April 18, 2015
Q: Here is only one person I believe in affiliated with the Heat: Pat Riley. Pat will do what's necessary to put the Heat back in the hunt. But a run like they just had with LeBron James, fans need to know it doesn't work quite that easy. Not even the Spurs have had a run like that, four straight NBA Finals appearances. So I agree with Charles Barkley on this one: The Heat might make the playoffs in the near future, but they won't be elite. There are too many holes, too many aging players they depend on. If they can put a team together like when they had Tim Hardaway/Alonzo Mourning, I'd be happy with that. But this talk of they're going to be a top team in the near future, they will have to prove that one. -- Wesley.
A: And that has always been my issue with Pat Riley, this all-or-nothing bravado, that it's championship-or-bust. It's not. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting for the stars, and it certainly keeps fans engaged in the process. But that's what it is, a process, normally one not completed until you feature a definitive star, whether it is the development of Dwyane Wade on the way to the 2006 championship, or the addition of LeBron James on the way to the 2012 and 2013 titles. But this season also featured a bunch of "hustle" teams that rewarded their fans with playoff berths, including the Bucks and Celtics. And those proved to be enjoyable seasons to fans in Milwaukee and Boston, no matter where the journey takes them. And that will be the next step for the Heat. With Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Wade, they should be a competitive team. But to win a championship, you have to ask yourself whether you have a LeBron or a Duncan, or a Nowitzki or a Pierce in their primes. I'm not sure Bosh or Dragic are at that stage. So I'd say the Heat look like they're headed halfway between Barkley and Riley, to a better place, if not a championship place. And there's nothing wrong with that. And that at least should have you playing into May.
Q: The postmortem on this season boils down to injuries, poor coaching and management decisions, lack of deferral on Dwyane Wade's part and difficulty integrating new talent. I thought Erik Spoelstra did a poor job and had difficulty adjusting without LeBron James on the floor. In addition, I heard Dirk Nowitzki lamenting the difficulty in bringing in a point guard (Rajon Rondo) in the middle of the season. Well how about a point guard and center? LeBron left Pat Riley in the lurch and thus the composition of the team was lacking with poor chemistry, and he gambled and lost on going into the season with statistically abysmal point guards and backup wings. But the future looks bright, especially if a draft pick is available and a talented wing player can be obtained and Goran Dragic can be re-signed. -- Howard, Palm City.
A: There certainly are a lot of moving parts. And I think the reality is that cleaning up in the wake of a whirlwind departure like LeBron's takes time. We'll never know for sure, but even now, nine months after the fact, I truly believe if Riley had time to map out a post-LeBron game plan, many of the moves might have been different, from the drafting of Shabazz Napier to the signing of Danny Granger, to the way other free agents were courted, including Pau Gasol. What it essentially forced the Heat to do was play catch-up from the start, with a nice recovery with the additions of Whiteside and Dragic.
Q: Can we assume that Spoelstra has this job for as long as he wants? -- Neal, West Palm Beach.
A: No. And we probably can assume he might be on the clock next season. That's the reality of coaching, even in an organization that stresses continuity and loyalty. And that's not a bad thing, either. Having to produce can get a coach to raise his game, just as it can with a player.
April 17, 2015
Q: Who do you think Erik Spoelstra is going to keep for next season? Henry Walker is three or nothing. Was Wednesday a farewell game for James Ennis? Is Josh McRoberts coming back? Michael Beasley scored his season high in the last game. Can he get more minutes next season? Is Tyler Johnson likely to leave as well? And Zoran Dragic played surprisingly well Wednesday. I am wondering what would happen if he played more during the season. -- Bric, Fort Lauderdale.
A: First, those decisions primarily belong to Pat Riley, although Erik's deal does include personnel input. It also is way too early to consider ancillary components of the roster, with so much still to play out. The Heat first have to see if they will have a first-round draft pick, with that fate not to be determined until the May 19 draft lottery (all the Heat have right now is a lottery seed). Then there is the question of who stays and who goes, with Luol Deng and Goran Dragic holding the right to become free agents. And then there is the matter of who might be available in free agency. If I were to speculate at this stage, I would guess that Ennis and Johnson would be back, and that Walker and Beasley would be put on the backburner. And I do wonder if Zoran Dragic could become the outside specialist and floor spacer the Heat lacked this season.
Q: I think Luol Deng not exercising his player option next season might be overstated. Luol buying a Mediterranean bay-front estate in Morningside last summer might be an indication that he'd like to settle in Miami for more than one season if he has a choice. Otherwise, he might have rented instead of making a nearly $5 million real-estate investment. I know things like major home purchases might be ancillary in a player's decision, but it's something to think about that maybe he's not ready to uproot so shortly after getting settled. -- Jason, Orlando.
A: I'm no expert on the resale market, and think there are matters of greater priority when it comes to such a decision. Primarily, will Deng be allowed to play his game, one where movement off the ball is rewarded? If Dragic returns and if Josh McRoberts gets back to where he was in December, then the style could be perfect for Luol. But based on body language, his upbeat spirit in the locker room and the few comments he has offered, I believe it is more likely he returns than he doesn't.
Q: Ira, is it possible that a Dorell Wright reunion could take place? With the possibility of Luol Deng leaving, there will be a glaring hole at small forward. -- Bryant.
A: Dorell certainly has matured since he departed the Heat, developing into a reliable three-and-D threat. But I think the Heat need to inject youthful vitality, not continue to play the game of worrying about injuries with players with too many years on their odometers.
April 16, 2015
Q: As a fan and season-ticket holder, I had hoped the Heat would be in the playoffs. As a realist, missing them was destined to happen this year. Looking forward, it will be exciting to see how Pat Riley utilizes his current assets to reinvent this team. With Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, assuming he re-signs, the Heat certainly have some special talent going forward. As you and others have said, Dwyane Wade is the key going forward, if he can accept a different mentality and role on this team. The Heat have to get younger, faster and just overall better. -- Chet.
A: As I've said in recent days, while the championship contention would have been the best-case scenario in the wake of the loss of LeBron James, the second-best outcome was finding a center and point guard. With Whiteside and Dragic, the Heat ended the season in a far better position at those positions than where they started. As for Dwyane, I've never felt he had a Kobe Bryant type of ego, where he would get in the way of progress. He deferred to LeBron when he was here, and even deferred to Chris Bosh at the start of this season. This summer, I'm sure Erik Spoelstra will define a speed game for Dragic and a post game for Whiteside. Then Wade will know how and where he fits best. Give Dwyane a blueprint that looks like it will succeed, and he willingly hops aboard. The problem this season was the Heat never had the opportunity to develop a trustworthy blueprint.
Q: What's wrong with this picture: The Bucks and the Celtics are in the playoffs and the Heat are not? Ira, you can't tell me they have better players. Better coach? -- Alex, Miami.