January 28, 2015
Q: Why do you think Erik Spoelstra doesn't give James Ennis minutes? -- Scott.
A: First, it's not part of any plot, and when there are nights like Tuesday, when Luol Deng is out, there will be minutes. The reality is that Ennis is exactly what Pat Riley said after summer league, a prospect who needs plenty of seasoning and refinement. Tuesday Ennis' 19:23 translated to two points, no rebounds, no assists and five fouls. Last season in Australia did plenty for Ennis' confidence, but it didn't necessarily groom him for the challenges of the NBA. He simply does not have enough of a handle to play as a wing for extended minutes. The problem is that the Heat are so limited on the wing that if the trust remains this limited in Ennis, the Heat seemingly will have to look for another veteran that further could push Ennis down the rotation. For now, you wind up with games like Tuesday, when Danny Granger starts at small forward by default. It's almost incomprehensible that the Heat have such limited depth on the wing, with Mario Chalmers the best answer at shooting guard behind Dwyane Wade, and with little beyond Granger who has even a modicum of trust at backup small forward. The reality is that Scotty Hopson could possibly be better off for the Heat on a call-up from Sioux Falls, while D-League seasoning might be an answer for Ennis/
Q: How about Michael Beasley now as a backup to Luol Deng, now that we have a rim protector? -- Kyle.
A: This is where I'm supposed to make a joke and then blow this off like all the similar emails received over the past few months. And yet . . . there are times when Beasley's offense would have been welcomed amid Heat stretches playing below the 90s. For all the struggles that Michael had with the Heat's defensive schemes, it's difficult to believe that Granger has offered all that much more defensively when considering his mobility limitations. And you are right, that with Hassan Whiteside in place, there is finally someone in place to erase some of those nasty defensive lapses, even if there will be games like Tuesday, when Whiteside goes without a block.
Q: With Birdman missing so much time, why not bring up Khem Birch, then you would have rim protection at all times? -- Kenny.
A: Works for me, and it could be the Plan B if Chris Andersen is dealt by the Feb. 19 NBA trading deadline or if Andersen continues to deal with these back and elbow issues. For now, Birch is eligible to be signed by any NBA team, as an unaffiliated player with the Heat's NBA Development League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Wait too long on that, and there's a chance he could be gone elsewhere.
January 27, 2015
Q: Moving forward, even if he's not Anthony Davis, I'm convinced Hassan Whiteside will give the Heat what they need from the center position. With that said, point guard becomes the glaring position of need in the starting lineup. I wrote to you before the season that Mario Chalmers will be exposed with LeBron James not here. I hope Pat Riley goes all in this summer on unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic. Mike Conley is unrestricted in 2016, but I don’t think he'll leave Memphis if Marc Gasol stays. I'm hearing Houston may want Dragic back. The Lakers, too. Phoenix has Isaiah Thomas waiting in the wings to take his place. -- Rich, West Palm Beach.
A: The problem is the Heat will not have cap space this coming offseason, unless Luol Deng and/or Dwyane Wade opt out, with neither expected. So you're talking something closer to the midlevel than Dragic money. But what Riley will have to decide is whether a core of Chris Bosh, Whiteside, Deng and Wade is enough to just continue to add yearly mid-level pieces. Of course a trade is another possibility. Depending on how the balance of this season plays out, it could be curious to see how committed the Heat remain to Bosh going forward.
Q: I'd like to see James Ennis get more time to see what he's about. I'm afraid that I don't really see us as very good at developing young talent. The Shabazz Napier, Andre Dawkins, Tyler Johnson and Ennis looks haven't been encouraging. Shouldn't this be part of Erik Spoelstra reinventing himself? -- Michael, Oviedo.
A: Or could it be that the players themselves haven't been that encouraging? The past couple of weeks, it was clear that Spoelstra committed to taking looks at Ennis and Napier. Then he backed off Ennis. Now it could be decision time with Napier. That's what happens when you're trying to win, too.
Q: Norris Cole should be playing ahead of Napier. -- Zachary.
A: Based on NBA-level ability, I agree. Cole, at this stage, helps you more than Napier. But this, again, is part of also trying to develop talent and maximizing draft pieces. Cole is a better defender, a better shooter and I'm not quite sold that Napier's playmaking gives him that much of an advantage. But I also believe it was essentially to give Napier another extended run before committing to a rotation going forward.
January 26, 2015
Q How long is Hassan Whiteside's current contract? I'm guessing the Heat will not let him get away. -- Chet.
A: The Heat have Whiteside locked into a veteran-minimum, non-guaranteed contract for next season. That's the good part. The concern -- and this is taking a long view -- is that Whiteside could then command the type of salary during the 2016 free-agency free-for-all that would box the Heat out of other possibilities. However, if the Heat are sold on Whiteside's long-term prospects by season's end, it also could have Pat Riley considering more of a move into the 2015 free-agency pool, perhaps content to move forward with the right to re-sign Whiteside, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng, while continuing with Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts (or dealing one of the latter two). The Heat's 2016 free-agency plans did not include having to commit another big contract to a current player outside of the mainstays. Whiteside could change that thinking. He also could get Riley to fast-track his approach. In that respect, Whiteside could be more than a game-changer. He could be an offseason-changer.