May 25, 2016
Q: Hi, Ira. Do you think it is possible to trade Josh McRoberts to Philadelphia for that No. 24 pick they have, which is the Heat's original pick, and select someone like Timothe Luwawu, who is raw and can learn from one of the best shooting guards in this league. He already has defense, just is raw on offense. -- Juan, New York City.
A: The question with McRoberts is whether the Heat can afford to give up on relatively low-cost insurance in case Chris Bosh doesn't come back. If the Heat can't afford to retain Luol Deng in free agency, then there would be questions about the direction the team would go at power forward. For two years, the Heat have tried to make it work with McRoberts, with injuries consistently getting in the way. So the real question is whether Josh can get healthy and stay healthy. The preferred option with McRoberts might be to play it out for one more season and then make a decision once more is known with Bosh. What I can't see the Heat doing is using the stretch provision to waive McRoberts and then have dead money lingering on their salary cap and potentially against the tax. That has not been the Heat's way, and it would not be like the amnesty move with Mike Miller, when there was no residual impact against the cap and tax. As for trading into the draft, I'm not sure that would be a priority, with plenty to develop with Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Briante Weber. It's almost as if Josh Richardson can be counted as this year's first-round pick and Briante Weber as this year's second-round pick. And we haven't even gotten into the other players the Heat developed this past season with their D-League affiliate.
Q: Dwyane Wade was suspended for the same thing against Charlotte and Ramon Sessions. -- Harold.
A: Correct. And Wade's incident at midcourt against Sessions and the Hornets two seasons ago appeared far more benign than what Draymond Green executed against Steven Adams, let alone the stakes in a regular-season game compared to what Green let fly in the Western Conference finals. Did the NBA bungle this one? It sure seems like it.
Q: Ira, do you think the Heat will do something with Beno Udrih? He was very kind in his exit, so it makes me wonder if they promised him something like a spot or season tickets or something. -- Mike.
A: The initial thought with Udrih giving back $90,000 in salary with his buyout so the Heat could bring in Joe Johnson and later add both Briante Weber and Dorell Wright was that an encore might have been part of the deal. And with Pat Riley saying he considers both Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson to be combo guards, perhaps there will be an opening. But with Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Richardson, Johnson and Briante Weber, that's a bunch of incumbent guards already in place. It could come down to whether the Heat are going to thin out that group.
May 24, 2016
Q: Why am I reading that LeBron James is considering returning to the Heat? -- Thomas.
A: Because no athlete these days, especially with Tiger Woods down and Tim Tebow out, has the ability to dominate the sports cycle (and generate clicks and ratings) like LeBron. I just find this bizarre on so many levels. First, this is the same player who turned his back on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh ostensibly because of what instead could have going forward with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Now there is the uncertainty with Bosh and you'd have to wonder about LeBron's famous lack of patience when it comes to an Hassan Whiteside. Then there was the homecoming and family element of the equation when James left, which would require relocating yet again. Beyond that there were those final days of the way it went down with Pat Riley. It's one thing for Dan Gilbert to sell his soul and credibility to agree to cater to every whim by LeBron. It would be another for Riley to be cut down once and then gloss it all over. In fact, the end of these playoffs showed a completely different Riley, as someone who could express satisfaction in the pursuit of a title, without staking everything to a championship. Beyond that, there is the Erik Spoelstra element of the equation and those difficult final days in the 2014 NBA Finals against the Spurs. And yet, LeBron's decisions have so often come out of left field that who knows. This would be the kind of thing one would expect to immediately be shot down in the midst of a champion chase. Instead, the speculation is allowed to take on a life of its own.
Q: Ira, I think the Heat's biggest X-factor for the coming future is the improvement of Justise Winslow into a future star for this organization. Do you agree? -- Ken, Hollywood.
A: I see that as more of an issue of what happens when Dwyane Wade is gone, and when Justise will have to be more than just a defender. For now, the transition can be taken in small steps, starting with an offseason upgrade with Justise's shot. In the interim, the Heat can decide whether Justise can be a centerpiece or rather a supporting player. It's too early, at 20 years old, to know where exactly this is going. At worst, the hope is Justise can at least be an enduring 3-and-D presence.
Q: What about trading Goran Dragic for 24th and 26th picks of 76ers? That would open the cap space for Pat Riley's "whale" and will get two young, talent players for the future (which covers picks given for Dragic), and the 76ers definitely in need of experienced point guard for their young and running team. -- Tolga.
A: I don't see the Heat doing anything that dramatic before the start of free agency, simply because it would be too early to know what such cap space could/deliver. Plus, if the Heat were to move Goran for picks, I would think they would want future picks, perhaps for when the Chris Bosh situation is decided, perhaps for when Dwyane Wade retires. As it is, the Heat have plenty of youth currently in their pipeline, when counting Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Briante Weber. I'm not sure the Heat, at the moment, would want to carry much more youth (or even the cap holds of 2016 first-round picks).
May 23, 2016
Q: Would signing Pau Gasol, and 3-and-D wing be a preference over using max or near-max money on Hassan Whiteside? Maybe, maybe not, but it gives Pat Riley time to evaluate that combination, or one similar. Riley has several months to explore lineup options prior to the start of free agency, and I'm sure he'll be diligent. -- Matt.
A: That's the point I've been trying to stress since the end of the season. Just because Hassan Whiteside's maximum contract would start at $22 million doesn't mean the Heat have to spend that amount on Hassan. Instead, as you mention, they can go though their projected salary numbers and decide how else those dollars could be spent. One option could be spending short-term and then waiting to see if the Chris Bosh situation gets resolved from a salary-cap perspective by the February 2017 trading deadline or by the start of 2017 free agency. For example, could you buy time with Pau Gasol and Wayne Ellington and then move forward with something more dramatic in 2017 free agency? In other words, could you better fill out your entire rotation? All of that said, Hassan is so unique that you would hate not to first explore all of his possibilities. And if it doesn't work out, or doesn't provide the value sought, there always could be a trade in the 2017 offseason, when teams again will be flush with cap cash.
Q: My dream: The Heat trade Goran Dragic to the Jazz for their pick and get a pro-ready player in Brice Johnson and Denzel Valentine. Then they would have the cap space to sign Kevin Durant, Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade. -- Robert.
A: Keep in mind, if you deal Goran simply for cap space or a draft pick, you already have given up a pair of first-round picks to bring him in. So Goran for a single-first round pick would leave the Heat at a net loss, in terms of the draft. Yes, I appreciate that you can't allow past actions to dictate the prudence of future moves. And cap space certainly appears to be at a premium for the Heat. But, as mentioned above, until you know about Chris Bosh, do any big splashes make sense. Now, if you're talking about moving Goran to get into the top three, that's a completely different story. But I don't see that happening. Yes, there are some nice players in Utah's draft range at No. 12, but this is not nearly as deep a draft as last year. And the Heat have plenty of youth to develop already, when counting Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Briante Weber. Now, if you know you can lock in Durant, Wade and Whiteside by dealing Dragic for cap space, that's another story. But how likely is that?
Q: What about Jarnell Stokes? I know the Heat can't sign him until February, but do you think he is someone who can play the five in this small-ball era? He seemed like a polished player to me. -- Chris, Miami.
A: The problem with the D-League is you can't get a true read on a center because there aren't any centers. I'm not sure Jarnell's game translates into the NBA, because I'm not sure has the needed range. That is where the D-League needs an upgrade. If you're good enough to be MVP of the D-League, then, at least in theory, you should be good enough for some type of spot in the NBA.
May 22, 2016
Q: It seems everybody has forgotten about Joe Johnson. Is he coming back next season? If so he would have to come back at a reduced role, don't you think? -- Raul, Puerto Rico.
A: Considering the way it ended with a thud with Joe, with the inability to make the very 3-pointers he was brought in to convert, I'm not sure that the relationship ultimately will produce an enduring bond. Part of the equation will be the Heat's plans with Justise Winslow possibly emerging as their starting small forward. But to start Justise, it would require having another shooter in that first unit, a role that Chris Bosh could fill if he is able to return. Without Bosh, it would seem as if the Heat would need someone with Joe's career shooting skills. Basically that is a long-winded way of saying that if Joe were to return, it likely would be a Heat decision made later in free agency, a timetable that might not necessary suit Joe's preferences. It could come down to whether Johnson is willing to wait for the Heat to put their $2.9 million "room" mid-level exception into play after they are done filling out their salary cap. And even then, the question is whether $2.9 million for 2016-17 would be enough to meet Joe's demands. Right now, for all the talk of an enduring relationship, it does not appear that it is the way this is headed. But it's also early. Very early.
Q: Other than playing in the East, what can Pat Riley really say that could possibly get Kevin Durant to seriously consider leaving Oklahoma City after they've had such a great postseason run? -- Jeffrey.
A: Living in Miami. I think sometimes people lose sight of the fact the sometimes players just want to be in certain places. For as much as the Thunder have achieved this postseason, for as much as an argument could be made that Durant has a better supporting cast than he would have with the Heat, what if he just really, really, really wants to live in Miami? There are a lot of things worse than being filthy rich and being able to put away your winter clothes except for road trips.
Q: All Pat Riley has to do is offer Justise Winslow to Danny Ainge for Boston's third pick (then Miami selects Buddy Hield). -- Aura.
A: Which is what makes last year's decision all the more interesting, to bypass a package of picks from the Celtics for the rights to the No. 10 picks and the ability to select Justise. If the Heat would have been able to secure that No. 3 pick from Boston, my preference would be Kris Dunn. So, basically, beyond all the other middling picks Boston was offering, going forward would you rather have Justise or Hield, Dunn, Jamal Murray or perhaps Dragan Bender?
May 21, 2016
Q: Do you think Hassan Whiteside is worth a max-dollars contract next season from what we've seen so far? Also, do you think he will end up back on Heat? -- Phillip, Surfside.
A: The problem with establishing a maximum salary is that everyone and anyone who is close to that figure seeks that figure. No, Hassan is not worth the same maximum salary as LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Steph Curry. But other than tenure in the league, the NBA makes no delineation regarding statistics, productivity or potential when it comes to the maximum. Anyone and everyone is eligible, if there is a market. So this is where I say you have to take a step back and first ask yourself: Is there a better use of $22 million in salary-cap space next season than solely on Whiteside? For example, could there be more bang for your buck with both Pau Gasol and an extra 3-point shooter? That, to me, is going to be where the debate starts. It also could be why the Heat seek a lower starting point than the maximum, to make it easier to justify the contract in terms of the overall cap. But, yes, I do see Hassan coming back, because with their fragile state regarding the uncertainty with Chris Bosh, the Heat can't leave themselves with a dire void(s) in the power rotation. But, again, that's the perspective on May 21. The one thing about free agency is that it constantly evolves (and hasn't even started yet).
Q: It's safe to say that two of the five starters who started the playoffs will not be here when the 2016-2017 season starts? -- Ben.
A: Yes, just not sure which two. It is interesting how there wasn't a single thought regarding Joe Johnson during either Erik Spoelstra's or Pat Riley's season-ending media sessions. And if you are going to keep Hassan Whiteside, it would make it very difficult to also find the dollars for Luol Deng. Of course, you could find those Deng dollars (or even Joe Johnson dollars) if Goran Dragic is moved. So your math is probably correct. What remains to be seen is exactly which two (or more) of the playoff starters won't be back.
Q: I think Pat Riley's comment about Goran Dragic, regarding what he is going to do if the other team takes his offensive game away, is disingenuous. Yes, Dragic can improve his skills to create more space on offense, but the truth is the Heat's offense isn't terribly creative. That is a fact. They were hard to watch sometimes. The Heat became fun to watch when they ran the ball. Fact. And if the other team takes away your first few options on offense, isn't it on the coach to come up with a creative plan to counter? Riley should have addressed the Heat needing more creativity on offense. It doesn't always have to rely on your star. -- Stuart.
A: The thing is, the Heat went into the season with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade as the primary options. Then Hassan Whiteside emerged. Then, out of necessity, they moved toward Dragic. Then Joe Johnson arrived and they settled into more halfcourt. So the question becomes where Goran will stand on the priority list when Spoelstra maps out next season's game plan.
May 20, 2016
Q: Pat Riley: "Between now and the draft, there will be a lot of conversations. We'll see whether we jump back in the first and the second if we can." I'm telling you, Kris Dunn is the missing piece, a player who can create offense for himself and come behind Wade. -- William.
A: First, you're talking about a player who will be somewhere in the Top 10, and likely on the higher end of that equation. But for all Riley said about possibly getting into the draft, keep in mind that the Heat have utilized all the money they had available to sweeten trades for the NBA's 2015-16 calendar year (which ends June 30, with the draft on June 23). In other words, they have no means to buy a pick. Beyond that, they cannot trade any impending free agents, which accounts for 60 percent of the roster. And when it comes to future first-round picks, the Heat remain locked out of such deals because of the rule that you cannot trade consecutive future first-round picks. The bottom line is that while Riley might eventually want to trade into the draft, it will be difficult to come up with the (non-cash) currency needed. Look, during last year's draft, the Heat were concerned about Josh Richardson not lasting until No. 40, but also recognized that they didn't have the assets to move up. So they waited, and lucked out. The end game at this year's draft might be wait for the 60 picks to be exercised and then pounce on those who remain after the draft. Or find someone willing (with the needed cap space or exception) to trade a pick for Josh McRoberts.
Q: Will Heat regret not taking Devin Booker in an NBA that's all about 3-point shooting. He could have helped them this year. -- Bev.
A: To me, the way the 2015 first-round played out from No. 8 to No. 13 will be a constantly evolving story. To refresh, the picks, going forward from No. 8 to No. 13 were Stanley Johnson, Frank Kaminsky, Justise Winslow, Myles Turner, Trey Lyles and Booker. There have been times when I thought Johnson was the most polished of the group. There have been other times Turner looked like one who got away, with his polished post play. Then, as you mentioned, there is the 3-point shooting of Booker, who evolved as a pick-and-roll shooter. So that is what Winslow and his polished defensive game will be measured against. I don't think any of those teams should have regrets at the moment. And it will come down to their needs going forward. So they issue isn't the Heat selecting Winslow; it's whether they can eventually answer any 3-point concerns.
Q: We can't seriously be still debating whether Hassan Whiteside is worth a Miami Heat max contract? Just imagine the Miami Heat without Hassan Whiteside next season. Who would fill the void? There is way too much criticism of this ascending, young player. Not enough is said about how Hassan erases mistakes made by lack of on-the-ball perimeter defense. -- Stone, Miami.
A: I'm starting to think that this space for the next two months should be renamed, "Ask Ira About Hassan Whiteside." There simply are too many variables at play, including how the Heat might otherwise use such cap space. The Heat's offseason is not about Hassan Whiteside, it's about the roster as a whole. Hassan is part of that consideration, but there are other factors that go into the equation. What the Heat, and all the other teams hope for, is to come out of the offseason with an upgraded roster. So the real question is if the best possible roster rebuild for the Heat has to include Whiteside.
May 19, 2016
Q: Ira, after watching the Cavaliers on Tuesday, perhaps we were better escaping with our dignity. -- Graham.
A: Perhaps. But what bothers me is the insinuation is that the Eastern Conference never was going to produce competition for the Cavaliers this season. Yes, had the Heat moved on from a Game 7 victory in Toronto and then played the Cavaliers on one day of rest, I agree the result would have been similar to what the Raptors endured in Game 1. But. And there is a big but there (and sometimes I like big buts and I cannot lie), because when assessing what could have been you also have to assess what Heat-Cavaliers could have looked like if at least Hassan Whiteside was available, and perhaps even Chris Bosh. With Whiteside, the Heat would have had the type of second line of defense that dunk-at-will LeBron James never had to face in Game 1 against the Raptors (and even if Jonas Valanciunas was available for Toronto, he is not the deterrent that Whiteside has been). And if the Cavaliers stayed with Tristan Thompson at center in a theoretical series against the Heat, it would have allowed the Whiteside to essentially park himself in the paint. Factor in Bosh, had he been available, and you also would have had somewhat of a counter for Kevin Love. Look, these Cavaliers are on a mission, and they were overwhelming in Game 1, but to see the East again is down and there never was going to be competition for the Cavaliers is B.S. A Heat team with Whiteside and Bosh would have offered something far more compelling than we likely will see at any point of Cavaliers-Raptors until it comes to its merciful end.
Q: If we lose Hassan Whiteside, I think the Heat should pursue Al Horford and/or Pau Gasol. What do you think? -- Pablo, Harrisonburg, Va.
A: First, we won't know about Hassan until we know in July. But if Whiteside does move on, then I think the Heat will find themselves at a major crossroads: Do they remain in something close to win-now mode to maximize Dwyane Wade's final years? Or do they either turn to youth or even put off a major free-agency strike until the 2017 offseason, when it is possible that Chris Bosh's salary comes off their luxury tax? The 2017 free-agency pool is far more compelling than what is available this summer beyond the Kevin Durant pipe dream. But Wade, even with his rejuvenated play this season, only has so many miles left in those knees. That's why I believe it is so important to retain Hassan, since you still could deal him in the 2017 offseason, if that is when you decide to instead maximize cap space.
Q: If the Heat are still in the win-now mode (and why would they not be?), wouldn't Micky Arison be willing to open his wallet and pay Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside and Kevin Durant? A lot of talk has been about staying under the cap, but I never heard any talk about possibly paying a luxury tax. Is that completely off the table? -- David, Plantation.
A: You are confusing the salary cap with the luxury tax, which basically is a mechanism that comes into play when you are re-signing your own free agents who have Bird Rights. Because Whiteside does not have full Bird Rights, he basically counts, for cap purposes, as an outside free agent. And when signing someone in Whiteside's position or a Kevin Durant or other outside free agent, you have to make you entire roster mostly work under the salary cap, which is expected to fall in the $92 million range for 2016-17. And that's that. There is no spending over the cap in that situation because you are willing to pay the tax. Apples and oranges. So, for the purposes of your question, if Whiteside or Durant (or another outside free agent) is part of the Heat's plans, then the Heat have to wind up around that $92 million cap (there is a small degree of wiggle room because the NBA has a "soft" cap). Now, if the Heat decide this offseason to only lock up Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and the team's free agents from the 2015-16 roster (including Udonis Haslem), then, yes, they could spend into the luxury-tax stratosphere for 2016-17. But it also would mean no incoming outside talent and no Whiteside.
May 18, 2016
Q: Hassan Whiteside's worth has been evaluated throughout the season and on a game-by-game basis in the playoffs. I would argue he is an ascending player who showed his value on most nights and particularly when he wasn't in the lineup due to injury. Hassan didn't get enough credit on the defensive end for erasing mistakes and making up for a lack of on-the-ball perimeter defense. On the offensive end, his improving skills were underutilized. In your opinion, is Hassan Whiteside worth to the Miami Heat what he will command in the open market and do you think Pat Riley agrees with you? -- Stone, Miami.
A: We'll know more from Riley (or not) when he addresses the media Wednesday. There actually are multiple answers to your question: First, the Heat will hope that he doesn't insist on being a maximum-salary player, so they can put the best possible team around him. Second, I believe if it does become a maximum-salary issue that the Heat first see what that $22 million might otherwise get them on the free-agent market. Third, it depends on how the Heat envision the rest of their roster and whether Whiteside will fit, which is a particularly difficult prediction in light of the uncertainty with Chris Bosh. I believe in the Heat's overall scheme, they have yet, in their minds, come to the definitive conclusion that giving the maximum to Whiteside is a foregone conclusion.
Q: In last year's offseason the Heat knew from the start that they needed a three-and-D player. Is there a certain type of player the Heat need in this offseason? -- Harrison, Delray Beach.
A: To use Riley-speak, they won't know until they know. By that, I mean that there are so many free agents on the Heat roster that the needs will create themselves. Suppose, merely as an example, that Whiteside heads elsewhere and Chris Bosh is unable to return. Then there would be a glaring need for big men, plural. But if those two stay and play, and if Luol Deng then cannot be retained, then a defensive wing in addition to Justise Winslow would become a priority, perhaps the same type of three-and-D wing they were in need of a year ago. Again, getting a read on the Bosh situation is about the only way to get a read on the Heat's personnel needs.
Q: Is there a real problem not going for both Hassan Whiteside and Kevin Durant? -- Steve, Fort Lauderdale.
A: It's not a problem, but it's Dwyane Wade. With between $40 million and $45 million in cap space, exactly what would be left after taking care of Wade and Whiteside? It certainly wouldn't be enough for Durant.
May 17, 2016
Q: Hi Ira, as a fan, I couldn't ask for more from this Heat team this season. Injuries and rookies and we had a chance to make it to the Eastern Conference finals with a resurgent Dwayne Wade. LeBron James masks a lot of gaps in a team and two years removed to be back in contention says a lot about the Heat coaching staff and the front office. We definitely retooled, didn't rebuild. I think the main question the Heat have this offseason, outside of cap space and free agency is: If they do bring back Goran Dragic, will the offense be turned over to him? What will be the pecking order in terms of touches? Wade, Dragic, Whiteside? Dragic, Whiteside, Wade? The Heat looked like they had an identity crisis on offense in that aspect this year, which led to lots of games of stagnation. Your thoughts? -- Eric.
A: Remember, it was just a year ago, with Goran in his first months with the team, when the Heat spoke of picking up the pace. Then, when Goran returned to re-sign, pace again was the message. Then the season started, and not so much. Then Chris Bosh went out and everything sped up. Then Joe Johnson arrived and there was as bit of a slowdown. And then, as the Heat got deeper into the playoffs, the pace was lost. It makes no sense to have a player like Goran and not play to his strengths. So I agree, make up your mind on style and then go from there. Either Dragic speed, or perhaps Dragic-less.
Q: Justise Winslow needs to be locked in the gym until November. -- H.P.
A: With food, water and bathroom breaks, right? But the notion is correct, that with a true jumper, Winslow could become a transformative player. Of course, just about every player has flaws. But Justise will be a study of whether it is easier to turn a defender into a shooter, than turn a shooter into a defender. I've seen the Kawhi Leonard comparisons, and that night be a stretch, with Justise not nearly athletic. But Justise is highly skilled. And shooting is a skill.
Q: It seems like the transformation from dinosaur ball to a youth game was important for this team's growth and success this season and beyond. -- Greg. Miami.
A: I can't recall coming out of a Heat season with the talent level of so many youthful players, in Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Briante Weber, not to mention the ongoing possibilities with Hassan Whiteside. I am really intrigued about Weber and summer league. For all those moments when the Heat struggled defensively against opposing point guards, imagine what it might be like to have Patrick Beverley 2.0, after the Heat let the original one get away.
May 16, 2016
Q: Ira, what do the Heat do next with Chris Bosh? If he wants to play but the Heat are afraid to play him, can they trade him? And why wasn't he in Toronto after Dwyane Wade said he made such a difference after Kyle Lowry hit his 3-point shot to put Game 1 in overtime? -- Tony.
A: To sum it up, the Heat ended the season without ever public saying why Bosh was out, even though there was plenty of background with his blood clots returning for a second consecutive season. As for Sunday, it certainly was his prerogative, as an inactive player, not to travel, especially with the brokered agreement during the Heat's first trip to Toronto that he would be out for the balance of the postseason. I was told that Chris had a family event to tend to, and there's plenty to be said about family, especially someone who is dealing with a life-altering situation. But it just came off as odd that after teammates had so praise his presence for the first two games of the series that he did not return. Would his presence have made a difference Sunday? Perhaps not with the way that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were playing. But, to hear his teammates, he had been having the type of calming effect that already had settled the team during the playoffs. It will be interesting to see, now that the playoffs are over, if Bosh chooses to address the media, or if the Heat publicly offer further clarification. As for your question, I can't see anyone trading for Bosh until they know where his health stands. And if his health stands in a place where he can play, I am sure there would be an embrace from the Heat. And so, still, we wait.
Q: Why did Erik Spoelstra become so thoroughly coated in Teflon? He only receives credit and praise, never blame and criticism. Like the Pope and Supreme Court justices, is his tenure as Heat coach a lifetime appointment? -- Mike, Parkland.
A: Hardly, and believe me, he feels pressure, takes the losses as hard as anyone. But let's also be objective. He has made the playoffs in all but one of his eight seasons as coach. And he batted 2 for 4 in the NBA Finals, with a pair of championships. The only season his teams didn’t make the playoffs was when Chris Bosh and seemingly everyone else was sidelined in 2014-15. And this season he shook the never-has-won-a-playoff-series-without-LeBron tag by advancing to the second round and all the way to a Game 7. And that's with Bosh missing the second half of the season, as well. Look, he has helped develop Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow. He managed Dwyane Wade's minutes. Has he infuriated with his stubbornness at times? Sure. But he also went more than half the season without a leading assistant coach, with Keith Smart treated for skin cancer. Can you come up with a list of Spoelstra's shortcomings? Again, sure. But with what he had to work with this season, it certainly seems like he has come as close as possible to maximizing his resources. Will he be Heat coach forever? I kind of doubt that. Does he deserve to remain where he is at the moment? Surely you can't be suggesting otherwise. Bottom line: All things considered, I don't think anyone can say the 2015-16 Heat underachieved.
Q: Ira, don't you think that if we signed Michael Beasley when we had the chance this year our offensive woes this playoff series would have been a lot less? The Heat's motto should be "When in doubt, sign Beasley." -- Erik, Plantation.
A: Because he did so much for the Rockets? (But, just for tradition's sake, I figure every season should end with a Beasley question.)
May 15, 2016
Q: How important is Game 7 for the future of this team? -- Harrison, Delray Beach.
A: Obviously, getting to the Eastern Conference finals is a significant accomplishment for any team other than the Cavaliers. And for the Heat, it would have to be more meaningful considering it came after again playing the second half of the season without Chris Bosh, then playing the second half of this series without Hassan Whiteside, and even playing these final two games with a diminished Luol Deng, because of his wrist injury. But, as I've said from the start of these playoffs, anything beyond reaching Eastern Conference semifinals is playing with house money. This never set up as a championship season for the Heat, but rather one for a return to relevance. Securing the No. 3 seed in the East, tying for the Southeast title, and proving that 2014-15 was an injury-induced fluke was what mattered most. The reality is that 2015-16 was about establishing a baseline for what comes next. Through these 104 games, when including preseason, regular season, playoffs and now this Game 7 against the Raptors, the Heat had given themselves a read on what they have and how best to attack free agency. No matter if the flight after Sunday's game is back to South Florida or on to Cleveland, 2015-16 has been a Heat success. So that makes Sunday like every game in this series: playing with house money.
Q: Now that's how we should play every night. The role players taking good shots, and Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade in attack mode. With Dragic having the ball in his hands, controlling the tempo and leading the way, it works best. Because that's what he's here for. He's not here to be a max-contract version of Mario Chalmers. -- Dallas, Staten Island, N.Y.
A: What good teams do is show the ability to win in a variety of ways, just as the Cavaliers have suddenly morphed into a 3-point team this postseason. I doubt that Friday's approach could be sustained over an extended period, and still wonder about the Raptors' potential counters on Sunday. There still will be times when Dwyane Wade will need to take over. And we clearly have seen the benefits of what Hassan Whiteside can do for this team over an extended period. What Friday showed was that given the keys to the offense, Dragic can go from a middle-of-the-pack point guard to something more special. So the real question after Friday night is how many times that can happen with Goran over an entire season and during an entire postseason.
Q: If the two players had the same salary ramifications, would you sign Hassan Whiteside or Chris Bosh for the next three seasons? -- Michael, Fort Lauderdale.
A: I don't think it's even a question, with the uncertainty of whether Chris ever will play again, having now gone through two blood-clot episodes. Of course, your question is moot, with Bosh's salary not coming off the Heat's cap and tax until Feb. 9, 2017 at the earliest, and with a major decision due on Whiteside, who certainly will find at least one suitor (and likely many more) willing to pay the maximum this summer. I think the only real question for the Heat is whether they can forecast a Bosh-Whiteside combination going forward, or whether they have to consider Whiteside in the void of Bosh. The reality is Hassan generally has played better apart from Chris. That's where the uncertainty with Bosh comes into question: Will the Heat definitively know what the basketball future holds for Bosh when they have to make their Whiteside decision in July?
May 14, 2016
Q: Hi, Ira. At times, the way the Heat were playing in Game 6, it felt like they were up by at least 20 points, but Toronto kept it close for most of the game. Great game by Goran Dragic and good contributions from the young ones. The Heat need that to carry over to Game 7, and they definitely need a fast start to take the crowd out of the game early at Toronto. -- Victor.
A: I was surprised how there were no adjustments from Dwane Casey in Game 6, that the Raptors insisted on mostly playing big, even with talented wings like Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph on his bench. But you know there will be a Plan B for Toronto on Sunday afternoon, because that is what coaches do, turn these series into chess matches. So it will be interesting if Erik Spoelstra has to counter the counter. The thing is, you know that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are capable of games like Friday, when they combined for 59 points. So can Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade come up with the same 52 they scored Friday? If so, it then could be decided by which player beyond the starting guards makes the difference. For the Heat, the candidate would appear to be Joe Johnson. For Toronto, who?
Q: Do you think Justice Winslow will be on the NBA All-Star ballot next season for center? If Winslow didn't get into foul trouble, he might have scored 20 points. Pat Riley once started Magic Johnson at center in the NBA Finals. -- Stuart.
A: Never underestimate Justise's versatility. And when he's also hitting shots, like he did at the outset Friday, it can be a game changer. His numbers did not necessarily overwhelm in Game 6, but he allowed others to thrive. This was a night when his minus plus-minus rating was a statistical glitch. It was his glue that helped keep the Heat's small lineup together.
Q: Erik Spoelstra made some nice adjustments Friday. -- Reginald.
A: So remember that after the next loss, whenever it may come. He could have just thrown anyone out in the middle with a traditional lineup. Instead he just may have flipped the series. The fact that the lineup wasn't announced until after the anthems told you something was up. And even if the Raptors say otherwise, it did appear to catch them off guard.
May 13, 2016
Q: Hello, Ira. Of all the things that have come against the Heat in this series versus Toronto (injuries, calls the team has not gotten and calls that appear to be wrongfully called against them) the biggest problems are within the team itself: the inability of everyone not named Dwyane Wade to make shots and Miami signing two wing players who probably will not even see the floor instead of signing at least one player with size to back up Hassan Whiteside. And for all those Josh McRoberts enthusiasts and the enthusiasm by this organization, he is a player who just does not contribute enough offensively, whereas, another NBA team went out and added Channing Frye at the trading deadline. -- Nikki.
A: First, you don't rebuild your team at the buyout deadline or with the moves you make to round out your playoff roster. Even if the choices weren't Dorell Wright or Briante Weber, I'm not sure that any other 14th and 15th men would have made a difference. Plus, by adding Weber, the Heat were able to lock up his rights going forward. As for the mess in the middle, with Amar'e Stoudemire, McRoberts and Udonis Haslem on the roster, it's not as if depth isn't there. Now, you can argue about the quality of that depth, but that was a decision to be made at the start of the season, or even at midseason, not in the waning days of the regular season. As for McRoberts, he continues to appear to be a square peg in a round hole. He is so unique, that unless you use him a lot, you lose the ability to get in tune with his quirkiness. Look, no one was complaining when the Heat got Joe Johnson for pennies on the dollar at the buyout deadline. But when you lose Whiteside and then lose Luol Deng in the second half of your most important game of the season to that stage outside of Game 7 against the Hornets, then, of course, the roster is going to look fractured. Not to mimic Erik Spoelstra, but even now, the Heat have enough. But it will require more than what players such as Johnson and Goran Dragic offered Wednesday in Game 5.
Q: If the Heat decide to offload Goran Dragic, do you believe there would be a market for him? -- Brian.
A: Yes, because the league will be flush with cash this summer and there will be more available than even the top free agents secure. The problem is that a trade of Dragic into another team's salary-cap space likely will come after most, if not all, of the prime free agents are signed. So if you're considering dealing Dragic with an eye on a replacement free agent, the timing issues could get in the way. The problem with such Dragic considerations is that just when you think it won't work, he turns in a game that makes you appreciate his possibilities. So the real question is whether you would be comfortable going forward with Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Briante Weber as your point guards.
Q: Can the Heat add Greg Whittington or Keith Benson from their D-League team -- Howard, Palm City.
A: Obviously not now, with playoff rosters set at the end of the regular season. But based on what they accomplished for the Heat's NBA Development League team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, I believe the Heat will do everything possible to help them land NBA jobs, either with the Heat or elsewhere. Both obviously would be in line for summer invites from the Heat. The question is whether based on their solid showings for the D-League champions that they will be offered partial guarantees elsewhere, similar to how the Heat lost Willie Reed last summer and Ian Clark before that.
May 12, 2016
Q: Ira, it appears to me that Joe Johnson is playing more minutes than his body will tolerate. He's probably a 20-minutes-a-night guy at this stage of his career -- Cap, Fort Lauderdale.
A: That's why I found it so curious that Johnson and the Heat, when he was added at the buyout deadline, mentioned that this could be more than a short-term relationship. Look, with this postseason, it has become clear that Dwyane Wade isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So that effectively rules out shooting guard as an option for Johnson. So if the Heat do find the fiscal means to make a move in free agency for a small forward (even as Kevin Durant becomes a longer shot amid the Thunder's postseason success), then that would lead to the type of role with the Heat going forward for Johnson that you mention, as a reserve. But what you would pay for a small forward off the bench certainly is nowhere close to what you would pay a starter. To me, the only way it makes sense for Joe to stay beyond this season would be as the starting small forward. Otherwise, you would have Justise Winslow as the backup small forward and perhaps Tyler Johnson as the backup shooting guard, with more long-term upside than casting Johnson in such a role. Ultimately, it will come down to Johnson's price point. He essentially is the one who will dictate his Heat future, based on his economics. But he has to show more than what he has shown this postseason. While he had eight rebounds in Wednesday's Game 5 against the Raptors, it was a night he was needed for more than 11 points, more than 5 of 13 from the field and 1 of 4 on 3-pointers. Friday could be a defining moment for Johnson amid the uncertainty with Luol Deng's wrist. He had to do more. Has to do better. Has to give the Heat a reason to follow up on that pledge of something beyond this season.
Q: Is Hassan Whiteside still a max player after what he has shown in the playoffs? He wasn't able to limit Al Jefferson one-on-one, and got outplayed by Jonas Valanciunas. -- Choy, Vancouver.
A: Whether someone is a max player and whether he can command a maximum salary are two different things. And Wednesday's loss shows just how much Whiteside was missed, with no deterrence at the rim, no bailout second chance points in the paint. Max players in today's NBA are Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and perhaps a handful more, such as Kawhi Leonard. But there are, and will be, plenty of players who command maximum salaries because of the NBA's freewheeling economics. So, as a roundabout answer to your question, yes, I believe Hassan can command the maximum, whether he plays another playoff game or not. First, I actually thought he did a decent job against Jefferson, and believe those shortcomings are overstated. As for Valanciunas, a product of that was the Heat having enough confidence in having Whiteside defend any big man straight up, which is not the case with many big men. Does Whiteside have warts? You bet. But in today's NBA, that doesn't disqualify you from a maximum salary. The NBA will be so flush with cash this summer (and next) that you can go several steps down from Hassan and still find "max players," at least when it comes to salary. Being a "max player" in today's NBA is not as much badge of honor as an economic reality. The question for Whiteside is whether he will value money as his ultimate free-agency target, or whether the opportunity to win, be in the playoffs, be further developed, perhaps into a true max-level player, will be the priority. Ultimately, he already is positioned to get as much as possible starting July 1.
Q: How does Goran Dragic come out as the "bad guy" in all this, with his technical foul for Game 4? He was being held by Cory Joseph, the alleged victim, which was another uncalled foul. Goran's arms were flailing as he tried to release himself from the arm lock by Joseph, but no contact was made. I did not see any attempted punch or blow in the process. It just appears to me that the league and/or refs "have it in" for Goran. -- Paul, Davie.
A: I can assure you that the NBA's referees as whole, and even individually, do not "have it in" for Goran. But I also appreciate the frustration over the limited amount of whistles he draws, considering how he plays in attack mode. I think the difference is unlike a player such as LeBron James, Goran plays to avoid contact on his twisting finishes. As for that moment against Joseph, I think the visual probably deserved at least inspection for a technical, the way Goran flailed his arm. But I also think that was a case of the game-night officials giving him the benefit of the doubt considering the stakes of the moment and the temperature of the game (which remains an argument, not necessarily mine, for why all calls should be made on site, instead of at the replay center or after-the-fact). In the end, considering the way the league hands out flagrant fouls, he was lucky to escape without further sanction. I assume that by now someone has started a crowd-funding campaign to pay off his $2,000 technical debt. For as much as he struggled Wednesday, he kept pushing. His drive can never be discounted.
May 11, 2016
Q: If the Heat make it to the Eastern Conference finals, will the Heat be an attractive destination to free agents this summer? -- Earl, Jersey City, N.J.
A: Unless the franchise moves out of the tropics, the Heat will remain an attractive destination regardless of record or roster, especially as along as Pat Riley is the face of the franchise. But this postseason has done nothing but enhance the attractiveness of the Heat, no matter how these playoffs end. What these past few games have shown is that Dwyane Wade still can be counted upon at the ultimate moments of truth. And the Heat also have shown that there is a young core to grow with, when counting Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, regardless of what happens with Hassan Whiteside. But the real issue is that with Wade playing so well, some of the expectations of him taking a major trim from his $20 million salary this season might have to be rethought. So if Wade comes back at anything close to his current salary, and he certainly is playing at his pay grade at the moment, then the funds for a major foray into free agency might not be there (and the Heat might just wait, anyway, to see where Chris Bosh's salary stands against the books in 2017 free agency). What this playoff run could do is entice the next wave of minimal-salary free-agent contributors to sign on, as Amar'e Stoudemire and Gerald Green did this past season. What the Heat have shown is that at some point in the season, just about everyone on the roster will get their chance from Erik Spoelstra.
Q: Ira, with Justise Winslow struggling mightily with his shot, why hasn't Erik Spoelstra used Dorell Wright? He is a good defender and can shoot the three. Moreover, I think he is a great small-ball option. -- B.J., Pompano Beach.
A: Because Monday's game showed just how valuable Justise can be, even without the threat of a jumper. His defense was essential in allowing the Heat to close out Game 4 and tie the series. And his efforts on the boards cannot be minimized, either. As for Dorell, I think with Tyler Johnson back it is even more unlikely that Dorell gets any role of substance at this stage. Dorell basically was brought in as Johnson insurance. I am curious to see if the minutes amp up for Johnson in Game 5, with his ability to defend and also stretch the floor. In the end, the player most likely to be squeezed is Gerald Green, unless the Raptors go small enough to allow the Heat to play Green instead of Josh McRoberts.
Q: Can Goran Dragic's face survive the playoffs? It's hard to recall many basketball players getting their face pounded almost daily outside of boxing or MMA like he does. You can't question his toughness. -- Mike.
A: No, you can't. Like he says, it's almost as if his face is a magnet for the ball, as well as elbows and other appendages. And he keeps bouncing back, when others might say enough is enough. His playoff check should be able to cover his facial reconstruction. Maybe. His resilience is what allowed him to keep pushing to success in overtime and with that four-point play earlier, after a miserable start to Game 4.
May 10, 2016
Q: Can the Heat keep counting on Dwyane Wade like this? I know he came through Monday night, but what about the other guys carrying their weight? -- Jacques.
A: Do they really have any other option, with Hassan Whiteside and Chris Bosh out? And it's not as if the Raptors, with the struggles of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, wouldn't kill for a Dwyane Wade at this stage. To me, though, what made Monday so heartening, even after all the earlier slop, was the box score of the overtime. Five players scored in the extra period, with Wade's lone basket of the extra period coming at the close of the period. Yes, the night belonged to Wade. But the overtime showed the possibilities of Joe Johnson, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow, each with their moments, each with points in the fifth period. If each can step up with one or two such plays earlier in games, the Heat might not have to go overtime for victories against the Raptors, which has been their only path to victory so far to this point. Monday also opened a window into where the trust stands, and that has to be especially heartening to players such as Winslow and perhaps even Tyler Johnson going forward.
Q: Ira, what's the point, for either of these teams? Cleveland isn't losing before the NBA Finals. -- Sam.
A: Based on the Cavaliers' first eight playoff games, it's difficult to argue. It's not as if the Raptors or Heat are on such a decidedly different level than the Pistons or Hawks. The East this season was basically the Cavaliers playing the role of Donald Trump and the rest of the Eastern Conference was the rest of the Republican challengers. What we have here with the Heat and Raptors as something along the lines of Cruz and Kasich. Soon they will go away, too. I do think Cleveland could lose a game in the East finals just out of complacency, but the addition of Channing Frye pushed their 3-point game over the top, and once the calendar flips to May, LeBron James is as much of an MVP candidate as any player in the league. For now, the Cavaliers do what is necessary and then watch the Western Conference teams beat each other to a pulp. It will be interesting to see what's left for Cleveland to face.
Q: Such secrecy from Erik Spoelstra is ridiculous. -- Gonzalez.
A: It's the Heat's way, everything on a need-to-know basis. It is the exact opposite we've gotten in these first two rounds from the Hornets and Raptors. Of course, the Heat could point to being the team that beat Charlotte in the first round, and could believe that such delayed injury and lineup decisions give them an advantage against Toronto. Look, we'd all prefer to know sooner rather than later. But except for those with a financial stake in the outcome, does it really matter when you find out who is out or who is starting? It's not as if you're going to skip going to a playoff game because Hassan Whiteside isn't playing or because Amar'e Stoudemire isn't starting. What I will say is that 90 minutes before a playoff game, you can bet Erik Spoelstra knows exactly who is starting that night. And let's be candid here, it's not as if Stoudemire played an overwhelming role in Monday's outcome. And it's not as if the game didn't go where we all thought it was headed, to small ball at the finish.
May 9, 2016
Q: Do you think Erik Spoelstra will play Justise Winslow in Game 4? I understand he can't shoot, but he is a good defender and rebounder. -- Jeffrey.
A: I think he might, because of how the anticipated absence of Hassan Whiteside changes the equation. Now, instead of being able to stop penetration at the rim with Whiteside's deterrence, the Heat are going to have to stop the Raptors, especially DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, at the point of attack. But it also will depend who Spoelstra is playing at center at the time. I don't think the Heat can afford to have Udonis Haslem and Winslow on the court at the same time when they need to score, with that effectively leaving the Heat playing offense three-on-five. But if this gets really small, and if Luol Deng winds up at center, then I think minutes for Winslow would be easier to create, with a lineup of Deng, Winslow, Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade and then either Goran Dragic or Josh Richardson. With Whiteside out, I would say all previous bets are off when it comes to the Heat's rotation.
Q: There were only 11 and 14 assists the last two games. Just because Toronto doesn't move the ball, we suddenly don't, either? This is not us. This doesn't have to be Dwyane Wade vs. Everybody, when it's easier to win as a team. -- Ben.
A: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. At the stage of the season, it becomes far easier to slant the defense toward a single scorer, especially in the halfcourt. And even when such a scorer overcomes such obstacles, it still takes his teammates out of their rhythm. Wade with a lot and everyone else with a little rarely has been a winning formula. That Heat need to get back to those box scores when four or five players are in double figures and the ball is popping. Part of that has to do with quickly advancing the ball, to maximize the time for ball movement in the halfcourt when the break isn't there.
Q: What the Heat need are for Luol Deng and Joe Johnson to step up. -- Bev.
A: I think Deng will become more involved out of the ball moving more without a post-up presence, with Whiteside out. But Johnson has to start hitting 3-pointers to provide the spacing the Heat won't be from Whiteside in the post.
May 8, 2016
Q: Ira, on the missed 3-pointer by Joe Johnson, why wasn't Goran Dragic in the game. That should have been his shot, not Johnson's, who is 0 for 10 on threes in the series. Even if the ball didn't go to Dragic, it was big mistake not having him in the game. Erik Spoelstra doesn't do a good job on the offense/defense substitutions. In the last game, he had Dragic guarding Kyle Lowry on the big shot and Josh Richardson on the bench. Poor game management. -- Joel.
A: Spoelstra said he was trying to play offense/defense during the latter stages, and, to be frank, it's not as if Dragic had much going for himself on Saturday (at 5 of 14 from the field, 0 for 3 on 3-pointers). Plus Dragic had five fouls, and it's not as if another overtime game wasn't looming, But, that said, Dragic hit a shot in almost that very situation the previous game, off a feed from Johnson, no less. Look, you can't get a much better look than Johnson got in that situation, so you're also playing the result. But, yes, it was a question asked in the postgame media session and one Spoelstra choose to mostly bypass. This certainly was a game with a lot of moving parts, and the Heat did find a way stay in it until the end, even with Hassan Whiteside lost at the start of the second quarter. But that also means the Heat are in a spot where there is practically no margin for error. Going forward, it is safe to say that every moment, every little thing will matter. And Dragic not being in there, in that situation, seemed like one of those little things that mattered. Even with Johnson set up with a wide-open look.
Q: Hi, Ira. The Heat should really be up 3-0 this series, but they are not because of many factors. One main reason is that Toronto, being the younger team, are closing out games better than Miami. Whether it is coaching or players or a combination, you would think a veteran team such as the Heat would close games better. Another reason is Toronto's defense is not really being worked, because Miami's offense is stagnant. It seems that has come down to standing around to see what Dwayne Wade comes up with. Also, I understand the decision of why to play Justise Winslow less, because of his offense, but you would think he would at least be inserted in the closing minutes for defense on Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan and sub him out during timeouts when back in offense. -- Victor.
A: To address the second part first, it's not as easy as it sounds to make such offense/defense substitutions with limited timeouts. But your first point is cogent and while Toronto has provided quality defense, it's almost as if the Heat have capitulated by playing isolation sets. I will tell you this, Spoelstra continually exhorted his team to play fast during the early stages Saturday, with limited success. The Heat have to get back to moving the ball. Have to. While it's admirable that the Heat got down to 10 turnovers, they also only had 11 assists Saturday.
Q: Ira, Luol Deng was averaging 20 points a game in the playoffs coming into the Raptors series. Where has his offense disappeared? Is it down to matchups, good defense or just not having plays drawn up? -- Max.
A: It's down to the Heat not moving the ball. When the ball moves, Deng moves. When Deng moves, good things happen. At plus-five, Deng was the lone Heat starter with a positive plus-minus rating in Game 3. In many ways, he is a barometer -- a barometer that must be utilized to his full potential.
May 7, 2016
Q: Ira, in the playoffs it seems both Charlotte and Toronto have forced the Heat's hand when it comes to having Justise Winslow on the floor. The inability for him to make perimeter shots causes problems for the Heat offense. -- Robert.
A: Obviously the primary focus to this point in the series has been the shooting woes of Toronto's DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, considering how they are so much more integral to the Raptors' success. But you are spot on about Winslow's broken shot, which again has an opponent backing off and apparently has led to Erik Spoelstra again exploring the scoring possibilities of Gerald Green, who at least captures the defense's attention out of respect for his streak-scoring possibilities. Clearly it is something the Heat and Winslow will have to work on during the offseason. For now, it becomes a matter of how many minutes Spoelstra can put on Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and even Goran Dragic, especially with the fatigue factor of these two opening overtime games and then an earlier start for Saturday's Game 3. And yet, through it all, there has yet to be a move to Josh McRoberts in this series. Justise Winslow's shot clearly is broken. The question is whether the Heat's bench is, as well.
Q: Ira, Goran was excellent again Thursday night, and then in the fourth quarter, with five minutes to go, Dwyane Wade comes back in the game, the offense bogs down, and Goran never touches the ball except for the three to take it to overtime. Why is Goran not handling the ball, to at least help set up offense and move the ball? -- Mike.
A: I have watched this throughout the playoffs and if you take a long view of the court, seeing all five players, it's almost as if teammates are too deferential to Dwyane, preferring the ball be in his hands. With Dwyane the Heat's best playmaker, what the others have to do is get in position for when he draws a secondary defender. Erik Spoelstra has made it clear that Dwyane is his catalyst of choice at those moments, and you can't argue the Hall of Fame credentials. But that doesn't mean teammates can't get to spots where Wade increases his and the Heat's possibilities.
Q: Hi, Ira. Turnover, turnovers, turnovers. This Heat team has been turnover prone the whole playoffs. They won Game 1 despite a high number of turnovers, now it caught up to them in Game 2. If they would have limited their turnovers, this series would be 2-0. Now let's hope this Toronto team does not suddenly have a breakout game shooting-wise and the Heat can correct those miscues back at home. -- Victor.
A: And the thing is, for as much respect that is due the Raptors because of their aggressive defensive bent, so many of the turnovers are mindless. And so many of them are coming when the going gets good for the Heat, when instead of building on a roll and putting away an opponent, as they did in Games 1, 2 and 7 against the Hornets, they get way too loose and free. A veteran team should know better. Hopefully the video of the first two games of this series provides a sobering lesson.
May 6, 2016
Q: Hassan Whiteside got dominated in the fourth and looked to wane energy-wise against Jonas Valanciunas. He is as strong as Whiteside, but Whiteside didn't compete at all in the last two frames. I hope he wasn't moping because he wasn't getting the ball. -- Eric.
A: This is why it was so important for the Heat to get as many playoff games as possible and see how Whiteside reacts in such situations. I spoke to Hassan after Thursday's game and he did speak about the disparity in meaningful touches. Yet with his scant seven shots, Hassan had far less of an impact that Valanciunas did with his nine shots. Hassan did say that his knee and thigh still were sore and was looking forward to Friday's day off. But these are the very considerations the Heat have to make with Hassan when it comes to the impending decision over a maximum-salary contract. Can he push past pain? Will he compete on the boards and on defense when the offense gets away from him? Does he have the every-last-breath mentality that Pat Riley insists upon with his big men. It was clear that Erik Spoelstra felt more comfortable with Udonis Haslem on Thursday night in defensive situations. And, based on Hassan's comportment, I don't disagree. If the Heat allow the Raptors to believe they have an advantage in the middle, if Whiteside allows Valanciunas to grow his confidence, then the Heat's max-salary decision will become all the more taxing for Micky Arison and the Heat's front office. The beauty of best-of-seven is Whiteside can flip the script as soon as Saturday's Game 3. And he needs to.
Q: While most Heat fans don't really think Heat can beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series (assuming the Heat beat Toronto) how important is it for recruiting free agents to get to the NBA version of Final Four? -- Jeffrey.
A: I think the Heat already have made a huge stride just by getting to this series and being in the NBA's elite eight. This is when other NBA players heighten their interest, with every game on national TV. Had the Heat lost in the first round, I believe it would have been easy to dismiss the regular-season success. But now, on a national stage, they're showing free agents that they, too, could be part of a national stage. And I'm not just talking about top-tier free agents, but minimum-scale players like Amar'e Stoudemire, who potentially could have an opportunity for a similar moment of their own in next season's playoffs, as well as going forward.
Q: I'm glad the Heat are being safe with Chris Bosh? -- Danny.
A: You seemingly are in the minority of that being your priority, with far more inquiries to this space instead more concerned about cap, tax and even exception concerns. I am sure, with any deliberations now put off until the offseason, that there will be greater clarity well before next season approaches. The key date is Feb. 9. If Bosh goes a full year from his last game played, then that's when the Heat could get cap and tax relief from his contract (with Bosh still receiving his entire remaining salary). But even that is only if Bosh is declared to have a career-ending condition. And that is a difficult argument if the party involved believes his career is not over. Until Feb. 9, there really isn't a cap or tax issue in play. So exhale, and instead offer prayers.
May 5, 2016
Q: Setting aside the human element of keeping Chris Bosh out to protect his health, do you think there is also a business element to the Heat's decision. If he were to retire, his salary would come off the books one year from his last game. If he plays a game in the playoffs, that date gets pushed back from February to May. -- David.
Q: Ira, are the Heat preventing Chris Bosh from playing because they intend to excise his salary from the cap on the one-year anniversary of his incapacity? -- Jeffrey.
A: The cap, the tax and any other financial considerations would be a byproduct of the most essential part of this equation, Chris Bosh's health. I do not believe, in any way, that the math is what is motivating the Heat. Plus, an independent doctor would have to verify that Bosh is unable to play again, something he well could contest. But it also is an undeniable aspect of the equation, because the Heat currently are operating with a quarter of their salary cap sidelined, which also would be the case going forward if a retirement agreement is not reached (regardless of such an agreement, Bosh would receive every salary dollar due). While the Heat has done remarkably well to stay afloat without Bosh being available, I'm not sure such cap math and successes are mutually sustainable. Strip away a quarter of the salary cap at the top of any team's payroll and see what you're left with.
Q: Joe Johnson is going to really have to channel his inner Raptors killer if we're back to Dwyane Wade playing though bone bruises production again -- Ben.
A: I am curious, too, to see how effective Dwyane can be, considering how similar bone bruises have been so limiting. It still looks like Joe's conditioning has yet to reach Heat level, but I agree that he likely will have to carry the perimeter scoring load in at least one game this series, with the Raptors' defensive attention on Wade likely to increase in the wake of his productivity at the end of Game 1.
Q: Why has Tyler Johnson not been playing if he is healthy? -- Josh.
A: Because there's healthy, and then there's completely healthy. I do think that if Justise Winslow continues to struggle with his shot, and if Gerald Green is not providing instant offense, then Johnson's time may yet come in this series. In many of these cases of returning from a lengthy injury layoff, a few baby steps is followed by a major stride.
May 4, 2016
Q: Hey a win is a win no matter how weird it was. -- Will.
A: And that's the thing, by the time we get to Game 3 or Game 4 or beyond, no one is going to remember how Game 1 played out, only that the Heat got one victory closer for the right for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to share dinners both by the bay and along the lake. I'm not sure if the Heat lost this one that they would be able to recover in time for Thursday's Game 2, no matter what they would have said. And I was shocked that the Heat were so coolly efficient at the start of overtime. That never happens. You don't go from the ropes to landing body shots. This was Rocky-like stuff. And it seemed like it only was the stuff of fantasy. In a single five-minute overtime, the Heat turned their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day into a night to remember. I'm still not sure how. But they did.
Q: Lost in that end-of-the-game muck, Goran Dragic played phenomenal. -- Connor
A: Yes, he did, which is why the Heat should think twice about going away from Goran as they so often do at the ends of games, His energy was what pushed the Heat to their 10-point fourth-quarter lead. The Heat's approach with Goran reminds me of a pitcher rolling through seven or eight innings, seemingly with enough energy to close it out, and the manager still going to the bullpen. And I appreciate how Dwyane Wade is the Heat's Mariano Rivera. I do. But if the Heat had ridden a bit more with Goran, Tuesday might have been a bit easier. Or not.
Q: I can't wait to see the two-minute officiating report on this one. There were lots of missed calls. -- Chris.
A: Yes, there were. And this is becoming almost epidemic. I'm really curious what the league says about Kyle Lowry possibly stepping on the sideline before his tying 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer. Really curious. If Toronto had gone on to win, that could have meant consecutive nights when a playoff game was decided by an officiating mistake (in the wake of Spurs-Thunder). There has to be a way for the league office to buzz in immediately, handle the event in the moment, instead of an after-the-fact ruling that has no impact on the result. What we're getting now with the NBA and so much advanced DVR technology is fans being ahead of the officiating, similar to when fans had called in golfing infractions that actually led to tournament-impacting rulings by the PGA.
May 3, 2016
Q: Considering that the Heat are now running again on all cylinders, I felt the need to point out the obvious: Erik Spoelstra will tear apart the Raptors' offense and defense. That's what he does best. Toronto is a tough team, no doubt, but with Kyle Lowry hurting, it will be tough to battle Miami's strong guards in Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, and now Joe Johnson. Charlotte was a tough team because of the matchups. Hassan Whiteside will have a field day at center because they aren't stacked there. DeMar DeRozan will be covered by Justise Winslow, so he will be limited for sure. -- Javier.
A: First, there are no easy series at this stage of the playoffs. I do agree that Erik and his scouting/video staff have proven exceptional at breaking down opponents. But the Raptors have plenty of talent, more than the Hornets. And DeMar DeRozan is arguably the best guard in this series, so I wouldn't overstate any Heat superiority in the backcourt. As for center, I would argue that Toronto has more with its tag team of Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo than the Hornets did with Cody Zeller and a clearly laboring Al Jefferson. As for Winslow as a defensive stopper, I believe you also could see him taking defensive shifts against Lowry, as well. I do like that the Heat can come with a pair of perimeter stoppers in Winslow and Luol Deng, although the Raptors could claim the same with DeMarre Carroll and Norman Powell. Nothing will be easy about this one.
Q: I don't mean to dump on Josh McRoberts, but I just don't see how he is contributing. He doesn't rebound, he doesn't contest shots and his best offensive play is two dribbles and a hand-off. Contrast him with a guy like Justise Winslow who somehow seems to pull down a bunch of rebounds and block shots every game despite his size. For all of the talk about McRoberts being a facilitator, it seems like the offense stalls with him on the floor. Please explain why he is getting so much playing time in crucial games? -- David.
A: First, we don't get the opportunity to see what Erik Spoelstra sees in practice, so it could be clicking on such a level that Spoelstra doesn't want to leave such potential on the sidelines. Also, McRoberts and Winslow play different positions. So the real question with McRoberts is whether he should be playing ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire and Udonis Haslem in the power rotation. Based on Sunday's result in Game 7, I don't think you can go against any of Spoelstra's choices. But, remember, Amar'e Stoudemire was the first big man off the bench early in the Hornets series, so you never know how the power rotation is going to sort itself out in a series.
Q: Can we expect more of the same for Goran Dragic against Toronto? -- Phil.
A: Based on how Sunday's 25 points were such a dramatic increase for Goran, and based on how this largely has been an equal-opportunity offense, I'm not sure that such a total needs to be reached on a regular basis or even is necessary. There is plenty of familiarity between the former Rockets teammates. I would expect the matchup at point guard to be a wash, certainly nothing like the way Kemba Walker was dominant earlier in the Charlotte series before Dragic dominated Sunday. If Goran is good, it's enough to give the Heat the opportunity to be great.
May 2, 2016
Q: When the Heat signed Luol Deng two summers ago, Pat Riley said Luol Deng's signing was one of the most important free-agent signings of all-time for the Miami Heat. Some observers were, 'Huh?" Dwayne Wade said that Luol Deng's play changed the fortunes of the Miami Heat's season. Vindication for Pat Riley? Vindication for Luol Deng? -- Stuart.
A: And the irony is we have now gone a full season where the focus has been about re-signing Hassan Whiteside, retaining Dwyane Wade and fantasies of a free agent such as Kevin Durant. All the while, the clock continues to tick toward Luol's July 1 free agency. The rub in all of this is the great unknown with Chris Bosh. The assumption had been that Bosh would be the power forward going forward alongside Hassan. But that was when Deng was struggling to fit in at small forward. So now the Heat have to weigh (if they're not privately already sure), the possibilities of Bosh coming back, or not coming back. Without Deng, it would mean having to go with a stop-gap option at power forward. With this mix, Deng is as essential as Dwyane said after Sunday's victory over the Hornets. So now we have to start the math all over again, not only planning for Whiteside and Wade, but also considering the possibilities with Deng. And suddenly, no one is quite as quick to want to dump Goran Dragic's salary. With Deng so valuable as a defensive stopper going forward, it is possible his value only increases the balance of these playoffs, which might not be so favorable for the Heat's balance sheet.
Q: Great close-out game. I don't dwell too much on the final score. What I liked about the game was fewer fouls, fewer turnovers and better pick-and-roll defense. On offense, Goran Dragic was relentless. It seems that the foul troubles earlier in the series was really affecting his game. Dwyane Wade got them to Game 7 and the rest of the team took care of business to close out the final game. -- Victor.
A: Your last point resonates most with me, that Wade could score only 12 points Sunday and no one blinks. And that's how it will have to be going forward, when the opposition clearly will put their primary defensive stopper on Wade and then take their chances with Joe Johnson, who was uneven Sunday even while finishing a remarkable plus-33 in the plus-minus category. For this team to be at its best, it needs more than Wade on offense and Whiteside on defense. The first two games of the Hornets series and then Sunday's Game 7 offered examples of the Heat at their best.
Q: I'm getting a sense that Bosh will be activated for the second round. What do you think? -- Brian.
A: I have been told by someone very close to the situation that Chris will not be appearing in these playoffs for the Heat. Period. But I'm also sure that as the Heat get deeper into the playoffs, there will be further scrutiny by the "medical experts" not directly involved in Chris' treatment who will surmise scenarios where he can come back. Perhaps the situation changes. But the last I was told was that Bosh would not be part of this playoff mix.
May 1, 2016
Q: I would prefer for Hassan Whiteside to come off the bench. I would limit foul trouble and spark the second unit. It worked the second half of the regular season. -- J.P.
A: Well that simply is not happening, and Whiteside actually should be critical in getting the Heat off to the type of start they need Sunday. What they can't have is a player committing silly fouls that force him to the bench. He has to find the rare mix of smart and aggressive. And he has to forget about that thigh injury, which he raised again after his middling performance Friday in Charlotte in Game 6. With Udonis Haslem playing on one foot, Whiteside should be able to get by on 1 1/2 thighs. This is another of those max-salary moments of truth for Hassan. Come up big in a Game 7, and Heat reluctance to go to the maximum could melt away. It has been a while since we've seen the best of Hassan in this series. There were stages on Friday night when he was the game's third-best center, when counting Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller (and based on Haslem's late defense and rebounding, you could make a case that Whiteside was the game's fourth-best center). Sunday is about beast mode. Does Hassan have that in him at such a moment of truth?
Q: Please, no more Gerald Green and Josh McRoberts. -- Angel.
A: Erik Spoelstra really is trying to make it work for both of them. But when neither is contributing to the offense, it becomes even more difficult to mask their shortcomings. Josh Richardson's shoulder could go a long way toward determining Sunday's role (if there is one) for Green. As for McRoberts, I'm not sure he makes it to the floor. But we probably also should not overstate Haslem, because with Haslem and Winslow on the floor together, it essentially leaves the Heat playing three-on-five on offense. Again, this is a game when you push the starters however hard and long is needed, and worry about consequences later. Of course, as has been the case the entire season, foul trouble will play a factor in the rotation,
Q: The referees got scared of Gabrielle Union's wrath. -- Brian.
A: And, still, Friday's foul disparity worked against the Heat, with some of their worst foul trouble of the series, including Whiteside fouling out. The Heat were called for 24 fouls to 17 for the Hornets in Game 6, with the Hornets outscoring the Heat 21-13 from the line, with 10 more free throws. The reality is that to the aggressor goes the foul calls. And the Hornets again were more aggressive to the rim, with the Heat getting significant offense from the 3-point line. Even an attacking player like Dwyane Wade (also known as Union's husband) made his biggest splash from distance, instead of his usual attack mode.