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ASK IRA: Is Heat depth a continuity concern?

SunSentinel.com
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.

 


December 10, 2018

Q: It feels more about the right pieces four the Heat and not necessarily having the entire team here. I mean if Tyler Johnson doesn't go out we probably don't see Derrick Jones Jr. contribute like he did Saturday. And say what you will, but Udonis Haslem brought it in his eight minutes. -- Douglas.

A: Moving beyond Udonis' emotional lift, since that was a one off, you raise an interesting point of the crisis of too much of the same. When everyone plays a little, then no one plays enough. And with James Johnson's minutes to increase, that will only further complicate allowing players to develop rhythm. This somewhat goes back to Pat Riley saying at the end of last season that the Heat had too many good-to-great players. It further got complicated with Dwyane Wade not only returning but returning at a level that commanded rotation minutes. So instead of players gaining traction, there seemingly is a different man of the moment practically every moment. So much of what the Heat did with this roster came with the thought of eventually thinning it out. Instead, it has remained a buffet of similar options. And all you can eat rarely ever features optimal fare.

Q: I’m not ready to go there yet. The game against Phoenix, well, it's Phoenix, they've only won four games. Now the game against the Clippers was a bit more impressive, especially with Goran Dragic out. Now if they can beat the Lakers, and they win out on this road trip, then I’ll believe. -- Gordon.

A: I'm not sure about winning out on the trip, considering there still are stops left against the Lakers, Jazz, Grizzlies and Pelicans. But there certainly has been plenty of one step forward and two steps back this season. So while winning four of the past five is nice, it is going to take even more to make it back to a competitive position, even in the East.

Q: I thought this was a horrible team, but now I see them in the Finals. -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: Again, perspective please. What the Heat have shown these past few games is that for an ensemble team to succeed, it takes multiple pieces working successfully in lockstep. That was the case in the two homes victories against the Pelicans and Jazz, and then these two against the Suns and the Clippers. But it also is more difficult to sustain when you can't consistently turn to a go-to player to bail you out during the lulls.


December 9, 2018

Q: Ira, is it turning around, or are the Suns and the Clippers teams the Heat should be beating? -- Seth.

A: At this stage of the game for this season's Heat, there are no teams the Heat "should be beating," considering that they are a team that others view somewhat in that light, with considerable disappointment from the Suns and Clippers side of the equation the past two nights. The greatest takeaway from the two games would be more about individuals, since this hardly is a typical rotation with Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson out. What we have seen at the start of this trip is solid contributions from Bam Adebayo, James Johnson, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk and even Derrick Jones Jr. And that matters for this team, since it all is about having the right buttons to select from and the right buttons to push. But until the whole group is together, emerging with an overall takeaway is difficult. Still, games such as Friday and Saturday at what teams with playoff visions must do -- find a way. The Heat have done that to start this trip.

Q: Hi, Ira. Should I be excited about Dec. 15 or do I have to wait until the February NBA trading deadline? I want trades. I crave trades. It feels like I look forward to that more than the actual games. I love the drama that is the new NBA, with players dictating trades. It's amazing to see how many teams cave in to the pressure. So the real question is will the Heat make any trades? Can you see them cutting the excess fat and trading for someone on an expiring deal to create cap space? Like for Wesley Matthews or Brandon Knight? -- Willy, Miami Gardens.

A: When it comes to the Heat, your cravings well may go unsatisfied, at least when it comes to the Dec. 15 date when players signed in the offseason first can be traded. With the Heat, that restriction makes it possible to deal Wayne Ellington, but he also has a no-trade clause by virtue of being on a one-year deal. So he would have to sign off on any transaction. As for players pushing for trades with the threat of leaving as a free agent, the two biggest such moves, with Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, already have been completed, so I'm not sure there are many others who will fall into that category. Beyond that, it's not as if other teams want to take on the Heat's long-term obligations in exchange for their expiring deals. But if they are, I am sure the Heat would be amenable when it comes to James Johnson, Dion Waiters and perhaps even Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson. Can’t see suitors for that.

Q: The draft is good for something ain't it? -- Ed.

A: I see what you did there, when it comes to Bam Adebayo's play at the start of this trip. But it also shows that the draft can be productive without having to be at the very top of the lottery or even in the lottery. It might not be as much about tanking as about merely preserving picks and exercising them wisely.


December 8, 2018

Q: Ira, two point guards were traded Friday. I know that the cap was part. But what say you about Goran Dragic? And did the Heat bring him back so they could showcase and then tank? -- Ted.

A: I'll answer the second part first -- no way. Goran returned because he was healthy and the Heat desperately needed him to make their rotation work. And he played and things worked a lot better. Basically the Suns game was a prime example that if success is the goal, then Dragic is that engine. As for the trade element, the Cavaliers-Bucks deal was a money trade as much as anything, namely the Bucks getting off Matthew Dellavedova's second remaining season and the Bucks being able to land George Hill's contract with its limited future guarantee. At this stage. Collin Sexton, for better or worse, is Cleveland's point guard of the future. And while the Bucks hardly had to have Hill, he certainly could help. But what the deal was not about was the start of a run of trading for point guards. That doesn't mean that there won't be teams with such needs going forward, but not necessarily at this moment.

Q: If the Bucks can offload John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova, then there's hope for Tyler Johnson to find a new home yet. Smile, the big trade deals are just around the corner. -- Skip, Tampa

A: Except in order to get off those two salaries, the Bucks had to (and were willing) to throw in a future first-round pick and a future second-round pick. The Heat don't have that luxury since, one, they already are without their 2021 unprotected first-round pick (from the Dragic-Suns trade, the pick now belonging to the 76ers) and have dealt just about all of their available second-round picks. At this point, about the only way to get off such a salary would be to take back such a salary. The last thing the Heat can afford is to offload assets that represent youth and controlled costs.

Q: Been pumping up Bam Adebayo all year. Nothing new for me. I believed in summer league. Let him play, make mistakes, improve etc. That's the future. -- Douglas.

A: But that also means acknowledging that Hassan Whiteside is not the future, which was the bet at the 2016 start of free agency. I can't fathom the Heat turning to Hassan and telling him he will be playing reserve minutes. Nor can I imagine the reaction. And Bam does play well alongside Kelly Olynyk, which most often happens with the second unit. (And not nearly as well alongside Hassan.)  Now, is Bam the long-term future? That is another story, with the Heat assuredly off Hassan's money after 2019-20.


December 7, 2018

Q: Hassan Whiteside has managed to split Heat Nation. There's the side that defends Hassan and blames Erik Spoelstra for favoring Bam Adebayo and not making Hassan focal in the offense. Then there’s the other side that faults Hassan for the lack of energy, inconsistent effort, poor screens, jacking up threes, etc. Honestly, I don't see how there can be any divide. If you actually watch basketball, you'd see that there are maybe three centers that can lead an offense and none of those teams are very good. The league is perimeter-oriented. Scoring on the low block is an afterthought. Modern-day bigs must be able to shoot the 3, pass, switch onto guards, set screens and rebound. Of those five elements, Hassan can only rebound. Hassan isn’t capable of leading an offense and needs to accept what he is and how the league has changed. -- Ryen, Miami.

A: But that assumes that a player has the ability to step back and accept what you offer as the new NBA reality. However, if a player sees that there remain nights when he can go for 20-20, play as the centerpiece, then why step back at all? There still are games, matchups, paces that favor Whiteside's style of play, as we have seen in several of the Heat's victories. I believe what was so perplexing for Hassan on Tuesday night was it seemed to be the type of game where his skillset would fit, which seemingly only heightened the frustration. The compromise has to be Hassan accepting that if a game turns small and fast, it might not be his night. And then he has to sit on the bench (and stay on the bench) and appreciate that other teammates are better suited for such moments. On the other hand, when there is a game where Hassan fits, then it also is incumbent on the staff to recognize as much. For now, with Hassan away from the team, the Heat again will get to explore the remainder of their menu.

Q: Ira, enjoy your work and as a Raptors fan I am always following to see how James Johnson is doing. I have noticed in the last few games, James has been way more aggressive offensively, but has sat down the stretch of these games. Are his lack of minutes conditioning related or is it simply the bench playing well and forcing Erik Spoelstra's hand to keep him on the bench, similar to Hassan Whiteside? Do you see his minutes going up as the season progresses/as he continues getting in shape or do you think he has stuck himself in this role that he is in now?  -- Warren. 

A: I believe it mostly is managed minutes, at least to this stage, as he works back from his debilitating hernia injury and ensuing surgery. Now, with Hassan Whiteside away from the team, it makes it easier to play Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk more at center, therefore making it easier to carve out additional minutes at power forward for James Johnson. The Heat need more from James, both in terms of minutes and productivity, in order to make this mix work.

Q: Ira, I believe that the Heat's reluctance to utilize Yante Maten in their lineup is because the Heat (especially Pat Riley), in their (Riley's) stubbornness, know that Maten would take away Justise Winslow's minutes. This would be just another indicator that the Heat's higher ups (Riley) jumped the gun and made another bad decision in signing Justise Winslow to another bloated contract. And, as a result, providing support to my prediction that the Heat will be irrelevant for 10 years -- three before Riley steps down from the decision making, five years for Spoelstra to get fired from Riley's old position and then two years for a competent replacement to clean up their mistakes and restore our beloved team. See you Nov. 26, 2028. -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: Actually, I will be tied up that night, but maybe catch you the day after. (Now, if you want to discuss the tangible portion of your question, I do not view Yante as a Winslow type and believe he would more likely take the minutes of James Johnson. And I do believe Yante has a future with the Heat that will become tangible well before your return date to AmericanAirlines Arena [or whatever arena the Heat are playing at by that time].) Hit me up in 10 years and we'll do this again.


December 6, 2018

Q: If you look at the Top 100 players list, and then you look at any Heat game and the 10 guys on the floor, we never have the number-one guy. On a good night, we will have the number two with Goran Dragic. Take him away and we're a lottery team. Add him back and it's low playoff seed or near miss. We're not even stuck in the middle here. If we got Dion Waiters back and back to form, things change, because he believes he is a Top 25 player. He is not, but the confidence is real and that counts for something, especially late in games. -- John.

A: You are correct, and it is a factor I often point out. Just like the team getting the best player in a trade most often wins the deal, such also often is the case with having the best player in a game. Part of the problem is that the Heat, at least in 2016 free agency, thought they had that in Hassan Whiteside. Whether it has been because of the game changing or other factors, that hasn't been the case. The result has been that for the Heat to win, often three or four players have to be at the top of their game on any given night, something that often is not the case against an opponent with a singular star or superstar. It is a difficult way to try to win in the NBA.

Q: I'm tired of excuses putting together a bunch of average-to-above-average NBA players. Look at the Clippers. They lost three superstars and are making it work. It's either Erik Spoelstra/the type of system he's running or we have the wrong mix. -- Steve, Jacksonville.

A: No one is saying that it cannot work in the short run, as it is for the Clippers. The Heat took such a roster to a 30-11 record over the second half of 2016-17 and then to a No. 6 seed and playoffs last season. The question is whether it is sustainable, something that is way too early to consider with Doc Rivers' upstart Clippers.

Q: It's great that we will have cap space in 2020 to sign a superstar, but looking ahead to see who will be available and there are very few big names. It's really a 27-year-old Anthony Davis or bust. I guess a 31-year-old DeMar DeRozan would be a consolation prize. A 27-year-old Andre Drummond maybe? After those three names it really drops off. Unless we know that Anthony Davis just "happened" to bump into Pat Riley at Prime 112 fresh off his 41 points the other night, it's more likely that the Heat trade off an expiring contract or two next season for a disgruntled or underachieving star already on a long term deal. -- Dave, Placentia, Calif.

A: And that very much is the way it could play out. I'm frequently cautioned by front-office types not to just consider free agency when considering cap space. It is among the reasons the Heat are being careful with the luxury tax, because there is a chance, as slight as it might be, that the team could yet be working in the luxury tax in 2020 if trades are the path to the rebuild.


December 5, 2018

Q: Erik Spoelstra is ruining Hassan Whiteside. Again, he takes him out of the game. You have to leave this guy on the court. He changes the game. How many second-chance baskets did Orlando get in the fourth quarter? I like Bam Adebayo. He is athletic but a poor defensive rebounder. Spoelstra is too set in his ways. Or is it his ego here? Whiteside needs 30 minutes plus a night unless in foul trouble.  -- Morris, New York.

A: Actually, Orlando scored only five second-chance points in the fourth quarter, so it wasn't that. And the Heat outscored the Magic 10-6 in the paint in Tuesday's final period, so it wasn't that, either. What it is is what it has been the past two seasons: The Heat have three minutes-worthy centers in a league where it is difficult enough to play one, let alone two. As it was, Erik Spoelstra played Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk for Tuesday's entire fourth quarter. That said, unless Hassan was physically ill, leaving for the locker room before any game is over is bad form. Make light of it if you will, but it is times like this where it is particularly important to be there for your teammates. This is why you have a Pat Riley. It is time to intercede. Because everything about this was a bad look, from the bench exit to leaving it unresolved during the postgame interview period. All players should care deeply about defeat. And if that was, indeed, the reason, then fine. But make that clear -- in the moment. It has been years now of trying to make sense of the Heat-Whiteside-Spoelstra dynamic.

Q: When Josh Richardson goes into shoot-until-he's-back-in-a-groove mode, the Heat rarely end with a close game. Does the return of the starting backcourt relieve this type of game or do you think it will persist? -- Jorel, Tampa.

A: If the goal is to test Josh for a go-to, featured-player role, then you have to treat him as such, including allowing at least the attempt to shoot himself out of a funk. I believe Dion Waiters also would be given similar latitude. But to your greater point, the Heat desperately need Goran Dragic and Dion back. The offense is too pop-gun otherwise. But there has been little hint of when that will be for either.

Q: Isn't Carmelo Anthony the perfect reclamation project? Pat Riley did it with Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, Rafer Alston and countless others.  Here is why Melo is a great pick up: The coverage he will demand on offense will make the game so much easier for Hassan Whiteside and others on offense.  The players will get easy shots.  This seems like a no-brainer.  I think Spoelstra is getting really frustrated with the limited offensive power. -- Stuart.

A: Carmelo would be the kind of move you would make if you believed he was the piece needed to advance significant playoff goals, as was the case with J-Will or even Antoine. That is not where the Heat are right now. This is about examining Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, even Rodney McGruder (and maybe even Yante Maten or Duncan Robinson), not taking minutes away from them.


December 4, 2018

Q: Backup point guard? That's not the solution. Gotta burn those Vice Nights uniforms. They're a nice marketing ploy, but what's better -- a few extra bucks in the coffers or a few Ws in the record? It's obvious that the team doesn't realize who they are in the fancy garb. Put them in red and they realize they're the Miami Heat. -- Mary, Bethlehem, Pa.

Q: Do you think the new colors and design of Heat uniform brought bad luck? I've noticed that they lost more games when they wearing this pink coloring than the old ones since last season. By the way, I prefer the old ones. -- Xiaolun, Pensacola.

Q: How about getting rid of this Vice Nights stuff? The era of drugs, killing and social corruption and nastiness. This is sports, not what I mentioned. -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: It's funny, because I've always felt the red uniforms did not rank all that high on the preference scale when including the black uniforms and other alternate models. But at this point, do the Heat dare tempt the fates? Perhaps we need to think of the Vice Nights uniforms as limited-edition (more limited than initially thought) collector's items, a brief run of something truly unique. I do wonder when, of if, the basketball side will allow the players to be seen in them again. But I can assure you, the temporary move away from them has nothing to do with social issues, just good-old-fashioned karma.

Q: Riley needs at least a 10 day Band-Aid player. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: I agreed previously. But if Tyler Johnson and Derrick Jones Jr. are back, then there should been enough perimeter depth, even with the Heat waiting on Goran Dragic and Rodney McGruder.

Q: When does Yante Maten get his chance? -- Mark.

A: When needed, which does not appear to be the case at the moment. Both of the Heat's two-way players are forwards, when including Duncan Robinson, and with the return of James Johnson and the struggle to find playing time for Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk, something likely will have to give for minutes to open for Yante. In that respect, the 45 NBA days on his two-way are better left for a time when the Heat's injury bug inevitably gets around to the frontcourt.


December 3, 2018

Q: Why in the world won’t Erik Spoelstra start Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside together? It’s clear these two play well off each other, and the offense isn’t so stagnant. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: The Heat have shown this season how the NBA can be about different horses for different courses. Against a bigger team, one that not only features a Rudy Gobert but also a Derrick Favors, it is easier to go big. But more than that, when the Heat find an opponent more willing to play a halfcourt, it unlocks so many more of their possibilities. So there remain opponents more favorable for the Heat than others. To be above average, you have to be able to win against multiple approaches. The Heat, in fact, struggled at the outset Sunday when the Jazz played at pace and the Heat could not get their halfcourt defense settled. The Heat still have issues with small and with pace, answers that will have to come to reemerge anything more than marginal. The elite can impose their approach with regularity. The Heat are not close to that.

Q: Every team deals with injuries. -- Daniel.

A: The problem for the Heat is with Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and even Derrick Jones Jr. and Dion Waiters out, the injuries are clustered at a similar position. I'm not sure the bringing Duncan Robinson or Yante Maten back from the G League is the answer, either. The Heat need a two-way guard. It might be time to fill, at least temporarily, that 15th roster spot.

Q: The offense is so much more fluid when Dwyane Wade is commanding the point guard spot. He makes others better. We struggle a bit when Josh Richardson and or Justise Winslow is running point. -- Kenny.

A: But Dwyane also is 36, and even Sunday's 30:26 might be pushing it. Plus, you need him for late scoring, so there only is so much that could or should be on his plate. Look, he is an impending Hall of Famer, so obviously he can do just about everything better than anyone else on the roster. But there are limits, and even Sunday, when he shot 2 of 7 in his 10:28 in the fourth quarter, you could get a sense of running on fumes.


December 2, 2018

Q: Josh Richardson is a great shooter, from all over the court, but it drives me bananas that he doesn't drive to the basket more often; doing so would make him a lot more efficient. He's got the athleticism to do it. He's shown an improved ability to create separation. And he's displayed an ability to be ambidextrous. So why don’t we see it more often? -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: But we did see it with his late driving basket Friday against the Pelicans, which was a step forward. And the Heat need more of that. Even in today's 3-point NBA, there is plenty to be said about attacking late in games, especially when down one or two. It, in fact, would have been the preferred play of choice, from this perspective, at the close against the Hawks, when Josh was off with his 3-point attempt. The jumper tends to be all or nothing. With an attack, there also is the opportunity to get to the foul line, sometimes even before the shot, if the opposition is over the limit.

Q: Yes, let's reclaim the magic of a team that missed the playoffs, convinced Pat Riley to go all in with a bunch of horrible contracts, and doomed the team to irrelevantly fighting for a low playoff seed for a half a decade. Let’s hope we learned a lesson. --Alex.

A: While there would be obvious impact when it comes to draft position if the Heat attempt to replicate the close to 2016-17, there is a difference at play. That was a finish that convinced the Heat to offer significant contracts to Dion Waiters and James Johnson, as well as eventually go into the tax with Wayne Ellington. This time, the lone potential contract beneficiary would be Rodney McGruder. In fact, it could be argued that the Heat already went all-in too far with this roster when it came to the extension of Justise Winslow. Unlike in 2017, the cash in reserve will remain on hold until 2020.

Q: Wow, traditional basketball uniforms for the Heat. What a concept. -- Stuart.

A: What a concept, indeed, making the game about the game. Sunday's approach will be interesting. Do you stay red until the next loss?


December 1, 2018

Q: Ira, what gives? No Hassan Whiteside in the fourth quarter. How was Erik Spoelstra going to blame him if they lost? -- Nico.

A: It actually is the fourth consecutive game without Hassan in a fourth quarter, but the second time in that span the Heat have won with that approach. Look, it became clear that Bam Adebayo was the best available counter to Anthony Davis. And that doesn't mean that any of the Heat's big men were able to lock him down. This was not a punitive move regarding Hassan, who played well enough. This was, as we've mentioned before, having to thin out the power rotation at the moments of truth. The Heat outscored the Pelicans by 20 when Kelly Olynyk was on the court, by 13 when Bam was on the floor. They were outscored by eight with Hassan on the floor. I would almost wager that that the minutes math will be different Sunday against the Jazz and Rudy Gobert. As it was, the most efficient power duo finished on Friday. That seems fair. Plus, with Hassan struggling from the line and the Pelicans playing from behind, there well could have been a hack-a-Hassan approach if Whiteside was on the court. This time he missed his only two free throws, with one an airball.

Q: Trying to run a high-paced offense without a competent point guard has failed and it is time to adjust. This is true whether Goran Dragic is on the court or not. -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

A: First, I'm not sure the Heat are trying to run a fast-paced offense. I believe, at this point, they are trying to run any offense that scores points. But no matter the approach, just as there are certain players more adept at scoring, there also are players who are more adept at passing and playmaking. To this point, I'm not sure the needed precision has been there. That's what made Friday interesting, that even after blasting out of the gates with a 37-point first quarter, it took a controlled pace at the finish to get it done. That doesn't excuse the 24-second violations, but it also show that it's hard enough to play without a true point guard, let alone to play at pace without one.

Q: But I want this team to lose to get a high draft position. -- Abel.

A: And clearly their goal is to torment you any way possible this season, including Friday's tease. Sorry.


November 30, 2018

Q: Markelle Fultz was a near-consensus number-one talent coming out of Washington, who is less than two seasons removed from being the first overall pick in the draft (and he spent almost all of last season on the sidelines, so that’s a wasted year, as far as his development). While his shot looks broken, I would take a chance on him any day, especially with the way this current Heat roster has stagnated. Besides, even with his current shot, Fultz still possesses great athleticism, has shown playmaking ability, has the length (and aforementioned athleticism) to be a good defender, and has youth on his side; he’s still only 20. You were just preaching patience for Justise Winslow, based on his youth, so why should Fultz's situation be different? Goran Dragic, on the other hand, is on the wrong side of 30 and currently has knee issues. Consider, also, that Fultz would at least have the potential to be a part of the Heat's plans in 2020, when they can try to lure a star. Dragic will either be let go (from his expiring contract) or signed to another contract -- while in his mid-30s -- at that point. The Heat have a fantastic strength and conditioning program, as well as a great development program. This, along with the current depth of the Heat roster (and, dare I say it, a possible "Tryin' for Zion" tank) could allow Markelle to recover and (hopefully) regain his shooting form, at his own pace. Considering all of this, I would absolutely trade Goran Dragic for Fultz, "broken" shot and all. It's called buying low and planning for the future. It would also be a respectable trade from Goran's perspective, as he would be traded to a contender. That said, if Pat Riley could also somehow swindle a first round pick (or another young player) in such a deal, I certainly wouldn't be upset. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: Look, I agree that the Heat have shown an ability to reclaim distressed property. I get that. And I also, as I've said with Justise Winslow, don't believe you give up on a player in his early 20s. Where I would be careful is trading off a player who still might be able to get you something more substantive. And Dragic, either this season or next, might just draw that from a contender. As it is, with Goran holding a player option for next season, I doubt Philadelphia would move in that direction, with visions of a max free agent next summer. Now, Wayne Ellington for Fultz might work, if Wayne approves such a trade and the 76ers are game.

Q: Ira, I'm a big fan of Hassan Whiteside and definitely think he helps this team. But why on earth does he keep shooting those silly push shots in the post? Sometimes it's as if he tries playing with finesse, when his game is based on power. Every time he shoots that push shot, he bails out the defense. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: But when he attempts to power up, he all too often gets blocked. It's as if he has lost some of his explosion. At least it seems that way. Take Tuesday's first shot: He is a foot free and clear under the rim after a pinpoint pass from James Johnson, yet by the time he gathers and goes up, the defense is there to block that shot. Those muscles seemingly aren't fast-twitching as they used to.

Q:  Why the heck haven't the Heat tried to add a backup point guard to cut down on all these turnovers? I don't care who Erik Spoelstra says has "playmaking abilities," guys do not take care of the ball the way they should, and it's not a good sign if Goran Dragic is the lone pure point in this team. -- Charlie.

A: Preaching. To. Choir. And yet "Tryin' to Jameer" doesn't nearly as sexy.


November 29, 2018

Q: Did we see official passing of the guard, so to speak, Tuesday night from Dwyane Wade to Josh Richardson? Dwyane had a look at three and a look at a two but passed both up to get Josh an open look.  -- Morris, New York.

A: I don't, because I don't believe that the Heat have identified their passing-of-the-torch player, nor do I believe that such a player is on the roster. What Josh well could grow into is a secondary star, perhaps along the lines of a Bradley Beal with the Wizards. No, Tuesday was just an in-the-moment moment, when the best shot happened to be Richardson's shot. All of that said, it also was pure execution in this respect: When inbounding with 14.1 seconds to play, you need to get a shot up far sooner. Foremost, recall the victory in Washington, when Kelly Olynyk won the game with his putback with two-tenths of a second to play. Richardson's shot barely left enough time for such a play. Plus, if a shot came earlier in the sequence, a miss could have been followed by a foul. And another 1-of-2 trip to the line by the Hawks could at least have allowed the Heat to then attempt a game-tying three, albeit without a remaining timeout.

Q: Trae Young is Exhibit A on why a point guard is elite when he has exceptional ballhandling skills. They can just get anywhere on the court and keep the ball alive. The second thing is vision. The third is an offensive threat. But I have yet to see an elite point guard with average ballhandling skills. This is why Briante Weber never impressed me and neither did Tyler Johnson. This is what made Dwyane Wade a combo guard because his handle is elite. -- William.

A: Agreed. And, still, as the turnovers continue, still a vacant roster spot, still a sidelined Goran Dragic, and still no veteran true backup point guard. If that can be masked by victories, then it becomes a non-issue. But when it becomes masked by turnovers, that's another story.

Q: Does this make sense: Goran Dragic and Wayne Ellington for Markelle Fultz and the Heat's 2021 first-round pick that the Sixers have. It gives the 76ers a point guard and 3-point shooter. The Heat get a young point guard, a first round pick and shed salary. --Howard Garson

A: Getting that 2021 first-round pick back would be huge, because it also would allow for transaction flexibility going forward. But such a deal likely would not come with cap relief, since the Heat would have to take salary back. Such a proposition, though, is another reason why it would be beneficial to already have a veteran backup point guard on the roster. It is an intriguing proposition since it would significantly boost the in-the-moment 76ers, while also better positioning the Heat for the future, especial if the Heat can revive Fultz.


November 28, 2018

Q: We just don't have the playmakers and scorers for this new high-paced game. You see it in the league-worst shooting percentage and the near league-worst turnover issues. Most teams with offensive issues want to limit the number of possessions played, but we play at the 10th highest pace. Do you think we should take a page out of the Grizzlies' book and slow the game down? I think that plays better to the personnel we have on this roster. -- Sal, Miami.

A: First, I'm not sure how far you're going with this roster in today's NBA with 7-Eleven closed. So until Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters make it back, there might not be making it back for the Heat. But it does remind me, as I've often mentioned in this space, when Pat Riley used to threaten that he would "bring this thing to a crawl" if his players continued to make costly mistakes, similar to the pick-6s that Erik Spoelstra has referred to. In today's NBA, not even that is a guaranteed way to limit pace, with Toronto streaking past the Heat on Sunday night even after made baskets. And the other part of the equation is that to play halfcourt, you have to have halfcourt scorers, like Alonzo Mourning in his prime or Dwyane Wade in his prime. Have you seen the Heat in the halfcourt lately? I'm not sure they would even get shots off in time.

Q: Ira, this would really suck if the Heat were tanking on Dwyane Wade's last season before retirement. I know that we have our first-round pick this year, but it's just not right to see Wade not playing on a competitive team this year. Do you see the front office pushing for trades or just throwing the towel on this season and go all in on tanking? -- Daniel, Miami.

A: Still a bit early for any definitive game plan going forward, but I did sense in the locker room after the game that this was not what Dwyane Wade signed back up for. He does not want to go out in the lottery, wants "One Last Dance" to include a playoff chapter. I'm just not sure that his priorities with align with the Heat's. The ultimate irony would be Wade representing the Heat at the draft lottery.

Q: If this team is not actually tanking, they are worse than I thought. -- Bruno, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Yes, they are. When preseason prognostications were made there was not a sense of the dramatic turn the game has taken toward offense. Good defense can't beat good offense these days. The rules do not allow it.


November 27, 2018

Q: Probably not going to come out and publicly say it; but no doubt this is a "competitive tank" season. Since we have our pick this year, any chance the Heat may go all in on it? Could you see a scenario where some of our highest-paid players fail to see court time? Maybe it makes sense to see what the young guys can do with ample opportunity. Good for Dwyane Wade on Sunday night, but when he’s your guy in "One Last Dance" mode, chances are you're not a contending team. -- Nick.

A: This is starting to look a bit like Kobe Bryant's final season with the Lakers, with enough distraction from Dwyane Wade's final season to possibly take the focus away from any impending playing-time maneuvering elsewhere on the roster. I know we've said it about stretches before, but this four-game homestand could be make or break. Against Atlanta, New Orleans, Utah and Orlando, the Heat need to win three of four to come out with any hope of surviving the ensuing six-game trip against the Suns, Clippers, Lakers, Jazz, Grizzlies and Pelicans.

Q: We are only 19 games through the season. And we are only struggling because offensively we can't get anything going without Goran Dragic. Then we will get our defense together eventually. So we will be fine. -- Rich.

A: And the Heat certainly have shown the ability to turn things around over the course of the second half of seasons. But usually there is something specific that you can point toward. Perhaps it is a return to health of Goran Dragic, perhaps a return by Dion Waiters or perhaps a reemergence of that defensive disposition you cite. But the Heat already also have gotten some of the best of Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Dwyane Wade -- and still are in this position.

Q: Ira, Yante Maten is playing great in the G League. He played well in the summer league and preseason and is a better shooter than most guys on our roster. Shouldn't the Heat give him some NBA experience? -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: Actually, I believe it is far more important to get significant playing time in the G League than spot minutes in the NBA. To a degree, that's where I've had some misgivings with utilizing almost a quarter of Duncan Robinson's 45-day NBA limit on his two-way contract as an insurance policy. Among the reasons Yante has been able to blossom is because of the playing time with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Duncan could use some of that, as well. There will come a time when the Heat, who are both floundering and in possession of an open roster spot, can make a call for Yante and Duncan where legitimate NBA minutes could be in play, as well as a possible standard contract that could keep the Heat in control of their rights beyond this season. 


November 26, 2018

Q: There is so much upside for Bam Adebayo it's scary. The Heat are in a tough spot because Erik Spoelstra clearly would rather not play Hassan Whiteside. But at $25 million this and next year, if not traded, Hassan has to play. But with Bam, let him make mistakes this year. The Heat aren't going anywhere. -- Douglas.

A: This certainly is a tough spot for the Heat. And don't lose sight of the reality that just three games ago, Hassan had 23 rebounds and 21 points against the Nets. About the only good thing about having three centers with the opportunity to carve minutes for only two, is that Hassan tends to let you know early whether he is on or off. Granted, other players are allowed to play through rough starts, which certainly will be the case when Dion Waiters gets back (still operating under the assumption that has to happen at some point). But this situation is different, because Hassan, Bam and Kelly Olynyk each bring something unique to the court. It may have to come down to equal minutes for each in the first half and then the last two left standing based on productivity play the second half. Hassan still can provide plenty. The problem is that it tends to be all or nothing.

Q: Any further comparisons between Justise Winslow/Josh Richardson and Kawhi Leonard need to be put on hold for a couple more years at minimum right now. It was a good thing Erik Spoelstra decided to defer to Dwyane Wade in Sunday's game. Otherwise it would have been really ugly. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: In a league full of too-little, too-late rallies, don't kid yourself, Sunday was really ugly. And I'm not sure, at least in this space, that you've seen comparisons to Kawhi Leonard, who is so unique in build and explosion. Being the same style of player or even same type of player, doesn't mean being the same player. Two years ago the Heat were in a similar spot in the Eastern Conference and the Raptors found a way to something better. And this is not just about a single contract, considering the contract of Jonas Valanciunas might not be at the level of some with the Heat but still has been burdensome. And for as much as the Heat had to go with Dwyane, consider the Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson (and Dion Waiters) were out. I'm not sure that type of opportunity might have been there otherwise.

Q: I don't see the Heat being anywhere near relevant for at least 10 years, especially considering the Heat's stubbornness to move away from acquiring non-shooters, defense first and Heat Culture. Am I wrong, or do you see any possibility of a silver lining? -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: A decade? Tell you what, I'll schedule a Twitter post for Nov. 26, 2028 about the Heat's recent success and then we can see who is correct.


November 25, 2018

Q: Ira, should we be celebrating a double-double by Justise Winslow when he scores 10 points. He is going to be making $13 million next season. Is that what you pay to a player who can't score? -- Hank.

A: As much as anything, the Winslow contract looks as much a case of asset retention as a building block to the future. Now, whether Justise is viewed as an asset to the rest of the league remains to be seen. With only the first two seasons of Justise's contract guaranteed, the gamble is relatively limited. But I do agree that in today's NBA, you had better, at the least, be viewed as a scoring threat. Even when Justise does score, I'm not sure he is enough of a threat to space the court. We have seen stretches of 3-point success, stretch of working his way to the foul line, stretches of transition scoring. What we haven't seen is consistency. On one hand, he is only 22. On the other, players reach a point where they are what they are. At the moment, it's as if good is being viewed as good enough.

Q: Hopefully they can bounce back on Sunday and get that L. -- Chris.

A: So it's going to be this way for the rest of the year, or will it take a move to .500 or above to make it stop? The depths of awful in the East are such that the Heat still should have ample time to veer toward lottery, if that becomes the desire or need. For now, it is difficult to lose to a team like the Bulls, even if you were trying. Should they find a way to beat the league-leading Raptors, then can I assume the perspective might change? I have done many seasons of "Ask Ira About the Lottery." Kind of hoping we can put that on hold for a bit, at least until the challenging upcoming western swing. The irony is I remember two years ago, amid the 11-30 start when Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and some others from the Heat went to the Cal-UCLA game to scout/watch Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and Ivan Rabb.

Q: The question is can Richardson be consistent and so far he has not. He is hit and miss. --- Bev.

A: But the only way you can determine consistency is to provide enough of a sample size. Friday was a step forward. What can't happen now is going back to an extended stretch of Dwyane Wade or bust. It is better to find out now if Josh can back up his performance than have to rely on him in games that could be all or nothing later in the season.


November 24, 2018

Q: What was good about that, nearly blowing a 26-point lead against a team not even trying to win? They couldn't make a 3-pointer, were outrebounded missed 12 foul shots. -- Alan.

A: I guess that all comes down to the desired goal If it is to make the playoffs, then you take it any way possible. If it is to grow the young talent, then you can appreciate Bam Adebayo stepping up with his 14 points and 13 rebounds as a closer, or Josh Richardson stepping into needed baskets or Justise Winslow finishing plus 25 in a game you win by seven. When you are not a championship contender, then you should at least be playing for the future. While Friday's result might not have met the lottery mandate of some, it did advance the youth of the team. So that is something, right?

Q: Jimmy Butler and John Wall are exactly the type of All-Star talent this team needs. But not at $40 million a season. Spending 40 percent of the salary cap for anybody but Kevin Durant, LeBron James or James Harden is no way to remain competitive. The Heat have always built primarily through trades or free agency, but that no longer seems viable with these high-priced contracts. I'd prefer the Heat remain frugal and focus on development until the NBA gets its next batch of superstars. This current group just doesn't seem worth it. -- John.

A: I find this fascinating for this reason: That is the going price going forward for an A-list (or likely even B-plus-list free agent). The alternative sort of is exactly what the Heat have done, a boatload of contracts in the $10 million to $20 million range (Hassan Whiteside being the exception, with Tyler Johnson actually averaging out to $12.5 million). The problem is if you're waiting for the next A-list free agent who actually is worth $40 million, you likely are waiting for Anthony Davis in 2020, and that's likely it.  You have to pay to play in free agency, and often have to pay too much just to get into the game.

Q: I'm a huge Pat Riley fan, and I am fairly certain that as long as he is at the helm I'll feel a lot better about the Heat's future than if he called it a day. But when you look at the composition of this team, basically formed over the past three, four years, and realize that we are not only capped out, but actually in the luxury tax (yes, I know there is the potential of getting back under by season's end) for a team without a single, legit All-Star quality player, and very possibly none on the horizon, it is almost mind boggling. I mean it's almost impossible to fathom (to use a Windermanism) that there is this insane amount of money being put out on a team that appears to be a low playoff seed, at best, and not a playoff team at all, at worst. How can you spend that much money on this little talent? -- Matt, Miami.

A: Because you do it incrementally, one contract at a time, ultimately trapped by the body of work. That's why I was surprised about the rush to the Justise Winslow extension. And a greater concern now is that Rodney McGruder gets squeezed out basically by being last-in, first-out when it comes to the money being parceled out. Dion Waiters was already hurt when he was re-signed. James Johnson was on the other side of 30 with his new contract. The Kelly Olynyk deal was signed when defensively immobile wasn't the ultimate liability. And those deals were after Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson were done in a previous offseason. It is why there is something to be said about circling a year, cleaning house and then moving forward, sort of as the Heat did in 2010. Now the Heat seemingly don't have that type of all-out window, with James Johnson, Waiters, Olynyk, Winslow and Richardson with deals that take them beyond 2020.


November 23, 2018

Q: Ira, if this keeps going south, who goes first, Erik Spoelstra? -- Dan.

A: Among the reasons I have shied from utilizing such questions from the mailbag (not that I don't appreciate the time taken for such submissions), is that I see zero chance of Erik Spoelstra being pushed out of his job based on the current record or even one that goes further south. The day Spoelstra moves on will be a day of an even larger organizational makeover. And that time is not any time soon. So assuming you also are asking about the roster, the move that makes the most sense would be flipping Wayne Ellington for a draft choice or younger, lower-cost prospect, as a means of also working toward getting out of the luxury tax (not because of the cash implications, but rather the pesky longer-term ramifications of the luxury tax). In many ways, Wayne, with his professionalism, sets up as the perfect specialist for a contender one 3-point shooter away from a higher level of competiveness. That said, there are two factors at play: 1. Wayne cannot be dealt until Dec. 15, after signing this offseason as a free agent. 2. As an impending Bird Rights free agent on a one-year contract, Wayne has the right to veto any trade. That said, I would be believe that playing for a contender, and therefore showcasing himself for a contender in advance of his next entry into free agency, could prove enticing enough to acquiesce. Otherwise, it's not as if there are many tradeable contracts on this roster, at least ones that could fetch a draft pick or prospect.

Q: If the 76ers are amenable to it, the Heat should offer Goran Dragic for Markelle Fultz. Fultz would give the Heat a high-potential point guard who doesn't seem to fit in with Ben Simmons, but who would fit in well with the Heat's young core. The 76ers would receive a guard who can play on or off the ball, has playoff experience, and (most importantly) would provide the ability to shoot from range, as well as drive to the bucket. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: Um, have you seen that shot? And let's not overstate token minutes as a playoff afterthought last season. To be candid, I'm not sure NBA evaluators know if there is much there, or if Fultz isn't something closer to the latest Anthony Bennett type of draft reach. All of that said, what I would do, if the 76ers would acquiesce, would be to consider such a move if it also includes a return of the Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round pick that initially was dealt to the Suns and was since forwarded to the 76ers. In that case, the Heat would at least be assured of a tangible future asset in return.

Q: Get rid of the Vice jerseys. The Heat don't deserve anything that nice. -- Justin.

A: Well, we'll get to see over the next two games whether swapping Vice Nights for something less gaudy will result in actual points instead of style points.


November 22, 2018

Q: It seems the lack of any consistent scorers is really hurting this Heat team. In that regard, how can Erik Spoelstra justify not giving Kelly Olynyk more playing time? He can score in the low post, mid-range and from the arc, at least more consistently than those getting much more playing time than him. Why is so much made of his lack of defense when scoring should really be placed at a premium with this team?  -- Michael, North Miami Beach.

A: For the same reason that players in the wake of losing 104-92 to the Nets and shooting just 36 percent as a team, including .219 on threes, spoke of how they can't let bad offense impact the defense. (Pausing here to gnash teeth. OK, better now.) While there certainly can still be a case made for, at least at times, good defense beating good offense, that no longer is the NBA entry point toward winning. Yes, Kelly Olynyk's defense has fallen off this season. And, yes, opponents are making him a point of attack. But he still is unique enough to provide relief scoring when an offense is suffocating on its own ineptitude. For all the talk about the depth of the rotation, Kelly sat as Derrick Jones Jr. and Duncan Robinson played. Last season, there was ample opportunity for Kelly when James Johnson was even healthier than now. And it's not as if it's about the increased minutes for Hassan Whiteside, who still only played 31:48 against Brooklyn. Perhaps this all becomes moot as a one-game anomaly. But it was an absence hard not to notice.

Q: Everyone needs to chill and let this get as bad as it can. Right now we're slated with the No. 6 pick. Then we got Chicago on Friday night. Embrace it. -- Renyae.

A: Offered as an example of what has been loading up the mailbag this week. Never knew there were this many tank GIFs available. It's as if some Heat fans (a term I use lightly with this subset) would like the next AmericanAirlines Arena designer court to have an M1Abrams as the featured artwork, with Vice Nights replaced with Tank Tuesdays (and Wednesdays and . . .).

Q: At what point do we ask the Lakers for Michael Beasley? Asking for a friend. -- Eddie.

A: Never change, Heat fan.


November 21, 2018

Q: Let's see what the "cap experts" in Miami do with the news about J.R. Smith. With only $3.8 million guaranteed for next year out of $15.6 million, we should be jumping all over this. -- Tony.

A: As might several others teams in order to play such a get-out-of-salary-cap-jail card. In that regard, because of the favorable cap advantages, I would expect that whatever team is able to trade for J.R. also will have to include a significant sweetener, likely a quality draft pick. And that is something, in need of their own makeover, that the Heat cannot afford. That said, if the Cavaliers would want to take a shot on Tyler Johnson's dormant potential, I am sure the Heat would do so in a heartbeat, possibly even with some sort of minimal sweetener. I'm also not sure that the team that trades for J.R. doesn't do exactly what the Cavaliers are doing at the moment, and that is asking J.R. to remain at home.

Q: Still have absolutely no clue why Erik Spoelstra insists on burning two-way players' days just to have them sit on the bench. Can you please add some enlightenment to this serious brain freeze? -- Skip, Tampa

A: If nothing else, it shows that the Heat, despite all the tanking swirl, are playing these games to win, protecting themselves with depth in case of injury or foul trouble. With the Heat operating with a 14-player roster, one below the NBA maximum, it is possible that either Duncan Robinson or Yante Maten, or perhaps even both, are upgraded to standard contracts this season, which then would allow the Heat to potentially add an option year to their deals and protect themselves during free agency.

Q: Erik Spoelstra's position-less basketball approach doesn't produce leading men, but an ensemble approach. We've seen the Celtics underachieve this season using the position-less strategy with genuine All-Star talent. So far Spo's ensemble mantra has disappointed fans and players alike. -- Leonard, Cornelius, N.C.

A: Equal-opportunity basketball is not the same as position-less. You play position-less when you have players of equal skills and equal abilities. That essentially defines the current Heat roster. For that matter, the Heat have not been equal opportunity this season, featuring Josh Richardson. And I'm sure Dion Waiters is salivating that leading-man status could yet be in his future. The Heat, at this stage, would embrace anyone willing to step forward and make plays. It is part of the reason for the relief with Dwyane Wade's return. But as Tuesday showed, more is still needed. Scoring remains an issue.


November 20, 2018

Q: If John Wall is available the Heat should scoop him up. Tell me why he is not more valuable than Jimmy Butler? -- Tom.

A: As I noted in my Sunday column, sometimes it's about more than the players. Sometimes it's all about the contract. With Butler, it would have been those seasons at $40 million plus at the end of the free-agency contract he will sign this summer just before turning 30. With Wall, it's $38 million due next season, $41 million in 2020-21, $44 million in 2021-22 and a player option for $47 million in 2022-23. In other words, he would be your rebuild, blowing apart the 2020 option, and, most likely, the chance to land quality draft picks with these next first-round selections. While the Wizards might be tempted with something that starts with Goran Dragic, for the Heat to maximize such a deal it would mean being able to offload deals that go beyond 2020, such as Kelly Olynyk or James Johnson or even Dion Waiters. If that can be worked out, then it might make sense. But that's from a Heat perspective. I'm not sure that would work for the Wizards, who might prefer Heat contracts that expire by 2020, such as Hassan Whiteside. John Wall is an A-list talent. The question is whether having him as your cornerstone would assure a visit at least to the Eastern Conference finals. It hasn't for the Wizards.

Q: Ira, in your opinion, who are the top three or four Heat players who make the best trade candidates come deadline? I think Heat fans are hungry for a couple of top picks in the upcoming draft. -- Gabriel, Lakeland.

A: I would start with Wayne Ellington, who is on a one-year contract but also would take his Bird Rights along in a trade. But, remember, Wayne cannot be dealt until Dec. 15, after re-signing as a free agent this summer, and also has to approve any trade. I'm not sure, though, he would necessarily land a first-round pick in return. Beyond that, Goran Dragic and Kelly Olynyk both possess the type of skill sets that could tempt a contender. But in those cases there would be the pesky issue of having to take salaries back in return.

Q: I laugh when people say to replace Hassan Whiteside with Bam Adebayo.  Bam has no offensive game. His whole offensive game is standing at the key receiving a pass and then returning the pass. He is also undersized, so has trouble defending bigs down low.  He has great athletic ability and hopefully he can develop into a Serge Ibaka type of player. He is still very young, but his lack of development from his rookie season to this season is disappointing. -- Joel.

A: I think those who are calling for more of Bam Adebayo are doing it from the perspective of the Heat do not appear to be going anywhere, so why not make development the priority? By contrast, it's not as if Hassan Whiteside has shown much in the way of growth, with recent questions of what has happened to the flashes of speed and bursts of explosion he demonstrated earlier in the season. That said, the Heat have to hope to get something more out of Hassan, and would likely be best served by pushing him to produce more by providing ample playing time.


November 19, 2018

Q: So again, there's much more to be desired when it comes to Hassan Whiteside. His effort just seems to be sporadic. I’d much rather see Bam Adebayo start and play 30 minutes per game. So let’s commit to his development and just ignore the Whiteside complaints along the way. -- Myles.

A: The difference is Bam Adebayo remains raw, still needs to refine elements of his game before necessarily being gifted minutes. If anything, I would have gone more with Kelly Olynyk on Sunday night. The Heat made a major investment in Kelly and have gotten enough results that it’s hard to fathom only 8:29 of playing time against the Lakers. But this is not about Bam. And it's not about Kelly. It's about Hassan. The one thing that makes him truly unique, and arguably special, is the power and explosion in his game. And that cannot be a sometimes thing. Making 3-pointers can be a sometimes thing. Timing steals on defense can be a sometimes things. But exerting energy and force has to be an all-the-time thing for Hassan. Powering the ball through the defense. Displaying enough force so Tyson Chandler doesn't come off the bench and outrebound you. There are not many other positons in the Heat lineup where there can be a nightly advantage. Center, with Whiteside, has to be one of them.

Q: Games are getting hard to watch. I keep trying to convince myself of what could be, but in reality we are just not that good. -- Steve.

A: It's one thing to lose and have someone like Kemba Walker to keep it interesting. It's another when there is not much to get excited about. And it has to be more than 36-year-old Dwyane Wade. This team needs to create some sort of spark. Hassan Whiteside would seem to be that player. Perhaps it will take Dion Waiters at his confident best.

Q: Ira, is there a scenario where the Heat can trade for Kevin Durant before the trade deadline? With what's going on in Golden State, they may want to get rid of Kevin so that it doesn’t disrupt their championship run. As you know, Pat Riley likes trading for players who are not happy. -- Jorge.

A: I can't fathom what it would take for Golden State to make such a move with Durant, but it would have to be far more than this current rough patch. And, as with so many of the trade permutations sent this way, exactly what are the Heat going to entice with? While the lower-end contracts of Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and even Justise Winslow might tempt a team looking for complementary pieces, there still is the matter of making the cap math match up. And who exactly is taking on Dion Waiters or James Johnson? Besides, it certainly appears that Durant has eyes on the Lakers or Knicks when he hits free agency, so you would be looking at a rental if Golden State would decide to punt.


November 18, 2018

Q: I've heard the Heat don't tank. But, some curious choices: no backup point guard on the roster despite an open roster spot and turnovers as the number-one problem; telling legend Dwyane Wade to take it easy and come back whenever he feels like it; holding out two projected starters coming off surgery not due to any lingering surgery issues but for extra "conditioning" with "no timetable" for their return. Should Heat fans start trusting the "process," nudge, nudge, wink, wink? Know what I mean? -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: If you're asking whether the Heat have some sort of clandestine plan to advance losing, I can't fathom that. Erik Spoelstra is coaching to win. Players are playing to win. And if management was attempting to keep the win totals down, then there is plenty of talent that could have been sold off to contenders to assure such results. While I have questioned the depth at point guard, that part of the equation comes down to the Heat's belief that Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade, Dion Waiters and James Johnson offer enough ballhandling alternatives. As for Wade, I'm not sure the Heat envisioned this lengthy of an absence, even as they have granted all the time he desires. The Waiters and Johnson slow rides back from surgery actually might be more a point of frustration than desire by the Heat, who have little patience when it comes to conditioning issues. If there is a "process" in play, it is happening organically and not by design. The Heat do not let go of the rope, certainly not in November. If anything, there might be too much comfort in the belief that things can be turned around.

Q: Ira, you've referred to Erik Spoelstra as a basketball savant. His only success was when he had LeBron James on the team. Other than that, he is an average coach at best. Heat Nation deserves better, don't you think? Or is all the talk of high standards just that, "talk"? -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: The talk of high standards is more about personnel, and I believe Erik Spoelstra would be among the first to acknowledge that as the starting point for any level of success. The Heat front office either overestimated the team's talent pool or those players are not living up to expectation. But I truly believe that Erik Spoelstra is as good as any coach at maximizing talent. Granted, some might point to Hassan Whiteside, but that also is a factor of roster overloaded with big at a time the NBA has gone small.

Q: I know you have to look for some bright spots Ira to write about, but as a fan this has been a tough go and I do think having Dwyane Wade back will help because, well, he is Dwyane Wade. But Dion Waiters and James Johnson? No one is enthusiastically waiting for them to return to clutter things up even more. -- Douglas.

A: If Dion Waiters and James Johnson, when healthy and in condition, do not upgrade the Heat upon their returns, then they are not who the front office thought they were. And if that proves to be the case, then at least the short-term future could look bleaker than even where the Heat stand at the moment.


November 17, 2018

Q: Have we had a large enough sample size of Justise Winslow yet? -- Kenny.

A: I have been getting many similar thoughts sent this way in the wake of Winslow performances such as Friday night's struggle in Indiana. And here is where I have a problem: He is 22. It seems as though the same fans who want to discard Winslow at 22 are the ones who want to build through the draft. Sometimes this is what that looks like. Now, has Justise Winslow been gifted a starting position at the moment? Absolutely. Which is why the Heat desperately need James Johnson back. To me, Winslow sets up as a sixth man, one with whom you can gauge the measure of his contribution on a particular night and then go from there. There is a reason his extension has only two guaranteed seasons. It's as if the Heat have set up their own evaluation period. But these mad dashes toward the rim with no endgame in mind also have to be tempered. With his firm build, Justise is like a running back who is better picking his way through holes rather than thrusting forward and hoping for the best result. For as bad as it was for the Heat on Friday night, they did outscore the Pacers by five when Justise was on the court.

Q: Goran Dragic is becoming a liability on the floor, yet Erik Spoelstra retains him on the floor. The Heat need to trade Dragic for some assets in return. -- Roy.

A: And yet it was clear that the Pacers made Goran a defensive priority because they felt if they could stop his penetration, they could stunt the Heat's offense. And it worked. And that is the problem when you have too many non-scorers, or at least non-creators on the floor. Even Josh Richardson, for all he accomplished in Friday's game with his 28 points, attempted only one free throw, and that was because of a Pacers violation. Beyond Goran, there is not much in the way of attacking force when Dion Waiters, Dwyane Wade and James Johnson are out.

Q: You've mentioned a couple of times Wayne Ellington trades. Can he really bring back a pick and is there even a market? The best way to prepare for 2020 is through the draft. -- Gabriel, Lakeland.

A: In a league that so covets shooters, yes, I believe a team in win-now mode might be willing to throw in a pick for a trade that also could help the Heat escape the luxury tax. The problem, though, is that any contender making such a deal also would be drafting near the end of the process. The optimal situation would be a contender that also holds a more tempting selection from another team. Again, this all is speculation, with Wayne not eligible to be dealt until Dec. 15 after signing in the offseason, and only then with his permission. Still, there certainly is nothing wrong with building up value in the interim.


November 16, 2018

Q: How do the Heat manage to find enough playing time to showcase Dion Waiters and James Johnson for potential deadline trades when the players getting more minutes in their absence are blossoming? -- Gabriel, Lakeland.

A: They won't. The Heat and Erik Spoelstra will play who they believe gives them the best opportunity to win. Because if it's not about staying in the moment and playing in the moment, then it made no sense to give James Johnson that $60 million contract on the other side of 30, or even go into the luxury tax with 30-year-old Wayne Ellington this summer. (Dwyane Wade, at 36, is in a different category because of his meaning to management and the fan base, as is Udonis Haslem. Plus, both are on minimum-scale contracts.) I believe James will return to the starting lineup, because he has shown that when healthy he can be a difference maker. But I'm not sure what becomes of Dion, because I can't fathom Erik Spoelstra going away from Josh Richardson as a starting wing, and possibly not Rodney McGruder, either. Ultimately, injuries to others tend to open playing time. But that playing time won't be about showcasing, because the reality is the league already knows by now who Dion and James are.

Q: Is it too soon to just cut Dion Waiters or just trade him for a pick? I mean every year same old issue. -- Ahsan.

A: The thing is, this isn't the case of three different injuries impacting three different seasons. This all stems from the injury at the end of 2016-17 that Dion did not address with surgery during the 2017 offseason. Then it again hampered him at the start of last season, with surgery delayed until January. Now it has had him out of view for the start of this season. One ankle; three seasons. So, yes, you are correct, it is the same, old issue. But the reality is that it's just, quite literally, one single twist of fate.

Q: What's your takeaway from Pat Riley's comments that this is a "big year" for the Heat with so many players under contract through next year? -- Gabriel, Lakeland.

A: That this will be a year when the team can't count on transactions to push it over the top, but rather that it will have to come from within. Yet while his players might be on the clock, in the case of Dion Waiters and James Johnson, they first have to get onto the court. We still do not know whether the chemistry of 30-11 at the end of 2016-17 can be replicated simply because we have not seen that team healthy, when considering Waiters' ankle issue and Hassan Whiteside's knee issue at the start of last season.


November 15, 2018

Q: Ira, you wrote as if the Heat got some sort of major accomplishment with the win in Brooklyn. But that Nets team was emotionally spent and still made it close at the end. -- Boris.

A: Do I believe it was an overwhelmingly impressive victory? No. Was it a needed victory? Absolutely. So you take it and you move on. Yes, there is now the growing concern of Hassan Whiteside's foul trouble and of the ever-increasing awareness that Justise Winslow cannot make shots. But there also has been the pleasant breakthrough of Tyler Johnson and the comfort of Wayne Ellington 3-pointers. Plus the return of Goran Dragic to his typical self is heartening. Since we know the Heat, as a brand philosophy, refuse to tank, you might as least get the wins that you need to make the playoff chase more tolerable. It was a game the Heat should have won, and they did. Considering how that hasn’t happened as often as needed this season, you take what you can and you move on. At this stage, with Wade, Waiters and James Johnson still out, you take what you can get and what you need.

Q: Carmelo Anthony to the Heat? Why not? He can score. Is a buddy of Dwyane Wade's. A fine player. What do we have to lose with the team we already have? -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: I believe the greater question with a Carmelo-Heat marriage would be how it would impact the rotation. Assuming the Heat eventually get to a starting lineup of Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic, then you would have to start asking these questions: Carmelo ahead of Justise Winslow? Carmelo ahead of Dwyane Wade? Carmelo ahead of Rodney McGruder? Carmelo ahead of Wayne Ellington? Carmelo ahead of Kelly Olynyk? Carmelo ahead of Bam Adebayo? The only way it seemingly would work would be if the Heat would trade Ellington in a cap-clearing move and then could use another 3-point shooter. But remember, Carmelo was not happy with the threat of being moved to the Thunder's bench. So how exactly would he handle being an eight-, ninth- or 10th-man, if even that in the Heat rotation? To me, Carmelo would make sense if the Heat were to sell off assets for draft picks and therefore need bodies to fill out the rotation. But, again, would that be a desirable landing situation for Carmelo?

Q: If James Johnson and Dion Waiters are being held out not for injury but because they have not met weight and body-fat requirements, then we are throwing away part of this season for no good reason? I'm sure many teams with better records have players, maybe even All-Star players, who would not meet those requirements but are still playing at a high level and helping win games. Also, why are the Heat having some players play through injury and discomfort and risk further injury, such as Goran Dragic, Derrick Jones Jr., while holding out these other healthy players?. -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: Foremost, because, as Erik Spoelstra often says, this organization is not for everybody. James, Dion and their teammate knew what they signed up for. As for Dion, remember that he had two surgeries, so there also is the actual recovery element. The entire point is to have those two good to go and not come up with the type of soft-tissue injury that would lead to a further setback. To Heat, conditioning is and will remain a point of emphasis.

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