July 22, 2016
Q: Hi, Ira. What is the goal this season? With our current players, do the Heat plan to fight for a playoff seed or to get a lottery pick? It seems like we are in the No. 5-8 range in the playoffs, likely with a first-round exit. And in case we don't make the playoffs, our pick will be ranging from No. 11 to No. 14 if we don't intentionally drop games. Both scenarios are not good for the Heat. For me, it is either we make a trade to be a contender (but we don't have assets) or drop the season to get a top-five lottery pick. -- Francis, Manila.
A: I cannot fathom, even if a lottery pick is the desired (and desirable) intention, that any Heat team ever, before the first of 82 regular-season games are played, would establish such a focus. Beyond that, there would be no convincing Erik Spoelstra of leading such a charade. No, I believe those types of eventualities happen organically, when a team recognizes (and I'm not saying that's the case with this roster) that it does not have championship or even deep-playoff potential. But teams that focus on the lottery tend to be teams that focus on slow, steady growth through the draft. That has never been the Heat approach under Pat Riley. And if the focus continues to be on free agents, then it is far more worthwhile to showcase your team in the standings. While the Heat's 2017 first-round pick certainly has value in what is forecast as a strong draft, I don't think the draft will determine the course of the season. The players will. And the coach.
Q: Ira, the types of players Pat Riley is signing -- James Johnson, Derrick Williams, Luke Babbitt, even Willie Reed -- is basically Riley is building a very physical team like his own version of the New York Knicks with Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, Patrick Ewing. -- Sandros, Miami.
A: Um, I sort of hope not, since the game is going in another direction. I believe the players Riley added are more a case of best-available mid-salary prospect. Yes, heft can help to a certain degree. But it will be the shooting skills with most of the newcomers that will be the focus. Which of the newcomers will play the most? Likely the ones who hit the most 3-pointers.
Q: Ira, did the Heat find a "gem" in the NBA summer league? -- Masoud, Tucson.
A: I'm not sure whether Stefan Jankovic or Okaro White will make the regular-season roster, but I'm really curious to see what Briante Weber, with his limited offensive game, can become when he faces truer NBA competition during the preseason. If Weber sets up as an NBA-level talent, it will make it easier to utilize Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson more often in the wing rotation.
July 21, 2016
Q: How important is it now for Justise Winslow to become a franchise player for the Heat? -- Ken, Hollywood.
A: There is a lot more to the equation than simply telling a player, "OK, Dwyane Wade is gone. You're next up. You're now our franchise player." And I'm also not sure there is such a thing as a 20-year-old franchise player, no matter if it is Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or anyone else that age. Being a franchise player means being a player who leads on the court, in the box score and in the locker room. Justise remains an unfinished product. And while Pat Riley says that it's important to look past the blemishes, I'm not sure you can be a franchise player without a reliable outside shot, something even Magic Johnson recognized during his climb to such status. Now, if you're asking whether Justise has the potential to become a franchise player, I think the Celtics answered that question at the 2015 NBA draft, when they were willing to shower picks on the Heat for Winslow. For now, I believe that is why the Heat need the likes of Goran Dragic and other veterans alongside, to help Justise appreciate what he can become and how much still needs to be accomplished to get there. The shame is that players such as Wade and Luol Deng would have been the perfect tutors.
Q: Ira, do you think Pat Riley will put more emphasis on keeping the team's future first-round draft picks? Now that the Heat are an entirely different team and possibly in rebuild mode, those two Phoenix first-round picks really hurt. -- Rodney, Sarasota.
A: I would like to say yes. But, at the same time, this is Pat Riley we're talking about. And while those two picks due to the Suns essentially prevent the Heat from trading a first-round pick prior to 2023, it doesn't prevent Riley from selecting for another team. I believe the Heat will value their first-round pick in 2017, if only because of the need to add low-cost talent while maximizing salary-cap space. But I would think it's safe to say that Pat Riley, if he endures as Heat president, hasn't traded away his last draft pick.
Q: Do you think it's time the NBA looks into allowing teams to dress all 15 players for games. It could allow NBA superstars opportunities for fewer minutes per game. Your thoughts? -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.
A: I'm not sure a 14th or 15th man is necessarily going to trim the time on the court for a proven veteran. But it is a bit silly to be paying 15 salaries and being able to utilize only 13 players on game nights. I would, however, like to see teams perhaps be able to add another player or two, with those players serving as "flex" players, able to be sent to the D-League without risk of being lost to another franchise.
July 20, 2016
Q: Unlike past additions of declining veterans over 30 (Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng, Shawne Williams, Danny Granger, Rashard Lewis, Shannon Brown), this year's pickups are in mid-20s or younger, suited for upbeat pace and intense defenders. If just two or three pan out and our best prospects from last year continue to improve, we have, with great coaching, every chance to build back. -- Jack, Fort Myers.
A: First, don't understate the contributions the past two years from Deng, who served as the type of veteran glue often needed to hold together young teams, such as the one the Heat are about to offer. And Amar'e Stoudemire and Rashard Lewis also offered quality depth when called upon. But, yes, there have been some missteps along the way. What the Heat's latest signings offer is the opportunity for a player to finally get it right. But the reality is that Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Luke Babbitt all have had their opportunities elsewhere, so I'm not sure this is about them "panning out." In fact, what I believe this season should be about is Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, and perhaps even the likes of Briante Weber, Rodney McGruder and some of the talent from the summer roster. Those are the players positioned to make breakthroughs. If, anything, the danger would be counting too much on journeyman veterans (even if they're younger than 30) at the cost of minutes for the Heat's true prospects.
Q: Hi, Ira. I'm from the Philippines and I'm a Heat fan since 1997. LeBron James stated that he wants Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony on one team. Is Miami targeting those four players next season? -- Joseph, Philippines.
A: I can't fathom that happening with the Heat after the bitter breakups with James and Wade. But based on their banana-boat exploits and their compelling presence at the open of last week's ESPYs, it is clear that the four have a bond that has endured even as opponents. So, yes, I could see the four of them together at some point, but most likely only as visitors to South Florida.
Q: Are the Heat even interested in Jarnell Stokes? We need bigs and he was hooping in the D-League last season. His PER has been off the charts. Aren't we eligible to pick him up again since his contract expired last season? -- Derrick, Miami.
A: Actually, not. Because Stokes had an option year on his contract for 2016-17 when he was traded at midseason, he cannot be reclaimed by the Heat until the one-year anniversary of a February trade. To me it is one of those rules designed to prevent teams from manipulating transaction, but one that ultimately winds up penalizing the players.
July 19, 2016
Q: Is this Erik Spoelstra’s year? The year he really has to prove himself? The year he doesn’t have to placate a superstar? The year he runs his offense the way he wants, up and down the court, with speed and ball movement? No more iso-ball? -- Yunasi, Miami Beach.
A: First, Erik Spoelstra doesn't have to prove himself to anyone. He has coached championship rosters to championships, developmental rosters to the playoffs, and last season's mixed bag to a No. 4 playoff seed and within one game of the Eastern Conference finals. But I do believe this could be the first time that Spoelstra will have the opportunity to truly put his stamp on a team. When he arrived, he still was working in the shadows of Pat Riley. After those two seasons, it was about setting up what essentially stood as LeBron James' team. From there it was two seasons of being unable to finish what he had started with Chris Bosh. This season, you could see something close to what Brad Stevens has produced with the Celtics, or even what Terry Stotts produced last season with the Trail Blazers. In both of those situations, the pressure was down but the possibilities were pronounced. I do agreed that we might get a truer read on Erik Spoelstra this season than we have previously.
Q: Are we to sit back and wait for 2017 like we did waiting on 2016? There is no guarantee that Pat Riley will get his proverbial whale. -- Prince, Byram, Miss.
A: But that's who he is and what he does. The question this time is whether he will have a harpoon, and that harpoon would be Chris Bosh's cap space, if Chris is unable or prevented from a return from his blood clots. There will be far less drama next summer when Pat Riley enters to negotiate with free agents. I don't think you change who you are because one free agent decided to move to the team that just set the all-time record for regular-season victories.
Q: Ira does Tyler Johnson's contract mean he'll automatically start? I think it's close between he and Josh Richardson for starting shooting guard. -- Klif.
A: Based on the salary Tyler will receive next season, a mere $5.6 million, I don't believe it will have any impact on his role. Beyond that, I think the Heat first are going to explore the possibility of Wayne Ellington starting, if only to add a proven 3-point shooter into the mix. Personally, for all the experimentation with Josh at point guard, I believe he eventually will settle in at shooting guard and believe, with the Heat in the midst of remodel, there is no reason not to explore the possibilities as a starter immediately.
July 18, 2016
Q: "Bird Rights is the golden pass here, for any veteran player. You don't have to give players $20 million, $20 million, $20 million. You can give 'em $20 million, $8 million, $37 million, $25 million. What difference does it make? We never talked about that." Ira, could this really be true? Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley never discussed "Bird Rights." It sounds unbelievable. -- Paul, Delray Beach.
A: This is the entire crux of how it played out between Wade and Riley, and, ultimately, why it played out that way. Riley wanted to negotiate Wade's final seasons on a season-by-season basis. That meant giving him the remainder of the Heat's cap space for next season (since Bird Rights were out the question due to Wade's cap hold). Then there would have been a salary dip in order to allow Riley and the Heat to attack 2017 free agency as they were unable this offseason. From there, Wade would have been made whole, when Riley could have utilized the Bird Rights for Wade and for others (Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, etc.) and not been beholden to the salary cap. But what apparently happened along the way is that Wade no longer was willing to work on faith (and perhaps justifiably so, with all the Heat's salary twists to this point). Riley's point in offering that example was to show that too much focus was being made on what Wade would have received for the next two years from the Heat. Of course, such wink-wink agreements on future payback also are a form of salary-cap circumvention, not that it doesn't happen all the time.
Q: Well, first Shaquille O'Neal, then LeBron James, now Dwyane Wade. We've lost three icons in an eight-year time period. I don't think Pat Riley's hardball style of negotiating still works. What do you think Ira? -- Dallas, Staten Island.
A: I think for Pat it long has been about building a consensus of talent, if you will. Riley was able to sell Wade to Shaq. Then Wade was hurt a bunch and Shaq sought another running mate in Steve Nash. Then LeBron came to view Wade and Chris Bosh as lesser options than Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. And this past offseason, Riley didn't really have anyone to partner Wade with, amid the uncertainty with Bosh and the inability to land Kevin Durant. What the episodes have shown is that Riley needs to "twin" talents, to create situations of symbiosis between elite players.
Q: If Pat Riley had to do over, knowing he was going to lose Dwayne Wade, do you think he would have allowed Luol Deng to get away? I am really going to miss him. -- Mike, Sunrise.
A: I don't think Riley would have had any choice, because of the four-year, $72 million contract Deng received from the Lakers. Riley only had Early Bird rights with Deng, which basically would have allowed the Heat to pay no more than half the starting salary the Lakers offered. Plus, for all of Deng's fondness for the Heat, I'm not sure he would have embraced returning to a Heat team lacking Wade. It sort of was a package deal from the start.
July 17, 2016
Q: With the business experience/basketball savvy at the top of the Heat organization, are we really to believe the Dwyane Wade debacle was a mistake? -- Russell.
A: First, I'm not sure Pat Riley ever expressed that he thought it was a mistake, at least the end result. Instead, I think Riley expressed regret about how it played out. As much as he discussed how his approach regarding Wade should have and could have been handled differently, he never came out and said that he would have offered anything different or increased the amount he would have been willing to offer on a second year of a contract. Instead, it sounded as if he felt he should have been the one to make the final pitch about why the Heat's offer could be in both the best interest of Wade and of the Heat, instead of allowing Micky Arison and intermediaries. If you watch Riley's Saturday media session again, you can hear him still, even now, expressing why the Heat's offer was one the Heat stand by and one they believe had sufficient merit. No matter the "contrition" or any other emotion choice you prefer, the Heat's final offer was their final offer, which is what ultimately drove Wade into the hands of the Bulls. I believe you are correct, if a basketball tactician like Riley and a business expert like Arison wanted to get a deal done with Wade, a deal would have gotten done.
Q: I really thought Pat Riley would have had some type of backup plan we did not know about. Well, umm . . . so what's next? -- Will.
A: What's next, at least from what Riley said Saturday, is moving forward with the 17-player group currently under contract. He said he does not expect to utilize this summer the $2.9 million salary-cap exception the Heat still have, which is something that could come in handy in February or March at the buyout deadline. And he seems convinced that some free-agent contracts from this past summer could become available on the trade market when eligible on Dec. 15. So it appears as if we're in a holding pattern, at the moment at 17 Strong (or strong enough in Riley's view).
Q: Why did Pat Riley do this on a Saturday in the middle of the summer and not during a weekday? -- Guillermo.
A: It had more to do with Riley's schedule and the Heat's summer schedule than anything else. There were so many moving parts for the Heat that it simply came down to the first day available. As it was, there was an event Saturday at AmericanAirlines, so the Heat had to go out of their way to create room for the session. To his credit, Riley sat there and addressed every and any question.
July 16, 2016
Q: Is the influx of money more to blame than anything for this offseason and even with the Heat? No offense to players like Tyler Johnson who are fun to watch, but players that average nine points a game are getting $50 million contracts, and players like Dwyane Wade who are 19-point-a-night players are left wondering. What is happening? -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.
A: What happened was a mega-jump in the salary cap that neither the NBA nor the players' association appeared capable of managing. So it wound up turning the offseason upside down, with players deemed worthy of long-term contracts getting megadeals, and players viewed as short-term investments often winding up as afterthoughts. While much has been made of super teams and what Kevin Durant's move to the Warriors will mean for the NBA, I think two or three years down the road the greater NBA issue will be the bills to pay with these larger contracts when the salary cap flattens. Adam Silver is correct to point to this summer creating an imbalance in the NBA, but I think it has more to do with salary imbalance than the composition of rosters. There should have been a better way for the NBA and its union to work in this windfall of broadcast revenue. Something as simple as more money, now stands to lead to yet another lockout. The NBA's gluttony of July 2016 could lead to an NBA blackout in November 2017, with either side having the right to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement after this season by providing notice by Dec. 15.
Q: Ira, why was Hassan Whiteside so willing (allegedly willing) to take a pay cut for Kevin Durant but not one for Dwyane Wade? -- Bruce, Boca Raton.
A: This has been misstated on several occasions during free agency. What Hassan and his representation were willing to do was shave as much as $9 million from his ultimate deal to help facilitate both the signing of Durant and the re-signing of Wade -- as a package deal. There never was delineation of where the money would go. In fact, because Durant would have been assured of the max, any giveback by Whiteside effectively would have gone to Wade. Once Durant turned elsewhere, Whiteside moved forward with the initial agreement. This was never about Whiteside choosing between Wade or Durant. This was Whiteside hoping to have both alongside.
Q: Was Dwyane Wade-Pat Riley the kind of public feud between a legend and a franchise icon that tarnishes a franchise when it comes to future free-agent recruiting? This whole thing has just been bad for all parties. -- John, Unicoi, Tenn.
A: I believe that part of the Heat's offseason also has been overstated. Dan Gilbert, who hardly had the best of reputations after he lost LeBron James in 2010, was able to convince Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to re-sign with the Cavaliers (OK, LeBron played a role, but it's stil Gilbert's team). The Knicks, for all their failings over the past two decades, still have had free agents responding to their calls. NBA players tend to forget quickly about previous perceived injustices as long as the cash is flowing. And based on the Heat's cap space for the 2017 offseason, Pat Riley should be able to make it rain.
July 15, 2016
Q: Do you think there is any chance the Heat put together a package to try and land Russell Westbrook for this season? To me it would seem logical to bring him on early before next year so he can see what the Heat organization is like and vice versa. Or would they have to trade too many assists? Thanks and I look forward to your response. -- Jason, Elkins, West Virginia.
A: This reminds me of when the Knicks insisted on trading ahead of time for Carmelo Anthony in February 2011, instead of waiting for him to hit free agency, losing a ton of valued assets in the process (Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick and a 2016 costly first-round swap). For the Heat to even have a chance to trade for Westbrook (which I would think would be the longest of longshots due to the lack of available Heat draft picks), it likely would require parting with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow. And wouldn't Westbrook likely want to have Winslow alongside? Plus, what if you wind up making such a trade and then Westbrook (who benefits by waiting when it comes to the largest possible ensuing contract) opts to leave in free agency? No Dragic. No Winslow. No Westbrook. It would be the ultimate gamble. When Pat Riley traded for Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning, he knew a follow-up contract agreement was assured. He would have to know the same with Westbrook. Perhaps the cult of Riley could achieve such an understanding. But for all the risks the Heat have taken in recent years, this would move to the top of the list.
Q: It certainly looks like Danny Ainge is chasing same players Heat would want (Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin). Have the Celtics become more desirable than the Heat with the recent departures from Heat? -- Jeffrey.
A: First, I wouldn’t overstate the draft picks the Celtics have available, considering the lack of interest on the picks Boston was ultimately forced to exercise in June. And when it comes to leading men, I'm not sure that Al Horford/Isaiah Thomas necessarily trumps Hassan Whiteside/Goran Dragic. As for the rest of the Celtics' young players, it seems at one time that Danny Ainge was willing to give them all up for Justise Winslow. Had the Celtics landed Kevin Durant in the wake of Heat interest, that would have been one thing. But both teams came up short, and therefore continue to look for the big score.
Q: Would you agree that, although Dwyane Wade being here would probably equal a couple more wins, Goran Dragic will have much more of an impact this season, because Dragic and Wade were never a good fit in the first place? It's sad to say goodbye to Wade, but one thing is for sure, the Heat's chemistry will be a lot better. -- Dallas, Staten Island.
A: I don’t think you can make any assumptions about the Heat's chemistry considering how much the mix has been reworked. But I agree that we all can move beyond the charade about the fit between Wade and Dragic when it came to playing styles. And, yet, there now is the talk of Westbrook, after the obvious need to have dealt Dragic had Durant been landed. Between Chris Bosh's illnesses and the debate about playing at pace, it's as if Dragic has never been given that one, extended run to truly grab the reins of the Heat backcourt. That time could be at hand.
July 14, 2016
Q: Ira, is there room for the Heat to add players to their roster, I already count 16? -- Alan.
A: You count correctly, with a fairly even split at each position. And that's not even counting the possibility of Beno Udrih, who is rehabbing his foot injury at AmericanAirlines Arena. But the Heat still have a $2.9 million mid-level exception afforded to teams that previously utilized salary-cap space during the offseason, as the Heat did. And with no concerns this time around about the luxury tax, one would think the Heat would want to maximize all of their personnel avenues. So with Udrih and a $2.9 million player (the exception only can be used on a free agent, including someone who had been on your roster the previous season, but not in a trade), there could be as many as 17 contract players for the start of camp (the limit is 20 until the start of the regular season, when the maximum is 15). For now the roster shapes up with Hassan Whiteside, Willie Reed and Udonis Haslem at center; Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts, Luke Babbitt and Stefan Jankovic at power forward; Justise Winslow, Derrick Williams and James Johnson at small forward; Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and Briante Weber at point guard; and Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder at shooting guard.
Q: Do you see the Heat dealing Dragic with the amount of guards/youth direction? -- C.S.
A: I don't see the Heat moving Goran simply because they have players such as Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Briante Weber or Rodney McGruder. Goran is at a different level than those players at the moment. He is proven NBA stock. In fact, if a Dragic trade is considered, I would think it would be considered mostly because of Goran's $15.9 million salary and what that might translate into on the trade market. As it is, the Heat otherwise don't have any tradable high-end salaries, considering the uncertainty with Chris Bosh and the desire to maximize Hassan Whiteside.
Q: Why are we planning on signing Beno Udrih when Ty Lawson is more affordable and better? -- Ben.
A: I'll allow others to debate the merits of Ty Lawson, who has been passed around the league fairly often lately. What I will say is this: Beno Udrih came through for the Heat when needed most last season, when he agreed to a buyout that allowed the Heat to add Joe Johnson. The one thing the Heat have stressed is loyalty, and Udrih did right by the Heat, so it only makes sense that the Heat would do right by Udrih.
July 13, 2016
Q: Is next season a year-long audition to make the 2017-18 roster or be cut or traded for everyone including Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow? -- Jack, Fort Myers.
A: It does seem like anyone and everyone is at risk, especially when the Heat already have drawn the line with Dwyane Wade and therefore made clear that the goal for next summer will be maximizing cap space. So certainly each of the players added these past few days on one-year contracts will have to earn their way back (something Gerald Green seemingly was unable to accomplish from last season's roster). But even then, you certainly would have to think that if Goran Dragic was to be thrown overboard for Kevin Durant that he again could be at risk, particularly with the Heat's glut at guard. And it's almost as if the Heat were recognizing the eventual option of a trade when they first benched Hassan Whiteside for the second half of last season and then went out and gave him a four-year, $98 million contract. Beyond that, we know that Justise Winslow could stand as the ultimate trade sweetener. Based on productivity and price point, it's almost as if Josh Richardson is the safest player on the roster, that if you're buying your kids a jersey that you want to remain relevant beyond this season, the Josh Richardson No. 0 might be the way to go.
Q: Ira, allow me to be candid for moment and take time in properly asking this two-part question. 1) Can you honestly say you're excited about this upcoming year? A roster full of D-League graduates? 2) Do you believe the Heat are stacking assets in hopes of using them as trade bait? -- Robert, Alexandria, Va.
A: I hope I sufficiently addressed your second question with the response above. But I don't think they are stacking assets for trades as much stacking expiring assets that will not leave contract residue beyond this season. As for your first question, I very much am interested in seeing the possibilities of growth from within, getting a better read on the potential upsides of players such as Whiteside, Winslow and Tyler Johnson. What those players show could dictate the direction of the franchise going forward.
Q: This year's free-agent crop, reminds me of two years ago when we brought in shake-your-head players like Shawne Williams, Danny Granger and Shannon Brown. I am shaking my head, again. -- Matt.
A: On one hand, the Heat had to move quickly in order to preserve $4 million in extra cap space due to the timing on the Tyler Johnson offer sheet. On the other hand, it sure seems like there were more intriguing names out there, from Lance Stephenson to Mo Harkless to Kevin Seraphin or even Thomas Robinson. But we'll see soon enough if there will be more of a payoff than other mid- or low-cost options the Heat have added in recent free-agency periods.
July 12, 2016
Q: This is the best batch of prospects Miami has had to develop since I can remember. -- Tony, Monterey, Calif.
A: Always nice to start a week with someone whose glass is half full. And I agree that this is perhaps the first time I can recall a Pat Riley team being filled with this much promise. Granted, promise doesn't always turn into reality, but it you're going to spend $98 million, spend it on a center who is unique as any big man in today's NBA, as is the case with Hassan Whiteside. And with Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, this reconfigured roster will give their games the opportunity to grow. But because there is so much to develop on this roster, when also factoring in the defensive grit of Briante Weber and the 3-and-D possibilities of Rodney McGruder, it makes it all the more confounding to me that the Heat went ahead and matched the Nets' offer sheet for Tyler Johnson. But what's done is done, and what is the reality now is that with a developmental core of Whiteside, Winslow, Richardson, Weber, McGruder and Tyler Johnson, there is plenty to be harvested if the proper investment is made toward that growth.
Q: Do you see the Heat playing next season similar to the '08-09 Orlando Magic? A team with shooters around Hassan Whiteside, playing fast and with defensive tenacity. -- Jennifer, Miami.
A: Part of the answer is whether Whiteside, at this stage of his development, can play anywhere close to where Dwight Howard stood that season with the Magic. And I'm not sure the Heat can match the type of shooting that Stan Van Gundy had on that Orlando roster, with Rashard Lewis, J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus. Wayne Ellington, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and even Josh McRoberts and Luke Babbitt would have to be at the top of their 3-point games to even come close to what the Magic offered that season.
Q: Who do you think has a higher ceiling, Justise Winslow or Josh Richardson? I know Justise was chosen 10th overall and he's only 20, but I can't help but feel like J-Rich has more potential due to the fact he's so much more polished than Justise. -- Vyro.
A: It depends on what you consider when evaluating a player's ceiling. I believe Justise is more advanced on the defensive end and in seeing the floor on offense. Josh, by contrast, is the far more athletic of the two, and a far better shooter. Justise has more room for growth in his game, but I also believe that the lack of athleticism will prove somewhat limiting. If I was an outside team and was considering trading for one at the moment, I'd probably lean toward Justise. But I think that could change in a year or two based on Richardson's growth curve.
July 11, 2016
Q: I like the Wayne Ellington move if the Heat can get him in the right spots. Where do you think he fits in? -- Jack.
A: I'm particularly curious about this one, because Erik Spoelstra typically has shied from shooter-only type of players in the James Jones mold. With Shane Batter you got 3-point shooting and defense. With Mike Miller, it was rebounding and 3-point shooting. And even with Ray Allen it was more of an attacking game than expected, as well as 3-point shooting. So I think a lot of it will be what else Ellington can show or what else the Heat and Spoelstra believe he can show. To me, with Goran Dragic on the roster and taking the majority of the minutes at point guard, I would think that maximizing time at shooting guard with Josh Richardson might be the direction to go. Even Pat Riley said after the season that he viewed Richardson as more of a two than a one. But the Heat do need 3-point shooting, something they lacked last season, so I could see trying to work Ellington into the rotation, and seeing if the second year on that contract actually could have value.
Q: Dwyane Wade was a great recruiter for the Heat. Might Hassan Whiteside have the opposite effect? -- Brian.
A: To me, it all about Hassan's play. Players want to play with someone who helps cover for their defensive gambles or mistakes. Whiteside can do that. And that matters. What also will matter is if Hassan displays a willingness to pass out of the post and move the ball to an even better option. That's something that resonates with players, as well. And the one thing you know about Hassan is that he is going to make his share of ESPN's top plays, which certainly will have the rest of the league taking notice. Wade was able to recruit with his reputation, although he had minimized that role in recent years amid his own free agency. Whiteside has to recruit with his play. He had to make himself in demand with his performance. Otherwise, it could be a very long four years for Hassan as he collects on those $98 million,
Q: What about Rudy Gay, Lance Stephenson, Dion Waiters? -- Michael.
A: I think the Heat are somewhat hard-capping themselves when it comes to touching their 2017-18 payroll. It's hard to make future flexibility such a major issue in the Dwyane Wade negotiations and then go out and add dollars to the 2017-18 payroll with supporting pieces. I do, though, believe there will be some surprising names later in the process willing to take such one-year deals.
July 10, 2016
Q: Ira, classy exit Saturday by Dwyane Wade. None of Pat Riley's "smiling faces" this time. Dwyane said all the right things and didn't paint Pat Riley into a corner. His friend LeBron James could have taken a lesson. I'm proud we called him our own and glad he said we still can. Thanks, D-Wade. -- Steve.
A: I was both surprised and pleased to see how Saturday played out. Even if the contact between Riley and Wade was limited during the negotiations (although they had an extensive season-ending meeting), Dwyane basically delivered his message directly to Pat when he spoke Saturday. And it was an uplifting and refreshing one. There never was a similar sense of mutual appreciation with LeBron James. But Wade's words showed a mutual respect. This could have been the perfect opportunity for Wade to skewer, as LeBron has over the ensuing years. Instead, after a rough week by anyone's standards, Wade exhaled, and then inhaled back all that had made these 13 years so special. Yes, there will be a statue. Yes, the number will be raised to the rafters. In fact, if you want to do something totally out of the box . . . retire Dwyane's No. 3 Heat jersey immediately, before the game when the Bulls make their first appearance this coming season. There is no rule or law that you have to wait until a player retires. And that way, you can retire Wade's No. 3 ahead of Shaquille O'Neal's No. 32, with that ceremony already scheduled for some time this coming season. Yup do it. LeBron got a video . . . Dwyane would get something so much more heartfelt. Pat Riley went out of the box with those Michael Jordan and Dan Marino jerseys. Stay out of the box one more time.
Q: I can't help but see the similarities between the Dan Marino and Dwyane Wade departures: two legends pushed out. The Dolphins haven't won since. Do you see the Heat with the same fate? -- Jae, West Palm Beach.
A: Look, winning a championship is never easy, but the Heat play in a league where 16 of the 30 teams make the playoffs, so there's still something to play for just about every season. But the NBA also is a league with a draft lottery, and with the Class of '17, almost all of whom played in high school this past year, considered one of the best drafts in years, I do wonder if the Heat might subtly be willing to take a dip in 2016-17. But Pat Riley's teams rarely stay down for long. If Riley's Ryan Tannehill doesn't pan out, he's not shy in going out and finding another. This is someone who went two seasons with Michael Beasley and said enough was enough (until the latter reunions came on the cheap, with far less responsibility).
Q: Why haven't the Heat announced the signing of Hassan Whiteside? -- Phil.
A: They have, in a news release issued Thursday. What they haven't done is conducted a formal news conference. I think part of that was not wanting it to turn into a grilling of Pat Riley about the Dwyane Wade situation. Now that Wade has cleared the air, I think it makes it easier to create a day of celebration for Hassan. And it's something the Heat need to do. If you're going to pay someone like the face of the franchise, then you need to make him the face of the franchise.
July 9, 2016
Q: How long do we dwell on Dwyane Wade leaving before moving forward? -- Taylor.
A: When it comes to Dwyane Wade leaving the Heat (or being asked to leave, depending on the perspective), I think it comes down to the party in question. By that, I mean that if you're a team that loses (or chooses to lose) a star player, you can't sit idly by. You have to get back to work, immediately, especially in a salary-cap league when there is a ticking clock and a dwindling choice of resources. I thought the Heat did a good job in 2014 in the wake of the loss of LeBron James to go out and secure Luol Deng. And I could see the value in the move the Heat made with Friday's addition of Derrick Williams. It's like when I spoke to Pat Williams in Orlando this week about what the Magic went through after losing Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard. You regroup and you move on. As for fans, I think you handle it as a celebration of what was. Few teams get to celebrate any player for 13 seasons, let alone share in three championships over a seven-year span. The parting was painful. But in the NBA there will be new celebrations, as well as new pain.
Q: Why Udonis Haslem? Come on, Ira, there has to be something better out there. -- Eric.
A: Why not? Especially now. Look, this could have gotten difficult had the Heat run out of salary-cap space with Hassan Whiteside and Wade, left with only their $2.9 million salary-cap exception to round out their rotation. But with $19 million left in cap space after Wade's departure, there is no reason not to take care of Udonis, perhaps with this his final deal above the minimum. And with Wade and Luol Deng gone, and with Amar'e Stoudemire likely not returning, it will be important to have the right locker-room influence alongside Whiteside. I would, in fact, move Haslem's locker next to Whiteside's at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Q: Wish we could have kept Deng. -- Wendell.
A: This is a league that is all about timing. Had the Heat not gotten the last visit with Kevin Durant, perhaps they would have recognized sooner that they were out of the running there and moved on to other possibilities. Similarly, if the Heat did not wind up waiting so long with Wade, perhaps they could have moved on to a Plan B sooner, someone in the stratum of a Courtney Lee. Timing is everything is business, especially in the NBA. This time around, from being forced into an instant decision with Whiteside, to the delay in the decision with Wade, the Heat found that time was not on their side.
July 8, 2016
Q: Masterfully done by Pat Riley. For public relations, the Godfather makes a competitive offer, but the aging superstar leaves anyway. Pat should send Gar Forman a box of cigars. I hope Jeanie and Jim Buss were taking notes. More importantly, I hope Nick Arison was taking notes. The Chris Bosh retirement or trade will be the next shoe to drop. Now Pat can do what Pat does best. He'll have oodles of cash going into 2017 free agency, a talented young core (including a newly minted lottery pick) to pitch, along with Heat culture and the city of Miami. -- Rich, West Palm Beach.
A: I hereby abdicate to Rich from West Palm Beach. To be quite candid, I often will sift through questions to get one that allows me to offer a desired response. Then this popped into the in-box. Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes. The manipulation has been shrewd, deft and handled with just enough hints of regret to pass most muster. But it also was handled without ever creating opportunity for the approach to be questioned as it played out. What remains uncertain, at least from this vantage point, was when it became clear that there could be a need to move on from Wade, to keep his 2017-18 salary from becoming too detrimental. The thought here is that happened once it became apparent that Kevin Durant was not hopping aboard. Had that happened, and with the concession that Hassan Whiteside apparently was willing to make, the 2017 offseason would not have resonated as strongly. But with Durant out of the picture, it had to further steel the approach for next summer, when Riley could potentially land not one, not two . . . OK, two whales, which, we've learned, prefer to swim in packs. Russell Westbrook, meet Blake Griffin. You pass, he'll catch. It is the yearlong fantasy far less possible with Wade on the books for anything too substantive for 2017-18. So the Heat slow-played it, and then no-played. Oh the horror of the he-said, he-said. Or, as it played out, the he-didn't-say, he-didn't-say. No one spoke. Nothing happened. So why is the man with the silver hair smiling over in the corner? Oh well, to be continued in July 2017. Until then, enjoy the kids. They're all right.
Q: Will Justise Winslow ever be able to shoot straight? -- Rick.
A: Yes, as long as he keeps hoisting up shots like he did during Thursday's 3-of-17 performance in Thursday's summer-league loss to the Pistons. What he needs, now that he will be counted on for more than hustle and defense, are even more games like this, when he learns what's a good shot, what's not, and then goes to school on the ensuing video. That is why a few more summer-league games wouldn't hurt, and that's why it would be nice to have a Heat coach on hand when Winslow works with the U.S. Select Team during Olympic preparations later this month in Las Vegas. To work out the kinks, you first have to work through them. So shoot, Justise. Shoot a lot. And learn. That's what the offseason is for. That's what it has to be for.
Q: Do the Heat match for Tyler Johnson? I hope not. -- Darren.
A: The more I think about, the more I think that moves such as Thursday's signing of Rodney McGruder are an indication they will not, that the Heat believe they are just as capable of developing such contributing wing players as paying for them. With McGruder, Josh Richardson and Briante Weber, the Heat could convince themselves that at least one could developed into what Johnson has turned into. And in the interim, the Heat could get by with journeymen of the Gerald Green ilk, if not Gerald Green himself.
July 7, 2016
(Note: With so many questions in the wake of Dwyane Wade's departure to the Chicago Bulls, we're going to break format a bit here today and instead summarize three of the themes from the volume of questions. Hopefully this addresses what many of you have asked since Wade became past tense when it comes to the Heat.)
Q: Couldn't the Heat have done more to prevent such an outcome?
A: Certainly. But part of stewarding over an organization is to determine when it is time to move on from what otherwise could weigh down a franchise going forward. The Heat, after early probing to see how they could align a Wade contract with the negotiations with Hassan Whiteside and the pursuit of Kevin Durant, came up with a two-year, $40 million offer to Dwyane. From there, more money could have been created with a trade of Josh McRoberts. And I agree that you can't let someone like Josh McRoberts stand in the way of retaining a mainstay such as Wade. But when other teams wanted something else for their trouble of taking on McRoberts' salary, perhaps a first-round pick or someone like Justise Winslow, that's where the Heat drew their line. I still believe the fairest resolution would have been a partially guaranteed third year, which would have allowed Wade and his representation to claim victory of sorts. But eventually you also have to take the long view. And, to be honest, that was a bit of a concern with a 71-year-old franchise leader in Pat Riley, that he might grow too caught up in the moment. After dealing two future first-round picks for Goran Dragic, Riley this time showed he also is considering the long view.
Q: Did Wade's timing put the Heat behind the eight-ball like when LeBron James left in 2014?
A: Look, the timing is never great when an NBA icon decides to move on. The timing has been off for the Heat this entire postseason, first with having to decide with Hassan Whiteside within the first 24 hours or free agency, then having to wait until the third day of the Kevin Durant interviews, which meant putting Wade on hold longer than he deserved and losing Luol Deng and Joe Johnson in the interim. But what you can't do now is make the type of rushed decisions the Heat made in 2014 free agency, when, amid the concern about LeBron James leaving, the Heat rushed out to sign Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. At this late stage of free agency, there is only so much that can be gained by picking through the bruised fruit. The Heat would be better off retaining Tyler Johnson and avoiding any free agency commitments that last for more than one year, perhaps seeing if a team would trade a player in the final year of a contract. Otherwise, prepare for 2017 free agency.
Q: With Whiteside re-signed and Wade gone, does the focus now turn to Chris Bosh?
A: That never left and remains as critical to the franchise as anything that happened with Whiteside and Wade. If Bosh returns, the Heat have a compelling centerpiece. If he can't, the Heat will have the type of salary-cap space they had lusted after this summer. But they have to know. And the fact that Bosh did not address his health at all during his appearance on Bill Simmons' interview show Wednesday on HBO makes one wonder if he insisted that topic be off limited, or if there still are questions that he cannot answer when it comes to his blood clots. The Heat have their resolution with Hassan Whiteside. The Heat have, for better or worse, their closure with Wade. What they still need, now more than ever, are answers with Bosh.
July 6, 2016
Q: OK, so take away the name and fame and pretend Dwyane Wade's name is Someone Smith and he's 34 and coming off a season with: 1. Lowest PER rating since 2003; 2. Lowest field-goal percentage ever, including his rookie season; 3. Fewest average minutes per game; 4. Lowest 3-point percentage ever; 5. Fewest steals per game ever; 6. Tied for lowest assist average except for rookie season; 7. Lowest true shooting percentage ever. And if we need to get rid of Josh McRoberts (who, if he was a free agent, would get $10 million-$12 million or more per season) please tell me who we get that's his equal for the money left over? Just as players make cold decisions on their futures, so must management. The truth is Wade is on the last few years of his outstanding basketball career and we thank him putting the Heat in the position they are today. However, while some other team may pay him more, he should be a $12 million- $15 million-per-year player from here on out, based on his age and numbers and not his reputation. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.
A: And yet part of it is the deal made with the devil about seeking concession after concession with the apparent promise of making him contractually whole by the end of his Heat/NBA career. While you could make an argument about having to overpay now, you could crunch other numbers that would show all the dollars left on the table based on previous productivity. You can say there shouldn't be such a thing as make-up money, but that seemingly has been the Heat approach for year. Give now; get back later. "Later" has arrived for Wade.
Q: I think Wade is taking it out on the wrong people. The Heat don't owe him any more than the $20 million, and the whole idea that he sacrificed for the greater good of the organization is overstated, as he sacrificed simply to be able to play with LeBron James, his best friend. If anybody, he should be mad at is LeBron, himself, because as a friend, he shouldn't have had Wade opt out of his initial $24 million, knowing he was planning a return to Cleveland. -- Mark, Pembroke Pines.
A: What that moment with LeBron, and this moment, show is that, as in many business situations, you have to look out for yourself. But here's another argument: There are two types of currency for NBA players. There is the current of cash, which is in play now. But there also is the currency of success, with Wade having given up dollars over the years as a means of easing his opportunity to become a champion and then a champion again. The future is never promised. By now, it is apparent that has to become a message with meaning to NBA players.
Q: With all the top free agents gone, and overpaid, can you see Caron Butler coming to South Beach? -- Dallas, Staten Island.
A: I don’t know about South Beach, but I could see to Miami, especially if Udonis Haslem seeks a larger salary elsewhere. The Heat have to have a mentor in place for Hassan Whiteside, and with Luol Deng gone, Amar'e Stoudemire a free agent, they could do far worse than someone like Caron.
July 5, 2016
Q: What types of players can we get for the minimum? Also, with Miami having a pick next year can we trade it or how does that work? -- Tre, Lithonia, Ga.
A: The Heat do own their 2017 first-round pick, but they can't trade it because their 2018 is conditionally due to the Suns if it is not among the first seven selection as a condition of the Goran Dragic trade. Because you cannot have consecutive future picks pledged to other teams, the Heat would have to exercise a pick in 2017 (although they then could trade the player selected). As for free agency, this is where the Heat have to do a better job than in recent seasons, on the low end of the salary scale. Two years ago, the players added in that range were Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger and Shannon Brown. Last year, it was Amar'e Stoudemire and Gerald Green, who both had their moments, but who weren't season-long contributors. There will be value there for the Heat at the end of the process, as there is every year. It could be as simple as Green being asked to return. It could be a player such as Marcus Thornton. And the Heat still have their $2.9 million exception, which perhaps could yield a break with a play such as Lance Stephenson, for better or worse if he's still out there.
Q: Hi, Ira. Now that Kevin Durant has left OKC there are reports that if the Thunder can't get Russell Westbrook to agree to an extension they may look to trade him. Is there any way Miami can land Westbrook in a trade? Who would they have to give up to get a deal like that done? -- Robert, Los Angeles.
A: Westbrook has essentially ruled out an extension and has eyes on 2017 free agency. The math for the Heat works with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow. But even with that, it would be a heck of a risk on a player who could then walk after a single season. What the Heat lack is the type of young talent a team like the Lakers could offer, with a package of D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Still, this is Pat Riley who always thinks big and once landed Lamar Odom from the Clippers the same summer he was blocked from landing Elton Brand from those same Clippers.
Q: I get the sense that Pat Riley no longer has the allure that once made Miami the place to be. It seems like free agents are only meeting with him out of respect to who he once was. It reminds me of Phil Jackson and how his accomplishments are an afterthought in today's NBA. No free agents are flocking to New York because of what Phil did in the past and it seems to me that free agents are starting to view Pat Riley the same. Do you feel that players view Riley and his approach out of date in today's NBA? -- Tony, Nashville, Tenn.
A: I do not, and I can tell you that just about every player who walks through the doors to AmericanAirlines Arena talks about profound respect for Riley. Among those players is Hassan Whiteside, who Riley retained when many were concerned he would head elsewhere. Do the Heat have the talent the Warriors have? No, that's why luring Kevin Durant was so difficult. But the different with Phil Jackson is he hasn't produced a single ring as an NBA executive. Pat Riley has helped produce three.
July 4, 2016
Q: This free agency is killing us. I love Tyler Johnson as a player but I don't think the Heat will match the Nets' offer. -- Gunter, Berlin.
Q: Do you see any scenario where the Heat match Tyler Johnson's contract from the Nets? Also can you explain the "poison pill" clause in his contract? -- Chris, Chicago.
A: I initially thought the Heat would match, because they hardly are in position to allow a reasonably priced asset to walk away over the short term, when Johnson's salary will be $5.6 million next season and then $5.9 the year after. The problem is the "poison pill," the part of the contract that pays him nearly $19 million in 2018-19 and then $20 million in 2019-20. That element is part of the process to allow a capped-out team like the Heat to match an outside offer sheet, while also allowing Johnson to seek a large total package on the open market. That also is why I have reconsidered and come to this conclusion: You only match the offer sheet if you believe Johnson will emerge as an All-Star-level guard in those final two years of the contract. While I marvel at the growth Tyler already has made from undrafted, D-League rise, I'm not sure I'd be willing to bet on an All-Star-level future.
Q: I don't see the point of the salary cap rising the way it is if teams can't even keep their own free agents and try to get better. Everyone is just getting overpaid. Do you think that this is somewhat of a broken system? -- Bruno, Pompano Beach.
A: Teams can keep their own free agents; they just have to be prudent with their expenditures along the way. The problem is when you lay out $23.7 million for Chris Bosh for 2016-17, $15.9 million for Goran Dragic for that season, then sign Hassan Whiteside for $22.1 million . . . and still have to fit Dwyane Wade within your cap, let alone a Kevin Durant. As in life, building a roster comes down to smart choices. The NBA did nothing to prevent the Heat from retaining the players they want, as long as the Heat didn't want to retain too many high-end players. You can't have it all, but at $94 million, you still should be able to find contentment.
Q: Ira, I'm happy Hassan Whiteside is coming back, but before Chris Bosh went out again with blood clots it was clear that these two didn't always fit together in the court. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.
A: Yes. Yes. A thousand times yet. While Chris Bosh's health clearly is paramount, I, too, am curious about making something that previously didn't work now work for a combined $56 million in salary and escalating from there, as long as Chris is able to make it back to the court.
July 3, 2016
Q: With both of our starting forwards leaving and Chris Bosh still a question mark and no money left after paying Kevin Durant or Dwyane Wade, don't we have to keep Josh McRoberts given his cheap salary and the fact that he fits a need of a stretch four? -- Peter, Miami.
A: That is what the Heat will have to weigh. But Bosh also is part of that equation. If Chris can return and therefore start alongside Whiteside (although there remain chemistry issues to be addressed there), then McRoberts would be no more than a backup. But if Bosh doesn't make it back, then there would be something to be said about McRoberts' passing and shooting (which we really haven't seen) in the starting lineup. As it is, the Heat might have to sacrifice McRoberts just to meet Wade's salary demands, let alone what would have to be done if the longshot of Durant comes into play. After repeated conversations with those inside the organization, I'm still not sure where the team stands with the commitment to McRoberts. There are times when they swear by him. And there are other times not so much.
Q: Ira why won't Micky Arison go over the cap? I know it's costly, but aren't these teams worth billions now and wouldn't it only be for one season because the cap will go up again? Can you explain how that works, I don't get it? -- Chris, Chattanooga, Tenn.
A: It works this way: If you utilize cap space to sign even one player, then almost all of your work has to be done within the cap. Because cap space was needed to sign Hassan Whiteside, that makes this fiscal (2016-17) year for the Heat all about cap space. In other years, when you're re-signing your own free agents, that's when you can exceed the cap to luxury-tax levels. But with cap space used for Whiteside (who lacked Bird Rights), it means the Heat are limited to the actual cap payroll number for the coming season of about $94 million, with the exception of Tyler Johnson's Early Bird Rights, a $2.9 million mid-level exception for teams operating with cap space, and then minimal salaries to fill out the roster.
Q: Ira, for the Heat to be successful next year, the Heat will have to make Whiteside a bigger part of the offense and Whiteside will have to step up to 20-plus points a game. -- Joel.
A: This. And yes. At that price point, of $98 million over four seasons, there can't be any more meandering through games, no more first half with two rebounds or games with eight points. Hassan will be earning $268,000 a game next season. A game. There has to be a payoff every game, preferably for 82 regular-season games.
July 2, 2016
Q: Hi, Ira, I've been saying for weeks that Goran Dragic's contract will soon look like a bargain. I'm glad you shared that with your radio listeners, who are all trying to trade him. -- Rich, West Palm Beach.
A: I agree that Goran at $15.9 million next season hardly out of place considering what is is going on in this year's free-agent market. And to Pat Riley's credit, he realized as much last summer. But there still could be greater value in cap space than Dragic's deal, depending on what happens with Kevin Durant, which I acknowledge remains a longshot. On one hand, I believe Goran is the type of player who would make the game easier for Durant. On the other hand, I would not let Dragic's cap space stand in the way of Durant being able to fit into the Heat's payroll. But if Durant isn't coming, then I believe you move forward with Goran, at least for next season, and try to recapture the magic that had the Heat playing so well over the second half of this past season. Still, it does appear that the Heat will need at least some additional cap space. So that could come down to whether it has to be Goran's or something closer to the relief that could be realized by moving the $5.8 million owed next season to Josh McRoberts. If the Heat move Goran to gain cap space, then they're most likely not replacing him. And that would mean having to go with Josh Richardson, Briante Weber and possibly Tyler Johnson at point guard.
Q: Last year Whiteside had to be act like he has some sense to get his contract. What will keep him in line this season? One question I have is now that Hassan Whiteside has his money, who is going to control him? He can fight as much as he wants. -- Will.
A: First, among the reasons that Hassan was positioned to get his $98 million over four years was the presence of franchise mainstays like Pat Riley, Alonzo Mourning and Udonis Haslem, with all expected back next season. But I also believe you are selling Hassan short. He has never carried himself as if money was the ultimate difference, and I don't see that changing. Irrational behavior is not something I'm concerned about. A lack of concentration is. And that puts the onus on the Heat to insist that the necessary focus remains in place.
Q: Ira can you please address the best and worst cases for the Heat moving forward please. -- Ram.
A: The best case is Durant says yes on Sunday. That makes every other question moot. The second best case is Chris Bosh being able to return. The worst case is no Durant and no Bosh and no way to add another piece after Dwyane Wade's contract is addressed. In that case, 2016-17 success could come down to whether there is a quantum leap from Whiteside and Justise Winslow.
July 1, 2016
Q: Can you explain how Tyler Johnson could get more than $10 million from another team when you said he couldn’t get more than $5.6 million from the Heat for next season? -- Alex.
A: This is one of those rare cases in the NBA where an outside team can blow away an incumbent team because of a player being a restricted free agent who also is covered by the Gilbert Arenas Provision. Without delving too deeply into the particulars (of which there are many), what it means is that Johnson's starting salary for 2016-17 basically would be fixed at about $5.6 million. But an outside team could build a huge package on the back end of such a contract -- the rare case in the NBA where a quantum leap in a pay raise is allowed -- that would allow for an average salary in excess of $10 million per season for Tyler. That's why you have been hearing talk of a potential four-year deal for Tyler in excess of $40 million. The 2016-17 and 2017-18 salaries in a Johnson contract would be relatively limited, but the back end could create consternation if an offer sheet is presented that is structured in such a heavy-handed manner, as was the case when the Rockets lured Jeremy Lin away from the Knicks. So what you've been reading about is something along the lines of a poison-pill contract, with the type of starting number that I have been projecting all along for the Heat's 2016-17 payroll. So, yes, to offer an abbreviated answer, Tyler Johnson very well could wind up with a deal that averages $10 million, provided he receives an offer sheet from an outside team.
Q: I don't buy the argument that you need to take a chance on a Kevin Durant because "You just never know" with Pat Riley doing the recruiting, since the chances are so slim and doing so is likely to set back the franchise on other fronts. -- Jeff, Chicago.
A: I disagree if the alternative is to never have taken a shot at all and never learning whether Durant would have been receptive and could have made it work. I know there is plenty of outside concern about putting other factors on hold, but that all is part of the NBA having a July 1 start to the free-agency negotiating period (which everyone seems to violate, anyway) and then forcing teams to wait until, this year, the July 7 end of the signing moratorium. What that allows is for a team to work out equations on multiple fronts. For as much as Riley and the Heat have invested in Sunday's presentation, I can assure you they have not put everything else on hold.
Q: I really believe in Pat Riley but I don't think we will be able to sign any big names this summer. We can afford to wait one more year and make a big splash next summer's free agency -- Jack, Italy.
A: This theory has been floated in several places, included by the Sun Sentinel's Dave Hyde and certainly makes a degree of sense. Except for one element: Dwyane Wade turns 35 next season. How many more years since the 2014 departure of LeBron James can you put him on hold? I can appreciate allowing younger players such as Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson time to grow. But for as much as Dwyane was, to a degree, a comeback-player-of-the-year this past season, age eventually catches up to every player. And I'm just not sure putting Wade on hold is necessarily fair.
June 30, 2016
Q: The Miami Heat need to operate like the New England Patriots, never overpay for an athlete on his way down and never overpay an athlete whom may not play up to his contract. If Hassan Whiteside or Dwyane Wade are asking for the moon, then it's time to move on. I rather spend the money elsewhere on short-term contracts until we have an outlook on Chris Bosh and see what the kids (Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson) can provide, and move on from there. -- Yunasi, Miami Beach.
A: But that's not the way the NBA works. Most players are looking for long-term security. So if you don't want to give a player his first big contract (Whiteside) or cater to an established player (Wade), you're going to wind up with a middling group of players and wind up in the middle of the playoff pack, if even that. This is not the NFL where the money is not fully guaranteed and you can eventually walk away from deals (the Heat can't even walk away from Chris Bosh's deal). So if you instead want to see what the kids can do, then you're essentially agreeing to a rebuilding process. Say what you want about the Bill Belichick approach, but it succeeds because of Tom Brady. At the moment, Wade is veteran Brady. And at the moment, Whiteside is young Brady. Which is what makes these decisions all the more difficult. The Patriots didn't walk away from Brady and the start, and they aren't now, either.
Q: Ira, when I read your retrospective about the Heat's 2006 championship team, it reminded me how close Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley had grown over the years, those texts Riley used to send to Wade about being the best. But it seems like the two go in opposite directions now at contract time. I remember last year, Micky and Nick Arison had to step in. Are Riley and Wade not on the same page anymore? -- Jack.
A: I think it might be a case of Wade being more on the same page with LeBron James at the moment than with Riley. And LeBron has made sure he has best positioned himself from contention and salary standpoints. That seems to be where Wade now stands, as well. But the one thing about Wade (and Riley) is that once a deal is reached, the two get back to working toward the common good, which is what I would expect yet again.
Q: I know he's a restricted free agent, but could the Heat possibly go after Andre Drummond should Hassan Whiteside bolt? -- Chris, Miami.
A: Based on where the Heat stand with their cap space, and faced with the reality that an offer sheet would tie up their cap space for up to three days while the Pistons decide whether to match (from July 7 to July 10 or somewhere in that timeframe), I can't see the Heat looking toward any restricted free agents beyond their own in Tyler Johnson. And, as stated in this space previously, if the Heat don't retain Whiteside, I'm not sure a center would be the priority with their cap space in a league that now is moving more and more toward the perimeter.
June 29, 2016
Q: Ira, would the 76ers be interested in taking on Goran Dragic's contract in exchange for Nerlens Noel and some filler to allow for signing a free agent such as Kevin Durant? The 76ers would have a high-quality point guard under a reasonable contract and Noel's contract is up after this year and could be re-signed as the salary cap expands. -- Howard, Palm City.
A: These are the types of contingency deals I believe the Heat will look to have in place should they need to accordion their salary-cap space. Such moves, however, become a delicate dance, because you would prefer it not getting back to players such as Goran Dragic or even Josh McRoberts that they had been offered up for such possibilities. But that's exactly how free agency has to work for the Heat when attempting to create salary-cap space potentially for Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside and perhaps a plus-one. That is why the $43 million number for the Heat's projected cap space is merely a starting point. Bring back someone like Luol Deng or Joe Johnson and that number shrinks, unless you can get one of them to take the $2.9 million "room" exception. But with the ability to move players such as Goran or Josh, you also could expand that number to in excess of $60 million. The Heat will be in position to get creative, as long as those they are targeting are willing to be patient. And that is the rub. Still, while agreements can be reached starting Friday, contracts cannot be finalized until July 7, so there would be time for wiggle room, as long as targets are willing to accept, "Don't worry, we'll make this work."
Q: If you are the Heat, are you worried that a team out there will give Whiteside the max and convince him to sign immediately while Miami is waiting on Kevin Durant, then potentially the Heat lose out on both players? -- David, Brooklyn.
A: That is why I stressed above the flexibility of moving other players to create space. And, again, because of the signing moratorium between July 1 and July 7, there is time to reach an agreement with Whiteside, wait on Durant as long as that is resolved by the end of the moratorium, then handle the math. Remember, Dallas lost DeAndre Jordan back to the Clippers because of the moratorium last year and likely will make any attempt necessary to make sure something like that doesn't happen again. So this time the Heat might have to act on Whiteside, and then work on the wiggle room thereafter while waiting on Durant. But keep in mind with the Durant timing that when LeBron James joined the Heat in 2010 and then when he left in 2014, both times that decision was finalized before the end of the moratorium, so the same likely will be the case with Durant.
Q: Credit Hassan Whiteside with working hard to make himself a much-sought-after free agent. What is curious is plenty of teams had ample opportunity to sign him if even for an extended tryout at the minimum. He is 27 and hardly a hidden gem fresh out of college. One must conclude that Heat coaching and teammate mentoring had a lot to do with his rise. The questions are: How much will he miss that, if at all? Can he get the same elsewhere (didn't happen before)? And will the money and consequent pressure to earn it allow him the time to improve his game in areas he is notably weak in? -- Jack, Fort Myers.
A: All good questions. And yet I'm not sure any of them are as significant to Hassan as who will step up with the maximum. But that is what Gary Payton addressed when he was alongside Hassan at a promotional appearance Sunday in Miami: that this likely will not be Hassan's final bite at the big-money apple, and that if he finds the proper nurturing, he could cash in at an even higher level when he turns 30. Still, I'm not sure someone so close to his first big payday spends that much time wondering about a second that may never come.
June 28, 2016
Q: Perspective: If Hassan Whiteside were not homegrown -- if he was a free agent emanating from another team -- would the Heat be as interested, especially at a near max or max price point? Does the sense of something being lost come into play? -- Michael, Hollywood.
A: This is an excellent question, and thank you for asking. Typically, when re-signing your own free agent, you are allowed to exceed the salary cap. That is not the case with Hassan, since he has been with the Heat only two seasons and lacks Bird Rights. So the money spent for him, at his $22 million maximum for 2016-17, could be spent on any other free agent with the same impact to the Heat's payroll. Or, for that matter, the $22 million maximum that could be extended to Hassan can be used as cap space to take on a player in a trade. So the real question that should be asked is this and only this: Is $22 million on Hassan Whiteside the best expenditure for your payroll for 2016-17? For that matter, would passing on Whiteside and taking on a player on a one-year contract in a trade the better use of such space until you know about Chris Bosh's prognosis? You only spend $22 million on Hassan Whiteside if you believe that is the best use of such funding among all the 200 or so free agents on the market and the countless other players who could be acquired with such cap space.
Q: I wasn't bothered by Hassan Whiteside's recent comments. He was just being candid. Of course he is going to evaluate multiple offers to find the best situation for himself while securing a big payday. Would you prefer "smiling faces with hidden agendas"? As for those who say he should remain loyal to the Heat above all, I disagree. While it's true that the Heat gave him a shot and spent resources developing him, he also gave them far more on the court than they gave him in salary (I felt the same about LeBron James when he decided to leave). I hope the Heat can re-sign him, but by offering a competitive contract and selling him on the organization's culture and his future role on the team, not by guilting him into accepting less money because they took a chance on him. -- David.
A: A reasoned and logical argument. I, too, had no issue with Hassan's comments, nor do I believe that loyalty means settling, be it settling for salary or settling for a role less than one's expectations.
Q: Why can players go around talking to anyone and everyone about free agency, where they would like to go, what they think, etc., and the coaches and owners get fined just for mentioning a free agent's name? What benefit does it give the NBA by giving a gag-order on everyone but the players? -- James, Boca Raton.
A: Because the owners can control the owners, so they do what they can do. But don't kid yourself, the fact that free agents have already lined up interviews with teams for July despite supposedly being unable to make such contact before July tells you that everyone and anyone is gaming the system. This is another reason for the moratorium period, beyond setting the 2016-17 cap and tax -- to prevent it from even being worse regarding early contact between teams and either players or agents.
June 27, 2016
Q: Loyalty should 100 percent be a factor for Hassan. Twenty-nine other teams didn't even give you a workout. - Sebastian.
Q: It's a poker face from Hassan on Sunday, which sends a message to Pat Riley, "Don't insult me with low-ball offers. There are options." -- Reginald.
Q: Hassan goes against everything that is Heat culture except his talent. -- B.P.
Q: Whiteside said he had coaches who believed in him at Marshall. So if Hassan Whiteside leaves we can blame Erik Spoelstra. -- Freeky.
Q: Erik Spoelstra and company had busted their chops molding Whiteside and teaching him how to be a star -- Juan.
Q: I think Hassan Whiteside is out of Miami next season. Just focus on Al Horford, and never on Dwight Howard. -- Zach.
Q: Hassan Whiteside said he's sick of this team. -- Jahmalon.
Q: Hassan is a free man. This is a business. If he leaves, we move on. And start over. This is not the first time, anyway. -- Eme.
Q: I feel like Hassan is doing a great job, dealing with the craziness. -- Drew.
A: The Twitter response to Hassan Whiteside's comments at Sunday's NBA 3-on-3 event has evoked a fascinating cross-section of responses.
First of all, there should be praise for so candidly addressing so many questions about free agency for what was set up as a promotional appearance.
That said, a few thoughts:
1. It never has been a given that Hassan would return. And he doesn’t owe anything to anyone. Yes, the Heat helped Hassan salvage his career. But Hassan helped the Heat salvage their reclamation project in the wake of LeBron James' departure.
2. Whiteside being utilized as a reserve over the second half of the regular season was going to have repercussions. In the moment, it might have been best for the team, but it also couldn't help but create doubt.
3. Other teams can promise an increased role, something that could prove tantalizing, while Whiteside has to be aware that this remains Dwyane Wade's team.
4. The recent report of Kevin Durant granting the Heat face time casts doubt about where Whiteside stands as a Heat priority.
5. And where does Whiteside stand as a Heat priority? Are we so sure there is a consensus to extend the maximum four-year, $98 million contract?
So, yes, comments like the ones Hassan offered Sunday create conjecture.
So fasten up. The Heat's approach to free agency won't happen in a vacuum. And neither will Whiteside's free agency.
June 26, 2016
Q: Everybody's going to be offering Hassan Whiteside a max contract and max touches. That can't be good for Miami after benching him and Hassan getting nine shots a game. -- Ben.
A: You make an interesting point, one that I believe could pose the greatest challenge to the Heat when it comes to Hassan's free agency. While the Heat can offer about $4 million more over the course of a contract based on larger raises than outside teams can offer, and while the money would be more than most teams can offer because of the absence of state income tax in Florida, there is the elephant in the room that you mentioned. While the Heat can say how much will change as Hassan grows as a player, opposing teams can claim that they never would have forced Hassan to the bench (although to phrase it as a "benching" is a bit of an overstatement, considering the consistent minutes). Also, when another team (perhaps Mark Cuban and his Mavericks) say they will make Hassan more of a focus, it might resonate more for Hassan than a team that is expected to bring Dwyane Wade back, a team that also will concurrently be pursuing Kevin Durant.
Q: Here we go! This is why I love Pat Riley. He swings for the fences. If anybody can pull this off with Kevin Durant, he can. -- Will.
Q: Even if Kevin Durant says he's staying with the Thunder on a one-and-one contract, that's fine. Pat will just tell him that he and Russell Westbrook will be welcome the next year. -- Randall.
A: I grouped these two points together because the ultimate payoff for Riley and the Heat could be what follows, should Durant, as expected, take a one-year deal and a one-year player option from the Thunder this summer, which could return him to free agency next summer, when Westbrook also will be a free agent and the cap again will take another quantum leap. It many ways that would make it similar to the approach Riley took last summer when he met with LaMarcus Aldridge despite lacking the requisite cap funds to immediately close a deal. It makes as much sense for Durant to pick Riley's brain and it does for Riley to plan seeds.
Q: What do you think Luol Deng is thinking when he sees the Heat moving on Whiteside, Durant and Wade? -- Wes.
A: That free agency is fluid and sometimes one has to wait. It really is no different for Deng than when he last was in free agency, in 2014, and had to wait for the Heat to cycle back after losing LeBron James. If Deng wants to stay with the Heat, then I'm sure he appreciates it won't be with an immediate deal. But I also could see Tom Thibodeau, his former and favored coach with the Bulls, making an immediate push now that he is with the Timberwolves. This could be a case where Deng is already under contract with Minnesota before the Heat addresses that portion of the roster.
June 25, 2016
Q: With Dallas (Mark Cuban) and Portland apparently prepared to offer Hassan Whiteside a max deal, do you think there is any chance Pat Riley just lets Hassan walk and tries to make a deal for DeMarcus Cousins who, it seems, has been on the trading block for three years? I know Cousins has his issues, but he is a far superior all-around player to Whiteside, who has his own issues. I think Riley would "straighten" Cousins out. The Heat culture is also a 180-degree change from Sacramento. -- Mike, Miami
A: First, I'm not sure Cousins has been on the trading block nearly as much as has been speculated, which is why the Kings have made so many personnel and coaching moves, in order to find a way to make it work with one of the most, if not the most, skilled big men in the game. But keep in mind that not only would you have to take on Cousins' $17 million salary for next season and work that into cap space, but you would also have to send something of quality in return to the Kings (which, I guess, could be Goran Dragic as a replacement for Rajon Rondo). So what it comes down to is would you be willing to give up on Whiteside and give up Dragic in order to land Cousins? And that's if the Kings would go for Goran straight up.
Q: Jeremy Lin just became an unrestricted free agent, and after the way he played against the Heat last season, do you think the Heat go after him as a lower-cost option at point guard to then trade Goran Dragic to free up more cash for free agency? -- Peter, Miami.
A: I'm not sure, with the explosion of cap cash this summer, that there will be such a thing as a "lower-cost option." It's sort of like those Oprah shows where, "You get $10 million! You get $10 million! And you get $10 million!" Because that's what a player even with Lin's recent productivity will get. And that's only $6 million less than Goran (with "only" being relative). Beyond that, the only reason to free up cash or ship out Goran would be to have another player locked into the sought cap space. So I think the Heat first shop and then see if they even need to pool potential cap resources. Because of that, you'll see a lot of Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra in interesting places this summer.
Q: There has been so much talk about the need to add shooting to the mix next season but what I believe is forgotten in all of this is the impact of having a healthy Tyler Johnson back in the mix. I think because of him, Josh Richardson and hopefully at least some improvement from Justise Winslow what the Heat really need is one more shooter such as a Jared Dudley, who could also help fill the current void at small forward. Is this a good idea? -- Chris, Lake Worth.
A: This is sort of what the Heat were trying to push last season, the notion that the shooting upgrade can come from within. And you are correct that Tyler was on a 3-point roll when he went down at midseason and that Josh picked it up from there. But while another shooter could help on the wing, there also has to be a concern about losing Luol Deng's shooting in free agency. What I'm most curious about is whether Dwyane Wade's 3-point shooting in the playoffs can be sustained. That could be a game changer when it comes to the Heat's outside efficiency.
June 24, 2016
Q: Riley vs. Cuban? -- Michael.
A: Well, in the wake of Mark Cuban following Hassan Whiteside on Twitter and then the ESPN report of the Mavericks making Whiteside a priority in free agency along with Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, it will be fascinating to see how far Cuban takes this against Pat Riley. After all, it's not as if the Mavericks and Heat have any sort of rivalry or history, is there? Remember, Cuban not only lost out on DeAndre Jordan last summer after Jordan backed out of his Mavericks deal to return to the Clippers, but he also lost Tyson Chandler to the Suns in free agency. Dallas did regroup with a quality season from Zaza Pachulia, but you can figure they will go to the mat and the max when it comes to Whiteside, with both Texas and Florida among states without an income tax. As much as anything, the Mavericks' fascination with Whiteside could get in the way of Riley attempting to line up his ducks and perhaps get a bit of a giveback from Whiteside. It will be interesting to see what happens if Riley is forced to go big and go early with Whiteside how it plays out with Dwyane Wade, who seemingly has stood as a backburner issue in recent free agency. Hopefully Hassan is in full Snapchat mode on July 1 at 12:01 a.m., at least then we'll all be able to witness Cuban's presentation.
Q: Should we be worried about all these moves happening and nothing, not even rumors, from the Heat? Guess hands are tied. -- Mike.
A: Draft day and draft night never set up as prime time for the Heat, with their lack of a selection. And with just four players under fully guaranteed contract, July 1 and the start of free agency always made more sense as far as when to go into attack mode. The Heat simply did not have the type of pieces the Magic did to make the move for Serge Ibaka. But I'm still not sure that the Magic didn't give up too much, and perhaps bolster the Thunder's chances of keeping Kevin Durant. Also, it is interesting to see what Larry Bird and the Pacers have done, adding Jeff Teague and then Thaddeus Young. With Indiana building around Paul George and Myles Turner, a quick turnaround now seems plausible for the Pacers at the start of the post-Frank Vogel era.
Q: As bad as his shot was, Justise Winslow needs to play summer league and get up as many shots as possible. -- Bev.
A: Justise said Thursday he will do just that, but I also believe the Heat will be smart with his workload, considering he also will train in July with the U.S. Select Team against the Olympic team during Las Vegas preparations. What I wouldn't do is pay too much attention to Justise's shooting percentages in summer league, but rather focus on the quality of shots he is able to get, the comfort in taking those shots, and the Heat's ability to set him up to succeed during the regular season. Summer league is a time to experiment, and sometimes that is more meaningful than any numbers.
June 23, 2016
Q: Now that the NBA season is over, can trading begin? -- Martin, Delray Beach.
A: Yes, as we saw Wednesday with the deal sending Derrick Rose from the Bulls to the Knicks. But the trade window already was open well in advance of the end of the NBA Finals. Any team can trade once their season or playoffs are over. However, as we will see in coming days, some trades that are agreed to at the draft or even before July 1 cannot be completed until early July, when the league turns to its new fiscal year and new salary-cap calendar. In the interim, you likely will hear several trades reported, including some during the draft itself, that are not confirmed by the teams until the following week or later. It is why players drafted by some teams won't necessarily be headed to those teams (with a tip-off coming when the signings of such players are delayed). The Heat, in fact, could be among the teams with such an approach, having another team making a draft pick for them Thursday and then completing that agreement in July.
Q: Is Pat Riley going to be tormented by LeBron James the same way Michael Jordan tormented Riley in the 1990s? -- Stuart.
A: No, because Pat Riley never got the opportunity to share in championship moments alongside Michael Jordan. I honestly think Riley, at least publicly, was going to be willing to let everything go and move forward with a more cordial approach, as he eventually did with Shaquille O'Neal. But now, with LeBron's "secret motivation" quotes about the Heat when it came to winning the championship with the Cavaliers, I'm not sure when the Heat will retire LeBron's Heat No. 6. In fact, in the wake of this latest bit of snippiness, could the Heat yet wind up re-issuing No. 6 to another player for the first time since LeBron left? That would be particularly curious.
Q: How are the young Heat players doing? Are they training? -- Tim.
A: Almost all of the Heat's young players have been back at the gym or workout room at AmericanAirlines Arena in recent days and weeks, including Briante Weber, Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow, who is scheduled to again be back in town Thursday. Udonis Haslem, of course, also has been working out. For most of the veterans, this still is a time to decompress. And remember, the Heat only have four players at the moment under guaranteed contract for next season (Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts and Winslow).
June 22, 2016
Q: Hey, Ira. Dwight Howard is free. Maybe get him at a discount and let Hassan Whiteside go while the Heat focus on the future? -- Will.
A: When a player opts out of a contract that would have paid him $23 million for next season, I doubt offering a discount is what Dwight Howard has in mind. Instead, I could see Dwight, amid his recent injuries, seeking that one big multi-year deal before it's too late, thus opting out of his final season with the Rockets. But I do believe Dwight will impact the Heat in free agency, but not necessarily the way you envision. With another top-tier center in the market it could have teams weighing whether to go with the veteran (Howard) who has had his share of playoff success, or the kid (Whiteside) who is still learning the game. But, and this is a big "but", if the Heat should lose Hassan early in free agency, then I could see the Heat attempting to cycle back to Dwight, just as they attempted, albeit too late, to cycle back to Carmelo Anthony after losing LeBron James in 2014 free agency.
Q: Hey, Ira, do you think it was a bit disrespectful for LeBron James to take a cheap shot at Miami after the championship game, or is that just LeBron being LeBron? -- Cody.
A: I've got to be honest, if a player was leaving my team after four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and a pair of championships, I might also tell him to be careful about his decision (keep in mind, the choice of words expressed by LeBron after defeating the Warriors might not have been the exact words offered to LeBron, if, indeed, someone with the Heat said that). But also appreciate that professional athletes often create motivation to further push themselves. So if that's what it took James to step up in the final three games against Golden State, then so be it. He certainly gave enough to the Heat over four seasons to hold the right to take something out of the experience, as well. Disrespect in professional sports is overrated. These are big boys here; they all can deal with it. To the victors go the spoils, even if some might consider them spoiled victors.
Q: Those odds of LeBron James returning to the Heat are way too high. There's a better chance playing for Miami next year. -- T.B.
A: Appreciate that when an offshore book offers odds on such propositions, it's to create conversation about the website as much as to set a definitive betting line. So when Bovada.lv had the Cavaliers as the 1-to-4 choice as the 2016-17 landing spot for LeBron in free agency and then the Heat the next choice at 5-1, that's still a huge spread in the odds. I did disagree about the Lakers then at 6-1 and the Clippers at 11-1, with the Clippers, with LeBron's friend Chris Paul, seemingly a more logical destination. But, again, when it comes to LeBron, I'm not sure anyone but LeBron truly has a line on his intentions.
June 21, 2016
Q: Ira, I think the 2016 playoffs have ruined what was supposed to be a sweepstakes of a free-agent season. Kevin Durant was so close to the NBA Finals he probably will be sticking around OKC, as well as DeMar DeRozan in Toronto. LeBron James most definitely stays in Cleveland as the large favorite to win it again, No one from the Warriors is going anywhere, And Hassan Whiteside is the Heat's priority, so I don't see any big names moving now. Do you agree? -- Charles, Margate.
A: Free agency always presents its own unique twists, and I expect this summer to be no different. Remember, there twice were forecasts about LeBron that proved incorrect, so even if LeBron doesn't provide this summer's surprise, someone else almost assuredly will. And while you have downplayed the Warriors making a move, based on their finish, and the finish of Harrison Barnes, just for argument's sake, who is to say that Kevin Durant might not eye that as his perfect landing spot, as not someone ring hunting, but rather someone who can help Golden State get back to the top. And keep in mind that with so much salary-cap space around the league, this summer will be about more than free agency. It also will be about trades, which could add another element of intrigue. I guarantee there will be at least one move in free agency that makes you say, "Whoa!" It happens every year.
Q: Ira, what are your autopsy results for the 2016 NBA Finals? -- Jason, Miami.
A: That if you're a system team and a team over the course of a seven-game series figures out your system (in this case the Cavaliers stepping out to the 3-point line against a team disinclined to play in the paint), then you either had better have a Plan B for your offense or a stand-alone attack scorer who can bail you out. The Warriors shooters were smothered, and there was no singular star in the LeBron, Kobe, even Durant mode to take the ball off the dribble and create a basket-or-foul opportunity. Systems are great during the regular season when the opposition can't get bogged down in scouting for a single game. But give a coaching staff time to adjust, game plan and scout, as the Cavaliers showed, and you better have another direction available to turn. It sort of reminded me of how the Spurs figured out the Heat in the 2014 Finals, almost a step ahead of the Heat's approach.
Q: The Warriors could really have used a rim protector against the Cavs. Might they have an interest in the Hassan Whiteside free agency this summer? He is certainly better than the Warrior centers of this season. -- Ey, Miami.
A: All of the above said, I still see the Warriors moving forward with a ball-moving, 3-point approach. Even if they wanted to move toward greater rim protection and point-blank scoring, they still would need a center capable of moving the ball from the post, which is probably Whiteside's greatest shortcoming.
June 20, 2016
Q: Ira, does this mean LeBron James signs a long-term contract with the Cavaliers and puts all this free-agency nonsense to rest? -- Nate.
A: I still think opting out, taking a short deal that takes him into the $30 million range for next season and then something more substantive in the 2017 offseason makes the most sense. And, as I've stressed previously, I believe LeBron's ability to control the offseason by taking short-term deals allows him to own his situation. While there is plenty that LeBron treasures about his Cleveland experience, even with this championship, I'm not sure the Dan Gilbert is one of them. So, yes, I do believe we'll have to go through some nonsense when LeBron -- gasp! -- opts out of his current contract and enters free agency on July 1. And then all the backchannel manipulation will commence, with LeBron making sure that he gets the roster he wants going forward. Because for all the joy of Sunday for LeBron came the reality that he mostly had to do it all, more, in fact, than he had to do for his two titles with the Heat. So for a long answer to your short question, there very well could be LeBron James free agency this summer . . . and next summer, as well.
Q: Everyone has short memory. It's not that LeBron James left. It's how. He tried to handicap us heading out the door. The draft pick (Shabazz Napier), delay (last-minute meeting with Pat Riley), etc. -- Myles.
A: And yet Dwyane Wade still flew back from a business conference in Hawaii to support his friend in Game 7 in Oakland and Micky Arison was among the first to offer congratulations to the Cavaliers when Sunday's game was over. And while LeBron spoke of how Sunday was the most meaningful of his championships, I'm not sure that wasn't a reaction to the moment, with his first title, in 2012 with the Heat, truly liberating him from being viewed as a stand-alone star. As stated above, while manipulation is manipulation, at the end of the day when it produces championship results, it becomes reclassified as brilliance.
Q: Hi, Ira. What does the new $94 million projected cap mean for the Heat? What can they do internally and does this mean we are contenders for any big names (provided that's in the plan this offseason)? Thanks. -- Mike, Changwon City, South Korea.
A: I'm not sure an additional $2 million makes that much of a difference. Yes, it puts the Heat around $43 million in cap space when counting the four players under fully guaranteed contract for next season (Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow) and the two others with favorable non-guaranteed contacts (Josh Richardson and Briante Weber). But cut $22 million of that total for a potential max contract for Hassan Whiteside, and you're down to $21 million for Dwyane Wade and, perhaps, a plus-one. And based on where Wade left off this past season, what will be left over after taking care of Wade (whose cap hold will likely be higher than his actual salary, which therefore precludes the use of his Bird Rights) doesn't figure to be much more than half a max contract, if that. When you get to less than a maximum by that significant of a degree, it comes down more to how much a player wants to join your team. So what does that type of a cap move mean for the Heat? Less than for other teams that might be trying to carve out a pair of max slots (to perhaps use one on Whiteside).
June 19, 2016
Q: Ira, is this the night when LeBron James proves he knows what’s best for LeBron James? -- Edwin.
A: From the phrasing of your question to all the local and national dissection of LeBron's seven appearances in the NBA Finals, let's get one thing straight up front: LeBron James has no need to prove anything to anyone. He already stands as one of the greatest players ever to play the game, no matter the result of this series or even his performance Sunday against the Warriors. The two championships with the Heat were validation enough. And this is nothing like the legacies of the Vikings or the Bills in the NFL. To make the NBA Finals, you must win 12 games just to get there, not two or three. That, in itself, is sustained excellence. And as for LeBron first leaving the Cavaliers and then leaving the Heat, this is the era of free agency in sports, giving employees in that business that same right as anyone in other businesses, the freedom of choice to move elsewhere at the completion of an agreement. Scrutinize LeBron for in-game decisions, for turnovers, for missed shots. That comes with playing under the brightest of lights. Question him for the power he has amassed to have input on personnel and coaching choices. But Sunday is not a referendum on LeBron's place among the game's all-time elite. That already has been decided. So stop, stop, stop about the talk of potentially falling to 2-5 in the Finals, as if making seven Finals is some sort of given.
Q: So Warriors or Cavs? -- Jake.
A: Still thinking Warriors in Game 7, but only if Andre Iguodala's back allows him to defend. Otherwise the Warriors could find themselves where the Cavaliers were last season in the Finals, beaten down by injuries. A close game, though, would be nice.
Q: When do the Heat have to extend Tyler Johnson his qualifying offer? -- Mike.
A: After the Finals and before the July 1 start of free agency. The qualifying offer is practically a given, with no downside, considering it locks Johnson into a $1.2 million cap hold, with a higher salary then allowable after the Heat complete the rest of their work with cap space (starting with Hassan Whiteside or an outside free agent). There is no reason not to qualify Johnson at that number. And while he still can go out and secure a larger overall deal than the Heat might offer, the Heat would then retain the right to match outside offers.
June 18, 2016
Q: I know this sounds crazy, but LeBron James winning this series frees him from any commitment and a Miami return is gaining traction. -- Jonathon.
A: That's the part I have trouble comprehending. Unless LeBron James, or any other player (including Kevin Durant) knows for sure that Chris Bosh is not only coming back but staying back, then how or why would he commitment to a team with 25 percent of its salary cap in limbo? Beyond that, even if Hassan Whiteside would immediately commit to the Heat in free agency, it still would leave the Heat lacking the type of salary-cap resources to round out the roster even close to what the Cavaliers currently have. I still believe LeBron's approach would be to sweat the Cavaliers to continue to give him the roster he wants (farewell Kevin Love?) and continue to pay out at the luxury-tax level he deserves. Now, if you're talking about LeBron moving elsewhere on a whim, fine, he's already relocated twice. But when you line up the pluses and negatives, the LeBron-Dwyane Wade bond would have to be far stronger than even has been portrayed. I do believe LeBron very much enjoyed wintering in South Florida. But I also believe winning trumps all in his equation. Unless . . . unless he simply can't stand the notion of Dan Gilbert being able to bask in sustained glory. For now, it's all just a bunch of speculation, with a very important game still to be played.
Q: The MVP of the NBA Finals needs to be on the winning team, or he wasn't valuable enough. -- Scott.
A: Which is why none of these awards should be called "Most Valuable" and should be what the voting is about anyway, "Most Outstanding." And the most outstanding player in this series, regardless of Sunday's outcome, would have to be LeBron James based on Games 5 and 6, alone. Perhaps a Golden State player changes that equation with something otherworldly. Otherwise, LeBron deserves to be leaving Oracle Arena on Sunday night with some form of hardware.
Q: Once Dallas lost momentum in that 2006 series, they never got it back. It feels like the same thing is happening to Golden State now. -- Juan.
A: Looking back at that first Heat championship, the 2006 NBA Finals were somewhat similar in that it was all Mavericks through the first two-plus games, and then it wasn't about Dallas at all, with LeBron this time taking on the role Dwyane Wade held for the Heat during that run to their first NBA championship. It shows how quickly momentum can turn in a series, with those Finals not nearly as impacted by injuries as these Finals. Momentum and injuries often go hand in hand. And unless the Warriors can prop up Andre Iguodala to a reasonable ambulatory level Sunday, the Warriors' fall from 3-1 could be even more dramatic than the Mavericks' tumble in 2006. Interestingly, officiating made itself a talking point in both series.
June 17, 2016
Q: Tristan Thompson is killing the Warriors. Imagine what Hassan Whiteside would do. -- Joe.
A: Whiteside missed the first of the Heat's two games this past season against the Warriors, at Golden State, and then played off the bench in the second, closing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots in a 118-112 home loss not decided until a late Steph Curry 3-pointer. But what Tristan Thompson has shown in this series is the extra element that the Heat would like to see from Whiteside, the relentless hustle. Granted, there is far more to play for at a moment like this, as well as two days off between games, but Hassan could do far worse than going to school on Thompson in these Finals. In fact, figure on a bunch of teams going to school on these Finals when it come to playing the Warriors with a more physical, desperate approach. And it's been working.
Q: Wait, Udonis Haslem is rooting for the Cavaliers in the Finals? -- Nick.
A: That's not exactly what he said when we spoke to him at the Heat's youth basketball camp Thursday afternoon. He didn’t mention LeBron James or James Jones by name, when he said, "I would love to see those guys get a ring." But he also said that if they didn't, "It's no sweat off my back." I think the rooting was much more pronounced last year, when Mike Miller, Haslem's University of Florida roommate, was on the Cavs. Perhaps more than any other Heat player, Haslem has gone out of his way to remain in touch with former teammates, including even Shaquille O'Neal, when some thought Shaq turned his back on the team amid post-championship differences with Pat Riley. I'm sure if there were ex-Heat on the Warriors, Haslem would not have been as partisan in his preference. What Haslem has shown is that he is a lifetime teammate.
Q: So the Heat are going to let Chris Bosh play next season? They should. If Bosh wants to play, then make him sign a waiver and let the man play. -- Will.
A: There is no need for a waiver. A waiver doesn't protect health or even a life. This is not about money, and has never been about money. It's not even about salary-cap space or luxury-tax issues, at least not at this stage. And what Udonis Haslem and Josh Richardson said about a potential Bosh return is merely teammates seeing a healthy teammate who is feeling well enough to travel and go about his life at this moment. But there has yet to be anything from the Heat regarding assurances that Bosh's health would not be at risk going forward should he return to the court. And, so, as has been the case for months, we wait, even as Haslem said Bosh is preparing to return to rigorous preseason training.
June 16, 2016
Q: LeBron James, at the moment, appears fine with Kyrie Irving as his running mate. Do you think he will supplant Dwyane Wade in LeBron's view? -- Ben.
A: As a friend? Not going to happen. But I'm figuring that's not where you're going with your question. I think it has become clear that what matters most to LeBron on the court is living in the moment. And in Monday's Game 5 moment, Kyrie was all that LeBron could have asked for. But Game 6 will bring its own unique challenges. Should the Cavaliers find a way to climb all the way back from their 3-1 series deficit against the Warriors, then I think you will hear plenty about LeBron's newfound affection for Irving. Anything short of that and the passive-aggression could start all over again, with a yearning for what the time alongside Wade delivered. These coming days will go a long way toward defining the Irving-LeBron bond.
Q: Ira, I know you mentioned this before the playoffs, but how much would have been different had Joe Johnson gone to the Cavs instead of the Heat? -- Orson.
A: Obviously, I doubt it would have had much impact during the Eastern Conference playoffs, considering how Cleveland shoved past the Pistons, Hawks and Raptors. But I could see moments in these NBA Finals, during the games when Kyrie Irving was off and LeBron James was struggling with his jumper, that Joe could have made life far easier for the Cavaliers. When it comes to reliability, Joe is in a different class ahead of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and could even have provided a counter option instead of Richard Jefferson. But Joe's defense also would have proved limiting, having to match up against the likes of Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala or perhaps even Klay Thompson. There is little doubt the Cavaliers would have been better with Joe, but I'm not sure to the degree that he would have been considered a game-changer against the Warriors. I do, however, have to admit forgetting how Cleveland stood as the other prime contender for Joe before he joined the Heat. Now I'm curious how strong the Heat's commitment to Joe will be going forward.
Q: I have been reading your assessment of the Draymond Green saga and I couldn't disagree with you more. Green earned his suspension twice over. The NBA did not suspend him when he should have been against the Thunder. Your other point of creating a Draymond Green rule as to not penalize teams going deep into the playoffs is again faulty. You would give a dirty player a clean slate which he could use to take out say a LeBron James from the Finals, and maybe cause career-ending injury, just because he plays in a game he should have been suspended for. -- Patrick, Hollywood.
A: I guess it comes down to having an issue with so much after-the-fact judgment from the league office, when so many of the call are made amid the heat-of-the-moment intensity. But under your thinking, it only takes one Flagrant 2 foul to sideline an opponent. And while a Flagrant 2 means ejection, it does not automatically mandate a suspension. These are the best of the best in the NBA Finals, and one would think you would want to do everything possible to keep those players on the court. And in this case, I still think it was more phantom than flagrant when it came to Green vs. James genitals.
June 15, 2016
Q: Ira, wouldn't Kevin Love be the perfect replacement for Chris Bosh? He shoots the 3-pointer like Chris, and we know that already fits in the offense. If we can't get LeBron James back, we can prove he was wrong about Love. What say you? -- Lex.
A: Based on where the Heat stand against the salary cap, I'm not sure that taking on Love's $21 million salary (if even possible) would necessarily be the best use of the Heat's potential cap space. Beyond that, as I've stated before in this space, I'm not sure that the Heat would necessarily answer when the caller ID says "Cleveland Cavaliers" or vice versa. And I could just imagine the endorsement LeBron would give to Dwyane Wade when it comes to Love. And yet . . . where Love stands at the moment, highly talented but seemingly lost in a mismatched system, it also where the Heat tend to pounce on the personnel market. But, for better or worse, the Heat have their Kevin Love and his name is Chris Bosh. If Bosh returns to the court, the Heat have that position covered. If Bosh can't make it back from his recurrence of blood clots, then the Heat more likely would put any dramatic makeover on hold. And when it comes to a trade for Love, you have to have about $20 million in matching contracts to offer, something the Heat at the moment lack with so many impending free agents and only four players under guaranteed contract for next season. While it is possible Love could be on the move this season, the possibility of any such move involving the Heat is remote.
Q: Ira, does Hassan Whiteside really deserve to go from $900,000 and change to $20 million in a season and half? Isn't it absurd to give a player something like that raise in just such a short period? Is he proven for such a raise? -- Masoud, Tucson.
A: Supply and demand. Hassan can supply the blocked shots and rebounds to anchor a defense and with the salary cap exploding on July 1, he is positioned to demand such a raise. If it comes down to wanting the maximum, there will be more than enough suitors willing to push their chips to the middle of the table. Are there concerns about him living up to such a contract? Sure. But this league is replete with players who come up short of matching their contracts with their play. When you find someone so unique, sometimes you have to roll the dice. And if the Heat don't, the Lakers, Celtics, Mavericks or other teams will. So what he deserves and what he gets could be two different things. But, starting on July 1, money will talk.
Q: Jarnell Stokes is available to be signed after July 1 to be part of summer league, an intriguing choice. -- Leonard, Aventura.
A: I've seen this reported in a bunch of places, and it is wrong. Because Stokes signed a three-year deal with the Grizzlies in the 2014 offseason, and because it included an option year for the upcoming season, he cannot be re-signed by the Heat until the one-year anniversary of his trading-deadline deal in February, even though he enters the summer as an unrestricted free agent. He can be added to the Heat's summer-league team, since those are not regular contracts, but he then could not return to the Heat until Feb. 2017. So adding him for the summer would make little sense for either him or the Heat. Instead, expect him to land with a team during summer league that then would be able to invite him to camp, which would be any team other than the Heat or Grizzlies.