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ASK IRA: Can Wade-Dragic be salvaged?
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.


February 13, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. I've seen enough to know that the Dwyane Wade/Goran Dragic pairing will never work to the level the Heat need it to work.  In fairness to Goran, the perfect complement to Dwyane may not even exist.  I defy you to find me an NBA player who is willing to bring the ball to halfcourt, then defer, shoot well, and defend the other team's point guard. Having invested $85 million plus two first-round picks, I believe last year's acquisition and signing of Dragic will lay the groundwork for what will eventually be a long and painful rebuild. -- Rich, West Palm Beach.

A: Will never work? Or the Heat haven't found a way to make it work? Because of you're saying that it never had a chance to work, then Pat Riley has some explaining to do about how much he paid that much in terms of both draft picks and salaries. If the Heat haven't found a way to make it work yet, then spend as much time as needed over this All-Star break and find a system where it has to work. The latest impression is that when the going gets tough, you punt. First, with Whiteside seemingly being minimized. And now with the Dragic questions. Here's why Wade/Dragic will work: Because it has to work. That should be all the incentive that anyone involved in the process need going forward.

Q: What are the chances of someone like Pat Riley, Micky Arison or Erik Spoelstra sitting down with D-Wade during the offseason and explaining to him that he needs to allow Goran Dragic to run the offense? -- Rodney. Sarasota.

A: Why wait until the offseason? You signed the contract in July, so why work through an entire year of Dragic's deal before getting things right, like right now? And he doesn't necessarily have to "run the offense." I believe that element of Goran's game is overstated, which is why the Suns made a point of surrounding him with point guards. What you have to do is find a way that makes him more a part of the system than someone who is parked in the corner after the first quarter.

Q: Ira, I get so infuriated with all the blind Hassan Whiteside support. I think these fans don’t understand the game of basketball. Basketball is so much more than rebounds and block shots and making shots, for that matter. Basketball is about trust and team and knowing that the guy next to you is a professional and will make the right play at the right time and think team first. And I'm not talking about the elbow he threw; that's the least of my concern. I'm talking about the many times he takes plays or even games off, because he is upset he isn’t getting enough minutes, or the ball wasn't passed to him when he had position in the low block. -- Yunasi, Miami Beach.

A: And you know what you do with players like that? You cultivate and rehabilitate and mentor. I'm just confounded by this mindset seemingly of, "Well, we'll just go out and get another Whiteside." Has everyone suddenly forgotten about how long it took the Heat to find another center after Alonzo Mourning was done? Are you truly willing to punt on this and head back the Joel Anthony path?

February 12, 2016

Q: The Heat are in desperate need of shooters, that is obvious to us all. We also know no matter how hard the Heat push after All-Star break that no team in the East is strong enough to take out the Cavaliers in a series right no. So our main solution should be to gear up for next season. -- Earl, Jersey City, N.J.

A: For as uneven a ride as it has been to this point, you can't simply scrap it and say wait 'til next year. Not with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at their ages and salaries. And not when you still own the 76ers a Top 10-protected first-round pick. And not when the No. 3 seed, the one that keeps you out of the Cavaliers' bracket before the Eastern Conference finals (as does the No. 6 seed), is still within reach. I think the opposite is true, that the Heat have to be careful not to overreach because of the moment and yield too much of their future. After falling to the bottom of the standings last season and then pointing to injuries, the Heat have to push to make this season in some way meaningful. As it is, there are no assurances that next season would have them in any better position at the All-Star break as where they currently stand.

Q: I think the Heat have forgotten what it was like just a short while ago when we didn't have a center and couldn't get rebounds. It is so convenient now that Hassan Whiteside was ejected to go on and on about his maturity. It was his first indiscretion this season. Plus, how can it be separated from the way he has been playing in the past few games? He is only human. -- Patrick, Hollywood.

A: And no one is saying that the Heat are preparing for any such separation now or during free agency. But there also is more to the Heat equation than rebounds and blocked shots. There is this: Can this player help you win a championship, prove up to the moment when the moments count the most? That is the decision that either has to be made now, when there is a possibility of getting something in return at the trading deadline, or during free agency, when a decision has to be made on how much to offer.

Q: Why are we paying Goran Dragic $85 million and gave up two first-round picks for him if we're not going to truly use him? Allowing Dragic to control the offense could ease the mileage on Dwyane Wade's body and open up the offense more with his off-the-ball cutting. Obviously, there is a need for more shooting, but this offense, as currently constructed, with Dragic standing in the corner when it matters most, becomes easy to defend once defenses tighten up in the playoffs. -- Daniel, Coral Gables.

A: To all of this, yes. You can't trade Dragic without getting back two potential lottery picks, as the Suns now hold from the Heat. And you can't be paying that type of money and accept such a limited return on the investment. At some point, those who matter within the organization have to look back to all the reasons why such a significant commitment was made in the first place, and then activate whatever plan is necessary to maximize Dragic's on-court value to what initially was projected. 

February 11, 2016

Q: Both the Clippers and Spurs games showed the Heat need a rim protector. Without Whiteside, it was ugly at best, and I don't see Chris Bosh in that role and Amar'e Stoudemire only for short stretches.  In Whiteside I see elements of Robert Parish before he became Hall of Fame Robert Parish.  As I remember, he also had issues as a younger player with Golden State. He was 27 when he joined the Celtics with serious doubts about his attitude and dedication.  Now, I'm not suggesting Whiteside will be Parish, and only the Heat staff know if his ability to mature is there. But he is a rim protector and if he matures well . . . -- Dick.

A: That's a reasonable comparison. One that hits closer to home is to Rony Seikaly, and how Kevin Loughery insisted that Seikaly never was going to be what the Heat needed. So the Heat gave up on Seikaly, brought in Kevin Willis and plodded a path through mediocrity until Pat Riley arrived. Now, that doesn’t mean that Seikaly might have amounted to anything greater had he remained with the Heat. But it clearly was a case of a coach, and, by extension, a front office, running out of patience and perhaps not considering the ultimate consequences. The NBA is replete with cases of players whose careers started on uneven footing, only to emerge as long-term serviceable players. The question with Hassan is if his uneven moments with the Heat amount to an initial NBA misstep, or after passing through the Kings and Grizzlies, whether a conclusive NBA evaluation can be made. In this case, if the Heat do punt on Whiteside, it's not as if there even would be a Kevin Willis type to replace him.

Q: I watched the video of Whiteside's ejection numerous times and didn't think it was a big deal, certainly not worse than what goes on in YMCA pickup games every day.  Granted, he hit above Marjanovic's shoulders and therefore automatically warrants a flagrant foul. But I don't understand why he was sent home after being ejected?  Did he erupt in the locker room?  He seemed under control when he left the court. I also don't understand why this is a referendum on his maturity and upcoming free agency.  Remember what Alonzo Mourning was like early in his career? -- David.

A: I agree that the foul was innocuous. But an NBA player has to know the rules and appreciate the consequences. I think the Heat were not exactly pleased with some of Hassan' media responses earlier in the week and didn't want comments that would linger over the All-Star break. And your Zo point is reasonable, except Zo was far, far more of a proven commodity even when he arrived to the NBA than Hassan is now. So the rules are different for certain players. And if ever there was a player who would benefit by staying within the rules, it's Hassan. With so much at stake, every moment matters. It's as if that message doesn't always take hold with Hassan.

Q: Who knows, Miami might have a new roster by Feb. 19. -- Will.

A: Based on what the Heat have to offer, and are willing to offer, I can't fathom a shakeup that massive, especially when most of the NBA's work, and Pat Riley's work, gets done during free agency. Chris Bosh isn't going anywhere. Dwyane Wade isn't going anywhere. And I doubt Goran Dragic is going anywhere. But if he is, I can't fathom Pat Riley getting back anything close to the two potential lottery picks he sent away for him to Phoenix at last season's deadline. So what we're really talking about is how much Hassan Whiteside, Josh McRoberts, Chris Andersen and maybe Luol Deng might fetch.

February 10, 2016

Q: Since we have a lack of shooting threats and need a scorer, wouldn't it make sense for the Heat to inquire about trading for Rudy Gay? He is a proven scorer and can space the floor. -- Yusuf, Cape May, New Jersey.

A: I'm glad you raised this question, and not as because of Rudy, himself, but rather when it comes to any player who has additional time on his contract beyond this season. As it is, the Heat's margin of error is razor thin for the offseason when it comes to the potential for retaining Dwyane Wade (which will happen), Hassan Whiteside (which might) and adding an outside free agent (which is iffy). Every dollar taken on for 2016-17 reduces that overall potential three-way pie. About the only way taking back 2016-17 salary would make sense would be if the Heat believe such a move positions them for a championship run, or whether current Heat future salary is included in return (Josh McRoberts? Goran Dragic?). Otherwise, I can't see Pat Riley forfeiting 2016 free agency at such an early stage for the likes of an Omri Casspi or Wayne Ellington.

Q: Hassan Whiteside's talents are being discovered every time he is on the court, and he should be treated as such. -- Victor.

A: Yes and no. Yes, if the Heat believe that Whiteside is a prime championship component, can be a starter and leader on a team that can contend for a championship. No, if they believe he is limited to being a complementary piece, merely in place to support Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, one whose mood swings and lack of maturity will limit him going forward. The most difficult part is getting a read on what the Heat think. After Tuesday's loss of composure, the doubts only increase. The trading deadline should answer some of that, and free agency even more, when it comes to what the Heat truly think.

Q: If the Heat retire LeBron James' No. 6 does Eddie Jones get named on that banner, too. He was the one who fought through all the tough times with the Heat? -- Kan.

A: Good point, at least when it comes to having Eddie on hand for such a moment. No matter what happened with Shaquille O'Neal's jersey, I believe it is inevitable that LeBron's jersey eventually would be retired. LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade not only should lead to the removal of No. 6, No. 1 and No. 3 from the Heat's available options, but it would be nice to see a commemoration of everyone who played during that four-year runs to the Finals eventually being honored as a group.

February 9, 2016

Q: We are watching Hassan Whiteside grow before our eyes. The only thing holding this player back is lack of experience and a lack of opportunities, made worse by limiting his minutes on the court. Will Heat Nation lose Hassan before Erik Spoelstra realizes he has the Miami Heat's next great player? -- Greg, Miami.

A: If anyone, anyone, in the Heat organization thought Hassan Whiteside could be their "next great player," I am certain the approach would be far different. Clearly, there still is debate throughout the organization of Whiteside's value going forward and his place with the team going forward. And that's important, too, because the Heat essentially will be filling their salary cap for years to come in 2016 free agency, so they have to get it right, especially considering they lack much in the way of draft choices going forward. There still are too many games when Whiteside is a bit off with his game, where he's not the most dominant big man on the floor. That's not nitpicking, because he still is getting his playing time and almost assuredly will be back in the starting lineup soon enough. But, to your point, if Hassan is, indeed, the Heat's "next great player, then he has to eliminate all doubts with dominance going forward. To mix clichés, the ball still is in his court when it comes to his future, his future salary and his Heat future. There at least was a debate about Whiteside not finishing Sunday's game on the court. Hassan has to eliminate any such thought.

Q: Why can't Justice Winslow in some ways play the role of Draymond Green, bringing the ball up at pace and facilitating. Winslow is only one inch shorter and just as good of a ballhandler. I know they paid Goran Dragic a whole lot of money, but Winslow is being underutilized as well. -- Howard, Palm City.

A: They have been using him in such a role, at least when it comes advancing defensive rebounds in order to get a head start on the shot clock. But there is one significant difference between Justise and both Draymond and Goran. Both of the latter two are 3-point threats, which means the defense has to meet them at the 3-point line, opening the lane for cutters. With Winslow, the defense can sag back into the lane until defensive help arrives, with Justise not a threat to stop and pop a successful 3-pointer. The threat simply isn’t there.

Q: Ira, the way I see it there is no way the Miami Heat can survive without a 3-point shooter (Gerald Green just cannot do it). So Pat Riley has to do something. -- Luis, Miami.

A: But Erik Spoelstra has shown he is not going to play a one-dimensional shooter, with James Jones often buried on the Heat bench. And even Riley noted last season that what makes Steph Curry and Klay Thompson so special is that they are not simply shooters, but rather complete players who also can shoot. So the type of shooter the Heat need/covet would come at a price, a price the Heat might not be able to afford. It is why you certainly can debate bypassing Devin Booker in the draft. But, yes, the Heat need better spacing than Gerald Green, or seemingly anyone on this roster, can provide.

February 8, 2016

Q: You had DeAndre Jordan out there and you let Hassan Whiteside sit? Why would Erik Spoelstra do that? Who else can you play against Jordan? I am dumbfounded. -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariza.

A: Erik explained after the game that he believed the Heat were developing an offensive rhythm when Hassan was out and wanted to maintain that. I give him credit for standing by a conviction. But I'm not sure it wasn't misguided. It's one thing when Spoelstra sits Luol Deng late; he will be a free agent in the offseason, and almost certainly will be moving on, based on the Heat's salary-cap situation. It's also one thing when he sits Goran Dragic late; he is locked into a long-term contract. But what type of statement does it make when you put an impending free agent in that position? I give Hassan credit for biting his tongue after the game. If the money is equal in the offseason, would you sign with the team that often has turned elsewhere with games in the balance? Getting a read on the level the Heat value Whiteside is a difficult, and sometimes trouble, proposition,.

Q: By fouling DeAndre Jordan you either force him to make free throws or you force Doc Rivers to take out their one real rim protector. -- Robert.

A: Or you don't foul him and he dominates defensively in the lane and converts two decisive alley-oop dunks. You can't be hacking in one period and then become a basketball purist in the next. I could understand if you try and he makes both or even one. But to bypass the option? Why?

Q: Gerald Green can be so frustrating to watch on offense. We know that he can be a capable scorer, but he so often has not shown it for the Heat. It just seems like most of his shots are hoisted quickly without being in rhythm. But, unlike Stephen Curry, who also has a quick release, Gerald's shots are not always going in the basket. Can the coaches help him get back to offensive consistency? -- Michael, North Miami Beach.

A: You have to wonder, especially when the Heat otherwise have done such a good job moving the ball, getting multiple players involved, and creating weak-side action. But that's who Gerald is and what he does. It is why a spot-up shooter would help. Tyler Johnson had been providing some of that before his surgery. Luol Deng can at times. But if you're going to play Gerald, you have to live with the complete Gerald Green package.

February 7, 2016

Q: Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade are typically the leading scorers for this team. An argument could be made that Hassan Whiteside is usually among the team's top scorers when he is healthy. Beyond that, there is no consistency. Even in wins, the 3-point scoring is dismal. Every team in the NBA knows this and their approach is to pack the paint, double-team Bosh and Wade at times and let the Heat launch uncontested threes as often as they like. I really hope that shooting help is on the way by the trading deadline. -- Michael, Miami.

A: In that regard, I think a huge statement was made Friday with the victory in Charlotte, when instead of forcing 3-pointers, the Heat moved the ball and worked the offense, and pressed the pace, to the point where they were able to create quality scoring opportunities without 3-point threats. Yes, it actually can be done. What the Heat have done with their off-the-ball movement lately, especially along the baseline, is create enough distraction for the defense, that the pick-and-roll game can thrive. Yes, 3-point shooting certainly would help, and I'm sure Pat Riley is speed-dialing for options. But in the interim, the Heat are not forcing the issue, and instead making their unique approach work. With six victories in the last seven, you can't argue with the results.

Q: I hear a lot of people saying to move Hassan Whiteside to the bench for the whole season. I believe the Heat should just get him a lot of minutes with the second unit. What do you think? -- Pretesh, New York.

A: The personality of a player plays a major role in such organizational decisions, and for all the Heat's talk about "sacrifice," I'm not sure that a reserve role, after so many starts, would be something that Hassan would be able to wrap his head around. Beyond that, Hassan will be a free agent in the offseason, and the market pays far better for starting centers than reserve centers, no matter the ultimate minutes total. Even if Hassan would be willing to go along with it, I would think his representation would have an issue. I can't remember the last time, if ever, that a reserve received a maximum contract. If Hassan wasn't in a contract year, it might have been easier to convince him of such a move. But he is in a contract year. And getting beyond the past two games, it's not as if Hassan has or had done anything to lose his starting job, other than going down in a heap against the Wizards two weeks ago.

Q: Is Pat Riley seeking to make a statement to Kevin Durant, showing how durable Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were in 2015-16. You know, "If you join us, you won't be alone to shoulder the franchise." -- Michael, Hollywood.

A: First, most, if not all, of the decisions regarding the Heat's playing style and rotations are made by Erik Spoelstra. And I can assure you, Erik is not walking the sideline during games wondering how each moment would affect Kevin Durant's free-agency decisions. And Bosh and Wade suiting up on a regular basis certainly has nothing to do with a statement to Durant. As it is, because of the Heat's salary-cap position, Durant remains a longshot. As far as salary-cap mechanics, he quite possibly would be more of a free-agency longshot than even when the Heat lured Bosh and LeBron James in 2010. Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with dreaming. But such daydreams certainly aren't in place on game nights. 

February 6, 2016

Q: I hope playing off the bench is just until Hassan Whiteside is back to 100 percent. If it is going to be like this now, say bye-bye to Whiteside . . . unbelievable. -- JKing.

Q: Will Amar'e Stoudemire be pushed back to the bench when Whiteside is fully healthy? Or is this the new norm? -- Post.

Q: Don't change it. Go with it. It seems to be a solid rotation, with Whiteside coming off the bench with Justise Winslow and Gerald Green. -- Neil.

A: As Erik Spoelstra said in Friday's pregame radio interview, this is not a backup quarterback situation. And after the game he said, "nothing's in concrete and there is no controversy right now." Of course, in this day of social media, that is not for a coach to determine. But the fact is the Heat are 4-1 with this current lineup that has Stoudemire starting. And Whiteside off the bench these past two games has been an unrelenting jolt of caffeine. Remember, the Heat had a major offensive overhaul when Whiteside was out six games with his hip issue and the thought is to make sure he fully is up to speed before again working with the starters. That return could happen any day, but seemingly will come no later than after the All-Star break, if only because it is clear that starting remains significantly meaningful to Whiteside.

Q: Dorell Wright is coming back from China and is available for the Heat again. What say you, Ira? -- Paul.

A: I was told that it is not out of the realm, but I doubt the Heat would eat more than one additional salary based on where they stand against the luxury tax. So if it is Wright, then it likely would not be another shooter at the buyout deadline, someone along the lines of a Joe Johnson. The other option would be offering up to two 10-day contracts as sort of a tryout with Dorell, but Wright could possibly find something more substantial elsewhere. While the Heat did manage to push past the Hornets without converting a 3-pointer, I'm not sure the hard way is the preferred way. And it's interesting that one of the Heat's 3-point answers, Josh McRoberts, has fallen out of the rotation. Of course, with the Heat, everything seemingly is constantly evolving and I would expect some form of roster evolution in coming days or weeks.

Q: If the Heat go on a roll, first isn't out of reach. -- Felipe.

A: As Erik Spoelstra surely would say, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are immediate tough games coming up against the Clippers and Spurs. So let's wait until after Tuesday's game against the Spurs and perhaps then take stock during the All-Star break of the possibilities. To me, getting to third would be a worthy accomplishment, since it would likely keep the Heat out of the Cavaliers' bracket until the Eastern Conference finals.

February 5, 2016

Q: Ira, does Josh McRoberts fit? Erik Spoelstra hasn't used him as much as before. Does it have something to do with the new offense? -- Phil.

A: The new offense has more to do with actions by the wings, of which McRoberts is not one. But it very well could have something to do with the overall downsizing of the NBA. Spoelstra said he held McRoberts out of the second half in Houston because of the matchups, and there weren't many favorable size matchups against Dallas, especially with the Mavericks opting to go with Raymond Felton in place of Chandler Parsons (a confounding approach by Dallas, considering the investment, even with Parsons' defensive shortcomings). To his credit, Spoelstra goes with what works and with who works. And with Justise Winslow and Luol Deng playing well at the moment, there does not appear a need to force-feed McRoberts into the mix. In fact, with Hassan Whiteside back, it will be interesting to see if Amar'e Stoudemire gets some of the minutes that otherwise might have been set aside for McRoberts. Here we are, almost at the All-Star break, and there still is plenty to sort out with this rotation.

Q: How long is this team going to continue playing by depending on Gerald Green as its sole long-range shooter? How far can they go like this? It is very strange of Pat Riley to stand still. There is not one reliable shooter out there in the basketball world? -- Masoud, Tucson,

A: Who says Pat Riley is standing still? The trading deadline is not until Feb. 18. And then there is the buyout deadline, where the likes of Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin or others could shake free. And we still don't have definitive word from the Heat of when Tyler Johnson will be back. As it is, it is not as if the Heat have much to offer. And Erik Spoelstra has not shown keen interest in playing a player who is only a shooter. Say what you want about Gerald, but the reason he got into this position in the first place was his early-season commitment to defense.

Q: Hi, Ira. What are the chances Pat Riley looks to facilitate a trade at the trade deadline in order to get near to or under the luxury tax cap? -- Robert, Miami.

A: With so much in play, with Tyler Johnson's status in question, with the seedings such an unknown in the East, I think the only consideration that could (or should) be given to the tax at the trade deadline would be if a taker could be found for Chris Andersen. Otherwise, this has to be a time when you're solely in it to win it.

February 4, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. Could you see Hassan Whiteside, when he gets fully back from injury, still come off the bench to avoid chemistry issues with starting lineup? He could have more of an offensive role with the second unit, which is what he wants anyway, and can help keep leads with his defense. -- Jared, Miami.

A: No way and no need. First, there remains a limitation on the minutes that can be expected out of Amar'e Stoudemire at this stage of his career. In fact, after this string of starts, I think the Heat might want to give him some time off. And I also could see the Heat giving Amar'e time off before the playoffs. Beyond that, I think you would lose Hassan as a player if you made him play off the bench on a regular basis. I'm certain he would view that as a demotion. I'll be curious to see how Erik Spoelstra approach Friday in Charlotte, which also is the area where Hassan was raised. He has spent years working to become an NBA starter. Send him to the bench, and you could send him into a funk. Now, utilizing him off the bench for another game or two certainly could be within reason, especially if there is a concern about foul trouble, which did become an issue with Hassan wind up with five fouls in 17:21 in Wednesday night's victory in Dallas.

Q: Could moving Goran Dragic to a sixth-man role, allowing him to run his own unit, benefit the Heat? -- Giancarlo, Hollywood.

A: Now this I actually think makes some sense, especially with Tyler Johnson out and the Heat having to ride the wave that is Gerald Green, who had a very quiet 0-for-2 night against the Mavericks, although he was big on the boards with seven rebounds. I actually believe this is some of what Erik Spoelstra is trying to get to when he pulls Wade early. But not starting Dragic still does not solve the riddle of making it work with Goran and Dwyane late in games. And, as with Whiteside, it is a move very difficult to sell to a veteran, and perhaps one management would have a difficult time selling after going big with Goran's free-agent contract. Instead, as with many of the ways Spoelstra filters through his rotations, expect him to get to the most optimal combinations as often as possible.

Q: When Luol Deng can contribute on offense, the Heat are pretty tough to beat. -- Carter.

A: Which often comes down to the Heat allowing Luol to be involved in the offense. The Heat did that on Wednesday night, particularly when they set up Deng for his huge late 3-pointer. But those 15 points were not by accident, they were by the Heat working toward a system, two years after Lu's arrival, that finally accentuates his game. It is the same approach that had allowed Justise Winslow to flourish in recent games. Often times, players work because the system works. This is one of those times.

February 3, 2016

Q: I just don't see how Miami is going to beat the top teams without a real shooter. Unless Miami has a real shooter, it doesn't matter if Hassan Whiteside is there or not. A really good offensive team will just outshoot Miami. -- Will.

A: There are several reasons why the Heat need a shooter. It became evident during Tuesday's loss in Houston, as the Rockets double- and triple-teamed Bosh, as they packed the paint and cut off the Heat's driving lanes, that there was minimal respect for what the Heat could offer from distance. The Rockets' approach was to let Gerald Green shoot all the 3-pointers he wanted. For as much as the Heat have done to upgrade their offense, with better spacing and movements, there is only so much you can do against a defense that has five players all with at least one foot in the paint. The shooting question lingers.

Q: This Goran Dragic-Beno Udrih playing together lineup was getting destroyed. Why would we need to play this lineup? -- Morris, New York.

A: Because Tyler Johnson is out and there clearly is only so much confidence in Josh Richardson. This is what small ball forces you to do. It forces you to dig deep into your perimeter rotation for ambulatory wings. It is why it will be curious to see if the Heat try to ride out Johnson's two-month absence without a move, or whether they bring in another wing to at least have options against the types of lineups that the Rockets threw at them on Tuesday and other teams will go to going forward. It has to be more than Gerald Green or bust beyond Justise Winslow off the bench.

Q: Could Briante Weber be a Heat option with Tyler Johnson out? -- JRock.

A: For the uninitiated, Weber is the former Virginia Commonwealth guard whose senior season was cut short by a major knee injury. He then went undrafted, was signed by the Heat during training camp, and now is playing for the Heat's D-League team, available for any NBA team to sign. When healthy, Weber has conjured visions of Patrick Beverley, a dogged fullcourt defender who also is capable of hitting outside shots and playing with a high motor. But for the Heat to add Weber, it would require eating a salary can cutting a current player. For the moment, Weber still is working his way back, hardly ready for an NBA grind. But he could be the type of player the Heat sign late in the season in order to maintain his rights going forward. I might even sign him sooner, but it's not my luxury-tax money that is in question. 

February 2, 2016

Q: Tony Wroten, Dorell Wright, Ben Gordon, Jamal Crawford, Jimmer Fredette, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson, Will Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Andre Dawkins, . . . -- The IraHeatBeat Tweeps.

A: Thank you. I appreciate all the names and suggestions in the wake of the announcement of Tyler Johnson's shoulder surgery, and am sure the Heat do, as well. Except. Except that short of a trade, adding one of the aforementioned free agents (and apologies to those who offered names I missed), it would mean having to cut one of the 15 players already on the roster and eating that salary. Because of the timing of Johnson's surgery, the Heat are not eligible for a roster injury replacement or even an injury exception for their salary cap. And what we still don't know is how committed the Heat remain to lowering or eliminating their luxury-tax obligation. The basic deadline for such accounting would be the Feb. 18 trading deadline, since the tax is computed on the roster that remains at season's end. There also is the possibility of negotiating a buyout by the March 1 deadline for playoff eligibility elsewhere, but no one on this roster truly fits that criteria. As for trades, I can't envision the Heat making any deal for a player who has more than this season remaining on his contract, due to their salary-cap position for the 2016 offseason. So what most are seeking to know is whether the Heat would eat the salary of Jarnell Stokes to add another wing. As it is, the Heat still have Dwyane Wade, Gerald Green, Luol Deng, Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic, Beno Udrih and Josh Richardson in their perimeter rotation. That's seven options right there, likely more than can comfortably be utilized, anyway, considering the need to get minutes for Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Josh McRoberts and Amar'e Stoudemire in the power rotation. To me, the decision whether to add another perimeter player comes down to two questions: 1. Can Gerald Green be trusted as the primary shooting guard off the bench? 2. Is Josh Richardson a serviceable NBA player at this stage? I think you work through those two questions and then go from there.

Q: I am a little confused on why the Heat waited so long for Tyler Johnson to have the surgery. It seems like it should have happened over a month ago. -- Sam

A: Because the last time he came back from a brief rest he played well. The thought was the Heat could massage it through the rest of the season, then address it once Johnson was re-signed in the offseason. It is an approach that Johnson preferred, as well. But once the Heat recognized that the absences would be multiple, that's when it became apparent that something needed to be done.

Q: The Heat should just cut Chris Andersen and sign Tony Wroten. -- Six.

A: That's a lot of salary to eat when it comes to the tax. And Birdman is one of the players who previously sacrificed so he could remain in the Heat mix. It might sound logical, considering Jarnell Stokes could have more upside and actually is available to play now, but I don't think the Heat would just cast Andersen aside.

February 1, 2016

Q: Hi, Ira. With Amar'e Stoudemire's solid play in Hassan Whiteside's absence and Josh McRoberts back, how do you see the big-man rotation being in a game where everyone is healthy?  -- Max.

A: I could see it coming down to matchups on a game-by-game basis, depending on Hassan Whiteside's health and what happens at the Feb. 18 NBA trading deadline (I have no insights there regarding any potential moves, but that could sort out some factors). I still could see games where Amar'e might not play at all. There also could be games where McRoberts doesn't fit. But I think what you also might see is less of Luol Deng at power forward than we've seen to this stage this season. That doesn't mean we won't see Deng and Justise Winslow on the court together, just that we might see Winslow more at backup shooting guard, with Gerald Green possibly getting squeezed.

Q: Gerald Green is becoming a liability. l still love him on this team, but we really need another shooter. -- Shyra.

A: Gerald was fine on Sunday against the Hawks, even as the lone Heat player with a negative plus-minus. I think the greater concern is how much time Tyler Johnson might miss. If Johnson needs his shoulder surgery, a procedure that could have him out two months or even longer, then I could see wanting to add another shooter, possibly in place of Jarnell Stokes' roster spot, in order to have insurance from deep. Such a move could possibly come at the buyout deadline, when the likes of Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin could possibly be added to the mix. There is no issue here with Gerald Green as instant offense off the bench. But there also is nothing wrong with insurance in case Johnson become unavailable

Q: What are your thoughts on Justise Winslow's play as of late? Is it sustainable? -- Benjamin.

A: Why wouldn't it be? The Heat finally have found the right places for Winslow, which often takes time to determine with any player, let alone a rookie. And the rebounding and defense have been there from the start. He is looking more and more like a playoff player, which is a lot considering he is a 19-year-old rookie.

January 31, 2016

Q: Amar'e Stoudemire should stay in the rotation. He offers smart, effective minutes. -- Stephen.

A: And it will be curious, when everyone is back, because I can't see Erik Spoelstra, or most any coach, regularly going more than 10 deep. So if you work off the primary starting lineup of Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic, locked into the next wave of reserves is Justise Winslow. Beyond that you still have Gerald Green, Tyler Johnson, Beno Udrih, Josh McRoberts and Amar'e Stoudemire. So that's basically six set rotation players, and then five more to choose from. You could wind up seeing DNP-CD games along the way from Udrih, Stoudemire and even Johnson, just to make the pieces fit. If everyone is healthy, it likely will leave Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen as spectators, and Jarnell Stokes and Josh Richardson possibly back in the D-League for additional seasoning.

Q: The Heat play better pace-and-space with Amar'e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts. I like Hassan Whiteside, but this team moves better without him. -- Chris.

A: First, a quality team plays more than one style, even during the course of a game. There is no reason the Heat can't offer a certain style with Hassan in the game, and another when he is out. What you should want is versatility, which also affords you the ability to match up to the opposition when the opposition is playing from a position of advantage. This also is one of the reasons why Hassan likely will not be a 40-minute player for this season's Heat. There simply are too many options with the roster, when whole, to explore. But just because the Heat have won these past three in a row without Hassan doesn't mean they also can't thrive when he also is part of the mix. That is what coaching and game-planning is all about.

Q: What do you think about the Heat trading Josh McRoberts for Marco Belinelli. Word is the Kings are entertaining offers. The salaries aren't far apart, and it would address shooting issues. -- Ben.

A: I still believe the Heat will try to ride it out with Gerald Green and Tyler Johnson as their 3-point shooters, since they're already ingrained in the Heat's defensive precepts. And if McRoberts is dealt by the Feb. 18 trading deadline, it would more likely be for a player with an expiring contract, to further create offseason salary-cap space.

January 30, 2016

Q: If the Heat can play like this every game, this season just got interesting. -- Will.

A: More to the point: If the Heat can get and stay healthy, the season was always going to be compelling. Now you not only have Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts back, you have Amar'e Stoudemire playing at a level that did not seem possible based on the first two months of the season. The next part of this equation will be meshing it all together. Again. For example, if Tyler Johnson's shoulder issue is not a long-term concern, then what happens to Gerald Green and the perimeter rotation? And if Stoudemire merits continued minutes, then what happens when Hassan Whiteside returns? You can't play a 12-man rotation on a regular basis. But what you can do is find the combinations that work best at different junctures of the game. I'm not sure anyone had Beno Udrih and Amar'e Stoudemire as rotation components for this team in February and beyond. Yes, the plot thickens.

Q: Based on Justise Winslow's play and Erik Spoelstra's new, more dynamic, Swiss Army Knife role for the rookie, would a healthy Josh McRoberts make Luol Deng easier to move? -- Ben.

A: I don't see how McRoberts would impact such a situation, because Josh is only a four (OK, and maybe a five in today's NBA, but not against Greg Monroe). But replacing Deng with McRoberts in the rotation would not address the need to have another player available to defend small forwards. If anything, the return of McRoberts could factor into what the Heat might do with Hassan Whiteside going forward. Deng showed his value at the end of Friday's victory, including his huge 3-pointer. The Heat do not win that game without Deng. I'm not sure he is someone you would want to sacrifice at the trading deadline. You are a better team when you can play both Deng and Winslow, including the two of them together at times.

Q: Are we putting too much stock into what San Antonio and Golden State are doing? Yes, motion offense and small ball are being duplicated around the league, but what is San Antonio without Kawhi Leonard and what the heck is Golden State without Steph Curry? These are elite players in their primes with excellent surrounding ensembles. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are past their prime so they need a Kawhi-Leonard type of player to take a load off them and that’s what Heat Nation is hoping for in Justise Winslow. Take away the stars and what are the top teams? That goes for every single playoff team.  Just an observation because we make a big deal about Golden State and San Antonio’s offense and Cleveland this and that, but you can only go so far without the stars to facilitate them. Heat simply need an in-their-prime star to take the torch and shooters. That's it. -- William.

A: That's it? That's a lot, the type of things it can take a long time to fall into. But I agree that you build systems around star players. What makes those teams unique if they have a lot of star players. So how do you build an elite system? Get a lot of star players. To a degree, that's what the Heat showed in Friday's victory in Milwaukee, that if you have a lot of players playing well, it makes the process all the simpler. Friday, the Heat had a lot of players playing well.

January 29, 2016

Q: There is a recent article that talks about Golden State's goal is to make 310 passes per game. The Warriors aren't concerned with assists. The thought is if players get enough touches throughout the game, assists, shots and ultimately wins will come. Jim Larranga, coach of UM, said he is instilling this principle with the current UM team. San Antonio and Golden State won the last two NBA Finals.  Do you think the era of "Be Like Michael," "LeBron," "Kobe" and "Wade" is over? And should the Miami Heat try to move more toward a motion offense? -- Stuart.

A: The approach is about more than a system. It also is about personnel. You need a lot of quality passers and a lot of quality shooters. I'm not sure at this point in their career you change who Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are. Wade, as he's shown the past two games, can often be at his best when the ball starts and stop in his hands. Bosh works at his best when he stops the ball, sizes up the situation, works from there. I think if you're talking about such a style change, you're also talking about a roster overhaul. I think that only comes after this current roster moves on. Right now, as shown by the past two games, the Heat are at their best when Wade and Bosh are the focus. I'm not sure there are as many interchangeable parts on their roster as with the Warriors or Spurs. In the NBA, and in basketball in general, you play to the strengths of your best players. Now, when you're blessed with "five best players," that's another story.

Q: You know, in hindsight, I'm glad this LeBron James saga is gone and over with in Miami. Who wants their organization run by a bunch who are on the coattails of LeBron and know nothing about running a business? I'd rather we rebuild then to have his power-hungry people trying to tell Micky Arison and Pat Riley how to run a franchise. Just be done with it. The name on the front and the culture are bigger than the name on the back. You're never bigger than the game. -- Julio.

A: I've heard plenty of that in recent days, and it certainly is easy to say after the fact, when he's gone. But someone like yourself sounds like someone who also realizes just how much LeBron meant to the Heat (and means to the Cavaliers) in terms of on-court success. "Culture" is fine, but so are parades. I'm not sure that many, if not most, Heat fans wouldn't have preferred the team hand over a bit more if LeBron could have been retained (although I doubt that was the overriding factor in his decision to leave). But if that's not you, then more power to you with and principles.

Q: With Josh McRoberts get back for this season? -- Victoria.

A: There had been times when I had my doubts, but the fact that Josh has been working out so publicly on this trip, and with Erik Spoelstra actually mentioning the possibility, I think Josh is at the point where he'll be back sooner rather than later. For nearly a month, the Heat had said nothing about a return. Now the possibility has been on the table for over a week. So, soon. 

January 28, 2016

Q: I am confused. I hear two contradictory reasons for why this team is not succeeding: 1. The Miami Heat have the wrong pieces, players, and they do not fit together and 2. The Miami Heat have not found the best or most efficient way to utilize the players they have. I personally believe it is both. Your thoughts? -- Stone, Miami.

A: I'm not sure they have the "wrong" pieces, but mostly not enough of a specific type of piece, namely shooters. Add those into this mix and a lot of the other concerns go away. I know I've mentioned a lot about "fit," but I also know that talent eventually wins out in this league. This mix, with these players, if healthy, should be somewhere in the mix for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which certainly is possible. The real push will come after the All-Star break, when the schedule evens out. By then, there has to be a definitive blueprint for this mix. You don't want to be experimenting over the final two months of the season.

Q: Ira, what does your gut tell you: Do the Heat make a move before Feb 18th, or wait for the buyout deadline in hopes of landing a Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin type? --Gabriel, Denver.

A: The buyout deadline would be the simplest means of adding a shooter, just by slotting in someone at the minimum salary. But a lot has to happen for that to even become a possibility. First, a player or a team or both have to sacrifice salary. Then the player has to line up a landing spot that fits his goals, which could include a desire for enough playing time to reestablish his market for free agency. At least with a trade, you're guaranteed of landing someone. But the Heat almost always pursue buyout candidates and I would expect this year to be no different.

Q: Hey Ira, I think more and more as the years go by we'll probably hear more disturbing rumors about LeBron James in a Heat uniform. But wouldn't be in Miami's best interest to avoid bringing anything like that up in the near future? -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: Absolutely, which is why the Heat have been distancing themselves from this entire episode. The last thing you want to do as a team pursuing free agents is to trash a player on the way out. The more you accentuate the differences with a player, the more you create doubts about a potential fit. The best way to chase Kevin Durant certainly isn't to trash the player you want him to replace.

January 27, 2016

Q: Ira, the last two games have shown us that we do not need to pay Hassan Whiteside the maximum and we also do not need Josh McRoberts and Chris Andersen. We all can see how Dwyane Wade is taking advantage of a not so-crowded-paint area. Chris Bosh could play as a decent center. -- Ommidy, Sydney, Australia.

A: And the last two games also have been against an injury-ravaged Bulls team and a downtrodden Nets team. Having more quality players never hurts. I'm surprised that you didn't write off Goran Dragic, as well, since he did not play in either game. I think, instead, what games like these show is how to get to various combinations at various points in games. But the past two games have also shown how delicate it can be to get any sort of rest for Wade or Bosh in the fourth quarter. That's why you need a depth of talent over the course of a season. It's also why you need to figure out how to make combinations work.

Q: I don't want to jump the gun here but the last couple of games it seems like Justise Winslow has been more engaged on offense, even improving the consistency of his jump shot. Do you think this is a lasting trend or a flash in the pan? -- Chris, Lake Worth.

A: I think it's all about learning what works and what needs work. He also has been playing at different spots on the court, more often as a facilitator, and has gotten back to moving without the ball, which has created easier scoring opportunities. Such ups and downs are typical for most rookies. What is impressive is he hasn't allowed the uneven offensive moments to impact his defense.

Q: I still think Miami is going to make the playoffs by default, but Miami might end of getting Cleveland sooner than they expected. -- Will.

A: The only way the Heat get Cleveland in the first round is if they finish eighth in the East. And while the schedule and injuries have been brutal recently, the schedule takes a turn for the far better after the All-Star break. So at the moment, it's all about staying above water, and getting healthier. That makes these past two games a step forward. Based on their recent play against Toronto, I'd say avoiding No. 7 also would be prudent, with the Raptors making themselves look second to one at the moment, and that's with DeMarre Carroll yet to make his mark in Toronto. Any other matchup in the East should give the Heat a first-round chance, whether it is against Chicago, Atlanta, Washington or just about anybody else. All of that said, the playoffs hardly are a given, with the way Boston, Detroit and even Indiana have the personalities of teams that give no ground. 

January 26, 2016

Q: Remember when these Heat-Bulls game used to mean something? It seems like a long time ago. -- Marc.

A: Totally disagree. Monday was a significant step for the Heat, or at least could become part of a significant step for the Heat. No, not because beating the Bulls means as much as it might have previously, but because when you’re on a four-game losing streak and still without your starting point guard and starting center, any victory is a big victory. And this wasn't just Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh getting it done. It was Justise Winslow making big plays at the end and coming up with big rebounds. It was Amar'e Stoudemire helping keep the Heat within striking range. It was the type of moment you can build on, and the type of moment you have to build on. Tuesday, it's the Nets in Brooklyn. Friday in Milwaukee, the Heat will be entering off a two-day break while the Bucks will be completing a back-to-back. The bottom line is both these games that end this five-game trip mean plenty, and could go a long way toward validating Monday night as meaningful. So, yes, Monday was a big deal. Was it the start of something better? That's what we'll see soon enough.

Q: This is why Justise Winslow should start. -- Ben.

A: No, this is why Justise Winslow should finish. But what it shows is that in the right starting mix, Winslow could eventually fit in a Luol Deng type of role. But that doesn't have to be right now, and unless the Heat deal Deng before the trading deadline, which is certainly possible, there is no need to rush the process. But Deng will be a free agent in the offseason, likely beyond the Heat's reach if Wade, Hassan Whiteside and perhaps another player are signed into space. No matter, what you want to see from Winslow is growth, and Monday was another significant step forward.

Q: The Heat rank No. 29 (second slowest offense) out of 30 teams for offensive possessions per 48 minutes this season.  Surprisingly, the Cavaliers rank No. 28. Tyronn Lue is addressing this and wants the Cavs to play faster. Shouldn't the Heat do the same, considering they signed Goran Dragic for $85 million? Also, if we are going to lose, at least fans should be entertained. -- Stuart.

A: I don't know about the "if we are going to lose" part, because I am sure that has absolutely no place in the Heat's' thinking, as Monday clearly showed. But, yes, after such a commitment to Dragic and what he is and who he is, it is somewhat confounding for the Heat to have reverted back to such a limited pace. But Dragic's teammates have to show they're willing to play that way, that they want to play faster. I'm not sure that is the case. This very much is a team that literally prefers to walk the walk. Still, Monday showed that when push comes to shove, they can get it done that way, as well. Yes, they only scored 89 in Chicago. But to them what mattered most is the Bulls scored only 84.

January 25, 2016

Q: Ira, It's obviously a poor time to judge the Heat given all the current injuries, but what the heck. I believe they will make the playoffs. Getting into the second round is a reasonable goal. Nevertheless, I do see them at a crossroads, given the age and diminishing top-end potential skills of so many players. The question driving decisions is how reasonable is it to expect them to get better next year or beyond? When I look at the current roster, I see at least six players, conservatively, who simply will not get better, including Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The real crossroad issue is what is the core to build around? This team plus a max player in addition to Hassan Whiteside? Or to look to build the next core group? As a Patriots fan, Bill Belichick sets the standard for players' longevities. He is always ready to trade virtually anyone with a year or so left on that player's career. And while Pat Riley seems to be more loyal to Heat players than Belichick is to his, it's impossible to not have faith that he will make the moves "in the best interest of the team." -- Dick, Rhode Island.

A: But the very "loyalty" aspect you mention is a big deal, considering how the Heat cast themselves as familial and different than other franchises. It is among the reasons I can't see them dealing Goran Dragic after the embrace they gave at his acquisition. As for Wade and Bosh, both are still close enough to All-Star level that they can't just be cast aside. The difference is Belichick always finds a way to make his roster work, constantly changing approaches to suit his talent. That is where I believe the Heat have to move. I still find it difficult to comprehend that there's not a more efficient way to utilize these players, this roster, before necessarily moving on to something else.

Q: Dwyane Wade says he misses Goran Dragic, but when they are both on the floor he "hogs" the ball and does not allow the point guard to set the offense. If he does not get the ball, his body language says it all. The Heat will go as far as Wade allows them to go. He has to adjust and pick his spots, especially when most of the starters are playing. -- Leon, Miami

A: Which is why it will be interesting to see how the Wade/Goran dynamic re-plays out when Dragic returns. This can't just be lip service from Chris Bosh and Wade about how much they have missed Goran. There has to be a tangible change and increase in the respect for what Dragic can accomplish when given the keys to the offense. Eventually the health will return. That's when the words have to turn into actions.

Q: Not only should Erik Spoelstra be on the clock for his job, but Pat Riley, as well. Both have failed at their jobs. -- Stevan.

A: And now exhale. What is needed is perspective, level-headed perspective. What were the realistic expectations for this team entering the season? I said second round of the playoffs. Anyone who said championship or even beating out LeBron James' Cavaliers was deluding themselves. So can this team still realize that goal of advancing beyond the first round? If that's accepted, then you move on with what you have, because any dramatic change at this point only sets you back to Point A, without much time to reset the table. The offseason is the best time to truly take stock. 

January 24, 2016

Q: Do these games show how much the Heat miss Goran Dragic? -- Michael.

A: I think what these recent losses show is how much the Heat miss having a point guard. The lone victory in this stretch of seven losses in eight games came with Beno Udrih closing with 11 assists and no turnovers in Denver, a game the Heat were without Dragic and Dwyane Wade, a game the Heat closed with 26 assists and 14 turnovers. For as much as Wade handles, you still need someone to advance the ball, set the table. What the Heat have learned over this stretch is that Tyler Johnson is not a point guard, at least not at this stage of his career. And that's fine, that now they can at least move forward with that knowledge. And with Josh Richardson more of a shooting guard, as well, it could be time to add . . . a third point guard. Yes, they've been here before. But with Goran now likely out until the end of the week, having someone like a John Lucas III to help get the Heat through this rough patch has merits, because getting a victory or two out of Chicago-Brooklyn-Milwaukee would have plenty of merit. Lament what the Heat paid for Dragic in terms of contract and draft picks, if you will, but it came with the forethought to recognize the need of having an NBA-quality starting point guard. At this point, just having an NBA-able point guard on the active roster would be a place to start. Your outlook shouldn't have to come down to whether Beno Udrih plays or not.

Q: Hi, Ira. I know about hindsight, nonetheless, didn't the Heat management know about Justise Winslow's shooting woes? Weren't there several more promising "good" shooters available with the 10th pick? Weren't they aware at the time of the draft that shooting was at a premium over defense, at least for this team? I am not a subscriber to the idea that it's easier to learn to shoot than to defend.  To me hand-eye coordination, the basis for shooting, can't be learned. Whereas, with the proper guidance in technique and maintaining effort, defense can be improved substantially. -- Joaquin.

A: I believe the selection came down to finding the most complete player. Yes, Winslow has shooting issues, but he also hit huge shots in the NCAA Tournament for Duke, has shown he can step up to meet the moment. And he even offered a look at the possibilities in Friday's loss in Toronto. I've been getting a lot of second-guessing about Winslow, but understand that the Heat were not alone in their view. Otherwise, the Celtics would not have been offering the boatload of draft picks they were in order to move up for Justise. When the Heat drafted, they were drafting for a player to complement what was in place. Justise, at the moment, is more complementary than a Devin Booker, even with Booker's shooting skills. I doubt Devin, who did attract Heat pre-draft interest, would be getting the ball in his hands nearly as much with the Heat as is the case for him with the Suns. And as even the most marginal of NBA fan appreciates, you cannot quantify a draft pick's career just three months in. In this case, as with just about every draft pick outside of the top three, it's a case of To Be Determined.

Q: Has there been a season that Erik Spoelstra has gotten his team to overachieve its individual talent? -- Greg, Miami.

A: His first, when he got the Heat back in the playoffs while relying on Michael Beasley? (Yes, I know, Dwyane Wade also was back to health.) Or even the first with the Big Three, that even through all the missteps they still made it to the NBA Finals. Look, this team does not change coaches at midseason in the Riley Era, and Pat Riley has yet to go outside the organization for a bench replacement. So I don't see this even as a debate at this stage. Let the season play out, then a reevaluation certainly could be justified.

January 23, 2016

Q: The Raptors were getting to the rim at will, or else it was a drive-and-kick every possession for an open three. The Heat need Hassan Whiteside. -- Ahmad.

A: It's fascinating, for all the conjecture of whether the Heat's defense is better without Whiteside (based on some advanced metrics), you could see times during the Raptors game where the perimeter defender was up tight on his cover, practically expecting a second line of defense in place. And while there have been questions late in games about Whiteside against smaller lineups and pick-and-rolls, he also makes the earlier stages of games easier for players such as Dwyane Wade, because there is someone there to clean up mistakes. This team has gotten very much used to playing with Hassan. If there is a move away from Whiteside at the trading deadline or in free agency, it could have a greater impact than some metrics indicate. An interior stopper helps make defenders look better on the perimeter, as well.

Q: Can't Pat Riley sign a shooter to a 10-day contract? -- Jack.

A: Actually, with Beno Udrih out for Friday's game, the Heat were on Friday were in position to add a 16th player beyond the NBA's 15-player limit. And while it might have been difficult to fully educate a newcomer, there was the option of signing John Lucas III, who was in camp with the Heat, out of the D-League, or even adding Tre Kelley from the Heat's D-League affiliate, which runs the same system as the Heat. As it is, the hope is that both Goran Dragic and Beno Udrih could be back for Monday's game in Chicago.

Q: Are you surprised by the David Blatt firing? -- Martin.

A: Nothing regarding a LeBron James-orchestrated team surprises me. And without a Pat Riley type in Cleveland, someone who has the resume to stand in final judgment, LeBron is going to get what LeBron wants. That said, LeBron also has the type of basketball acumen that his perspective cannot be disregarded. Remember, Blatt was hired before LeBron formally committed to Cleveland. If LeBron was signed first, it is likely the Cavaliers would not have gone for an NBA rookie in Blatt. So now LeBron gets the coach LeBron wants.

January 22, 2016

Q: Ira, are the rash of injuries due to bad luck or a brittle roster? -- Matthew.

A: You have to look at each injury individually, not collectively, even when they come in a wave. Luol Deng's eye clearly is an unfortunate break. Ditto for Chris Andersen and his tumble out of bounds against the Clippers after barely playing. As for Goran Dragic, he largely has been healthy his career, so it's not as if there are chronic muscular injuries. The same with Beno Udrih. As for Dwyane Wade, he spent much of the offseason working on the muscular element of his physique, yet now he has dual shoulder issues, so there certainly has to be concern about something that could linger. Then there are players and the issue of recovery. Josh McRoberts was out for the balance of the season after last December's knee issue and now has been out more than a month with a bone bruise. Similarly, Hassan Whiteside said in retrospect last season he wished he had played more through his hand injury and this time appeared to recognize, with a bit of prodding, the need to play through his knee tendinitis. So it will be interesting to see how much additional time he misses with this oblique issue. I think what makes it so dire is that it all is happening at once, and that's not even getting into Gerald Green's knee tendinitis.

Q: I smell a Bosh game. -- Scott.

A: Of which there already have been plenty of for Chris Bosh in Toronto. But many of those "Bosh Games" came when the Raptors were down and when the statistics didn't add up to victory. Bosh will need at least something alongside if his numbers are able to be translated into a victory. Dwyane Wade and at least one point guard would be a start.

Q: Does Hassan Whiteside have a chance to make the All-Star Game as a reserve? -- Matt.

A: I can't see how. First, coaches handle the voting for reserves and tend to favor veteran, multi-dimensional players. Beyond that, if the Heat are to have a second All-Star, which is not guaranteed, I can't fathom those coaches opting for Whiteside over Bosh, who is probably most deserving of all Heat players of an All-Star berth. Whiteside needs to first show more consistency, with as many coaches witnessing his uneven efforts as his breakout games.

January 21, 2016

Q: I forget do the heat keep lottery pick this year if (when) don't make playoffs? -- Jeffrey.

A: Same as last season: It is Top 10 protected in the upcoming lottery, and goes to the 76ers automatically if the Heat make the playoffs. So the Heat lose the pick if they don't exit the 2016 lottery with one of the first 10 selections, should they again not make the playoffs. But this also is the time to stop playing the waiting game, for one simple reason: The pick otherwise goes to the 76ers completely unprotected in 2017 if not conveyed by then. So if you think the Heat played with fire last year, when a one-spot drop in the lottery from their No. 10 seed would have cost the Heat their 2015 first-round pick, consider that if it is not conveyed this June then there will be absolutely no protection in 2017. Yes, it could be the No. 1 overall pick. Or No. 2. Or No. 3. If only by lottery luck (or un-luck), And yes, this is one of the picks the Heat conveyed to the Cavaliers in 2010 for the right to sign LeBron James to a long-term contract, a long-term contract that James opted out of with the Heat. What the Heat have to do is make any such concern moot, avoid a woe-is-we capitulation. This very much has to be one of Erik Spoelstra's finest motivational moment.

Q: Is it time to try with Michael Beasley again? -- Morris, New York.

A: No, been there, failed that. And how come it always comes down to the Heat taking a shot? Why have none of the other 29 teams over the past two seasons looked at his numbers in China and made a run? Look, I can appreciate how Michael provides the type of offense that Justise Winslow doesn't. But do you really want to take minutes away from Winslow at this stage for a stop-gap veteran? Plus, isn't Gerald Green supposed to be Beasley? So for all those pushing for Beasley to come in and ease the scoring and shooting concerns, my question would be whether you instead would be willing to cash out on Green?

Q: It's the East. This thing is a long way from over. Pat Riley just needs a good shooting wing. -- Wesley.

A: Exactly. And the Heat would be better off getting one sooner rather than later, to reconfigure and work on plays that maximize shooting (like the rest of the league). There are enough teams teetering that it should be possible to find one that shakes free. But you have to go out and get one, not wait for one to fall into your lap at the buyout deadline. But then, it could be too late, even in the East.

January 20, 2016

Q: What grade would you give Erik Spoelstra? -- Bob.

A: I've received plenty of these questions after grading the players on a curve at the midpoint of the season. I've also been accused of copping out by not doing the same with Spoelstra. My thought is it's easier to judge players because it can be pretty black and white on the court. Either they're getting it done, or not. And that's why I also included a second grade, grading on a curve, because many players are being asked to do things either beyond their game or things that constrain their game. If anything, I would give Spoelstra an "S" for stubborn. The Heat too often still rely on isolation ball and then Wade-or-bust at crunch time. And there still does not appear to be a willingness to hand Goran Dragic the reins to the offense, or to allow Hassan Whiteside to be a greater part of the offense. Then there are those times when opponents go on extended runs without lineup adjustments. But, as I mentioned in my midseason review, you also have to look at the way the roster is constructed and what Pat Riley has given Spoelstra. With more shooting (I know, I keep harping on that), it could open the offense for both Dragic and Whiteside, and also make it easier to stem opposing surges.

Q: Maybe Dwyane Wade now will let Goran Dragic handle the ball when he comes back. -- Justin.

A: Tuesday night showed just how much of a burden can be placed on Wade when Tyler Johnson is force to play point guard against a pesky defender like Michael Carter-Williams. That had Wade moving over as the primary ballhandler at a time when his sore shoulder probably would prefer less time on the ball. The interesting thing is the Heat dealt Mario Chalmers because of the notion that Johnson would play his minutes as the backup point guard. Now Beno Udrih clearly has emerged as the Heat's backup point guard. Perhaps this is an eye-opener the Heat need going forward. As it is, Johnson goes from Tuesday's challenge of Carter-Williams to Wednesday's challenge of John Wall. And if Wade is forced to ball handle in Washington on the second night of a back-to-back, well, more than just his shoulders will be sore.

Q: It is time to acknowledge that this season isn't going anywhere. Between the salary cap, injuries, and mismatched players, we are, at best, an average team. That is no sin, particularly after all the success we have had. It would be a sin to do nothing about it. Now is the time, before the trading deadline, to do whatever is necessary to get below the tax penalty and prepare for the future.  -- Steve, Dandridge, Pa.

A: I can't envision, with this salary structure of both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh earning $20 million and Goran Dragic close to that figure, the Heat simply writing off the season. The only reason I believe the Heat would "cash out" would be if they appear close to not making the playoffs and losing a lottery pick (No. 10-14) to the 76ers, as nearly was the case last season. Beyond the Cavaliers, I don't see any team that Heat wouldn't have a shot to beat in the East playoffs. So that basically means as long as the Heat avoid the No. 8 seed in the East, they at least could play into the second round. After last season, I think that would be considered a major step forward. As for the tax, even if the Heat are in the "repeater" tax this season, there is a good chance they could get out as soon as next season.

January 19, 2016

Q: Huge Heat fan here. In analyzing the Heat this season, I believe the offense needs to be run through Chris Bosh, not Dwyane Wade. We are better when we attack off of Hassan Whiteside's rebounds in the open court. We do not have the shooters to play against a set defense all game. We need to get Goran Dragic and our other athletes in the open court, such as Gerald Green, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson to get easy buckets. The pick and roll in the fourth quarters with Wade and whoever needs to stop in the half court. We need to run our offense that gets us leads in the first half so we won't lose them in the second half. -- Paul, Detroit.

A: I've asked Erik Spoelstra about this and he says most teams change their approach late in games, when the defense tightens. But I do agree that the Heat can be far too predictable. And you're never going to have much in the way of weak-side action when you don't have the type of shooting needed to space the floor. But, in general, I agree about going before the defense sets. Spoelstra often can be seen exhorting his players. And yet, in the end, they walk the ball up, right into the teeth of the opposing defense. There needs to be a collective mindset of taking the ball and attacking, and not always waiting for the Wade bailout offense.

Q: I want to disagree with all who think the Heat is mix of mismatched pieces. While I do agree that sometimes injury, as it did on Sunday, exposes certain deficiencies of the team. I don't think we are as bad as our record suggests. The Heat's main problem is they never have the right combinations on the court to win games. -- Patrick, Hollywood.

A: But I think the lack of combinations is a product of the lack of five-game groups that fit together, especially when trying to get your five best players on the court. And when you're talking about "the right combinations on the court to win games," you're usually talking about having shooters on the court. The lack of shooters creates the lack of combinations, whether it is to play off the Wade/Whiteside pick-and-rolls or Dragic penetration.

Q: Ira, I've read most of the Q-and-A and still wonder, same as you, because you have asked Erik Spoelstra during many sessions after the games, why does he stay with the same players on the court for so many minutes while losing the advantages the Heat very commonly have in many games? He is too slow reacting to make changes. Why does he acts so conservative on these occasions. -- Manny, Miami.

A: Because how many times have you heard him use the term, "stay the course"? There is a belief that his units will stem the tide, push back. But, as stated in the answers above, the best way to bust a rally is to hit a few shots. With a lack of shooters, it makes the equation all the more difficult. It's not like inserting Justise Winslow or Amar'e Stoudemire is going to unlock the offense. So it often turns into Gerald Green Or Bust, and that is too much to be putting on Green. 

January 18, 2016

Q: Why is the third quarter such a struggle every game? -- B.D.

A: Because this bench is not what we thought it was. Justise Winslow's lack of offense makes it all or nothing with Gerald Green. And there simply are too many big men on the roster at the expense of wing versatility, when counting Chris Andersen, Amar'e Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem and Jarnell Stokes. Beyond that, for all his D-League success, Josh Richardson simply isn't ready. The thing is, it might get even worse, with Dwyane Wade playing Sunday only because of all the other injuries. If this truly isn't all about the tax, then the Heat should consider shedding one of their excess bigs and adding a wing. Now. While Goran Dragic, Beno Udrih and perhaps even Gerald Green are out. Yes, the release of a Jarnell Stokes would hurt against the tax, but it also, in this moment of distress, might be what is needed. If Dwyane Wade is willing to push through shoulder pain, then shouldn’t the Heat be willing to push through tax pain. I'm not saying that the likes of Tony Wroten is the be all, end all. But this is a team that is fading, that has to live in the moment as another road trip looms.

Q: I tweet you all the time and never get a response. I'm a huge Heat fan. Please tell me help is on the way. We need a small-forward scorer. -- Zack.

A: I've largely, to this point, defended Luol Deng as the defensive element the Heat need in their starting lineup. But if his man is scoring, then his limited offense hardly compensates. And the issue is compounded with Justise Winslow as the first wing off the bench. It simply is too much all-or-nothing to be counting on Gerald Green to provide the offensive output from the wing when Dwyane Wade is not on the floor. I've come around on this one. Deng's expiring contract is the most logical chip the Heat can put into play for an offensive upgrade. It is one that has to at least be considered.

Q: I think it's time to move on from Erik Spoelstra. With this much talent, we shouldn't be 23-18. -- Rod.

A: I don't think we're at that point yet, because there still is a winning record. But this team, beyond the injuries, all too often (save for the late rally against the Nuggets) tends to look flat and listless for extended periods. And that is a coaching thing. The offense continues to plod at times. And the defense struggles against athleticism. But is that a coaching thing or a front-office thing? Can you coach in today's NBA without shooters? And can you defend without ample wings, when your roster is loaded with big men who don't fit in today's NBA? So what I would say is this: Part, if not much, of the problem is beyond the actual play on the court. The roster and the system are different than what is driving so much success around the NBA. So if you're asking about Spoelstra doing something to change the system -- to what? And if you're asking him to change the rotation -- with who? The roster is mismatched, which makes the approach appear disjointed. So with "mismatched" and "disjointed," where does that blame largely rest?

January 17, 2016

Q: Beno Udrih had a stellar game in Denver and looked like the Udrih of old against the Nuggets. Was this an example of Dwyane Wade's inability to play with true points guards like Goran Dragic and Udrih? If so, what should Erik Spoelstra do? -- Gabriel, Denver.

A: Beno is much more of a halfcourt, pass-first point guard than Goran. Against an opponent the Heat wanted to slow down, he made plenty of sense against the Nuggets, and certainly maximized his minutes. But your concern about playing alongside Wade is reasonable. As it is, Spoelstra has often worked to allow for separate minutes between Dragic and Wade to maximize the ballhandling of each. Finding such minutes for Udrih is unlikely when Dragic returns, but certainly possible in the interim. The ultimate answer could be getting Dwyane to play more often off the ball, as he did alongside LeBron James. But it's one thing to step aside for LeBron, another to have the ball taken out of your hands by Dragic and Udrih. If Udrih continues to play well, it could leave Tyler Johnson solely at shooting guard, and perhaps cut into the minutes of Gerald Green or Justise Winslow.

Q: Is the "old" version of Dwyane Wade now showing up? -- Jonn.

A: Why, because he skipped one game with shoulder pain? Anyone who expected much more than 70 games from Dwyane was deluding themselves. And getting some rest every now and then probably isn’t a bad idea, anyway. The key is that the absences don't become protracted and hinder continuity. As it is, as stated above, the Heat need Wade available to work through their roster-chemistry issues, which have yet to be resolved. But it would seem logical that getting Wade off the ball more often also could help extend his career. Perhaps that's where the Heat need to go with the discussion.

Q: Hassan Whiteside is just learning his position. I don't think he is yet a max player, but Pat Riley will keep him to reward him later. -- Victor.

A: In such a perfect world, the Heat would get Whiteside agree to the Early Bird salary of about $6 million for one season and then reward him with a maximum contract the following season. That world does not exist, not when an injury could rob him of the $80 million (at least) he otherwise could receive elsewhere. (Let alone that such wink-wink deals are exactly considered kosher under the salary cap.) No, Hassan is getting his money, a lot of money, in July. The will be no "later" in that equation. And the dollars likely will do the talking well beyond Riley's power of persuasion.

January 16, 2016

Q: My question is: Can Hassan Whiteside be emotionally stable enough to have an impact like this when he's not the go-to option? -- Simon.

A: I don’t think Friday night had anything to do with emotional stability. I do think it had a lot to do with Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic being out and Hassan realizing he was needed for more, had to do more, and had the opportunity to do more. When he is not the fourth option, it allows Whiteside to get more involved offensively. And as most will tell you, when a player is able to get engaged on one end, he tends to be more engaged on the other end. This goes back to the composition of this roster and how there are so many individual pieces capable of excelling, but not necessarily pieces the fit together. That part of the story remains untold with Wade and Dragic out Friday. What the Heat need is this Whiteside along with the best of Wade, Dragic and Bosh, if that is possible with all three on the court at the same time.

Q: Goran Dragic hasn't reached 11 assists as a Heat yet, I think. --Inshaan.

A: No, he has. And, yes, Beno Udrih came through with 11 assists and no turnovers Friday. But, as stated above, this was a unique situation, with Wade also out. Without Wade on the court, it allowed the point guards to control the offense. For Udrih, that meant making plays. For Tyler Johnson, it meant being able to play with an eye on the rim. Again, Friday was meaningful because of the result. But it doesn't mean it solved the riddle that is this roster.

Q: There's only a couple of more weeks until February. Do you think Pat Riley is going to make any moves, or do you think he is trusting this current roster? -- Will.

A: I think he'll act when he is certain of what he has with this roster. And this goes to the two previous questions and those answers -- from day to day, it is difficult to get a read on the possibilities of this roster. Lots of good pieces, but not the type of consistency needed to this point. With Dragic out for at least a week, and with Wade dealing with dual shoulder concerns, Riley may never get the type of read he fully needs when the Feb. 18 trading deadline arrives.

January 15, 2016

Q: Ira, I've been wondering about the fascination with Justise Winslow for a while now. I don't get it. He plays decent on defense but is a train-wreck offensively. He might help keep another player's average down by a point or two, but he does not score. The Heat missed on Devin Booker. -- Juan.

A: But the Heat always have been a defense-first team, and the thought is it's easier to teach a player how to shoot than how to defend. I know the counter is that defensive deficiencies can be overcome with hustle, but this also is a staff that has helped turn Dwyane Wade into one of the game's better midrange shooters. And Justise has shown that in big moments, including Duke's championship run, he can make big shots. I think right now, with teams playing so far off him, it has gotten into his head a bit. The rhythm shots have become hesitation shots. That's not to say a shooter and scorer like Booker might not be a better fit in today's NBA for any team. But I think there have been enough quality games from Winslow to give the pick the benefit of the doubt.

Q: This team looks beat down at the moment, and I've been saying it since Game 1: trade Hassan Whiteside or make a plan to do so. -- Bryan.

A: For the first time since such suggestions have been raised, I do believe there is a frustration within the locker room that could feed into the possibility. But remember, Whiteside, alone, has limited lure, with no Bird Rights accompanying him. And with his minimum salary, significant money likely would have to be included to balance a deal. Plus, if Chris Bosh is shifted to center then you might have to hold on to Luol Deng as your only logical replacement for Bosh at power forward. It's not as simply as simply being about Hassan and whether he fits the Heat fabric.

Q: Where had this Gerald Green we saw in Wednesday's first half been? That was the Gerald Green I was used to seeing in Phoenix. -- Will.

A: He's always been there, and you/re just riding the waves, as you do through the crests of Wednesday's first half and the depths of his second half. What you can't do is assume it will be there every night or even from quarter to quarter. That simply is not his career arc. What you need with Green is another bench scorer, for the nights, or even game segments, when Gerald is going the other way. That's not something the Heat have at the moment, but something they could continue to develop once Tyler Johnson gets past these latest shoulder issues.

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