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ASK IRA: Is consistency the difference in the Adebayo-Whiteside equation?
Sun Sentinel writer Ira Winderman addresses the Heat's issues of the day.


March 26, 2019

Q: I don't get it. If you don't think Erik Spoelstra is trying to get Hassan Whiteside to opt out of his contract next year, why ask Hassan about only playing 5 minutes against the Wizards? No offense Ira, but it's obvious that Erik Spoelstra doesn't value Hassan. He treats Bam Adebayo as if he's the one who signed a big contract with the Heat and it's not fair. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: A few points to tackle here. First, I actually think it is to Erik Spoelstra's credit that he has not allotted playing time based on contracts. It is why James Johnson, Dion Waiters and even Kelly Olynyk have sat for extended stretches this season. That, in turn, has opened opportunities for the likes of Derrick Jones Jr. and the occasional run by Rodney McGruder. As for the Hassan Whiteside-Bam Adebayo dynamic, I've said this before and I believe it goes a long way toward where the Heat now stand: Adebayo gives you 100 percent 100 percent of the time. Seemingly in Spoelstra's view, that is not always the case with Whiteside. Look, I believe Hassan is the more skilled and talented and imposing of the two. But on a nightly basis, as well as a minute-to-minute basis, Adebayo gives you consistent Adebayo-level contribution. In a playoff race, there is plenty to be said about consistency.

Q: It's time for Dwyane Wade to go. He will only hold back the team and its new identity if he stays longer. We need to move on to the new era of Heat basketball and add players in their prime to our young guys. Boy was it fun to watch him play, though. -- P.M.

A: And that is a significant element to the Dwyane Wade equation this season. At no point did it feel like he got in the way of what will come next. Early in the season, he consistently deferred to Josh Richardson, until it became clear that it wasn't working with Josh as closer. All the while, he remained as a reserve, so Dion Waiters eventually could move back into the starting lineup. He also made it easier for the Heat to save against the tax and even future cap by making it possible to deal Tyler Johnson. In fact, if anyone was impacted adversely by Dwyane on the roster this season, it is two players who no longer are here, in Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington.

Q: You know the lotto players who spend $1 on a lottery ticket, but rather not work to become rich? Same for basketball teams who'd rather not work to become great, but have greatness handed to them without work. All the logic in the world doesn't change human nature of some people wanting something for nothing. -- Leonard, Charlotte.

A: Thank you for summing up the Knicks' season. 

March 25, 2019

Q: So is Bam Adebayo now in the running with Justise Winslow to take over the Heat mantle from Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem? -- Stuart.

A: I'm not sure we are anywhere near a bar that high. But it is interesting how it has evolved among the Heat's kids. Initially, the thought was that Josh Richardson would be the leading man among the Heat's next wave. Instead, the hierarchy has shifted toward an order of Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and then Richardson. And that is fine, also. Because for all the consternation about the Heat giving up ground in the race for lottery balls, there does appear to be a nice core of youth going forward, when also factoring in Derrick Jones Jr. Yes, there still is the lack of an elite, franchise-altering talent along the lines of a Dwyane Wade, but there now appears to be ample complementary youth just waiting for the airlifting of a final piece.

Q: Ira, honestly, Hassan Whiteside or Bam Adebayo? Your opinion counts and is worth a whole lot. -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: Actually, my opinion doesn't count at all. The only opinion that matters is Erik Spoelstra's opinion. And the only element that seemingly matters even more than that is Heat Culture. And that means that hustle tends to overshadow all. It is clear that Bam Adebayo's motor is what has moved him ahead of Hassan Whiteside in the hierarchy. Bam is not necessarily more skilled than Hassan, but there is a consistency there that has not always been the case with Hassan. Basically, Spoelstra knows what he will get from Bam. From Hassan, the highs certainly can be far higher, but there also are the lows that seemingly drive Spoelstra to distraction.

Q: The Heat should be tanking instead of getting into the playoffs with a subpar record and probably getting swept in the first round. Love my Heat, but I would take my chances in the lotto in getting a possible franchise changer. -- Dennis.

A: At this point, your revised lottery odds would give you about a 3-percent chance of a top pick. It's too late to turn back now. You basically could be debating whether it's better to draft No. 14 instead of No. 15.

March 24, 2019

Q: In our win over the Wizards, Bam Adebayo had a career night, showcasing his all-around talents and hinting at his All-Star ceiling. Should we expect more games like this from Bam heading into the playoffs and beyond? -- Ethan, Miami Beach.

A: It's one thing to do it against a Wizards team that has all but given up, lacking much in the way of a power rotation. And it is an entirely different equation against playoff-level competition, as Friday's loss in Milwaukee showed. But Bam, who does not turn 22 until July, still is in his formative years. So this is exactly what you want to see, a player who still is growing. And that is why these minutes are so meaningful, because Saturday's 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists was a case of providing what was needed. Look, the relatively nondescript Thomas Bryant closed Saturday's game with 17 points and 11 rebounds for Washington, so there also has to be perspective. What matters now is the growth that follows, especially with the Heat seemingly have coming to the belief that Hassan Whiteside, at best, has plateaued.

Q: A conspiracy theorist might wonder if Erik Spoelstra wants Hassan Whiteside to opt out this year. -- Daniel.

A: For all the in-the-moment decision-making required by an NBA coach -- including foul trouble, the opposition's lineup, quality of individual play of teammates -- I doubt that Erik Spoelstra, in the heat of the action, is sitting on the sidelines plotting anything more than how to get through the next possession, how to get the next defensive stop and how to navigate through his rotation. There is a lot of scheming in NBA games, but I doubt there the type of nefarious scheming you hint at. In the case of Saturday's game, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk had the hotter hands and higher motors. Sometimes it is as simple as that.

Q: I love watching Dwyane Wade play. But it's the best time to go out, when you’ve still got it. You don't want to be Carmelo Anthony. -- Daniel.

A: Could not agree more. The final, lasting memories of Dwyane Wade now can be of nights such as Saturday, when memories were rekindled in real time. I mean, how could you possibly top that?

March 23, 2019

Q: Where do you see a need for Miami in the draft? Miami has a glut at power forward and guard. Would they be better off targeting a small forward in this draft? -- Rodney, Sarasota.

A: I hate to hedge, but the free agency/trade situation could provide some clarity. For example, if the Heat get the sense that Goran Dragic will opt out (with that deadline after the draft) or that they might trade him as a means of offloading some bad money from elsewhere on the roster, then a case could be made for a point guard. Similarly, with the trades of Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington at February's trading deadline, a case could be made for a wing, especially if there is an attempt to offload Dion Waiters' contract or if Rodney McGruder appears to be a potential free-agency loss. To me, the revival of James Johnson could go a long way toward determining whether there is any specific in-the-moment need for an upgrade, or whether the Heat can take more of a developmental approach, knowing they also have Derrick Jones Jr., Yante Maten and Duncan Robinson in the developmental pipeline. What the selection of Bam Adebayo in 2017 showed is that when drafting in the middle of the first round, it is likely the Heat will go for . . . drumroll . . . the best player available. After all, they selected Bam at a time they already had Hassan Whiteside and just weeks before they would add Kelly Olynyk.

Q: I think this year will be a deciding point on whether the Heat want to keep Hassan Whiteside or not for the future. -- David, Plantation.

A: Except, it's not that simple. With Hassan Whiteside due $27.1 million next season (unless he opts out), the only way another team would likely be willing to take on such salary in a league moving away from post play would be if the Heat either attached a sweetener or if the Heat would take on distressed property. So it could come down to what the Heat can live with moving forward. In other words, would you be willing to package Hassan with Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow or Josh Richardson simply to lose that single year of salary? Would you be willing to add a first-round pick? If the goal, as Pat Riley has stated, remains 2020 free agency, then patience is by far the prudent course.

Q: Ira, my prediction was and is that Dwyane Wade would not retire this season. I'm betting on the spin that Pat Riley begged him back. Possible? -- Juan.

A: Nope, this is it. Dwyane has gone waaaaaaay too far down the retirement road to turn back now. He appreciates a graceful exit and has particularly enjoyed this final chapter, knowing there are few better ways to write an ending.

March 22, 2019

Q: Ira, you continue to write about the Heat's "challenging" closing schedule, but players already are talking about taking time off before the playoffs and now more teams are shutting players down. -- Tommy.

A: Valid point. For example, what set up as a significant road challenge in two weeks in Minnesota now could be far less, with the Timberwolves already shutting down Derrick Rose, Robert Covington and Jeff Teague. Similarly, Kyrie Irving said Wednesday that he plans to take time off before the playoffs, with the Heat scheduled for an April 1 game in Boston and then a return matchup two nights later in Miami. So you are correct that during this time of year, not all is as it appears when it comes to schedule. That, of course, also factors into the schedules of the teams the Heat are battling for playoff position. And then, once we get down to the final days of the season, there also could be the case of teams attempting to manipulate their final standing to move into a preferred playoff slot. All of that said, two games against the Celtics and one apiece against the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Nets still sets up as challenging, compared to what other teams in the Heat's portion of the playoff race are scheduled to face. So there most likely will need to be follow-up victories on the scale of what the Heat achieved in Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

Q: I agree with your response on Erik Spoelstra not altering minutes too much for Dwyane Wade in a possible playoffs series. But Wade in Milwaukee with his college fans and the end of his career, I think if he asks for the ball, Spo gives it to him. -- Eddie.

A: These days, Dwyane Wade doesn't have to ask for the ball for Erik Spoelstra or his teammates to give it to him, including for halfcourt heaves at the ends of periods. But, yes, the playoffs are a completely different animal, with no back-to-backs and the first round spaced out. If it takes 40 minutes a night from Dwyane at that stage, so be it. Until then, there has to be a degree of prudence with a 37-year-old, which will make the approach intriguing in this upcoming back-to-back set in Milwaukee and Washington, especially with Washington likely the more winnable game based on where the Wizards stand and the Bucks' desperation after these recent losses.

Q: The Heat-Nets last game of the season is going to be huge for positioning. -- Louis.

A: Or, for the Heat, perhaps huge to even make it in. There remains a chance that Dwyane Wade will go into that April 10 game in Brooklyn uncertain whether it might be the final game of his NBA career. Keep in mind that the Magic play the Hornets that same final night of the season, a Charlotte team that almost assuredly will have nothing to play for, save perhaps improving its lottery seeding.

March 21, 2019

Q: Ira, have the Heat found next season's replacement for Dwyane Wade with Goran Dragic as sixth man? -- Paul.

A: First, the Heat continue to live in the moment. And I still am curious to see how it would play out if Goran Dragic were to start alongside Justise Winslow, but start at shooting guard. In other words, could Justise continue to flourish as playmaker in the same lineup with Goran? While the Heat have had quality reserves such as Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and even Wayne Ellington in recent years, only this season has there been a definitive sixth man, with Erik Spoelstra taking that approach amid Dwyane Wade's retirement season. So perhaps it does become a standard role, as part of a Heat evolution. All I know is that if Goran keeps playing like this, you have to get him on the court as much as he can deal with physically. Then again, with 20 of his 22 points in Wednesday's first half, perhaps 24 or so minutes is where Dragic stands at the moment.

Q: I think Hassan Whiteside is in the perfect role right now. He plays well against second-tier bigs. -- Magdiel.

A: And that well could be part of the thinking. Plus there is the irony that alongside Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and James Johnson, he essentially is playing alongside NBA starters. It hardly is being sentenced to shame. But you also could see Wednesday night how much Bam Adebayo's energy can mean, with his 15 rebounds and team-high five assists. It might not have been what Hassan envisioned, but unlike the end of 2015-16, I'm not sure there is a return to the starting lineup before the playoffs, if there are to be playoffs. But Whiteside did what was needed Wednesday, with his 12 points, seven rebounds, two assists and, yes, 6-of-6 foul shooting.

Q: These last few weeks are going to be fun as a fan, and I'm sure for the players, as well. I, for one, am thankful we are playing meaningful games. That's all you can ask for as a fan. -- David, Miami

A: And there is nothing wrong with that from an in-the-moment perspective. And I agree, most fans arrive to AmericanAirlines Arena without a care about the overall record, but rather that they are going to see something with meaning. Keep in mind, every single Heat regular-season game since LeBron James left in the 2014 offseason has had playoff-race meaning with the exception of the 2014-15 season finale. That's it. One game. And it looks like every game for the balance of the regular season again will have playoff-race meaning. That is meaningful, beyond such pedestrian concerns as the actual record. Yes, the Heat still are one game below .500, at 35-36. But the feeling after Wednesday's victory was a winning feeling -- which matters most.

March 20, 2019

Q: Ira, I understand there aren't enough minutes to go around, and that Kelly Olynyk is playing well. But how can you expect Hassan Whiteside to remain engaged when you only play him five minutes? It wasn't that he checked out, Erik Spoelstra checked him out. -- Lance.

A: It certainly was a stark box score in regards to Hassan Whiteside, utilized for only 5:09 in the victory in Oklahoma City. Part of that were two quick fouls, after he had secured four rebounds in that initial stint. And a bigger part of it was that with Steven Adams in foul trouble and Nerlens Noel out with a quad contusion, the Thunder were mostly going with smaller lineups. Considering one of Hassan's best games of the season came against the Spurs, perhaps that reverses itself Wednesday in San Antonio. But with James Johnson seemingly back as a rotation element, and with Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo the seeming big men of choice, it could get even more interesting. And that was in a game when Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder weren't even available.

Q: Why isn't Goran Dragic starting? Dion Waiters looks like he has lost interest in playing and he shows that by how much he wants to get in shape. Josh Richardson is just not consistent, most likely Pat Riley regrets not trading him for Jimmy Butler. And Justise Winslow still can be the main ball handler. -- Gago, Los Angeles.

A: This reminds me of the Heat's stretch run at the end of 2015-16 when Amar'e Stoudemire was the starting center until three games remained in the regular season. That's when Erik Spoelstra got to his playoff lineup with Hassan Whiteside back in the first five. Now that Goran Dragic has thrived off the ball, it's not as if he can't play alongside of Justise Winslow. But I do think there is a chance that you then could lose Dion Waiters if you move him back to the bench. As for Josh Richardson, his defense is too valuable to reduce him to reserve.

Q: Fourth-quarter Dwyane Wade will get us in the playoffs. But once we're there, 25 minutes a game isn’t going to cut it. -- Eddie.

A: First, of course, you still have to get to the playoffs. As for Dwyane Wade, I don't expect the sixth-man role to change in the playoffs. You don't alter that element of the lineup at this stage. But at that point, it will be whatever is needed, and likely whoever is the hot hand. Wade won a game for the Heat in last season's playoffs and he certainly has the ability to do at least that much this time around, considering how well he is playing during this stretch run.

March 19, 2019

Q: It's only a few games, but do you think the few weeks off helped James Johnson? He seems like he's in better shape and moving around markedly better than much of the season.  -- Ruben, Davie.

A: I believe it is more a sense of urgency, of realizing that if not now, then perhaps not at all this season. But make no mistake, this is a completely different team if James Johnson can do what he did Sunday and Monday. With the explosion back, he becomes a factor again at the rim -- on both ends of the court. For the most part this season it had been about launching jumpers or deferring. I expect it to only be a matter of time now before he claims Derrick Jones Jr.'s minutes, through no fault of Derrick. Even more than the moments these past two games, what it does is give the Heat another defensive option against power forwards and bigger small forwards. Make no mistake, this is a significant development for the Heat. Very significant.

Q: What happened to Waiters Island? Did he get lost? -- Ricardo, Brazil.

A: And this is the flip side. While James Johnson has risen to the moment, Dion Waiters has largely shrunk from it. If this continues to be a meritocracy, then when Justise Winslow gets back, it will be interesting to see what happens to Dion's minutes. For that matter, an argument could be made for Rodney McGruder's defense over what Dion can offer on the other end.

Q: Bam Adebayo really struggles protecting the paint, and always gets outplayed by bigger players. It never fails with this kid. -- Cedric, Jacksonville.

A: Because he's a power forward. That's why I was somewhat surprised that the decision was to open with Bam Adebayo against Steven Adams on Monday night, instead of Kelly Olynyk. The problem is that Erik Spoelstra clearly does not see Bam as a fit alongside Hassan Whiteside. So that somewhat limits the options with Bam at power forward, especially with James Johnson back in the rotation. The answer Monday was practically no Hassan Whiteside. So that raises the question of how essential Hassan is to the mix going forward. Or perhaps Monday merely was an outlier, with Kelly playing so well.

March 18, 2019

Q: I don't think I've seen as bad of a game from a Heat player in a while as we saw from Josh Richardson. Why in the world was he in there the entire fourth? Dion Waiters was catching fire and sat the entire final 16 minutes. -- Brett, Miami.

Q: I don't get it, Dion Waiters comes alive in the third quarter but has to sit the entire fourth. But Josh Richardson plays for the entire fourth quarter after going 2-17 from the field. What makes Josh so special? And I mean that in the most sarcastic way as possible. -- Trevor, Orlando.

A: Defense. Defense. Defense. The priority Sunday was stopping Kemba Walker at all costs, something Josh Richardson helped do very well in the Heat's trapping scheme. For better or worse, defense will remain Erik Spoelstra's priority, and there have been several shaky defensive moments for Dion Waiters in recent games. If the Heat did not build their lead, then Dion very well could have been the choice. But once it came down to holding the lead it came down to Richardson. In the end, Josh finished plus-16 Sunday, with Dion plus-three. So perhaps the numbers (all of the numbers) didn't lie.

Q: Bam Adebayo could be very good in this league. Hassan Whiteside played good ball, too, but Bam is the future. The 5-foot jumper he took Sunday in the lane looks like a shot he has been working hard on. Impressive. -- Douglas.

A: And that ultimately might be the reasoning, that Bam Adebayo's long-term value means more to the Heat than an Hassan Whiteside contract that expires after next season. But, in the moment, it likely will remain the hot hand that gets the minutes. As it is, all of the Heat's big men have had their moments in recent games.

Q: Is James Johnson back in the rotation? -- Lance.

A: Sunday was a factor of Justise Winslow not being available due to his thigh bruise. That created more of a need for a perimeter player than a power player (when the minutes had gone to Udonis Haslem in some recent games). But it also is about taking advantage of the opportunity. Because James likely will play as a reserve when Justise returns, it likely explains Derrick Jones Jr. getting Sunday's start. It could come down to either/or between Johnson and Jones when it comes to the playoff rotation (if there is a playoff rotation). For now, the window for James could be as long as Justise is out. As always, it's about maximizing opportunity.

March 17, 2019

Q: Has there been any suggestion from anyone connected to the Heat that either or both James Johnson or Dion Waiters are simply not all the way back from their injuries? If so, is there any thinking that they may be by next season? At this point, they clearly don't yet have the athleticism they showed, which led to their long term contracts. -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: Erik Spoelstra has continually stressed the challenges of returning from extended injury layoffs, an example he has used with both Dion Waiters and James Johnson. Conditioning also is a factor, and it does not appear as if either is back, or even close to, peak form. The other concern with Johnson is the added difficultly to push back as an older player, with James having turned 32 last month. But, again, the Heat knew about Dion's injuries (yes, injuries, plural) and, of course, James' age when they offered those four-year contracts. From the start, the concern more was about the years than the money. Had they been two- or three-year deals, the Heat would be at a point where there would be flexibility at this stage. Instead, it remains a waiting game, with no immediate signs of turnarounds.

Q: You say Dion Waiters isn’t the same player from a couple of seasons ago, but my question to you is why do you think that is? When this team finished 30-11 in 2016-17, the offense ran through Dion, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Now however, the offense is not only being run through Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Bam Adebayo (three guys who have been up and down from the moment they were drafted) but Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic both come off the bench, and Dion doesn’t have the ball in his hands like he should. Sometimes the blame gets placed on the wrong people, and as a fan it drives me nuts watching people give Erik Spoelstra a pass, and hold guys like Dion accountable for things far beyond his control. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald. Ga.

A: But here's the thing: By signing Dion to that four-year deal, and with the contracts of Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside expiring in advance of that timetable, it meant having to try to make it work with the younger players you mention. That has been what Erik Spoelstra has tried to do, starting Dion with Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo. It's not about holding Dion accountable, it's about seeing if he can be an effective part of the team's next rendition, with a roster clearly in transition.

Q: Does it make sense to push for the playoffs at this point? The gap between this Heat team and the team they'd most likely be facing (the Bucks) is so blatant that it'd barely be a contest. Dwyane Wade for four more games would be great, but is it the best thing for the team? -- J.H., Miami.

A: As opposed to what? After Friday's game, the Heat stood with a record that, at the moment, would be no better than the No. 14 lottery seed. So you basically are talking about an almost-nil chance of moving up in the lottery order. At this point, there really is no other option but to win.

March 16, 2019

Q: Why no James Johnson? Why the zone? Those corner 3s killed us so many times. Why take Hassan Whiteside out when he is dominating? We have lost so many games this year due to non-adjustments or Erik Spoelstra just using the wrong lineups. We are already at a deficit talent-wise, we can't be outcoached, too, and expect to win. Am I the only one seeing this? -- Brett, Miami.

A: I would put it this way, taking from one of your points: They're just not good enough. Or, more to the point, they are who their record says they are. For whatever reason, including the insistence on naming him a captain, it has become apparent Erik Spoelstra has moved on from James Johnson. Similarly, it is apparent that Spoelstra's belief is that Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo do not have complementary skill sets, thus making it an equation of only splitting 48 minutes between the two. As for the zone, which certainly was no answer Friday, an argument could be made that the Heat would be in even a worse place if they didn't turn to it this season. But mostly, as moments such as Friday show, theirs were better than the Heat's. Simple, to the point. Yes, coaching matters. But having a Giannis Antetokounmpo matters more.

Q: Why does Dion Waiters continue to start? He appears to be injured, he can’t jump, barely can run. -- Gago, Los Angeles.

A: Because there aren't many others on this team at the moment seemingly even willing to step up and hit big shots. But this Dion Waiters in no way looks like the one the Heat signed to that four-year contract. But if not Dion, then who? Two of the replacement options -- Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington -- were traded for tax relief. So Rodney McGruder instead? It's not as if Friday's game turned when Erik Spoelstra turned to Rodney after Dion's defensive gaffe.

Q: The divine-comedy Heat shine once more. From one of the most impressive halves that I've had the pleasure of watching to all but completely worthless. Such are this year's Miami Heat team. Really, really sad is all there is to it. Next. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: Except with the Heat's remaining schedule, if the Heat cannot beat Boston (two meetings left), Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Toronto, Oklahoma City or San Antonio -- getting at least two wins out of that group of games -- they will be doomed to a losing season. And at this stage, it's even difficult to make assumptions about home games against Charlotte and Orlando.

March 15, 2019

Q: Hi Ira, out of the games left how many does the team have to win to make the playoffs? Frankly I'd rather they don't make it. -- Joaquin, Coral Gables.

A: Just about all the playoff-prediction models have the cutoff to make it in the Eastern Conference at 38 victories. The problem for the Heat is that they trail in tiebreakers to just about every opponent (because of record against either division or conference opponents). So that could make 39 their magic number. At 32-35, that would require a 7-8 finish. Finding seven victories, however, is not as simple as it sounds, consider two games apiece remain against both the Celtics and Bucks, one against the 76ers, as well as road games in Oklahoma City and San Antonio. So that, by itself, leaves little wiggle room and still doesn’t factor in road games in Washington, Minnesota and Brooklyn. That is why most models also have the Heat with less than a 50-50 shot of making it. The best chance for those seven wins, from this perspective, would be Sunday vs. Charlotte, March 26 vs. Orlando, March 28 vs. Dallas, March 30 in New York, as well as the games in Washington, Minnesota and Brooklyn. Slip up in one or two of those and the math becomes exponentially more complex. So, yes, it well could come down to the final night of the season, leaving it in the air possibly to the final regular-season buzzer whether Dwyane Wade's playing career ends April 10.

Q: Why do you keep praising Bam Adebayo for his perimeter defense? In the game against Detroit, that kid picked up two early fouls and only managed to score two points in five minutes in the beginning of the game. Other than quicker feet he has no clear advantage over Hassan Whiteside, who has been outplayed by him coming off the bench. -- Jeremy, Fort Lauderdale.

A: Because those are two different roles. Bam Adebayo at least gives the Heat a chance against opposing power forwards. Hassan Whiteside's approach and value is remaining in the paint. The defensive success of Adebayo on the wing basically is the only way for the Heat to get rotation minutes for all three of their big men, including Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk. Debate Bam's defensive efficiency if you will (and many of his fouls actually come on the offensive end, setting screens), but the Heat's ability or willingness to defend on the perimeter actually unlocks the rotation for all three of the big men.

Q: Rodney McGruder represents value for money at minimum wage.  He's due for a payday this offseason, but will he get it (at the expense of future cap space)? Pity if he doesn't. -- L.J.

A: At one point, I would have said yes. But now that Derrick Jones Jr. appears to have moved ahead of Rodney in the mix, I doubt there will be anything close to even mid-level money. That's not to say that Rodney can't have mid-level value somewhere, just that the Heat again seem likely to remain loaded on the wing, even with Dwyane Wade's impending retirement. It well could come down to the Heat's direction in the draft, and perhaps the lower end of free agency.

March 14, 2019

Q: Ira, what gives? They do that to the Pistons and lay eggs against the Suns. -- Marko.

A: Or perhaps have started to come around since that loss to the Suns, with victories now in six of the eight games since, settling on a lineup that not only produced dramatic starts to each half Wednesday against the Pistons, but also leaves a significant boost off the bench. Still, the story ultimately will be told against stiffer competition, starting with Friday's game against the Bucks. Save for the victory over Golden State, the Heat have won the games they were expected to win, perhaps with the exception of the victory in Charlotte. But there also was the blown lead in Houston and the blowout loss Sunday to the visiting Raptors. These upcoming games should offer a better read on whether it has been the schedule or a true turnaround. That's not to take anything away from the effort against the Pistons. It's only that home victories should be expected from a team than fancies itself as playoff-quality.

Q: Erik Spoelstra said before the Pistons game that James Johnson will be back for the playoff race. Does that makes sense? -- Art.

A: I believe it does, because if there are to be playoffs, it likely would be against Milwaukee or Toronto, and I'd prefer my chances against Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kawhi Leonard with James Johnson taking the defensive assignment. I'm not saying it would have to come in the starting lineup, but it would seem to be, with all due respect, the preferable defensive option to Derrick Jones Jr. In that regard, if the playoffs remain the priority, and if it appears the Heat are going to get there, then at some point before the end of the regular season, it would seem to make sense to try to get James back up to speed. Of course, for the most part, what we don't see is how James is playing in practice. And perhaps it becomes a case of never getting all the way back from last May's surgery for a sports hernia.

Q: The Heat are better when Josh Richardson plays off the ball, and when Dion Waiters plays on the ball. -- Charlie.

A: But with Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade all playing on the ball, it's not as if there are that many opportunities for Josh Richardson or Dion Waiters to also be on the ball. But I do agree that the lack of on-ball minutes for Dion have somewhat stunted his Heat growth.

March 13, 2019

Q: Aren't there creative ways for the Heat to clear cap space if a max free agent wanted to come here this offseason? Sign-and-trade Hassan Whiteside's expiring contract along with a first-round pick. Or if Goran Dragic decided to opt out plus stretching Ryan Anderson would create cap space as well. Making the playoffs with the core of Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and Kelly Olynyk would be a big selling point. -- Dave, Placentia, Calif.

A: Could? Possibly. But to get out of the Whiteside and Dragic deals, the possibility of creating ample space would likely include adding one of the young Heat players you mention as a sweetener. I wouldn't totally rule the Heat out of free agency, because Andy Elisburg and Pat Riley creatively think outside of the box. But also remember that once a team is eliminated from the playoff, or if it doesn't make it at all, it then is able to begin making trades at season's end. And since the Pelicans are not making the playoffs, the Anthony Davis trade season could begin earlier than some anticipate. That could be a time the Heat consider pouncing, as well.

Q: Used to be that a division winner was guaranteed the minimum of a No. 3 playoff seed, later changed to one of the top four.  Now things are different, and it's possible that a division might not get a team in.  This time round it's close, with seven of the East's top eight coming from the Atlantic and Central. Do the current rules allow a division to be shut out, have no representation in the playoffs? -- Steve, Las Vegas.

A: Yes, and it appears more and more likely that the Southeast Division winner will advance to the postseason with a losing record, the Heat needing to close 10-6 to avoid that possibility. It will be interesting to see a division banner go up under those circumstances.

Q: Ira, this is going to be the third straight season that the Heat will be right around .500.  For most franchises with no improvement in three years it would be an invitation for an escort out the door for the coach and/or the GM.  How many more seasons of mediocrity before Erik Spoelstra or Pat Riley are held accountable? -- Joel.

A: As many as Micky Arison and Nick Arison choose.

March 12, 2019

Q: I really hope that Dwyane Wade is in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year. He has been the perfect example of a sixth man, teammate, and leader all season. -- Roland, Portland.

A: I do believe he will be in the conversation, but I'm not sure that the award can be won from so far down in the standings. And yet, it is somewhat remarkable that at this stage in their careers, this is where Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose stand. I would believe that players on contenders, as with all awards, will get the bulk of attention, which has Domantas Sabonis, Montrezl Harrell and perennial front-runner Lou Williams as the leading candidates. A case certainly could be made, as well, for Spencer Dinwiddie. But it would be intriguing if Dwyane makes the cut to the final three and can close out his final season with a spot at the NBA's now-annual awards show. Considering he has come off the bench all season and has been, arguably, the Heat's MVP, then he certainly meets the criteria at least as the Heat's candidate.

Q: Derrick Jones' shot was better than a dunk. -- Sarah.

A: How crazy is social media that that even became a talking point? Because of the trolls, I simply wrote it as a throw down. But if that's the case, then the NBA should change the name of the event to the Slam Throw Down contest during All-Star Weekend. What the NBA saw was how much Derrick Jones Jr.'s knee injury diluted the competition of what was left on All-Star Saturday, with all due respect to Hamidou Diallo.

Q: Are the Heat's young core playing themselves into the Anthony Davis trade talks? So far they're outshining the Lakers youngsters -- J.F.

A: That, of course, is if the Heat don't instead trade Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson to the Lakers for LeBron James (kidding). In the end, the Pelicans are going to want an A-list, All-Star talent in any trade for Davis, something they assuredly can get from the Celtics. I do agree, however, that the Lakers hardly are in a position of strength, particularly with Lonzo Ball's injury history and now the health scare with Brandon Ingram. To be candid, I'm not sure the Lakers even have an entry point anymore for a Davis trade. 


March 11, 2019

Q: Alright now Ira, the Raptors game proves that Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and Derrick Jones Jr. are not ready. Furthermore, given how this team was at their best when Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic started in the back court, it drives me nuts how he doesn't play them together, and has Dion Waiters deferring to the young core. -- Charlie.

A: Going to be quite candid here, I almost had forgotten about the Goran Dragic-Dion Waiters backcourt as a thing. As it is, the two have played 24 minutes together this season, a pairing that has occurred in only four games. Granted, between Goran's knee issue and Dion's belated return from his ankle surgery, there hasn't exactly been abundant opportunity. But it also seems as if so much of this roster and payroll was based on what happened at the end of 2016-17, when Dragic and Waiters thrived in the same lineup amid the 30-11 finish. So whether it is moving Dragic up to the first team or bumping Dion back, it would seem to make sense to at least attempt to recreate one of the more intriguing two-man alignments on this team. That, of course, would then play into Justise Winslow's role, which could be at the crux of the limited amount of Dion-Dragic, with the priority clearly on the younger players.

Q: Ira, going down the stretch of the season should the Heat consider taking Dion Waiters out of the rotation and go with Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic? -- Joel.

A: Again, what is the priority at this moment: Winning every possible game or developing players? And to a great extent, does Dion Waiters figure into either of those equations? For all the trade speculation last summer about Dion, are the Heat simply looking for an off ramp?

Q: Ira, if Dwyane Wade does retire as we all presume, who's actually going to watch this team next year? -- Juan.

A: The type of fans who watch their team because it's, well, their team. The type of fans who appreciate the potential growth of players into either legitimate factors or legitimate trade chips. But with Dwyane Wade emerging as this season's Heat MVP, it does leave a void when it comes to the next face of the franchise.

March 10, 2019

Q: Ira, you wrote about the Heat's upcoming schedule in your Five Degrees. I don't see more than two or three wins in the next eight games. What do you see? -- Oliver.

A: Because of the playoff race, they basically have to get the upcoming Detroit and Charlotte games on this homestand, not because of tiebreakers, which already are lost because of the Heat's division and conference records, but because of double value of those games. The gravy would be a victory over Toronto or Milwaukee. It is the four-game trip that follows that appears particularly daunting, with Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Milwaukee as the first three stops, followed by Washington, which could be playing out the string by then. So at 31-34 at moment, a split of the next four would leave the Heat at 33-36. Then, if there are losses in the first three stops on the trip, you're talking 33-39 going into Washington. Even with games against the Magic, Mavericks and Knicks to follow, that would be a precarious hole. So while Erik Spoelstra refuses to look ahead beyond the next game, a 3-1 close to this homestand practically is essential.

Q: Hey, Ira, so looking ahead to the offseason we have a few contracts that will be in their last year. What value do you think the expiring contracts may hold in the trade market? Do you believe the Heat would be better off trying to land a star with a large contract that way or waiting for the following year when they would have cap space? -- Victor, Bethlehem, Pa.

A: It could help that teams could be left with cap space and no place to spend it, which could provide some flexibility for the Heat. But basically the only way a team seeks out an expiring deal is to move on from a questionable contract that has multiple remaining years. So it ultimately would come down to whether the Heat would prefer to recycle (in 2019) or start fresh (in 2020). In a perfect world, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic would opt out. But little has fallen into place for the Heat since extending their free-agent contracts in 2016 and '17.

Q: Ira, I've asked questions on this in the past, but out of curiosity do you think if Jimmy Butler were to opt in to his contract to come to the Heat like Chris Paul did that it could happen? He just doesn't look like a good fit on the 76ers and I don't feel like he just said the Heat were his number one choice when he wanted a trade for no reason. -- Patrick, Issaquah, Washington.

A: First, I can't fathom that Jimmy Butler, with all his mileage, would put his final payday on hold. Then again, that's what Chris Paul did, with all his mileage, to get to his preferred destination alongside James Harden. But if Jimmy gets to the open market, then the Heat effectively would be shut out. I do agree that Jimmy well could be gone from the 76ers, especially if there is not a deep postseason run for Philadelphia, and that Tobias Harris could wind up as the 76ers' ultimate free-agency priority.

March 9, 2019

Q: Ira, the other day you mentioned the Heat are playing their top two paid players off the bench and not even playing their third- and fourth-highest-paid players. For a team setting aside salaries for wins, it would seem logical to send Dion Waiters to the bench as well. He has done nothing to earn his playing time. -- Juan, Fort Lauderdale.

Q: Dion Waiters cannot keep passing up so many easy looks around the basket like he has been. He gets to the basket with absolute garbage ease and he bails out the defense when he doesn't try to score. -- Jessie, Fort Pierce.

A: It certainly has been an uneven ride for Dion Waiters, including Friday night's game against the Cavaliers. As might be expected after such a long layoff, the explosion isn’t there yet. Erik Spoelstra spoke of Waiters' road back in patient terms before Friday's game, but if he continues with his approach of the best players play (which has James Johnson out of the current rotation), then it will be interesting to see what happens when Goran Dragic returns to form, including if Dion even remains in the starting lineup. For the moment, with the Heat winning, I would not expect any dramatic changes. It's not as if Dion has been a liability, just not necessarily a contributor.

Q: I am a little concerned reading quotes from Justise Winslow over the last month that he seems to be taking a view that he is entitled (to be the starting point guard), and is satisfied with himself based on his perception that he is playing well. You are there when he is interviewed. Is this your perception too? -- Andrew, Coral Gables.

A: As many with many players, irrational confidence is what drives them. So no, no issue there. To me, it is not about Justise developing the confidence to play his position, but rather whether he is willing to grow as a player. And while you can point to his growth coming during a losing season (at least to this point), it's not as if he is the cause of those defeats. Feeling good about yourself is a plus, as long as you don't grow comfortable with the losing, as well. Friday certainly was a step forward, with his 16 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Q: What is the Heats plan with Ryan Anderson? I understand trading Tyler Johnson and Wayne helped us get under the tax threshold but I thought we also got a player in return that can play in the rotation. Is there a plan to use Ryan Anderson or are we just stashing him on the bench until we can dump him?  -- Jason, Fort Lauderdale.

A: The point of the Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington trades largely was to reduce the rotation and create more consistent playing time. As it is, James Johnson has moved outside of the rotation so I can't see the Heat moving in another power player. As far as Ryan's contract, an injury would not hurt the Heat from a cap standpoint with his July 10 guarantee date. But that acquisition was about future cap and tax savings more than the player himself.

March 8, 2019

Q: So our two of our highest paid players, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, play at their best off the bench. Can this be sustainable? -- Erik, Plantation.

A: You can actually take it a step further, when considering that the Heat's third- and fourth-highest-paid players, Ryan Anderson and James Johnson, aren't in the rotation at all at the moment. At this stage, when every game matters, it speaks volumes that Erik Spoelstra is at a place where he can put salaries aside. I'm not sure that playing Hassan off the bench will be sustainable in terms of expectation of repeat performances such as Wednesday in Charlotte. Even in 2016, when Hassan was moved to the bench in favor of Amare Stoudemire, Spoelstra got Whiteside back in the starting lineup for the playoffs. As for Dragic, I'm not sure it is an issue to him at all, as long as he gets back to something resembling starter's minutes. And at this stage, with the Heat going big-big up front about the only way not starting Justise Winslow at point guard would work would be if the Heat were to bench Dion Waiters, moving Josh Richardson to shooting guard and Winslow to small forward.

Q: You think Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic coming off the bench gives Miami the chance to see what the young core can do. But my question is what more is there to figure out? Nobody within the young core from Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson or Bam Adebayo has that high of a ceiling, and part of the reason this team has been so up and down is because instead of playing our best players, Erik Spoelstra prioritized the development of those three, and expects a 37-year-old Dwayne Wade to clean up the mess afterwards. If the future depends on the improvement of Justise, Josh, and Bam, then Miami is in trouble. I know Pat Riley believes with two free agents it can help this team, but no free agent is breaking down the door to be coached by Erik Spoelstra, or wants play with the young core. -- Charlie.

A: But, most logically, any significant free-agent addition is not coming for at least another year. So there's still time. Let's just agree to disagree, because I'm not willing to give up on 22- or 21-year-olds. In fact, consider the jump this season for both Winslow and Adebayo (and even Derrick Jones Jr.). When you are convinced that the growth has stopped, that's when you stop inspecting the possibilities. Perhaps that time is here for Richardson, but I wouldn't go there with all of the Heat's youthful possibilities. Yes, it's difficult, but sometimes patience is required.

Q: We're killing our chances in the draft. Shake my head. -- Don.

A: Actually, the Knicks, Cavaliers, Bulls, Hawks, Sun, Grizzlies, Mavericks and perhaps now, Lakers are killing the Heat's chances. It's too late to turn back now.

March 7, 2019

Q: Hassan Whiteside off the bench might be the best option. Bam Adebayo has been strong as a starter, and the fact Whiteside knows he should be starting gives him all the reason to prove he still can be a force to reckon with. -- Sippy.

A: I look at it in a somewhat different regard, but end up in the same place as you. With Goran Dragic out (or playing as a reserve when he returns) and with Hassan Whiteside playing off the bench, it affords the Heat a cohesive look at where the grouping of Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo stands as a unit. Because after Dwyane Wade is gone, and after the Heat open up cap space with the expiration of the contracts of Dragic and Whiteside in the 2020 offseason, that is where the Heat will stand going forward, with that unit and two additional first-round picks (2019, '20). So as much as coherent logic can be offered about playing Whiteside and Dragic off the bench, the long view also factors into play. When Dragic and Whiteside (and Wade) are on the court, it's about the here and now. But with Winslow, Richardson and Adebayo, it opens a window into the future, as well as if that should be the future.

Q: Zone defense was important to the Heat earlier in the season and yet somehow they don’t know for themselves how to counter it.  -- David.

A: Correct. But the biggest counter is shooting, and the Heat have left themselves somewhat lean in that regard, with the trades of Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson. Plus, a veteran playmaker immediately gets the ball into the middle or at least gets a team into zone offense. At the moment, that also is an area the Heat are lacking.

Q: Seeing as the Lakers mortgaged their future for the Kobe Bryant farewell, do you believe the Heat are doing the same in the name of "One Last Dance"? Sure looks like it. -- Travis.

A: And yet, when Joe Rose, on his WQAM show, asked me Wednesday who the MVP on this season's Heat team would be, after a lengthy pause the only logical response was Dwyane Wade. So I'm not sure you can be accused of mortgaging a future when you are doing it with your best player (as Kobe was on that marginal team). That said, just as with those Kobe final-season Lakers, the cost is the development of younger player in those moments of truth. As this stage, it seems as if all the talk of Josh Richardson as closer has been put on hold.

March 6, 2019

Q: The readers who are critical of Pat Riley for striking out in free agency should realize that Gordon Hayward is averaging 10.7 points while making $32 million a year for four years. Thank goodness Pat "struck out" and instead signed Kelly Olynyk. -- Jack, Boca Raton.

A: This is interesting, particularly since the Gordon Hayward signing with the Celtics meant that Boston had to move on from Kelly Olynyk -- one move very much leading to the other. At this point, one would have to wonder, considering the price points, if the Heat would make a trade straight up, considering the long-term cap implications. An argument could be made that Olynyk, at the moment, might be a better fit for the Celtics. Ultimately, Hayward's value to the Celtics could be as a trade chip. Still, Hayward in a Heat uniform certainly would be given far more latitude to thrive than playing alongside those he currently is playing with in Boston.

Q: So I guess the plan is to sit Ryan Anderson? I understand that we got him to shave some money off our tax burden, but why not play the guy? He's long and he can shoot.  -- J.H., Miami.

A: Because you basically answered your question. The Tyler Johnson-Wayne Ellington trade was a tax and cap deal, with Anderson to be released by his July 10 full-guarantee date. The last thing you need is for such a player to be injured in the interim. And at this stage, the Heat haven't been able to create minutes for James Johnson's return to the rotation, let alone creating minutes for Anderson. For now, as many minutes as possible for Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr. appears to make the most sense in the Heat power rotation.

Q: These teams that continue to tank year after year has to be infuriating to people other than me. I think the NBA has to do something. The Suns, Magic, Knicks and Hawks are the major culprits. How do you fix it? How would you feel if teams falling in the lottery for three straight years are automatically pushed outside the lottery in front of the playoff teams? The "non-repeat lottery offenders" receive the ping-pong balls and the repeat offenders pick after that, according to their record (with no odds of improving the pick). If that made sense, what do you think? -- Kevin.

A: It wouldn't for this reason: What if those picks were already dealt? You would be penalizing the receiving teams. Beyond that, teams in such positions then might be incentivized to trade picks if unable to utilize them in the aligned position. A better argument could be reducing such teams' salary caps or removing or reducing their cap exceptions. Ultimately, though, all that might create are teams like the pre-Ballmer Clippers, where a team simply takes broadcast and other league-wide revenues without regard about the actual product.

March 5, 2019

Q: Dwyane Wade knew exactly what he wanted to add to his legacy when he dropped the mic for the final time. And he's playing it perfectly. -- Linda.

A: And yet this beyond-expectations final season by Dwyane Wade also is leaving me somewhat conflicted. Yes, he was superb when needed in the fourth quarter Monday night against the Hawks -- albeit an effort that never should have been needed against that team. Yet, on the other hand, this also was supposed to be somewhat of a passing of the torch, of young players such as Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow growing through such moments of truth. Instead, it mostly has been Dwyane Wade or bust. Monday night, Wade took 17 shots, to 15 for Richardson, 12 for Winslow and nine for Dion Waiters. To a degree, it has become a case of whether teammates are giving Wade enough support. And that just sounds, well, odd, when it comes to a 37-year-old player. For now, it looks as if the Heat will simply ride the Wade wave the rest of the way, which, perhaps in some ways, is the fitting ending.

Q: Dwyane Wade has always been essential. I just hope he doesn’t run out of gas -- C.D.

A: There was 31:12 of action Monday, more than three of the five starters, including Dion Waiters. The good news is there is ample time between games at the moment, with Erik Spoelstra giving the team Tuesday off. But the back-to-backs are coming, including Hornets-Thunder, Bucks-Wizards and then a season-ender of 76ers-Nets. So finding rest during games might have to become a consideration, as well.

Q: Not being a hater, I am streaming every minute of every game to watch Dwyane Wade. But it does make me think we'd have had a Top 3-5 pick if he had retired. We'd have been so bad. No regrets, love him. -- S.B.

A: Ultimately, that might be the upshot, getting "One Last Dance" instead of one more lottery pick. Although both certainly remain within the realm.

March 4, 2019

Q: Ira, it seems a bit ridiculous for Pat Riley to be touting cap room as an answer to the team's prayers.  The last two times he had any cap room he got us into our current mess.  If we strike out again on our primary targets (seems likely, given the lack of stars), will they reward their secondary targets with dollars instead of years this time?  These four-year contracts are killing us. -- John.

A: Few, if any, free agents who change teams are going to take short years, because of the accompanying smaller raises. What raised my concern about Riley's Sunday comments was when he said that while the Heat could possibly add two 30s (max free agents who could cost 30 percent of the cap) in 2020, they also could sign four 15s (meaning free agents with lower-tier contracts). That, basically, is what the Heat did in 2017 with James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk. And that rarely gets you very far in a league where it is about star-level talent. Teams that settle for leftovers are teams that generally grow stale.

Q: Ira, everyone keeps saying we don't have that "star" type player. I believe Justise Winslow is that kind of player. Will he have great games every day? No, but he is young. We need to give him reps and touches. I don't see why he can't become an All-Star caliber player next season. -- Mac, Toronto.

A: You sort of offered your own answers. A star very much is a player who at least is a threat for a great game every night. Justise is not quite there yet, but he also is only 22. The question becomes how far your team goes with a particular player as leading man. There have been plenty of All-Stars whose individual games have only been able to take their teams to limited heights. Until Justise becomes a 20-point scorer, I'm not sure he can be that player. But that also means a commitment to featuring him. The Heat are not there yet with that decision. There have been glimmers to this stage. The next step is week-in-week-out, month-in-month-out consistency.

Q: Kelly Olynyk, if he plays too much the Heat are in the luxury tax. Shouldn't the commissioner have the ability to tweak these CBA unintended consequence rules, if the game is truly about competition and the fan, what's the point of these rules if they produce an inferior product because you can't compete? -- Stuart.

A: The point is you need to act with forethought and foresight so you don't wind up having to make such decisions. When those decisions get muddled, you wind up in salvage mode. So Wayne Ellington is re-signed, the Heat go into the tax, and then Ellington is offloaded. No one forced the Heat into their current contracts or current bonuses. The long view remains the most essential in the NBA.

March 3, 2019

Q: With Kelly Olynyk playing this well, does James Johnson get back in the rotation? -- Michele.

A: Actually Kelly Olynyk appears to have entrenched himself in the starting lineup, especially with Erik Spoelstra saying he is comfortable with the bigger lineup even against smaller opponents. The question about minutes with James Johnson could come down to whether he can reclaim them from Derrick Jones Jr. For all the consternation about the contracts the Heat offered in the 2017 offseason, the one that could end up being best justified is Olynyk's four-year, $50 million deal, as opposed to those extended to Johnson and Dion Waiters. Olynyk has not only created value as a member of the Heat rotation, but also as a potential trade asset, something that Johnson and Waiters assuredly are not at the moment. In fact, he and Bam Adebayo could emerge as the Heat's power rotation of the future, with Hassan Whiteside's contract expiring after next season.

Q: Ira, if the tank isn't in, then how come the Heat refuse to put a full roster on the court? -- Ed.

A: Because, um, players are hurt? The issue with Goran Dragic's calf is not that unusual when it comes to compensatory issues, particularly returning from a knee injury. As for Hassan Whiteside, it is curious how the Heat line has been that the hip issue is relatively minor, yet the missed time continues to add up. Still, if this was a case of tanking, then an argument could have been made for sitting Kelly Olynyk, after he briefly showed up on the injury report. Being around the team, I can vouch for the players pushing for the playoffs, as well as the coaching staff. Management's ultimate goal? That can be a bit fuzzy considering the draft, luxury tax and other permutations. But those who play are playing to win.

Q: How’s Dion Waiters ever supposed to become the go-to guy of this team if he hardly has the ball? Erik Spoelstra has him standing in the corner watching Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Dwyane Wade handle the ball. You can’t expect him to find his rhythm in those circumstances. -- Jeff, Atlanta.

A: This is where I believe Dwyane Wade's farewell season has complicated matters. Dwyane is doing many of the things that had appeared deeded to Dion Waiters, before Dion's injury. With Dion missing so much time, the Waiters role essentially had already been seized by Wade. It's as if Dion will have to start all over again next season, three years into his contact. The Wade "One Last Dance" has been a welcomed distraction this season, but it also has distracted from the Heat getting players best positioned for the future. To his credit, Dion did round out his Saturday stat line with eight rebounds and seven assists.

March 2, 2019

Q: Watching the NBA for a long time, I have noticed that many top teams tend to coast for the first three quarters and then turn it on in the fourth quarter.  And, many teams have even another level for the postseason. My point is that the close games we have against some of the leagues better teams is misleading as to where we truly stand. It seems when many teams need to close a lead or finish a game against the Heat, they can fairly easily. Ultimately, it seems from a talent standpoint, we’re well undermanned.  Do you agree? -- Brian.

A: Yes. And it's more than opponents coasting. It's about opponents knowing that they have a go-to guy to provide salvation, just like the Heat did during the Big Three era with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Granted, sometimes you get a bit too cocky and come up short in those rallies, as the Warriors did on Wednesday and Thursday nights in Miami and Orlando. But there also are the times when players such as James Harden and Chris Paul can will their teams to victory, as was the case with the Rockets against the Heat. That's what this Heat roster lacks, save for the occasional 37-year-old outburst from Wade. The thought that Dion Waiters would reemerge as that player, which leads us to . . .

Q: Pushing for the playoffs is kamikaze tactics. The only chance of revival in the next two seasons is a miracle draft pick while the Heat has one, since the 2021 one has been traded away.  Dwyane Wade won't be around next year, which leaves Dion Waiters as the "best" prospect for being the leading man. Best? He got pushed away by the Cavs and OKC, was no world-beater for the Heat other than maybe for a couple of months, took a lot of time coming back from surgery effectively costing the team two seasons, the last one and the current one, still hasn't shown the kind of form expected of him but has carped and complained and demanded starter status.  He's been starting lately, and just look at the record.  Or the kind of shape he's in, 14 months after shutting down to have surgery.  But the way things stand, more -- much more -- will be expected of him next season. -- Zachary

A: And, in the end, the Dion Waiters' era might be known merely for those two months when he produced Wade-like results. What that shows is how difficult it is to sustain in today's NBA. The thing about Wade is that once Pat Riley set the rules, there was nothing but world-class shape, save for the injury periods and the time away from the Heat. To this point, it is not as if Dion has consistently displayed a buy-in to get to the next level. So to get back to today's first question, Dion is looking more and more like a "sometimes" go-to guy. And that only gets you so far in the NBA.

Q: Playing Bam Adebayo is like having Joel Anthony on offense for the Heat. Nice player, but not scaring any one on offense.  Despite Hassan Whiteside's flaws, teams are more concerned about his presence on offense. He also has an uncanny ability to get near the rim.  In Erik Spoelstra's small ball offense you still can't play four on five. -- Stuart.

A: The Heat's counter is that Bam Adebayo still can provide vertical spacing. The problem is the Heat then try to force feed those lobs, which often winds up reducing the offensive rhythm, instead of enhancing it.

March 1, 2019

Q: I don't get all the Dion Waiters love. This is the same Dion Waiters that a few years back could barely find a team to play on, let alone start on. I'm not trying to hate on the guy. He had a nice little run two years ago (while trying to secure a contract). But he is who he is. -- Yunasi, Miami.

A: So much of this season was predicated on the hope that when Dion Waiters got back there would be an instant boost, something similar to the end of 2016-17. It just hasn't happened. Part of it could be that the exact hope he -- and many around the team -- had was that he would form a bond with Dwyane Wade. Instead, it has turned into very much of an either-or equation. Perhaps, even with the miraculous end of the Warriors game, Wednesday night summed it up, when Dion bypassed his attempt to instead send the ball back to Dwyane. Through it all, it is remarkable that Dion still is in this type of shape so far into his return. It also is somewhat stunning that a Pat Riley-led operation ever allowed it to get to this point. I'm not sure, from a conditioning standpoint, that Dion is even giving himself a chance.

Q: Are today's basketball fans so caught up in 24-hour news cycles and spoiled by the way the Big 3 was put together that they now expect the same every year? Memories can't be that short. Pat Riley told us when he put the Big 3 together that he was effectively mortgaging the future for the winning we did over the four-year run. So he did it, and we loved it. Now comes the time when we have to pay the tab, and that tab applies not only Micky Arison but also to the fans. This is why it pains me so much to hear fans complaining that all hope is lost. Sustained winning in the NBA is hard. That is why so few teams are able to do it. Whatever happened to "riding and dying" with your squad? In another year or two the "tab"/mortgage will be paid and the outlook will be rosy again. But, for now, the guys we have are the guys we have. Why not enjoy basketball and enjoy the ride? At least we have an NBA team (including ownership and management) that has proven they are trying and will continue to do so. If you are a true fan of the team, you should understand the challenges, respect the effort and root for your guys.  So, getting back to my initial question: Are Miami Heat fans just plain spoiled? -- G.S., Miami.

A: To a degree, of course. That's what three championships over an eight-year span will do. But I disagree with your characterization of paying the tab for those titles. Yes, an argument could be made that the Heat went over the top in the 2014 offseason with the contract to Chris Bosh or even the cost of two first-round picks for Goran Dragic at the 2015 trading deadline. But that was a time when the attempt was to sustain success. I have no problem with that. But what the Heat currently are paying for is the 2017 offseason decisions to go all-in with James Johnson and Dion Waiters. That aspect of the current pain is separate from even trying to keep it going with Tyler Johnson and Hassan Whiteside in the 2016 offseason. In other words, there have been missteps in the wake of the Big Three era that go beyond the cost of that four-year run.

Q: I see the pattern, in 2016-17 we had our own first-round draft and we missed the playoffs to get a decent draft pick. Last season we didn't have any draft picks so we pushed hard and we ended up with the sixth seed to make the postseason. This season we have our first-round pick, so we're definitely missing the playoffs. We don't get cap space, so that's the only way to get some talent. -- Daniel, Miami.

A: But Erik Spoelstra still is coaching to win. And his players are still playing to win. Where it will change is when it becomes overwhelmingly evident that the playoffs are out of reach, but a race to the bottom still can provide some net gains. The Heat aren't there yet, but we could be getting closer to some Duncan Robinson, Emanuel Terry, Yante Maten lineups.

February 28, 2019

Q: Ira, lottery picks and low playoff seeds come and go. But what I witnessed Wednesday night reminds me of when Pat Riley talks about forever moments. That's what Dwyane Wade provided. Tell me that winning the lottery or even a first-round series would be more exhilarating? -- Anne B.

A: I'm not sure I would go that far, since I still remember the night the Heat were in the lottery and LeBron was the prize, as well as recalling some of those first-round playoff series victories, including over the Hornets during Dwyane Wade's rookie season. But sometimes we all get so caught up in the big pictures -- playoffs, lottery, record at season's end -- that we lose sight of how much a single NBA moment in time can mean. There will be those (see below) who bemoan Wednesday's victory, but don't try telling that to those there for the finish Wednesday night (although you might have to tell it to those who left early).

Q: Horrific win. Absolutely soul crushing to watch the lottery balls fade away for a chance at the No. 8 seed. -- Alex.

A: What a lonely, lonely existence it must be.

Q: You can't keep Goran Dragic on the bench after that. -- Steve.

A: Or can you? What Goran showed is how his ability to score in spurts could be perfect for a bench role, which also would allow Justise Winslow to continue to evolve as a starting point guard. At this stage of his career, scoring substitute might not be the worst role for Goran. He certainly thrived in it Wednesday.

February 27, 2019

Q: I'll never forget when Chicago was a low seed lottery team and the Ping-Pong balls shot them all the way up to pick Derrick Rose, unfairly. Riley settled on Michael Beasley when nobody knew Russell Westbrook would be elite. So here's to the Miami Heat leap-frogging everyone for the number one pick. I'm not interested in making the playoffs for them to go out the first round again. Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside and maybe Justise Winslow had enough time to show what they have. They had their shot in the last playoffs to gain experience and grow. They are who they are. Winslow can get ever so slightly better; he still has room to grow, but not by that much. J-Rich has reached his ceiling.  -- William.

A: It certainly does feel like an empty season. And I am coming around to the notion that the Heat know what they have. But that doesn't mean there still can't be growth, if only incrementally. I still think you play the young players, to both encouraging growth and to perhaps increase trade value. But at this juncture, it is difficult to find promise greater than what the lottery balls might offer.

Q: When the Miami Heat won 13 straight games a couple seasons ago, it was due in large part of the play from Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, and Hassan Whiteside. Now instead of doing the same thing with the roster today, Erik Spoelstra would rather run the offense through Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow, close out games with Bam Adebayo, and make those same players who had a hand in this team finishing 30-11 defer to Dwyane Wade. And you expect people to believe that the roster isn’t good enough, and that Erik Spoelstra is blameless in all this? -- Charlie.

A: I guess that is where I disagree with some of the outside assessment. There just is not a lot on this roster beyond talent commensurate with a marginal record. Does coaching matter? Of course. But I would say that this team is right in the middle of its margin of error. That said, I appreciate that some may disagree. That's what we're here for, a question-and-(sometimes not the)answer(you want).

Q: Why give Dion Waiters four years, $50 million knowing he had serious ankle problems when Boogie Cousins got one year, $5 million coming off serious surgery? --Michael.

A: Why, indeed.

February 26, 2019

Q: Yes this team has injuries, but so does every other team. This roster has enough talent to still win games, but coaching has always been this team's Achilles heel. I get that Hassan Whiteside may have had five fouls, but so did Devin Booker, yet he still played. Pat Riley and the Arison Family have given Erik way too many passes. -- Taylor, Atlanta.

A: The thing is, I look at it a bit differently, because I'm not sure this roster is very good. For as devastating as the loss to the Suns was, consider the starting lineups. The two best players for the Suns were Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. The two best for the Heat were Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside. I doubt there is any executive who would take that Heat duo over the Suns' duo. Yes, I know the Heat were shorthanded, but the reality is the Heat have a roster of very few leading men. One is 37 years old (Dwyane Wade) and the other has been injured most of the season (Goran Dragic). It is far easier to make a compelling case about coaching when you're comparing apples to apples. This is a bad Heat roster that previously has been propped up by coaching. At some point, you can only prop up for so long.

Q: Ira, a joyless season is correct. They've marketed Dwyane Wade to death. And now they will market Chris Bosh’s jersey ceremony, which should not happen until next year. As a season-ticket holder since the beginning, I'm about to get off this train. There needs to be changes from top to bottom. I see no light at the end of the tunnel, do you? -- Juan.

A: I do, but it requires the long view. This team has rarely stayed down for long periods. But there have been down periods along the way. This is one of them. And perhaps the Heat sense as much, thus turning so much of the focus to Dwyane Wade's final season. Soon, it could be the lone remaining viable story line.

Q: Protect Goran Dragic's health in the hope we can get a pick for him in the summer. -- Mike, Southwest Ranches.

A: And it well could come down to that. Outside of the team's developmental players, Goran might be the lone veteran on the roster with trade value. Moving on to a contender also might be in his best interests. Of course none of that can be done until his option year is settled.

February 25, 2019

Q: Has this team mentally checked out on Erik Spoelstra? It sure seems that way. What is your honest "behind the scenes" view of this? -- Travis, Miami.

A: That it has been a largely joyless ride. I preface this by noting that talk of camaraderie often is overstated. There have been plenty of "tight" Heat teams that have done little in the standings. But while there certainly is a fellowship among several groups of players, for whatever reason it does not appear to permeate the roster as it has at other times. Perhaps it is players coming and going, the lack of a consistent rotation, injury absences. I do not believe it is in any way the coaching staff losing the locker room, it's just that there does not appear to be a clear mission statement. At times, the Heat have scored. At times, they have defended. But the cohesion has all too often proven fleeting. Perhaps it simply is the mix. Or perhaps, as you suggest, it has been how the mix has been utilized.

Q: My question is: What even are we? We're not a contending team. Neither are we a tanking team. We're just in the middle. I think we should pick a spot to be and focus on right now or the future. And it’s looking more and more like we need to focus on the future. -- Zachary.

A: But Erik Spoelstra reiterated Saturday that such a decision has been made, and that the goal is the playoffs. And yet, if that truly is the case, then there are roster spots available to help upgrade, as well -- although that would impact the team's position against the tax. As it is, a few more victories by the Magic such as Sunday's against the Raptors, and similar statements by other teams in the Heat's standings cluster, and the Heat's desires could be rendered moot. That, effectively, could make Monday against the Suns a flashpoint moment . . . because the Warriors and Rockets are up next.

Q: Does anyone else get really frustrated with Erik Spoelstra saying the Heat were playing some of their best basketball during a time where our record was very much a losing one? Let's make our approach a more results-oriented one. -- Andres, Miami.

A: Which you can't do when there are no results to be oriented about. So the approach, as has been Erik Spoelstra's wont, is to note how good the Heat can be during their best moments. What is needed, of course, are more of those best moments.

February 24, 2019

Q: In his postgame interview, Erik Spoelstra said over the last two and half weeks (maybe not Saturday night) the Heat have been playing their best basketball of the season. The Heat have lost five in a row at home and they are 2-8 over the last ten games. Many times the offense looks out of sync. What am I missing? -- Stuart.

A: An attempt to offer hope. And keep in mind that playing some of your best basketball of the season doesn't exactly mean all that much when you are 26-32. Yes, there have been segments and spurts that create hope. But this has not been a 48-minute team all season. Even Saturday, the Heat were able to build an 11-point lead. But it, like most of this season, was not sustainable.

Q: So basically the Miami Heat’s style of play is give Dwyane Wade the ball, and get out of the way. Mind you, this team was at its best a couple seasons ago when Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters (two talented, ball-dominate guards) did the majority of the ball handling. -- Charlie.

A: Correct. But, then again, Dwyane Wade scored 15 off the bench Saturday, with no other Heat reserve with more than four. So it’s not as if there is much reason to defer with many of units he is playing with. Again, so much of this season is what, if anything, it is building toward. If it is getting Dion Waiters ready for the final two seasons of his contract, or even Goran Dragic ready for his final season, then you are correct. But, as much as anything, it's as if the cover of Dwyane's final season is being used to mask the stink of everything else going on.

Q: At what point do you look at the roster and start blaming the front office? Erik Spoelstra is a good coach, but he's not a miracle worker. -- Chris.

A: That comes down to this: whether the front office believes this roster has underachieved. If that's the case, then at least some of that arrow points to the staff. If not, then it is an acknowledgment that not enough has been put in place . . . or that the players have failed themselves. Of course, it also is a question that likely wouldn't draw a direct and candid response.

February 23, 2019

Q: Ira, next year this team has very little flexibility to improve. If you tell me we can forego the playoffs and then have a thirty-percent chance to get a top-four pick. I think you have it do that for the long-term outlook of this team. Too many win-now decisions have put us in a bad position. We need to take a long-term outlook. -- Mike.

A: This notion of the Heat taking a proactive stance in the playoff-vs.-lottery debate misses the point. It is something that will happen organically, likely based on the results of this upcoming stretch of 10 out of 12 at home, starting with Saturday against the Pistons. This is a stage where any legitimate playoff contender sets itself up for the stretch run. If the Heat do that, then even late failure against a grueling closing schedule likely won't be able to significantly upgrade lottery position. Backing off two-thirds through the schedule puts you in as much lottery/playoff limbo as this roster has in the first place. At this point, you let the results dictate the fate.

Q: So let me get this straight, the Heat sign Emanuel Terry to a 10-day contract and then assign him to the Skyforce, who he was already playing for. Guess this was a move strictly to be NBA compliant. -- Skip, Tampa.

A: And it also was made as to not again create further rotation uncertainty. There are plenty of veterans available who could bolster the depth for this playoff run, but who also would create question of whether the kids should step aside at the moment. That was an issue the Heat attempted to move past with the trades of Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington, only to see Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr. return and again raise questions of who plays and who sits. Because Dragic will play, and Jones on Thursday again showed that he deserves to play.

Q: The Heat aren't closing at the end with Bam Adebayo. You are what your record is. Why not give Hassan Whiteside a chance? -- Stuart.

A: Again, this is not about advocating Hassan Whiteside plays the entire fourth quarter, but rather an acknowledgment that there are certain aspects where his skill set could assist in specific situations, be it a late rebound or post defensive stop against an oversized opposing big man. Even with the NBA's reduction in timeouts, there still are ample stoppages for offensive-defensive switches. And there are ample opportunities where Whiteside at least offers the Heat an opportunity for an advantage.

February 22, 2019

Q: I can't understand how Erik Spoelstra never makes fourth-quarter adjustments and constantly leaves Hassan Whiteside out and lets other big men win the rebounding in the closing minutes. Brett Brown put his big guy back and he won the game. We have seen Hassan sit every fourth quarter. Why? He should at least be in for defense and rebounds. One of the criticisms you hear of Spo is he never adjusts or has faith in anyone but Dwyane Wade. It might cost us a playoff spot. Do you agree? -- Aaron, Coconut Grove.

A: To me, Thursday's the game came down to Boban Marjanovic controlling a late possession when Hassan Whiteside's size could have made the difference. Look, this was not one of Hassan's better nights, but he did show life in the second half. And there have been so many games this season when one more stop, one more rebound, could have made the difference. Hassan did not play a single second in the fourth quarter, while Marjanovic played 5:49. Had Whiteside been in, perhaps Boban doesn't get to the foul line late, with the game in the balance. Sometimes it's the little things that can make the biggest difference. In this case, that could have been a scant few seconds in Thursday's final period for Hassan. The circle of trust certainly appears limited. And that's fine, because you should have to earn your way in. But situational substitutions also matter.

Q: Ira, seriously, 12 to 35 on free throw attempts? There's no way to overcome that. Maybe it's time for Erik Spoelstra to take one (fine) for the team and hit the NBA with a "take that for data" rant. This is happening way too often. -- Steve, Cutler Bay.

A: I was surprised, in that respect, how much Erik downplayed the discrepancy, with Dwyane Wade and Dion Waiters taking somewhat stronger stances in the locker room. Perhaps it's because the schedule has the Heat at a place where they can't wait for a reversal of fortune. It could be up to Goran Dragic to make someone take notice of the Heat attack mode.

Q: Can one of you guys in the media tell Erik Spoelstra to make Dion Waiters the primary ball handler, and have offense go through him, instead of having him defer to Dwyane Wade. -- Charlie.

A: With two more seasons left on Dion Waiters' contract, you would think that such an approach would also better set up the Heat for the future.

February 21, 2019

Q: If Goran Dragic comes back close to his old self and Dion Waiters begins to find a rhythm, that might just be a better starting backcourt as they both can attack and shoot the three and both are far better passers than Josh Richardson. Josh might be better coming off the bench and let next year try and be his breakout season. -- Brian.

A: So I assume your preference would be to also keep Justise Winslow in the starting lineup? I'm just not sure Winslow, Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic is a workable combination. And with all the adjustments already to the starting lineup, Richardson remains an anchor when it comes to stability. I think you have to allow this to play out with Josh, hoping he can recapture what he had going earlier this season. If Josh Richardson turns out to be no more than a sixth or seventh man, then the entire approach these past few seasons gets drawn into question, including stepping aside in the Jimmy Butler trade talks with the Timberwolves.

Q: If Erik Spoelstra benches Goran Dragic, he's hurting him not helping. If anything, he should start him with a minutes restriction. -- Daz.

A: What happens in the short term is relatively insignificant. But if, in due time, Goran Dragic is not returned to the starting lineup, then that could open a window into the Heat's long-term plans, perhaps with the thought that Goran could opt out as soon as this June. I know the old saw about how you can't lose a starting job due to injury, but the Heat are in the mode where the future likely matters more than the moment.

Q: Ira, Derrick Jones Jr. was playing so well before he was hurt. Will Erik Spoelstra again play him as much? -- James

A: Typically, Erik Spoelstra tends to ride out success, less likely to change lineups and rotations when the team is winning. In this case, that is not the case. So it will be interesting to see how Derrick Jones Jr.'s return impacts what already are limited minutes for Kelly Olynyk, and if it again puts James Johnson back on the hot seat when it comes to productivity. Derrick was trending in such a positive direction when he was sidelined that I would think the Heat would be hopeful of picking up where he left off.

February 20, 2019

Q: The three things that always get brought up when discussing Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo are youth, cheap contracts, and potential. But my question is what if they never develop into anything more then what they are? I get that Miami likely won't be competing for a championship this year, but none of those three are reliable, and people use age and "potential" as crutches, when half the time it's what gets people fired in sports. Erik Spoelstra can't keep picking favorites. Again I'm not expecting this team to compete for a championship, but if this team loses, it should be because the other team was better, not because minutes were given to guys who didn’t deserve them. -- Tommy, Tallahassee.

A: As I've written before, the time-tested way to lure free agents is with players who are attractive as teammates. So there has to be a certain amount of time to both develop and expose players. And you are correct, that at the end of the day your prospects might never emerge as anything other than a prospect. While we might be getting to the stage where Josh Richardson is what he is, I'm not sold that is the case with Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo. So while you might be sacrificing some of the moment, the long view has to play into it, as well.

Q: Ira, I want Dwyane Wade's last year with the Heat to be just as meaningful as anyone else. But wouldn’t you agree that this team's style of play doesn't and shouldn't have to be Dwyane Wade or bust? I realize Erik Spoelstra wants to keep Dwyane involved and all, but an argument could be made that Wade wasn't always needed, and was asked to do way too much. There have been times when guys such as Dion Waiters stepped up and made some key plays, only to have to defer to Dwyane later on and that to me isn’t right. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: And that is the other side of the equation addressed in the question above. When you actually get to the point in a game where it is winning time, that is when you need winning-time players. Josh Richardson appeared on that track earlier this season, then seemed to veer off that track. Justise Winslow appears more content with facilitating at closing time. And while Dion Waiters has ceaseless confidence, he has yet to reach a point of late-game consistency. And, so, you thus are left with a 37-year-old guard as your best option. Which says something about Dwyane Wade, but also says something about where the current roster stands.

Q: Dear, Ira, what is the best thing to happen for the Heat? Playoffs or going for a player in the draft? I say the second. What is your opinion? Thanks. -- Masoud, Tucson.

A: This is one of those heart-vs.-head debates. The heart says playoffs, so Dwyane Wade gets one final shot of national exposure (and because the playoffs are fun). But the head says that with the first four lottery selections now randomly draw in the weighted process, it would be an incredible boost to have one of the three Duke kids or Morant.

February 19, 2019

Q: The Brooklyn Nets are the prototype of what the Heat wanted to be, a lunch-pail bunch with no big star, a lot of grit and teamwork. There are other similarities:  Both teams got to where they are due to go-for-broke decisions by their respective management.  Brooklyn by the disastrous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett effort to create an instant contender, Miami by falling for the illusion that the 2016-17 second-half run was replicable and spending heavily to bring back players for whom that might have been their peak year, ever.  Building contender-level teams doesn't come the easy way very often. In that sense, the Big Three's success was an aberration rather than a norm -- which in any event only worked because the Heat had one side of the triangle, already in place before the other two were recruited. Pat Riley had built what would be a firm base for acquiring star power, but he's done so only by spending every plugged nickel on his nice but non-contending roster. The trick, it seems, is building a base and having the cap room necessary room to attract and add a big name or two; getting a Kevin Durant or a Kawhi Leonard and surrounding them with bargain-basement players just doesn't scan. I'd always thought Pat Riley understood that. -- Speedy, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A: First, let's not overstate where the Nets are at the moment, only because in the marginal Eastern Conference someone has to be in sixth place. Beyond that, if the Nets don't land an elite free agent -- and they haven't to this stage -- then there only might be so far that they can go with this mix of Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and D'Angelo Russell, etc. And it's not as if they haven't had their own missteps, with Allen Crabbe certainly in that category. Again, when you build based on free-agency hopes, it all comes down to free-agency results, as the Heat hope to find out in 2020. At the end of the day, the Heat's hopes likely will rest on how attractive Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and the 2019 and 2020 first-round picks stand to free agents. You could make an argument that it’s as attractive as what the Nets are now offering, with the difference of a far, far stronger 2019 free-agency class than 2020 class.

Q: Ira, let's not blame the injuries, which are an important and unpreventable part of professional sports, for the Heat miserable season. Let's be honest with ourselves that these contracts are killing us. -- Masoud, Tucson, Ariz.

A: I would say this: The contracts signed during the 2017 offseason -- for James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk -- were all reasonable at their price points. The problem is the Heat already knew of Dion's injuries when that contract was offered and signed, so having a player at less than 100 percent for the past two seasons is more of a known health issue than an issue of potential. As for James Johnson, there always is a risk when you sign a player in his 30s, with Johnson to turn 32 on Wednesday. Even if the sports hernia was somewhat of a freak injury, recovering from any injury becomes more complex. As for the Olynyk deal, it came with Hassan Whiteside already under contract and with Bam Adebayo having already been drafted, reducing the potential for minutes. So, no, it's not all about injuries, but rather known issues at the time of the signings.

Q: Dwyane Wade should have retired at the All-Star Game. It doesn't get any better than that. -- Lewis.

A: The difference between Dwyane and Dirk Nowitzki is that Dwyane is still playing as a contributor, one who was largely the reason for last season's lone playoff victory. Not only can he help over these final two months of the regular season but the Heat likely will need his help if there are to be playoffs.

February 18, 2019

Q: The front office should be "feeling the Heat." How come the Heat fans don't hold Pat Riley & Co. accountable for all the poor contracts and thus subpar roster? -- Chadwick, Lake Worth.

A: Believe me, fans do. But then you also hear about how the Chris Bosh situation set the Heat back, of how it has been injuries, not contract mistakes, that has limited the roster. And the thing is, if Dion Waiters and James Johnson continued to play the way they did at the end of 2016-17, there likely would not be nearly as much consternation about the length of those contracts (which, to me, is much more damaging that the size of the salaries). Ultimately, what the Heat could have managed was going all-in with Hassan Whiteside at four years, $98 million in July 2016, then utilizing a rare first-round pick on another center in June 2017, in Bam Adebayo, followed by signing a center, in Kelly Olynyk, a month later. For as much as the Heat attempted at this month's trading deadline by thinning out the perimeter rotation, with the trades of Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington, the power rotation appears no more manageable now than it was when it came together in the 2017 offseason.

Q: Why is Hassan Whiteside held to standards that Bam Adebayo isn't? Ever ytime you turn around someone brings up how Hassan needs to stay out of foul trouble, improve his free-throw shooting, and set better screens. And when he does that, Erik Spoelstra still takes him out and it makes no sense. Look, God bless Bam Adebayo, but he has way too many holes in his game, and doesn't deserve the minutes he's gotten. Aside from being too small, the kid has no awareness on both ends of the floor. He gets caught napping on defense, can't score around the rim, and makes silly decisions with the ball. Plus it's funny how people dub him a better screen setter, ignoring how many moving screens he's gotten caught for. -- Charlie.

A: Because under his rookie-scale contract, Bam Adebayo has a place in the Heat's salary hierarchy going forward. By contrast, it almost seemed that from the moment Hassan Whiteside signed his contract in 2016 that it has been a countdown to getting out of the salary-cap hit. Already, there practically has been as much discussion about Whiteside being on a tradeable final year of his contract in 2019-20 as whether there would be a Heat tenure beyond.

Q: I love Justise Winslow and what he's been doing at the point. But let's face it, him at point is not resulting in Ws. -- Sarge.

A: But as with all things Heat this season, is it about the moment or the future? In other words, will staying with Justise Winslow at the point create more of a future for the Heat, even if it does not come with as much of an immediate payoff?

February 17, 2019

Q: I'm sorry, but Justise Winslow should not start when Goran Dragic returns. God bless Justise, but he is not ready and Goran is clearly the better option at the point guard spot. The Heat were at their best with the 7/Eleven backcourt. -- Jessie,

Q: I don't think you interfere with Justise Winslow's growth at point guard for the sake of playing Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters 30-plus minutes. I mean Justise just had 11, 11 and 5. That's 11 rebounds from your point guard. -- Douglas.

A: It is a debate that likely will grow more intense and partisan as Goran Dragic makes his return from his December knee surgery, a return that, based on the Heat's preset timetable, appears to be imminent. But there also is another way out: Yes, another lineup change. Because Erik Spoelstra's has been adamant about position-less, you could start both Goran and Justise, with Justise defending at power forward. That would allow Goran to still run the transition fast break and then allow Justise to direct the halfcourt offense. But I do agree that having Goran, Dion Waiters and Justise on the floor together could be too many chefs. So, ultimately, it may come down to one backcourt of Waiters-Dragic and one of, say, Winslow-Wade. What the Heat need most of all is to get their best players on the court as often as possible.

Q: The Heat should target Gordon Hayward for a package of Ryan Anderson, centering around Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson or Dion Waiters.  -- Gabriel.

A: As most know, I generally avoid trade suggestions because there is so much going on behind the scenes that never comes out. This, though, intrigued me, based on the current notion that Boston needs more supporting pieces than leading men, and based on how it has not gone to this point with Gordon Hayward. But remember, Ryan Anderson, even though he can be waived by July 10 for cap savings, still is a $15.6 million cap hit for 2019-20. But Olynyk could well intrigue the Celtics, based on his previous time there under Brad Stevens. Hayward will be an interesting name this offseason, particularly if the Celtics deal for Anthony Davis (and if Hayward is not part of such a deal). But such a hypothetical move by the Heat also would effectively remove the Heat from any of the approaching free-agency periods (unless Hayward were to opt out of his $34 million in 2020-21). So there is that, as well.

Q: It's ridiculous to keep letting Bam Adebayo's development get in the way of grabbing the W. -- Darryl, Fitzgerald, Ga.

A: Again, that all comes down to what this season is about. If it's about development, then concessions have to be made.

February 16, 2019

Q: So Erik Spoelstra is stuck with Hassan Whiteside for next year. When I say stuck I mean from the way Spoelstra obviously feels about Whiteside’s game.  I personally feel the problem is more on Spoelstra’s inability or stubbornness to effectively utilize a big. -- Joel.

A: Which to me raises this question: Could there be a point where Hassan says enough is enough and opts out after this season? Personally, I can't fathom him bypassing his $27 million player option for 2019-20. But the market also will be flush with cash this summer, so what if there is a four-year, $80 million deal available something (something his agent would have to be made aware of before the late-June option deadline)? I'm not saying the Heat are pushing Hassan out the door, but it does seem as if there is little faith in the moments of truth. Mostly likely, it will be another season of more of the same, of continuing to see what the team has in Bam Adebayo. But it is somewhat odd that the player deemed good enough to start is not deemed good enough to see any action late. And it's not as if he is having a bad season.

Q: Why can't the Heat teach Hassan Whiteside how to set effective screens? It's no wonder that Erik Spoelstra plays Bam Adebayo in crunch time. He frees up our 3-point shooters with his solid screens. It appears to me that Whiteside leaves the screens early so that he can get a lob in order to dunk the ball. Am I the only one who sees this? -- Irwin.

A: No, the coaching staff is more than aware, which is why Erik Spoelstra makes a point of noting the games when Hassan is effective with his screening. And he certainly could be better and needs to be better in that regard. But it's not as if any of the Heat big men are five-tool players, don't have their flaws. For whatever reason, it just appears as if Hassan is hard for Spoelstra to coach.

Q: Looking back at LeBron James' post-Heat career, I can confidently say that he did us a solid. He saved us from the circus show that he built in perpetuity after he solidified himself as a champion. We had humble, hungry, objective LeBron. LeBron is now far from that. Good luck, buddy-- H.P., Fort Lee, N.J.

A: But that's part of dealing with elite players and championship contention. Look at the circus that the Warriors have become. That's part of life at the top. I am sure the Heat would have been willing to put up with just about anything and everything had LeBron returned. Certainly in retrospect.

February 15, 2019

Q: While you can't feel sorry for someone making $24 million per year, I can understand Hassan Whiteside being frustrated when he busts his gut but doesn't play in fourth quarter and the same goes for Kelly Olynyk. I always thought you started the game with the guys you think will get the win. -- Michael.

A: Actually, what the Heat have done these past two weeks is gone with a starting unit that doesn’t have them playing from a deficit. And they have achieved that goal with a series of solid starts. But it becomes more and more obvious by the game that Erik Spoelstra does not have late-game confidence or late-game trust in Hassan Whiteside. Perhaps it is the defense, perhaps the lack of screens to help create offense. As for Olynyk, the party line is it has nothing to do with his bonus for playing time that could lock the team into the luxury tax. And yet the minutes do remain curious. There have been several times when an Olynyk 3-pointer could have provided needed relief points.  Nothing says more about how a coach perceives his players than by those he trusts at closing time.

Q: I've been saying it for a while, Dion Waiters is the key to how far we will go. People forget we had a worse roster and went 30-11 when Dion was balling like this consistently. I know we had Goran Dragic, but Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson were not playing close to this level. Time to make a run. -- Jakob.

A: But James Johnson was practically a revelation during that 30-11, and Dion is nowhere close to the conditioning he had at the end of 2016-17. It will be interesting to see how Goran Dragic's return impacts the mix. And if you remember, Justise Winslow wasn't even part of that mix, sidelined by surgery. What the Heat will need to advance to the playoffs is not only more from Waiters, but multiple consistent efforts on a nightly basis.

Q: Every time Bam Adebayo, James Johnson, and Rodney McGruder check in, things have a tendency to go south. -- Charlie.

A: Which could be why, if it’s about playing the best players, that eventually could be Adebayo, Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr. checking in, once Dragic and Jones return. For as much as was made about thinning out the roster at the NBA trading deadline, decisions again soon will have to be made by Erik Spoelstra.

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