ASK IRA: Do draft results take sting out of Heat deal for Dragic?
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.


June 22, 2018

Q: So we got Goran Dragic for picks that became Mikal Bridges? I think the Heat got their value out of that trade so far. Dragic has been good for the Heat. Yeah, the 2021 pick could become a high lottery pick, but I don't see the Heat being that bad knowing that they won't have that pick. -- Mike.

A: I agree that it is somewhat astonishing that for all their waiting on a return on Dragic, the Suns wound up with Bridges -- and nothing more. Now, on other hand, that 2021 Heat first-round pick could have considerable value if that is the draft that the NBA's one-and-done rule is abolished. That's when we'll truly be able to take stock of that 2015 trade for Goran. And while I appreciate your view that the Heat therefore will be playing to win in 2020-21 with that pick in the balance, that also is a season that is an abstract at the moment. In the end, the ultimate winner of the Dragic trade could be the 76ers. But it looks like the Heat will come in no worse than second best, considering Goran's rise to All-Star this season. I'm not sure there is as much confidence of Bridges rising to All-Start level.

Q: Hi, Ira. I thought your response on "Ask Ira" to the gentleman's comments about Heat fans having to watch the draft ongoing, without our team’s participation, as Pat Riley throws away draft picks like the crust of a sandwich, was spot on. You're not guaranteed anything in the slots where the Heat would potentially be drafting, this year, or in past years. None of the players you listed have had a stellar NBA career. Riley is not allergic to the draft. He simply, at times, prefers a sure thing, when a sure thing is needed. And he knew what he was getting in Goran Dragic. And as you stated, the dynamic of what he thought he was bringing Dragic into (a healthy Chris Bosh) was altered without warning. Even without Bosh, Riley knew what he was getting in Dragic: a borderline All Star, in his prime. The exchange: Two picks that combined may well never approach what Goran has accomplished.  Yes, you can question some of Riley's moves, from several long-term contracts, to the drafting of Bam Adebayo (simply because the Heat already had what they thought was their long-term big man to build around, coming off an encouraging season, and the pick seemed somewhat redundant when the team could've used an athletic perimeter player, up front). But Pat very rarely lets his team hit rock bottom. He almost always fields a competitive, entertaining team that competes for the playoffs, when not contending for championships. No NBA executive and no NBA coach fields a championship-caliber team annually over a 20-plus-year period. None. So, fans should chill, and enjoy their team, which again will be competitive, even if no major moves are made. All NBA franchises have cycles and I'll take the long and consistently exciting journey that Heat management and their coaching staff have given South Florida fans. -- Matt.

A: So what it comes down to is whether Heat fans can be satisfied with perhaps another three-game rise in the standings, potential first-round homecourt advantage and possibility a spot in the second round. No, I don't envision a championship outlook with this roster. But I could envision a competitive team. So can that be enough? That's where the debate stands. For all those who want to move toward a "process," I can't fathom Riley entertaining such a possibility at this stage of his career. I also can fathom patience in this basketball market for such an extended rebuild.

Q: Ira, do you remember the Hassan Whiteside of two, three seasons ago? Did he feel satisfied financially? (By no means am I accusing him of "take the money and run.") Did he lose his passion for the game? Did anything psychologically occur that prevents him from being himself? Ira, what changed that hungry wolf named "The great wall of Whiteside?" How did Hassan reach the top of his potential and then regress so quickly? -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: I still contend that more than any injury or contract, it is about how the game has evolved. Winning teams simply don't play through the post anymore. So to me it comes down to whether Hassan can move beyond disappointment about a lack of touches and refocus his energy on rebounding, defending, setting screens, playing hard. For some players it is difficult to muster energy for the small things when a role in the offense is not part of the equation. Hassan still has the possibility to move himself into (back into?) the category or Rudy Gobert or Clint Capela. The question is whether that will be enough to both sate and drive his hunger.

June 21, 2018

Q: The Dwight Howard-to-Nets deal may have just set a baseline for Hassan Whiteside. If that's the case, then the Heat should most definitely keep him. Of course the Hornets are a hot mess compared to the Heat. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: Actually, Hassan could fetch even less than the Hornets taking back the bad money of Timofey Mozgov and a pair of second round picks, because Hassan has two seasons left on his deal (when counting his 2019-20 option) as opposed Dwight's expiring deal. A Whiteside deal likely won't come down to any sort of return, but rather a Heat belief they can chart a course for cap space sooner rather than later. But I also agree that there is no desperate need to move on from Hassan. There still could be a return to previous form, especially if Erik Spoelstra was correct about injuries being the ultimate reason for a 2017-18 gone sour. But, yes, the Howard deal was a sobering reminder of how previously productive big men are viewed in transactions.

Q: Though the Hornets are expected to rebuild, do you think they would have any interest in Hassan Whiteside? -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: That was my initial reaction to the Dwight Howard trade, but Mozgov's bad money gets in the way on that count. I would think that getting closer to home might appeal to Hassan, but I'm not sure he would appeal to Charlotte. Again, it comes down to how teams (and in this case the Hornets) feel about the need for a sizeable post presence in today's evolving NBA. And if there were to be a deal, it likely would be for one of Charlotte's bad contracts, such as Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Marvin Williams (which ultimately would eliminate cap savings for the Heat).

Q: Any chance the Heat make trades to sacrifice winning this year to build for the future? -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: Possibly, but it would have to be multiple such deals. Moving only Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic or Tyler Johnson wouldn't be enough to move up the rebuild timetable. It would have to be getting off at least two of them similarly to what the Nets did in the Dwight Howard deal, taking back one-year contracts for two-year deals.

June 20, 2018

Q: Every year the draft approaches and we Heat fans are sitting at home and watching other teams draft potential players for next season. Why two draft picks for Goran Dragic? Why does Pat Riley waste draft picks like throwing away the end of a sandwich where there is no more meat left? -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: To me the perspective has to be more about what those draft choices turn into. For example, at No. 16 on Thursday night (the first of the two first-rounders dealt for Dragic) you are looking at potential selections such as Kevin Knox, Khyri Thomas, Robert Williams, and Lonnie Walker. I'm not sure any have been tagged as All-Stars of the future. Beyond that, the 2016 first-round pick the Heat dealt turned into Timothe' Luwawu-Cabarrot, the Heat's 2013 first-round pick into Nemanja Nedovic, 2012 first-round pick into Arnett Moultrie, with actual Heat selections along the way of Norris Cole, Shabazz Napier, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo. So even with the concerns of the second first-rounder deal for Dragic, let's see how exactly that plays out. Beyond all of that, when the Heat dealt for Dragic, it was to contend while alongside a healthy Chris Bosh, whose illness impacted the franchise more than any dealt draft pick.

Q: Dragic: "Hey Luka, we should play together."

Doncic: "Let's make it happen."

Doncic's agent (to Suns, Hawks, Kings and Grizzlies GMs): "If you pick Luka, he'll stay in Spain for the next two years." 

Pat Riley (to Grizzlies GM): "We'll trade you Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson for Chandler Parsons and the No. 4."

Grizzlies GM: "Okay."

Doncic (to Dragic): "I get to throw the lobs to Bam."

-- Dan, Baltimore.

A: While I do enjoy musical theater, I'm not sure Luka Doncic falls to No. 4, nor that he would go out of his way to seek out Goran Dragic as a Heat teammate, considering Goran's age and perhaps tenuous status with the Heat going forward. Even while dumping Parsons' salary, the Grizzlies likely would also seek a pick in Thursday's first round, a pick the Heat lack. Now, if you want to offer dialogue about the Heat trading into the second round, we're open 24 hours a day.

Q: Hi, Ira, as the draft is approaching, I notice the Miami Heat Twitter posting memories of the previous championships. These memories are great, but I can't help but think that this is the Heat trying to distract us of their current situation. We have no picks in the draft, no cap space to sign free agents, and very few assets to entice free agents or trading partners. What's the plan here? Are we headed for summers of nostalgia and perpetual mediocrity? -- Luis, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Monday was the fifth anniversary of Ray Allen hitting his miracle 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, so I have no issue with commemorating such a remarkable moment. And without a pick in either round of Thursday's draft, I can appreciate the Heat's social-media department finding alternate content. You can be sure that Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat posts have nothing to do with getting in the way of the Heat scouting and personnel staff activity attempting to upgrade the roster -- if possible.

June 19, 2018

Q: Do you see Rudy Gay fitting in with the Heat? I know he has a fondness for Miami and we flirted with him several times in free agency in the past. The problem is, I'm not sure if he is looking for more money or a longer contract? But I don't see him getting any offers for more than what he was already getting paid. However, he could also turn into Granger 2.0, which makes me hold my breath. -- Charles, Plantation.

A: Rudy has opted out for $8.8 million for next season, so it's not as if he would be looking for a pay cut to the mid-level that the Heat could offer. Now, there might be a chance that he would trade dollars for years, but the Heat also have to be getting to a point where returning to the cap-space game has to be a priority. As it is, the only Heat players currently under guaranteed contracts for 2020-21 (when not counting options) are Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson, so I'm not sure the Heat would go three years out for a supporting piece. The Heat already have their share of 30-somethings, so taking a long view with Rudy does not seem to be a priority.

Q: Ira, if the Heat choose to buy out Tyler Johnson's contract is it better to do on September 1 like the Knicks are considering with Joakim Noah or now so Tyler can take advantage of the start of free agency on July 1?  -- Skip, Tampa.

A: The Heat are not buying out or utilizing the stretch provision on Tyler. They're just not. That still would mean carrying his cap hit, perhaps for as many as five seasons. What often has been lost in the Tyler salary discussion is that the four-year average of his deal is $12.5million, which is far closer to reasonable for his contribution than the $19.2 million cap hit over these next two seasons. The only way you would make such a move is if you believe your team would be better off without Tyler on the roster or if you absolutely had to have a portion of his cap space to close out a larger signing. The Heat are nowhere close to that stage.

Q: Ira, it seems to me that no team without the words "Golden State"' on its jerseys is going to win the O’Brien Trophy in the next couple of years (even though Houston may get close). Given this, why not let this Heat group (Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and Dion Waiters) play out their contracts and then start fresh with cap space and picks? I don't see the Heat winning the title by mortgaging the future for any high-profile free agent this summer. This is not tanking -- if LeBron leaves the East, with a little luck we may be a top-four seed and get into the second round. -- Jose, Miami.

A: And that may well be the way it plays out. For all that has been speculated about the Heat approach, there very much remains a Heat blueprint that calls for a mostly intact returning roster that should include a healthier Dion Waiters.

June 18, 2018

Q: With Hamidou Diallo projected to be a second-round pick do you think the Heat might buy into the round and draft him? He's a freak athlete with huge upside and in the second round would be worth the gamble. By all accounts he's a hard worker, gym rat, obsessed with basketball with not many outside interests. Seems like the Heat prototype for a player. I was hoping they might take him last year when he was still considered a player who may be available in the draft. If he doesn't pan out it's just a second-round pick. If he does he could be the next Dwyane Wade. -- Robert, Los Angeles.

A: First, exhale with the Dwyane Wade comparisons. And when it comes to developing an athlete, the Heat already are into that process with Derrick Jones Jr. Could the Heat trade or buy into the second round? Absolutely. But they currently have so many wing pieces, they first have to take stock of where they stand. To this stage, the 2018-19 guarantee to Jones is minimal, at $50,000. Would they be willing to go higher if an outside team offers a standard contract? That is when they also will have to weigh the balance of their wing rotation. But this team could use a bit more explosion, athleticism (not sure I would put Justise Winslow or Dion Waiters in that category). Now the question is the direction they go to find it.

Q: How do you think the Spurs would feel about swapping Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and picks for Kawhi Leonard and Pau Gasol's contract? LaMarcus Aldridge has publicly talked about his lack of interest in playing center. Pairing Aldridge and Whiteside in the frontcourt may be of interest. Dragic gives them more scoring in the backcourt. We'd include the 2019 unprotected first, maybe more picks if needed. -- Will.

A: I'd have a hard time believing Gregg Popovich would have any interest in Hassan. Beyond that, there comes a point where any outside suitor has to keep in mind that Leonard is coming off a major injury and has the right to bolt as a free agent in the 2019 offseason. For the Heat, that should mean drawing the line at draft picks.

Q: Miami should play Udonis Haslem more. Seriously, we were not a great rebounding team, and could have used him alongside Bam. -- Mike.

A: Instead of Kelly Olynyk? Instead of James Johnson? This roster is not and was not set up to play, but rather the roster spot was reserved out of respect. Unless the roster is dramatically overhauled, I just don't see any time available other than perhaps the cameos offered to Jordan Mickey when injuries and absences struck.

June 17, 2018

Q: Ira, getting LeBron James or Paul George is a longshot because the Heat don't have cap space. But Gregg Popovich has so much respect for Pat Riley, so could they do a Kawhi Leonard deal? -- Jack.

A: I would believe that more than respect, more than conference affiliation, more than banishment (sending a disgruntled player into a bad situation), the Spurs' approach would be to maximize value if there is a Leonard deal. As often is the case, that could leave the Heat at a deficit, lacking both tradeable draft picks as well as extra cap space for San Antonio to dump bad salary. Remember, the Heat last summer basically locked themselves into this summer, with the contracts given to James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters. What a failure to land LeBron, George, Kawhi or any other player this summer shouldn't be turned into are the latest examples of failure after failing to land Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward the past two summers. The Heat were positioned and angling for those moves. This summer, anything big practically would be a bonus.

Q: Ira, the Heat seem pretty far behind in the league-wide race to replicate the Warriors, but could this Heat team have a future as a defensive power house? Justise Winslow, Josh Rich and Bam Adebayo all seem set to develop into defensive monsters. If we can continue to develop them and add a piece or two, this team would be scary defensively.   Seems like our best option is to play to our strengths. -- John.

A: It's funny, a few years back, the questions were about whether the 3-point Suns could succeed and then whether the 3-point Warriors would win, followed by whether the 3-point Rockets could challenge. Now there are legitimate doubts about whether a defense-first approach can thrive. Just as they used to say no rebounds, no rings, now it seemingly has turned into no offense, no chance.

Q: If Bam Adebayo or Hassan Whiteside are traded, could that open the door for a reunion with Willie Reed? Reed was the perfect backup center while he was here, and could still be a key player for us if he were to ever return. -- Gary, North Miami.

A: The difference is that, with Kelly Olynyk also in place, we'd be talking about a third-string center. To be candid, if Udonis Haslem is going to again claim a roster spot, in this small-ball era the Heat likely would be better served by adding a perimeter player.

June 16, 2018

Q: So Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio. The Heat should absolutely stay away. Leonard has already been crying about work. Does anyone think Pat Riley will accept someone who doesn't buy into the Heat Culture? Please. Besides gutting this for a one-year rental on someone headed for Los Angeles is a bad idea. What the Heat can truly benefit from is the chunks that get tore off in the feeding frenzy this summer. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: Actually, I have little doubt that just about every possible permutation has been considered at 601 Biscayne when it comes to even the possibility of landing Leonard. Riley and has staff have built Heat careers on rehabilitation, if that even is an issue when it comes to Kawhi's attitude. After speaking about having so much good-to-great this past season, I believe Riley would do anything and everything to land a talent the level of Kawhi. Now, your point about Kawhi having the ability to become a free agent in the 2019 offseason is valid. But there also would be an opportunity to work out an extension in advance. All of that said, if the rumored ESPN machination is attempted (of Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo), then the question would be exactly where a team would stand with a starting lineup of, say, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Kawhi Leonard, Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson. Where exactly does that get you in the East, let alone title contention?

Q: Ira, I saw your story about the Heat's 2021 pick that's going to Phoenix. But even if one-and-done ends for that draft, what would it matter if that pick is in the 20s? Even the best drafts rarely are that deep. -- Niner.

A: You are correct. That is why I emphasized that there are no protections on that pick, that it could be in the lottery or even the start of the process. The question is that we have no idea what the 2020-21 Heat will look like because, at the moment, Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson currently are the only players under guaranteed contract for that season (James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk hold player options for 2020-21, with the Heat holding a team option on Bam Adebayo).

Q: Will LeBron James follow Kawhi Leonard wherever Leonard is traded? -- Len.

A: First, there is no guarantee that Kawhi will be dealt. And beyond the Lakers or 76ers, there isn't another contender that would have the cap space to sign LeBron in free agency (unless a sign-and-trade could be negotiated with the Cavaliers). But Leonard would appear to be the perfect type of teammate for LeBron's final chapter, seemingly with the temperament to allow LeBron to have his coveted spotlight.

June 15, 2018

Q: Could a Tyler Johnson-for-Chandler Parson trade work and do you think it’ll benefit the Heat? -- Travis, Roanoke, Alabama.

A: Before getting into specifics, this stands as an example of how you can always move a contract as long as you appreciate what you might get in return. Such a deal would be possible after July 1, when Tyler's salary jumps from $5.9 million to $19.2 million. Parsons, by contrast, earned $23 million this past season, will earn $24 million next season and then will earn $25 million in 2019-20, when Johnson has a player option for $19.2 million. So, yes, the math could work. But among the reasons the Grizzles apparently are shopping Parsons along with the No. 4 pick in Thursday's NBA draft is not to take on similar salary, but rather to cleanse their cap. So Parsons-Johnson makes little sense for the Grizzles, unless they are enamored of Johnson. Now, if the Grizzlies were to come to me with Parsons and No. 4 for Tyler, I would jump at it in a millisecond because of the pick. But it's also not happening. Nor does it alleviate the Heat cap or tax concerns (actually exacerbating the tax issue). As for the players, themselves, the fact that Johnson is ambulatory, to me, makes him the superior talent at the moment. While I rarely address trade speculation, the reasoning here is to show that even when you believe you have an untradeable contract (as in Tyler Johnson) there almost always an equally unpalatable contract out there (Parsons) that it can be dealt for. In this case, it very much becomes a pick-your-poison decision because of the dollars involved.

Q: It sure sounds like Udonis Haslem put the choice squarely in Pat Riley's court. Pay me and I'll play my usual 15 to 20 minutes a year and eat a roster spot. So find me a management position or I walk and play elsewhere. So what does Pat Riley do now that he knows that he knows what UD's goals are? -- Skip, Tampa

A: Actually, Udonis just wants to play. Talking to him after Thursday's group media session, he again spoke about David West getting minutes in the playoffs and NBA Finals, and how he believes he could have offered the Heat such veteran rebounding and stability. This was not an ultimatum, because there are no cards to be played. As long as the Heat have Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and even Justise Winslow in the power rotation, I can't see how minutes can be carved for Udonis. Now, if the roster were to be thinned, that would be another story.

Q: We need that Udonis Haslem roster spot for development. -- Brett.

A: I'm not sure, with the addition of two two-way contracts, that the 15th regular roster spot is as essential a component as it might previously have stood. The question becomes whether you are in rebuilding mode, in which case you might value that roster spot a bit more as a means of funneling a player to your G League affiliate without the risk of him being poached.

June 14, 2018

Q: Ira, do you think a four-year, $28 million deal will be enough to keep Wayne Ellington? Very nice bank and long term security plus being able to stay in Miami may have more value than a larger deal playing elsewhere. -- Skip, Tampa

A: I am particularly curious about whether Wayne will be a priority or a backburner issue. That may come down to whether he will be part of a crowd at shooting guard or part of a thinned-out backcourt. Pat Riley already has gone on record saying that he views Josh Richardson as a shooting guard. Then you have Dion Waiters returning from his ankle surgery. Beyond that is Tyler Johnson and his skyrocketing contract, Rodney McGruder and the uncertainty with Dwyane Wade. So if you are bringing Wayne back as a sixth shooting guard, I'm not sure you go into the luxury tax for that. And if you are not positioned to at least contend for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs, I'm not sure you go into the tax at all. Now, if Waiters won't be ready for the start of next season, if Wade retires, if Tyler is unloaded in a salary dump or if Richardson continues to start at small forward, that's another story. All of that said, if the Heat believe that Wayne is essential to the offense and the spacing, then, yes, I believe four seasons at $28 million is reasonable and well could get Wayne to bypass a little more elsewhere. So it basically comes down to where he ranks on Riley's depth chart.

Q: How would you feel if the Heat are unable to make any trades this offseason? -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: That it then would become a season of discovery with Dion Waiters, to see, when healthy, if he is the player the Heat believe he is, as well as a season to see how much more can be mined from Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo. At worst, it would again be another scrappy season that should, at worst, feature a playoff push, considering where New York, Brooklyn, Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago and Charlotte stand.

Q: People just continue to forget 2010-14, then the Chris Bosh illness. Faith in Pat Riley will continue for this basketball fan. -- Randall.

A: As well as the reality that unlike another team, in the first four seasons after losing LeBron James, the Heat went to the playoffs twice and missed a third berth by a tiebreaker, all while dealing without Bosh for most or all of those four seasons.

June 13, 2018

Q: Ira, hear me out: There still is a way for LeBron James to help the Heat, even if he doesn't return. If he goes to Philly, their young players (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz) will stop growing, because LeBron wants to win now. If he goes to Boston in trade, it will mean less youth and a shorter window for Danny Ainge. I agree with Dave Hyde that he is not coming back, but he still could help. -- Wayne.

A: Or if he leaves the East, that is one fewer contender for the Heat to beat out for homecourt advantage. You make an interesting argument when it comes to the 76ers, but it also could be argued that even just a few seasons of LeBron James could help Philadelphia's young players better develop. And if Boston were to do something like trade Gordon Hayward to the Cavaliers for LeBron, then they would be able to keep their young core intact, to perhaps endure over an even longer period (I cannot fathom the Cavaliers taking Kyrie Irving back, after the way he forced his way out). As always, the LeBron Effect will scramble the standings, because it always does. (And I never have bought into the Heat being a serious contender for LeBron this time around, only that 2010 and 2014 have taught me never to rule anything out, either.)

Q: With Draymond Green revealing that he sacrificed salary to keep the Warriors together, does that mean that they'll continue to do so and keep the team together too long for anyone to catch them? -- Ed.

A: Every dynasty (if the Warriors are even there yet) has an expiration date. Eventually, it becomes about more than salaries, the cap or the luxury tax, but rather the natural desire to seek new challenges. So that will be part of it. Another part of it could be seeing what the Celtics develop into, and whether they become the team with the target on their backs, as Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and other pieces are added into their mix. I don't get the sense that Danny Ainge is finished, so this could become about more than just a seemingly invincible Warriors roster.

Q: Ira, if the Heat don't get LeBron, can they still get Michael Beasley? -- Robert.

A: There's always room for Bease.

June 12, 2018

Q: Ira, LeBron is expected to speak with Miami among other teams. If he chooses the Heat (unexpected), what are their best options of unloading salary if the deal is an outright free-agent signing and not a sign-and-trade with Cleveland? I would really love to keep the now older "Rook 1" and "Rook 2" since wing depth, length, and defense is needed against the new-age NBA teams. I understand it would be hard for LeBron to not opt in to the $35 million option next year, but could you entertain the possibility of outright free agent signing and what our options could be? --Marc.

A: To be honest, I'm not sure I can get you there. To sign LeBron James into the space he would command, at $35 million, and considering the cap is expected to fall at $101 million for next season, that basically would require trimming the remaining cap below $66 million (when accounting for cap holds and other salary-cap requirements). That basically would mean having to trade Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson for nothing in return (which, with such limited cap space available around the league, would basically be impossible). Under that remote (if not unfeasible) scenario, you could basically be looking at a remaining roster of James plus James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Rodney McGruder and perhaps Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and other minimal contracts (plus a small mid-level exception player, possibly, but not likely, Wayne Ellington). So (and this is nothing more than the most hypothetical of hypotheticals) that could leave you with a lineup of, say, Olynyk at center, James Johnson and James at forward, and Waiters and Richardson at guard. And when is the last time LeBron has been amenable to such a possibility?

Q: "Video coordinator Eric Glass to coach Heat summer roster." Ira, then does it mean that if you are "video coordinator" in the Heat organization, you will succeed all those who have sweated and bled in this league for years to become a Heat coach or head coach? -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: No, it means you have sweat and bled as much as anyone, plus you have developed an institutional knowledge of every team, player, system and approach in the NBA, a critical element in today's analytics-driven NBA. And don't let the title fool you, whether it was Glass, Dan Craig or even Spoelstra as video coordinator, there also was time working on the court with players. Eric Glass is a fixture on the practice court -- a sweating fixture.

Q: Kevin Love for the Heat? No. Please. Stop. Never. Yuck. Dumb. Please tell these fans to stop asking dumb questions that include players that will keep the Heat in mediocrity. -- William.

A: And yet, if Kevin Love was a free agent and the Heat had cap space, could you honestly say there would be no chance of Pat Riley seeking an audience, just as he did with Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward? That's where I disagree. I believe Love very much is the type of talent who would, at the least, attract Riley attention.

June 11, 2018

Q: Is anyone investigating why LeBron James' hand injury was kept quiet? I'm not a gambler but wouldn’t that have made a difference in the point spread? Thanks. -- Barry, Hollywood.

A: You bet (sorry) and this is a particularly timely question in relation to Adam Silver's belief that the NBA should be due an "integrity" fee to assist in the potential legalization of nationwide sports gambling. What the James injury showed is that teams, if they want, still have the ability, even in this age of social media, of keeping injuries quiet. From a competitive standpoint, it made sense for LeBron and the Cavaliers to continue with the subterfuge. But if the NBA is looking for a one-percent cut of what could be a massive gambling stake, then I belief the NBA therefore would have a fiduciary responsibility to reveal such an injury. In many ways, becoming a willing and enabling partner in sports gambling would require the NBA to change the way it conducts business, especially injury business. I'm not sure you could request a percentage of what is gambled on the NBA Finals, and then turn around and say you (and your team partners) decided not to reveal such a significant injury. This, too, is part of the slippery slope of getting in bed with the gambling aspect.

Q: Was Dwyane Wade hinting about a LeBron James return when he said the next decision will be about lifestyle? -- Steven.

A: No, I think he was being candid that LeBron is beyond solely basing decisions on being part of a Big Three or something even more, that at 33, family and lifestyle also matter. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Miami lifestyle -- or the Cleveland lifestyle -- but rather whatever James believes to be the best lifestyle going forward. Yes, Wade's quote was telling . . . but not necessarily telling about anything regarding the shores of Biscayne Boulevard.

Q: Can the Heat buy a second-round pick? -- Chris.

A: Yes, but only if a team selects for them and then the Heat complete the deal in July. The Heat currently are out of money to spend on trades during  the 2017-18 cap year, having put their maximum-allowable spending cash into last summer's salary dump of Josh McRoberts to the Mavericks. So what they would have to do is have another team make a prearranged pick for them at a prearranged price and then consummate the deal once their 2018-19 spending allotment becomes available.

June 10, 2018

Q: Would LeBron James have been better served if he stayed in Miami? It's true that he did bring a championship to Cleveland (and kept his word), but he lost three of four NBA Finals with Cleveland.  "This stuff is hard," Pat Riley had said. "And you've got to stay together if you've got the guts. And you don't find the first door and run out of it." -- Stuart.

A: And yet, with Chris Bosh' blood clots, it is highly unlikely the Heat could have offered LeBron even as much as he had in those four seasons in South Florida. Still, the irony is that after LeBron effectively turned his back on Bosh and Dwyane Wade, it was Kyrie Irving turning his back on LeBron that did in the Cavaliers. What comes around went around for LeBron.

Q: You are irresponsible and inept. For days you have written about LeBron James coming back to the Heat, offering no evidence. Do you already have your story written about Pat Riley failing to sign LBJ when it doesn’t happen? Be reasonable. -- Jean.

A:What has been offered in this space largely has been in response to speculation of others -- and of no clear path offered by LeBron, himself. But the reality is that the Heat have been granted audiences the last two times LeBron truly headed to market, in 2010 and '14, so it hardly seems a reach to at least consider Pat Riley being in LeBron's thoughts. Now, whether a workable deal could be engineered, or whether LeBron would even consider a Heat reunion are two other stories. So when does what in your estimation appears to be folly come to an end? When LeBron, himself, rules out the Heat. Until then, the Heat remain in the so-you're-telling-me-there's-still-a-chance category. Now, if Pat Riley were to come out and publicly say the Heat have no interest, then at least in this space, we would immediately cease and desist.

Q: If LeBron James leaves Cleveland for the Rockets or Lakers (or even the Trail Blazers or Clippers), could the Heat at least line themselves up behind the Celtics, 76ers and Raptors? And would a top-four finish be enough for Pat Riley? -- Mitch.

A: On one hand, it would be yet another step forward. On the other, it's not as if keeping it intact and adding a 2019 first-round pick would truly enable the Heat to get anywhere close to where the Celtics are expected to stand. And you might be writing off the Wizards and Pacers a bit prematurely, as well. Right now, without a significant move, I doubt the return of Dion Waiters would position the Heat as much more than a middle-of-the-pack playoff contender.

June 9, 2018

Q: Ira, could you see the Heat making a move for Kevin Love if the Cavaliers break it up? -- Karl.

A: While many have compared Kevin Love to Chris Bosh, at least when it comes to their offensive games, I'm not sure that Love would fit Erik Spoelstra's position-less approach, especially with the Cavaliers eventually backing off Love at center. Plus, Bosh was a far superior defender to what Love has shown. All of that said, an argument could be made, even at this moment, that Love stands as more talented than any player on the Heat roster. And Pat Riley covets nothing more than star-level talent. Put it this way: If Love was a free agent, would he be pursued as aggressively by Riley as Riley did with Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward? And arguably he would. So, yes, a Cavaliers roster revamp could gain the attention of the Heat (and the rest of the NBA). Now, there is no certainty of what direction the Cavaliers will go next, and the salary-cap ramifications certainly would enter the equation, but I could see the Heat offering up a package that would include Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow or Josh Richardson, and more. If there were to be a deal to be made.

Q: If Philadelphia doesn't get a Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James, they have room for James Johnson. He could be Ben Simmons-lite when Simmons is on the bench, guard guys like LeBron, and his deal isn't terrible. Someone like him may have made the difference against Boston, too. Philly has a million picks this year and would be getting better for win-now purposes by flipping one for J.J.  -- Antonio, Tallahassee.

A: A few point here: First, the Heat neither have the need nor the desire to merely flip James for salary-cap relief. There is no reason. Of all the Heat deals, when looking at Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic, Johnson's deal is rather reasonable, when considering his contributions. Plus, the Heat and the rest of the league still don't know who the real James Johnson is, in the wake of his recent surgery for a sports hernia. Is he the player who reinvented himself in his 2016-17 debut for the Heat? Or is he the player who looked more like the career James Johnson in 2017-18? But your greater point is interesting when it comes to teams with cap space that don't necessarily get what they want. The problem, though, as mentioned here before, is that James Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters all have yet to play since undergoing surgery. So caveat emptor also enters the equation, which tends to lower any potential return -- or even interest. All of that said, it has been emphasized from within that the Heat in no way are considering or see the need for a fire sale this offseason.

Q: Erik Spoelstra and Hassan Whiteside better start talking, as Pat Riley suggested they should. Otherwise, the next couple of seasons could be rocky. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: I have been told that some of the dialogue has begun. But with Riley putting the issue out there so publicly during his season-ending comments, then the best way to quiet the doubts (if the Heat aren’t seeking a trade) would be to also put Whiteside out there to defuse the doubts. I can't think of a better forum than during one week of the team's youth camps, when the atmosphere would be decidedly lighter than during the postseason media sessions.

June 8, 2018

Q: So it looks like the NBA CBA has had the exact opposite effect of what it was intended to do -- not enough teams have flexibility to make moves to compete with the Warriors. Snooze. -- Stuart.

A: Actually, the impact was to make teams consider the ramifications of stockpiling top-tier talent. In the case of the Warriors, it eventually could result in $400 million in salary obligations, when considering payroll and luxury tax. And that's the difference between the NBA and the NFL. The NBA retains a soft cap that allows teams to retain incumbent talent; the NFL has a hard cap that forces teams into difficult roster decisions and creates parity, with teams then forced to develop talent, as the Patriots have. The reality is that in the NBA, a single player can still make you a contender, which has been the case with LeBron James for a decade. There simply aren't enough LeBron-, Durant-, Curry-, Harden-like talents to go around, thus the limited amount of contenders. Even a hard cap wouldn't change that reality. And if players are willing to sacrifice salary to enhance their championship odds, that also is built into the collective-bargaining agreement.

Q: I hope this time around LeBron James picks quick and moves on. -- Ria.

A: The one thing about LeBron is that he works on his own schedule, as the league willingly waits. I would expect no different this time around. When he's ready to let the NBA know, that's when the NBA will know, no matter how many other players and teams his decision impacts.

Q: If Chris Bosh does return to the NBA, do you think the Heat will try to actually give him another shot? Or is the door completely closed with C.B? -- Bert, Falls Church, Va.

A: First, under the highly unlikely scenario where Chris gets the needed medical clearance from his blood clots, he cannot return to the Heat before the end of next season, as part of the negotiated settlement that removed his salary from the Heat's cap, including the $26.8 million he is due next season. Even then, while Chris again has expressed interest in a possible return, it would take a team willing to deal with the potential risks. The game is difficult enough to play at 34, let alone after having missed two-plus seasons.

June 7, 2018

Q: I don’t know where LeBron James ends up, but it can't be Cleveland. Even his "teammates" can't or won’t lend a hand to lift his spirits. Non-verbal communication speaks volumes about an overall lack of caring for each other and especially James. This is one reason why James must miss the culture of Miami and teammates who have your back. Miami is listed by Vegas as a money pick not because the Heat can offer money. It's the intangibles that Miami has to play with. The culture, the real teammates and comfort of an entire organization that has your back. -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.

A: I'm not sure that there is dislike or distrust with current teammates, but it was interesting how LeBron pushed for the signing of Dwyane Wade in Cleveland, if only to have a comforting face in place, after James Jones retired (just as he previously had in Cleveland with Mike Miller and Chris Andersen, and why Ray Allen was linked there). Then that went south and LeBron found himself standing alone. The thing is, unless Dwyane and Udonis Haslem play another season, I don't know if LeBron would have such comfort in a Heat locker room that has changed dramatically since his 2014 departure. And it certainly did not end with the Heat as if LeBron embraced the leadership of Pat Riley. While you may be correct about LeBron leaving Cleveland, I believe that Cavaliers first will push to add "comfort" pieces to their roster as soon as the Finals are over. And if LeBron does leave, it well could be to play alongside a banana-boat companion or other NBA ally. Culture certainly matters in the NBA, but so do those alongside during the eight-month grind.

Q: The Heat's starting shooting guard was essentially out for the season. Dion Waiters has game-changing skills. Having him back next year will give the team another go-to guy. If he was healthy all season, there would be a few more wins and possibly a longer postseason. -- Brian, Mount Vernon, Wash.

A: And that has to be a huge part of the Heat's offseason calculus -- exactly what they have in Dion Waiters. If he can repeat his play from the second half of 2016-17, then the Heat have the exact type of fearless go-to scorer they lacked last season. But that also means the glut at shooting guard becomes even more pronounced. It will be interesting to see if the Heat go all-in on Dion, or whether they to go in search of another wing. And if they are all-in on Dion, it could impact both the direction with Wayne Ellington in free agency and the decision on a Dwyane Wade return.

Q: Ira, help me out here if you would, please. In many posts around the web, for the Heat to acquire a star player, Kawhi Leonard for example, the Heat will need to include Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and their 2019 first-round pick, at minimum. Kill the heart of this team for any one star sure sounds like suicide. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: First, speculation and reality always are two different things. But Pat Riley has long been about stars driving success. So, yes, I believe the Heat would give up a lot, just as they did when they acquired Shaquille O'Neal. Now, would they give up as much as you mentioned? Only if they believe the remaining core would be enough (players such as James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and perhaps Hassan Whiteside). It's never as much about what you give up as what you ultimately wind up with. But with neither a first-round pick nor cap space the Heat may have to offer more than others, since a trade partner would have the ability to leverage more elsewhere.

June 6, 2018

Q: I agree with you that a real backup point guard is needed. I know that there were a lot of variables that created the outcome of the Heat's season, but the one that stands out the most for me is lack of playmaking. I think with another veteran point guard, a pass-first point guard, our role-player roster seems a lot better. I've said it before and I'll say it again (because I work in Lamar and there isn't anything else to do), I want Rajon Rondo. -- Tony, Lamar, Colo.

A: Whenever I speak with veteran point guards, they stress how it is an innate state of mind, that you either see the floor like a playmaker or you don't. I appreciate that that the Heat have a variety of playmaking options, from James Johnson to Dion Waiters to Tyler Johnson to Justise Winslow. But with each, the playmaking aspect is just a portion of their responsibilities, and not necessarily a priority. Of course, amid position-less, I appreciate that versatility is a priority. Of the aforementioned playmakers, I would be curious to see the result if the Heat were to put Winslow through the offseason grinder at point guard, similar to what they previously attempted with Tyler Johnson, that is, to dedicate the summer to get Justise to think like, walk like, play like a point guard. It could create an intriguing forward-thinking dynamic. As for Rondo, based on his playoff productivity, I'm not sure he hasn't priced himself out of the Heat's market. 

Q: If the Heat can dump Hassan Whiteside's salary, even for pennies, can we sign someone like Tyreke Evans and retool with a Seth Curry type off the bench? Tyreke can play point all the way to small forward and Seth has a higher ceiling than Wayne Ellington, who can also play point off the bench. -- Marc, Grand Prairie Texas.

A: I believe you are looking in the wrong strata with such suggestions. The Heat, as Pat Riley said during his season-ending comments, have plenty of mid-tier talents. That portion of the roster is already well covered, often in duplicate or triplicate. What the next step has to be is about targeting top-tier talent. The rest of the pieces generally are afterthoughts, similar to how the Heat reloaded with James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Dion Waiters after losing Dwyane Wade in the 2016 offseason. If there is a move made for an Evans type, it would be later in the offseason, if he still were available. But a priority? I would doubt it.

Q: I’d rather have a healthy Kawhi Leonard than LeBron James. Less drama. -- Douglas.

A: As if the Heat or any other team have that choice. Believe me, the Heat would take either -- in a heartbeat -- and most likely won't have a shot at either. While LeBron is older, he also is the known quantity -- who always gets to the NBA Finals. With Kawhi and his curious rehabilitation, you don't even know if he will be able to run. That said, a team like the Heat (or basically any team other than the Warriors) can't be choosy. If there is a deal to be made, then any and every resource has to be pointed in that direction.

June 5, 2018

Q: Erik Spoelstra's three-guard sets with a small forward and power forward seem to be the new norm. Do all the guards have to be Spoelstra size or can the Heat also add some height and length to this newly formulated equation? The Heat currently have six players listed at 6-4 or shorter. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: I agree that for a team that previously had emphasized length in the draft and free agency, the Heat all too often came up short last season, everywhere from James Johnson and Justise Winslow at power forward, to Josh Richardson and Rodney McGruder at small forward, to Tyler Johnson at shooting guard. And an argument could be made that even Bam Adebayo is somewhat undersized at center, by NBA standards. So, yes, the Heat do need to grow up. But length can only be impactful if you play that length. There certainly are big lineups the Heat can field, such as Hassan Whiteside at center, either Kelly Olynyk or Bam Adebayo at power forward, James Johnson at small forward, Josh Richardson at shooting guard and Justise Winslow at point guard, but that is not the direction the game is trending. The compromise is sort of small-but-lengthy ball, the type of lineups the Warriors are able to get to in these NBA Finals and the Celtics got to in forcing the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.

Q: Are you surprised that there have been no NBA trades yet from the 28 teams not playing in the Finals?  Is this a result of waiting for LeBron James, new tax rules that are unclear on the tax treatment of trading sports contracts or something else? -- Stuart.

A: There rarely are such trades. Last season, in 2016-17, between the end of the regular season and the draft, the only trade was essentially draft or draft-timing related, with the Charlotte-Atlanta deal that involved Dwight Howard on the day before the draft. You then get a flurry of prearranged trades at the end of the salary-cap moratorium in early July. Because LeBron will realign the East with his decision, I believe that has half the league on hold, and the other half could remain on hold if Golden State looks unconquerable.

Q: Any chance the Heat could use the mid-level exception to sign a player like Seth Curry this offseason? He is coming off an injury and could be a great rotation player for the Heat. -- Jeff, St. Petersburg.

A: First, because of the Heat's luxury-tax situation, I'm not sure they will use the mid-level. Basically it could come down to spending tax money either on such a free agent or Wayne Ellington. And unlike Seth Curry, Ellington already is ingrained in the Heat system. Should the Heat wind up outbid for Ellington, then I could see them considering a 3-point specialist. But even then, with so many guards on the roster, I'm not sure the Heat wouldn't look for a stretch forward instead.

June 4, 2018

Q: Ira, shame on you. Can't you see what LeBron James is doing? He's setting up Pat Riley again to show who always has been in charge. This time he gets Riley to think he's coming and then . . . does whatever he was planning. Sorry, LeBron, we're on to you this time. -- Chris.

A: But this is not 2014, because this time it's not as if the Heat are going to make a draft selection to attempt to entice LeBron James, as they did with Shabazz Napier. And this time the Heat don't have the cap space to sign free agents to attempt to lure LeBron, as they regrettably did with the 2014 moves for Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts. In fact, lacking cap space, the Heat are going to have to wait out the start of free agency until the mid-level rush starts, anyway. So if LeBron does bat his eyelashes, the Heat can wink back without regret. And I would find it difficult -- very difficult -- to believe that LeBron has any interest, or time to waste, when it comes to making statements with Pat Riley. It's been four years, so there's no need for emoji or hidden agendas. And if the longshot possibilities surface for LeBron, Riley will be there with a handshake and another press conference of all press conferences. Now, if I see Riley at the Westgate taking them up on their LeBron proposition, then that's a different story.

Q: I don't know if I want LeBron James back. He and the media acted like we didn't exist for four years and he only mentioned Miami as leverage against the Cavaliers front office. The Heat is more than just LeBron's Vacation spot to save his legacy. -- Will.

A: First, I don’t believe that. Everyone wants LeBron anywhere, any time. Second, LeBron, to his credit, has never mentioned a Heat return or any other 2018-19 landing spot amid this latest push to the NBA Finals. But if Vegas speaks, the dollars talk. And there apparently is enough interest from that aspect to have the Heat on the big board. Now, if the Heat issue No. 6 to another player, then maybe we can talk about doors being closed.

Q: I always wonder why the sentiment of Vegas has any relevance whatsoever in these things. LeBron James himself probably doesn't know where he's going or not going right now. -- Ed.

A: I agree. But games such as Sunday's have to have him thinking about better alternatives than what he is experiencing again against the Warriors. He could not have gotten off that court any quicker, sort of reminding me of the end of Game 5 against the Spurs in 2014. If I'm the Cavaliers, I try to have trades lined up for the day after the close of the Finals, trades that can better stock Cleveland's roster to meet James' needs. Otherwise, for Vegas -- and 29 NBA general managers -- it will be game on.

June 3, 2018

Q: I saw you post a picture of Kevin Love being on the court when Tristan Thompson was losing his [bad word]. But he wasn't suspended. I've followed the Heat since the playoff games against the Knicks. Has the rule changed? -- Loren.

A: No, but the administration has, with Adam Silver taking over from David Stern. At the time the rule was put into place, the NBA was viewed as an uncivilized place, with skirmishes detracting from what has since moved to a more free-flowing, aesthetically pleasing game. So after Stern drew his line in the sand, which, of course, also impacted other teams in the playoffs, most notably the Suns, Silver redrew the boundaries of the application of the rule, with a more common-sense approach. The rule remains the same -- step onto the court during an altercation and you miss the following game. But the current interpretation is something closer to banning those who "take an aggressive stance." Love certainly did not, in fact returning to the bench once tensions escalated. Silver's approach on the leaving-the-bench rule is similar to the rollback on the hard line that Stern took with the dress code for inactive players on the bench. With so much current good faith between the league and union (as opposed to what we're seeing in the NFL), it makes sense for the NBA to emphasize prudence instead of power. So Kevin Love gets to play in Game 2 and the NBA gets to offer its best-possible product. Win-win.

Q: Is LeBron James coming to Miami again? -- David.

A: Certainly -- for vacation and time with trainer Dave Alexander. But even with some gambling sites having the Heat in the mix, I still can't see how the Heat make any such math work -- if LeBron even would be interested in a reunion with Pat Riley. Short of trading two of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson for nothing in return, the Heat couldn't get into the cap-space race. And if a sign-and-trade (or straight trade before June 30) is required, what would be left for James to play with once pieces would be shipped off to Cleveland?

Q: Everyone seems to appreciate "The Process" in Philadelphia. The Heat have a lot of guys who have the potential to get a lot better. A little patience is in order. And if not for the late-season Philadelphia acquisitions, the Heat would have moved on to Round 2. -- Brian, Mount Vernon, Wash.

A: Which is why on Saturday I addressed the questionable notion of potentially moving on from players such as Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo at such a formative stage of their development. The question, of course, is whether baby steps is an acceptable approach for a franchise that exists to contend for titles. So it could come down to something as simple as this: Would advancing to the second round of the playoffs be an acceptable enough next step for the Heat?

June 2, 2018

Q: I've seen many people question what Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo could fetch in return. Could we flip our young guys into a star? For fun, let's say the Spurs love those three young guys and accept a trade for Kawhi Leonard. Now what? We add a superstar, but there's still mediocrity around him. We're still not a championship contender. We're still salary capped out with inflated contracts that can't be easily moved. -- Kyle.

A: Although there is no certainty of a deal, the three players you mention certainly stand as among the Heat's most attractive trade chips. But because the aggregate salary is relatively low, you likely would need to throw a larger salary into a deal for a star. So, for argument's sake, let's add Goran Dragic into that mix. In that case, it comes down to whether you believe a lineup of, say, Hassan Whiteside at center, James Johnson at power forward, Kawhi Leonard at small forward, Dion Waiters at shooting guard and Tyler Johnson at point guard is good enough to contend for anything substantial. If not, then playing for the future, and potentially shedding salary, might be the necessary alternative. And that's the case with many of these speculated Heat deals (sign-and-trade or straight up) for a star: Would there be enough left behind for a competitive lineup?I think follow-up moves would be necessary, particularly if Dragic is used to sweeten/fill out any deal.

Q: Will Hassan Whiteside be a former Heat center by the time he plays in the Africa Game? -- Brandon.

A: That is something I thought about when the NBA announced that Whiteside is on the roster for the Aug. 4 game in South Africa. To be candid? I'm not sure. But if there is a Whiteside deal this offseason, I would expected it to be sooner rather than later, when it would be easier to move such a large salary. The rhetoric appears to have slowed down, but Snapchat and Instagram still are open for business.

Q: If LeBron James doesn't win this title and leaves Cleveland with just one in his four seasons there, does that mean Pat Riley wins? -- Erin.

A: I don't see how, nor do I see how any of this has anything to do with Riley or the Heat. I do not recall LeBron saying anything about winning more titles in Cleveland than Miami, nor do I believe that Riley told him he would never win multiple titles with the Cavaliers. These NBA Finals are not a Heat story, they just aren’t (beyond Okaro White possibly securing a championship ring). And I'm not convinced that LeBron's next decision will in any way be a Heat story.

June 1, 2018

Q: Ira, the Cavaliers have enough faith to start Tristan Thompson but the Heat can't play Hassan Whiteside? -- Wesley.

A: This is a simple question that requires a somewhat complex answer. All the Cavaliers ask from Thompson is to rebound, set screens and defend. All Thompson expects is the opportunity to rebound, set screens and defend. And he does all three of those exceptionally well. For Whiteside, the expectations were for so much more, and for a while, the opportunities were there. And then the game changed and the disappointment followed. If Whiteside were to show up to camp with a goal of being the best rebounder, screen-setter and defender as possible, then he likely would find himself in a far better position than at season's end. But where it becomes an issue is the desire for shots and points, a place that Tristan Thompson seemingly has moved on from. It is why Whiteside sat at the start of the playoffs and why Tristan is starting at the end.  

Q: How do the Heat choose who to keep at the two-guard spot? With the production of Wayne Ellington and with Tyler Johnson's contract, I don't see them going anywhere. Dwyane Wade is a legend and I don't think he's retiring. Dion Waiters will be back to form, we can move Josh Richardson/Rodney McGruder to the 3-spot in this position-less basketball era. But that's still four players essentially all playing the same position vying for playing time and I didn't even mention Derrick Jones Jr., who has so much potential. And we still don't have a backup point guard unless Derrick Walton Jr. can make a huge leap forward. -- Robert, Washington.

A: To me, the only ways such a rotation works is if Tyler Johnson can transition to point guard (a subject on which I've already expressed doubts) and if Dwyane Wade returns in a limited role. Then you have Goran Dragic backed up by Tyler at point guard, and Dion Waiters backed up by Wayne Ellington at shooting guard when shooting is needed, by Wade when scoring is needed. But move Tyler Johnson into the mix at shooting guard . . . and the glut is significant.

Q: At this stage, it's best to stick it out with what we have. I would love a major trade as much as the next guy, but who is really available with the pieces we have? Better to see what a hopefully healthy Dion Waiters brings with the guys we have. An engaged Hassan Whiteside also is needed. -- R.L.A.

A: Plenty could be available, because the Heat have plenty of attractive pieces, when factoring Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and eventually a 2019 first-round pick. The question is what that might fetch and at what cost.

May 31, 2018

Q: Ira, the Heat said James Johnson will be ready for camp. But doesn't he need to be back before to be ready? And what about Dion Waiters? And Tyler Johnson? -- Greg.

A: For as long as the NBA season can be, it still features a relatively long offseason when you are eliminated early from the playoffs. The Heat noted with both Johnsons that they will be ready for the start of training camp. And while time in the gym during the offseason matters, what matters most is being good to go at the start of camp. Still unanswered is whether Dion Waiters will be 100 percent for the start of camp. And that matters a lot, because it can be argued that the Heat have not seen a truly healthy Waiters since the latter stages of the 2016-17 season. Beyond all of that, if the Heat do attempt to put contracts into play in trades, you are talking about Johnson, Johnson and Waiters having yet to be seen on the court post-surgery. So such trade physicals could be particularly intriguing -- if there are trade physicals.

Q: Why define everything by winning titles, or contending for them? After all, sports is a form of entertainment.  And while it's nice to win the championship or even to contend for one, isn't a team successful if it wins more than half of its games, say, pleases its fans enough to bring them back to its games, buy season tickets, support it, and achieve some level of financial stability? First is best, of course, but it's not everything. Despite Vince Lombardi's dictum. Translated to the Heat, that can foster the realistic view that 2017-18 wasn't a disaster, it was a moderately successful season.  Strive for more, sure. But no ashes and sackcloth, please. -- H.S., Tel Aviv.

A: Fair points, especially at this time of the season, when most are left to feel as if all is failure if not in the NBA Finals (with even the Cavaliers, after advancing to the Finals, left to feel somewhat like that, themselves, with their severe underdog status). To me, the emptiness of the moment for the Heat is more a factor of the lack of competitiveness in the first round against a team that so struggled in the second round. If it were the 76ers in the NBA Finals from the East, I believe the Heat could feel far better about themselves.

Q: Who you got in the Finals? -- Ron.

A: Warriors in five, because LeBron James will have at least one moment. But I do think LeBron will be able to score, especially with the Warriors lacking a rim-protector as a second line of defense, with their decision to go center-less. It will be curious to see if the Cavaliers opt to hide (rest) LeBron on defense by possibly having him open defensively against Kevon Looney, even if it means having to play Tristan Thompson on  Draymond Green.

May 30, 2018

Q: What would Bill Belichick do? (Yes, different sport, but humor me.)  He would take players still in their prime, like Goran Dragic, and maximize whatever value he could.  He'd take Hassan Whiteside, good center that "could" still have some upside on a different team, and maximize value.  He'd then say "next up" and let younger players prove their mettle.  Don't know about you, but I really liked Justise Winslow at the point and if he can improve his finishing driving to the basket he will only get better.  Bam Adebayo has the ability to shoot the rock even from range, which is something absent with Whiteside.  Point is, you can't hold onto players too long in this or any league "unless" they are Dwyane Wade, and even then . . . -- Brian Fort Lauderdale.

A: But he also would have loaded up with enough draft picks to be able to replace such players. There is something to be said for the buy-low, sell-high thinking. That is why, with the Heat's backcourt glut, it could make sense to consider moving Goran Dragic to a win-now team. The problem is that the draft choices from win-now teams tend to be too late in the process to be meaningful (and think about the optics, with the Heat still owing an unconditional 2021 first-round pick to the Suns from the Dragic trade). As for the Hassan Whiteside element, it would have made more sense, if there was a deal to be made, to having gotten it done at the February trading deadline, before the devaluation began. And yet, for all the talk of a Belichick system, the fulcrum for his approach with the Patriots starts with arguably the best player in his sport. With the Heat, it is not as if there even is a specific player to build around, as they once had with Dwyane Wade.

Q: I never understood why players played hurt even though they could not be productive as before. I know they think it shows toughness but I would rather have someone healthy in there in his place. This goes to any athlete who plays hurt, not just James Johnson. -- Ria.

A: But if you are told that recovery from surgery, as with James Johnson's sports hernia, would be six to eight weeks, would you make that type of decision in January, during a season when making the playoffs meant everything? It comes down to whether you believe that Johnson at less than 100 percent is better than what the Heat otherwise could have featured. Again, as offered in this space Tueday, perhaps this means that the elusive next level is still there, something closer to what we saw over the second half of 2016-17.

Q: James Harden walks the ball up the court, dribbles around the arc, faces the defender and dribbles some more -- 12 seconds left. Feints a drive to the rim, dribbles between his legs and around the back. Feints again and breaks inside. Jukes one player and another -- 6 seconds left. Spins and dribbles back to the 3-point line. Steps toward the rim and then jumps back and throws up a 3-point shot which misses as the buzzer goes off. This is basketball? No thanks. Go Warriors. -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: Agree. Houston's style might have been winning basketball, especially during the regular season, but it hardly was an attractive or particularly enjoyable style to watch. And when exactly did the NBA remove palming from its violation lexicon? Iso ball and all-or-nothing 3-pointers are two elements that are affronts to the game. Hopefully that is not what the Cavaliers devolve into in the NBA Finals.

May 29, 2018

Q: Kudos to you for your theory on James Johnson not being healthy. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: I had been asking since midseason about James not looking right. I asked him about his conditioning and his response was that he was dealing with something he did not want to discuss. He, in fact, challenged me when I asked about his weight and body fat, pointing to metrics that were the same as his breakout 2016-17 season. When I attempted to ask elsewhere about why James was off, the response continually was, "What is he saying?" Now it is clearer that he did not wanted his sports hernia discussed by anyone in the organization and did not want to use it as an excuse. In retrospect, my only question would be whether he had been put in positions were he had been unable to excel. The bottom line is that for all the talk from some athletes when it comes to injury excuses, James offered none. Even as surgery loomed.

Q: We need a system where Justise Winslow is playing point guard, Bam Adebayo is starting and Josh Richardson is being the number-one option. I don't understand why don't try to develop those three guys during the Warriors' dominance. -- Kaw.

A: Or perhaps now what well could become Boston Celtics dominance, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back next season. It is why I wonder about a Dwyane Wade return and the potential benefits of moving toward younger players in the backcourt. And . . . yet . . . there was that four-year investment in James Johnson a year ago, one that seemingly runs counter to such a Heat youth movement. More likely could be a youth movement a year from now, when the Heat get back into the draft game. Then again, there does remain the chance the Heat could work their way into the June 21 draft, which could signal a youth movement, as well.

Q: Ira, I would say this offseason will tell us whose vision the Heat will be made in going forward.  Is it Pat Riley or Erik Spoelstra? In the past, Riley spoke of Whiteside playing a significant role on offense and Spo always downplayed it.  If they can move Whiteside, it will be because the team has chosen the Spo vision. -- Robert.

A: And yet if you even tried to raise this as a talking point, Riley and Spoelstra assuredly would knock it down as a non-issue. Based on the limited use of big men in these later rounds of the playoffs, I believe that, at least at the moment, Spoelstra is allowing the video to speak for itself.

May 28, 2018

Q: Ira, does Pat Riley still think LeBron James made a mistake? -- Cyril.

A: What Sunday night in Boston confirmed is that LeBron James sets his own stage, controls his own environment, dictates his own rules. And, in the end, deservedly so. What comes next could ultimately tip the balance, or at least set in motion balance tipping, if Cleveland wins the title. That would leave the Cavaliers with four NBA Finals trips and two titles these past four seasons, the same as LeBron accomplished with the Heat. Riley's comments -- both before and after LeBron's Decision 2.0 -- were from the singular Heat perspective, as they should have been. That has been his prism for more than two decades. But now it appears, more so than at any point this season, that LeBron will remain in Cleveland, choose to extend his Cavaliers legacy. And Cleveland, more likely than not, will remain a team capable of leaving the Heat in its dust. The Cavaliers attempted to reshuffle their mix with mixed results at midseason, and now likely will attempt to do the same again this summer, perhaps even putting Kevin Love into play, after winning Sunday in his absence. One more title and there will be no question about the team that defines LeBron's career. Of course one more title will be a far, far greater challenge than anything LeBron faced in the East to this stage.

Q: Go back and watch the handshakes with Dan Gilbert. LeBron James barely shakes, with zero eye contact, while the rest of team firmly shake and embrace. -- Jones.

A: Which is why a degree of doubt will continue with the Cleveland decision if there is not a championship. What LeBron has done in Cleveland these past four seasons has been in spite of Dan Gilbert. It is similar to how it ended in Miami, that no one -- owner, team president, coach -- was going to dictate LeBron's terms. Ultimately, he has proven worthy of the right to essentially act as player-coach-GM-owner. Especially this season, LeBron James is the Cleveland Cavaliers, more of a singular star than at any time during his Heat tenure or his Kyrie Irving tenure in Cleveland.

Q: Does LeBron James getting into the NBA Finals again make us realize that Erik Spoelstra is not a great coach? Any team with LBJ wins the East. -- Morris.

A: And, therefore, any team that does not have LeBron does not win the East. Which is why Toronto again comes off as rash in dismissing Dwane Casey in the wake of his LeBron-related failures. In the wake of losing LeBron and then the one-two punch of Chris Bosh's illness, the Heat advanced within one game of the 2016 East finals and then finished as the No. 6 seed in the East this season. In either case -- as well as when the Heat missed the 2015 and '17 playoffs -- were the Heat getting past LeBron, anyway? All of that said, I would argue that the Heat are even further from an East title based on Boston adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to what they featured in forcing LeBron to Sunday's Game 7. The Heat have to be better. Pat Riley has to be better. And, yes, Erik Spoelstra has to be better.

May 27, 2018

Q: Ira, is it possible that Isaiah Thomas can be the answer the Heat are looking for? He would be a great fit as a second point guard behind Goran Dragic, would have a chip on his shoulder wanting to prove himself, and thrived last time he had a good coach in a good situation. Coming off another hip injury to end the year, he will come on the cheap and wouldn't hinder any cap space moving forward. He also isn't likely to sign early as he waits out the free-agent market giving the Heat time to explore other option. -- Michele, Pembroke Pines.

A: He might come cheaper than previously anticipated, but I doubt he would cheap enough for a team lacking salary-cap space -- such as the Heat -- to have any legitimate shot. That said, I agree that he could be exactly what the Heat would be looking for, a streak scorer for a team prone to scoring droughts. He would very much be a Heat-type reclamation project, but I highly doubt, with all of his injury concerns, that he would take a short-term deal in order to re-establish value. With all he already has left on the table, I would assume he would attempt to cash in as much as possible in what could be his last significant bite at the salary-cap apple, depending on his hip and health. But if available at the Heat's price, then it should be a no-brainer, no matter the Heat backcourt glut.

Q: Is this situation with the Heat (lack of draft picks, no cap space, and average talent on roster) the worst it has been since you have been covering the Heat? -- Jeffrey.

A: OK, let's all exhale. While the Heat do not appear anywhere close to championship contention, they remain well-positioned to again make another playoff run. Granted, that might not necessarily be the franchise's ultimate goal, but it should again mean more victories than losses next season. And there are a good share of teams in the Eastern Conference that, at the moment, aren't necessarily able to say that, from the Knicks to the Magic to the Hawks to the Bulls to the Nets and likely beyond. While Goran Dragic may have reached his peak, his still is a quality contributor. Assuming Hassan Whiteside stays and does not get injured on opening night, there should be more there, as well. Then there is the upward growth curve with Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and perhaps Bam Adebayo. And that's not even getting into Dion Waiters being back and Dwyane Wade being available to come back. I've seen bleak (even beyond the Heat's first three seasons) and this is not bleak. For all the draft picks and young prospects teams such as the Suns and Kings have had, what exactly has that gotten them or is that getting them?

Q: Ira, this trade works for both teams: Hassan Whiteside for Dwight Howard. Dwight has one year left on his contract and Whiteside could be a better fit with Kemba Walker. What do you think? -- Daniel, Miami.

A: The only way such a move ultimately would lead to cap relief would be if Goran Dragic does not pick up his 2019-20 option or if Tyler Johnson could be dealt. Otherwise, even without Whiteside, the Heat still would be hard up against the 2019-20 cap.

May 26, 2018

Q: What are your thoughts about Bam Adebayo working with Rasheed Wallace? I know players have worked out with former NBA greats before, but given all the speculation surrounding Hassan Whiteside, it's welcoming as a fan to see Bam trying to improve. But then again, he might be traded this offseason, too. -- Barry, Tallahassee.

A: It always is encouraging to see a player work at his craft, seek out assistance, learn from those with more experience. It is something Hassan Whiteside has done, as well. The commitment by Bam Adebayo is a continuation of the work he put with the Heat staff since being drafted a year ago. I highly doubt that the Heat would trade more than one of their centers. So I doubt the "too" part of your question would come into play. Nor do I believe there is any desire by the Heat to trade Adebayo, but perhaps an acknowledgement of his trade value in relation to his rookie-scale contract. One area that will go beyond tutoring from Rasheed Wallace, and one that has to be addressed, is Bam's recognition of the Heat's defensive schemes. That is something that will require work with the Heat staff and teammates at AmericanAirlines Arena this offseason, or perhaps meeting up with the staff at summer league, even if not playing there.

Q: Ira, if we can't afford to keep Wayne Ellington, can we get anything back by sign-and-trading him. -- John.

A: A sign-and-trade isn't a factor with Wayne because the Heat either will be able/willing to take on the luxury-tax hit by re-signing him, or not.  If the Heat were to sign-and-trade Wayne for a player of similar salary, it still would have a similar impact on the salary cap and luxury tax. But also keep in mind that the tax is not computed until season's end, so there could be a workaround for the Heat after the fact if Wayne is retained. An equally significant question could be whether there will be enough playing time for Ellington for the Heat to consider moving into the tax, considering the anticipated return of Dion Waiters.

Q: Someday please tally up your top 10 questions asked (by volume). I'm guessing it's some combo of LeBron betrayal, chastising Pat Riley for challenging LeBron in 2014, D-Wade leaving, D-Wade arriving, Hassan, Hassan, Beasley, Beasley, Beasley, Beasley. -- Philip, Seoul.

A: You're probably close, with Beasley closer to the top spots on the list. But there have been a surprising amount of questions about Spoelstra these past two seasons, especially in recent weeks and months. It seems as if the Teflon is wearing off the coaching staff and front office in the wake of a single playoff victory over the past two seasons.

May 25, 2018

Q: Ira, you certainly could not have been expecting any Heat player to be voted one of the best players at their positions, so why the shock about no All-NBA votes? -- Ted.

A: There was no "shock." The point I was making was how it was the first time since 2008 that the Heat did not get a single vote in the All-NBA balloting. With three All-NBA teams, I agree that the Heat did not have one of the three best centers or one of the six best players at forward or guard. But it also further illustrates the talent deficit that the Heat are dealing with. And I'm not sure, with anything short of a major trade, how that changes in the short run, with the Heat lacking salary-cap space and draft picks. Beyond that, I'm not sure there is a single player on the roster capable of rising to All-NBA. It appeared as if Hassan Whiteside was close, receiving votes in each of the past two years, but then came this past season. And while Goran Dragic was third-team All-NBA in 2014, his age indicates a down slope. So is it Dion Waiters or bust? Thirty-three players got All-NBA votes, in a league of 30 teams. The talent deficit is real.

Q: What do you think the Heat will do with Derrick Jones Jr.? This guy is only 21 years old with lots of athleticism and upside. -- Daniel, Miami.

A: The initial decision should be simple: The Heat have to make a $50,000 qualifying offer by the end of June to retain the right to match any outside offers, committing to nothing more than that share of a two-way contract. The decision would become more complex if another team swoops in with a guaranteed offer of a standard contract. In that case, with their glut of guards, the Heat might have to allow Jones to walk, unless the backcourt is thinned in advance. As it is, the Heat would have Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder, Tyler Johnson and possibly even Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Dwyane Wade in the backcourt.

Q: I get by fine on 2K all the time without Hassan Whiteside. -- Samad.

A: When worlds collide.

May 24, 2018

Q: When is Pat Riley "intervening" or are we past that? -- Tate.

A: You can't get "past that" when the team president feels strongly enough during his postseason comments to mention an intervention between his coach and his highest-paid player. This is not like the email that Riley said he was composing regarding Dwyane Wade's departure in the 2016 offseason and then delayed sending. Erik Spoelstra and Hassan Whiteside are still here. And so, therefore, is the cloud over the franchise. It has now been three weeks since Riley spoke -- and still no word on any intervention, meeting or conciliation. Instead, we're left to read into social-media posts and advertising campaigns. And we're left to believe that no one seems quite on the same page. Now, if the end game -- or at least the intention -- is a Whiteside trade, then, as stated here before, there understandably is no need for an intervention or anything otherwise. Still, that is a risky proposition when there also appears to be no simple ripcord when it comes to the two years remaining on Hassan's contract. I truly believe that Whiteside and Spoelstra would like to find a way to make this work, see a value in each other. But the vision moving forward seemingly also must eventually be addressed. It is one thing to give a player -- and a coach -- time to decompress after a season. But pretty soon things will start moving quickly, with the period around the NBA draft a potentially busy trading period, let alone the personnel whirlwind a week later during free agency. From the outside, it sure seems as if separation instead of conciliation is the end game.

Q: Is this the price we have to keep paying for having LeBron James for four years? Because it seems like ever since, we haven't gotten any semblance of respect by the NBA voters in any category. -- Vince.

A: I think it is more of a case of out of sight, out of the voters' minds when it comes to postseason awards. The fact that Bam Adebayo, as a No. 14 selection who received limited playing time, finished 11th in the All-Rookie voting, is impressive. As for Josh Richardson not making an All-Defensive team, that only is a matter of time. Of course, if the Heat do keep this roster mostly intact, then I again would expected limited national exposure. To the victors go the . . . Well, you get the picture.

Q: Hi, Ira. Knowing the results of All-Defensive teams made me notice that only two (Al Horford and Draymond Green on second team) of them are playing on teams that are in the conference finals. Taking that into account, I think is time for the Heat to start thinking more on the offensive end; we need players that consistently can make baskets. Furthermore, I don’t think the best scenario is to have a player who is oriented primarily toward the defensive end. -- Franco, Argentina.

A: That's one thing that you can expect to continue under Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley, that defense will remain a priority. But there also has been seeming acknowledgement that it can't always come at the cost of defense, which is why we began seeing more and more Kelly Olynyk this past season. And that ultimately could be the challenge for Hassan Whiteside, to become more of a complete offensive player.

May 23, 2018

Q: Kelly Olynyk has the best plus/minus on the Heat. I think he will take a leap in performance again in 2018-19, especially as he gets past the first-year learning curve. He makes others on the team better and has improved defensively. If Hassan Whiteside is traded for a wing scorer, would starting Kelly and Bam Adebayo be a potent starting combination and open the floor for scorers? -- Dennis, Liberty Lake, Washington.

A: If Whiteside is traded -- and for all the speculation, including here, there certainly is no guarantee, nor even insight on whether the Heat are so included -- then I would think the Heat would prefer to play with either Olynyk or Adebayo on the bench, if only to have sufficient depth at center. (I do wonder, after all he has been through, whether Willie Reed would still hold interest for the Heat.) Even with Olynyk's ability to stretch the floor, I'm not sold that the two would offer enough defensive answers against today's small-ball lineups. That doesn't mean the two couldn't be paired at times, but starting together on a regular basis could be a stretch (they started together five times this past season, with the Heat 2-3 in those games). The greater question here is whether Olynyk-Adebayo would be Erik Spoelstra's preference with his power rotation over rotations that feature Hassan Whiteside. The muddled end to this season only amplified that question.

Q: Bam Adebayo didn't stat pad enough like the other rookies. -- Alex.

A: This is in response to Bam Adebayo coming up one vote shy from making one of the NBA's All-Rookie teams on Tuesday. To me, this goes back to Erik Spoelstra's comment about how Bam grew his game faster than many other lottery picks because of the opportunity to compete in a playoff race, something that wasn't the case for first-team selections Kyle Kuzma or Lauri Markkanen or second-team selections Dennis Smith, Lonzo Ball, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic or Josh Jackson. And, yes, if the Heat were not a playoff team, it is quite possible the rebounds and blocked shots that accompanied additional time in the lineup likely would have pushed him over the hump in the voting. But those in the know recognized something special with his defensive abilities and he yet could emerge as the type of hard-rolling big man that has defined these new-age NBA lineups.  

Q: Any chance the Heat have a late bloomer (think Victor Oladipo) on their roster? All this talk of throwing in Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo to get a "star" makes me nervous. -- Jack, Fort Myers.

A: And that's the rub. If you believe that (as Orlando clearly did not with Oladipo), then you stand pat and grow from within while dealing with reasonable contracts. The irony is that if you don't believe that, then why would (or should) you to expect other teams to believe that in acquiring such players? Projecting upside is the most difficult assignment in talent assessment, when it comes to the draft and it comes to trades. It all comes down to whether you believe a player can emerge as a star or will succeed as a complementary player (not that there's anything wrong with that). Stars should be coveted. Complementary players are the ones you package in trades.

May 22, 2018

Q: Since the playoffs ended for the Heat I notice most fans are already going into the offseason with too much hope on superstar talent for the Heat based off the questions you are constantly asked. For the most part, it's usually Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson as trade pieces for players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, etc. Honestly, Heat fans are going to be upset if they think that's enough to acquire those talents, not to mention we have no draft picks. At best, a more obtainable offseason for us is just getting rid of these bad contracts we are locked into, to get us in position for 2019 free agency. I'd be a happy Heat fan if we can, at minimum, get rid of a lot of long-term contracts this summer and regain financial flexibility. -- Earl, Jersey City.

A: But if you are going to take that approach, trying to get back into the free-agency game in 2019, then why not just play it out until the 2020 offseason, when the large deals of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson naturally come off the books? It hardly seems prudent to throw sweeteners into deals to such players just to gain a 12-month advantage in free agency. As for the trade speculation, the one thing I do want to caution about is this: If there are attempts to conjure sign-and-trade deals for 2018 free agents, such as DeMarcus Cousins, would there be enough left to: 1. Entice the player and 2. Leave enough of a support cast? For argument's sake, say the Heat, as you mentioned, toss Richardson, Winslow and Adebayo into such a deal, would there be enough left (say, Whiteside, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, to round out a quality rotation)?

Q: I keep hearing about a Carmelo Anthony to Heat thing might be a possibility. I don't think Carmelo is an ideal fit for this system. He's an iso-dominant player aging out of the stardom. His defense is average, if that. The only good is that he can score, but that's not even consistent. What are your thoughts about this? -- Trevin, Miami.

A: He would make sense on one level -- his contract expires after next season, assuming he opts in for his $27.9 million in 2018-19. So that would, say in a trade for Hassan Whiteside, move the Heat closer (but not all the way) to 2019 offseason salary-cap flexibility. I'm not sure there would be many, if any, teams attempting to acquire Carmelo at this stage for anything beyond 2019 salary-cap relief. Again, as I've mentioned in this space, there could be an argument for making 2018-19 a "gap year" for the Heat, knowing they own their outright 2019 first-round pick. So could it come down to the Heat playing for the best Duke 2019 player available?

Q: Let me explain to you what will happen this summer: First, be ready to say goodbye to Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow. This will be the biggest trade summer the NBA has ever seen, because everyone is desperate to make a move but has no cap space. Be ready to see a lot of three-team trades. The Heat have the greatest chance at these players: CJ McCollum or Andrew Wiggins. The question is: Is that any better than what we had? And are we doing something to just do something? Does that solve the log jam at shooting guard? -- Gary, Miami Beach.

A: First thanks for the heads up (and if you could make sure this all gets done early in July it would be appreciated, since there are vacation plans to be arranged with a wife tied to the ridiculously early-starting school calendar in South Florida). And I guess the second part of your question comes down to this: What is the ultimate upside of Dion Waiters? That, as much as any other factor, figures to determine the direction the Heat take with all things backcourt.

May 21, 2018

Q: With Karl-Anthony Towns unhappy with the Timberwolves and Pat Riley known to be hunting for disgruntled players it seems like a perfect match. Do you think the Heat could get Towns for Bam Adebayo, Justice Winslow and Josh Richardson? -- Patrick, Issaquah, Wash.

A: This offseason has already been a fascinating case study in this respect: we've already seen the same three-player grouping mentioned in any potential gambit for a star. And that is somewhat concerning for this reason: Is that all there is? In an offseason when players such as Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins and now possibly even Karl-Anthony Towns could be available in trades or sign-and-trades, is the best the Heat have to offer the mix of Adebayo, Winslow and Richardson? And the honest reality is that might be as good as a Heat offer can get. Unless Goran Dragic is a sweetener, it is difficult to envision the Heat standing with nothing more than the shortest stack at the trade table.

Q: Ira, you are absolutely right that some of us Heat fans need some perspective as to the state of the franchise. Forty-four wins is nothing to be ashamed of. But you can tell reading "Ask Ira" that there is a very real sense of disappointment surrounding this team. Everyone seems to be rushing to blame Hassan Whiteside, Erik Spoelstra or Pat Riley. After last year's run we believed this team could be special. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts. We were told this locker room had a camaraderie never before seen. What did we get? Bounced 4-1 to a team that would soon get bounced itself to the team everyone wanted to play, to a team that was missing two of its best players. And this is where the disappointment comes in. Boston is going to get two good players coming back.  We gotta hope we have more guys progress than regress, which seems unlikely given the direction a lot of our guys are heading. In the past, Riley has always been making things happen. Eddie Jones and Brian Grant were signed and traded for with no cap space. Lamar Odom was signed with newfound money.  He collected the cap space for what would become the Big Three.  He was always doing something, making something happen, or there was a plan for something.  These days what have we got: James Johnson? Tyler Johnson? Dion Waiters? Hassan Whiteside? Forty-four wins is nice, but there are some very real questions surrounding this team.  These playoffs showed just how far away we really are in the East. -- John.

A: One of the things I've enjoyed in this space the past few days is the open give and take about where the Heat stand, with an attempt at balancing fawning Heat Nation approval against the demand that anyone and everyone be excised. As to your points about what the front office must do, keep in mind that two of the league's biggest transaction dates -- the June 21 NBA draft and the July 1 start to free agency -- have yet to arrive. Seemingly with each of the Heat's recent signings there has been an inference that it was a matter of collecting both talent and potential trade assets. Now we'll see what comes next. I would find it hard to believe, particularly in the wake of Pat Riley's postseason comments, that the Heat will come back with this same roster. Something will happen. Only then can we assess where the team stands heading into next season.

Q: Is it possible the Heat look to trade into this year's draft by unloading an unwanted Hassan Whiteside or Tyler Johnson contract. -- Jake, Temecula, Calif.

A: Actually, it is possible you would have to add a pick into such a deal to move off such contracts, particularly Johnson's. Those names, alone, likely won't get you anywhere near lottery traction.

May 20, 2018

Q: Most Heat fans, including myself, would come back if the team were to tank for four or five years. Sixers fans came back. Cavs fans came back. Suns fans are going to come back. Don't take this the wrong way, but I think your excuse is a cop out, because Ira Winderman doesn't want to endure half a decade of curtains covering the upper deck. It takes a young star to attract a young star. Except for very few examples, the only way to obtain that first young star is in the draft, normally in the high- to mid-lottery range, unless a team was lucky enough to draft a Donovan Mitchell or Giannis Antetokounmpo with a late lottery pick. As for Andrew Wiggins, the only reason he might be available is because he's been such a disappointment.  Let's just say the Heat were to acquire him this summer.  I guarantee a year from now, fans would be complaining about his bloated contract. One of the more profound things LeBron James always says is that you can't shortcut the process.  Even though he used this phrase in the context of training, it also applies to team building.  I think the more Pat Riley tries to dig the Heat out of this hole, the deeper the hole will be. -- Rich, West Palm Beach.

A: A few things here, but first a personal disclaimer: I neither root for (or against) the Heat and have enjoyed covering the team even during the down times, because there always remain stories to tell and I appreciate the circle (and cycles) of NBA life. But I also know that four or five years, in the NBA or anywhere else, is a long time. Now, if you're a startup business such as an expansion team, that's one thing. But there are not many business models were the preferred path is to be shoddy for such an extended period after previously offering quality. In the case of the 76ers, I believe their fans had come to be numbed and disinterested for years. Miami is a different market, a place that often requires fans to give up on previous allegiances and accept adopted teams. Such trust is difficult to create in the first place (as evidenced by the amount of Celtics and Knicks fans when those teams play at AmericanAirlines Arena) and even more difficult to regain. The thing is, as you mentioned, with deft drafting, there remains the opportunity to uncover quality without dropping to the previous depths of the 76ers. And the reality at this moment is that the Heat do not own their 2021 first-round pick, so you basically would be talking about going all in (or is it "all out") the next two seasons. Basically, this team is not positioned to tank.

Q: Ira, with all due respect to Udonis Haslem, do you think the "Heat Culture" has run its course? Think about it, how many times have fans written you wondering why certain guys who don't have any impact get more minutes than others who actually do? How many times have we seen Udonis Haslem sitting on the end of the bench, when his spot on the roster could’ve gone to a younger talent? I realize the culture has sustained the organization for twenty plus years, and I don't think we should tank, however I do think, in the words of Pat Riley, we need to re-tool -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: For the most part, I take "Heat Culture" or "Heat Nation" as marketing elements, and little more. But moving beyond catch phrases, it's not as if most businesses don't have their own standards. The Heat's standard essentially is about hard, often relentless, work. It is interesting, however, how Erik Spoelstra often points out that the Heat way is not for everybody. When you're up, you can have exacting standards. But I do wonder that when you're down if relenting might not afford a wider talent pool. But marketing slogans hardly are what drive the on-court product.

Q: Ira, there seems to be a lot of back and forth on how much blame Pat Riley should take for this mess we are in. We all love Pat and appreciate how he turned things around for this Heat franchise. Nobody disputes this. But it just feels like Pat's standard blueprint for building a contender isn't working this time around.  We seem further away than ever, with no hope in sight.  With the current CBA, star players are taking the massive extensions with their current teams and changing teams much less. That makes building through free agency almost impossible. I love Pat and always will, but I think their needs to be an acknowledgement that the current plan isn't working and a change in course seems necessary.  -- John.

A: Actually, even in the era of the super-max contract, we might be experiencing more movement, when considering how Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and Paul George all changed teams last summer. But I do believe Heat Nation (oops), needs to dial back what you refer to as "this mess" or "no hope in sight." The Heat won 44 games this past season, made a three-game move up the standings and advanced to the playoffs. The same jump pushes them to 47 next season. I have seen dire days (see the response to the first question above) and this is neither a mess nor hopeless, but rather, at the moment, a rough patch. The Heat still have enough players, who, if they are at their best, can present a competitive threat.

May 19, 2018

Q: I know the dream is to add Kawhi Leonard this offseason, but would Andrew Wiggins be a more attainable option? -- William, Miami.

A: Or Karl-Anthony Towns. Or one of the Raptors' guards. Or perhaps Otto Porter. Or maybe CJ McCollum. That's the thing, with such limited free-agency money around the league this offseason, and with so many teams looking to reformulate in the wake of the dominance of the Warriors, Rockets and Cavaliers, and the impending further ascension of the Celtics and 76ers, plenty of teams will be looking to change things up. And that hardly makes it the worst time for the Heat to potentially put Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic into play. I believe you will see deals this summer that will trump last summer's deals of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Trade. Game. On.

Q: Hey, Ira. In reference to the readers that are bashing Pat Riley, they seem to be perfectly fine when he mortgaged the farm in order to win now, the Big Three and so forth. We all knew this tough period would eventually come. Riley's track record speaks for itself. He'll figure it all out. Where is the trust? -- Cal, Miami.

A: This is sports. There will always be expectations and limited patience. It is why Riley found himself out as Lakers coach after almost nothing but success and why Riley moved on from players such as P.J. Brown and Eddie Jones after they had done so much for the franchise. Again, put Riley on a lie detector, and he'd probably acknowledge that there have been more misses than hits in recent years. Yes, I agree it's cyclical. But there is nothing wrong about questioning a team amid a down cycle, especially when you're passionate enough about a team to care. It certainly beats apathy.

Q: Hassan Whiteside for the Knicks' No. 9 and Joakim Noah? Let's reunite David Fizdale and Hassan Whiteside. -- Jesse.

A: While there would be some annual savings, Noah's contract also has two seasons remaining. And Hassan's value is such at the moment that I'm not sure you could trade him for a Top 10 selection. Plus, would Erik Spoelstra's closest coaching confidant dare make such a move?

May 18, 2018

Q: I think that at this point, Gordon Hayward should be very worried with each win the Celtics accomplish. He doesn't have a position on this team anymore. He is the odd man out. His production right now is being done by Jayson Tatum, and Tatum is a lot more athletic than Hayward and better on both ends of the court.  I think they try to move Hayward to another team and pick up more draft picks (that's what I would do at least), which has worked wonderfully for them. -- Javier, Miami.

A: First, this series against the Cavaliers hardly is over yet. Then there is the matter of being good enough to win against the West, which is where 3-point shooting would be especially handy. But you do have to wonder about where Hayward would fit in with what the Celtics have unearthed in both Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Still, if you're hinting the Heat get back in that chase, it's not as if they possesses the types of picks Danny Ainge would covet (and I certainly would be careful dealing with fleecing Danny Ainge). The irony is that the Jazz thrived in Hayward's absence, the Celtics appear to be doing the same, and the 76ers series showed how much the Heat miss not having a player like Hayward.

Q: Why do you insist Tyler Johnson master point guard to be a starter in this league? He doesn't have to master point guard. He just has to master shooting guard. I don't know how you look at shooting guards such as shorter-than-Tyler Donovan Mitchell and continue suggesting Tyler master the point guard position because he's 6-4. You don't explicitly say it but you imply it. He can't. He has no elite ball handling or passing skills, nor is he even showing a glimpse that he can do it. But I don't know why you have this mindset that point guards should be 6-4 and under knowing we had Wade for 13 years to disprove that. Tyler is a bench player and never a point guard. He doesn't have it in him. Period. -- William.

A: You've sort of addressed the points I had been making. Mostly, if you don't see Tyler as a starter, then I'm not sure the positional delineation matters, anyway. As Pat Riley has said, position-less basketball is about the offensive end, but that you still need to match up defensively. My concern is more about Tyler matching up with physical shooting guards (which is about more than height). I would have no issue with casting Tyler at point guard alongside a bigger point guard who could defend opposing wings. So I guess it comes down to whether you believe the ship has sailed on attempting to cast Tyler as a point guard. And perhaps it has.

Q: Hi, Ira. I must say I have been disappointed in some Heat fans lately, especially the criticism of Pat Riley about not having draft picks, or that we should do like the 76ers and others that tank to get top draft picks. May I remind everyone that's how we were before Pat got here? We drafted Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, Glen Rice, Steve Smith and that got us to what eighth seed and out in the first round. It's not until Riley got here that he started to make trades for Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway that this team stated to advance deeper into the playoffs. So in my opinion let's just take it easy trust Pat, because to me it is better to compete every year to make the playoffs then to be waiting three to four years to "maybe" get a star in a draft -- Mariano, Newport News, Va.

A: Presented to meet our fair-and-balanced quota for the week.

May 17, 2018

Q: Hasn't Erik Spoelstra been clear since his original blueprint for position-less basketball, what type of basketball he wants to play, and what type of players he needs to support it? If that's a yes, then didn't the signing of Whiteside signal an internal lack of alignment between coach and front office? Couldn't/shouldn't the front office have shown discipline and not signed Whiteside, shown patience, and worked longer term to get the players Spo needed to play the modern game that Spo helped create? Isn't that in the best interests of the Heat as a franchise? -- Patrick, Coral Springs.

A: But the world also was a different place in July 2016. There still was a workable path to victory for a mainstream center. There also was a Heat roster devastated by the loss of LeBron James and illness of Chris Bosh. Beyond that, there also could have been hope that Whiteside could show the ability to morph into something closer to what Clint Capela has offered the Rockets, a big man with enough foot speed to defend opposing power forwards and enough basketball IQ to dominate as a roll man in the pick-and-roll. The irony is the Capela is about to get Whiteside money, with suitors to line up for him just as the Heat and other did for Whiteside. If Whiteside was Capela, the Heat probably wouldn't be in the place they are right now.

Q: Erik Spoelstra: "It's a different league now." Deandre Ayton is about to be a top pick. -- Lex.

A: And, as stated above, it's not as if the NBA is done with centers. First, Ayton has shown the ability to score from distance, but that was not Arizona's preferred style. Second, there are plenty of centers who thrive in the modern style, including Karl-Anthony Towns. If the Heat opt to move forward with Hassan Whiteside, then, if a willingness -- a true willingness -- is there from both sides, there certainly is the opportunity to update what Whiteside can offer.

Q: Without any legit core of stars and no top draft picks, has Pat Riley hurt the Heat's future in the long run as a result of his hubris? I love Pat, but maybe this time he’s in the wrong. -- John.

A: I don't think "hubris" is the right word. I do think "culture" could be part of it, though. What I mean by that is how often the Heat and Riley and Erik Spoelstra talk about how the Heat approach is not for everybody. There is a specific way of doing things and either you're in or you're out. It is an approach that largely has appealed to players in the margin, many who have resurrected their careers (and bank accounts) with a complete buy in. But in 2018, perhaps it is time to accept that there are other ways, ways that would make it easier to accommodate rookies, ways that might get a larger pool of free-agent interest. You certainly cannot, in any way, argue against the overall body of work during Riley's tenure. But just as teams often break seasons into 20-game segments to judge growth, the Heat's most recent segments, in terms of years, hardly have been overwhelming. Spoelstra has changed his offense to accommodate the need for 3-point shooting. He has altered his defense to play to the strengths of Hassan Whiteside. Perhaps this is a summer there also is an organizational rethink, with this somewhat of a gap year, anyway, without a draft pick or cap space.

May 16, 2018

Q: Ira, could you see the Heat trading into the lottery? -- Max.

A: I believe there would have been a better chance if a win-now team had jumped up the order, which was not the case with teams such as the Celtics, 76ers, Pistons, Cavaliers or even Clippers.  As it is, the teams at the top of the draft order are teams still building or rebuilding. I'm not sure there would be a veteran-for-pick trade available ahead of Cleveland at No. 8. Remember, though most such trades would involve the Heat taking back salary, in some cases bad salaries. I'm not sure in this draft, where the top tier is three deep, that such a move would either be necessary or prudent for the Heat. And I'm not sure that Erik Spoelstra confidant David Fizdale, at No. 9, will be calling the Heat to deal for Hassan Whiteside.

Q: Is this really the ceiling for this squad, to be a mid-average team that dangles between being an eight seed or missing the playoffs entirely? -- Trevin, Miami.

A: It is if Hassan Whiteside plays (or is utilized) as nothing more than an average player. There are not many, if any, positions where the Heat going into game working at a position of strength. The Heat difference had been thought to be in the middle. And then is wasn't. That is why there is the conjecture about the need to add someone who could be what the Heat perhaps thought Whiteside could be -- a difference maker in the lineup.

Q: If Pat Riley & Company aren't able to pull off some trades this offseason and the fans are left with no hope beyond mediocrity for another season, will there be a push from the fans for a changing of the guard? -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: Don't take this the wrong way, but it really doesn't matter what the fans push for, it's about what ownership pushes for. And, to this point, I cannot remember the last time Micky Arison or Nick Arison have injected themselves into the conversation. So that means, at the moment, that the ultimate voice remains Pat Riley's. I do believe, however, that could change if the front office can't cook up something at least perceived as a roster upgrade this summer. So, to a degree, I guess that could have the front office on the clock.

May 15, 2018

Q: Hi, Ira. I don't see this roster as being at all a good fit for Erik Spoelstra's defense-first concepts. There are too many players who are defensively very limited, either by being too small (Tyler Johnson), slow (Kelly Olynyk), old (Dwyane Wade), foul-prone (Hassan Whiteside), or just much better fitted for offense than defense (Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington). It's not those other players' faults that they're small, slow, old, etc. It's not lack of player effort or failure to buy into Heat/Spoelstra culture that keeps the players from transcending those physical limitations. It's also not a coaching staff failure. Take this as a defense of Spoelstra for not having been given the tools to do things his way. Or as an indictment of Spoelstra for being too inflexible about trying to force ill-fitting players into a system they're unsuited for, as opposed to being more open to utilizing different approaches with different rosters, as Pat Riley himself did as coach of the Showtime Lakers, the lunch-pail Knicks, and the more balanced Heat. Or take it as an indictment of the front office that paired a defensive coach with too many players who don't fit into his system. -- Patrick, Miami.

A: I found it interesting throughout the season that a franchise that has emphasized length during its scouting essentially wound up undersized in its primary starting lineup at three positions beyond center and point guard. Granted, injuries played a part in that, but it was an approach in stark contrast to the switchability we saw from the Celtics against the Cavaliers in Game 1, or even the approach the Rockets utilize in the West. It is why I'm not sure that Tyler Johnson can be a starter in this league if he does not master point guard and why it is somewhat unfair to Josh Richardson to cast him at small forward. Of course a lot can be offset if Hassan Whiteside is at the top of his game in cleaning up mistakes, but this simply was not that type of season for him, with plenty of work left on his positional defense. As for fault? To me a lot of that had to do with  the trust put in Whiteside and James Johnson as opposed to the payoff. Sometimes the players have to be better. No, it was nowhere close to a season at the Heat's defensive standards.  

Q: Ira, I think that with Bam Adebayo's athleticism he can develop into a power forward like Serge Ibaka, if given the chance.  I can see a power line up like Toronto with Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas (Hassan Whiteside and Bam). Right now the Heat’s starting lineup is too small, so I would use James Johnson as the second forward.  Your thoughts? -- Joel.

A: And yet it was that type of lineup that even Toronto came to realize didn't work in the playoffs. I doubt you will see many, if any, teams move forward with two such big men in alignments. It is why the Heat had so much trouble finding minutes this past season for Whiteside, Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. As for James Johnson at small forward, I had initially thought that might have been the approach when he arrived, but teams often went so small that he was left exposed on the wing. At times, it feels as if this roster was cobbled together from leftover pieces, rather than pieced together by design.

Q: Now that the season has ended I think we all can agree that, yeah, James Johnson came around the last month. But for most of the season, he looked like a guy who was satisfied with his payday and not in very good shape. -- Douglas.

A: Simply put, James Johnson has to be better and more consistent than he was this past season. For all the talk about the contracts of Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson, the deal that may lead to the most second guessing could be that of James Johnson.

May 14, 2018

Q: I'm not giving up on Hassan Whiteside, even though he really doesn't fit into Erik Spoelstra's offense. Hopefully Spoelstra won't be so stubborn, but rather play to Whiteside’s strength. -- Joel.

A: To me, as we wait for the "intervention" that is never going to happen (or the trade that might happen), this is the simplest of all Heat offseason decisions. Pat Riley asks (if he hasn't already) Erik Spoelstra if he intends to play Hassan the 30 minutes a game that Riley said he would prefer. If Spoelstra, and this is where candor is essential, says no, then at least the front office knows where it stands with player and coach and can move forward accordingly.

Q: Since Goran Dragic is a good player, not a great one, what type of value would the Heat get back for him if they traded him? -- Trevin, Miami

A: You always want to sell high. And considering that it was Eastern Conference coaches who selected him as an All-Star Game reserve, there must be some perceived value from teams. Unless you believe the Heat are a season or two away from true contention, then I believe it would behoove the Heat to see what the market is among teams who could take a more win-now approach with Goran. While I appreciate the perspective that players best thrive with a true playmaker running the offense, I'm not sure Goran truly ever has been afforded that opportunity, anyway, with Dwyane Wade, James Johnson or Justise Winslow alongside, let alone Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson.

Q: Does Pat Riley look down on draft picks because he and his administration are just so bad at the draft? -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: He looks down upon them because they've tended to not be win-now prospects from where he often has drafted them. I actually disagree about his draft evaluators, who have been able to mine young talent from deep in the draft and beyond. I believe where Riley has gotten into trouble has been drafting the "chalk," players such as Michael Beasley, Justise Winslow, Shabazz Napier, whom the consensus decided had to be taken at the Heat's draft slots. Then, when the Heat have drafted later, they've tended to rely more on the scouting input, such as the Bam Adebayo selection and their second-round picks.

May 13, 2018

Q: Hello, Ira. So it seems that we'll have to endure another season of blowing huge leads and losing to the worst teams in the NBA, another season with no in-game, in-the-moment adjustments, another season of the defense will take care of the offense so we don’t need to run or practice elite NBA offensive schemes, another season where the Xs & Os don’t matter much because all we need is player effort. And all because Erik Spoelstra, for whatever reason, can do no wrong. Year after year some of us long-time fans of the NBA and of the Heat keep asking how come Spo never gets criticized? This, when other NBA coaches are held to higher standards. -- Javier, Doral.

A:  OK, I'll relent. (As could be expected in the wake of what was perceived by most as a disappointing finish to the Heat's season, the mailbag has been flooded with such suggestions. So I'll try to address most of the queries with this response.) Here's why I've mostly stayed away from responding: Practically this entire roster is built on Erik Spoelstra's concepts, that these players work for this team because they work in Spoelstra's system. Take away Spoelstra's approach (whether you agree or disagree, as is the right of any fan), and you suddenly have a roster that largely would leave you asking how any of this fits. Beyond that, it is difficult to envision this franchise moving toward anyone who isn't a Pat Riley acolyte as long as Riley is around. So, to me, coaching change (not that I am in any way suggesting such) would most logically come at the point when you are ready to blow up the roster and move on from the Riley tenets of Heat Culture and Heat Nation and all the other dogma that has defined the operation for these past 20-plus years. That would have to come from the Arison level. And that doesn't seem any time soon. That is why I've steered from such speculation, for the same reasons why I don't address questions of the Heat trading for James Harden, Steph Curry or Anthony Davis. I just don't see the point or need. Put it this way, if the Raptors were run by Riley/Arisons and not by a hockey-based business model, I believe Dwane Casey would still be coach in Toronto.

Q: Ira, the Miami Heat have publicly stated they want Wayne Ellington to return. I have always wondered why Wayne Ellington didn't start (he could blow a game open in the first quarter) and why not have and play two or three more Wayne Ellington types on the team.  The way the game is played, it seems like that might have made the game easier for Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside this season. -- Stuart.

A: Mostly because of the team's commitment to the defensive end, as evidenced by the way Wayne got picked apart on pin-downs during the series against the 76ers. In a perfect world, you would want a 3-point shooter who also could defend. But there are only so many Klay Thompsons available. As for starting Ellington, poor starts were rarely an issue for the Heat. I will, however, agree that you need 3-point shooters who come with built-in respect, that remain the focus of the defense, such as Ellington. For all the streakiness of Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson or even, now, Justise Winslow, it's not as if defenses are fearing such shots to the degree or altering their defense. As it is, finding time for Wayne could become an issue with the return of Dion Waiters.

Q: If LeBron James stays in the East, doesn't it behoove the Heat to wait on any rebuild until he is gone? -- Jason.

A: Not necessary, because for as much as LeBron and the Cavaliers still have in the tank, the ultimate target team in the East could become the Celtics, with Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and the oodles of draft picks they still possess. That figures to stand as the ultimate Eastern riddle for years to come.

May 12, 2018

Q: Pat Riley said he wants to keep the core together. While that sounds good to us Heat fans, I wonder, realistically speaking, can this core contend for a title in the future? What made South Beach so appealing to Shaquille O'Neal, and later on the Big Three, was Dwyane Wade. I don't believe we have any such caliber players. -- Faisal.

A: Two responses here: First, there is no "core." You only have a core when you have the featured talent that you can build around. With the fall of Hassan Whiteside, the Heat do not have a leading man. Think of it as a solar system needing a sun to gravitate around. Right now, just about everything remains out of alignment in the Heat's universe. As for needing a star to begin to build around, that only is the case in free agency, which the Heat will not be part of, lacking anything in the way of salary-cap space. Because they will have to operate on the trade market, it is not a matter of enticing a newcomer with what is in place. The danger there is trading for a star talent near the end of his contract and then having him eventually walk away because of the lack of complementary star talent. In a perfect world, the Heat would trade for a leading man this summer, then get back in the space race in the 2019 or '20 offseason and use the previously acquired star talent. I wasn't much for astronomy, but I hope you get the gist.

Q: What are the Heat going to do with the loaded backcourt we have? I know this team would love to re-sign Wayne Ellington. However, assuming no one gets traded, this team will have Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and a returning Dion Waiters under contract. There aren’t enough minutes for everyone. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: No, there aren't. So it could be a case of having to sit Tyler Johnson and accept the reality of little payoff to that contract, or trading away someone who could fetch value for a scoring wing. That is why I continue to believe that Goran Dragic could be put in play this offseason, through absolutely no fault of his own. He still could hold value to a win-now team, a designation that does not apply to the Heat at the moment.

Q: As a fan, I was more intrigued in courting elite free agents every summer than capping out on mediocre players that get bounced in the first round. Pat Riley preached flexibility for a few years and then ultimately broke the bank for journeymen. I will never understand that decision. -- Kyle.

A: Such are the dangers of living in the moment. In many cases, that is why teams prefer to have the coach also not be in charge of personnel. The difference for the Heat last summer was the unusual contract of Tyler Johnson that made working on a year-by-year basis almost impossible. Now we'll see which of the Heat's "tradeable assets" are actually tradeable assets.

May 11, 2018

Q: Ira, the Heat need an upgrade at point guard. I love Goran Dragic's toughness, attitude and dedication, but he is not the type of point guard than can run a halfcourt offense in today's NBA. Too often he dribbles with his head down and has a hard time creating his own shot against tough defenders unless he's on the fast break. He also struggles getting the big men (hello, Hassan Whiteside) involved offensively. I think this summer the backcourt thinning starts by getting what we can for Goran. What do you think? -- Donald, Pembroke Pines.

A: If there is a Dragic deal, I'm not sure it necessarily will be for a replacement point guard. With Tyler Johnson so undersized, the Heat likely will revisit playing him at point guard. Plus, with so many facilitators -- including James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters (or even Dwyane Wade) -- we potentially could see Josh Richardson open alongside Waiters at point guard. Cap relief and draft-pick replenishment could be the ultimate end game with Dragic, if there is such a move.

Q: Jordan Mickey filled out Erik Spoelstra's small-center approach so well. Also, signing Derrick Jones Jr. to fill out the roster would still leave one or two spots open to ease with the tax. The train has officially left the AmericanAirlines Arena station. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: And that train will only be picking up steam, with teams allowed to trade once their seasons are over, with the 76ers, Raptors, Jazz and Pelicans the most recent teams to join that group. The only teams unable to trade at the moment are on the ones in the conference finals. It certainly could be possible to bring back Mickey, especially if Udonis Haslem retires. Nick Collison, who entered the league in Haslem's rookie class, retired Thursday, so perhaps that will lead Haslem to reflection of his own. And I agree that making a qualifying offer to Derrick Jones Jr. and perhaps moving him to a standard contract is intriguing. Then there is the free agency of Wayne Ellington and the luxury-tax implications. In other words, with so many moving parts, it makes sense for the Heat to maintain roster flexibility at the moment. I am anticipating a robust personnel offseason for the Heat, even in the void of cap space.

Q: Ira, "upside" is talk of the future. The current Celtics team without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward is not significantly better than the Heat team. But, clearly, the coaching staff is. Spoelstra needs to do some major soul searching on his schemes and rotations instead of using Hassan Whiteside as the scapegoat. -- Marc, Grand Prairie, Texas.

A: First, nothing in Erik Spoelstra's postseason comments made Hassan a scapegoat. To your greater point, while I disagree about your assessment of Boston's current talent level (when factoring in Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart), I can guarantee you that Erik routinely goes through soul searching and introspection at the end of every season. I can't remember the last time he didn’t return with a revised approach. But first he has to know what his roster will be.

May 10, 2018

Q: If Pat Riley can't pull off stealing a disgruntled "whale" for little in return, is this the year for a quick one-off "process" (i.e. tanking for a lotto pick)? Hassan Whiteside and one of the Johnsons (with Goran Dragic as a sweetener) can likely be offloaded for some expiring contracts. Plus, the Heat hold their own draft pick in 2019. This feels a bit like the situation where the Heat tanked into the No. 2 pick soon after their Shaquille O'Neal/Dwyane Wade 2006 championship, bumbling it with the pick of Michael Beasley over Russell Westbrook or Kevin Love in 2008. Then, the 2019-20 Heat, with a high lottery pick, cap space for at least one max player, a few promising young players (Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo), plus some quality role players (Kelly Olynyk), would be pretty attractive for a max player looking to seriously contend in the East. Without the infusion of a high lottery pick's potential and a max player, there's not a realistic path to contention with this team -- David, Plantation.

A: I'm not sure it will be as easily to offload some of the contracts, as you suggest, but that's another story for another day. As for your premise, the problem is that it essentially "pollutes" the developmental process. How can you emphasize a winning culture with future pieces such as Winslow, Richardson, Adebayo and perhaps even Dion Waiters, while also no longer making the main thing the main thing? That's why teams that tank tend to blow it all up. There might be too much in place to go scorched earth for Pat Riley. The lesson of the lottery, even for the Heat in 2008, is that if you are going to play the lottery game, then you have to play it to the max. The No. 8 pick rarely gets you out of a cycle of mediocrity.

Q: With Dion Waiters returning from injury,and the Heat having a crowded backcourt, does that leave Dwyane Wade as the odd man out if he does not retire? -- Trevin, Miami.

A: That simply won't happen, which is why if Dwyane returns, I suspect that decision will come later rather than sooner. The Heat are in no position to deny Dwyane playing time, and Dwyane assuredly would not return in the type of role that Udonis Haslem filled this past season. So either the backcourt will be thinned, or an era will end. Any other approach would come off as offensive to an icon. And Dwyane would never return if the approach is the one suggested in the question above. He's already been there, suffered through that.

Q: Do the Heat need to break out of this mold of the players that they target? They are always looking for a defensive-oriented players. I understand that this is a Pat Riley-run franchise, but break the mold. It's not working in today's NBA. After next year, draft offensive-oriented players, ones that the main strength is buckets. We know how to teach defense, evidenced by our player-development programs, and we have defensive principles. Let's change our philosophy a bit. -- Ron, Plantation.

A: Agreed. Even this season, the Heat rounded out many lineups with stoppers as opposed to scorers. I believe that is what made the Kelly Olynyk experiment so refreshing.

May 9, 2018

Q: Hi, Ira. With a bunch of East teams (namely Toronto, Washington, Milwaukee) being continued underachievers, I think it makes a bunch of sense if you throw Miami in the mix and all four do a bit of swap-and-sell in some way. You know the line, "One man's trash is another's treasure." Each team could get rid of an unfavorable deal in exchange for another, or, in Toronto's case, just blow it up because they're never beating LeBron James as is. I think some of the unfavorable deals on other teams like Serge Ibaka, Matthew Dellavedova, Jonas Valanciunas could fit well on Miami. Same for Hassan Whiteside, where another coach might be able to get him to go. Daniel, Sydney, Australia.

A: Your logic is sound, but I believe much of this could be put on hold for a single reason: We're still not sure, and likely won't be sure, of where LeBron James is going until after the playoffs, and likely even longer than that. If he remains in Cleveland, then your logic is sound. However, if he moves on to a Western Conference team while seeking a new challenge, then teams might not be as likely to overhaul until they see what the challenge of the Gordon Hayward-infused Celtics will be like. Your premise, though, is sound. With so much disappointment around the Eastern Conference and with so few salary-cap dollars available around the league in free agency, this could prove to be the ultimate trade market this summer. And while I can't be as certain with other teams, I believe the Heat would appreciate nothing more than the opportunity to wheel and deal.

Q: I'm sorry, but I am not for trading away these players yet. I think this team is very capable and a healthy Dion Waiters makes a huge difference. We need a superstar, I agree. But we need to give these players a chance to find that superstar. I believe a superstar is currently on the roster. I still remember the Hassan Whiteside from game one this year. Even though we lost that game, Hassan was a beast and I do believe that injury really changed his season. Let's fix the problems from within and move forward to see what the next couple of years can bring. -- John.

A: But you do that only if you believe there is a superstar-in-wait on your roster. Two teams already have given up on Dion Waiters, with that also being the case with Hassan Whiteside. Even more have given up on James Johnson. Rarely do pass-around players emerge to that level, unless you believe Chauncey Billups falls into that category. So your premise only holds up if you believe Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo or Tyler Johnson have such upside. If you do, then you certainly must drink only from glasses half full. I believe Pat Riley and his staff have to take a less intoxicated view.

Q: I really do not see that this Boston team minus Kyrie Irving is all that different than the current Heat team. This Boston and Philly series is really exposing our coaching staff, especially Erik Spoelstra. -- Gio, Miami.

A: Al Horford would be the best player on the current Heat roster, particularly the way he has played lately. Jayon Tatum has more upside than any of the Heat's young players, with arguments able to be made about Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. And Marcus Smart might fit the Heat mold more than some of the Heat's current players. So I respectfully disagree regarding your sentiment about Boston's roster.

May 8, 2018

Q: Ira, I know Pat Riley likes to live in the moment. But I don’t see any way out of this (roster). We just have to suck it up for the next two years until Hassan Whiteside's, Goran Dragic's and Tyler Johnson's contracts expire. By then, we should have more flexibility with the payroll and we can bring in a leading man. Until then, we should just focus on developing the young talent that we have (Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo), hopefully a decent draft pick (2019, ’20), and find out if the Derricks (Jones, Walton) can be solid rotation players. And for now, just enjoy a scrappy fun team that plays hard. Patience is the biggest thing we need now, from Riley and the fans. What say you? -- Yunasi, Miami Beach.

A: I say there is no way that Pat Riley or the Heat, as an organization, simply forfeit two seasons of contention. Now, that does not mean that they do not necessarily believe they cannot contend with the group as is. In fact, a lot of what the Heat do next, if they're patient, could come down to what Dion Waiters looks like coming off his ankle surgery. But I do not believe there are plans for a pair of "developmental" seasons. That simply has never been the Heat or Riley way. Now one season of biding time? Perhaps that is possible, if the Heat can trade out on the final years of some of those deals.

Q: Where will the necessary motivation to improve come from especially for next season's two highest-paid players, Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson (both of whom without question regressed this past season)? -- Michael, North Miami Beach.

A: Pride.  And if it doesn't come from there, then you've made more than a financial mistake. I don't believe that either has regressed due to their contracts or financial motivation. But that becomes the problem with any extended contract, that the growth -- physically, emotionally, developmentally -- ceases and you are left with a depreciating asset. I'm not sure the Heat are there yet with either. At least they hope not.

Q: Why should Erik Spoelstra be accountable for the poor performance of Hassan Whiteside? It is his prerogative to field a lineup that he feels will win. Past Riley, himself, admitted that Whiteside was not mentally prepared? The player is the problem. -- Rey.

A: The situation is the problem. Yes, there are very real questions with Hassan that have to be sorted out. But I am not willing to go as far to consider that it was Whiteside, alone, who created what has come off as toxic. If you win or lose as a team, you also should solve problems as a team. So far, crickets.

May 7, 2018

Q: You suggest that the Heat doesn't have a potential star player, that anyone on this roster is expendable, but I don't agree. Josh Richardson's age-24 season compares favorably to Jimmy Butler's. Josh showed that he can score from all three levels at different points this season, and we all know he's a terrific defender. Josh did his damage with a crowded wing rotation, as well. If given the opportunity, perhaps he would've been even more impressive statistically. I remember Justise's first season, when people were comparing him to Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. Today, the guy's still only 21, and he has had just two years of growth in the NBA. Draymond Green, a favorite Winslow comparison these days, didn't have his first productive season until he was 24. Winslow, at this age, is better than Draymond was at the same age. Yet, people seem to think Justise has no value. The fact that he improved his outside shooting shows that he has the drive and self-awareness to improve his weaknesses. He can still defend, rebound, and distribute, and he has plenty of time to improve in those areas, as well. His biggest limitation is an apparent lack of athleticism, but James Harden was knocked for the same reason at one point. The thing is, if these young players aren't given the chance to blossom into stardom, they'll only ever be role players. Josh admitted that he deferred to D-Wade, for instance, instead of being aggressive toward the end of the season. I'd like to point out that Harden got an opportunity to blossom with more playing time and a chance to lead a team (instead of playing third or fourth fiddle), Kawhi Leonard got an opportunity to blossom on a team that had Tim Duncan with one foot out of the door, and so on. Let these young guys have a chance to show what they can contribute, as your lead players, before giving them away as mere trade sweeteners. Development is real, and both of the Heat's young wings still have plenty of time to develop. Be patient, and maybe you'll have two stars, without having to give anything up. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: First, it is refreshing to receive this type of cogent, well-constructed analysis. Thank you. And I agree that while upside is difficult to project, steady improvement delivers hope. I'm not sure I'm ready to go to Draymond, Harden, Kawhi with some of your comparisons. And even those players all needed as-good or better players to succeed. So even if what you see as possible is possible, there still is the need for more on the roster.

Q: Ira, why does it seem like there is almost a desperation to trade Tyler Johnson and his soon-to-be ballooning contract? Tyler is hardly our worst contract. In fact, $19 million for TJ looks like a downright bargain next to $24 million for Hassan Whiteside -- Adam, Boynton Beach.

A: Which is why you're hearing plenty of Whiteside chatter, as well. It's not any single contract. Every team seemingly has a contract that they have to work around. The concern (I'm not sure that "problem" isn't too harsh a term) for the Heat is that it not only is the $25.4 million due next season to Hassan or the $19.2 million due to Tyler, it's also owing $14.7 million next season to James Johnson and $18 million to Goran Dragic. Even having two such contracts could be manageable. Having four is what makes it a talking point.

Q: Would someone please say it? If LeBron James had played this hard with the Heat, they would have won four straight championships. -- Eliot.

A: He did. And always has played as hard as needed. But he also knew he had Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade alongside and never felt as compelled then as he is now to carry a team. In retrospect, you could argue that a Big Two might have been better off than a Big Three (as he has had these past two games with Kevin Love). But the East was never as weak during LeBron's Heat days as it is now. What the Pacers and Celtics offered the Heat was far more challenging than what the Raptors are offering in this round and what the depleted Celtics likely will offer in the next. In many ways, this is right time, right place for all-the-time LeBron (and please check out the SNL skit on the rest of the Cavaliers players, to put it all into needed perspective).

May 6, 2018

Q: Dion Waiters, Dwayne Wade, Pat Riley, and Erik Spoelstra (and others) have all given their comments on Hassan Whiteside after the season. And I am sure everyone means well and has terrific intent to help Hassan. Why couldn't this have all been worked out during the season and behind closed doors? What was the point of having this play out in public? Has anything been accomplished, other than a more agitated fan base? Whiteside seemed so integrated with his teammates after the 2016-17 season. -- Stuart.

A: For the most part it had died down after the season. Spoelstra first addressed the media on the day his players cleaned out their lockers and spoke of how much he enjoyed coaching Whiteside and how the media had created an exaggerated story line. Hassan then bypassed his opportunity to meet with the media. And that was that for the weekend. And then Riley addressed everything from Whiteside not being right for the postseason, how he would have sat Hassan in the playoffs, as well, but also of how he needed to get Spoelstra and Whiteside back on the same page. So it is an issue, and when Dion Waiters was asked about it on ESPN, there was no dodging it. Basically we now have both Dion and Dwyane Wade (in his postgame comments in Philadelphia) saying Hassan should have handled the situation differently. (So does that make them witnesses for the defense in Riley's intervention?)

Q: It seems like the Heat have an opportunity this summer to make trades with teams who are quick to make changes, because of early playoff exits. Wouldn’t you agree there are more teams this time around then last year? Trail Blazers, Wizards, Bucks and Timberwolves, maybe even Raptors pretty soon. -- Larry, Hollywood.

A: Totally agree. But it also comes down to how attractive the Heat's assets are perceived. What makes it more difficult this time of year, though, is the lack of a first-round draft pick to put into play. It also depends on what salary-cap year the trades come. For example, Tyler Johnson goes out at a far lower price before June 30. But after July 1, the Heat would have a larger salary to put into play, perhaps for another team's overpriced player. Once you get down to the NBA's final four, the conference finals, that's when I believe the trade discussions head into overdrive.

Q: What do you think about trading Hassan Whiteside for DeMarcus Cousins if we can find a third team to take Whiteside? Let's say we have to throw in either Tyler Johnson or Dion Waiters. -- Shawn, Centreville, Pa.

A: You would likely have to throw in something other than a bloating contract or player coming off surgery in order to get a team involved in such a permutation, including what the Pelicans would get out of facilitating a sign-and-trade (let alone the hard-cap implications). Such a deal for the Heat likely would have to be a Whiteside-plus-two swap, with a sweetener to both New Orleans and the team that takes Hassan. Plus, is committing max money to a player coming off a torn Achilles in the Heat's best interests, especially in the wake of some questionable recent big-money moves?

May 5, 2018

Q: Watching Boston dismantle "The Process" without their two best players really makes me question our coaching. I know Brad Stevens is probably as good as it gets, but am I wrong to feel even more disappointed in how our series played out after watching the first two Boston games? Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid seem very ordinary now -- Andy, Seattle.

A: Coaching is, without question, a factor, with Brad Stevens among the most respected in the NBA, if not the most respected. But talent also matters. To me, having watched the 76ers in each round, it also could be as simple as this: Philadelphia is more talented than the Heat, and the Celtics (even this shorthanded) are more talented than the 76ers. Sometimes Al Horford gets overlooked, and the Celtics' talent, while young, also is versatile in a two-way fashion, when factoring in Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown and Terry Rozier. I don't believe Brett Brown suddenly became less of a coach. But Boston, with several players who have been through previous playoffs, including Marcus Smart, might simply have too much to offer in response. When you get down to it, who actually consistently played well for the Heat in the first round? Still waiting.

Q: Disagree or your "backburner" comment on Justise Winslow's extension deadline. It should be front and center, if for no other reason than it enhances his trade value. -- Skip, Tampa

A: Disagree, respectfully. If I was a trade partner, I would rather have the ability to set the terms of an extension on my own, rather than deal for a player with an extension already in hand (with cap limitations then also in place). I don't see the Heat moving with any haste, and still believe the most likely outcome is allowing Justise to become a restricted free agent next summer, when the Heat will have more of a growth sample than just the final weeks of this past season and the playoff series against the 76ers.

Q: Did the Heat blow it by not moving Erik Spoelstra to the front office and hiring David Fizdale before he was scooped up by the Knicks? The Knicks! -- Tim.

A: No, because no matter how you perceive what Spoelstra did this season, the decision to remain as coach should, of course, remain his. And if he is not ready to move upstairs -- or if the Heat do not have a place for him in the front office -- then you don't create moves just to bring back a respected former assistant coach. After what happened in Memphis, it probably is best for Fizdale to instead spread his wings beyond the cocoon of the Heat, put his own stamp on his coaching career, one not polluted by the culture of the Grizzlies.

May 4, 2018

Q: We have been conducting free-agent visits and signings to try and capture some face from the LeBron James departure from four summers ago. It's painfully obvious the Hassan Whiteside signing was a reach and ignoring the draft (not dumping salaries and collecting picks) a huge mistake. It's time to have an intervention for Pat Riley. -- Marcus.

A: It's always interesting how Pat Riley's postseason wrap-ups tend to produce a word of the hour, with this time the result being his suggestion of an "intervention" between Erik Spoelstra and Hassan Whiteside. But I believe it is more. I believe what needs to happen -- and something that likely happens, anyway -- is something closer to an arbitration. By that, I mean that the sum total of conciliation for the Heat is not merely a factor of getting Spoelstra and Whiteside on the same page. That is overstated for this reason: the coach is charged to make the final decisions, so it can never be a 50-50 partnership with the player (unless, of course, the player is LeBron James -- then it is 80-20 the other way -- but I digress). What this has to be is getting everyone from the coaching and management side together and decide where this is going -- next season, the next three seasons, the next five seasons -- and then go from there. This is a lot bigger than what to do with Hassan. This also is someone stepping up to take the long view, aware that Riley so prefers to live in the moment.

Q: Hello, Ira. Watching the success of the Rockets the last few seasons and just wonder why the Heat don't try use Hassan Whiteside similar to how the Rockets utilize Clint Capella's skill set around the basket. -- Mike, Dallas.

A: For the same reason they don't use Hassan the same way the Jazz utilize Rudy Gobert -- because that would have to include a buy-in from Hassan. In both those cases, there is little to nothing scripted for the big men. Simply run hard, screen hard, cut hard and attack the glass. I spoke to a scout Thursday who told me the Jazz basically just call a single after-timeout play a game for Gobert, but that is essentially the limit of their play calling for their big man. Basically, post-driven big men get their points these days through hustle, an avenue always open to Hassan.

Q: I would say our core players are Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington. Would you agree? -- Greg, Miami.

A: I would not. Those are complementary players. The Heat have no core players. That is the problem. There is not a single irreplaceable player on this roster. That's why no one is untouchable.

May 3, 2018

Q: The Heat need to unload their big contracts. Any chance the Heat could trade Dragic to the Suns and recoup some of what they lost the first time? They just hired his coach from Slovenia and that could lessen the blow to him when he is traded. Win-Win. -- Karl, Aventura.

A: Not going to lie, that is among the first things that I thought about after seeing Phoenix sign Slovenian national-team coach Igor Kokoskov, the current Jazz assistant. But for as much as the Suns might embrace such a reunion from an emotional standpoint, I'm not sure that a 31-year-old point guard is in the franchise's best interests. And yet, if the Heat can regain their unprotected 2021 first-round pick dealt for Dragic, it would almost seem like a three-year rental of Dragic represented enough service time for the No. 16 pick the Heat are forwarding to the Suns in this year's draft. Perhaps the Suns might be more prone to consider such a deal if they wind up with Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic as the result of the lottery.

Q: Every year Miami takes a step forward to get better. The problem is the competition is taking three steps forward. What do you think? --Carl, Kapaa, Hawaii.

A: I think you are spot on to the degree that not only do I believe it will be difficult for the Heat to move further up the standings next season, but I'm not sold that they even can make it back to the No. 6 seed. We know that the Celtics are 76ers are on the rise, both with major opportunities for further upgrades. Toronto and Indiana are positioned to at least contend for playoff homecourt. And as long as LeBron James is around, the Cavaliers aren't going anywhere. Milwaukee essentially conceded No. 6 to the Heat this season. Beyond that, the Pistons will have a full season of Blake Griffin, with the Wizards still a viable playoff contender. Unless it is continued growth from Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow, I'm just not sure how much internal growth is possible for the Heat. Erik Spoelstra may again have to try to squeeze water from a stone

Q: We need our own "process" intervention. -- George, Opa-locka.

A: By the 76ers' definition, that is at least a three-year approach, which the Heat are not positioned for, with their unprotected 2021 first-round pick due to the 76ers as the result of the Goran Dragic trade. So, at best, the Heat could play for the lottery for 2019 and '20 -- which they will not do as long as Pat Riley is around. No, as shown with the above response, the best could be again working for a second-tier playoff berth and then hoping for the right opening-round matchup, which certainly wasn't the case this season. In retrospect, the Celtics or even Raptors would have been better starting points.

May 2, 2018

Q: Ira, could Pat Riley slow play this, hope Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic opt out in a year and then start rebuilding with their cap space and 2019 first-rounder? -- Karl.

A: I might be proven wrong if Whiteside can be re-established this coming season, but at the moment I see very little chance he would opt out of his $27 million for 2019-20. Similarly, I'm not sure that Dragic, who will be 32 when he has to decide on his 2019-20 option next spring, will be so fast to opt out of his $19.2 million for that season. (And I'm even more sure that Tyler Johnson will not be invoking his opt out for his $19.2 million in 2019-20). So, yes, the road to cap space a year from now could be as simple as those three dominoes falling. Only those dominoes aren't likely to be falling. That is why Heat cap space appears to be a dream deferred.

Q: Ira, Pat Riley saying he needs to intervene between Erik Spoelstra and Hassan Whiteside is a vote of confidence to a fan like me who has been saying for the longest time that there is a problem between these two and has never received an answer. There is something not right at all between these two and it is time to stop sweeping it under the rug and let the truth be told. -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: But the offseason also is a time when all involved can offer lip service. If Pat Riley truly believes, and perhaps even insists, that Whiteside is at least a 30-minute player, then Part II of the equation becomes what becomes of Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and their right to earn minutes? And if Riley says the minutes only go to Whiteside if he is productive, then what exactly becomes the metric to take measure of that? Over the years, Erik Spoelstra has gone out of his way to create styles that maximize LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and so many other. But is there one to do the same with Whiteside? And if Spoelstra can't find it, does that mean Riley should? In many ways, that is why it also would be prudent to hold off on any intervention until a final determination has been made on the viability of a Whiteside trade.

Q: When Pat Riley had those piercing comments in what we know now as LeBron James' last season with us, I thought he was wrong. I immediately thought that those comments could do nothing but wedge a wider gap between LeBron and our organization. I had that same feeling hearing Pat Riley speak about Hassan Whiteside. I think coming out and telling the world that Hassan was not mentally ready for the playoffs was wrong. It's one thing to say that a player needs to improve his game, it's another to talk about his mental state to the world. Especially when it was clear this season that half of that blame should be shouldered by Erik Spoelstra. We all respect Pat, it seems to me that he is the one that needs to change. More than Hassan has to change. -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

A: The thing with LeBron is that he was an impending free agent, with Riley basically putting up a Hail Mary with his challenge. The Heat already had fined Hassan, so why up the ante in such fashion? So if Whiteside works hard, plays hard and arrives in the proper mental and physical state, does that mean he is assured minutes no matter the playing style, rhythm of game, opposing lineup? That seemingly was the proposition offered by Riley.

May 1, 2018

Q: Erik Spoelstra is not going anywhere. But it doesn't sound like Pat Riley sure gave Erik Spoelstra a ringing endorsement when it came to his handling of Hassan Whiteside this season. And with Spoelstra's ringing endorsement of Kelly Olynyk the other day, a realist would say, I don't see how the Whiteside-Spoelstra relationship improves. Hope I am wrong. -- Stuart.

A: Of all the takeaways from Monday's session with Pat Riley at AmericanAirlines Arena, the comments about the need for an intervention between Erik Spoelstra and Hassan Whiteside was a bit surprising for a team known for keeping disagreements in house. But this time Riley said that, yes, something was wrong in the Spoelstra-Whiteside relationship, without assessing blame. Even that was surprising, that there wasn't a clear vote of confidence for Spoelstra's handling of the situation. If this wasn't the Heat, if this wasn't Riley, if this wasn't Spoelstra, you'd almost wonder whether an ultimatum was being launched. And yet, unless a resolution also is made public, then the Heat (provided Whiteside still is with the team) will go into next season with an issue that not only played out during the playoffs, but one that Pat Riley also acknowledged is quite real. The "intervention" moment ranks up there among Riley's postseason comments with "emojis" and "hidden agendas" with LeBron James during Riley's wrap-up at the end of the 2014 season.

Q: Why not have an intervention before the playoffs? Not saying the Heat would have beaten the 76ers, but why did fans have to be treated to this drama? -- S.R.

A: Because, like Pat Riley's text to Dwyane Wade (or was it an email?), I'm not sure an intervention will ever happen. It was one of those things that simply answered a lot of questions in the moment. And yet, to your point, it became evident early on in the playoffs that Whiteside was on a short, short leash, so maybe the intervention already has been achieved, through the consistent benchings.

Q: Because Pat Riley made a mistake with Michael Beasley it shouldn't scare us away from draft picks. Draft picks got us Dwayne Wade. Pat Riley needs to stop saying that. We can't keep going to the G League and begging for scraps. This is a game of talent, and picks get you talent if you do your homework. -- T.M.

A: I agree. And what if the Heat were the team to trade up for Donovan Mitchell, instead of staying in place and landing Bam Adebayo? What if the draft pick was Myles Turner (let alone Devin Booker), instead of Justise Winslow? This is not hindsight. The Heat got what they got. But you can get quality in the teens -- if you stay in the draft game. Plus, by not dealing away so many picks so often, it allows you to have chips available at the truest moments of truth.

April 30, 2018

Q: Can the Miami Heat trade Hassan Whiteside for Carmelo Anthony? New starts for two disgruntled players.  Maybe this gives Dwyane Wade some added incentive to come back and play with a friend.  And maybe other players would want to come to Miami. Also, we would have one-half of the banana boat.  -- Stuart.

A: First, the Heat will not be making trades in order to entice Dwyane Wade to return. That is an entirely separate issue from anything else this summer. As for Anthony, I'm not sure what, if any, level he would make sense on for the Heat. At this stage, he only is a power forward, one that does not defend particularly well. So that would mean moving James Johnson to small forward. Anthony also has said he would not be willing to come off the bench. So why would a team want to take on that type of issue?  Plus, even with a contract that expires after the coming season, it still would not give the Heat tangible salary-cap relief in the 2019 offseason, because of the rest of the payroll. Beyond all of that, the Thunder have Steven Adams, so why would they need Hassan Whiteside?

Q: If you were the GM, who would you keep? Who would you trade? -- Joshua, Miami.

A: I would put anyone and everyone in play. This roster is not going to deliver a championship, and the lack of salary-cap space and the lack of draft flexibility does not help. I'm not saying to blow it all up. I'm just saying that there are no definitive keepers. At this stage, there is no downside to putting anyone and everyone into play -- if there ever becomes an avenue to star talent.

Q: As a fan, I was more intrigued in courting elite free agents every summer than capping out on mediocre players that get bounced in the first round. Pat Riley preached flexibility for a few years and then ultimately broke the bank for journeymen. I will never understand that decision -- Kyle.

A: Which will make Riley's comments on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena all the more intriguing. Will he stand by the roster and internal development as much as Erik Spoelstra did Friday?

April 29, 2018

Q: Hi, Ira. Let's just put cap aside for a second. Do you think the Heat as a whole can get a sit down with the likes of Paul George? I'm wondering if Miami has lost its luster as a destination in some way (forget the beaches and weather). We've lost out on several "whales" in the last couple of years and I'm not sure Pat Riley's bag of rings is working at full power these days. -- Mike, Austin, Texas.

A: This will not be the summer for such assessments about Riley or the Heat's allure, because the Heat are so far above the salary cap that there isn't even an ability to make a pitch. With the courtship of Durant, Hassan Whiteside was willing to take less to open the needed space. With Gordon Hayward, the Heat had the ability to either seek salary sacrifice or trade off assets to make the math work. But this time around, the Heat don't even have enough cap space for the opening ante, let alone to get involved in the bidding. Yes, sign-and-trades could be possible, but that would involve the Heat having assets that teams covet. I'm not sure that Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson or Dion Waiters currently stand as coveted.

Q: Well, at least we don't have the problems and excuses that the OKC Thunder have. -- Dave, Reading, Pa.

A: Actually, there will be plenty of reassessing in the wake of the first round of the playoffs, be it the Thunder, the Wizards, the Trail Blazers, the Spurs, the Timberwolves and perhaps even the Cavaliers. That could make this a particularly intriguing offseason when it comes to trades. Remember, once a team is eliminated from the playoffs it is allowed to resume making trades with any partner other than teams still in the playoffs.

Q: It seems like the Jazz are what the Miami Heat want to be. -- Trey.

A: With one exception: The Jazz got Donovan Mitchell with their most recent lottery pick (trading into it); the Heat got Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo with their last two lottery picks, neither a transformational presence. I could get where you're going when comparing Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside, Ricky Rubio and Goran Dragic. But it's always about the go-to guy. The one the Jazz have. The one the Heat lack (although I'm sure Dion Waiters would have something to say about that.

April 28, 2018

Q: What total b.s. I can remember Alonzo Mourning coming back from different types of injuries and sickness and they fed him the ball and played offense thru him like he never left. How many times did we see Erik Spoelstra pull Hassan for lack of effort or a missed defensive assignment? -- Jimmy.

A: And that's why it would have been preferable to get both sides of the story Friday, instead of Hassan Whiteside not being available after Erik Spoelstra's session Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Because for as much as was offered from Spoelstra about the lack of Whiteside continuity due to injuries, there still was half a season after the team, itself, deemed Hassan to be over his knee issue. Was a lack of continuity the reason for the limited minutes? Or was it a preferred alternative playing style by Spoelstra? Were the minutes shorter in some games because of the previous bones bruises on Whiteside's knee? Or was it because of a growing frustration over the perceived lack of effort? The explanation did not seem to be a one-reason-answers-all conclusion. Of course, there also is something to be said about keeping such frustrations in house, as is the Heat wont. Friday offered "an" answer, if not necessarily "the" answer.

Q: We need a coach that talks actual Xs & Os, basketball strategy and actual plays, not a yoga instructor. Erik Spoelstra is in the huddle singing Kumbaya while on the other side smart coaches are telling guys what's actually happening and what needs to get done. -- Lex.

A: Never confuse media sessions such as Friday's for what transpires in huddles, during practices or in the locker room. Friday was about attempting to neatly put a ribbon on a season that ended with too many knots to be so easy untwined. There were real problems and real issues this season -- and certainly the loss of some of the fire that so inspired the end of 2016-17. That's what made the end of the season so unsatisfying, that even with a playoff berth it ended less fulfilling than the 2017 lottery finish.

Q: You can’t have a guy buy into the culture, transform his game and then not re-sign him right? I think Pat Riley and the organization try somehow to retain Wayne Ellington. -- Douglas.

A: Oh, they'll try, but I still don't think they will go into the luxury tax with a roster not perceived as a title contender. There have been plenty of examples of Heat Culture players left to look for work elsewhere, including Willie Reed and Luke Babbitt just a season ago, Mike Miller set free at luxury-tax time, and then Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen traded (or even Caron Butler and Lamar Odom before that). That also is how business should be conducted, in what remains a results-oriented business.

April 27, 2018

Q: Ira, would you agree that Phoenix would make the ideal trade partner for Hassan Whiteside? Whiteside for Tyson Chandler and a second-rounder would be the perfect swap. We get someone that can mentor Bam Adebayo and they get the starter they need. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: I have seen these types of trades in several forms, the type that essentially accept the notion of trading Hassan for cap space and little else of substance. Another involving the Suns was floated by a blog site that has the deal as Hassan for Jared Dudley, essentially straight up. Chandler and Dudley each have one season left on their contracts, Chandler at $13.6 million for 2018-19, Dudley at $9.5 million. Each of the deals could open the needed room under the luxury tax to allow the Heat to re-sign Wayne Ellington. But here's the rub: Even if the Heat are able to get off Whiteside's $27 million for 2019-20, the Heat still would have at least $98 million in cap commitments (factoring in the player options for Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson and Bam Adebayo) and that's not even including Ellington or possible extension money for Justise Winslow. In other words, by trading the final two seasons of Whiteside's contract for players entering the final seasons on their deals . . . it still would not open much in the way of cap space in 2019, when the cap is projected in the $108 million range. So what you would be doing in such scenarios would be trading Whiteside . . . for nothing.

Q: I think that Hassan Whiteside will be a better player for a coach who is more willing to use him for the skills that he has, which I think would have been much more useful in the series with the 76ers than his minutes allowed. -- Paul, Fort Lauderdale.

A: And that is the rub. Could someone else get more out of Hassan? I would think that Erik Spoelstra's exit meeting with Pat Riley would/will include such pointed questions. I am sure that Pat Riley, as a coach, would have pushed back against perceived lack of effort as perhaps Erik Spoelstra did. But Riley is not coach, he is the lead management official who signed off on four years, $98 million for Whiteside. Otherwise, does Riley have to admit, even if only privately, that he misjudged and made a costly mistake? As I write this, I am still looking at Tuesday's Game 5 box score: Hassan Whiteside, C, 10:15. Ten minutes, five seconds in the game that ended the Heat's season.

Q: Fans need to lay off Pat Riley. Looking at the 76ers, from tanking to solidifying is their way. Riley wanted to compete. Compete we did, and it's been great basketball. I personally am excited in our future with Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. What happens with the rest? Only Riley knows. -- Aristotle, Sydney, Australia.

A: Fair and balanced, which I believe is the motto in this space.

April 26, 2018

Q: I have to vent and this question may not get posted or you may get several hundred like this: Who takes the blame for this current Heat squad? Is Pat Riley willing to realize that his magic has passed him by and it's time for someone else to take the reins of this team? The Miami Heat are going in the opposite direction of the 76ers. We have mid-level talent and they have budding, elite-level talent. We scrapped together our roster from trades and free agency; they developed theirs from the draft. We gave away two first-round draft picks for a solid-but-not-elite point guard who's now in his early 30s. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and stink to get better. The 76ers bit the bullet and are destined for a bright future. We did not and now we have to pretty much give away any valuable assets to unload bad contracts. Does the Miami Heat management even realize how bad this team really is? -- Rodney, Sarasota?

A: But, to a degree, isn't this playing the result, especially the ugly playoff result? In other words, after where the Heat finished last season, and with the preseason assumption that Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, Washington and perhaps Milwaukee were going to be pretty good, wouldn't a No. 6 playoff seed have been viewed as an achievement (albeit it coming via tiebreaker and at 44-38)? And that was without Dion Waiters for half the season. So instead of quantifying it as failure, I'm not sure that in coming days that Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley won't instead turn to the growth of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, the impending 2018-19 return of Dion Waiters and a greater understanding from James Johnson about how to be more of a leader and facilitator. All of that said, what does that get you? 45-37? 46-36? Maybe homecourt in the first round? But let's also move beyond blame, because that does no good, other than appease those who insist on venting. To make a big move, you have to make big moves. So let's see how aggressive Riley and his staff can be on the trade market, with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, at the minimum, intriguing trade targets. And remember, lottery reform is coming and even more might follow, so the 76ers' model might not even be a model going forward. As for the Dragic trade, if it turns into a pair of mid-round first-round selections, don't overstate the sacrifice, beyond the loss of draft flexibility in the intervening seasons.

Q: The 76ers series was a constant reminder that talent trumps culture. They had the two best players in the series and therefore they won. -- Nico, Charlotte.

A: Because Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic ultimately proved overstated (think about Dragic over Simmons for that replacement All-Star berth). And that is the concern going forward, with an argument that as many as 10 teams in the conference could be able to make that claim next season, if the Heat stand relatively pat, when it comes to the two best players on the court for opening tips. Certainly Indiana has moved into that position with Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner, with Detroit also possibly to be there with Blake Griffin and a healthy Reggie Jackson. And this past season you could have made such an argument in Charlotte, with Kemba Walker and a rejuvenated Dwight Howard.

Q: I have a feeling that Hassan Whiteside is going to take the title for being the subject of the most "Ask Ira" questions ever this summer, replacing those about Michael Beasley -- Tony, Lamar, Colo.

A: Not so sure about that, because I doubt there would be a Whiteside reunion if dealt, but I can never rule out one more Beasley go-round.  Ultimately, Michael is the gift that keeps on giving. At this stage, I practically consider him a co-author.

April 25, 2018

Q: The Heat situation with Hassan Whiteside is downright embarrassing. Joel Embiid plays with confidence and a bit of cockiness. And the Heat don't even have a coach and $98 million center that can communicate or are on the same page?  What gives? Fans deserve better. And, why can't Whiteside tells his teammates to get him the ball? Coach Spoelstra's postgame remarks about Hassan Whiteside's season seem very bland for a player the Heat signed two years ago six seconds after midnight.  I think what Dwyane Wade is trying to tell young Whiteside nicely is, "Coach Spoelstra might be playing small ball or spread-the-floor offense, but when you get in, play hard and excel at your own game regardless of the style. Make it impossible for Spoelstra to want to take you out. Take charge and dominate." -- Stuart.

A:The way the Whiteside situation played out should have happened in only one circumstance -- that the Heat decided that the Hassan Whiteside experience is doomed to failure and there is no reason left to try to resurrect it, that they will deal with the salary-cap consequences and move on. But if that is not the case, then you cannot allow it to deteriorate the way it did. Pat Riley cannot allow it to deteriorate. Nick Arison cannot allow it to deteriorate. Micky Arison cannot allow it to deteriorate. Erik Spoelstra has every right to place demands and carry expectations. But somewhere there has to be a bigger-picture overview, someone to step in and negotiate a truce. Even if you don't believe that Hassan Whiteside is an All-Star, even you believe he is average for his position, even if you believe he is a marginal starter, you still have to find a way to make him more than a 10-minute, two-point player. Even with the most incorrigible player (if that, indeed, is what is at play here), you have to find a way to make it work. In the end, the situation turned into an embarrassment for the Heat, with blame on many sides. Heat culture took a step backward with this one.

Q: Can the Heat buy out Whiteside? Would make sense for both sides. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: Actually, while it might make sense for the Heat (depending on where they truly stand on the issue), it assuredly would not for Hassan, with more than $50 million over two seasons remaining on his contract. Yes, you can agree to a buyout at any time, but there still would be a significant cap hit. If cap savings is the goal, then trading him into a team's cap space would be the more likely avenue, if there were to be a taker.

Q: We need changes because the Heat are not in a good spot right now. -- Frances, Philippines.

A: About the only way the Heat could, in my view, perform a significant overhaul would be to utilize quality pieces as trade sweeteners. In other words, of you take Hassan Whiteside, we'll throw in Josh Richardson. Or if you take Tyler Johnson, we'll add in Bam Adebayo. And if you take James Johnson, then Justise Winslow could also be part of the deal. In other words, how far are you willing to go to undo what some consider previous damage? 

April 24, 2018

Q: Ira, if Game 5 is the Heat's final game of the season (which would assume a loss), what would you want to see from the Heat? -- Ed.

A: The same things I would want to see if the Heat were to force a Game 6, and the same things I would have wanted to see in every game this series: A forceful and impactful Hassan Whiteside, putting every last breath of energy into his effort, no matter the minutes; James Johnson playing with defined purpose, making each move productive and eliminating the unnecessary ballhandling; Tyler Johnson in attack mode on both ends, up and into it on defense, at the rim on offense; Josh Richardson never deferring, but rather claiming his stake as a bona fide NBA scorer; Justise Winslow maintaining the newfound fury; Wayne Ellington shaking free more often; and Kelly Olynyk and Goran Dragic to keep on doing what they're doing. Put all of that together and there won't be a need to call on Dwyane Wade as savior. And yet there also is a caveat: all of that still might not be enough to beat the more talented 76ers.

Q: Ira, is Dwyane Wade starting his possible last game with the Heat? He might help Hassan Whiteside to get it going early. -- Cesar.

A: I've taken a lot of questions about the starting lineup, but the reality is that the Heat have led at halftime in each of the first four games. This has nothing to do with the starting lineup. This is about finally finishing. And part of that is conserving Wade's energy, at 36, so that he has enough in the tank to finish, if needed.

Q: Dion Waiters would have been the difference maker for this series. How much do you believe that? -- Daniel, Miami.

A: I do not, perhaps other than the added emotion Dion would have carried in against his hometown team. Dwyane Wade has essentially provided the type of heroics that Dion otherwise would have been asked to offer. The exception might have been, amid Tyler Johnson's struggles, that the Heat might have been able to get more out of shooting guard at the outset of games.

April 23, 2018

Q: So, Hassan Whiteside finally seems engaged in a game and yet he was misused in the fourth quarter. What is this love for small ball that Erik Spoelstra has? I just don't get it. Philly stepped up their defense in the fourth, but they also were dominating on the offensive board. Then, Philly brings in Joel Embiid with like 5 minutes left and Spoelstra counters with Bam Adebayo. After Philly got a few offensive rebounds and second-chance points, Spoelstra finally brings Hassan in the game and momentum seemed like it wanted to turn to the Heat. After a couple defensive breakdowns by the Heat, Hassan is taken out for small ball again and at a point when rebounding was crucial with about one minute or so left. The Heat again are not able to secure rebounds without Hassan. With 30 or so seconds left, Spoelstra draws up a play but doesn't give the Heat a chance at an offensive rebound after Wade missed because Hassan was not in the game, yet Embiid was. I’m not saying this is purely the reason the Heat lost, because you can point to many things, but this small-ball craze Spoelstra has going is nuts when Philly has a height advantage at every position except center, where it is basically even. Again, I don’t get it. Thanks. -- Victor, Miami

A: After reviewing the play-by-play, your numbers and timing are mostly spot on. And, yes, the 76ers outscored the Heat 16-8 in the paint in the fourth quarter of Game 4, with the scoring otherwise even at 11-11. But this is what it comes down to: The Heat -- for whatever reason -- seemingly do not believe that Hassan Whiteside puts them at a position of strength. This season never was about a championship (sorry), it was about taking strides forward. And yet for weeks, if not longer, it's as if the Heat have been backpedaling from Hassan. To the Heat, it's as if he is just one of nine primary rotation players, nothing more. As this series plays out, it's as if the Heat are less defined than when they started this season or ended last season. That is not where you want to be as April turns to May.  

Q: All I keep seeing and reading from Heat players and others is that they have to do things better and differently. Honestly, it's time to give Philadelphia credit. -- Chris, Tampa.

A: Oh, I not only believe that, I believe there has been too much of that. Ben Simmons is a nice young player, but he is not Magic Johnson, at least not yet. Yet, it's as if the Heat have afforded him such respect. It has been similar with Joel Embiid, instead of going at him and challenging and perhaps turning the foul trouble in the other direction (which the Heat did during the regular season). This needs to be more like the Stanley Cup playoffs -- save the handshakes for when it is over.

Q: Ira, do you think Justise Winslow's recent uptick in performance is a sign of things to come or more so a result of a player just elevating his game in the postseason? -- Justin, Colerain, N.C.

A: I think it is an encouraging turn, but one that also should not be overstated. At this point, Justise has shown he can be a quality sixth man. Game 4 hardly was a breakout performance.

April 22, 2018

Q: Justise Winslow has gotten better handling the rock for us. James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk have both been better here offensively than previous stops. The problem is there's too many redundant players on the roster. -- Lim.

A: The problem is there are too many good-but-not-great players on this roster. This would be the perfect roster to airlift in a star into -- as Pat Riley tried with Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward. Goran Dragic would be perfect as a No. 2 and Hassan Whiteside as a No. 3. The problem is that this is a roster loaded with fourth and fifth men, players who can help but not necessarily dominate, nothing like Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. In baseball parlance, the Heat's pitching staff is loaded with No. 3 and No. 4 starters, but no one you would want to throw out there more than once in a playoff series. And the problem is there isn't the cap space or trade enticement to land such a star. Of all the front-office riddles Pat Riley has faced, this might be the most challenging.

Q: Where's the heat on Goran Dragic? Two playoff fourth quarters in a row with nothing from your All-Star point guard. Unacceptable. Any other All-Star would be taken to the woodshed by the media. -- Sal, Miami.

A: Do they still have woodsheds? But, OK, I appreciate your reasoning . . . except there is one Hall of Fame mitigating circumstance. Yes, Goran was 0 for 3 in Saturday's fourth quarter, but Dwyane Wade was 5 of 10. No, there is nothing wrong with 5 of 10, but what it shows, and has shown, is that since Dwyane's return, this entire roster (and, seemingly, coaching staff) has deferred to Wade in fourth quarters. At times, there is Wade magic, such as in Game 2 in Philadelphia. But at other times, it stunts the growth of others. And that's an issue for a team clearly not in championship contention: Isn't this when you want to see the possibilities of players that will be with the team going forward, vs. one who might or might not?

Q: Ira, why not give Tyler Johnson’s minutes to Rodney McGruder? J.J. Redick is killing Tyler and Tyler appears limited on offense, maybe because of his hand. -- Matt.

A: Erik Spoelstra has made such lineup changes before when faced with playoff elimination, be it Mario Chalmers for Mike Bibby or Ray Allen for Chalmers, so there might be something to this. It is clear that Tyler is not the same player because of that bandaged left thumb. He started but played 12:54 in Game 4 Saturday. On one hand, I can appreciate attempting to showcase Tyler in case a trade could be worked out to offload his expanding salary. On the other hand, I think you offer a legitimate suggestion, one I would strongly consider if in Erik Spoelstra's shoes.

April 21, 2018

Q: Tyler has averaged only a little over 16 minutes in this series so far. He was shooting it well in Game 3 despite an injured hand, yet was still missing in action in the fourth when the Heat scored 14. Has faith been lost? -- Bruce, Miami.

A: Two factors are in play here. Foremost, Dwyane Wade. Tyler's minutes, particularly late in games, have been impacted more by Wade's return to the roster than any other player. Dwyane is averaging 23:30 in this series, Tyler 16:23. And that is after Tyler last season stood among the NBA leaders in fourth-quarter minutes. But Tyler's size also is a factor. Even against J.J. Redick, he comes up short, let alone when the 76ers are running with the likes of Ben Simmons, Marco Belinelli and Robert Covington in their perimeter rotation. It is a bit surprising that as the Heat's starting shooting guard that Tyler has attempted only 14 shots through three games. Wade, by contrast, has attempted 33, second on the team only to Goran Dragic's 40. This could be a case where the short-term benefit of Wade has blunted the long-term future of Johnson, as well as muted potential trade value.

Q: I heard you on the radio suggesting the Heat need to hire an additional coach to specifically focus on Hassan Whiteside. I thought already having Alonzo Mourning, Juwan Howard and Udonis Haslem in his ear would be enough. After Game 3's performance, maybe a sports psychologist would be money better spent. -- David, Staten Island.

A: First, I went out of my way today to make sure the first question wasn't about Hassan, simply because I didn't want this space to turn into "Ask Ira About Hassan Whiteside." But the point I was making on radio is that there has to be someone who gets through and changes what we've seen from Hassan in these moments of truth. For all the pep talks from Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, for all the coaching from Juwan Howard and instruction from Alonzo Mourning, when it turns into postgame scenes like Thursday night, it shows there is an ongoing disconnect. The Heat needs there to be a connect.

Q: Turn down Whiteside's NBA 2K rating! He’s gonna try to get it back up. -- Kyle.

A: Finally, an impactful and reasonable suggestion.

April 20, 2018

Q: There was no game plan to attack Joel Embiid. How do you allow him to play an entire game and not force him to defend the post once? Not once. Embiid was teeing off on Hassan Whiteside while Hassan was reduced to setting screens.  It seems to me that we would rather lose small than to compete playing big. There is no way to spin this one, Ira. -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

A: And that's the thing, Embiid closed Game 3 with four fouls just like Whiteside. But the Heat never pushed to get a fifth or sixth foul on Embiid, even while he remained in the game while in foul trouble. So that means one of two things: 1. The Heat do not believe Whiteside, in this current state (whatever the state may be) has the ability to create foul trouble for Embiid. 2. Or the Heat believe Whiteside is a liability on the court compared to what Kelly Olynyk or  Bam Adebayo had to offer. From the start, I never could envision a path to victory in this series without a dominant contribution from Hassan. Now time is running out, which also might be the case with Hassan's confidence.  

Q: Brett Brown inserted Justin Anderson into the game to send a message about physicality. In the mental game within the basketball game, the message from the Sixers: we aren't backing down after Game 2. Wasn't that a great opportunity for Erik Spoelstra to insert Udonis Haslem into the game, if only for a few minutes to send a subtle message back to the Sixers? -- Stuart.

A: This entire tough-guy thing has become way overstated. This isn't the late '90s and the NBA won't allow the game to regress to that point. I was shocked that Anderson-Wade didn't result in something more than technical fouls and would assume that the league will make sure Game 4 is not nearly as edgy as Game 3. No, this comes down to substance and execution, which the 76ers put to use when needed most in Thursday's fourth quarter. This isn't, with all due respect, about Haslem. It's about the Heat's rotation players being better -- a lot better -- than they were in Game 3.

Q: The Heat have to work so much harder to beat the 76ers than the 76ers have to to beat the Heat. It seemed like Miami played so well but then you look at the score and Philadelphia is still up. The difference in this series is the firepower that the Heat don't have. -- Mialles, Boston.

A: Correct. And seemingly the entire premise of this Heat roster and season is that our less-talented roster will outwork your roster. And while that can work against lesser teams during the regular season, it is an entirely different story in a best-of-seven series against a No. 3 seed in the playoffs. There is not a general manager in the league who wouldn't take the 76ers' roster over the Heat's (a fact Heat management would never publicly acknowledge but assuredly accepts). 

April 19, 2018

Q: I'm amazed by Dwyane Wade's performance and the win against Philly in Game 2, but should we still be concerned with how Philly stormed back late? During that late run, Philly mobbed us on the boards and had free runs to the basket. While I do think there are times when Kelly Olynyk has given us a boost, there are other times when his deficiencies on defense are out weighing his gains. -- Kenny, Pembroke Pines.

A: That has been an ongoing issue for the Heat, when Hassan Whiteside is out and Kelly Olynyk is in, that opposing teams immediately move into attack mode. It is among the reasons, I believe, why Bam Adebayo has become more of a factor in this series than anticipated. The problem for the Heat is that they feature a lineup, beyond Whiteside, that is otherwise undersized, when counting James Johnson at power forward, Josh Richardson at small forward and Tyler Johnson at shooting guard. This is a roster that desperately needs a shot blocker to clean up things in the middle. The problem is that when Whiteside is in the game but defending Dario Saric on the perimeter, you still don't have him in the middle. And when a team is storming back by shooting 3-pointers, a big man can only do so much. This is where the new timeout rules come into play, essentially having to make offense-or-defense decisions.

Q: Hey, Ira, I have a question that I can’t seem to answer: Are the Heat an overachieving team or an underachieving team? -- Ernest.

A: Yes. They have overachieved if you believe that Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic are average players at their positions, and if you believe that James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson are mid-tier supporting players. They have underachieved if you believe that Whiteside is a leading man, Dragic an All-Star and Winslow, Richardson and Bam Adebayo significant draft acquisitions. It would be interesting to know how Pat Riley and Mickey Arison truly feel about this roster. Because if they believe it is contention worthy, then they probably would side on the side of having underachieved -- to this stage.

Q: Time and again, Justise Winslow gets great position or a great drive to the basket -- yet somehow he just can't put the ball in the basket. When will this end? -- Derek, Montreal.

A: Sometimes player lack certain skills, especially on the next level. The force that Justise displayed at Duke hasn't been present to the same degree in the NBA. He simply might not be up to such play on this level. Whether it's a pull-up or a teardrop, it might be time to consider an alternate approach.

April 18, 2018

Q: Everyone is always down on Hassan Whiteside, and rightfully so when he doesn't rise to the occasion. He played great against the Raptors, because they play big mostly and he didn’t have to run through picks chasing shooters. That's hard for him to do against the Sixers. Be blind if you want. If Joel Embiid plays Thursday night, all that Hassan talk will change. There is no way Kelly Olynyk or Bam Adebayo can handle him in the post. Hassan had a great game the final regular-season game and he was focused until he had to sit out due to injury. Embiid playing is exactly what we need. Embiid likes to shoot threes and he fouls a lot against Hassan. Stay tuned. -- Sippy.

A: It is an odd proposition, basically saying that by adding an All-Star to the equation it will make the series easier for Hassan Whiteside. And maybe it will. But will it make it easier for the Heat? How? How can an opponent strengthening their lineup weaken them? It's not as if Ersan Ilyasova won't play. He simply will go back to a highly effective second unit. This series is not about getting Hassan out of his funk. It is about the Heat finding a way through to the second round. Joel Embiid, if 100 percent, could wind up as nothing short of a roadblock. Now, if he isn't 100 percent and still insists on playing, that is another story.

Q: Do you plug Dwyane Wade him in the starting five if you're Erik Spoelstra? -- Jo.

A: That is the last thing I would want to do, is increase Dwyane minutes and burn some of them during the early stages. Both teams have built big early leads in this series only to see them disappear. Sitting at courtside, you could see the fatigue set in at times for Dwyane. No, Wade as finisher is all that matters. Heck, I'd give him the OK to show up to the arena at halftime.

Q: If the Heat defend home court we can beat Philly. After that, regardless of the result of the Bucks/Celtics series I would favor the Heat in the second round (considering our 5-1 record against those teams this season). With that said, do you agree that a run to the conference finals is in the cards? -- Ethan, New York.

A: Um, you're talking to a guy who's not sure if the Heat are going to win Thursday. And even if that happens, not sure it doesn't then go back to Philadelphia at 2-2. Let's take this one game at a time.

April 17, 2018

Q: What adjustments. Who knew? Erik Spoelstra for Coach of the Year? -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: Which is all any playoff series is about, particularly now, with a two-day break before Game 3 on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. There are so many ways to look at Monday. Yes, the Heat and Spoelstra adjusted. Yes, from the players who mattered, there was a heightened intensity. Yes, the Heat did better contesting the 76ers' 3-pointers. But you can’t expect this Dwyane Wade every night at this stage. And the 76ers are going to get back to making 3-pointers, because that is what they do and who they are. Plus, there is the Joel Embiid factor, which also will change the equation. The 76ers have more talent in this series. But the Heat have a coach who, mostly, gets every last ounce out of his roster. And, as it is, it’s not as if the Heat have gotten anything out of Hassan Whiteside to this stage. So expect more twists and turns and at least six games, and possibly more.

Q: Let's assume for a minute the Heat decide this offseason to move on without Hassan Whiteside. Is there a market for him and what could the Heat realistically expect in return? -- Tommy, Greenville, Fla.

A: There always is a market, because there always are teams with issues of their own. But do you trade Hassan for Luol Deng or Joakim Noah? Again, even with this uneven playoff start, I go back to what a scout told me at midseason, that the maximum trade return for Whiteside would be a rotation player and a first-round (non-lottery) draft pick. So you're basically talking, with such an example (but not of this specific example that I'll spitball), of something along the lines of a Kelly Oubre and Markieff Morris. (Again, that is an example of the type of players, not in any way such specific players). The problem is the Heat already have a roster loaded with journeymen types. So you essentially would be trading Hassan for a bunch of James Johnsons and Dion Waiters.

Q: If the Heat are to contend in the future, it likely won't be with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, both of whom have likely hit their respective ceilings as players. It will be with Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, or whatever young players are allowed to step up, and who take the opportunity to step up, in coming seasons. -- Matt, Boynton Beach.

A: Understood, but you still need players to complement and support, and with their unique games, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk can do that, particularly with their playmaking. So the question becomes whether Dion Waiters returns as a leading man, or as someone who gets in the way of the growth of, say, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. Now, when does that turn come? And if it comes before the end of the contracts of Whiteside and Dragic, then this summer might be the time for such a move, particularly with the Heat back in the draft game in 2019 and '20. 

April 16, 2018

Q: Pat Riley, when he coached the Lakers, once had Magic Johnson play center when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was injured. That strategy worked. Might we see the Heat think out of the box and have Bam Adebayo, with his long wingspan and his quick foot speed, guard Ben Simmons, if anything, to disrupt his rhythm and easy views on the court? -- Stuart.

A: I previously had been asked about Adebayo defending Simmons and was intrigued, but the problem was it would leave the Heat with yet another non-shooter on the court, in a series where the true danger is trading twos for threes. But there also is a greater point here and that is how much do you depart from what got you to this point? If the Heat believe that they have a true, contending rotation, then you also have to carry the belief that it merely comes down to doing it better. If, however, you feel that even at your best that you are not good enough, then you start pulling out all the stops. So, are the Heat in such a place, and such a predicament, after a single playoff game?

Q: Joel Embiid would slow down the 76ers' pace, so him being out is a bigger disadvantage for the Heat. -- Cyrus.

A: Rubbish. When an All-Star is out it becomes a situation where you have to take advantage. And do not overstate the change in style. When Embiid returns the 76ers still are going to load up on 3-pointers, including Embiid. He already has proven to be a quick study in his brief NBA tenure. No, this is when you have to take advantage. And Embiid is coming back, because the 76ers need him back, because Philadelphia has greater goals than the first round and appreciate how important he remains to those hopes. But it does make sense to take two more days off, since Game 3 is not until Thursday.

Q: Sorry but how much better would the Heat be if they had gotten Marco Belinelli instead of Dwyane Wade? -- Bev.

A: Or instead of Luke Babbitt? But it all was a matter of timing, with Wade offered up at the trading deadline and then Belinelli moving on from Atlanta at the ensuing buyout deadline. The thing is, there have been several teams that have buried Marco, as well, in recent seasons, so it all comes down to fit. And there is no guarantee he would have been the same fit with the Heat.

April 15, 2018

Q: Coaching matters more with some players than others. Erik Spoelstra spent an entire season breaking Hassan Whiteside down, instead of coaching him up, benching him consistently regardless of whether or not he was playing well. This was exactly the wrong approach for this player who was questioned all his career and finally found a team he thought believed in him, only to have the coach turn on him. What did the Heat expect but that Whiteside would lose confidence? Spoelstra also simply does not know how to use a traditional big man. He has shown this over the years. Spoelstra's cookie-cutter approach -- my way or the highway -- was dead wrong with this player and now the Heat and Whiteside are dead in the water. Spoelstra did not do his job with the Heat's highest-paid and most-talented player. He should not get a pass on this. -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: First, and this goes for all those who post to this space: Let's stop confusing highest-paid with most-talented. Hassan is not the Heat's most talented player. What he is, at least what he has been cast by the Heat as being, is a force of nature. The problem is that mostly has been the exception lately. But even teammates acknowledge that it is difficult to develop rhythm without consistent minutes. When the Heat sat down on July 1, 2016 and decided it was wise to commit $98 million over four years, there also should have been a blueprint of motivation, whether it was with Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Nick Arison, Juwan Howard or someone else in the organization, someone who would commit to getting Whiteside where the team needed him to be. No, Hassan was not particularly energetic or effective Saturday. But he only played 12:26 -- twelve minutes and twenty-six seconds. Josh Richardson was minus-30 for the game and played 27:21. Tyler Johnson played more. It would have seemed, that amid the lethargy, someone would have been able to reboot the Heat's "force of nature" over the course of the game. Instead, they seemingly quit on him just as it was viewed he quit on them. This is not where you want to be in mid April.

Q: The Heat had an athletic 6-7 swing-man who reminded them of Ben Simmons so much they had him play the part of Simmons in practice. However, they left him off the playoff roster, in favor of several players who they knew would not and could not play in this series (take your pick, Luke Babbitt, Udonis Haslem). Sometimes it seems like roster and playing choices are not being made based on who gives the Heat the best chance to win, but rather based on loyalty (Haslem), or trying to showcase someone with a big contract (Tyler Johnson), I guess to see if they can trade him or to justify the contract. Derrick Jones Jr. could have made a difference down the stretch in the season and playoffs. And don't give me the coaches-know-best argument. There have been plenty of coaches who haven't known best. -- A.R.

A: Look, I don't think Derrick Jones Jr. could have changed anything but the magnitude of Saturday's rout. But that's why I had been speculating about a roster move before the end of the regular season, to get Jones on the playoff roster. But with that ship having sailed, how about more Rodney McGruder, who was such a catalyst to the second half of last season? If you're going to make a statement about Hassan Whiteside's effort, then what about a player in Rodney who is all about effort?

Q: It's the first game. In the second, we'll adjust. Just be patient. -- Andres.

A: And, finally, a voice of reason. And fact it, even with another loss, then it will be the old saw of a series not truly starting until the visiting team wins.

April 14, 2018

Q: It's hard to imagine the Heat rising higher with the Celtics, 76ers and Bucks all having very good young cores, likely to remain the top contenders for a while. Bottom line is that, for now, the Heat have to be content to remain a 44- to 47-win team.  Maybe in a couple of years, when Ben Simmons gets tired of Philly cheese steaks or the Warriors begin to break up, there will be opportunities -- unless, of course, another Kyrie Irving story pops up  out of the clear blue. -- H.S.

A: But that's what the Pat Riley Heat have long been about -- positioning themselves to seize moments, whether it's Alonzo Mourning forcing his way out of Charlotte, Shaquille O'Neal severing ties with the Lakers, LeBron James looking for something bigger. Granted, it hasn't happened to that level since 2010, which certainly is a long time in NBA years. But there were those pitches for Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward, and there was very real interest from Irving in the Heat, albeit at a time when he was not in control of that situation. The best the Heat can do at the moment is have resources they can pool in case an opportunity comes along. But this roster untouched going forward? Yes, I would agree that middle-of-the-East-pack might be as good as it gets for a while.

Q: Obviously it's not the priority right now, but what are the chances the Heat trade into the first round of the 2018 draft? We have 10 on the books for next year, 11 if you pick up the team option Jordan Mickey. Would you say Miami is content with the amount of youth we have on the team? -- John, Miami.

A: I'm not sure that "content" ever will be a word associated with the Heat front office, at least not since they were able to get LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to walk through that door in 2010. But I can't see a team with limited assets going forward utilizing them just to trade into the latter stages of the first round. With Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson, there still is developing youth. It might come down to how the Heat view Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr. going forward. Plus, the Heat could buy into the second round by having a team draft a player for them and then making the promised payment after July 1, when a new allotment to spend in trades becomes available (all of the Heat's spending money for the 2017-18 season was utilized on selling off Josh McRoberts' contract to the Mavericks).

Q: How can the Heat coaching staff get Hassan Whiteside focused on what is needed and expected of him in these playoffs? -- Michael, North Miami Beach.

A: I'm not sure that has to be on them. Yes, Hassan's minutes have been inconsistent this season. And, yes, injuries have limited continuity. But, at some point, the player has to make his own stand, show the type of relentlessness that makes it impossible for him to be removed from the game, sort of what Bam Adebayo showed in the closing stages Wednesday against the Raptors. Perhaps it's up to Hassan to dare Erik Spoelstra to take him out because of what would be lost when he is not on the floor.

April 13, 2018

Q: Hi, Ira. I think Erik Spoelstra during the season has told Pat Riley, "I can't with this guy anymore" and Riley has told him, "Do what you need to do to win." Hassan Whiteside did not sniff the fourth four quarter or overtime Wednesday night. It was Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. What is the bottom line on Hassan?  -- Eric.

A: That patience has worn thin and that the Heat have entered a portion of the season where there can’t be patience. The force again was lacking from Hassan against the Raptors, with the type of shots that spun out because they weren't attempted with force. The Heat were desperate for vitality when Adebayo entered for the first time, in the second half, and played with a more aggressive motor the balance of the night. For Whiteside, it is as simple as play your way into meaningful moments. He didn't on Wednesday. That certainly could change by Saturday.

Q: Ira, if you absolutely had to choose one to take to the playoffs, would it be apex 2017 Heat (healthy Dion Waiters, active and engaged Hassan Whiteside, Luke Babbitt and Rodney McGruder as starters, killer James Johnson and Tyler Johnson bench) or apex 2018 Heat (consistent Goran Dragic, inspirational Dwyane Wade, rising Josh Richardson, reliable Kelly Olynyk and Wayne Ellington bench)? In my opinion, it’s not even close -- 2017, even though 2018 fought their way in. -- Jason, Boca Raton.

A: Agree 100 percent. The team that finished last season at 30-11 showed they could produce sustained, highest-level success. I'm not sure we've seen that this season. The Whiteside factor is huge; he simply was more active and more engaged last season. Now, there a reasonable debating point between '17 Waiters and '18 Wade, simply because Dion was injured at the end of last season. I would bet that if Vegas posted a line between the '16-17 Heat and the '17-18 Heat as to where they stand April to April, that last season's Heat would be favored, perhaps significantly, even with this season's team with a better record and a playoff berth.

Q: To my mind, the only way to feel good about this season would be for the Heat to win the first series or at least win at least two games and be competitive in the other games.  Also, with this roster and the contracts they are stuck. And how the East is improving, the immediate future does not look great.  My one hope is that Bam Adebayo can develop and be a major contributor as a starting forward like Serge Ibaka -- Joel.

A: So you basically answered your own question, that a mere playoff victory or two might equate to little more than putting lipstick on a pig. There is a reason the Heat finished in the lower half of the Eastern Conference playoff pack -- the other teams are better. That doesn't preclude an upset, but it also doesn't necessarily make it likely, either. As last season's Heat showed, even if you reinvent yourself in the short run, does that truly define you going forward? That doesn't mean that the possibility of nonetheless making this a special season isn't possible. It's just that it is unlikely. 

April 12, 2018

Q: Ira, we've seen a twenty-game sample now and a few things have crystalized.  Dwyane Wade can help this team unless . . .  he hurts this team.   This is where Erik Spoelstra needs to be comfortable pulling D-Wade, especially against very quick, athletic players that Wade matches up with.  We need our best five at crunch time and both coach and player need to understand and be OK that Wade may not fit that role any longer in certain situations.  What say you? -- Brian, Fort Lauderdale.

A: What I say is that Dwyane has not shot 50 percent or better in a game since March 8, has shot 10 of 35 in Heat's last three losses, with eight turnovers and nine assists in those games. So, yes, the concerns at this stage have to be real. I know there has been and will be plenty of talk about "playoff Wade," but also appreciate that in his six playoff games with the Bulls last year, he shot .372 from the field. What Dwyane can be in the playoffs is exactly what he has been in these past 20 games with the Heat, a player who can produce moments but also a player who can't be -- and shouldn't be -- expected to carry a team over the course of a series. It is a very fine line that Spoelstra and the Heat have been walking, but there may have to times during the win-or-go-home portion of the schedule when Spoelstra will have to instead turn to Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, perhaps even Rodney McGruder, for relief. And Wade, Spoelstra and the entire team have to OK with that. If Dwyane can lead the Heat to at least one playoff win on his own then this reunion will have provided all the dividends needed.

Q: Do you see Dwyane Wade coming back next season? -- Joel.

A: I think the playoffs will go a long way toward that determination. To a degree, some of these recent games appear to have reached the point of drudgery for Dwyane, and you have to wonder if he would want to return for 82 games of that. When he went to Chicago and Cleveland, he thought he would be contending for something greater that the level the Heat currently stand. Beyond that, would it be the same without Udonis Haslem alongside, if the Heat cut that cord? And perhaps most significantly, can the Heat even make it work when Dion Waiters returns, considering Dion has practically been cast as Wade 2.0 by some?

Q: Dear Ira, if the last month was a preview of what we will see in the playoffs, then stick a fork in the Heat. They're done. Doesn't matter what seed they are and who the opponent is. Wildly inconsistent play, lack of killer instinct, playing down to lesser opponents, and plenty of nights where the stars don't show. Nope, Erik Spoelstra ain't got enough magic in his wand to make this playoff swing anything but a one and quickly done. Oh well, see ya next year. -- Pat, Deerfield Beach.

A: Or they steal one of the first two on the road and everything changes.

April 11, 2018

Q: I found it hysterical in a pregame interview prior to Monday night's game, to hear James Johnson say the team was trending in the right direction heading into the playoffs. (The word "trending" is the newest Spo-ism, and its already tiring.) The team's signature wins down the stretch have coming against the ever-dangerous Atlanta Hawks, which must really be a confidence builder. It's the Heat obtaining Dwyane Wade at the trade deadline, just to watch Philly pick up Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. (Belinelli is a player I really coveted and believe the Heat could've added, if not for reacquiring Wade.)  The Heat have slightly better than .500-level talent, and that's exactly what Erik Spoelstra has gotten out of them. I don't think it matters at all who the Heat's opponent is in the playoffs. I would make them the underdog against all the other seeds. -- Matt.

A: You are correct. And even after Monday's loss to the Thunder, the talk in the locker room was about "trending in the right direction." But the reality is that in their last five games, the Heat have lost to the Nets and Knicks and been obliterated in the fourth quarter by the Thunder. As Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said before Monday's game, it is folly to believe you can simply flip a switch and become something different when the playoff lights turn on. I do not understand the "trending" comments. Yes, after defeating the Cavaliers and even Bulls, the Heat appeared to be "trending in the right direction," but to find the last time the Heat put quality wins together, you have to go back to March 16 and March19 against the Lakers and Nuggets, two teams that both could be lottery teams, and even that is just about a month ago.

Q: Don't you think the Heat have too many lapses?  What evidence is there that the playoffs will be any different? And, it seems like the Heat could benefit from a defensive-minded point guard, a small guard who plays relentless defense. -- Stuart.

A: As stated above, there is precious little evidence. And with Dwyane Wade hardly trending in the right direction, it's not as if the Heat can count on their second unit for salvation. As for your comment about point guards, I fully agree. Tyler Johnson is not that player and the Heat and much of the league came to a similar belief about Briante Weber. The Heat at one point this season envisioned Justise Winslow in such a role, but I just don't see the lateral foot speed.

Q: Celtics, Raptors, 76ers, Cavaliers 4-1 and goodbye. This team irks, -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: I would go that far, although I'm not sure if you are that far off should the Heat play the Cavaliers or Raptors. But I believe the Heat can force more competitive series against the injury-ravaged Celtics or neophyte 76ers. 

April 9, 2018

Q: Do you still stand behind the 76ers being a more favorable matchup than Boston? -- Chris.

A: Um, no. I have been as surprised as anyone by the 76ers' success in the absence of Joel Embiid, which could continue into the playoffs, and by the length of their winning streak. The additions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova cannot be overstated, the type of veterans that the Celtics somewhat lack in their rotation. And there are far worse options than having Amir Johnson as a fill-in for Embiid. In addition, Markelle Fultz may actually be a playoff thing. Plus, there now is the threat of so much outside shooting, from Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Belinelli, Ilyasova and most significantly JJ Redick.  As for Ben Simmons, he, not Kristaps Porzingis, is the NBA's true unicorn. That big as a point guard? Now, the lack of playoff experience could be in play. But that is a legitimate conference finals roster.

Q: That was a mind-numbing fact you threw out there on the World Cup and Olympic pool. This team doesn't have a Top 35 player. Wow, that's got to smoke Pat Riley a bit. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: It also says plenty about what USA Basketball thinks about Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside, that they are not even considered good enough for such an expansive pool for upcoming national teams. Then again, perhaps it also opens a window into the thinking of Gregg Popovich, who will coach the upcoming national teams. With the Spurs potentially having to consider trades for a discontent Kawhi Leonard, it does not appear that the man who decides all things Spurs has a particular affection for much on the Heat roster. Granted, USA Basketball made the selections for the national-team pool, but you have to figure that if Popovich wanted anyone from the Heat in that pool that they would have been included. Instead, the Heat stood shut out, with the player pool including the likes of Tobias Harris, Myles Turner and Mike Conley Jr. Then again, Leonard also is in the pool, which could make for a fascinating USA Basketball camp this summer in Las Vegas.

Q: Seeing Tony Fiorentino leave is like saying goodbye to a very fond family member with whom you have wonderful Heat memories and shared Heat experiences, and for many of us, he is someone we’ve grown up with as Heat fans. His voice is the always pleasant, always upbeat, and always professional voice that has exuded warmth, personality, and familiarity, and given us insights delivered in a personal way that we relate to. Speaking for myself, he is even more one with the fans today than ever and while I'm sure his successor will do fine, I don't see the reason for him having to leave a fan base with whom he has become a favorite family member. It just seems like change for the sake of change, to many of us, Ira, I’m sure. Patrick, Coral Springs.

A: I have received several responses to Sunday's interview with Tony along these lines and believe this reflects the perspective others have shared.

April 8, 2018

Q: Just how much better could this team have been with Dion Waiters? Even with his up-and-down nature, three of four more wins is not out of the question. Neon Dion lives for big-time, spotlight moments. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: I'm glad you brought that up, because Dion has been so out of sight and out of mind these past few months. Short answer: I'm not sure, because we simply have not seen enough of him in moments that matter, having missed the ends of these past two seasons. And you also don't necessarily know what he is going to be when he returns from his ankle surgery. Will the explosive first step be there? Will he be able to play in the attack mode the Heat desires? As for chemistry, he almost will be starting from scratch, with the Heat rotation now designed to be in sync with Dwyane Wade. With the emergence of Josh Richardson, the uniqueness of Wayne Ellington (provided he can be retained), the Heat will have to sift through how to make it all work next season, particularly if Dwyane Wade returns.

Q: People put forth several perspectives regarding Hassan Whiteside. But here is the bottom line: if he played up to his potential then these discussions would never need happen in the first place. -- Chadwick.

A: And we saw it again Friday in New York -- the lack of force to his game, again settling for floating, push shots instead of playing with power, might, force. With the knee brace gone, I'm not sure that can be considered a factor anymore. And he certainly was given ample time to work through the hip injury. Hassan Whiteside is unique when he is explosive. Otherwise, he's just another lengthy big man. The Heat need Whiteside flexing if they are to have any hope in the postseason.

Q: Ira, do you think Erik Spoelstra would put Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup in the playoffs. -- Caleb.

A: No, because it is a bit much to ask him, at 36, to play starter's minutes, even with playoff games spaced out in the absence of back-to-backs. The Heat need Wade as a closer, and they need him to be fresh and rested for those moments. Beyond that, the Heat have spent these past few weeks developing Dwyane's second-unit chemistry with Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington, Justise Winslow, so why create yet another adjustment?

April 7, 2018

Q: Ira, this loss against the Knicks will come back and haunt them. Had they won, they would have been two full games ahead of Wizards, with the tiebreaker. That means they would be guaranteed to be No. 7, at least, and they could have lost the next two games and still been No. 7, which is what they should want. They had the chance to control their own destiny and blew it. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: First, it hardly was a crushing defeat from a playoff standpoint. If the Heat win one of their final two games -- Monday at home against Oklahoma City, Wednesday at home against Toronto -- they still are assured of no worse than No. 7. The irony is that the Raptors could have a say in that, since they have nothing to play for and face the Heat on the final night of the season. I still believe No. 6 should be the goal, especially with Philadelphia now in control of No. 3. The Heat can assure themselves No. 6 by winning their last two, no matter what Milwaukee or Washington do. That Monday game against the Thunder could prove to be a compelling game No. 81 on each team's schedule. My gut feeling is a 1-1 Heat finish. So that would come down to deciding to instead control their positioning to settle in at No. 7. The Wizards should win their final two, against the nothing-to-gain Celtics and Magic, but, then again, they also should have won Friday against the Hawks. The Bucks close against the Knicks, Magic and 76ers, who could be playing to solidify No. 3 on closing night. So, to recap: a 1-1 close would leave the Heat at 44-38; a 2-0 close would leave the Wizards at 44-38; and a 2-1 ending would leave the Bucks at 44-38. And the Heat would get No. 6 in that three-team tiebreaker. If the Bucks win out, with the Wizards 2-0 and the Heat 1-1, then the Bucks would be No. 6, the Heat No. 7 and Wizards No. 8. Now, if the Heat close 0-2, then all bets are off. Basically, Friday's loss simply made the Heat's closing math far more complex.

Q: Would you rather face Boston, Philly or Cavs in round one? If the answer is Boston, did the Heat lose on purpose Friday to get the No. 7 seed? -- Martin.

A: There is no way the Heat brought Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and James Johnson back to lose. You can't ask good players to play bad. If you are trying to lose, you look much further down the roster when building that night's rotations. No, the Heat were just bad in New York, terrible in fact. But for those scoring at home, my preferences for the Heat's first-round opponents of the remaining possibilities would be, in this order: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Boston, 3. Toronto, 4. Cleveland.

Q: We can't risk injury, but we need to play well against OKC and Toronto. -- Sippy.

A: Agree. You don't want to go into the playoffs on three-game losing streak without a victory in a week and a half. And, for now, all the Heat have to fall back upon is their recent home success, with only two road victories since Jan. 29. Now, if there is an ailment that requires rest, that is another story. Otherwise, best foot forward at home could be significant when it comes to playoff promise. 

April 6, 2018

Q: Miami fans have become sort of like Alabama football fans -- unless we're dominating in the playoffs, the season is a failure. Given the roster, the elevated competition in the East, and the fact that the kind of success we've enjoyed is very rare, I consider our current No. 6 seed to be a success, especially after missing out last year. I know we have some serious questions about the type of contracts we signed, but I would anticipate some of those being moved to accommodate more star power in the next offseason or two. -- David, Boynton Beach.

A: It's interesting, I've been asked during several media appearances whether I consider this season a success -- and I've hedged every time. First, merely making the playoffs, by itself, is nothing more than a sign of mediocrity. In a league of 30 teams, 16 make the postseason. More do than not. And I'm not sure the Heat's marginal increase in victories offers an indication of significant improvement. I would say this: 1. Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow have all gotten better. 2. Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo proved to be quality additions. 3. But James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters (because of injury) regressed. For the most part, Goran Dragic has been his steady self and Tyler Johnson his inconsistent self. So, no, I don't believe the Heat are significantly better. They just didn't start 11-30 this time, so they didn't have to finish 30-11. They are a middle-of-the-road team in a league whether middle-of-the-road teams make the playoffs sometimes and miss the playoff sometimes.

Q: Against the Hawks, I saw yet another excellent all-around stat line from Josh Richardson. I believe he is a star piece for the future of the Miami Heat and he continues to prove me right especially when our more ball-dominant guards/forwards miss games, such as Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and James Johnson. Do you also believe Josh could be an All-Star or All-Star caliber if he was given more opportunities as the center piece of the offense? -- Jihad, Brooklyn.

A: Yes, but I am not sure he is good enough to be a leading man on a championship contender. In that realm, I believe he would set up more as a second or third piece. But it will be interesting to see the Heat's approach as Goran Dragic moves toward the end of his contract. The fact that Josh has made himself an unquestioned starter certainly has been an encouraging step this season.

Q: Did the Heat intentionally lose to the Nets to lower the chances of a high draft pick for the Cavaliers? -- Alex.

A: I'm glad someone finally figured it out. Once the Cavaliers acquired the Nets' unprotected first-round lottery pick for the 2018 draft from Boston, Pat Riley informed his coaching staff to help get the Nets as many victories as possible, apparently sick of a smiling Dan Gilbert on the lottery stage. As of this posting, that has Cleveland as no better than the No. 7 lottery seed based on Brooklyn's record. I'd assume the Heat's next goal will be to focus on defeating the Knicks so New York can push past the Nets in the lottery race, as well.

April 5, 2018

Q: Ira, shouldn't the aim be to secure seventh, unless the front office is comfortable with facing the Raptors? -- Kapil.

A: The No. 7 seed is the hardest to angle for because it is difficult to win just enough for that spot but not win too much for No. 6 (or conversely, lose enough for that spot, but not lose too much for No. 8). The only decision to be made at this point is to try to win them all or to prioritize elements other than winning, such as health. The fact that Erik Spoelstra didn’t immediately move to Derrick Walton Jr. or Derrick Jones Jr. on Wednesday night speaks to this not, in the Heat's case, being a tank-a-thon. And when it comes to LeBron-phobia, we'll have a better read on the Cavaliers these next two nights when they face the Wizards and 76ers. That should let us know whether they will be the definitive No. 3 seed in the East.

Q: Hey Ira, do you think Erik Spoelstra gives Justise Winslow the green light to fire at will against subpar competition to increase his confidence? Recently he's taken 12 shots against the Kings, 14 shots against the Knicks and 16 shots against the Hawks on Wednesday night. -- Jake.

A: I'm not necessarily sure that Erik Spoelstra is encouraging shots, but it is not unusual for coaches to allow players to pad stats in situations such as Wednesday in Atlanta. So more than the shot count for Justise, the fact that he played more than any reserve and more than any player than Josh Richardson tells me that the Heat knew it was the type of moment that could get Justise's head in a better place. That said, there also was just one rebound. But, yes, Spoelstra has done that before with Winslow and even Hassan Whiteside, and he is not alone among coaches who appreciate how a positive stat line can lead to a more positive outlook for a player, no matter the competition.

Q: Usually teams tank when they bench their star players. The Heat have 15 equally mediocre replaceable parts, so it's hard for the Heat to tank. -- Mark.

A: So here we have a counterpoint to Wednesday's feel-good moment. The reality is that you can't tank against what the Hawks are offering at this stage of the season. But what Wednesday did was put Rodney McGruder and Bam Adebayo in a better place, in case they are needed in the playoffs. Still, I do believe the Heat need at least one more dress rehearsal before the playoffs. I'm not sure you can get that against what's left of the Knicks or that the Raptors will even field a representative lineup in next Wednesday's season finale. So I wonder if Erik Spoelstra uses Monday at home against the Thunder for that moment, since you know that Oklahoma City will be fully engaged. 

April 4, 2018

Q: With the Heat and Bucks winning and Wizards losing how important are the last games for seeding purposes? -- Alfred.

A: As significant as each team wants to make them. Erik Spoelstra now has decisions to make with Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade, who each could benefit from time off. Honestly, Hassan Whiteside probably could, too, just to make sure that his hip is 100 percent. With the Heat, Bucks and Wizards all tied for Nos. 6-9, it will be a fascinating case study of which team steps up to the challenge of the Cavaliers. Heat players said after the game that you shouldn’t tempt the fates, but is that any worse than challenging LeBron James? I know that Erik Spoelstra and the players will say all the right things, but don't be surprised if you see some wonky lineup combinations and perhaps even endure a second loss of the season in New York on Friday night. None of this matters nearly as much as what follows after the final game of the regular season.

Q: Ira, don't spew propaganda for Erik Spoelstra, who always tries to diminish the team profile so he's not blamed when they do not accomplish much in the playoffs. -- O.T.

A: It all comes down to your estimation of this roster. Granted, injuries have somewhat changed the equation. But the only way the Heat can be viewed as coming up short in the playoffs would be if you believe they are better than the Raptors, Cavaliers, Celtics or 76ers, to start. Otherwise, can there truly be an expectation of getting to or beyond the second round of the playoffs? Now, when it comes to the Pacers, yes, an argument could be made about the Heat being able to complete. But that is an unlikely first-round matchup. So should not pulling off an upset be considered failure?

Q:  Why has Luke Babbitt been inactive lately? -- B.S.

A: Because the Heat have to list four of their 17 players inactive (with only 13 allowed to be in uniform on game nights). So with Dion Waiters the team's only injured player, it means Waiters and two-way players Derrick Jones Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr. plus one more. That one more had been Jordan Mickey, but after his solid performance filling in last Tuesday for Hassan Whiteside against the Cavaliers, he was elevated in the hierarchy. I would expected that with a playoff berth now assured that several rotation regulars will get time off, which will have Luke back on the court, possibly as soon  as Wednesday in Atlanta. As it was, he was back on the active roster Tuesday against his former team when the Heat beat the Hawks. 

April 3, 2018

Q: How can someone with the skills you have on both ends of the floor be sitting on the bench so long and so often? Because basketball is 100 percent maximum effort 100 percent of the time in sports, especially at your age.

How many times have we seen a mediocre talent beat you up and down the court for easy buckets? How many times have we seen you lag behind on offense and not be anywhere near the rim for an offensive rebound? How many games have you had four or even eight blocks plus a double-double that we lost?

Basketball is all about winning plays. To make winning plays requires you to be in a position to impact the game on both ends and that requires full sprints up and down the floor, beating your opponent and not the heel-clanking shuffle we see night in and night out.

Go back and watch 39-year-old Robert Parish outrun 20-year-olds all game long. He was nowhere near your talent level but his motor was relentless. The good news is that hustle, motor and maximum effort, if you recognize those shortcomings, can be easily fixed.

We don’t care if you play in five-minute stretches and have to come out panting, but during those five minutes, give us everything you've got. Make opponents fear you because they know they can’t outwork you.

Skills matter, yes, and you've got a ton of them, but skills without a motor is like looking at a car in showroom but not being able to drive it home.

You claim to be an elite center.  Don’t tell us, show us the effort to match the skills and we, too, can become believers. Take away any precognition of needing to pace yourself and instead set the pace to maximum effort for every second you’re on the floor. -- Kind Regards, Brian, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Selected because there were several similar offerings in the mailbag.

Q: Ira, how can people expect Hassan to stay engaged in games, when he doesn't play? I know this team is paying him a lot of money, but let's be honest, Erik Spoelstra way too often has sat Hassan down, while leaving the likes of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson in the game shooting bad shots and committing costly turnovers. Sometimes it's as if Hassan is held to a higher standard than others, and it’s not fair. -- Derrick, Jacksonville.

A: Selected because this perspective also has been put forward by several corresponding to this space.

Q: Ira, I think part of Hassan Whiteside's frustration is not only the minutes but also the way he is utilized.  A big who has an offensive game should not be spending most of his time setting picks at the top of the key.  The only Heat player who seems to have good on-court chemistry and can consistently get him the ball at the right place at the right time is Dwyane Wade. In my opinion, although Goran Dragic is a great player, he is not a great facilitator, especially regarding Whiteside. -- Joel.

A: And yet another common theme that has been forwarded to this direction.

(Note to readers: Over the past few days the reaction to Hassan Whiteside's comments has led to a significant spike in the entries offered in this direction. The goal today was to offer entries reflective of the most prevalent themes offered. As always, the submissions are greatly appreciated.)

April 2, 2018

Q: Ira, I know Hassan Whiteside will get ripped by fans and media for his comments, but he is voicing what you and many others have been saying all year long. The Heat have to decide if they are going to keep him or not. I will say this, it's not as if the Heat are some elite team playing small ball. They are a slightly above .500 team. The question has to be asked is how much better would they be with a fully healthy, engaged, and properly utilized Whiteside playing 33 minutes per game? I think they would be better, but it’s kind of obvious Erik Spoelstra does not. -- Robert.

A: For the first time, I'm not sure I can honestly answer the most basic question regarding Hassan, that being whether he will be with the team next season. What I know for sure is that he loves living in South Florida, enjoys his teammates, and even has spoken fondly of his relationship with the coaching staff. But with the Heat responding to his Saturday comments with a fine, it sends multiple messages. One, they're fed up. Two, no more coddling. Three, perhaps it's time to make it less comfortable for you here. And yet, what might have most frustrated the Heat through this episode is that such tensions reduce Whiteside's value on the trade market. Instead, he could become the type of distressed property that the Heat have pounced on for pennies on the dollar in recent years.

Q: Hey Ira, Heat fan from France here. I still think that Hassan Whiteside is our best player, but only if he is 100 percent mentally engaged, healthy and fully conditioned, which seems to never be the case with him. That said, I think that we should move on from him this summer, also because I'm not convinced he has the "Culture" mentality. He's good, but not what he thinks he is. -- Vincent, Paris.

A: But how did we get here? How did Hassan go from being an unstoppable force in the paint to a pariah? The NBA has long been a league of diverse personalities and it long has been the Heat's forte to maximize such unique talents, maximizing everyone from Ike Austin to Anthony Mason to Chris Andersen. So where did the Heat go wrong here? That’s not saying that the majority of personal development isn't on the person, but how did this latent frustration from Whiteside reach the point to how it manifested itself Saturday night? Isn't the Heat "Culture" supposed to be above this all?

Q: Ira, all year Erik Spoelstra has coached to our opponents' strengths. Do you think that he should maybe start having teams play to our strengths and stop conceding the paint late in games? -- Julio, Cape Coral.

A: This is how that works: The only way playing and staying big works against smaller lineups is if the big man bludgeons the opposition. That was the case against the Heat with Portland Jusuf Nurkic and against Oklahoma City with Steven Adams. So part of that is about Whiteside, that there can’t be any flippy-dippy-do shots when he goes against undersized lineups, just brute power and force. And to be candid, that hasn't always been the case when the Heat have stayed big with Hassan against smaller lineups.

April 1, 2018

Q: Ira, everything about Hassan Whiteside, including his Saturday postgame rant, is antithetical to Heat culture. Have we seen the last of him in a Heat uniform after this season? -- Raul, Naples.

A: Actually, I'm going to disagree. If a player desperately wants to play, wants to contribute, how is that antithetical? Isn't that what a player is supposed to want? And here's what has to be taken into account, as well: Hassan's expression of disappointment came after all loss. If this was after a victory, if Erik Spoelstra's maneuvering produced a positive result, then Hassan would have had far fewer legs for his argument. But this wasn't just him not playing. This was no Kelly Olynyk late, and no Bam Adebayo at all. So this was philosophical, Erik Spoelstra's belief that going small was the best way to counter the Nets' approach. I can understand where Hassan was coming from. To be fair, no one asked Kelly Olynyk or Bam Adebayo about not playing. Hassan made himself available to the media, so he stepped forward and offered his raw perspective.

Q: I agree with Hassan Whiteside. We played to the Nets' small lineup instead of pounding them in the post. Also, we lose protection in the paint by going small. In the loss to Portland, they kept pounding us in the post; they never went small. In the loss to OKC, they stayed with Steven Adams. Hassan is right. -- Sippy.

A: And that's another element to the equation: Do the Heat truly believe that Whiteside makes their defense better? Oh, there is plenty of talk about how imposing he can be. But at lie detector time, do the Heat believe they are better defensively with Whiteside? Because, if so, perhaps the Nets would not have played Saturday with such an attack-minded bent.

Q: Ira, although I think Erik Spoelstra is a nice guy, don't you think it's a bit ridiculous of him to continue restricting Hassan Whiteside's minutes? His minutes have been an issue all year and it’s frustrating to see a coach adjust to other teams, instead of having teams adjust to us. One would think that this team would value a center like Hassan after being put through down years with Joel Anthony, Dexter Pitman, Erick Dampier, and Jamaal Magloire. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: Erik has benched some of the best players at times throughout his career, even Chris Bosh. He often coaches in the moment, without regard to hierarchy or salary. And that is fine -- in the moment. But there also is a cumulative effect that also must be monitored. Saturday, it reached its breaking point with Hassan. That is the other part of the equation, when the patience eventually wears thin.

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