Wednesday, June 02, 2010

An Option If Joel Opts Out

There aren't many things Pat Riley loves more than reclamation projects and the chance to develop raw Varnado prospects who have at least one clear NBA-level skill.

Anthony Mason. John Starks. Bruce Bowen. Udonis Haslem. Joel Anthony.

The list goes on and on.

There's a chance that the next prospect in that line of Heat development projects arrived at AmericanAirlines Arena for the latest round of predraft workouts.

Remember the name: Jarvis Varnado. And here's why. No player in NCAA history has blocked more shots than this 6-9 power forward from Mississippi State. Varnado shattered Shaquille O'Neal's SEC career blocks record and averaged 13.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 rejections as a senior.

Varnado was one of four likely second-round prospects who worked out for the Heat on Wednesday. He joined LaSalle swingman Rodney Green, Virginia shooting guard Sylven Landesberg and freakishly athletic VCU big man Larry Sanders, who has a 7-5 wingspan.

Varnado and Sanders are both lean and long post players who protect the rim with a vengeance. One thing the Heat clearly lacked last season was youth and athleticism in the post. Make no mistake, Varnado is clearly a raw prospect who does one thing extremely well. And that's block shots.

He became the first player named SEC Defensive Player of the Year three times. Varnado, who is rail thin at 215 points but has a 7-4 wingspan, also became the first player in NCAA history to record 1,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and block 500 shots.

The Heat saw a similar skill in Joel Anthony three years ago and signed him as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV. While Anthony hasn't disappointed in his development, although his hands-of-stone issues are Joel-Block still problematic on the offensive end, his Heat future is far from certain.

Anthony holds a player option to return next season for about $900,000. If he opts out of his contract, he potentially becomes a restricted free agent who would command a slightly higher salary if the Heat plans to own the right to match outside bidders.

Varnado brings the same skill and is a little more familiar with the offensive side of the game. Not much. Just a tad bit. But more importantly, he'd come at about half Anthony's price. In other words, at best, Varnado develops into Theo Ratliff. At worst, he's Joel Anthony on a deep discount.

And make no mistake, $500K in saved cap space is plenty for a Heat team that's trying to squirrel away every dime it can to spend in free agency. In addition, second-round draft picks or undrafted free agents are not usually signed to guaranteed contracts.

So from that standpoint, the Heat's three second-round picks (Nos. 41, 42 and 48) might prove to be a bit more valuable to the franchise's offseason plans than even the No. 18 overall pick in the first round.

Joel Anthony has until June 24th - the night of the NBA Draft - to make a move with his player option. Depending on how the closed workout went Wednesday, the Heat might have gotten a great look at his Varnado2 potential replacement in Varnado.

That said, Joel has been commendable in his development over the years and ranked last season as one of the league's most productive shot-blockers-per-minutes-played. But he can't - or shouldn't - overestimate his value at this point. Which will make his opt in-or-out decision interesting.

Riley has placed a premium on college players with exceptional size or length who have three or four years of experience. Above all else, he values end-of-the-bench bargains that can develop into rotation players.

He's done it before. He'll do it again.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

1st-Rounders in the (Heat's) House

After spending the initial weeks of draft preparations looking at prospects that could fall into the Pat Patterson second-round, Pat Riley and his staff of scouts and executives shifted focus this week to hone in on first-round talent.

The Heat reconvened draft workouts this week at AmericanAirlines Arena, with a session Tuesday that included guards Jermaine Beal (Vanderbilt) and Donald Sloan (Texas A&M) and forwards Luke Babbitt (Nevada), Damion James (Texas), Pat Patterson (Kentucky) and Dwayne Collins (Miami).

Of that group, Babbitt, Patterson and James are considered first-round material - with draftnet.com slotting those three to go anywhere from 11th overall to 17th in the first round.

The Heat holds the No. 18 pick in the first round, in addition to picks No. 41, 42 and 48 in the second round of the June 24 draft.

If there is a common theme or two among Tuesday's group, it's that many of the prospects are upperclassmen and have impressive length or size for their respective positions.

Beal is a 6-3 point guard who averaged 14.6 points and 3.1 assists. Sloan, also 6-3, averaged 17.8 points and 2.3 assists for Texas A&M while filling the void left by first-round pick A.C. Law IV a few years ago.

While Collins was clearly the hometown favorite in the closed session, having worked out for Miami a year ago when he thought about leaving the Hurricanes after his junior season.

But Patterson and Babbitt are the two prospects from this group who could seriously intrigue the Heat. Patterson was overshadowed last season at Kentucky by freshmen John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, with both expected to be among the top five players picked in the draft later this month.

Having talked to a couple of scouts and college basketball analysts, the picture many paint of Patterson looks a lot like a healthier and more explosive version of Wayne Simien in college. Same body. Same game. Similar college stats. Solid character. Hard worker. Think a younger, healthy Antonio McDyess perhaps.

But above all else, the 6-8, 223-pound Patterson has a 7-1 wingspan, meaning he could make up for his lack of height at power forward with a Theo Ratliff-like wingspan.

Luke Babbitt Babbitt was the do-it-all catalyst you might not have heard of out of Nevada. He averaged 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds as a sophomore and one of the most productive players in the country. There's a great chance he won't be available when the Heat picks at No. 18 - if the Heat picks at all and resists urges to trade some or all of its selections.

Scouts say Babbitt has NBA range and is crafty, athletic and skilled enough to get his shot off at the NBA level. Some suggests he's a lot like Mike Miller, but with a bit more of an inside game and a bit less of a handle.

With the Heat essentially working from a clean slate with its roster (only two players under contract next season) the team can go a number of different ways with its picks this month. But I'd expect Pat to make size and shooting his main priorities.

Workouts resume with another group visiting Wednesday. We'll update the prospects who work out this week as they become available.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Heat's Draft Focus: Length, Maturity

Pat Riley is on the South Side of Chicago putting in plenty of work. Pondexter

No, the Heat president of basketball operations is not up there to intensify his recruiting efforts to retain Chicago native and Miami point guard Dwyane Wade.

That trip, we presume, will come a bit later.

And no, Riley hasn't spent the better part of this week in Chi-Town in to convince LeBron James to hold off on his search for real estate.

Instead, Riley and his staff of top front-office administrators have spent the past few days in Chicago taking a close look at prospects in the June 24 NBA Draft. The fact that Riley is putting in plenty of face time at the pre-draft combine is a signal of at least two things.

One, it could very well be a face-to-face feeling-out process with other club execs on sign-and-trades that could play out this summer.

And two, it shows that Pat is taking this year's draft pretty seriously. The Heat holds four picks - the No. 18 overall pick in the first round and three second rounders. That's potentially four trade chips. Or, better yet, four slots the Heat plans to fill on the 2010-11 roster through the draft.

Riles is typically reluctant to operate this way. The Heat hasn't had much success building through the draft when it hasn't been positioned in the lottery.

Jerome Jordan But this year looks like it will be different. We'll take a closer look at the Heat's draft philosophy in a story that will run in Sunday's Miami Herald. But for now, from all indications, it appears that Pat and the Heat have been aggressively scouting, interviewing and working out prospects that could be keepers.

One name that has already come out of the Chicago combine as a rumored target of Heat interest is University of Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, pictured above right. He's the prototypical scoring small forward who also is long enough to defend in the Heat's system.

Another name who has surfaced on Miami's potential draft radar is Tulsa's Jerome Jordan (pictured left), a 7-footer who has developed nicely in college and is among a number of big-man projects who could fall in the Heat's draft range. In this draft process, the Heat has placed a premium on two things: experience and length.

And with most of the team's available salary-cap space earmarked for free agency, the Heat likely will need to round out several roster spots with draft picks or minimum-salary veterans.

Unlike seasons past, this might finally be the year when circumstances dictate that Pat plant a draft pick or three on the end of his bench next season instead of somewhere across the Atlantic.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Campaigning for Wade's Commitment

This certainly can't hurt. Wade-Star1

With Dwyane Wade shuttling from courtroom to courtroom between Chicago and Miami these days to deal with lawsuits and a divorce, the Heat guard could certainly use a bit of love these days.

And he's getting plenty of it now. Especially now that the Miami Heat officially launched its excessive campaign to retain Wade's services when he becomes a free agent in July.

The Heat produced a website, www.wewantwade.com,  as phase one of a marketing blitz that soon will extend to other massive flirtations designed to bring fans on board for this major recruiting pitch.

Wade said Thursday he was flattered by the team's out-of-character move to display such public affection. Keep in mind that it's usually not Pat Riley's style to go out of his way to publicize his players and coaches for league awards.

But Wade is clearly an exception. It was that way last season, when the team launched its MV3 campaign to push Wade for league MVP honors. And it's the case now, with Wade set to opt out of his contract and become one of the most sought-after free agents in NBA history on July 1.

That gives the Heat the next six weeks to show Wade in every way how much he's loved, needed, wanted and cared for here before other NBA cities such as Wade's hometown of Chicago can jump in and flirt with Miami's main man.

And here's why Wade is looking forward to this summer so much: He's never been in this position before. Yes, money and fame has a lot to do with this process. But just the simple aspect of recruiting is something Wade hasn't experiences before at a substantial level.

Wade's low test scores kept him from being highly recruited coming out of high school. He had three official campus visits. Marquette. Southern Illinois. DePaul. Even during the NBA Draft, Wade wasn't wooed as openly as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.

So this has to be a sweet situation for Wade, who repeatedly has said he would like to stay in Miami. 

The website and public display of affection from Pat Riley and Micky Arison and all the fans in South Florida - the website temporarily crashed Thursday when it reached between 200-300 hits per second - will go a long way.

Wade-Face But it doesn't take billboards and banners to impress Wade.

It'll take Bosh, Boozer or the postseason beast known as Amare Stoudemire in a Heat uniform.

Wade knows how Riley and Arison feel about him. He wants to see what they're able to put around him in terms of championship talent.

It's clear the Heat has the money, the mission and the public mantra to make Wade a happy man.

But it will take more than a Heisman-like campaign to earn Wade's long-term commitment.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thunder 96, Heat 91 (Preseason)

TULSA, Okla. - Even without Dwyane Wade, there's no reason this one had to end this way. Heat_Thunder_Basketball_OKS

Just about everything that could go wrong down the stretch for Miami did go wrong in Wednesday's 96-91 preseason loss to Oklahoma City at the BOK Center. Missed shots. Turnovers. Unfavorable whistles from the replacement officials. On top of everything else, there was Kevin Durant.

The Heat remains winless after four preseason games, despite getting a promising effort from Michael Beasley through three quarters and placing a total of five players in double figures in scoring. Beasley had 24 points and four rebounds in 38 minutes, but he faded down the stretch. He scored only four in the fourth quarter and finished with seven turnovers.

Meanwhile, the fourth quarter seemed to be just when Durant was finding his rhythm. Durant and Jeff Green combined for 55 points to lead Oklahoma City back from a 14-point deficit to get the win.

Beasley's best scoring game also came on a night when point guard Carlos Arroyo made his Heat debut. Arroyo made a couple of nifty passes, including a behind-the-back kickout to Beasley for a jumper at the top of the key in the fourth quarter. But coach Erik Spoelstra's message to Arroyo after the game was to "keep it simple" and run the offense.

Now 0-4 heading into Thursday's game against New Orleans in Kansas City, the Heat has reached the point where it would be prudent for the team to experience a win in the preseason, especially when Wade is not available.

D. WADE'S DOINGS: He waved to the crowd. He posed for a lot of photos. He acknowledged two little kids who showed up wearing his Heat jersey. Other than that, Wade simply took it easy for his second straight preseason game. Wade continues to nurse a strained muscle in his left rib cage. Wade suggested Wednesday he may have aggravated the strain when he took a few hits at Tuesday's practice. "I took a couple of hits in practice just to make sure and see," Wade said. "And I'm not ready yet. Still a process." Wade, who averaged 17.5 points in the first two preseason games, said he would warm up before Thursday's game against New Orleans and then decide if he's ready to play.

TURNING POINT: Miami led 70-61 going into the fourth quarter and proceeded to watch OKC close the game out with a 35-21 edge in the fourth quarter. The Heat committed 15 fouls in the period, missed 7 of 10 from 3-point range and had five turnovers. A Daequan Cook missed layup late in the game would have slowed the Thunder's rally. Michael Beasley's two turnovers at critical stages of the period also didn't help. 

LOSING EDGE: It was the Thunder's home game, although it was played in Tulsa. But that didn't stop the team from getting the benefit of the doubt from the refs. In no way should the edge from the free-throw line have been so lopsided. OKC outshot the Heat 24-2 from the line in the fourth quarter. The Thunder's 20 points from the line in the period nearly matched the Heat's scoring output overall (21) for the quarter. "It is what it is," Spoelstra said. "But you've got to embrace these kind of games on the road. There are a lot of circumstances on the road, obstacles, distractions, that can get you off your game."

HEAD-SCRATCHER: This one had very little to do with the game. Instead, there was yet another incident where forward Michael Beasley found himself on the wrong side of a social networking media controversy. This time, it had to do with Beasley responding in jest to a comment regarding marijuana use that was posted during a U-stream session several Heat players had from their Tulsa hotel Tuesday night. I'm all for free speech and everything. But considering Beasley's recent issues, which included a month-long stay at a Houston-area rehab facility as part of the league's substance-abuse program, there are certain things he just can't joke about. Beasley has to know that he no longer gets the benefit of the doubt on such issues. COOK_DAEQUAN That said, this ordeal appears to be a major overreaction to another episode of Beasley being Beasley.

KEY CONTRIBUTION: Daequan Cook was 4 of 7 from three-point range and finished with 14 points off the bench, including nine in the second half. Cook, who has been bothered by a sprained right thumb, was far more efficient from deep than he was from inside the three-point arc. He was 5 of 15 overall. But his willingness to take - and make - big shots was what kept the Heat in the game in the fourth at a time when the team was getting very little from everyone else. "Me and coach talked about me being a lot more reliable and a lot more consistent this year," Cook said. "I just have to do a better job of doing that."

DAMAGE DONE: Not sure who gets bumped in the West. But go ahead and book Kevin Durant's ticket to Heat-Durant February's All-Star game in Dallas. For one, it would be fitting for Durant, a former University of Texas star, to make the squad and return to the state that made him star. He will also deserve the nod if he continues his rapid improvement as expected this season. Durant is as silky smooth as they come at 6-10. He can handle. He can post. He can shoot. And he can fly. Just ask Heat center Joel Anthony, who caught a face full of chest when Durant flew through the lane for a vicious dunk in the first quarter. Durant was limited by four first-half fouls, but finished with 30 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter. "To see someone do the things he does at a guy his size is incredible," Beasley said of Durant.

NEXT UP: Heat vs. New Orleans Hornets, Thursday (Kansas City) - 8:30 p.m.


(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Carlos, Comebacks & SuperCoolBeas

Clearing out the mind and notebook as the flight to Wednesday’s Heat-Thunder preseason game reaches cruising altitude. Consider it the misdirection exhibition tour.

 

After the game in Tulsa against Oklahoma City, the Heat heads to Kansas City to play New Orleans. Go figure. Still trying to figure out how last preseason offered a trip to Paris and London and this year counters with Tulsa and Kansas City. Again, go figure.

 

THE ARROYO-AL TREATMENT: There was a slice of it after Tuesday’s practice, when new Heat Carlos Arroyo guard Carlos Arroyo had what amounted to his own personal media day The Puerto Rico native and former FIU standout signed with the Heat on Monday.

 

TV, radio and newspaper reporters from Spanish media outlets engulfed Arroyo after Tuesday’s practice. Considering the market, there was a genuine excitement and interest. Arroyo is believed to be the first native Spanish-speaking player in Heat history. And who said his signing with the Heat wouldn’t have an impact on and off the court?

 

“It’s been great,” Arroyo said of the reaction. “It’s an honor to be here and to be home.”

 

BEASLEY’S WIN-WIN-WIN SITUATION: Count forward Michael Beasley among Heat players Beasley Interview who believe Arroyo is just the sort of addition second-year starting point guard Mario Chalmers needed. With a savvy, proven veteran to contend with in practice every day, Chalmers gets a taste of what Beasley goes through with Udonis Haslem.

 

“Some of the guys who have been in here – not to downgrade guys, but – (Chalmers) has been a landslide better than them,” Beasley said of a group that has consisted of Chris Quinn, Marcus Banks, Shaun Livingston, Luther Head and current camp hopeful John Lucas. “Carlos can do it all. (Chalmers) not only has somebody to go head to head against, but somebody to look up to and to learn from.”

 

WADE AND SEE: Dwyane Wade acknowledged Tuesday that his current rib strain is near the same spot as the injury he sustained during the 2004-05 season that lingered into the playoffs. But Wade said this recent ailment pales in comparison to the anguish he felt four years ago.

 

“If it was that bad, I wouldn’t even be out here,” Wade said after practice. “I wouldn’t even be trying to play.” Wade worked out extensively the past two days, with a focus on conditioning. He essentially wore a “yellow jersey” in scrimmage sessions, meaning he was completely off limits for contact. Wade said he would consider wearing protective padding around his rib cage if he plays this week. From the sounds of Tuesday’s practice, Wade, at best, might appear in one game and skip the other.

 

SPARRING SESSION: Jermaine O’Neal said he expects to play the back-to-back set against the Thunder and Hornets after he missed the previous two games with a bruised foot. O'NEAL_JERMAINE

 

There is absolutely nothing he could face in those games more demanding and brutal than the low-post sparring sessions he’s had after practice against assistant coach Keith Askins. Make that Askins and two huge, thick “bash pads” Askins basically used as weapons to pound on O’Neal as he practiced low-post scoring moves. O’Neal managed to hold his own at times, but Askins did little to hurt his reputation as “Kick Ass-kins.”

 

“It’s a different kind of conditioning in here,” O’Neal said. “I look forward to getting back on the court and getting my timing and everything back.”

 

FUNNY EXCHANGE: Beasley, if nothing else, is still providing the comic relief. Before Sunday’s game against San Antonio, Beasley and Yakhouba Diawara had a hilarious exchange. Beasley picked on Diawara because of his deep French accent. Diawara, a Pepperdine grad, shot back: “I’m an educated man. Put Pepperdine against wherever you went, college dropout. Did you even stay long enough to major?”

 

Beasley, who spent one season at Kansas State before leaving to become the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, didn’t hesitate. “Yeah, I had a major. My major was Bucketology. You don’t know about that. I mastered in getting buckets.”

 

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Camp Confidential (Wrap-up)

SUNDAY, OCT. 4 - The Heat closed out its final official training camp practice Sunday by making it pretty BeasleyPractice obvious that the team has settled on a starter at small forward.

Michael Beasley, by all indications, is The Man. Surprising? No. But was this a sure bet? Hardly. Not considering everything Beasley had to go through during an offseason that included a month-long stay at a Houston-area rehab facility as part of the league's substance-abuse program.

There were no sure bets with Beasley when camp opened a week ago. There was hope. There was a certain level of expectation. There also were no guarantees. Over the course of a week of camp practices, Beasley showed that he put in the work this summer to expand his game.

You knew the talent was there. Were the work ethic, focus, professionalism and attitude? While there's still work to be done with Beasley in a lot of areas, there's no denying that he's made tremendous progress - at least on the court - when it comes to his impact with the Heat.

Sunday's scrimmage saw Beasley open alongside Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Jermaine O'Neal in a 12-minute game against a second-team unit of Chris Quinn, Daequan Cook, James Jones, Anthony Tolliver and Joel Anthony.

What we saw was Beasley battle his way to rebounds. What we saw was Beasley take the ball off the glass and initiate the fastbreak. What we saw was Beasley confidently step into a spot-up jumper or two from the wing. What we saw was Beasley get back to his power roots and drive the ball strong to the basket. But mostly, what we saw was a work in progress.

Beasley-Wade Despite the signs of a much-improved skill set in an already talented player, Beasley still has plenty of work to do to make this small forward ordeal work. James Jones, Beasley's stiffest competition for the starting job, made a few crafty plays that left Beasley lost out there.

Jones beat Beasley on a pump-fake to draw a foul. He also beat Beasley on the baseline to get to an offensive rebound. And Jones also delivered the final dagger of the scrimmage, dropping a 3-pointer over a late-arriving Beasley to lead the "white" team of backups to a 17-16 win over the "black" team of starters.

If Jones gave Beasley those kind of problems Sunday, what might be in store for him Monday when he faces Tayshaun Prince in the preseason opener at Detroit? After that, Rashard Lewis awaits in Orlando on Wednesday. All told, Beasley will also have to face Rudy Gay, James Posey and David West, Jeff Green and Kevin Durant, and Marvin Williams over the course of the preseason.

That's a pretty good test run at the position defensively to get prepared for the season.

"Part of the process is learning situations," Spoelstra said of Beasley's transition between small and power forward. "The reps this summer helps. He felt comfortable. He's still learning and he'll tell you that."

For Beasley's part, he's smart enough to know that he doesn't have it all figured out just yet. But he appears to be well on his way. He can create  a mismatch just as often as he might be a victim of one during this on-the-spot learning process.

"I'm just playing my position and making sure I'm rotating right and being in the place I'm supposed to be," Beasley said. "When you try (too hard) to make it happen, it's going to be a disaster. You let it come to you."

INJURY UPDATE: Forward Dorell Wright was the only player on the 18-man camp roster who did not participate in the 12-minute scrimmage at the end of practice. Spoelstra said the team continues to monitor swelling in Wright's left knee that required two surgeries in the past 18 months. The team typically measures the amount of swelling in Wright's knee to help determine how hard he should be pushed in practices. Swingman Quentin Richardson practiced Sunday after injuring his ankle Saturday.

SCRIMMAGE SPOTLIGHT: Jermaine O'Neal had two impression moves in the scrimmage. He made a jumper from the elbow and also made a nice power move in the lane to spin away off a post-up for a New Jermaine turnaround jumper in the lane ... Dwyane Wade was his typical explosive self. He raced in for a two-hand dunk set up off a steal from Mario Chalmers. Unfortunately, Chalmers got called out by the coaches for gambling and getting out of position before he made the steal. Evidently, he went about doing the right thing the wrong way ... Jamaal Magloire is still a beast at the basket. Wherever he goes, pain is certain to follow. There is no simple way to box out the Big Cat ... Daequan Cook, who appears to be ahead of Richardson as Wade's backup at shooting guard, struggled with his jumper. I remember him taking at least four or five, but can't recall one going down ... Shavlik Randolph will be difficult to cut if he defends the way he did Sunday. The former Duke big man drew two charges in five minutes ... Sunday's scary moment came when Wade drove along the wing and was inadvertently pummeled by Tolliver. Wade hit the deck and would get up slowly. But he would continue.

NEXT UP: Heat at Pistons, Monday. Preseason opener. 

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Camp Confidential (Day 4)

FRIDAY, OCT. 2 - You know him as Dorell Wright. But to the Miami Heat, after all that's transpired with Dorell-MediaDay him over the past two-plus seasons, he's considered the oldest young dude on the roster.

In a bit of a surprise development, Wright's name repeatedly rolled off coach Erik Spoelstra's tongue after Friday's morning practice session at AmericanAirlines Arena. But it wasn't for anything Wright necessarily did right on the court. As has been the case the past 18 months, Dorell was mentioned in the context of continued concern over the status of his surgically repaired left knee.

Wright was held out of the late stages of Friday's morning session because of continued concern/treatment/precaution with his knee. Wright has done several remarkable things to get himself ready to jump-start his career again. Yes, he was the Heat's first-round draft pick in 2004. But we hardly know him.

His first two seasons were limited by a lack of development after he was drafted directly out of prep school. His next season and a half saw his tremendous athletic potential get undercut by a bout or two of immaturity. And his past season and a half have been plagued by injuries.

Here's all you need to know about Wright. In six seasons, he's played a total of 139 games. In two seasons, Daequan Cook has played 134.

Bad breaks. Missed opportunities. Unfavorable roster circumstances. Injuries. Take your pick. They've all been equal parts responsible for Wright truly being on his last leg with the Heat entering the final year of his contract this season.

And he's not yet even 24 years old. This is why you can't just give up on the kid.

Spoelstra tempered his concern over Wright's knee on Friday, the same knee that limited him to just six games last season. The official word was that his absence from the end of practice was precautionary and designed to place him in better condition to compete in the day's afternoon workout.

But Spoelstra also revealed that there is continued swelling. He also said that Wright has been on the same treatment program Dwyane Wade went through last summer with noted trainer Tim Grover. If Wright can ever get right, it would be a big bonus for the Heat. It's not too late for him to be considered a steal.

But the clock is about to run out of ticks. Still, there is faith.

"Yeah," Spoelstra shot back Friday when asked if Wright can truly get past his predicaments. "Why not? He got hurt. That's what last year was about. He never had enough days where he could string enough (consistently impressive work) together. He put in a lot of work this summer. That's no guarantee. He lost 10 pounds, but kept his strength. He's put himself in position to get through camp."

But then what? Where will Wright go from there if he can get through camp? That's a question the Heat has been waiting for Wright to answer since a GM (Randy Pfund) who is no longer here signed off on picking a player who has yet to really arrive for the Heat.

NEWS OF THE DAY: Spoelstra said he would like to play veterans such as Dwyane Wade, Jermaine Haslem-Wade practice O'Neal and Udonis Haslem about 24 minutes in the Heat's initial preseason games, which begin Monday night at Detroit and conclude with a pair of back-to-back sets in advance of the Oct. 28 season opener against New York.

Haslem said NBA players approach the preseason in a different way than NFL veterans, who typically see increased playing time gradually over the first three games before resting for the final exhibition.

"The consistency is different," Haslem said. "NFL guys play one quarter the first game, two the second, and so on. But in basketball, it's hard for guys to pace themselves like that. My mind state is to get myself ready to go as many minutes as I'm given the opportunity. I can't pace myself. I only know one way to play. Preseason basketball is still basketball."

FRIDAY'S SOUNDBITE: Wade, a Chicago-area native, was asked for his reaction to the Windy City suffering a shocking blow Friday, when it was quickly passed over by the IOC for the right to host the 2016 Olympics. That prize went to Rio de Janeiro, which beat out Madrid, Japan and the U.S.

"It's simple. It sucks," Wade said. "We were hopeful we could have gotten the Olympics. To (finish) in the Wade-Face fourth spot is not ideal. So it's unfortunate."

With his international appeal on the rise again after ranking in the top five among NBA players in world-wide jersey sales, Wade was then asked if he wished he could have traveled to Copenhagen, Obama-style, to help his hometown make its pitch. "No," Wade said. "That wasn't going to happen. Not with us being fourth." 


(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The J.O. Effect

Seven months ago, he was widely viewed as the low-post presence who would balance the roster and get the Heat back into deep playoff contention.

And if it didn't work out, he would simply be reduced to another O'Neal with a bloated contract the Heat

New Jermaine

would look forward to dumping for financial relief and roster revitalization.

Today, with the start of training camp approaching in mere hours, Jermaine O'Neal (pictured right) is a man who finds himself in the middle of those two distinction.

The Heat's success largely depends on Dwyane Wade's health and hunger.

Miami's improvement from last season will be based mainly on the second-year growth of Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers.

But the team's ultimate finish in the playoffs - assuming things work out as expected and the Heat falls somewhere between the 5th and 7th seeds - could hinge on the joints in O'Neal's troublesome knees and his ability provide a productive and proficient anchor in the middle of the starting lineup.

From Chalmers at the point, to Wade at shooting guard, to Beasley/Quentin Richardson/James Jones at small forward, to Udonis Haslem at power forward, you pretty much know what to expect from four-fifths of the Heat's starting five.

And then there's Jermaine.

Other than a few twitter updates, O'Neal has maintained his media/public silence this offseason. Those close to him say that it was all part of his plan to no longer SAY what he would do after an offseason of health and hard work, but rather to SHOW it once he arrives for training camp.

Well, OK. It's that time. O'Neal has certainly been here before. He arrived in Toronto a year ago talking big about playing even bigger alongside Chris Bosh with the Raptors after his career and body had grown stiff in Indiana. Then, that situation blew up after a few months, as did the swelling in one of O'Neal's knees.

SPO-O'NEAL

Then came the trade to Miami, where there was hope just after the February trade deadline. Then, it was later discovered that all was not well with O'Neal's knees or his comfort level with his role in the game plan.

But those kinks should be worked out by now. Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra (pictured left, facing O'Neal) have all raved about how explosive O'Neal should be this season after working out in Chicago most of the summer with Tim Grover, the man who fixed Wade's body and mind after back-to-back years of breakdowns.

There was even talk that if O'Neal could perform his way back into All-Star contention, he would be offered a decent deal to stay on with the Heat after his contract expires next summer. Still, reaching the status of being the second-best center in the East might be next to impossible. With the way the position shapes up in the conference this season, it will be hard enough to be the second-best center in the Southeast division.

We continue our position-by-position rankings of projected starters in the conference, with the focus now shifted to center. Based on several factors, including past production, potential, durability and overall impact on both ends of the court, Jermaine comes in as the 6th-ranked center in the East.

Here's the order: 1. Dwight Howard, Magic. 2. Shaquille O'Neal, Cavaliers. 3. David Lee, Knicks. 4. Al

O'Neal-Chalmers

Horford, Hawks. 5. Rasheed Wallace, Celtics. 6. Jermaine O'Neal, Heat. 7. Samuel Dalembert, Sixers. 8. Joakim Noah, Bulls. 9. Andrew Bogut, Bucks. 10. Tyson Chandler, Bobcats. 11. Brook Lopez, Nets. 12. Andrea Bargnani, Raptors. 13. Jeff Foster, Pacers. 14. Brendan Haywood, Wizards. 15. Chris Wilcox, Pistons.

The bottom line is this: the center position is deep in the East. If Jermaine (pictured right, with Chalmers) is healthy and on his game, the Heat can be a dangerous darkhorse among the conference contenders. If not, it will again create a huge void for Miami that not even Wade's dynamic play can overcome.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Super Mario? Nah, Just Solid

We know he's confident. Mario Chalmers entered the league a year ago with a chip on his shoulder after Mario slipping to the second round of the draft, and refused to take a back seat to any guard picked ahead of him.

We know he's durable. Although he only had to beat out a barely-wanted Marcus Banks, a still-rehabbing Shaun Livingston and a seldom-used Chris Quinn, Chalmers (pictured right) grabbed the starting job last season and became the only rookie in Heat history to start every regular season and playoff game.

We know he's valued. Why else would Heat president Pat Riley go as far as to proclaim that he wouldn't bring in anyone to start ahead of Chalmers, despite the team's significant void of point guard depth? That means - barring a last-minute change of plans - bypassing a group of proven veterans that consists of Ty Lue, Brevin Knight, Flip Murray, Jamaal Tinsley and just-off-the-market Allen Iverson.

Yes, we know plenty about Chalmers. But there's at least one thing we don't. And that is whether or not he's clearly - beyond a reasonable doubt - the solid, steady, clutch point guard this franchise will place in the backcourt alongside Dwyane Wade for the foreseeable future?

This season will go a long way in determining that answer. I still find it a bit strange that Chalmers went from having to be taught the point guard position at this level a year ago to becoming practically untouchable and essentially irreplaceable in just the span of 12 months.

And that leaves the Heat in a curious situation entering camp just two weeks from now. Chalmers and Quinn are the only two point guards under contract. Riley said last week that Wade will again handle significant time at the position late in games and in crisis situations.

Mario-magic That sets up a huge gamble for the Heat. An injury to Chalmers means far more minutes for Wade. An injury to Wade means the season is done, during a contract year for your franchise player to boot. Riley is a risk taker. But he ain't crazy, which is why I think he will address needs at the position via a trade or free agent signing at some point before the start of the season.

If Chalmers (pictured left, driving against Jameer Nelson) continues to develop, there's no question he could be a solid starter in this league for a long time alongside Wade, assuming Wade re-ups as expected next summer in free agency. Remember, greatness doesn't need spectacular as a sidekick to win. Simply solid would do.

That's why Jordan worked so well with Paxson and Armstrong. It's why Kobe gets it done with Fisher. Between now and the Sept. 28 start of training camp, we will rank how the Heat stacks up in the East at all five starting positions, the bench and coaching. Let's start at point guard, where I've got Chalmers ranked 10th in the East entering the season, based on production, potential, expected progress, overall impact and durability among other factors. Here's where the Heat stacks up at the position.

1. Devin Harris (pictured right), Nets. 2. Gilbert Arenas, Wizards. 3. Derrick Rose, Bulls. 4. Rajon Rondo, Celtics. 5. Devin Harris Jameer Nelson, Magic. 6. Mo Milliams, Cavs. 7. Jose Calderon, Raptors. 8. Mike Bibby, Hawks. 9. Rodney Stuckey, Pistons. 10. Mario Chalmers, Heat. 11. Raymond Felton, Bobcats. 12. T.J. Ford, Pacers. 13. Chris Duhon, Knicks. 14. Luke Ridnour, Bucks. 15 Lou Williams, Sixers.

If Chalmers makes the sort of second-year progress the Heat is expecting, Miami will be fine at the position. But if the team enters the season as is at the point, Mario will have minimal margin for error.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)


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