October 4, 2014
Q: Do you think Dwyane Wade takes LeBron James leaving personally, and, if so, use it for motivation for this upcoming season? -- Marshall.
A: I hope not. And that's not to say that there won't be a motivated Dwyane Wade. It's just that for Dwyane to thrive in his 30s, as Kobe Bryant has, the motivation has to come from the game itself, a desire to persevere at a high level, to maximize playoff and championship opportunities, not out of some sort of spite of being counted out by LeBron or others. Dwyane long has stressed that he is fueled by the doubters. So this has to come from within, and not from whatever LeBron's reasoning might have been. I believe there was a point when Dwyane's drive was as passionate as any player to pass through South Florida, perhaps short only of that of Alonzo Mourning. Then he began to expand into other areas in his life, began to mature. Surely Springfield already is in his future. Now the question is whether Dwyane is merely writing his epilogue or still envisions additional chapters. That's what these upcoming months will be about. And . . . if the body is willing.
Q: The Heat's current eclectic mix of present and former All-Stars, along with undrafted players, gives Erik Spoelstra a new hand to work with. If he embraces this year's squad in a realistic fashion, he should do well. LeBron James, with his new television shows and other off-court distractions, is not all basketball all the time. A singular focus on basketball could be the Heat advantage. -- Leonard, Aventura.
A: First, LeBron never, ever lost sight of what mattered when it came to basketball success, no matter his off-court ventures. But I do agree that the focus has returned to the game, after all the Big Three distractions of the previous four years. Yet it still comes down to talent. Spoelstra has shown he can manage talent as well as any coach. But when his talent is limited, his teams have failed to make it out of the first round. Now we'll see if there is a middle ground, perhaps not another NBA Finals berth, but a team capable of at least playing into May.
Q: Many times, on your blog, you state that the potential is strong that if Luol Deng has a good year, he may well bolt for bigger money. I don't see that for myriad of reasons. First, Deng having a strong year would simply be what Deng has done for the past seven or eight years, excluding his brief stay in Cleveland last year. It's hard to imagine him suddenly being better at 29 than he was at 27. The league already knows what a healthy Deng brings to the table. So him following through on that in 2014-15 would hardly be a revelation. Additionally, he'll be a year older, and many teams (as Miami has structured player contracts) want to be in a healthy position for a strong 2016 free-agent class. So, I don't see Deng being offered much more than his current $10 million, regardless of what type of season he has. Danny Granger, is a different story. A strong season would definitely put him in position for a better contract. -- Matt.
A: Deng put the player option in his contract for a reason. And part of the reason is that free agency this summer perhaps did not meet his full expectations, based on the type of contract extension he had sought in Chicago, and then what his agent was talking about this summer. What matters with Deng is making him comfortable enough that he would want to stay, whether it be for next season or the expected massive makeover that would follow. I agree about Granger, that if he is anything close to his pre-injury self, he surely would want to opt out and upgrade his contract.
October 3, 2014
Q: I am reading that Udonis Haslem is practicing his 3-pointer, Birdman is working on developing his perimeter jumper, and Mario Chalmers will get time at shooting guard. Please wake me from my Heat nightmare! -- Stone, Miami.
A: First, exhale. Udonis has been working on his 3-pointer for at least two years and has exhibited exactly the type of restraint you expect and appreciate. Chris Andersen taking jumpers, though, is another story. The reason he is so valued is that he shoots an incredibly high percentage at the rim, and shoots nothing else. Unless the shot clock is about to expire, a jumper by Birdman rarely is the right shot in the offense, even if it goes in. As for Chalmers, you use what you have, and if he emerges as the best option to give Dwyane Wade some rest, then so be it (although the hope, I'm sure, is that someone steps up in such a reserve role, perhaps Danny Granger, perhaps Shannon Brown, perhaps even James Ennis, leaving Chalmers to concentrate at point guard). Getting back to the outside shots by Haslem and Andersen, considering how well Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts shoot from the perimeter, there wouldn't seem to be a need for any of the other big men to step out beyond Justin Hamilton. And with Granger, Chalmers and perhaps Shawne Williams, the Heat might just be fine from beyond the arc.
Q: I was at the red-white-and-pink scrimmage and was intrigued by Tyler Johnson. He brings noticeable energy and athleticism off the bench. These type of high-energy bench players (Patty Mills, Norris Cole) can have a real impact on games. Any chance we find a way to keep him? And I don't mean D-league. -- Yunasi.
A: Actually, there is a chance the Heat could do both, keep him on their NBA roster, but also send him to Sioux Falls for seasoning in the NBA Development League. Considering the long odds Johnson already has overcome, from going undrafted to impressing in the Heat's summer league, there is a chance. The Heat are at 20 on their training-camp roster, so you have to find five other names to cut. You probably can start with Khem Birch, Chris Johnson, Shawn Jones and Andre Dawkins. So it could come down to whether Johnson can beat out Reggie Williams. But it's still a bit early for such forecasting.
Q: I agree with yesterday's reader that there are always surprises every season. However, do not count me among the surprised when the Cavs underperform or even self-destruct. Before you dismiss me as a LeBron James hater (I'm not), hear me out: We all saw firsthand how hard it was to pull together a team of egos and superstars and get them to focus on the goal. We've all seen other teams try and fail epically. I believe the Heat culture and Pat Riley's influence played a huge part in our success. I don't think you can take LeBron, add any two All-Stars, mix in Mike Miller, and win. Not in Cleveland. I think LeBron thinks he has this figured out, but I think he's underestimating the role the organization played in making this work. -- John, Boca Raton.
A: Or could it be that LeBron learned the needed lesions during his four seasons in Miami? There actually is a chance that Riley could be the one who fuels LeBron's success in Cleveland, if James can export the Heat Way north.
October 2, 2014
Q: Ira, if Josh McRoberts misses the preseason will he still be a starter like you've been telling us? -- James, Miami.