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29 posts from October 2015

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Options & optics: Why Heat salary slash would be bad idea

Mario Chalmers has played 18 minutes in each of Miami's first two games.

Chris Andersen hasn't played at all, and wasn't even active for Friday's loss in Cleveland.

Some local and national observers have characterized each former Heat champion -- Chalmers twice, Andersen once -- as an unnecessary accessory on  the current squad, with youngsters Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson showing promise as combo guards, while Amare Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts have pushed Andersen aside in the frontcourt rotation. The Heat must have seen it that way too, because league sources say that both players were available in the offseason.

I've viewed it a little differently.

Now, after the start of this season, I'm more convinced that the Heat, if truly committed to contend, needs to keep as many of these useful players as possible. I'm more convinced as it's become clearer that Miami, without a current in-prime superstar, only has a shot to compete with the teams who employ one or two of those if it can overwhelm opponents with a great quantity of decent quality. 

I'm more convinced even though I entirely understand why Miami has explored paring down. The salaries of Chalmers ($4.3 million) and Andersen ($5 million) were based on prior roles, not current ones. Further, those two salaries push the Heat not over the luxury tax line (making Miami a "repeater" team subject to the corresponding financial penalties) and apron. Thus, the Heat's current salary load is not only expensive, coming with a luxury tax bill of roughly $20 million, but also restrictive, eliminating acquisition vehicles including sign-and-trades and the biannual exception. Dealing both Chalmers and Andersen -- and receiving nothing of current value in return -- would be the cleanest way to get under the tax line, unless Miami moves Luol Deng's $10.1 million salary somewhere. Since the league does its luxury tax accounting at season's end, the Heat could do this up until the February trade deadline. 

Still, all of those options strike me as unwise, because Erik Spoelstra will need an abundance of options in order to take this team toward the top of the East. 

Start with Chalmers. While he lacks Johnson's springy legs, his experience and familiarity with the Heat system, and particularly Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, is helpful, especially until Wade and Bosh start to click with Goran Dragic. Chalmers is also a willing spot-up shooter, something the second unit needs, with Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow shy to launch. He tends to play better with better players, which Miami currently has as compared to last season, so a bounceback season wouldn't surprise. 

Andersen? Well, this is really about Stoudemire, whose cheap signing was hailed by fans as great value, a point hard to dispute, but also downplayed by many league insiders who were concerned about his physical and defensive liabilities. If his Heat debut was an indicator -- slow feet, little lift, losing his man -- Spoelstra will be turning to Andersen and/or Udonis Haslem in no time. For rim protection, behind Hassan Whiteside, he'll need Andersen. You can never have enough playable bigs, not when Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls are bringing Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, and Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, off their benches. And certainly not when Stoudemire is in the mix. 

But it's not just about the options.

It's also about the optics.

The Heat shouldn't be seen as skimping, not while also talking about contending. It certainly won't be pleasing or motivating to the players who remain around. Many on the team at the time weren't pleased when Mike Miller was amnestied after the 2013 championship, followed by the dumping of Joel Anthony during the 2013-14 season; the latter prompted shutdown mode against Washington that night. Fans won't like it either, even though most correctly view the Arison ownership experience as a huge net positive, by far the best in South Florida sports, with 16 playoff seasons in the past 20 and a remarkable record of stability. But for those South Floridians eager to promptly buy back in after LeBron James' departure and last season's disappointment, trading talent for tax relief may be a deterrent.

At the very least, it would be deflating. 

That's especially true in light of what's occurring in Cleveland, home of the team the Heat now chases. For Heat faithful, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is among the foremost NBA villains, and with valid reason. After losing James to the Heat in 2010 -- and demeaning James in a letter that qualified as one of sports' all-time temper tantrums -- Gilbert was one of the most outspoken advocates among owners for policies that would penalize teams for spending, in what Heat officials, among plenty of others, viewed as an attempt to eventually break up Miami's Big Three. 

Gilbert also objected strongly to the Lakers' acquisition of Chris Paul from New Orleans, when then-commissioner David Stern was running the latter franchise during its search for new ownership. We know because he registered that objection in an e-mail that leaked to the media. In fact, he called the trade a "travesty," rooted in a general belief that the league was becoming unbalanced in favor of premium markets. (The trade was ultimately nullified, though Paul ended up in Los Angeles anyway, just with the Clippers instead of the Lakers.)

But now, after James stunningly returned for many reasons unrelated to Cavaliers ownership, Gilbert is squarely on the other side of the NBA's power dynamic, already with one of the highest payrolls in NBA history -- one that will trigger a $65 luxury tax penalty -- and with a trade exception available that could escalate his spending over the $200 million annual mark. This, to some, may reek of hypocrisy -- again, with valid reason. Gilbert spoke Friday, during a scheduled press availability prior to the game, of how the television money has made markets more equal, allowing all to compete. And, thus, his spending is not only being celebrated in Cleveland, but also getting praised around the NBA, for giving Cleveland every possible opportunity to end its title drought, an opportunity he characterized as his "obligation." He has gone, as the team slogan says and he said again Friday, "all in." Pressured by James? Sure. Still, the endgame's the same: Gilbert comes off to the public as passionate and purposeful. This summer alone, he committed nearly $300 million in long-term cash.

Friday, Gilbert said his spending would be determined "year by year," wanting to maintain some future maneuverability. The Heat has that desire in common. Most teams do. But something else Gilbert said should be heeded by his archenemies in South Florida, even if that's not what he intended. 

"When you invest in something like a sports franchise, and you're in for so much....," Gilbert said. "I've sort of said this in the past, if you all of a sudden at the margins start pulling back, I think that may be foolish on a lot of fronts." 

Words can be wise, even if some consider the source suspect. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

In the second game, the second unit was slaughtered

Well, so much for the depth storyline, at least for now. 

While Goran Dragic's ongoing struggle warrants some discussion -- he was 1-of-7 from the field until two late garbage baskets -- Miami's primary problems Friday against Cleveland occurred when the five subs were playing. And particularly when they were playing together, as they did in both halves of the 102-92 loss. 

All five Heat starters were in plus-territory, led, oddly enough by Dragic at plus- -- though, again, some of that came after the contest had been decided.

The five Heat subs....

Mario Chalmers: minus-19

Justise Winslow: minus-16

Gerald Green: minus-18

Josh McRoberts: minus-17

Amare Stoudemire: minus-16.

They were mauled. 

They didn't shoot well: a combined 6-for-23.

But, mostly, they didn't defend well.

OK, they didn't defend at all.

Winslow gave great effort, even as LeBron James scored anyway, but the rest were somewhere between ambivalent and awful. Stoudemire, in particular, was often absent near the paint, while his man was rebounding or dunking. 

"I was glad to have him out there," Erik Spoelstra said. "We'll build on this."

Spoelstra spoke of how Stoudemire's rhythm will come. After all, this was his season debut, and he missed a lot of the preseason.

Maybe offensively it will. Stoudemire proved last season he can still score. But he wasn't an advanced defender even when he was still an athletic freak. If he's playing ahead of Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem, it might be better to have him playing next to Hassan Whiteside or even Bosh, rather than Josh McRoberts. Otherwise, Miami is overmatched inside -- and if Green and Chalmers can't contain their men on the perimeter, you're looking at a layup line. 

It hasn't been Spoelstra's common practice to sub out five for five.

As the season progresses, expect him to tinker some, to make sure a starter or two is always out there. 

 

Don't make much of Winslow's LeBron comments

We're getting to know a little about Justise Winslow.

While I've described his demeanor as "stoic," others insist otherwise. They say there's a sense of humor buried in there; he just doesn't show it to everyone, or all the time. And, remember, while Chris Bosh quipped that he reminds him of one of his uncles, showing up "with chest hair," the Heat rookie is just 19. His personality, like most NBA players -- heck, like most people -- will evolve over time. 

And, at this point, we shouldn't make too much of much of what he says to the media. 

Context is required, as it was for the exchange about potentially guarding LeBron James during Friday's game in Cleveland. Without that context, it could seem like he was disrespecting the four-time MVP, which he was not. No more than Hassan Whiteside was last season, when he said he would meet James at the rim. It's common practice for media members, even innocently, to set up a line of questioning when it comes to James, that presents some peril for the interviewee, especially if a snippet is evaluated without understanding the player or the situation. That often happens on Twitter; I noticed when I saw how some followers responded to what I posted. 

Here's how the conversation actually went Thursday...

Q: Did you guard a lot of bigger players at Duke? If you see LeBron tomorrow, he's got two, three inches on you. 

A: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: Did you spend much time thinking about a possible LeBron matchup, if you get a few minutes depending him?

A: No.

Q: Is that something you look at tape, or have you seen him enough as a fan over the years?

A: I'm just prepared to guard all their perimeter players. I know sometimes he plays the 4. I'm prepared to guard all their perimeter players, including him.

Q: Are you hoping to get a few minutes guarding him, or does it matter?

A: It doesn't matter.

 

That's all. Simple stuff. No disrespect intended. It's just clear that he's confident in himself, and isn't eager to gush over any opponent. Which, actually, sounds a little like the way LeBron handles things.

Examining the Heat's season-opening win one more time and what went right

The Heat resume play tonight in Cleveland against LeBron James and the defending Eastern Conference champions.

But before we turn our attention to that challenge, let's take a look back at what went right for the Heat in their 104-94 win over the Hornets Wednesday. Primarily, it was the fact the team passed the ball well and had the patience to work for a good shot.

The Heat started it right away on the opening possession. All five players touched the ball before Luol Deng fed a cutting Chris Bosh for a lay-up. You can see how it all transpired in the tracking diagram below.

It happened again and again throughout the game and when the Heat needed it most. After the Hornets trimmed Miami's lead to 97-92 with under a minute to play, Dwyane Wade took the inbounds pass from Deng, dribbled near halfcourt, penetrated and kicked it back to Chris Bosh, who penetrated and kicked it out to an open Goran Dragic, who then found a wide open Deng for the game-clinching three. You can see the video replay here and the tracking below.

"D-Wade did an amazing job," Dragic said of the play. "We spaced the floor and let him do his job. I did not catch the ball right and I saw those two guys running so hard at me and of course Lou was die open so that was an easy decision to make."

There's little doubt that the key to victory in the NBA is finding the uncontested shot. Miami did a great job of that Wednesday night. Can they do that again in Cleveland?

We'll find out soon enough.

CONTESTED VS. UNCONTESTED SHOTS

The Heat were 16 of 27 (59.3%) on uncontested and shots and 20 of 46 (43.5 percent) on contested shots.Here's a player by player look at how the Heat did with contested and uncontested shots.

Dwyane Wade: 5 of 14 contested FGs (35.7%), 2 of 2 uncontested FGs (100%)

Gerald Green: 4 of 11 contested FGs (46.7%), 3 of 4 uncontested FGs (75%)

Goran Dragic: 4 of 6 contested FGs (66.7%), 0 of 2 uncontested FGs (0%)

Chris Bosh: 2 of 6 contested FGs (33.3%), 3 of 7 uncontested FGs (42.9%)

Luol Deng: 2 of 3 contested FGs (66.7%), 3 of 5 uncontested FGs (60%)

Udonis Haslem: 2 of 2 contested FGs (100%), 1 of 2 uncontested FGs (50%)

Mario Chalmers: 0 of 2 contested FGs (0%), 1 of 1 uncontested FGs (100%)

Justise Winslow: 1 of 1 contested FGs (100%), 1 of 1 uncontested FGs (100%)

Hassan Whiteside: 0 of 1 contested FGs (0%), 2 of 3 uncontested FGs (66.7%)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dwyane Wade says he's a fan of Taylor Swift the person, wants AAA to rock like it did for her concert on opening night

Those of us who didn't get into Taylor Swift's concert Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena didn't get to see Dwyane Wade present pop music's biggest star a personalized No. 13 Heat jersey.

But that's what Wade did -- while also trying to deal with the screaming of thousands of teenage girls.

"It was loud man," Wade said Wednesday after shoot around. "I've played and it's been packed in here. But it's a different kind of loud when you've got teenage girls screaming and older men and women screaming.

"But it was great. I was glad to come here and have the opportunity to be able to be a part of her amazing tour that she's had. This is one of her last stops in the U.S. I was glad I was able to just come and have a moment with her. She's very cool, very cordial, made me feel like we've known each other for awhile and vice-versa. Glad I was able to do it."

Asked if he's now a Swifty (that's what Swift's fans are called), Wade said he's more of a fan of Swift the person than the musician.

"Like I said upstairs [last night], I was a fan of hers kind of as a person," he said. " I watched her prom surprise many, many years ago. Back then it was like 2007 and I remember saying I want to do that. And I was able to do that a couple years ago here, surprise a young lady and take her to prom. She inspired me by that. But I'm not really well versed in her music. I'll leave that up to the kids."

While Wade, 33, might not be a music fan of Swift's, Thunder All-NBA guard Russell Westbrook isn't afraid to show his love for the 25-year-old pop sensation. Same deal with Bulls guard Jimmy Butler

Still, Wade said he enjoyed the energy in the building last night for Swift's concert and wouldn't mind if it had some carryover into tonight's Heat season-opener against the Charlotte Hornets.

"It was cool," Wade said. "The energy in the building was pure energy. I would love to see it like that tonight. If we can get all those teenage girls in here it would be great.

"[Tonight] will be very exciting. This basketball town we live in now, they're very excited about this organization, especially now that we're a better team now than we were last year. Everyone can see it and has hope and belief we can be better. So, there will be some excitement around. Our fans are very important to our success here at home. We always try to make sure we understand it and know that. Hopefully they come out tonight and we bring and they bring it and we go away with a win hopefully."

The Heat have sold out 246 consecutive home games since the start of the 2010 season.

Eric Woolworth, president of the Heat's business operations, said Tuesday ticket sales were going well for Wednesday's opener.  

"I think the fans are excited and we think we're going to have a great season with the box office," he said. "There should be a couple tickets available right now and I would guess tomorrow there would be some late releases. We always have tickets that we've been holding for the various NBA constituencies that we have to hold that end up being released. So I would expect tomorrow there would be tickets available all day."

Woolworth said the Heat had yet to open standing room only seats. He said there are several hundred of those. 

 

Heat's Amar'e Stoudemire inactive for opening night

Amar'e Stoudemire still isn't ready to go.

The 32-year-old forward, picked up in the off-season to provide scoring and depth to Heat's front court, will be inactive for tonight's season-opener against the visiting Charlotte Hornets, coach Erik Spoelstra said after morning shoot around. 

"It's part of the [maintenance] program," Spoelstra said. "But he's getting stronger, doing more. Everybody else should be ready to go."

The fact Stoudemire, a 14-year veteran, is sitting should surprise no one. The Heat has kept him out at various points throughout the preseason to rest his legs. The bigger question is if he'll end up missing more time than he has in the past and if this will develop into a bigger issue. 

Since having knee debridement in both is knees during the 2012-13 season, Stoudemire missed 19 games last season and 13 the year before that either because of injury or rest.

The Heat will likely turn to veterans Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem to eat up Stoudemire's minutes in the rotation.

"All those guys will be available and really depending on what the matchup is [how we'll play it]," Spoelstra said. "But we intend to use this roster. It could be different from quarter to quarter or game to game. If they're a very small with a shooting five we may go with UD. Both of them played in the same game with that same scenario and we leverage the strength that's best for our team."

Goran Dragic's dunk a sign of the shape he's in?

When it comes to dunking, the Heat's pecking order at this stage is pretty simple.

Gerald Green...

Tyler Johnson...

Hassan Whiteside...

And Goran Dragic?

"He threw one down (Tuesday) that was crazy," Johnson said of the Heat point guard, who dunked once all of last season. "I didn't know he had it in him." 

Neither did Johnson's teammates, and neither would Heat fans, as they've seen him look a little sluggish in the preseason. 

So is this a sign that Dragic has his legs under him?

Or just proof that Luol Deng is a persuasive person?

"The guys were teasing me, especially Luol Deng," Dragic told us on the Izzy & Ethan Show on 790 The Ticket. "He was saying that he believed that I cannot dunk. So I had to show him that I can dunk." 

Dragic said he passed to Deng in the post. Dragic cut baseline. Deng passed it back. Dragic took it and reverse slammed. 

"Nothing special," Dragic said, laughing.

He even promised he would try in the season opener. 

"This is my secret weapon, you know, guys," Dragic said, laughing. 

In all seriousness, though, Dragic said he "feels great." 

"That was my first dunk in preseason and training camp," Dragic said. "So my legs are feeling much fresher." 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What do you think of the Heat's new 'Home Strong' and 'Legacy' uniforms?

At the stroke of midnight last night, the Heat unveiled a couple of new jerseys and a throwback classic players will be wearing this season. 

The first one we will see are the new 'Home Strong' jerseys, created in honor of the armed forces. The Heat will wear them in the three home games surrounding Veterans Day (Nov. 8 vs. Raptors, Nov. 10 vs. Lakers and Nov. 12 vs. Jazz).

The 'Home Strong' jerseys feature stylized stencil numbers and letters to mimic military aesthetics, stars on the right shoulder to honor the five branches of the armed services and 13 stripes on the left shoulder as well as a custom block nameplate on the back.

The next new jersey we will see are the 'Legacy' style, created to meld the Heat's rich playoff history with the present. The jerseys have use red, black and white color as the primary colors, feature side paneling on only one side -- an homage to the original Heat uniforms and have the city's name written across the chest with the number atop the city name.

Those jerseys will be worn throughout December home games and on the road at Memphis (Dec. 29) and at Washington (Jan. 3).

And last, but not least, the Heat are bringing back their 'Old School' jerseys from the 1990s for seven games in February. They'll wear them at home and on the road.

"Old school classics are the new school cool," the Heat's website reads. "Cop this fresh HEAT from back in the day while it lasts, because when we relive the 90's this February, we'll be showing bustaz all over the League why they're wiggity wiggity wiggity wack."

So what do you think of the jerseys? Which one would you buy?

Heat taking 'big picture' approach when it comes to Amar'e Stoudemire's knees, playing time

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra hesitated for second Monday when he was asked if 14-year-veteran Amar'e Stoudemire was expected to play in Wednesday night's season opener against the Charlotte Hornets.

Odds are there's going to be a lot of that this season when it comes to Stoudemire.

"Yeah," Spoelstra responded when asked if Stoudemire's would play Wednesday. "But we're looking at this big picture also. We want to continue to build his leg strength, condition him and get him back at a healthy rate. Basically him and Josh [McRoberts] are going through the same thing. We just want to make sure they're strong and healthy all season."

Since having knee debridement surgery in both of his knees during the 2012-13 season, Stoudemire missed 19 games last season and 13 the year before that either due to injury or rest. The Knicks and Mavericks essentially had Stoudemire and his aging knees on maintenance programs.

The Heat plan to do the same. That's why Stoudemire has missed practiced the last couple days and why he figures to sit out from time-to-time.

"For the most part I'm just trying to stay on this recovery plan, make sure I'm healthy and ready to go at the start of the season," Stoudemire said last week before the Heat's final preseason home game against the Wizards.

"I can't restrain myself at all. It's the trainer's job to do that. I want to play and get out there as much as I possibly can. Those guys got more understanding on when not to get out there."

Whether or not Stoudemire plays in back-to-backs or during long stretches of the season he says will "all depend on [the opponent], minutes played the night before, and how I feel."

"There's so many intangibles that go with that," Stoudemire said. "We want guys healthy for that playoff push, for that postseason. That's when we want guys to be at their best and as strong as possible. We see the long haul. We see the longevity and we want to make sure we stay healthy for that.

"As long as [these breaks are] providing health [I'm fine with it]. That's the main key. That's the main thing for all these guys in their career. When you get to 30 and up it's all about maintenance. That's what we're trying to do."

Stoudemire proved last season he can still be an effective force on the offense end in the frontcourt when he's in there. He scored in double figures in 37 of the 59 games he played in including scoring 20 points or more three times.

"I feel solid," Stoudemire said. "Obviously at this point you're never 100 percent. But I feel good enough to play and that I can still be dominant in the time that I'm out there. It's a matter of trying to maintain that."

The Heat's second unit, led by the scoring of Gerald Green, looked pretty good most of the preseason. With Stoudemire's presence there are two solid scoring options.

"I think the most important factor is intelligence, not turning the ball over, playing good basketball, team basketball is always another important factor, being able to move the ball and get guys involved," Stoudemire said of what makes a good second unit. "Defensively, being able to contain the lead the first unit has built or regain the lead with the second unit. It's a lot to go into it with the second unit and it's important for us to play well."

> On the other side of the coin, McRoberts, coming off missing 65 games with a torn meniscus, said Monday he feels like his situation is different than Stoudemire's.

"I'm not really comparing myself to STAT," he said. "For me, I think it's just a day-by-day thing. Not to be a cliche answer. I think it truly is each day we kind of see where its at, see what the training staff has for me. But my plan is to be a part of everything.

"I think I turned the corner already. I think we're being cautious and trying to prepare for a long season. But I think I'm ready to go."

Wade, Bosh happy to see Dolphins turning it around under Dan Campbell

They aren't necessarily Dolphins fans.

Dwyane Wade was born in Chicago and is close friends with Jets receiver Brandon Marshall. And Chris Bosh, a Texas native, loves the Dallas Cowboys.

But they appreciate good football, and they've noticed what the guys practicing over Davie have been doing over the last couple weeks.

"They've been looking good. Good for them," Wade said Monday after practice of the Dolphins. "Their last two performances have been great. We were in here and saw the first quarter [of Sunday's blowout win over the Texans]. That was ballgame. They looked great.

"We're happy for the success of the Dolphins the last two weeks. Our fan base needed it. They love to see their teams winning. We don't want to be the only team winning in town or have the pressure to be the only team winning. You want to have success throughout this whole city and state of Florida. Happy for the last two weeks. I know the football fans are happy. Hopefully they keep it up."

The Heat, which opens its season Wednesday at home against the Hornets, makes no bones about it -- they love their football. Bosh said when the team practices or plays games on the weekend, the NFL and college football are usually on inside the locker room. Bosh said they push to have practice complete in the mornings so they can get to a TV in time for kickoff.

Bosh said football gives everyone in the locker room something else to bond over. After Georgia Tech's upset of Florida State Saturday, Bosh, a Yellow Jacket himself, said he dug into his closet to find his school t-shirt. He wore it Sunday and caught grief. Georgia Tech is still 3-5 after all. 

"It's huge because we're from all different parts and states," Bosh said of the football bonding experience. "Guys have their teams. We give each other crap for being fans of certain organizations, fantasy, fantasy players. That's a lot of bragging rights. We have a dead man's pool. There are so many things you can do.

"I've enjoyed watching football for so long. Some guys think they really are football players. It's like okay, take it easy you're an NBA player. That's one of the things you enjoy. Up until December, January you can enjoy those activities. You get something to talk about. It's a reason to stay around the locker room. Like [Sunday] we had four TVs going on at the same time, watching the games."

And what the Dolphins have done in the last two weeks, winning big at Tennessee and then again at home against the Texans wasn't lost in the Heat locker room.

Bosh said what interim coach Dan Campbell has done to create a different atmosphere is easy to see.

"It's no offense to the coaches before, but they're playing passionate football," Bosh said. "It's all about effort. Basketball you can talk about all these other things -- it's about defense and rebounding and stats that don't show up in the stat sheet that are very important. Everybody will look at Xs and Os, what we should have run, how many points we should have scored or what we should have shot from three or the free throw line. It's won in the trenches and you have to be highly motivated to get that done.

"Now you look at them, they're getting sacks. They couldn't get a sack for what six weeks? They got a sack back-to-back [Sunday]. [It's the] same players. You got to have a competitive, intense environment that you enjoy working in. Otherwise, the spirit isn't going to be there.

"It's the same team. Just a new guy with some dip in his mouth, a new ball coach."


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