ASK IRA: Is drop-off in Heat bench overstated?
Q: This season promises to be an exciting one for the Heat with returning players taking on a different set of responsibilities and the new additions looking to get minutes. As you pointed out, the chemistry of this year's team is unknown. The Andre Dawkins and Khem Birch signings maybe were done with an eye to see how the expanded squad shakes out until Dec. 15, when Pat Riley has some chips to trade and the coaches have a better idea of how the wing players (Shabazz Napier, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers) perform. The deal Kevin Durant signed with Nike puts coaches such as Erik Spoelstra on the hot seat, because some players may want a lot of minutes to stuff the stat sheet, while coaches realize limiting time and having a strong bench wins games. Durant has not won a ring yet gets big bucks. This year, Spoelstra has the pieces to create a winning bench, even though by definition undrafted players have major flaws. I hope the reserves turn out better than Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, who had so much promise. -- Justin, Miami.

A: Whew. All I know is that going into camp, coaches almost always talk about prospects and grooming them for the future, and yet, at the moments of truth, when it comes to making final cuts and setting rotations, they almost always go with the proven quantities. It will be interesting to see if youth can prevail against the likes of Shannon Brown, Shawne Williams, Reggie Williams and, when it comes to playing time, perhaps even Udonis Haslem.

Q: With the signing of Epke Udoh and now Greg Stiemsma elsewhere, are the Heat running out of options with what's left in free agency? -- Lester, Miami.

A: It all comes down to what you think of Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Justin Hamilton. If you believe a free agent would slot in ahead of at least two of those players, then you can make an argument. But aside from Andray Blatche, it's not as if there have been any big men out there who clearly would supplant what the Heat already have in place.

Q: Why is it that fans think every other GM in the league is stupid and would take the Heat's trash for their best player? It's incredible to me that fans just don't think these proposed trades through. What if the Heat were on the other side of the trade, would the Heat do the trade? -- Michael.

A: Put it this way, I just got one that suggested the Suns would get Rajon Rondo from the Celtics, the Heat would get Erik Bledsoe from the Suns, and the Celtics would get Chalmers and Cole from the Heat. Somehow, I figure Danny Ainge would think otherwise. Of course, it would be a heck of a STFU II if Riley could pull that one off.



September 4, 2014

Q: Do the Heat's coaching reassignments and Keith Smart potentially joining the team mean that Erik Spoelstra is finally outgrowing Pat Riley and finding his own way? -- Anthony.

A: I think Erik has already found his own way. I also think, to a degree, that became an issue, with Spoelstra taking a most un-Riley approach with his aggressive defensive schemes. While Riley's teams never gambled as much on defense, Riley's teams almost always had a rim protector, be it Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning or Shaquille O'Neal. I don't think the staffing issue is one of Spoelstra vs. Riley. It's more of creating the same type of comfort zone that Riley has with his assistants while coaching. While the shift obviously impacts Ron Rothstein and Bob McAdoo, this hardly changes the direction of the team or the overall dynamic with the front office.

Q: Do you think that after December 15 there is a chance the Heat could put Danny Granger and Luol Deng together in a package deal? By then, Granger might become viewed as a prospect that can pay off and Deng already is a good scorer and defender. The Heat could potentially get something good for the both of them. -- Ezio, Miami.

A: Or, even better, the two could thrive as a one-two punch at small forward and give the Heat what they need from the position and in the wing rotation. Deng is a known quantity; when healthy, he has proven his ability to contribute on a playoff team. If Granger comes around -- and that's a huge "if" -- then many of the concerns about the Heat's depth will be alleviated. Signing Granger and Deng wasn't about setting them up as trade chips, it was about providing more quality depth to the perimeter rotation than had been in place. I highly doubt the Heat are looking at Dec. 15 (the first day players signed in the offseason can be moved) as some sort of target date. If there is a trade then, it likely would be if Granger is unable to produce, more than if he again is able to thrive.

Q: The Heat should retire Giancarlo Stanton's number. -- Q.

A: But that might make Michael Jordan and Dan Marino jealous. Then again, Pat Riley might have more of a chance of keeping Stanton in South Florida than Jeffrey Loria.



September 3, 2014

Q: I believe Chris Bosh's ability to be the go-to player the Heat need will depend on him playing power forward more consistently, where he excels. Any indications from this roster and potential signings that is a possibility? -- Jonathan, Miami.

A: No. There is no one the Heat have signed or likely can sign who would be better than having Josh McRoberts and Bosh playing together with the starters. As it is, those are the only two players on the current roster under contract for more than two years. Chris Andersen has too much mileage to play starter's minutes, and even if Andray Blatche could be signed, he sets up more as offense off the bench. But it will be intriguing to see how the Bosh/McRoberts dynamic plays out during camp and whether the needed chemistry is there. The possibilities are intriguing.

Q: Ira, you write about Andre Dawkins and Khem Birch as if they are someone the other teams let get away. If either makes the 15-man roster, then Pat Riley hasn't done his job. -- Rich.

A: Look, this time of year isn't just about filling out the rotation, or perhaps even filling out the final 15-player roster. Remember, the Heat also have an NBDL team to stock after final NBA cuts are made. A year ago, the Heat convinced Justin Hamilton and Larry Drew III to go from training camp to Sioux Falls. That could be what some of these recent signings are about, an expression of confidence or hope for down the road.