the Heat in a transition mode, this is as much about the future as the present. Dion has a contract with an opt-out after this season and almost assuredly will do just that, after having to step back in salary this offseason. By contrast, Richardson not only has another minimum-salary year on his contract beyond this season, but also will then have full Bird Rights going forward. So, yes, you easily could make a case of Waiters being more polished at this stage, but the long view is one that has to matter, as well. As it is, Richardson does not appear close enough from his offseason knee issue to be back for the first few games of the regular season, anyway. So it's not as if there are many other options than to start Waiters the opening week, anyway. For now, you ride Waiters and see how the chemistry works, then consider the best way to assure Richardson of minutes. With a small-ball approach that occasionally will have Justise Winslow at power forward, there should be plenty of minutes available for both Waiters and Richardson.
Q: James Johnson has looked great. He's making a case for starting, although I could see his aggressiveness better off the bench. -- Nick.
A: I still view James in somewhat of the same light as where Gerald Green stood at this stage last season, a player Erik Spoelstra might allude to as, "ignitable." Such bursts of energy would appear best suited to a reserve role, where you ride that energy when it is positive energy, cycle through other options when it's not quite clicking. I do believe James has earned his way into a role as a rotation player. I'm just not sold that starting him would be the best utilization of this roster. He could wind up as a player who some nights plays big minutes, and other nights not nearly as many.
Q: That performance against the Magic just gave me the chills, Ira. I know it's only preseason, but the efficiency on both sides of the court was tight -- Kevin.
A: The "only preseason" portion part of your statement is the most significant. The Magic were without Aaron Gordon and Bismack Biyombo, who are a large portion of what they will be (although Biyombo apparently will be suspended for the opener because of his playoff flagrant fouls), and the Heat were without Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow. Plus, there's just something about Frank Vogel that made me wonder if he wasn't perhaps sandbagging a bit considering these teams open the regular season against each other next Wednesday in Orlando. I can guarantee that game at the Amway Center will have a far different level of intensity.
October 19, 2016
Q: Why trade Goran Dragic? It makes no sense to me. -- Marky.
A: Look, as long as a player is on a tradable contract and his team is not viewed as a title contender, then you're going to have your share of rumors, especially when another team is looking to make a splash and is in need of a specific skill set. But putting aside Sacramento's needs for the moment, if you trade Dragic to the Kings for Rudy Gary and Darren Collison, then you're saying two things: 1. Goran Dragic was not the player you thought he was, as a building block for a contender. 2. You are giving up on this season. It just seems too early to make either of those assessments. Beyond that, as has been mentioned here innumerable times since this Gay-Dragic talk began in the offseason, the Heat gave up two potential lottery picks to the Suns for Goran, with that payment still due. I appreciate that the worst thing to do is to look back when making trades, but if you come out of a Rudy Gay trade without a draft pick (or at least Willie Cauley-Stein), then the draft hit with Dragic would be overwhelming. Yes, cap space can turn into a superstar. Or not. So let's get back to the most important supposition: Is Goran Dragic good enough at point guard to help you contend for a title? If you don't believe that, then you chalk it up to overestimation and move forward. Because that's the most important thing, forward-looking moves that create a brighter future no matter what has transpired previously.
Q: Beno Udrih is battling another young guy whose name escapes me right now. Josh Richardson can play point, too, when he is healthy. -- Rob.
A: I believe you are thinking of Rodney McGruder, who very well could stand as a dark horse to make the final roster. He has NBA-level scoring skills and could potentially be developed along the lines of what the Heat have accomplished with Richardson and Tyler Johnson. But if you cut both Beno Udrih and Briante Weber, you'd have to have significant faith that Johnson could play as a starting point guard if Dragic were sidelined, as well as faith that Dion Waiters can run the offense as a combo guard. Going with a single true point guard is like football teams that risk only two quarterbacks on their roster. It might prove better for the overall depth of the roster, but it could leave you exposed at a significant position.
Q: The Heat are waiving and signing players on their training-camp roster at the last minute. Does this have something to do with the so-called two-way contract roster expansion being discussed in the current round of CBA negotiations? -- Jack, Fort Myers.
A: It does not. A new collective-bargaining agreement cannot be put in place before July 1, with the current agreement to run until at least that stage. What the Heat are doing is seeding enough money in guarantees to players that they'll remain under the organization's umbrella in the D-League. Eventually, perhaps as soon as a year from now, it could be possible that beyond the 15-man NBA regular-season limit, teams can retain the rights to other players through two-way contracts that would pay at least the NBA minimum on the NBA level, with a lesser payment in the D-League, similar to the NHL's two-way contracts.
October 18, 2016
Q: Hi Ira, if the Heat decided to go for Beno Udrih over Briante Weber, can they still bring back him? Briante for sure will go to Skyforce, but can other teama snatch him? Can Briante reject other teams' offers knowing he will be in the Heat in few months time? -- Jac, Dubai.
A: A few things here, in the wake of yesterday's Briante-Beno question. First, Erik Spoelstra warned Monday not to look at the final roster spot as a two-horse race. And if there is a sleeper, it could be Rodney McGruder, who could provide depth on the wing should the Heat opt to make a move down the road with one of their shooting guards. My thought is that if Beno is waived, he likely would remain available for a while, with teams less likely to pluck veteran journeymen off the waiver wire early during the season. A team looking to develop a prospect, though, could take a swing on Briante. And if he either is claimed on waivers or offered a subsequent contract elsewhere, you can bet that he would take such an offer. That's why these players play: to play in the NBA. So I'm not so sure that if Briante is cut that he simply moves on to Sioux Falls. I believe his agent first would scour for landing spots, just as he found one (briefly) for Briante with the Grizzlies last season. To me, Briante is like James Ennis, a player who could blossom if you have patience. With Beno it could come down to two factors: 1. Do the Heat believe there will be a need to have a veteran in the wings to start for Goran Dragic (in other words, where does Goran's health stand)? And 2. Is there a potential for a Dragic trade, where a veteran such as Beno might be needed to step in and start?
Q: There's room, if not reason, to believe that several players can live up to the potential seen in them in the draft, like Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams, maybe Luke Babbitt or James Johnson. If two of them do, the Heat has a reasonable team, not so much with star quality but with reasonable depth through the top 10 or even 12, enough to withstand a major absence of anyone (other than Hassan Whiteside). -- Hanan, Tel Aviv.
A: Yes, hope springs eternal every fall in the NBA. But there are far more players who after their initial chances tend to be what their previous teams thought they were. That doesn't mean that the aforementioned players can't finally have a breakthrough, only that the odds are long enough for even one of them to do so, at a time when the Heat might need multiple such breakouts. What I can say is that there has been mostly positive energy from all the newcomers, with each believing that this could be his time. The way this season's roster is set up, it just might have to be.
Q: Ira, why is Udonis Haslem such an afterthought? He is still one of the better, smartest defensive players in the league. He can also hit uncontested mid-range shots. I am not saying he is a top-line player, but neither are any of the other bigs on this team. -- Joel.
A: But this has to be a forward-looking season. As mentioned above, there is possible untapped potential in players such as Williams, Johnson and Babbitt. So there could be a chance to take a long-range view with at least one of those players. For Haslem, the finish line is closer than for any of those three. Udonis, as much as anything, is a security blanket this season, a player whose primary game action might come in the locker room at halftime amid deficits.
October 17, 2016
Q: Briante Weber or Beno Udrih might be the question. Who you got, Ira? -- Dan.
A: I've been back and forth on this for a while now and can make cases for both. Weber gives you the type of dogged defender at point guard the Heat otherwise lack. Udrih gives you a definitive, proven veteran playmaker to be available for the occasional games that Goran Dragic might miss, a plug-and-play element who could go from inactive list to spot starter. But I also could make a case to mitigate the significance of each. The Heat also could utilize Josh Richardson as a defensive point guard in moment-of-truth situations. And the Heat are getting enough playmaking from Dion Waiters and even Tyler Johnson to make a case for enough veteran playmaking already being in place. So, in a long-winded manner, what I'm saying is that it is a tough, tough call. I believe the Heat will lean toward Udrih initially, with the belief that Weber can be brought back up from the D-League at a point when the roster thins out, possibly when there is a resolution with Chris Bosh or if there is a trade after Dec. 15 that sends out more players than are brought back in. What would I do? I believe this team, at this moment, has to take the long view, and should keep Weber. But I'm not a general manager, and didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Q: Ira, what are the Heat going to do about the backup center position? I know it's just preseason, but I think the Heat should really consider making James Johnson the backup. With all due respect to Willie Reed, I just think Johnson is a better fit with Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson in the second unit. -- D.J.
A: And you might be correct. And another possibility, once he gets healthy, is Josh McRoberts as the backup center. I think Willie slots in as the center who starts on the nights that Hassan Whiteside is unable to play. Otherwise, I'm not sure how much Reed and Udonis Haslem play, if at all. Based on the Heat's approach, I do not see Willie Reed at the moment as a rotation player. I think he and Haslem will be utilized when the Heat are being outmuscled and need to counter off the bench with brawn, sort of as size specialists.
Q: This lineup would be hard for any team in the NBA to guard: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside. I bet any time they start Waiters that Miami's offense will run a lot smoother.-- Will.
A: I think such an approach would be overkill for a team with an otherwise thin bench. Pat Riley stated in the offseason that he views Winslow as the team's small forward of the future. I'm not sure you tinker with that, considering you still can move Winslow up into a power role during the course of the game. And I still believe that Waiters' ball-dominant approach would work better with the second unit, when he could work alongside a combo guard such as Tyler Johnson. In fact, I think a greater concern might be how to field a cohesive and competitive second unit.
October 16, 2016
Q: Let's see if this James Johnson ride is better than the Gerald Green ride. -- Aura.
A: Which tends to always be the question with wildly athletic players who offer uneven rides. It is why I'm not quite sure that a starting role makes the most sense for James. Instead, the Heat can perform a heat check, if you will, when Johnson enters off the bench, to see if it is going to be one of the nights when the contribution can come in a somewhat orderly fashion, within the context of the Heat system. The best role for Johnson could be as both a backup power forward and even the backup center in small-ball alignments. In fact, you could wind up seeing James Johnson and Josh McRoberts (when healthy) more often at backup center than perhaps Willie Reed or Udonis Haslem.
Q: The Heat should make Justise Winslow a Miami Heat 2016 version of Dennis Rodman. What you think? -- Will.
A: First, I'm not sure that in today's NBA game, where everyone has to be "live" in the offense to provide spacing, that there would necessarily be a place for a Rodman type in 2016-17. That's not to say that rebounding and defense won't always be coveted, just that defensive rules and double-team options elsewhere mitigate the significance of the one-way player. And I also think that's selling Justise way too short. His jumper may not be perfect, but it's still at least enough of a threat to make defenses take notice. And in transition or on the move, he is far more of an attack threat than Rodman ever was. Appreciate that for what he did in his era, Rodman was Hall of Fame worthy. But the game has changed dramatically since Bad Boys and even Pat Riley's Oakley-Mason Knicks. That is why more is expected, and should be expected, from Justise's offensive game when it comes to reaching his potential. I appreciate that Erik Spoelstra would love everyone to back off the concerns and questions about Justise's offense. But I look at it another way, that the potential is there, and it would be a waste not to see it maximized.
Q: Not to belabor the Bosh issue, but to belabor it, it seems Chris Bosh will likely play again (he and old teammates certainly think so) and there is every incentive for another NBA team to sign him. As he will be paid his full contract by the Heat, he can easily sign for the veteran's minimum, giving the new team an All-Star forward/center for pennies. Moreover, the new team has virtually no risk since if a clot reappears, which seems likely, since they are out only the minimal salary. If he plays 25 games in a season, the Heat have the burden of absorbing his full contractual salary against the cap for the remaining contract term, a crippling blow to building the roster which together with paying him big bucks to play for another potential Eastern Conference competitor is double jeopardy. What is not clear is if the Heat commit his full salary to another max player over the summer, would adding back his salary if he plays in the next season then put the Heat deep in to the luxury tax? If so, that would be triple jeopardy and all for no fault of the Heat. -- Jack, Fort Myers.
A: It would do exactly that. The question is what the luxury tax would look like in a new collective-bargaining agreement, which now appears likely to be put in place this coming summer. Of course, if that return to health comes before Feb. 9, or March 1 depending on the Heat approach, then Bosh still could either resume his Heat career or be traded to another team, thereby excising all remaining cap obligations. That is probably an argument by the Heat (potentially in response to the players' union) to wait before making any move with Bosh. But again, until medical clearance is received, this all remains moot.
October 15, 2016
Q: If you can say a team is "built for the playoffs," couldn't you also say some teams are "built for the regular season"? I'm reading these so-called sports analysts who predict Heat win totals in the mid-30s and laughing to myself at how misguided they are. True, the Big Three are gone, but the combination of "position-less" play plus multiple players of equivalent skill level at each position should ensure this year's Heat team is ready to play hard every night. Yes, Hassan Whiteside's rim defense might be solvable, but not until a seven-game playoff series, if then. If I was into sports betting, I would certainly take the odds being offered on the Heat's prospects. -- Tom, Chapel Hill, N.C.
A: And you very well could prove correct, especially appreciating the effort that Erik Spoelstra will go through to squeeze out every possible win. But to me, the regular season often is defined by individuals, when you don't have time as much time to game-plan or strategize for individual opponents. And that is the rub with this Heat roster: Are there enough individual scorers who can carry the load, win games on their own, be the go-to guy for extended periods? That's what the Heat had with each of the Big Three. But will there be enough nights when Goran Dragic can carry the offensive burden, create enough of his own offense? And beyond Goran, are there any other such scorers on the roster? I think that's where the doubts come with the regular-season win totals, the lack of a go-to scorer. Even last season, when Portland overachieved in the view of many, there at least was Damian Lillard to seize control. That doesn't mean this team can't be like the Hawks of two years ago during the regular season, just that that is a more difficult model to sustain.
Q: What do you think of the rumors surrounding Goran Dragic being traded for Rudy Gay? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.
A: Those who follow this space know I generally say away from trade rumors, because they mostly (if not always) tend to originate from places other than front offices. But I'll field this one because of the greater issues in play. First, I don't think the Heat do anything with Goran before they see if he can become a successful fixture with this group. In the end, he just might be the point guard they need, even if it's now without Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh alongside. So I would think that any potential trade considerations with Goran would come later rather than sooner. As for Rudy Gay, I can't speak for how the Heat view him in light of his struggles to be a difference-maker in multiple venues. But as long as he has that $14.3 million player option attached to his contract, I think such a move would be a non-starter for a Heat team looking to potentially maximize cap space in the 2017 offseason from the Bosh situation. Now, there's a good chance in today's high-priced marketplace that Rudy will opt out anyway. But that's something a team such as the Heat would have to be assured about before such a deal could make sense on any level.
Q: I completely understand the salary-cap issue when it comes to Chris Bosh. However, how could the Heat be so petty? Would they really hold out Chris Bosh until after March 1 so he won't be playoff eligible? I honestly don't see why the Heat just won't trade C.B. I know a lot of teams are probably just as skeptical as the Heat when it comes to his health. But I know there are also some big spenders out there who would roll the dice, if-you-will, on C.B. I think trading him or cutting him sooner rather than later would help both parties. -- Robert.
A: A few things here, as the plot seemingly continues to thicken: If a trade were an option, I think the Heat strong would consider it, as the ultimate means of moving beyond Chris' salary-cap hit. For example, if a team were to offer the Heat enough equivalent expiring contracts to match Chris' current salary, I think that could get a deal done. But the type of interest Chris is likely to receive amid this ongoing uncertainty (we still don't even know if it ever would be safe enough for Chris to return to the NBA) likely would be teams only willing to acquire him at a minimal if not minimum salary. As for cutting him, that runs its own risks when it comes to the somewhat cloudy rules regarding recouping his salary-cap space. Remember, there is absolutely nothing at this point preventing Chris from working with the Heat toward a buyout. That always is allowed on any contract. But there also is no reason, at least until he is certain he can play and is medically cleared, for Chris to leave anything on the table at the moment.
October 14, 2016
Q: Hi, Ira. A couple of days ago someone suggested that Dion Waiters reminded them of a young Dwyane Wade. You quickly tempered that notion. Waiters in no way reminds me of a young Dwyane Wade, lest we forget Wade circa 2006, his third season, was a world champion, Finals MVP and to me arguably the best player in the NBA. However, Waiters definitely reminds me of Wade circa 2015. Not so much with his scoring (and he can score), but amazingly enough with his ability to penetrate and distribute the ball, to break down a defense. To me that's one of the most important traits Wade brought to the table at this stage of his career. -- Giovanni, Medellin, Colombia.
A: And that is what the Heat have been stressing, as well, that they will be a better team, and Waiters a better contributor, when he can get two feet in the paint. And, yes, you are correct that the Heat were a better team when Wade did the same. But it also has to be under control. That is something Wade has been for a decade with his slashing style. That has to be the next step for Dion, not only to get into the paint, but to get into the paint with purpose. While Wade often was chide for his old-man's game, that actually was nothing more than exhibiting the patience to proper finish plays. If Waiters can get to that, he may yet realize his projected NBA destiny.
Q: OK, watching Tyler Johnson run at point guard looks robotic and unnatural to him. So I propose this: Let Josh McRoberts (assuming he's back together again) run the offense with the second unit. Allow Dion Waiters or a third perimeter defender to guard the opposing point guard, so McRoberts can distribute. I don't see McRoberts playing on the first unit. I think his confidence is shot towards his jumper and Luke Babbitt looks money every time he's open. The only drawback to this uneducated theory is that Waiters is so ball-dominant with the second unit. What say you? -- William.
A: I say we first need to see McRoberts on the court, and then see how he meshes with this revised roster. Josh certainly could help amid the unsettled state at power forward. But I also agree that McRoberts has to get back to where he was as a 3-point threat with Charlotte. He has to play facing the basket more often. I think McRoberts could work with Waiters, because he will find Dion when he's open. Such an approach also could keep Waiters from dominating the ball. Look, it's been three seasons now that we've been talking about McRoberts' possibilities, but only a scant few games where they have actually been explored. Josh McRoberts at his best helps this team. But first Josh has to get on the court, with this latest foot issue just the latest setback. At each of their bests, Josh McRoberts would offer the Heat more than Luke Babbitt. That's if McRoberts starts shooting the ball.
Q: So now Hassan Whiteside has played Brooklyn without Brook Lopez, and now he's going to play San Antonio without LaMarcus Aldridge? -- Aura.
A: Which is why I never read too much into the preseason, especially the final score or even many of the stats. I've always felt, as Erik Spoelstra appears to be stressing, that what matters most during the exhibitions is internal chemistry, which rotations work best, which players are best together, what lineups are effective. Those are the most important takeaways. It's not always what the statistics are, but how they are achieved, and how much can translate when the games count and teams actually are trying to win. So what I'm looking at are the dynamics with the new players, and whether, as the Heat hope, they can complement the core that already was in place.
October 13, 2016
Q: This is pointless, as I'm dwelling on the past. But why did the Heat not draft Devin Booker instead of Justise Winslow? No, we don't need multi-dimensional players. We need offensive specialists, like Booker. Reliable shooters. Pat Riley again was influenced by all the noise and made the wrong draft, just as he did with Michael Beasley. -- H.P.
A: First you have to appreciate the context of the move. When Winslow was drafted No. 10 in 2015, three selections ahead of when the Suns took Booker, it was when the Heat were working with the belief that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be around to lead the offense for years to come, with an emerging Hassan Whiteside in place and with Goran Dragic about to begin his first full season with the Heat. So exactly how many shots would have been there for Booker? Certainly fewer than he has received in Phoenix. So, in that context, Booker likely would have been as much a specialist for the Heat as you claim is the case with Winslow and his defensive-oriented game. Plus, it's not as if other teams, most notably the Celtics, weren't coveting Winslow at No. 10, as well. Beyond that, you still had Myles Turner (who I like a lot) selected at No. 11 by the Pacers and Trey Lyles at No. 12 by the Jazz before Booker was selected. Now, if you are asking me whether the Heat would have made the same selection if they knew they would be without Wade and Bosh moving forward, then I believe a much stronger case could and should be made for Booker. Even in the brief time since Winslow was drafted, the NBA has become a league where almost all players have to be a threat offensively. But, at 20, it's not as if Winslow doesn't have time to grow.
Q: Ira, I have been reading your column and been a Heat fan since the beginning. I know this year appears to be somewhat of a transition year, but isn't that the fun of being a fan? To root for your team, no matter what? I hate that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James left and that Chris Bosh likely isn't going to play, but my faith in Pat Riley is never-ending. He brought in and/or developed Zo, Timmy, Shaq, Wade, LeBron, Bosh and so many more who helped us win three titles. I can't wait to see the next chapter of the Miami Heat, and our ascension back to the top. -- Joe, Vero Beach.
A: And, with that, our initial balloting for the season's first Heat Fan of the Month is over. All I can say is that I remember growing up as a fan of some lousy teams and still having blind faith, because it was "my" team and that was enough to make the moments special. But it seems like sports is changing and that loyalty only runs as deep as the won-loss record. I'm not sure I would grow too attached to any player on the current roster, because this iteration merely looks like the bridge to something else. But I also believe in living in the moment. All I can say is that through three exhibitions, this has been a fun team to watch. And that's a start, isn't it?
Q: Ira, do us all a favor, stay out of politics when discussing sports. Sports is supposed to be a release from all of that, an escape. Don't make the same mistake ESPN has made again and again, and why their ratings have tanked as well as the NFL. After reading your articles for the last 20 years, the little piece on what an NBA player had to say about a politician is why I'll never read one of your articles again. -- Jared.
A: Hmm, so I guess that makes attempting to respond in this space moot. But I will, anyway. The way I see it, if a player says something, especially in a group setting, and I ignore it, then that is irresponsible, almost a self-editing of the situation. In fact, not being in front of Udonis Haslem at the time, I made sure I got a copy of the tape just to make sure the quotes were offered in the context presented. My job is to relay what it said around the team since my readers can't be there themselves. Then it certainly is anyone's right to make judgments from there. When a respected team captain addresses comments by a presidential candidate, such as Donald Trump, it is newsworthy, just as I have read similar reports from players on other NBA teams regarding "locker-room talk." If it was about interjecting politics into it, does that mean I shouldn't have mentioned Chris "Birdman" Andersen and his NRA thoughts when he was with the Heat? My basic approach is whenever possible: They say it; I report it. And, yes, sometimes it is about politics. And sometimes that means some will disagree.
October 12, 2016
Q: I liked Tuesday's lineup. Wayne Ellington can space the floor and Derrick Williams is as versatile as anyone they could start at the four. -- Steve.
A: When it comes to shooting guard, I believe that everyone else is a placeholder until Josh Richardson makes it back from his offseason knee injury, which yet might be in time for the Oct. 26 regular-season opener in Orlando. I don't think there is anyone else on this roster who can offer the versatility at the position as Richardson, who also has the ability to defend the opposing point guard to ease the burden on Goran Dragic. As far as power forward, Williams' chances could come down to his ability to offer stretch possibilities at the four. Of course, with a shooter at the two it might not be as essential to have a shooter at the four. But even then, it could be a case of utilizing a placeholder, perhaps for Josh McRoberts, with the Heat then in position to see if McRoberts finally fits, or to showcase him for a potential trade to offload his 2017-18 salary.
Q: The denial with Chris Bosh has reached a point where it's sad to witness. -- Ben.
A: I disagree. And I actually thought Chris put it eloquently in his most recent video post, when he said that athletes long have pushed themselves to reach goals others say are unattainable. And as long as he's not putting his health at further risk, I see nothing wrong with the attempt. Based on the passion of his pursuit, I would not be surprised if he one day returns to the NBA. Yes, another team would have to find a doctor to clear him and sign off. But Chris on his videos has said he had been on the verge of a return before, so who is to say he doesn't find himself in another situation where he believes he is just as close, and then has his new agent look to recruit a suitor? I wouldn't necessarily count any Heat cap space ahead of time, and the team might have to be braced for his salary to return in the form of luxury tax.
Q: Dion Waiters needs to play as many games possible, so he can prove that he is as good as some of us know he is. -- Will.
A; With a bench as thin as the Heat's, Waiters is likely positioned, in his sixth-man role, to get all the touches he would want. But it also has to come in a disciplined manner. And that will be the interesting part to watch, how a player who essentially is in another contract year handles such a wealth of riches of opportunity. In a way, just as with Gerald Green, Waiters will get as many opportunities as the Heat's patience allows.
October 11, 2016
Q: Well here we are already 25 percent through the preseason. For the first three quarters I was certain we would go 82-0 and breeze through the playoffs 16-0. Then came the third quarter against the Timberwolves and now I feel we are destined for the No. 1 pick in the lottery. Do you think I am overreacting? -- Jack, Fort Myers.
A: Why would I ever think that? I would not trust any results during the preseason. What I look for are individual elements of improvement: Will Hassan Whiteside be a willing passer out of the post? Can Justise Winslow hit an outside shot? Will Goran Dragic emerge as a needed leader? Will Dion Waiters make the right plays? Is there a power forward in the house? And a shooting guard? Until the final week of the preseason, I think those are the better areas to place focus than wins and losses. With 10 newcomers, the Heat still need to find their way before they can start defining themselves.
Q: I thought you were on point with this answer: "This also could be a case of Tyler Johnson as a placeholder as the starting shooting guard until Josh Richardson returns." I was like "Bingo!" But then I thought, "Josh Richardson isn't a volume scorer either." Unless you have some different definition of one. -- William.
A: So then the question becomes: Does Josh Richardson have the ability to become one? You have to consider the strides he already has made to this stage to show the diversity of his game. So perhaps there is a reason to believe there is even more there. Or . . . and perhaps this is where this is all going, anyway: Does Goran Dragic become the volume scorer in the backcourt, playing as the de facto scoring guard? I'm not sure that it doesn't play out as Dragic as the scoring guard with the first unit, and then Dion Waiters as the scoring guard with the second unit.
Q: Dion Waiters' game reminds me of a young Wade. It was a smart move by the Heat. --Juan
A: Now exhale. Look, there obviously is plenty of potential with Waiters, based on where he was drafted and based on some of what he accomplished late last season with the Thunder. But don't go there. Not now. Not when we still have to see if there finally can be a stability with Waiters' game and Waiters' approach. There is a reason he was sitting out there so late in free agency, and available at such a nominal cost. For all of Wade's theatrics and statistics, he also was a known quality. The NBA is not quite as sure, at least at this moment, about what Dion is and what he can become. That's what this season is about for him. And the Heat.
October 10, 2016
Q: I just have a hard time accepting $50 million for Tyler Johnson. Ira, do you think he's worth it? And will his contract come back to bite them? -- Carl, Kappa, Hawaii.
Q: It feels like TJ isn't getting the ball enough --K.M.
A: I'm still not sure what the Heat's endgame is at shooting guard. Tyler Johnson is not a volume scorer and I don't think has that type of mindset. So if you're going to start Justise Winslow at small forward, which appears to be the case, then a scoring threat at two-guard would seem to be a requirement. As it is, with the Heat cycling through Luke Babbitt and James Johnson at power forward, they basically are starting a lineup without volume scorers anywhere but at point guard and center. While I believe the notion of Tyler Johnson as a point guard is overstated, I'm not sure starting him at shooting guard is necessarily the answer. Of course, this also could be a case of Tyler Johnson as a placeholder as the starting shooting guard until Josh Richardson returns from his knee issue, which could yet happen before the end of the preseason.
Q: Hakeem Olajuwon had Clyde Drexler. Shaquille O'Neal had Kobe Bryant. Tim Duncan had Tony Parker. Hassan Whiteside and DeMarcus Cousins are dominant bigs who lack dominant wings. -- Aura.
A: Well, if you're going to use the example of Tony Parker, then the Heat do have a scoring threat of their own at point guard in Goran Dragic. But, to your greater point, I'm not sure you can win now, or ever, in the NBA without a dynamic scoring wing. That does not appear to be Justise Winslow's destiny, which is why the aforementioned lack of firepower at shooting guard is a concern.
Q: Luke Babbitt has shown starter potential thus far. I envision Dwight Howard-Hedo Turkoglu type of pairing. -- Juan.
A: First, for the remarkable gains that Hassan Whiteside has made to this point over the past two seasons, he is nowhere near where Howard stood at the peak of his game with the Magic's team that went to the NBA Finals. And Turkoglu, at the top of his game, was among the most versatile forwards in the NBA. Yes, Babbitt can help stretch the floor as Turkoglu (and Rashard Lewis) did for Howard in Orlando, but there has to be more at power forward for the Heat than just stretch shooting. Josh McRoberts at least functions as a playmaker. What needs to be seen from Babbitt is enough versatility to merit a starting role, be that on defense, rebounding or facilitating.
October 9, 2016
Q: Should I stick with Hassan Whiteside as a keeper in my fantasy league? -- Jeff.
A: Usually there's not a lot of time devoted to fantasy in this space, but I am sure that Hassan's fantasies included plenty of points, rebounds and blocked shots. If it's up to Hassan, he will provide all the statistics he can. And that's where it could get interesting for the Heat, if the statistics become what matter most to Whiteside (which I'm not by any means saying is the case). Because there will be times when the proper defensive rotation will mean more than the attempt for the blocked shot, where the pass that leads to the assist will mean more than a shot attempt, where a box out to help a teammate grab a rebound could mean more than chasing the rebound himself. Hassan likes his numbers; that has become apparent. The next phase has to be appreciating victory above all, even if that creates the occasional fantasy consternation. Saturday, for example, while Hassan again put up impressive totals in his 23 minutes, there also was an equally impressive effort from his counterpart in the middle, with Karl-Anthony Towns fueling Minnesota's third-period comeback against Hassan and the Heat.
Q: The Heat should cut Josh McRoberts. -- Kevin.
A: Um, yeah, no they should not. That would make absolutely no sense. First, there is no dire need to regain his cap space at the moment. There also is not a player so decidedly better on the roster that McRoberts is standing in the way of a roster spot. McRoberts might not be a rotation player at the moment amid all his injuries, but he's also not a 15th man. Beyond that, he has a player option season on his contract for 2017-18 that the Heat would have to fully pay out if he is waived. For now, Josh's salary is one that could help facilitate a trade, with the possibility that he opts out of the final year on his contract at season's end. And, truth be told, when Josh is ambulatory, he actually is an intriguing option in the power rotation.
Q: Ira, Chris Bosh is still under contract with the Heat, yes? Would there be anything stopping him from watching practices, going to games, rooting the team on, being a locker-room presence? -- David, Plantation.
A: Yes, what is standing in the way right now is a lot of bad blood, which is why I think for as much as the coaching staff appreciates Chris' contributions away from the court, there also are concern about distractions. Even Saturday in Kansas City, Erik Spoelstra again was asked about where the Chris Bosh situation stands, with Spoelstra declining comment. That is the shame of the situation. Chris could still be a resource to a team with 10 newcomers when it comes to their immersion into Heat culture. Instead, it is safe to say that Chris is not exactly feeling that culture at the moment.
October 8, 2016
Q: If I hear Erik Spoelstra say "position-less" one more time I'm going to heave. The most he can say is that his team is partially position-less, only at shooting guard and the forward positions. Because Goran Dragic is the point guard and Hassan Whiteside is the center. There are no questions about that. Just please let the position-less rhetoric die with the Big Three era. -- William.
A: OK, how about 60-percent position-less? Basically, a center, a point guard and a three-wing circus, where Spoelstra figures to cycle between any and every possibility. As it is, an argument could be made that Dragic is a combo guard, considering the time he spent off the ball with the Suns, and even how he has played off the ball the past two seasons alongside Dwyane Wade. But the notion of "position-less" is not going away for other reasons. Many of the players who joined the Heat this offseason said they were intrigued by Spoelstra's approach, that they no longer would be defined by a position or skill set. And talking to Heat players during camp, even they said that the responsibilities and drilling basically is broken up between power players and wing players, with some even falling into both of those groups.
Q: It's official. I am on Dion Waiters Island! I know it's only been one preseason game, but he has shown a great deal of maturity since his Cleveland days. Now what stinks is that the Heat have a glut of starting-quality two-guards in Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington, and Waiters. My question is: Who goes? I think Ellington will be the first one moved when eligible to be traded. He's the least versatile player out of the four. -- Robert, Falls Church, Va.
A: First, as with the question above, don't get caught up in positions. Richardson certainly could see time at small forward and Johnson has shown the ability to play point guard. But I'd hardly also call it a "glut," at least in terms of the long view. To me, you are settled at a position when you have a player you believe can help you get to the playoffs, and you are locked in when you have a player at a position that you believe can help you win a championship. I'm not sure any of those four players are there yet. As for dealing Ellington, I'm not sure there is or will be a market for such a move.
Q: Ira, when you look at this roster you feel energized and exited about a young and new group of hungry men. But, with all that said and then put aside, you cannot but feel some grudge against LeBron James. Two years ago this team was made up of him, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and many who for four years brought so much excitement to the fans. But LeBron ruined everything due to his pride and selfishness. -- Masoud, Tucson.
A: While I believe that stories regarding LeBron and Wade still deserve coverage because of the impact they had on the Heat and the ongoing interest in two of the most compelling figures in the game, I also believe you have to move on from grudges, whether justified or otherwise. LeBron is gone and not coming back. Wade is gone and the salary cap makes it highly unlikely he comes back. That makes both ancillary to whatever story this next generation of Heat is about to write.
October 7, 2016
Q: Dion Waiters was a great distributor against the Wizards. Could we see him at backup point guard and Josh Richardson at backup shooting guard? Then Briante Weber could be the third string and allow Beno Udrih to be cut -- Ryan, Port St. Lucie.
A: First, I'm sure Erik Spoelstra cringes when he hears anyone attempt to delineate between point guard and shooting guard, in light of his position-less doctrine. In many ways, Waiters did against the Wizards what he wants all his wings to do: take a shot if a high-percentage look is there, make the pass if a better shot can be created elsewhere. The best-case scenario with Waiters would be a role similar to Dwyane Wade, a scorer who also is a willing passer. As for Josh Richardson, and even Tyler Johnson, in a perfect world you wouldn't know if they were the point guard or shooting guard when on the court, except, perhaps, for their defensive assignments. So, in the end, I believe the Heat keep the best overall guards. I believe that group will include Goran Dragic, Waiters, Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington plus one more. So that still brings it down to Weber or Udrih. For now.
Q: Dion Waiters is more effective in the "James Harden" role than as point guard. -- John.
A: Exactly, as a scorer who also can load up on assists. Which is why I believe that Waiters as a sixth man makes the most sense, so scorers such as Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside can get their points with the opening unit, and then Waiters can use his time with the second unit to create his own canvas. Then, when it comes to game-closing lineups, the Heat can utilize the best combinations, which likely would include Waiters if scoring is needed.
Q: Just curious, when the regular season begins, does Chris Bosh have to sit with/be with the team on game nights? -- Robert, Falls Church, Va.
A: I don't think either side believes that would be prudent at the moment, at least when it comes to Heat management and Chris. The Heat have essentially said they are done with Chris due to overriding concerns about his health. Bosh's video series has made it clear what he thinks of Heat management. Caught in the middle are the players who are being paid by the Heat, but who also have expressed overwhelming support for Chris. I do believe Chris could help the Heat's young/new players. But it also is clear that Chris envisions an NBA role greater than mentor. At least at the moment.
October 6, 2016
Q: Everyone was hustling and scrapping against the Wizards. Udonis Haslem is the unopposed offcourt leader now and all others playing in his image. -- C.J.
A: While I know that Udonis misses just about every one of the veterans who has moved on, from Dwyane Wade to Chris Bosh to so many others alongside in recent years, I also get the sense that he is relishing this latest stage of his career, as the unquestioned veteran leader. His presence has been tangible during practices and then after those sessions when he steps forward as spokesman for the team. While playing time still is not guaranteed (he got in Tuesday with Josh McRoberts still out, but still could find himself playing behind Luke Babbitt), there almost is a rejuvenation in his approach, as if, at 36, he is as valuable to the team as he has been in years. I'm not sure the Heat have had as unquestionable a leader since LeBron James left. The respect in the locker room is universal.
Q: How did Dion Waiters' body language look Tuesday night? -- Andy.
A: I think it is time to move beyond this narrative from Waiters' previous seasons. How did his body language look in a meaningless exhibition? Who cares? He had eight assists, which means he was working well with his teammates. Yes, there still is a tendency to force the issue, and he very much is the type of ball-dominant presence as advertised. But it's also a reason why Waiters could flourish with the second unit, which cries out for a player with such a mindset. As long as Erik Spoelstra's body language is fine when Waiters is on the court, that's all that should matter.
Q: Ira, I know it's only preseason, but I believe the Heat looked good. I'm trying to figure out who won't make the cut for the final 15. If we have to count Chris Bosh, maybe Briante Weber, Beno Udrih or Willie Reed might not make it. What do you think? I don't think Rodney McGruder, Stefan Jankovic, Keith Benson, or Okaro White will make it, but beyond that, I'm not sure. -- Carl.
A: You are correct about those final four players having little shot to crack the final 15, which I think is a shame in the case of McGruder, a player who appears poised for an NBA breakthrough. If Udrih's back issues become an ongoing concern, then I'm not sure how much patience there will be for a player of his age, Reed is practically assured of a roster spot because of the second year on his contract. So it sure looks like Weber could wind up being caught in the squeeze because of the necessity to have to carry Bosh at least through the early stages of the season, as his situation becomes clarified.
October 5, 2016
Q: Why Luke Babbitt as the starter Tuesday? If he's so good, why did the Pelicans give him away? -- Ted.
A: Because the Pelicans needed a fresh start, as did Luke. Look, I think the lineup approach Tuesday was more about preferred style than necessarily the choice of Babbitt. In fact, you could make an argument that Babbitt just might stand as a potential placeholder for sidelined Josh McRoberts, who also has a 3-point game at power forward. When you are starting Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside, you better be able to space the floor. Now, if Winslow comes around with his 3-point game (or, for that matter Goran Dragic), then it might be easier for Erik Spoelstra to go with more bulk or athleticism at power forward, as he attempted in the second half Tuesday, when he opened the third period with James Johnson at power forward. As Spoelstra would say, this very much remains a process, and work in progress. But Babbitt had his moments Tuesday, heartening moments considering the somewhat limited expectations.
Q: Ira, I say with Beno Udrih injured the Heat should just commit to Briante Weber and give Udrih his money as a big thank you for what he did last season. Beno might be better now, but this is not about now. -- Larry.
A: And yet you could make an argument that Beno is the Heat's best pure point guard, when it comes to getting the ball to the right place at the right moment. Actually, I'm not sure that Briante's play necessarily will have the most impact on the decision with Beno. Instead, if Tyler Johnson can show that he can serve as a backup to Goran Dragic and also start at the point in the games Dragic should miss, then it might be easier for the Heat to go with Weber instead of Udrih. The concern now is that in games Dragic might miss, there is not a clear option to start at the position beyond Beno. The better Tyler Johnson plays this month in a ballhandling role, the better Briante's chances. As it is, Johnson started Tuesday at shooting guard, which could be a sign of the direction Erik Spoelstra is looking with Tyler, although Tyler then did shift to point guard when Dragic went out for the first time.
Q: Josh Jackson would provide Miami with a Top 10 player. He's on a much higher level than Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Dion Waiters. The Heat don't have any guards or forwards ranked in the Top 10 and you need that to advance deep in the playoffs. -- Aura.
A: I agree that everything I've heard about Jackson could have him in prime lottery position, a position the Heat also could wind up occupying. But it's just too early to play the lottery game now, especially singling in on one player. We all know what happened when the Heat were as bad as possible in 2007-08 and still fell to No. 2 in the lottery. Just as there are plenty of potential outcomes for the Heat's season, there also is still plenty to be played out among all these incoming freshman to see how the lottery sets up.
October 4, 2016
Q: The best thing would be a lottery pick in a good draft and Chris Bosh's cap space. South Beach is still a good destination. It would make a quick rebuild? -- C.J.
A: Actually, the best thing would be a healthy Chris Bosh who is able to play out his contract, for both his preferred outcome and because in today's NBA economy it likely would cost more to replace him with a similar player. And while the upcoming lottery is strong, I think what Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and the team's young players need to learn is how to win together. So I actually think a playoff run, if possible, could be of great benefit. But I do see your point that cap space plus lottery pick does allow equal rapid rebuilt. I'm sure as the season plays out, we'll see if there is any room to remain an optimist, or whether pragmatism will take hold.
Q: You will be bombarded with negative emails and crazy trade propositions by the fans all season. It will not be a fun season for you. -- Joel.
A: Disagree. I will get to watch NBA basketball or be at NBA practices for at least the next seven months. And as much as anyone, I appreciate the NBA's circle of life. Sometimes it's about being on top, and sometimes it's about attempting to get back there. But there always are fascinating stories along the way. This team, like all NBA teams, will produce its share of moments, whether it's Hassan Whiteside doing it with blocks or whether it's Tyler Johnson or Josh Richardson coming out of nowhere with dunks. And I still think there will be enough wins to remain in the playoff race until the season's closing games, whether it's a magic or tragic number.
Q: I am hoping your article on the Heat youth movement will be a new direction for you, since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are no longer with the team. Man up, they're gone. Meanwhile, you haven't adjusted or conformed to their exit. They are gone, and never to return. Time for you to start a new era. -- Griego.
A: I, um, thought I had, with feature stories in the Sun Sentinel already on Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt and Wayne Ellington, as well as other newcomers. But Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James will always been part of the organization because of their contributions, and because of the reality that the Heat eventually will retire all three numbers. I believe it is possible to both live in the moment and relate how the past still has a role in shaping the future.
October 3, 2016
Q: Every year fans of 30 teams fantasize about their chances for a ring. The great majority know those chances are slim and none, while a few with high expectations suffer quietly through the regular season anxiously awaiting the do-or-die playoffs. All but one will be crushed by "failure" as sportswriters perform autopsies on the fallen. Having been through that four times with the Big Three, with two up and two down, I find the current Heat situation refreshing. After all, it is a game classified as entertainment. No stress, just hopeful expectations with lots of small success stories, if you choose to see it that way. All in all, moving toward getting better is more in line with the spirit of the game than the all-or-nothing burden of the favorite. So far, I see the resurrection of the Heat with lots of potential and am happy to go with that. I wish Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade well but, gosh, I wish the media could move on from the he-said, they-said drama. Go Heat. -- Jack, Fort Myers.
A: Thank you for the offering, and I present this as the counter to those who say that this space too often is a place for fans to vent negative concerns. Actually, there have been several similar offerings sent this way, all appreciated. And I agree, that the unknown can present a unique intrigue. My question in response would be this: Will the wide-eyed optimism still be there in March and April if the record goes south but the potential of the roster creates future hope? To me, those are the truest and most loyal fans, those who can appreciate the circle of NBA life.
Q: Hassan Whiteside's durability is kind of concerning. He always seems to get injured at the wrong time. He missed half of last season's training camp he was injured again in the middle of the season and later in the playoffs. -- Griffin, Coral Gables.
A: Look, injuries happen. And Erik Spoelstra mentioned he has been bringing along Hassan slowly from last season's knee issues so they wouldn't surface as a concern again this season. But there also comes a point where if a player if to emerge as a true leader, he has to show a willingness and ability to push through adversity. Leadership and respect have to be earned. Those factors have to become as much of a pursuit for Hassan as blocked shots and dunks.
Q: Dion Waiters is a scorer and Josh Richardson proved last season he can score. Plus Hassan Whiteside going to get his points -- Will.
A: But can all three get their scoring in the flow of the offense? Richardson has shown he can. Waiters has created questions with both the Cavaliers and Thunder. And Whiteside has been a black hole in the post at times. Offense is not three, four or five players going in their own direction. It is players appreciating how to score from a collective approach. Having a scorer (or scorers) among the league leaders does not guarantee a cohesive or successful offense. So what we still have to see is how this particular group meshes.
October 2, 2016
Q: Just trying to sort through Chris Bosh's latest comments, the breakup appears similar to what happened with Dwyane Wade in how contentious things have become after amazing careers here. This has always been known as a first-class organization, but with the way the departure with the Big Three has been handled, will the reputation of the organization change? Will this impact future star free agents from wanting to be here? -- Evan, Weston.
A: The way I look at it is this: When LeBron James left the Cavaliers, there was never -- ever -- an uglier sendoff than Dan Gibert's comic-sans letter about LeBron's betrayal of loyalty to Cleveland. Six years later, James and Gilbert are about to again celebrate their 2016 championship. And it's not like, after that Gilbert letter, that Cleveland didn't get Kyrie Irving to agree to an extension and Kevin Love to re-sign. It might seem odd, but I believe fans have far longer memories than players. What players look at is location, lifestyle, championship potential, oh, and money, first and foremost. It's a business. And these players and their agents appreciate that as much as anybody. I would go as far as to say that the Wade and Bosh situations will have no impact on future free agents. And I would almost bet that Wade and Bosh would say the same, That is in no way an endorsement of how the Heat handled those two matters, only that I don't think there will be any repercussions of significance.
Q: Ira, do you remember I asked about this secrecy about Chris Bosh's future with the Heat? All along, I knew something not so pleasing (at least to Bosh and many of the Heat's fans) was brewing inside the Heat organization. Knowing Pat Riley for nearly 40 years, I knew he was more than willing to rectify his mistake of signing Bosh (in order to react to LeBron and his departure two years ago) to such a high price. Riley was waiting for this opportunity to get Bosh off the payroll. -- Masoud, Tucson.
A: Again, I'm not even sure Chris Bosh believes that. And with this summer's explosion in salaries, you could even make an argument that the remaining three seasons on Bosh's contract are well within market value. As I said before these recent Bosh revelations, the Heat would be better off moving forward with a healthy Bosh at his price point than with his cap space. In fact, I'm not sure you can replace Bosh's productivity with the salary that the Heat are in position to possibly recoup.
Q: I'm annoyed by the lies, public-relations battle. Who is telling the truth? Either Pat truly attempted to contact Bosh to let him know where the team stands and moving forward or not. Bosh seems to be playing the victim while making the organization look poorly to everyone on the outside. -- Richard.
A: I believe it comes down to the degree of effort on both sides. It's not as if the Heat don't know where Bosh lives, and it's not like Bosh doesn't have numerous ways to get in touch with Riley or representatives from the Heat. What I believe is that Chris felt so betrayed by the Heat, even before these latest issues, that he simply wanted no part of them. And I believe the Heat reached the point where they simply could not get Bosh to believe their findings, so they felt the need to move forward with their announcements. I don't believe there was malice on either side, just toxic distrust.
October 1, 2016
Q: I have gone into every Heat season with optimism. Some years it has been well-founded, some it has not. I read a prediction earlier that the Heat will finish 12th in the East. Personally I think this team might surprise a lot of people. Hassan Whiteside is already a game-changer and could become arguably the best center in the league. Goran Dragic will have the opportunity to play to his strengths. Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson could have breakout seasons. The new guys could continue the Heat tradition of reviving veteran careers. Until proven otherwise, I think this team could be very competitive. It will probably take a while for the team to gel, but what do you think is the maximum potential for this team? -- Brian, Mount Vernon, Wash.
A: I think you basically answered your own question: IF Goran Dragic can play like an All-Star and IF Hassan Whiteside can make himself an elite center and IF Justise Winslow takes a major stride forward (yes, a lot of "ifs"), then your optimism could prove justified. But there are a lot of teams that can make claim of having their own Big Threes "if" the potential is maximized. So basically what we're looking at is a Heat team with practically no margin of error. Anything less than the best of Whiteside, Dragic and Winslow and the Heat will be just another team that could have been special. There are a lot of those teams in the NBA, and a lot of them wind up in the lottery. But there also are a few that pull together something most unexpected, like the Hawks two seasons ago and the Trail Blazers last season.
Q: Ira, Miami has always been a trade-for-veterans type of team. No matter how promising a young player is they won't hesitate to trade that player for one that's already in or nearly out of his prime, just like Glen Rice, when he was traded for Alonzo Mourning. But I think with Pat Riley's comments they've finally realized that this is a young man's game and as much as we may love the Dwyane Wades, Chris Boshes, or Kobe Bryants of the world, it's just too risky to go with 30-year-old-plus players with durability issues. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ha.
A: And yet Riley also is 71 and this has been a team for the past two decades that's attempted to live in the moment. So I'm still not sold that if what Riley considers a prudent deal for a veteran comes available that he wouldn't hesitate in moving, even if it costs a Tyler Johnson, John Richardson or perhaps even that contract of Hassan Whiteside that becomes tradable on Dec. 15 (Tyler Johnson cannot be dealt until Jan. 15). I guess I'd put it this way: I don't think there's a single player on this roster who is untouchable. A team that essentially allowed Dwyane Wade to walk is not a team that would balk if what is perceived as an upgrade becomes available. Because of this summer's wild flurry of signings around the league, you might also see a league-wide reset on the trade market before the end of February.
Q: Do you expect Goran Dragic to be with the Heat in 2017? Because now that Chris Bosh isn't playing, Miami has no reason not to make some deals -- Will.
A: By 2017, I assume you mean the 2017-18 season. But the turn of the calendar, as stated in the answer above, also could prove to be a busy time around the league. This is a roster that will have to show that this core can be successful going forward, and might have to show it within the first two months of the season. Remember, the Heat gave up a pair of potential lottery picks to the Suns for Dragic, so about the only way they can recoup such assets would be for Goran to prove worthy of such a bounty. Of course, if he plays well enough for that, then he's probably a keeper, anyway.