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ASK IRA: Is Heat outlook half full or half empty?
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.


August 28, 2016

Q: Why do people automatically assume Miami will not have a good season or a respectable one? If teams like Detroit and Boston with a bunch of nobodies can make the playoffs last year, then Miami can make it this season. -- Will.

A: To tackle the last part of your question first, the East appears stronger than last season, including significant upgrades for 2015-16 non-playoff teams Chicago and New York, as well as an expected return to health by Washington. As for your first comment, I don't think there can be any automatic assumptions at this stage because, first, you don't know if you will be working with Chris Bosh and, second, you have no idea how these pieces will fit. Putting aside the newcomers, it's not as if Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow have ever played together for extended periods in the absence of Dwyane Wade. This will be a team that enters training camp as a mystery and could exit that way as well. From there, with early-season games against the  Raptors, Thunder and Spurs (twice) within the first nine games, we might have to wait until mid-November to get anything close to a true read. So, basically, buckle up.

Q: How can Heat management and you really think that this year's upcoming version of a team will be able to make the playoffs? There are twelve players on this team that have either played in the D-League, Europe or several different teams (4, 5 or 7 teams). Several of these players also went undrafted. As far as I am concerned this team is a notch above a D-League team and a notch below an NBA team. They will be lucky to win 25 games in my opinion. -- David, Fort Lauderdale.

A: And then you have the glass-half-empty analysis. Again, Chris Bosh remains too much of an unknown to quantify the 2016-17 Heat at this stage. But the very reasons that you cite are the reasons that the Heat express a contrasting outlook, that young players such as Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and even Whiteside and Winslow can mature into something efficient. The unknowns remain the likes of Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Luke Babbitt. And the reality of the Heat's season could come down to how much the Heat have to rely on such newcomers, all of whom could set up in the rotation behind the likes of Whiteside, Bosh, Winslow, Richardson, Dragic, Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters, and perhaps Josh McRoberts and Beno Udrih. If your greatest concern is your 10th man, then your concerns aren't that great.  

Q: Hassan Whiteside lacks speed when setting up picks or running back on defense. -- Lenin.

A: Well, I don't have the SportVU analysis in front of me to debate your point. But this is what Whiteside can expect going forward: expectations with each and every move. That's what happens when you go from D-League revelation to player on the roster with the most total money left on your contract. We know Hassan can do the big-muscle things, from fierce blocked shots to emphatic dunks. Now it comes down to the little things that will define how many next steps remain possible.

August 27, 2016

Q: Ira, I love the kids on the Heat. But realistically, how can they be better without a signature replacement for Dwyane Wade, or with Chris Bosh remaining sidelined? -- Ey, Miami.

A: Wasn't that signature replacement decided when Hassan Whiteside put his signature on that four-year, $98 million contract on July 1? You certainly can debate Hassan's ultimate upside, but when you make that type of commitment, and then when you move on without Wade a week later, the commitment becomes pretty clear. While Goran Dragic certainly has a significant contract of his own, by going all in with Whiteside during negotiations the logical follow-up has to be going all in during the coming season. The Heat paid Whiteside like an All-Star, so now the focus has to be getting him to consistently play at that level. While there certainly could be debate about whether a big man can be the ultimate decisive piece during this era of NBA small ball, you can't utilize a quarter of your salary cap on a player and then not make him at least that much of a difference maker. It sounds strange, with Hassan basically only a year and a half into his NBA career, but it's on him now -- and on the Heat staff to find a way to maximize his contributions.

Q: The 76ers now have no point guard. Was Erik Spoelstra telling Goran Dragic about Philly weather? -- Ben.

A: There have been a bunch of questions coming this way about a possible trade of Dragic and I just don't get it. As mentioned above, it's not as if the Heat are loaded with potential breakout players. Dragic has a proven track record, and arguably is the most polished player on the current roster. Now, if it goes south to the point where the Heat's focus turns to the lottery, there will be ample time to address a potential trade by the February trading deadline. But you start with Dragic-Whiteside and then see what can be made to work from there. Besides, the 76ers have a point guard in Ben Simmons, whose passing is what makes him so intriguing.

Q: What a coach. To really establish relationships with his players is very important. -- Roberts.

A: And make no mistake, Erik Spoelstra needs Dragic to lead the way on the court, now that Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng are gone from the starting lineup. The good news is that with Goran working with the Slovenian national team in EuroCup qualifying, he should arrive in shape for training camp and the start of the season, which wasn't exactly the case a year ago. The Heat are going to need leadership this season, and that could require a bigger voice from Dragic. In fact, should Chris Bosh be unable to return (and that remains undetermined), I wonder if Spoelstra would go as far as to elevate Goran to co-captain alongside Udonis Haslem.

August 26, 2016

Q: Ira, most likely to have a significant sophomore slump? Anyone? -- Jason.

A: First, the Heat's only "sophomores" are Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Briante Weber. And I'm not sure any of them overachieved to the point where there could be a discernible drop-off. But in the bigger picture, when asking about younger players who perhaps peaked last season, I do think there has to be concern with Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson when it comes to performance compared to the value of their new contracts. Whiteside's hunger these past two seasons has been undeniable. Does it remain in place now that he is financially sated? And is there enough upside from Johnson to emerge as a contender for a starting job? The greatest concern might be with Goran Dragic, who finally found his Heat legs during the playoffs and now looks around and, if Chris Bosh doesn't play, sees a roster no better than the one he left in Phoenix. Considering Dragic has to drive the Heat, it will be interesting to see what drives Dragic.

Q: Wish I could be optimistic about the Heat this year, but I'm looking at Chicago with a brand new backcourt of classy veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo perhaps challenging Cleveland. The loss of Pau Gasol to San Antonio was huge, but the addition of two standouts more than makes up for it, if the old-timers can stay well. -- Dave.

A: And make no mistake, the Bulls will be a measuring stick for the Heat this season, for what the Chicago gained and the Heat lost. If the Heat are committed to a playoff spot, which has been the tone of the rhetoric to this point, then the Bulls well could be one of the teams they have to push past. To me, the only playoff givens in the East are the Cavaliers, Raptors and Celtics. Beyond that just about every Eastern Conference game figures to matter. A lot.

Q: If Chris Bosh is healthy, what are the chances Erik Spoelstra starts Derrick Williams at the four in the Luol Deng role and then brings C.B. off the bench for a more half-court offense? -- B.C., Coral Springs.

A: I would assume that if Chris Bosh returns -- and that remains a huge "if" -- that he would come all the way back, which would mean back in the starting lineup, where any team would wants its lone All-Star. The thing about Deng was he was an elite defender, something Chris has developed into, as well. I'm not sure anyone would say that at this stage with Derrick, which likely will be a factor in where and when he plays.

August 25, 2016

Q: Miami has proven scorers in Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and maybe Hassan Whiteside. After those three, everyone else is a question mark. -- Aura.

A: A few things: First, this is what happens when you make the choice (and the Heat very much were in control of the situation) to allow Dwyane Wade to depart in the midst of uncertainty with Chris Bosh. It's all part of stepping back and reassessing. Second, putting Dwyane aside, any team that loses a top scorer, as could be the case with Bosh, finds itself playing from behind, as the Pacers did two seasons ago without Paul George. But the third element in the equation is that it allows players who otherwise might have had to temper their games, or defer, to now step up to another level. At $98 million over four years, it's something you'd certainly like to see from Whiteside. And with Dragic, it eliminates the question of having to step aside for Wade. Even with Waiters, there is not nearly the type of talent in front of him as he experienced with LeBron James' return to Cleveland or in Oklahoma City. For the Heat to score enough to be competitive (amid the uncertainty with Bosh), what you're basically asking for are career years from Whiteside, Dragic and Waiters. How high is their ceiling? We're about to find out.

Q: Goran Dragic won't be able to play next to Dion Waiters. Two small guards equals toast. -- Harry.

A: Which is why Josh Richardson could make more sense for the first unit, especially with potentially limited scoring on the second unit. If Waiters' desire is to be acknowledged as a top-tier scoring guard, he could find himself with more opportunities to explore his offensive possibilities with the second unit. But after taking a pay cut, the issue becomes getting Waiters to accept a role perhaps other than initially discussed. It will be interesting to see how Erik Spoelstra handles that element of the Heat's reshuffled roster.

Q: So the Skyforce's prospects for repeating as D-League champions are looking pretty good, eh? -- Tom, Chapel Hill, N.C.

A: And yet, while Rodney McGruder, Okaro White, Stefan Jankovic and possibly Briante Weber certainly would position the Skyforce for such a possibility, the shame of the Heat's roster glut is the potential lack of an opportunity of one or two to remain under the Heat NBA umbrella. Jankovic certainly needs such seasoning, and White likely was  ticketed to Sioux Falls the day he signed his partially guaranteed deal, but the fact that it appears so obvious that the Heat will conduct, in essence, a Skyforce mini-camp, takes some of the shine off the possibilities of unearthing another NBA prospect. Then again, Tyler Johnson went from camp to the Skyforce and then was re-signed at midseason by the Heat. So there still could be that type of hope.

August 24, 2016

Q: Ira, I know you must be inundated with Chris Bosh questions, but with training camp just a month away surely there is a deadline on whether Bosh can or cannot play. It really is a distraction since the entire style of the team would change if he does or does not play. I think it's too much for Erik Spoelstra and the coaches to drop everything and remake the team based on such a late decision, whenever it comes. Thank you. -- David, Plantation.

A: There is no deadline, just like there was no timetable that dictated that Bosh would suffer a blood clot at midseason each of the past two seasons. But that doesn't mean the clock isn't running for a player whose last competitive action was Feb. 9. At this stage of the offseason, most players are working their way toward game shape. Players no longer use training camp to get into shape (which proved to be an issue with Goran Dragic last season after his inactive summer). Now they arrive ready to go, and, in the Heat's case, ready to pass the team's conditioning test. That, by itself, would create issues, if the rest of the team already is up to speed at the start of camp. What would be welcome would be a sign of Bosh returning to vigorous workouts, perhaps even on Snapchat or Instagram. As for Spoelstra having to develop dual game plans, that's what coaches have to do anyway, prepare for each and every eventuality.

Q: The thought of a defensive lineup of Briante Weber, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Hassan Whiteside and either Goran Dragic (in a small-ball lineup) or Chris Bosh sounds to appealing (Tyler Johnson has shown some defensive tenacity, too). There seems to be a lot of potential for easy points with that group. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: I doubt, in the absence of Bosh, there would be many "easy" points, no matter the approach. But I do agree there is sufficient defensive pedigree available to create a "bulldog" unit, if you will. The question is whether players such as Tyler Johnson, Richardson and Weber will get the minutes to form such continuity with Whiteside, or whether those minutes might instead go to the likes of Derrick Williams, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington, players known more for their offensive disposition. James Johnson also has the defensive disposition to work with such a group, as well.

Q: Josh Richardson needs to be on the floor, starting. -- Harry.

A: That will happen organically, either through his play during training camp, the preseason or the start of the regular season. Talent has a way or forcing the hand of coaches (assuming, as I do, that there have not been any guarantees already put in place when it comes to playing time or playing roles).

August 23, 2016

Q: Ira, do the Heat really get faster if Chris Bosh is healthy, or do you see them playing more of a halfcourt game with a "twin towers" approach? Most teams don't have an answer for a power forward-center team anymore, especially not with a point guard with good passing skills. Thoughts? -- Gabriel, Denver.

A: That is what has made Bosh's absences all the more frustrating, the fact that we have yet to see Bosh and Whiteside find a way to mesh their games into something beyond their individual skills. Is Whiteside-Bosh even an effective mix? At this point, it is difficult to offer much in the way of the affirmative. Now, that doesn't mean that Erik Spoelstra hasn't come up with something that will make it more effective than last season. But amid the uncertainty, one has to wonder how far down that road he has gone this offseason. If Bosh returns, it opens up a variety of possibilities, with the most likely outcome a halfcourt game that has Bosh more often in the mid-post and Whiteside planted closer to the baseline. When you have two quality pieces, there almost always is a way to make it work. If, indeed, you ultimately have those two quality pieces.

Q: Ira, I think James Johnson will break out and be an X-factor this season. He can guard all five positions. If his 3-point game goes up, like in Miami's Twitter videos, he can be a major asset for Erik Spoelstra's position-less style -- Mac, Toronto.

A: Which is why, to me, promotional video is as meaningful as what we've seen in some of these recent NFL exhibition games. It is one thing to make uncontested 3-pointers in rhythm while not being defended. It is another to do it under duress during game conditions. Yes, if James Johnson makes 3-pointers at a reliable rate he could be of benefit. But there was a point the Heat thought they could get the same from Udonis Haslem, who has shown during practices he can be every bit as efficient as James Johnson has shown during those promotional videos. With so many new pieces, a lot of it comes down to that we won't know until we know. The question becomes whether the Heat can figure it out soon enough as to not fall behind in the standings.

Q: Since we have no chance at a ring, with the Cavs and Warriors being the favorites, might as well tank in a year, with our own pick and a strong draft class (assuming Bosh retires or is traded). -- Ryan.

A: I find it amusing  that in August anyone would be willing to give up on November, December, January, February, March and April. Sort of how the Dolphins have found themselves caught in the middle in the NFL standings in recent years, a game or two on either side of .500, I'm not sure a team featuring Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow (if not Chris Bosh, as well), can actually be "tanking" bad, which is to say out of the playoff race by the Feb. 23 trading deadline. I think you have to go in hoping for the best (like last season's Trail Blazers) and then play it out from there. 

August 22, 2016

Q: Briante Weber I believe should be a keeper to learn more as a third-string point guard, not Tyler Johnson or Josh Richardson. My reason is because both like scoring and attacking, and neither has passing skills or a point guard mentality like Weber. Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington are scorers, pure shooters so you might want to keep them for space flooring. -- Lester, Tampa.

A: Agreed, which is why it is surprising that Weber could be squeezed out despite having three-eighths of his 2016-17 contract already guaranteed. One thing the Heat have lacked for years has been a lock-down defensive point guard, one who could pick up full court and wear down an opposing ballhandler. It is not what Goran Dragic does. Not what Beno Udrih does. That's what has made Briante so intriguing. But what we haven't witnessed are the Heat's private drills, and it's possible that Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson have turned into such defensive prospects/pests, perhaps reducing the need for a specialist at point guard such as Briante.  

Q: The gold-medal game Sunday was a wipeout without our best players. Olympic basketball needs change. Make it all college or half college and some pro, or an age restriction. -- Stephen.

A: A few thoughts here. First, just because there is dominance in an Olympic pursuit, does that mean it suddenly becomes unfair? Should Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps be banned because of their ascendancy? Plus, if you limit NBA players from participating, you are further limiting the chances of teams beyond the U.S. of competing. Now, you could impose age restrictions like Olympic soccer, but that again would be limiting the teams beyond the United States. And that format works because there is a World Cup to determine international soccer supremacy. From a basketball standpoint, the World Cup of Basketball does not resonate like an Olympic gold to NBA players. And keep in mind that most international players turn pro well younger than U.S.-born players. Beyond that, should you move toward the Olympic soccer model, I'm not sure there would be many NBA players who would want to be surrounded mostly by collegians in such an endeavor. No, sometimes dominance in a single sport is simply a nation's birthright.

Q: I like Dion Waiters, but if the Heat try to make him more than a sixth man his head is going to explode -- Mo.

A: It comes down to how open he is to it all. The Heat have been good about adopting a clean slate when it comes to bringing in veterans. Dion could wind up as everything from starter to instant-offense specialist. And I'm sure the Heat will explore each and every possibility. That's why I was somewhat curious about the low cost of the signing, and whether there had perhaps been some sort of guarantee about a role going forward. That, for the most part, has not been the Heat way.

August 21, 2016

Q: Whatever happened to Erik Spoelstra's vaunted "position-less" basketball? We are seeing a lot of concern about too many and too few players at given positions. What I see are core of players who are between 6-4 and 6-8 who can run, play two, three, or four and some at five. And depending on matchups and evolving lineup chemistry they give coaches a lot of flexibility in configuring who is on the floor. Doesn't the final roster just come down to the fifteen best players and sort out who goes where and when later? -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: Which is why I'm sure Erik Spoelstra is sitting back and smiling an amused smile over this debate. It also is why I'd envision the eight or nine best players ultimately forming the primary rotation. But I do believe there are two exceptions: You need a big man to anchor the defense, if at all possible, and you need playmakers to maximize the talent on the floor. That's why I believe you start with Hassan Whiteside and the combination of Goran Dragic/Beno Udrih and go from there.

Q: Dion Waiters on the Cavaliers was like the fifth or sixth option. He was one of the last options in OKC. But on Miami he might be the second. Ira, I don't know if I would put Josh Richardson ahead of Dion Waiters. That is a stretch for me. Dion never has been on a team like Miami. After 2016-17 we might all see why Dion Waiters number used to be No. 3 before he came to Miami. -- Will.

A: And I'm sure the Heat would more than welcome Waiters arriving as a revelation. In fact, one of the biggest question marks on this team will be who takes (and makes) the big shots with the game in the balance at the finish. The Heat, I'm sure, would love nothing more than Waiters making himself indispensible in such situations. The opportunity certainly will be there for Waiters to call this his house.

Q: Can a team send a roster player such as Josh McRoberts to the D-League in the hope that he is picked up by another team, obviously if he's not wanted, thereby excising his contract? Or is this only available to players without a contract? -- Joaquin, Coral Gables.

A: Josh McRoberts is not going to the D-League and the Heat are not sending him there. And any roster player in the D-League also counts against the NBA's 15-player limit, with such salary counting against the salary cap. I can't fathom McRoberts not being on the 15-man roster going into the season, unless he is included as part of a package in a trade. The real question is whether he will be part of the rotation, ahead of someone such as Derrick Williams, for example.

August 20, 2016

Q: Ira, if you were shaping this roster, what would you do? And could you please explain Luke Babbitt? -- Neil.

A: First, because it's August, I wouldn't do anything but consider all possibilities. There is a reason the NBA allows you to carry up to 20 players in the offseason before having to trim to a maximum of 15. I also might again see if there is any market for Josh McRoberts, while aware that the Heat were unable to make such a move in July amid their negotiations with Dwyane Wade. But I also would, between now and the end of the preseason, explore the possibilities of the younger fringe players. And if Briante Weber or even Rodney McGruder show they have potential to make a difference in the NBA this season, then I think you might have to consider eating some guaranteed money, especially since the Heat this time around are not dealing with the luxury tax. As for Babbitt, there is some advantage of moving forward, if only because of the players obtained this offseason, he arrives with Bird Rights, which could prove advantageous down the road. To me, Babbitt and McRoberts seem somewhat redundant, as outside shooting big men. The issue with McRoberts is that he holds a player option for 2017-18, so if there was even consideration of eating salary, it is a move the Heat could not afford to make because that future money would remain on the cap. Of all the players added in the offseason, Wayne Ellington appears somewhat as an odd man out, at least when it comes to the rotation, likely to go into camp behind Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson in the backcourt rotation, not to mention Beno Udrih. Of course, all the Heat's math still gets back to the X-factor of Chris Bosh.

Q: Why the criticism of Goran Dragic/Beno Udrih? Point guard is the floor general, and thus both of them can maximize the potential of this team. -- Juan.

A: Which I have been stressing since the agreement with Udrih. Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow are not necessarily players able to consistently create their own shots. That's why you need playmakers. The difference with this backcourt mix is that it no longer includes Dwyane Wade, whose playmaking long has been under-appreciated. For all their promise, I'm not sure Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson can maximize the offensive potential of Whiteside and Winslow. That's not to say there shouldn't be such occasional experimentation (including plenty during the preseason), but both Richardson and Johnson are still dealing with learning curves when it comes to the needed NBA mindset at point guard. Now, if Josh McRoberts can make it back into the rotation, that at least would/could provide another facilitator in the halfcourt.

Q: Wayne Ellington, Josh McRoberts and Beno Udrih all seem like possible trade bait. -- Gabriel, Denver.

A: Actually, with the exception of McRoberts, not for a while. Any player signed in the offseason, including a returning player, cannot be dealt until Dec. 15. In addition, Tyler Johnson cannot be dealt until Jan. 15 because of the degree of the overall raise in his new contract. And when it comes to minimum-scale players such as Udrih, the trade value is minimal. Unless the Heat have something in mind with Goran Dragic or Josh McRoberts (or Chris Bosh, which doesn't seem feasible in light of his health), their trade possibilities will be several limited for months.

August 19, 2016

Q: Ira, I think Goran Dragic will be dealt by trade deadline if Miami is not in the playoff picture. If he plays really well, he could net picks and prospects -- Mac, Toronto.

A: First, don't lose sight of the reality that the Heat still owe a pair of potential lottery picks to the Suns for Goran. So to trade him away after such a brief audition could well leave the Heat at a net loss from that transition. I believe what first has to happen is that the Heat need to attempt to make this Goran's team, one capable playing at Goran Speed and with Goran Motor. While I appreciate the Chris Bosh situation complicates the matter, with Chris far superior in the halfcourt game, the Heat have to get a read on whether they can make this work, re-create more of those moments they received from Dragic in the playoffs. As for Goran's defensive issues, perhaps play Goran alongside Josh Richardson, so Richardson (or perhaps even Justise Winslow) can defend the opposing point guard, while hiding Dragic elsewhere, if possible.

Q: Do you think that if the Heat would have known they weren't going to re-sign Dwyane Wade they would have given Joe Johnson a contract guaranteed to stay in Miami? --- Daniel, Miami.

A: The might have, but it assuredly would not have been for the two seasons that Utah offered at $11 million per. And I'm not sure that Joe would have wanted to remain in Miami without Dwyane alongside. I agree that there did not necessarily appear to be a Plan B when it came to Wade's departure to the Bulls. But I'm not sure that Joe remaining with the Heat would have necessarily been an answer. I believe Joe is at a stage where he is best served as a secondary perimeter scoring option, something he can achieve alongside Gordon Hayward for at least this coming season, before Hayward has to decide on his own free agency.

Q: To me, the addition of Beno Udrih is the Heat returning the favor of Udrih keeping the Heat out of the luxury tax, nothing to do with win-now mode. -- Rich, West Palm Beach.

A: Which undoubtedly is a factor. Now, if the Heat were to turn around and then cut Udrih before the start of the season, perhaps in favor of Briante Weber, that would offer even greater clarity of that being a factor. There is, no doubt, a debt of gratitude involved in what has been a standing offer ever since Udrih went down with his foot injury and then agreed to his team-friendly buyout.

August 18, 2016

Q: I don't know why you assume we're giving a 34-year-old vet minutes just because he's now back. Backup point guard still is up for grabs. Beno Udrih is not the backup. Good try, but you're his only fan. -- Ben.

A: First, Beno played well in his minutes with the Heat, at times even outperforming Goran Dragic. Second, for games that Dragic might have to miss, Udrih would make the most sense as far as his ability to get the team into offense. The equation was different when Dwyane Wade was on the roster, where you could more easily pair him with pseudo-point types such as Tyler Johnson or Josh Richardson, because of Wade's ability to handle and advance the ball full court. To me, the addition of Udrih is an indication of the Heat trying to continue in win-now mode, with many of the younger players who excelled in summer league likely to farmed out. I think to maximize the growth of Hassan Whiteside, you have to pair him with a pass-first playmaker. No one on this roster fits that job description more than Beno. That's why the signing made sense on many levels. As would playing him in the primary rotation.

Q: If Tyler Johnson isn't being groomed to be a starting point guard, then Miami should get rid of him. Tyler Johnson is a one, not a two. -- Aura.

A: No, he isn't. Now, that doesn't mean he one day can't become an NBA-level starting point guard, but he simply is not at the moment. And he has not shown overwhelming indications that he is headed in that direction. Just because the Heat have too many shooting guards (Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington, Johnson) doesn't mean that Johnson therefore has to play point guard. In fact, of that group, Richardson has displayed far more of a playmaking disposition in his single season than Johnson has over the past two seasons. Granted, Tyler did not join the Heat until midway through 2014-15 and then missed the second half of this past season. For now, point guard remains on-the-job training for Johnson, in limited doses.

Q: Three young, talented shooting guards: Does experience or potential lead to a starting job? And which one has the highest ceiling? -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: To me, the highest ceiling is with Richardson. And yet, by draft pedigree, the NBA decided that it was Waiters coming out of Syracuse. By contract, it is Johnson, considering the Heat's $50 million forced investment. I still believe, if the Heat knew then what they know now, that they might not have been as quick to move on Ellington. Then again, if Chris Bosh, who was not even mentioned or pictured in Erik Spoelstra's promotional video, does not return, the I would expect the Heat to play Richardson quite a bit at small forward and go to small ball often.

August 17, 2016

Q: Luke Babbitt, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Josh McRoberts and Willie Reed have much more professional game experience than Justise Winslow (20) and Josh Richardson (22). Don't rush Justise and Josh. Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant had Shaquille O'Neal, while Tim Duncan had David Robinson. Without a mentor even Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyrie Irving or Kristaps Porzingis didn't make the playoffs in their early years. -- Leonard, Aventura.

A: While the Heat have added a few veterans, there is a difference between "proven" veterans, and veterans who have been around for a while. It is one thing to grow to emulate David Robinson, it is another to walk in the footsteps of a journeyman. That's not to say that the veterans the Heat have added can't ease the adjustment for the Heat's younger players, but this is a team that often talks about the "Heat way," and that makes someone like Udonis Haslem a far more likely mentor than any of the recent arrivals. All of that said, it is not as if any of the Heat's younger players, including Richardson and Johnson, stand in the way of veterans currently more capable of providing playoff success. So you play the young players, with their mentorship best provided on the practice court. This is a team, save for players such as Haslem and perhaps Goran Dragic, where the leadership will have to come from the coaching staff. I believe Juwan Howard will be a significant part of that process.

Q: I don't think Tyler Johnson is a point guard, and Briante Weber may eventually get there, but I don't know if he's a playmaker. I still have faith in Josh McRoberts and I believe he'll have a real chance to shine with this squad. -- Martin, Los Angeles.

A: It is one thing to be a playmaker, it is another thing to get a team into offense in transition. Yes, McRoberts has the ability to keep the ball moving, to reverse it from side to side. But he is not someone who is going to advance the ball full-court, and if the defense doesn't step up to stop the ball, someone who can take it all the way to the rim. In fact, I'm not so sure that the Heat shouldn't back off the entire notion of McRoberts as facilitator, and instead simply get him into a role similar to most stretch fours, where he spaces the floor but also attacks the rim. To a degree, it's as if that side of McRoberts' Heat potential has yet to be explored.

Q: We shouldn't have matched Brooklyn's offer for Tyler Johnson. Would we be able to 'stretch' T.J.'s salary once the 'poison pill' contract starts to hurt us if he does not prove himself to be worthy over the next couple seasons? -- Dean, Miami.

A: While that could be an option, it is remarkable how many have already considered moving on from Johnson in the wake of the Heat matching the Nets' back-loaded offer. For now, Johnson stands as an asset, a player who could potentially grow into a starting NBA shooting guard. Before considering alternatives, I believe you first explore those possibilities, which means getting him on the court early and often this season. If it doesn't work out after his two lower-paid years, then you can consider the alternatives. But to consider them now appears far too premature. 

August 16, 2016

Q: Where do you think this Heat team will stand among the rejuvenated Eastern Conference? Almost every team got better, but the Heat failed to even keep their roster the same. -- Juan, New York.

A: As with just about each of these types of questions it comes down to whether Chris Bosh plays. With Bosh, there is no reason for a team with Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic in the lineup to not be contending for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. Without Bosh, it's a different story. I think it's safe to say that the Cavaliers again are the clear favorite in the East, with Boston taking a significant stride with the addition of Al Horford. Then there are the Raptors, who appear every bit as solid as last season, when they finished second to the Cavaliers both during the regular season and in the Eastern Conference finals. Beyond that, it appears to be a toss-up, with the Pacers, Knicks and Bulls offering new looks, the Wizards attempting to regain their stride, the Hawks looking to maintain their place and the Pistons seemingly on the rise. Without Bosh, it could be difficult for the Heat to crack that field. With Bosh, playoffs certainly could be a reality.

Q: In this Chris Bosh saga, who has the final decision whether he'll play or not? What will it have to take to let him play or make him retire? What if the doctors said it is 50-50, what then? Yes, the Heat can opt not to play him by "Coach's Decision," but I suppose that does not have the same effect to the salary cap as the retirement due to medical condition. -- Frances, Philippines.

A: First, the Heat cannot make Bosh retire. That ultimately has to be his, and only his, decision. And if Bosh doesn't agree to retire, then there will be no salary-cap relief. In other words, the process has to conclude with a mutual agreement between the parties. Short of that, the limbo will continue . . . possibly for the balance of the remaining three years on Chris' contract.

Q: Seeing as how the Heat basically are filled to capacity with this roster, who gets cut, who gets traded? -- Robert, Alexandria, Va.

A: Short of a trade of one of the few trade-eligible players on the current roster (those other than the players signed this offseason), it appears the odds are long for Rodney McGruder, Okaro White and Stefan Jankovic. The toughest decision could come if Beno Udrih is injected back into the mix, which could create a bit of consternation for Briante Weber.

August 15, 2016

Q: What do the Heat do with Josh McRoberts, especially if Chris Bosh cannot play? McRoberts showed in Charlotte that he has the skill set to be a poor man's Chris Bosh. Does Erik Spoelstra try and get him back to that style of play, have him be aggressive, shooting the open three when there, and getting him to go to the hoop with a vengeance? Or do the Heat bury him at the end of the bench, in hopes he becomes disenchanted and opts out of his contract next year? My thoughts are you get his game back on track, making him a tradable asset in the summer of 2017, when you need to clear space. -- Matteo.

A: It was interesting how Micky Arison mentioned McRoberts in his letter to fans, albeit last among the returning older veterans. Josh had been out of sight for so long, it was almost easy to forget that he remains a part of this mix. At this point, I'm not sure what to make of McRoberts, because I'm not sure what Erik Spoelstra truly believes, considering the way the talk has exceeded the playing time. But I do agree that the only way for the Heat to make something out of McRoberts is to get him to play with a more aggressive bent, not as the finesse big man who rarely has eyes on the rim. There have been enough dunks (and shirt ripping) to show that aggression is possible. Less finesse and more force has to be the goal. Such an approach also could represent a last chance.

Q: It appears the Heat signed a few summer-league players to contracts that were well above the D-League maximum salary of $25,000 (which is ridiculously low) as a means of encouraging them to stay with a Skyforce assignment rather than jump overseas to get an actual living wage. If the NBA is pressing all 30 teams to have an affiliate D-League team, why force teams like the Heat to do salary end runs to keep players in a system where they can be molded to the parent team's playbook and system? -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: I totally agree. And yet, even with those six-figure guarantees to Rodney McGruder, Stefan Jankovic and Okaro White, there would be nothing to prevent outside teams from claiming them off the Heat's Sioux Falls roster once they are excised from the Heat's 15-player NBA roster. The only way the Heat could send any of those three to their D-League affiliate and retain their rights would be to include them on their 15-player NBA roster, which does not appear practical at the moment. It would seem that if you commit $100,000 or more to a player that there should be a mechanism to continue that relationship without having such a prospect immediately poached.

Q: Both Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington are career backups. Why is everyone all of a sudden acting like the Heat can make them stars? -- Mo.

A: With Waiters, it is because of the flashes he has shown with the Cavaliers and Thunder, as well as where he was selected in the draft. With Ellington, it is because of the 3-point element that the Heat otherwise lacks on the roster. But I also wouldn't overstate anything in the way of guaranteed playing time for either. Not at this stage. Both Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson could well find themselves ahead of Waiters and Ellington in the Heat's rotation. And I'm sure Erik Spoelstra will deliver a nothing-is-guaranteed speech early in training camp.

August 14, 2016

Q: Ira, why is everyone underestimating Goran Dragic? When he was last running the show (never occurred in Miami), he was All-NBA third-team and led his team to 48 wins with Channing Frye as his second-best scorer with the Suns. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: I don't think anyone is underestimating Goran, I just don't think he's been given much consideration. With Dwyane Wade on the roster, Goran was the secondary option in the backcourt, even when it came to ballhandling and playmaking. Then there has been the annual concern about the health of Chris Bosh. And this offseason, the focus clearly was on retaining Hassan Whiteside. But your point is valid, that this could/should be when the Heat turn to Goran, if only to attempt to fully unlock his possibilities, especially considering the two first-round picks they still owe the Suns from that trade. To this point, Goran hardly has produced as a high-volume playmaker. But, again, much of that had to do with Wade requiring the ball in his hands. While his personality is as a get-along type, this has to be when Dragic moves beyond his comfort zone when it comes to leadership. With Wade gone and Bosh a question mark, the guidance in the starting lineup has to come from Dragic, which should be a natural starting point with any quality point guard.

Q: With how crowded our backcourt already is, will there be any value to us signing Beno Udrih? Also how will Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, and Tyler Johnson all fit at shooting guard unless one of them moves to point guard? -- Tate.

A: Here's where Udrih helps: The Heat's current roster lacks anyone beyond Dragic who has played point guard at the NBA level on a consistent basis. That's when Udrih would particularly come in handy, for games when Dragic is unable to go, which is not out of the realm in light of Dragic's physical, attacking style. As for your question about all the shooting guards, I'm sure Erik Spoelstra will address this with the first of his position-less comments of training camp, that in the Heat's system a shooting guard is just about the same as a small forward. The real competition in camp could be whether there will be minutes for Derrick Williams, James Johnson or Luke Babbitt, considering all three appear to be little more than one-year rentals. How do you address a glut of shooting guards? By calling them small forwards.

Q: Ira, Heat with Dwyane Wade-less, what difference do you see in this change? -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: That will manifest itself at the ends of tight games, when the ball almost always found itself in the hands of Wade, often for (lamentably) extended stretches. I'm sure Dion Waiters would have no issue taking such shots, but figure on such touches first going to Chris Bosh if he returns. It will be interesting, as mentioned above, to see how much Goran Dragic injects himself into that equation, having often been reduced to spot-up shooting in the corners when Wade was controlling the late-game offense.

August 13, 2016

Q: Chris Bosh never got to play with Hassan Whiteside without Dwyane Wade. Wade played slow ball and iso ball. Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Chris Bosh and Hassan is nice. -- C.J.

A: While it has been well-chronicled how Bosh-Whiteside did not exactly mesh last season, I agree that when you move a component as essential as Wade out of the mix that everything changes. It is why the earliest possible read on Bosh's future is essential, if only to be able to get the five you mentioned on the court together. Still, Bosh's style is to measure situations before initiating his first move, which lends itself to a halfcourt style that might not be in the best interests of Whiteside, Dragic, Winslow and perhaps even Waiters. Now, if Bosh can't return and you wind up moving someone such as Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson into that mix, then you assuredly would be off to the races. But with Wade gone, Bosh becomes essential for end-game situations, when play naturally slows, anyway. For now we wait, with the Heat hoping that the answer with Bosh comes sooner rather than later in September.

Q: Motion to eject any idiot out of AmericanAirlines Arena who boos at Dwyane Wade when he comes to play this season. -- Jeromy.

A: Which is why it is helpful that Chicago's lone visit to South Florida comes on Nov. 10, before we get into any type of playoff race, especially with the Heat and Bulls likely fighting for similar seeds. For that matter, having the Heat's three-game season series with the Bulls being completed before the schedule's midpoint also should alleviate any tensions. Still, there will be six games before Wade's visit and the emotional barometer could be fueled by how the Heat perform in those six. A rough start to the season could create a rough setting for Wade's return, with matchups against the Spurs, Raptors and Thunder in advance of Heat-Bulls.

Q: Ira, I know it's early, but based on the current roster what type of record do you foresee the Heat having this season? -- Vaughn, Germantown, Md.

A: That essentially gets back to today's first question? Put a lineup on the court that includes Chris Bosh and everything changes. A team with Whiteside, Bosh, Winslow and Dragic in its starting lineup should be a team that not only posts a winning record, but in this East equation, challenges for potential homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. Without Bosh it is possible the Heat field a lineup without a 2017 All-Star, which typically does not bode well for even a winning record.

August 12, 2016

Q: Ira, do the Heat use the schedule for motivation, not playing on Christmas, with just five national television games? -- Ray.

A: I'm not sure there is enough of a veteran bent for this roster to take umbrage. About the only players with such a right for indignation would be Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem. But we're still not sure whether Bosh is coming back (which has a lot to do with the networks shying away) and even Haslem recognizes that his role now is to mentor players still hoping to emerge. Beyond that, Hassan Whiteside still is in proving-ground mode and Goran Dragic's personality is not to vent about scheduling. Now, if this happened with Dwyane Wade on the roster, then I'm sure you already would have heard something about it. Remember, beyond the Christmas schedule, the NBA's scheduling is flexible enough for ESPN, TNT or even ABC to switch Heat games into prime-time slots if they eventually prove worthy. For now, it's about flying below the radar and possibly catching opponents off-guard.

Q: I don't know if it's too soon to be concerned, but all I see of Hassan Whiteside is him going out, playing video games. Meanwhile, Justise Winslow, Briante Weber, Josh Richardson, James Johnson and the other guys the Heat signed this offseason seem to be putting in time with the coaches practicing and working out. Is it too soon to worry about Whiteside's maturity after signing that huge contract? -- David, Boynton Beach.

A: Yes. The lesson I've learned over the years doing this is that July and especially August belong to the players. With Thursday's release of the schedule, you realize how grueling the NBA can be. Plus, Hassan has spent his share of time in the gym, recently working out in Miami with Tyler Johnson and the team's development coaches. Plus, if you catch Hassan's Snapchat with any regularity, you'll see a player who can make a nasty muscle and is more that willing to brag about the needed weight he has added. When the calendar turns to September, you can be assured that Whiteside will be getting his work in, or hearing about it from Udonis Haslem, among others.

Q: No disrespect to Wayne Ellington, but do you see him getting traded once he is eligible? Do you believe if the Heat knew they were signing Dion Waiters they would have even signed Ellington in the first place? -- Daniel, Miami.

A: I don't know for sure, but I would tend to lean that way, considering the time they also want to get for Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson. For Ellington to merit minutes, he's going to have to shoot lights out on 3-pointers, which, of course, is something he has done with regularity against the Heat. For all Waiters might be able to add, his 3-point shooting could still open the door for Ellington. But you are correct that Wayne could find himself in a James Jones, break-open-only-when-needed mode.

August 11, 2016

Q: Does Rudy Gay strike you as a good fit in Miami? -- Brian.

A: There are a couple of impacting issues in place regarding a potential trade with the Kings. First, while Gay can get out of his contract after earning $13.3 million this season, he also holds a player option for $14.3 million in 2017-18. And that's the rub. After attempting to hold the line on negotiations beyond this year, it is unlikely the Heat would want to jump into such an amount beyond next season. In other words, the Heat likely would want Gay to agree to bypass his option year before any deal is made. But, beyond that, Pat Riley said that he envisions Justise Winslow as the Heat's starting small forward going forward. So why have someone step in front of Winslow? Now, if the Heat know/learn that Chris Bosh won't be able to play this season, and therefore potentially have to move Winslow to power forward, then the possibility of Gay could become somewhat more realistic. But even then, the Heat would have to send something close to Gay's $13.3 million salary back to the Kings, a figure than cannot include any player signed this offseason (such deals are prohibited until Dec. 15). Working with that math and those limitations, it is difficult to build any package at the moment that doesn't include Goran Dragic. Even if the Kings were interested in Josh McRoberts, his 2016-17 salary leaves you only at a $5.8 million starting point for a trade.

Q: Could you see a Rudy Gay deal happening in late December, when players who signed contracts are able to get traded (assuming that both the Kings and Miami have mutual interest)? -- Daniel, Miami.

A: That's a different story. Pat Riley has gone on record as saying he believe some of the deals signed this offseason around the league could get moved by the late-February trading deadline. So if the Heat were to want to make a deal after Dec. 15, I'm sure they would scour every possibility, not just a scenario with Rudy Gay. By then, there will be a better read on Chris Bosh, as well as better insight into how this group meshes. Because this does not appear to be the Heat's roster of the future, I think anyone and anything could be on the table once there is more that can be put in play by the Heat and around the league.

Q: Did Wednesday's victory over Australia show that LeBron James made the right decision with Kyrie Irving? -- Paul.

A: For all of LeBron's suggestion of Dwyane Wade being deserving a Kobe-like contract from the Heat, he knew what he could wind up with in Irving in Cleveland. Irving showed it Wednesday with the same type of big-moment shot against Australia for Team USA that he made for the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Warriors. It's not about whether Kyrie is better than Wade at the moment, it's about the years to come when LeBron knows he will need someone to help share the load.

August 10, 2016

Q: In contrast to the Heat's crowded backcourt, it seems particularly thin at center. Hassan Whiteside is a bright spot but after him only Willie Reed, a part-time bench player with the Nets and a second-year player, is available. Chris Bosh can't be counted on and Justise Winslow is undersized. What are the chances a trade could be made for the Magic's Nikola Vucevic? With Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo joining Orlando's roster for big dollars, it would seem Vucevic would be available. And now that they traded Victor Oladipo away, they need depth at shooting guard, where we are overloaded. -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: A bunch of thoughts here. First, the Heat also have Udonis Haslem to play at center, with Josh McRoberts also as possibility there. That said, the way the roster currently is constructed, I'm not sure there is a need for more than one center. Many teams go small when the starting center goes out, so there could be several opportunities to play a power forward or even Justise Winslow in the middle. As for Vucevic, while he does fit the Heat mold of a player who has thrived against the Heat, he also is under a contract that pays $11.8 million this season, with two more seasons to follow. I doubt a team that wasn't anxious to go with a third season for Dwyane Wade would want to go that deep with any player at this stage. Now, if you're asking whether the Heat would trade Tyler Johnson and another salary that fits (which could become available Dec. 15), that's another story. But that's only if there is a definitive sense on what will happen with Chris Bosh, and whether Vucevic can work alongside Hassan Whiteside.

Q: With so many players with one-year or two-year contracts with a team option, how do you keep this odd assortment from playing for a larger payday, instead of playing within the team concept, and taking on specific roles, roles that may not enhance their value at season's end? I think this is going to be especially difficult with the loss of David Fizdale (the assistant coach who was the main communicator to the players) and vets such as Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng no longer on the roster to keep everybody in line. -- Matt.

A: This is when we will see which of the assistant coaches step into that void, whether it is Juwan Howard or Dan Craig, and whether someone such as Goran Dragic feels comfortable enough to take on such a role. Yes. Udonis Haslem remains in place for guidance, but true leadership typically is accompanied by significant playing time. It will be interesting to see if Chris Bosh is unable to make it back whether Erik Spoelstra adds an additional captain beyond Haslem.

Q: Is Briante Weber the backup point guard? -- Bob.

A: While he is the only other true point guard on the roster at the moment behind Goran Dragic, I think it's safe to say that Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson both currently stand as more likely to get minutes at the point before Briante, and there's still the chance of a return by Beno Udrih to serve as the backup point guard. As Briante, himself, pointed out on his Twitter account, his first priority has to be simply earning a roster spot.

August 9, 2016

Q: Ira, we already know that this Heat team will be elite on defense. With Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson we've got some really good defenders. If Erik Spoelstra can make it work on offense, this team could be special. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: That, of course, is if Josh Richardson is in the starting lineup. To take the thought further, Chris Bosh is one of the Heat's most versatile defenders. So if he's back, you could be set defensively at center (Whiteside), power forward (Bosh), small forward (Winslow) and shooting guard (should Richardson start ahead of Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington). But if Bosh isn't back, then you could find yourself offensively challenged, which could have Spoelstra somewhat compromising his values, by possibly opting for the offense of Waiters or Ellington. Beyond that, James Johnson has had his defensive moments, but is somewhat limited on offense. It will be interesting to see how Spoelstra plays it, especially if there is a desire to keep the offense at speed behind Goran Dragic at point guard.

Q: From everything I've seen, read, and heard, Dion Waiters is a player who needs the ball in his hands, which would clash with Goran Dragic in the same way Dwyane Wade did. Except that was Dwyane Wade and not Dion Waiters. I think a backcourt of Waiters and Dragic would be a disaster, and that Waiters is much better suited to have the ball in his hands with the second unit.  -- Matt.

A: Agree. Which is why I am curious what/if the Heat might have told Waiters to get him to agree to the $2.9 million exception, a major cut from what he earned last season and could have received by taking his qualifying offer from the Thunder. And if you play Waiters in the second unit, then you could do it alongside a swing-type point guard (either Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson), which would allow Waiters to play on the ball more often. Or . . . is this the time when Waiters has to be convinced to play more off the ball, as Wade did when the Heat had LeBron James. That could, in turn, unlock Waiters' possibility for the larger contract he assuredly will be seeking.

Q: Would Ray Allen come back to the Heat? -- Steve.

A: While Ray expressed an interest in return to the NBA during his youth camp in Connecticut, as he has done the past two offseasons, he also said he is not interested in playing for a rebuilding team, since that would be more of a move into a coaching type of role. And I'm not sure it ended well enough with the Heat with Ray to want back into the Heat locker room. I still believe a return is a longshot after two full seasons away from the game.

August 8, 2016

Q: Yes, there was over-focus on Russell Westbrook as a free agent, but what was ever Plan B, aside from NBA purgatory or praying for Justise Winslow to become Kawhi Leonard? -- Daniel.

A: That is the issue. Enough with the promoting (or the surrogate promoting) of the quick fix. That simply is not NBA reality. It rarely is one move that pushes the needle from empty to full. It is a series of well-calculated moves (mixed in with a sufficient amount of good fortune) that ultimately puts a team on the track to a significantly better record. And the possibilities are there for the Heat, with growth from Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow, as well as upgrades from Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson. If those four become take-notice players, it will help attract other players who want to work as catalysts. And then there has to be maximization of the upcoming draft pick, which puts the Heat's scouting staff back on notice. What it can't be (and now won't be) is the notion that a full-max salary slot will, by itself, deliver salvation. Just as a team has to be five-men on a string, so now does every element of the Heat's developmental and scouting staff have to work in lockstep. "All In" has to be a term that transcends the lineup when it comes to overhauling a roster.

Q: Ira, I know you're not playing the "what-if" game. But if the Heat knew Dwyane Wade wasn't staying, would they have pushed harder to keep Luol Deng. I find it hard to believe he wanted to deal with the Lakers' rebuilding. -- Rolf.

A: Based on what Luol got from the Lakers, at $72 million over four years, I doubt the Heat would have go with such multiple years with any free agent when they didn't want to do that with Dwyane. In fact, if there would have been a case of "what if" with the Heat, I think it might have been the $21 million that Joe Johnson got from the Jazz over two years. As somewhat of a Wade stop-gap, you can make an argument for one Joe Johnson over what the Heat spent combined on James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Derrick Williams. But I do believe Deng will be missed, considering the friendship he built with Goran Dragic.

Q: Ira, you wrote about the Heat getting better with their shooting. What makes you think that can be the case? -- Michael.

A: Because of the work the Heat accomplished with Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, and because Justise Winslow was so off with some of his attempts last season that there clearly is room for improvement. To be candid, what really has to happen is that Goran Dragic has to return to his mean. He has shot .312 (last season) and .329 (in 2014-15) on 3-pointers with the Heat, after shooting .347 and .406 with the Suns the previous two seasons. If he gets back to that, the floor will open for the rest of the roster.

August 7, 2016

Q: Hassan Whiteside will be a major focal point of the Miami Heat's offense this upcoming season.  Do you think the Heat have enough consistent 3-point shooters to keep the opposing team's defense honest from collapsing into the middle? Also, will Whiteside have the mental toughness to deal with being a focal point of the opposing team's defense? In addition to the Heat getting out and running on offense (which will be fun to watch and entertaining for fans), I see the Heat playing a similar style to the way Orlando played when they had success with Dwight Howard. And Whiteside has more offensive talent than Howard. What say you?  -- Stuart.

A: First, I wouldn't overstate Hassan's offense in relation to Dwight, at least not yet at this stage of his career. I'm just not sure, as an opposing coach, I would send a second defender at Whiteside at this stage of his career. I'm not sure he yet commands such respect. And while the Heat certainly could surround Hassan with 3-point shooting, with a lineup of Luke Babbitt at power forward, Josh Richardson at the three, Wayne Ellington at the two and Tyler Johnson at the one, Erik Spoelstra has consistently displayed a preference for players with more-complete, two-way games. Plus, one-in, four-out works when the player in the paint can find the open man, offer crisp, quick passes. Or, for that matter, pass at all.

Q: Ira, with all the signings, especially in the back court, who do you think will be on the rotation when everything tightens up? My only fear is that Josh Richardson may not get the minutes he deserves because of the Dion Waiters/Wayne Ellington signings. -- Kellie, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

A: Richardson will get his minutes, because at the moment he has the greatest upside for the Heat, when counting his NBA-minimum scale contract that will take him all the way into his Bird Rights in the 2018 offseason. I think Ellington could wind up being more of a 3-point specialist than he may have anticipated when he signed last month. And as Erik Spoelstra has shown with someone like James Jones, being a Heat 3-point specialist doesn't necessarily guarantee playing time.

Q: Ira, can you see Dwyane Wade reunite with the Heat down the road? I just don't see Wade retiring as a Bull. Kevin Garnett, after he left Minnesota, decided to return and end his career with the Timberwolves, his original team. -- Daniel, Miami.

A: This is all too raw to be considered at the moment. And based on all that has been said over the past month, I'm not sure a reunion would be in the best interests of either party. The only way I believe it could happen is if the Heat move into a total rebuild and if Wade accepts a mentoring role at the end of his career. But, even then, salary numbers might get in the way.

August 6, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. I agree that in order to acquire a young star in free agency, a team has to already have one on its roster. I've been saying this for a long time. So, if you're not a proponent of tanking, what's your plan to acquire this magnet? -- Rich, West Palm Beach.

A: Perhaps the Heat already have such a magnet, and just need to release his magnetism. Hassan. Hassan. Hassan. This is when the Heat have to find out if there is an appeal of playing alongside Hassan Whiteside. We essentially know what Dwyane Wade thought, seemingly unable to wrap his head around the notion of playing as second fiddle to Hassan. Now, do I believe that Hassan is going to be able to lure free agents with his personality? There rightfully are doubts there (unless the targeted player in question is a big fan of Snapchat). But if a free agent is looking for a defender who has his back, a center who can trigger a fast break with his rebounding, or a finisher who can turn passes into assists. Then, yes, there could be an allure there. Or perhaps Goran Dragic, who suddenly finds himself with a contract that is reasonable by today's standards, becomes the type of player who so enthralled the rest of the NBA during his best of times in Phoenix. I'd like to add Chris Bosh to that list of potential recruiters, but his health issues have put that prospect on hold.

Q: The 2017 free-agency class does not have realistic star options other than Blake Griffin, and that option is gone if Chris Bosh is healthy. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: Which is why I am stressing in my Sunday column this week that it is time to stop looking at free agency as the be-all and end-all of roster reconstruction. I agree that we all know that LeBron James and Stephen Curry aren't going anywhere next summer. That Chris Paul has probably aged out of being a rebuilding block. And that for all players such as Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap can add, they're not franchise changers (or else their franchises already would have gone where free-agency buyers are looking to get). And even putting Bosh's situation aside, is there any definitive sense that Blake Griffin is the type of player who can change a franchise on his own?

Q: In response to your third question from Friday, can the Heat retire the jersey of an active player? -- Z.Z.

A: Considering teams will allow players to sometimes wear the number of a jersey that has already been retired, I don't see why not. And what better way to get an early jump on closure than on Nov. 10 to hoist Dwyane Wade's No. 3 to the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena before his Bulls make their lone visit of the season to South Florida. With Shaquille O'Neal's jersey to be retired this season by the Heat, wouldn't it make sense to make sure that Wade is third on the list behind only Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway?

August 5, 2016

Q: Now that ball-vacuum/will-never-carry-Miami-to-the-Finals Russell Westbrook is gone, will Miami set their sights on the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6-11 point guard with a 3-point shot and defense. -- William.

A: I think the lesson learned from this summer's free agency, especially the Nets' gambit with offer sheets to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe, is that banking on restricted free agents often is a longshot gamble that can eventually leave you playing from behind. And that's if Antetokounmpo doesn't wind up with an extension even before the start of free agency. Another lesson from this offseason is not to bank on anything in free agency, whether it's coming up short with Kevin Durant or never even getting to the table with Westbrook. I almost wonder if this offseason doesn't have Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg instead mulling the merits of the trade market.

Q: Ira, I hope all is well with you. I like Beno Udrih and appreciate his value to the team. But if the Heat sign him, does that mean we would have to cut Briante Weber? I think Briante as a young player fits our goals better. -- Michael.

A: The question is what the goals will be. If Chris Bosh returns, then the Heat will be living in the moment, playing to win. And Beno was very effective in a backup role behind fellow Slovenian point guard Goran Dragic last season. He is a proven NBA quantity who had his moments -- meaningful moments -- for the Heat last season. But if Bosh isn't coming back, and if the Heat are anticipating a developmental season, then I agree that youth would be the preferred direction (and I'm not even sure Beno would want to be part of such a rebuilding process). So, to me, it behooves everyone involved to wait, and to see what will be the case with Bosh.

Q: Pretty sure Dwyane Wade should be healthy on Nov. 10. -- Burt.

A: I'm not saying that injury concern is the reason the NBA is scheduling Dwyane Wade's (and the Bulls') lone visit of the season so early. But if you want to ensure (the best you can) that Wade will be ambulatory for such a nationally televised moment, then it's certainly smart to do it sooner rather than later. So retire Wade's No. 3 jersey that night, as well? It will be one of the few times the national cameras will be in place. 

August 4, 2016

Q: It looks like this coming season will be about developing young talent.  My fear is that some of these players will turn out to be long-term keepers but due to Tyler Johnson's bloated contract the money won't be there for them when they become free agents.  If the Heat have no takers for Josh McRoberts they will never be able to unload Tyler. However, I have a feeling Riley will have retired by the time Johnson's big numbers kick in. -- Joel.

A: The way Tyler Johnson's contract sets up, the impact on the 2017 offseason will be minimal, actually less than half of what it otherwise would have been against the salary cap for 2017-18. So if any of the players on one-year contracts with the Heat have solid seasons, they would have more cap space next offseason to seize upon (since none would have Bird Rights). But if you believe Riley will be gone by the time Tyler's big numbers kick in, then you essentially are saying that next summer will be Riley's last offseason with the Heat. With the two future first-round picks due to the Suns from the Goran Dragic trade, and with the poison pill in Johnson's contract, I agree that next summer has to be a decisive offseason for the Heat, especially with the Heat holding a 2017 first-round pick. If the Heat don't get the Summer of '17 right, there could be major challenges defining the franchise's long-term future.

Q: The Hawks and Hornets took a step back. The Bulls and Knicks are loaded with injury-prone guys. The Heat had underrated offseason -- Rick.

A: Let's be honest, the Heat's offseason was about re-signing Hassan Whiteside. And that's about it. So what it comes down to is your impression of gains by the rest of the East. We know the Cavaliers will be the overwhelming favorite in the East. Boston clearly is stronger with the addition of Al Horford. And the Raptors have proven they're a top-four team in the East. So it comes down to who you view as No. 4 in the East, and how you think the Heat stacks up against that team, with securing homecourt in the first round a modest goal. For example, how does this Heat roster (amid the uncertainty with Chris Bosh) stack up against the Pacers? Or the Wizards? Or the Hawks? Or the Pistons? If you believe favorably, then you play it out with a goal of at least the second round of the playoffs. If not, then you work toward the future.

Q: Well, that was quick. Guess Russell Westbrook won't be coming to Miami any time soon. -- Frank.

A: Not with the extension that Westbrook is on the verge of with the Thunder. And perhaps, as stated yesterday in this space, that's a good thing, that it won't be an entire season of speculation of Westbrook as the next big thing in Miami. The irony is that by rescinding its qualifying offer for Waiters, Oklahoma City was able to open the salary-cap space needed to create Westbrook's extension.

August 3, 2016

Q: You trade Goran Dragic because he's not a Top 10 point guard. Plus, Russell Westbrook is the main target next summer -- Aura.

A: OK, this has got to stop, preferably sooner rather than later. While the focus on Kevin Durant did not impact the Heat's play last season, it hardly helps when management is making it clear that they already are looking for the next best thing. Someone else. Someone who might not be attainable. And while the Heat made the list of six finalists for Durant, the ultimate feeling was one of coming up short. Russell Westbrook remains a longshot for any team beyond the Thunder. And for those inside the organization to again express conviction that a legitimate run can be made for the top name in free agency only furthers the all-or-nothing feel when it comes to rebuilding from the Big Three era. Sometimes (actually, most of the time) rebuilds are incremental. And there is nothing wrong with that, as the long as the growth curve continues upward. Yes, there was a time when the Heat seemingly got everyone and anyone they wanted. Four trips to the NBA Finals followed. But the incremental model is one that sustains optimism. The Heat's offseason was loaded with thuds. To build an entire season around an all-or-nothing run for Westbrook could set up the Heat for something similar next summer. The Heat mortgaged their future with the two first-round picks dealt for Dragic. If you quickly turn away from deals such as those, you're setting yourself up from a treadmill of mediocrity.

Q: Ira, you keep on referring to others as being the Heat's youth, but last I checked Dion Waiters is only 24. It seems like you are more concerned that he could bolt after one year, but if the Heat could develop him into something special, wouldn't it be similar to what they did with Hassan Whiteside? I wouldn't shortchange his minutes, whereas I do see your point about the other one-year rentals. -- Angel.

A: The difference is the Heat had Whiteside under their control for two seasons before he hit free agency. There was ample time to develop a relationship, one that led to this four-year agreement. The only thought with Waiters is that it doesn't get in the way of players you have long-term contracts with (and I include Josh Richardson in that group, because the Heat eventually will have his Bird Rights). Again: Is this a season the Heat can contend for a spot in the NBA Finals? If your answer is yes, then by all means put the best possible in-the-moment combinations on the court. Otherwise, build for a time when contention again could be the case.

Q: I believe every team in the league, even the cellar dwellers, has a small forward that can shoot the ball, excluding the Heat, unless Justise Winslow miraculously finds a stroke over the next several months. One possible answer is to give strong minutes to Josh Richardson at that position, regardless if Winslow is needed at power forward or not. -- Matt.

A: I'm sure Josh will play a variety of positions. But this is about the long view with Justise, and I'm not sure a team can thrive at that position without having a player capable of hitting shots and stretching the defense (which has basically become true of players at any position). While the Heat assuredly will pick up Justise's third-year option before that Oct. 31 deadline, the Heat also will have to eventually make a decision about Justise's long-term upside. A reliable shot would go a long way toward easing that decision.

August 2, 2016

Q: Would the Miami Heat be interested in signing any of the remaining NBA free agents such as Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Lance Stephenson or Mario Chalmers? Isn't Lance Stephenson a perfect Miami Heat project? -- Stuart.

A: I spoke to Lance's agent a few weeks ago and there did not sound as if anything was brewing. He said Lance's goal was the best situation, not necessarily the money. The Heat, of course, have no money beyond the minimum, having used their last (and lone) salary-cap exception on Dion Waiters. Plus, the Heat already have 18 players under contract, able to retain a maximum for 15 for the regular season. As for what's still out there, here is my list of the top remaining free agents who have yet to agree to terms: LeBron James, J.R. Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, Lance Stephenson, Alan Anderson, Markel Brown, Ty Lawson, Kevin Seraphin, Kevin Martin, Norris Cole, Kirk Hinrich, Thomas Robinson, Gary Neal, Josh Smith, Andre Miller, Jason Terry, James Jones, Caron Butler, Chris Kaman.

Q: If Chris Bosh can't play at the start of the season, wouldn't it make a lot of sense to trade Goran Dragic, give this year to the young guys, and then build next season's team in 2017-18 around Justise Winslow, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Briante Weber, Tyler Johnson, our draft pick from next year's very good draft? -- Jason, North Miami.

A: You trade Goran if you believe you can find or develop a better player/prospect at his position. But you also have to remember all those years when the Heat lacked a player of his pedigree at the position. What I don't believe you do is base anything on Chris Bosh's status, because even if he does return, you won't know for so long, amid the uncertainty with his blood clots. And if Chris doesn't come back, it's not as if Goran's salary gets in the way. Any Dragic deliberation should come down to this: Can he be a component on a team that contends for a championship?

Q: If Richardson, Waiters, Winslow and Hassan all take major leaps this season and can carry us into the playoffs a season after Dwyane Wade's departure, how would that affect summer 2017? -- Ben.

A: By delivering smiles to the faces of Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and a pair of Arisons (actually, likely more than just two Arisons). Some have compared this roster to what Portland achieved last season, although I don't see anyone here the caliber of Damian Lillard. But any growth would be embraced. Placing multiple players in contention for Most Improved Player would make the season a success.

August 1, 2016

Q: I'm late to the conversation here, but I really do think this young lineup will exceed expectations this year. The Heat have needed a complete reboot since the end of the Big 3 era. -- Billy.

A: I agree Billy, which is why I've stressed (perhaps a bit too much) the need to make sure that Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson (and perhaps some of the Heat's other young players) are on the court as often as possible. While an argument can be made that someone like Dion Waiters could help the Heat win more games, at what cost? If Waiters does turn it around, he almost assuredly will opt out and pursue the type of salary-cap space the Heat is hoping to amass for a leading man. Similarly, if Derrick Williams or James Johnson finally figure it out, they, too, will be looking to move on. But, as I often do, I'd put it back to the fans with this: Would the Miami Heat's fan base by accepting of a team that might forgo a few wins in the name of long-term development. When Dwyane Wade was on the roster, I've long said that it would not be fair to him to make him bide his time in light of his age. But he's not on the roster anymore.

Q: I'm a huge Heat fan, I've had season tickets since Dwyane Wade's second year.  The more I read about this, the less I know and believe. Wade left a very decent team in Miami to a Bulls team that is going to be bad. Why would you do this? To be selfish?  He's going to be miserable. I think he will regret this one day. -- Albert.

A: But let's also be real, in Chicago he is going to play alongside another leading man, in Jimmy Butler, someone who will reduce the stress on him to score and produce, and alongside a pass-first point guard, in Rajon Rondo, which is not necessarily always the case with Goran Dragic. With Chris Bosh such a question mark, I don't think there can be much argument that Dwyane is going to play alongside more ready-to-win talent in Chicago than he would have been alongside in Miami. (And, as stated here before, I'm still not sure that Dwyane ever had enduring faith in Hassan Whiteside having the makeup to be a championship teammate.)

Q: Ira, which departure was more damaging and left a more bitter taste in the Heat fans' mouth: LeBron James or Dwyane Wade? -- M.T.

A: Not even close. LeBron left a team that had just advanced to four consecutive NBA Finals and was only one year removed from a championship. That team was still built to win, still the best team in the Eastern Conference. Wade's departure came at a time when there was uncertainty going forward, largely because of Chris Bosh's situation.

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