A: Your passion is laudable (and, to digress here for a moment, the passion of Heat fans this season has been remarkable. Every time I look up and see the standing-room lines above the balcony, it is an abject rebuke to naysayers of basketball fans in this town as front-runners. The crowds this season at AmericanAirlines Arena have been remarkable. And those who know me, know I don't shill.). As to your point, I agree that James has been a late-season bright spot. And once he solidifies his ball-handling, he has a legitimate shot. But small forward next season likely will come down to Luol Deng's decision, of whether he doesn't opt out, or whether he tries to get that one, final large contract this offseason. But, yes, it does appear as if that light bulb flashed on for James in recent weeks. It's a nice story of perseverance.
April 6, 2015
Q: Is the glass half full or half empty? Should Erik Spoelstra be commended for the great job he has done with a team that has four guys on the team (Whiteside, Henry Walker, Tyler Johnson and Michael Beasley) signed off of 10-day contracts and still is in playoff contention, or is the small-ball style beating the Heat up? -- Stuart.
A: To me the real inspection comes down to what happened before the injuries, before Chris Bosh went down, when there were still plenty of games they could've won that they lost. To me that's where the season turned. Even with Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in the lineup, this team was not playing to its pedigree. It is paying the price now with this frantic (possibly futile) fight to the finish that did not have to be quite as frantic (or possibly as future). It will be easy, when it's all over, to chalk it up to the lengthy absences of Wade and Bosh. And while it is true that Bosh and Goran Dragic never got the chance to play together, there still were many games when the Heat had a talent advantage and still came up short. For four seasons, LeBron James helped mask many of the warts. After this season, whenever it ends, it is important that the one-answer-fits-all perspective does not become about injuries. It has to be about a defensive system that leaves wide-open 3-point attempts by the opposition. It has to be about an offensive system that too often bogs down. It has to be about either conditioning or training methods or whatever it takes to keep the sprains and strains away. It has to be all encompassing, and not a whitewash about bad fortune. Yes, that is a big part of it. But only a part.
Q: With regards to Goran Dragic's pending free agency, I am convinced he wants to be with the Heat long term. He respects the organization, and the opportunity to play with two bigs such as Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside will override any trepidation he feels about Dwyane Wade's knees. More of a concern might be Wade's willingness (or lack thereof) to defer to Dragic at end of games. However, at the end of the day, both are high-IQ players and will work that out. What I am most interested in is seeing if Pat Riley can convince Dragic to accept a contract in the neighborhood of five years, $85 million, as opposed to five years, $100 million? After all, the Lakers and Knicks can only offer four years, $80 million, and Dragic might only be a $5 million-a-year player in his age-33 season. Plus, no state income tax in Florida. -- Morris.
A: You reasoning and logic are sound, and perhaps Goran and his agent already signed off on a verbal agreement when the trade was completed. Otherwise the reality is that Riley dealt two potential lottery picks and absolutely has to re-sign Dragic, or else the steal of the trading deadline turns into something closer to a disaster. Dragic's agent knows that. So in that situation, if you were the agent, wouldn't you demand the absolute maximum? As always, who blinks could be a part of the equation.
Q: I like Josh McRoberts' attitude. He knows how good the Heat can be next season and can't wait. So let him heal up and leave him alone. -- Sid.
A: First, I merely asked where he stood and asked him to compare his meniscus injury to those of Kemba Walker (who already has returned this season) and Derrick Rose (who is poised to return). That is all. He said his surgery was more complicated. Fine. That's what happens when you actually get the opportunity to ask a question directly, instead of speculating. That made Saturday's interview after shootaround a win-win. And I agree that it was refreshing to hear him talk about relishing the opportunity to play alongside Hassan Whiteside, Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic next season. But I still don't see the Heat going with a starting frontline of Whiteside, Bosh and McRoberts in 2015-16, because there simply is no one in such an equation to defend on the wing. That's why I'm still not sure that Pat Riley doesn't sit back, if Luol Deng doesn't opt out, and consider moving McRoberts for a wing. But if Josh is willing to play as a reserve, it could leave the Heat well stocked in the power rotation next season, with Birdman and Udonis Haslem also available.
April 5, 2015
Q: Ira, doesn't Erik Spoelstra ever set up a play at the end of games? It's always Dwyane Wade settling for a long shot. Why not a pick-and-roll with Hassan Whiteside? This loss is on Spoelstra, as are many of the tight game losses. -- Joel.
A: There is one other factor in the equation, and that is Wade, himself. No matter what is scripted -- and I can't fathom any coach in this league, with as many as five seconds left in a game, not having multiple actions and options -- it comes down to Wade running the play and considering all the options. If Spoelstra's call is to get Wade to the top of the floor and then . . . nothing, then there is a considerable issues here. Before this past season, Spoelstra restructured his coaching staff, which any coach who advanced to four consecutive Eastern Conference finals should have the right to do. But this offseason, perhaps if David Fizdale gets a head job elsewhere, it might be time to consider adding an offensive coordinator, someone who could script in the final seconds as Brad Stevens has done in Boston. There is no shame in a coach bringing in another perspective, and even yielding at times, if necessary. Because you are correct, a team with such little margin for error has been marginal, at best, at the close of close games. And this wasn't a case of being left with Michael Beasley and no other options at the end of the close loss in Washington. This was the loss in New Orleans at the finish, Part II.
Q: Can you in all honesty tell me that is the best (play?) Spo can come up with when there are five seconds left in the game after a timeout? The play (I use the word lightly) wasn't any better the possession before. As a coach, he has to do better than that. -- Alan.
A: I got a lot of this in the postgame email. And the reality is that with a few more of these situations handled correctly, the Heat could be resting veterans (and centers) now, and preparing for something meaningful in the postseason. I have a difficult time believing Pat Riley finds any of this acceptable. And I have to wonder about when Goran Dragic considers coaching in his free-agent equation what these final sequences will have him thinking.
Q: At least Michael Jordan would attack and if he didn't have anything. All Wade does is dribble at the top, run out the clock and heave it up. -- Stuart.
A: Look, certain situations call for certain approaches. But being down one point with five seconds left doesn't call for a 3-point shot. It doesn't necessarily even call for getting to the rim. All it calls for is getting to the foul line, if to do nothing else than extend the game. Amid all the chaos of the blown lead, there still was time for clarity at Saturday's defining moment, and there was none.
April 4, 2015
Q: I think I am about ready to shut this season down and try and reclaim a Top 10 pick. I know the team has fought all year and given their heart and soul to make the playoffs, but I'm just tired of seeing our guys go down with injury and I don't see the point of going after a playoff seed other than pure pride. I think we let Dwyane Wade's offseason start now, rest up and get healthy. Get our pick back and bring in a guy like Sam Dekker, who just seems like the Pat Riley type and someone who could help us right away. It's time to look to next season and let our guys who have played something like 33 percent more games than anyone else in the league over the last four years get some well-deserved rest. I know it seems like the easy way out, but I think it's the right move. -- Andrew, Miami.
A: While I'm not a proponent, and neither are Riley and Erik Spoelstra, at least with the public way both have come out against such an approach with this roster, I think that ship also might have sailed. Among the Heat's remaining games (at this writing) are the Pistons, Magic and 76ers, teams that already have moved into lottery mode. So you could wind up with a few of those games (and we've seen plenty of them in recent weeks, such as that doozey between the Lakers and 76ers) where neither team is prioritizing winning. And remember, even a bottom-10 finish doesn't guarantee that the first-round pick due to the 76ers won't be forwarded, because a team seeded beyond No. 10 in the lottery that makes a longshot jump into a top-three spot would then push the No. 10 lottery seed to No. 11. (Remember, the terms of the deal for the pick that first was sent to Cleveland in the 2010 LeBron James sign and trade, are that if the pick is not among the first 10 this season, it must be forwarded). And, for umpteenth time, I remain a proponent of paying off that debt and moving forward, preferably by making it a selection in the mid-teens. The debt does not expire, so why have it hanging over the team for another season?
Q: Ira, should the Heat just try to get the 8th seed instead of the 7th seed? I think we have a better chance in a seven-game series against the Hawks rather than facing the Cavs. Can you see the Heat beating the Hawks if we were to stay on the 8th seed? -- Daniel.