Heat rookie Bam Adebayo’s starting debut a ‘big ask’ against Spurs front line

MIAMI – This time, Heat rookie Bam Adebayo was prepared.

It may have not looked it, not with Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge finally resembling the $84 million man San Antonio thought it was getting two years ago. But the 20-year-old was not alone in his struggles Wednesday against the five-time All-Star.

Nobody on the Heat could stop Aldridge Wednesday.

Otherwise, Adebayo’s starting debut was a good first step. He had two field goals, both dunks on lob passes, and contributed eight rebounds, one shy of a team high, and a block in 19: 35. One might look at the Heat being outscored by 12 points while he was on the court, but in a 117-100 loss, nobody was taking home this box score for keepsake.

Heat rookie Bam Adebayo being introduced Wednesday for the first time as a starter before Miami’s loss to the Spurs. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“I thought his minutes were solid,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s a big ask to throw him in there against a multi-year All-Star, a guy that has been playing extremely well this year and has a lot of elements to his game that keep you honest.

“I though Bam gave us some energy, some athleticism.”

Much more so than his first preseason game in which he played six minutes and missed 7-of-8 free throws, or when Spoelstra purposely summoned Adebayo in the second quarter (after he had entered in the fourth quarter in three straight games) to face Charlotte’s Dwight Howard during the preseason. Adebayo committed three quick fouls and the Heat were outscored by 10 points in his three minutes.

The lesson: Always be ready.

“It was more like I was prepared for this,” Adebayo said. “I feel like I played well. My teammates, we talk and I was just out there being myself, being active and trying to do everything I could for my team.

“I went out there, played hard, we came up short.

Adebayo was told at the Heat’s morning shootaround he would be starting alongside 6-foot-8 James Johnson down low. With center Hassan Whiteside missing his third game because of a bone bruise on his left knee, Adebayo’s 6-10, 255-pound frame was needed against the Spurs bigger front line of 6-11 Aldridge and 7-0 Pau Gasol.

Aldridge led the Spurs with 31 points and added seven rebounds. Gasol had 13 points and nine boards. They combined to shoot 17-of-28.

But Adebayo, taken with the 14th overall pick after one season at Kentucky, looked at this assignment as if he were facing Florida in March, or even Stephen F. Austin in November.

“It was like every other matchup. … I take it personal,” he said. “(Aldridge) was just making shots. He’s a great player, my hat’s off to him. He was executing, he was making shots.”

Adebayo clearly is a work in progress. He was drafted on the recommendation of Heat vice-president of player personnel, Chet Kammerer, because of his raw ability. His calling card, right now, is defense and rebounding. His offense will take much more time to develop.

Adebayo averaged 6.2 points on 38.7 percent shooting in six preseason games. He had not scored in his only regular season appearance, six minutes in the season opener at Orlando, but made 2-of-6 shots Wednesday and appears to be developing something with the guards, who were looking for him with the lob pass.

“We’re working on that,” Goran Dragic said. “Bam is great at rolling to the hoop and he has that ability to jump high and get those lobs. It’s hard against this kind of team because they’re really good defensively. They know what they’re doing.”

Adebayo’s start means little when it comes to Saturday’s game against Boston, not when the rookie went from sitting for two straight games to starting and Jordan Mickey went from starting two straight game to never leaving the bench Wednesday.

In fact, if Whiteside remains sidelined, Spoelstra has all kinds of options against a Celtics team that starts 6-10 Al Horford and 6-7 Jaylen Brown down low, neither being a huge post presence.

Adebayo was asked what he took away from the experience.

“It’s a building block. … for the whole team,” he said. “We just got to keep stepping in the right direction. It’s a minor setback but we’re going to get practicing and work on it.”

[Erik Spoelstra believes if Heat get to line more often they will knock down their free throws]

[Goran Dragic, Pau Gasol to have EuroBasket reunion tonight when Miami Heat host San Antonio Spurs]

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A look at each player on the Miami Heat’s 15-man roster to start the season

MIAMI — The NBA is back, which means the Heat are back.

The Heat open the regular season Wednesday in Orlando against the Magic. Here’s a closer look at the 15-man roster Miami will use to start the season …

Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat reacts to a dunk during a preseason game against the Washington Wizards at American Airlines Arena on October 11, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

C/F BAM ADEBAYO

Age: 20.

Season stats: Played one season at Kentucky, averaging 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks as a freshman last season.

Contract status: Set to make $2.5 million this season, with his deal guaranteed for the first two seasons. The Heat then have a team option in years three and four of Adebayo’s contract.

What to know?: Adebayo was the Heat’s first-round pick this year and he’s now a part of the team’s young core. But it will be tough for Adebayo to find playing time right away with Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson expected to get most of the minutes in the Heat’s power rotation. Foul trouble and injuries could create playing time for the rookie, but don’t expect him to have a big role early on.

Kelly Olynyk #9 of the Miami Heat drives to the basket against Quincy Acy #13 of the Brooklyn Nets in the first half during their Pre Season game at Barclays Center on October 5, 2017 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

C/PF KELLY OLYNYK

Age: 26.

Season stats: Averaged 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 75 games (6 starts) for the Celtics last season.

Contract status: Signed with the Heat on a four-year contract worth $50 million in free agency this offseason.

What to know?: With Olynyk’s ability to stretch the floor and pass the ball as a 7-footer, he can used as a power forward and center. And the Heat are expected to use him at both spots this season. Olynyk saw playing time as a power forward next to center Hassan Whiteside and also got some minutes at center when Whiteside exited the game during the preseason. Expect Olynyk to have a big role this season.

The Heat’s Justise Winslow drives to the basket against Washington in Wednesday’s preseason game in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

F JUSTISE WINSLOW

Age: 21.

Season stats: Averaged 10.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 18 games (15 starts) last season. Season was cut short due to season-ending surgery on his right shoulder.

Contract status: Set to make $2.7 million this season. In addition, the Heat already decided to exercise the fourth-year team option on Winslow’s rookie-scale contract, which guarantees him $3.5 million for the 2018-19 season.

What to know?: After a shoulder injury forced him to miss the second half of last season, it will be interesting to see how the Heat integrate him back in. Shooting has been a constant struggle for Winslow. But there’s definitely a place for him on this team with his defense, passing ability, versatility and potential. Winslow was always expected to have a spot in the Heat’s rotation, but Rodney McGruder’s injury should open up even more playing time for him than expected this season.

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic participating in 5-of-5 drills during the first day of training camp on Monday, (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

PG GORAN DRAGIC

Age: 31.

Season stats: Averaged 20.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 73 games (73 starts) last season.

Contract status: Set to make $17 million this season. Heat have Dragic under contract for next three seasons, but the final season of his deal is a player option for 2019-20.

What to know?: After turning in one of the best seasons of his NBA career, Dragic has solidified his role as one of the Heat’s leaders moving forward. With Miami’s core returning, Dragic should be able to build on last season’s success as the Heat’s starting point guard. Dragic had a quiet preseason as he rested his body and mind after a crazy offseason. He played in just two of the Heat’s six preseason games after leading Slovenia to EuroBasket gold in September. But Dragic will be expected to perform as one of the Heat’s top players when the regular season begins.

Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson looks for an open teammate during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Hornets 109-106. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

G/F JOSH RICHARDSON

Age: 24.

Season stats: Averaged 10.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals in 53 games (34 starts) last season.

Contract status: Set to make $1.5 million this season. In September, Richardson agreed to a four-year, $42 million extension with the Heat that will start in 2018-19.

What to know?: The Heat expect big things from a healthy Richardson this season. He impressed in the preseason with averages of 13.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 blocks in five games. Richardson’s versatility at 6-foot-6 should help Miami, as he’s an option at both guard positions and at small forward. Whether he starts or not, Richardson is going to be a big part of Miami’s formula.

Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson is shown during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

G TYLER JOHNSON

Age: 25.

Season stats: Averaged 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals in 73 games (0 starts) last season.

Contract status: Set to make $5.9 million this season, but his contract becomes a lot more expensive after next season when he will be paid $18.9 million in 2018-19 and $19.6 million in 2019-20.

What to know?: Johnson carved out a nice role for himself as the Heat’s sixth man last season. And he will play that scorer role off the bench again this season. Johnson had a solid preseason, averaging 12.5 points on 56.3 percent shooting from the field and 47.1 percent shooting from 3-point range. But if the Heat want to avoid the expensive half of Johnson’s contract, this season is the time to trade him with this year’s salary still a bargain. On the other end of the spectrum, Johnson is a reliable player who is still improving and has been developed within the Heat organization. That’s always an asset.

Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat looks on during a preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets at American Airlines Arena on October 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

C HASSAN WHITESIDE

Age: 28.

Season stats: Averaged 17.0 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 77 games (77 starts) last season.

Contract status: Set to make $23.8 million this season. Heat have Whiteside under contract for the next three seasons, but the final season of his deal is a player option for 2019-20.

What to know?: Whiteside’s growth last season proved the Heat’s investment in him was a wise one. With max contract salaries going up again this summer, the Heat locked up Whiteside for a fair price. Entering this season, Whiteside has a chance to make his first All-Star team and solidify his spot among the NBA’s top centers. He led the league in blocks in 2015-16 and rebounding in 2016-17. What will Whiteside lead the NBA in this season?

Wayne Ellington #2 of the Miami Heat shoots during a preseason game against the Washington Wizards at American Airlines Arena on October 11, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

G WAYNE ELLINGTON

Age: 29.

Season stats: Averaged 10.5 points and shot 37.8 percent from 3-point range in 62 games (13 starts) last season.

Contract status: Set to make $6.3 million with the Heat this season. Will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

What to know?: $6.3 million is a good number for a player like Ellington, who proved to be a good fit for the Heat on the court and in the locker room. He’s a shooting specialist and he’ll be a very effective weapon off Miami’s bench this season. With drive-and-kick guards Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters on the roster, Ellington’s 3-point shooting is important to the Heat’s spacing.

Miami Heat’s James Johnson (16) drives to the basket past Washington Wizards’ Jason Smith (14) during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Miami. The Heat won 117-115. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

F JAMES JOHNSON

Age: 30.

Season stats: Averaged 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 76 games (5 starts) last season.

Contract status: Re-signed with the Heat on a four-year contract worth $60 million in free agency this offseason. The deal includes a player option in the fourth year.

What to know?: Johnson became a fan favorite and a favorite of those within the organization in his first season with the Heat. He got in better shape, became a leader and bought in to the Heat’s culture. Now with a new four-year contract in hand, Johnson’s growth with Miami can continue. He was used in a bench role last season and he prefers to have that role again this season. Whether Johnson starts or not, his play will be important to the Heat’s success.

Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder (17) shoot free throws with Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters (11) at Miami Heat training camp at FAU in Boca Raton, Florida on September 26, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

G/F RODNEY MCGRUDER

Age: 26.

Season stats: Averaged 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 78 games (65 starts) last season.

Contract status: Set to make $1.3 million this season. McGruder also has one additional non-guaranteed year on his contract for the 2018-19 season.

What to know?: The Heat will start the season without McGruder, who underwent surgery the day before the opener to repair a left tibia stress fracture. There’s no timetable for his return, but he’s expected to miss an extended amount of time. McGruder, who will still count as part of the Heat’s 15-man roster despite the injury, was one of the top candidates to begin the season as the Heat’s starting small forward.

Dion Waiters #11 of the Miami Heat drives to the basket in the second half against the Brooklyn Nets during their Pre Season game at Barclays Center on October 5, 2017 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

G DION WAITERS

Age: 25.

Season stats: Averaged 15.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 46 games (43 starts) last season.

Contract status: Re-signed with the Heat on a four-year contract worth $52 million in free agency this offseason.

What to know?: Waiters impressed last season, turning into a key part of Miami’s second half resurgence. The backcourt of Dragic and Waiters, better known as 7-Eleven, should be even better this season with one year of experience playing together under their belt. Under a four-year contract with the Heat, Waiters has the security he’s been looking for. Now, Waiters wants to become a more efficient player after shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 64.6 percent from the free-throw line last season.

Miami Heat’s Okaro White defends against Denver Nuggets Wilson Chandler during the Nuggets win on Sunday. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

F OKARO WHITE

Age: 25.

Season stats: Averaged 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 35 games (0 starts) last season.

Contract status: Set to make $1.3 million this season.

What to know?: White is an NBA role player and every team needs a few of those. White can provide defense and some 3-point shooting off the Heat’s bench. He probably won’t have a consistent role at the start of the season, but White is a good option to have if there’s foul trouble or injuries. The 2017-18 season marks White’s first full season in the NBA.

Denver Nuggets guard Mike Miller (3) and Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem (40) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in Denver. The Heat won 106-98. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

F UDONIS HASLEM

Age: 37.

Season stats: Averaged 1.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 16 games (0 starts) last season.

Contract status: Re-signed with the Heat on a one-year, veteran minimum contract worth about $2.3 million this offseason.

What to know?: Haslem is preparing for his 15th NBA season, with the first 14 seasons all coming with Miami. Haslem did not play much last season and was out of the rotation for most of the year, but he did bring invaluable leadership as the team captain. Now with Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk joining the roster and James Johnson returning, Haslem’s playing time is expected to be limited this season, too.

Miami Heat center AJ Hammons poses for a photo during the NBA team’s media day, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

C AJ HAMMONS

Age: 25.

Season stats: Averaged 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 22 games as a rookie for the Mavericks last season.

Contract status: Set to make a guaranteed salary of $1.3 million this season. Has his contract guaranteed for $1.5 million in 2018-19.

What to know?: The Heat acquired Hammons from the Mavericks this summer in the trade that sent Josh McRoberts to Dallas. But don’t expect Hammons to play much this season. He didn’t play in the preseason as he battled an illness and his role will be limited in the regular season, too, with plenty of players ahead of him in the Heat’s frontcourt rotation.

Miami Heat forward Jordan Mickey (25) goes up for a shot against Charlotte Hornets forward Johnny O’Bryant III during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Hornets 109-106. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

F JORDAN MICKEY

Age: 23.

Season stats: Split last season between the Celtics and their developmental league team, the Maine Red Claws. In 25 games with the Celtics, he averaged 1.5 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.6 minutes per game. He appeared in 12 regular-season games for the Red Claws, averaging 20.8 points on 51.5 percent shooting from the field and 43.8 percent shooting from 3-point range to go with 8.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.

Contract status: Signed a two-year contract with the Heat in free agency this summer, with the first year guaranteed at the $1.5 million veteran’s minimum and a team option for the 2018-19 season.

What to know?: At 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, the power forward has two skills that really intrigue the Heat. He can stretch the floor with his outside shot and has an incredible knack for blocking shots. This skill set along with his guaranteed salary was enough to earn him a spot on the Heat’s 15-man roster. Miami will continue to try to develop Mickey’s game, and don’t be surprised to see some flashes from him throughout the season.

[Anthony Chiang’s Miami Heat predictions: Josh Richardson will have a breakout season]

[Tom D’Angelo’s Miami Heat predictions: Hassan Whiteside will be recognized as one of the league’s best]

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ESPN analysts agree: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra one day headed to Hall of Fame

ESPN analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy believe the Miami Heat are headed to the playoffs and could be a difficult team to beat.

One reason both like the Heat is because of coach Erik Spoelstra, who both believe is one day headed for the Hall of Fame.

“Erik Spoelstra in my opinion is one of the best in the business,” Jackson said. “He is an outstanding coach and a future Hall of Famer.”

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra disputes a call during a timeout in the second half of an NBA preseason game at Orlando on Saturday.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Spoelstra, entering his 10th season, spearheaded a turnaround in 2016-17 from 10-31 the first half of the season to 31-10 the second half. The Heat lost out on the final playoff spot playoffs because of a tiebreaker.

As a result, Spoelstra shared the inaugural Michael H. Goldberg National Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year award, which was voted upon by the coaches, with Houston’s Mike D’Antoni. Spoelstra then finished second to Houston’s Mike D’Antoni in the voting  by 100 media members.

“I’ll second the fact that Erik Spoelstra is a Hall of Fame coach,” Van Gundy said. “He’s done a terrific job in so many roles there but in this leadership role as a head coach he’s had the best team and the best talent and then he’s had young teams he’s had to develop and he’s done a great job with both situations. One thing about Miami they’re going to guard especially hard and they’re going to be tough to play against.”

Spoelstra is 440-282 and 70-43 in the playoffs since replacing Pat Riley in 2008. He has passed Riley for the best regular season winning percentage (.609) in franchise history, the most post season wins and best post season winning percentage (.619).

The Heat brought back every significant player from last year’s team plus added big men Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. Miami received bad news Thursday when it announced forward Rodney McGruder has a stress fracture in his left leg. McGruder will miss a significant amount of time.

“(Spoelstra’s) done a great job and they’ve done a great job of making sure they got the pieces back and also adding pieces,” Jackson said. “Because of the way they play, the way they compete the way they defend. … the way they get after it, they are certainly a playoff team in the Eastern Conference and if they’re healthy and whole they will be a tough out.”

Van Gundy said it’s difficult to compare this team to the one that dug itself out of a deep hole to finish .500 last season because “every year things change, team dynamics change, people get paid and you don’t know how that impacts performance.”

But he added he believes the Heat need solid years out of point guard Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside if they are going to be playing into late April.

“A lot comes down to Dragic’s offensive explosion like he had in EuroBasket this year,” Van Gundy said. “What he did there was terrific (and) his last half of the year last year was great.”

Dragic led Slovenia to the EuroBasket championship in September.

“If they get a great year out of him and Whiteside they’ll definitely be in the playoffs.”

The Heat open the regular season Wednesday in Orlando.

[Who’s in, who’s out for Heat’s preseason finale against 76ers]

[Miami Heat waive Larry Drew II, add developmental-league veteran Tony Mitchell to roster]

[Jordan Mickey showing Heat there’s more to his game than defense and rebounding]

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Heat rookie Derrick Walton Jr. impressing coaches, teammates with two-way contract

Derrick Walton Jr. #10 of the Michigan Wolverines handles the ball against the Oregon Ducks during the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 23, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

BOCA RATON — With the ability to use two-way contracts to alternate players between the NBA and the G-League, the Miami Heat used their first such contract on Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr.

The Heat’s recent history of using the former D-League to their advantage, Walton said, was why he signed with the organization this summer.

“It was (100 percent a selling point),” Walton said Friday. “Coming from the program I came from in college at Michigan where we were all about development and in my four years, I just wanted to get better every day … it was pretty much a no-brainer for me.”

As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement put into place on July 1,  teams can use up to two two-way contracts where players can spend up to 45 days at the NBA level and the rest of the time in the G-League. Any player on a two-way contract is unable to be claimed by another organization.

Miami, which has seen Hassan Whiteside grow into an All-NBA center and Tyler Johnson become a reliable bench option at point guard after their play with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, struck Walton as the perfect opportunity not only to improve his game, but to learn what he should expect in South Dakota.

“I asked them (how their experience was), but I also know mine will be a little different,” Walton said. “Overall, just going in with the same mindset that I want to play as well as I can every time.”

The only player in Michigan history to score at least 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds, and record 400 assists, Walton spent this year’s Summer League with the Orlando Magic after going undrafted. In July, Walton signed with the Heat, becoming their first two-way player in franchise history.

“The guys welcomed me ever since I got here,” Walton said. “I competed really hard and I’m just really looking forward to following the process … and start to learn the professional game.”

Though Walton is likely to spend most of his time in Sioux Falls this season, head coach Erik Spoelstra believes the 6-foot-1 guard will get chances to contribute at the NBA level.

“Derrick is fast-tracking,” Spoelstra said. “This is a lot for him. We like his promise and what he can bring. He’s going to be just fine with a little bit more time, but that position — walking into this training camp where all the other guards are familiar — he has some catching up to do.”

Walton added, “I think it’s a great situation for me personally being a guy that wants to be really good at this game. Being able to piggyback (off) guys like (Goran Dragic) and Tyler and being able to go and play my game down in Sioux Falls.”

***

Jake Elman can be followed on Twitter at @JakeElman

Heat continue to limit Goran Dragic in practice, though he wants to ‘push’

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) at Media Day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 25, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — By his own admission, Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic isn’t someone who wants to be on the sidelines during practice.

So when coach Erik Spoelstra approached his star point guard and asked how he was feeling, Dragic jumped at the chance to see some action.

“He said, ‘Do you want to go through the whole practice?’” Dragic said.

Limited in camp following a seven-game EuroBasket schedule with his national team, Dragic did not do five-on-five drills on Wednesday. Spoelstra joked with reporters that he caught Dragic trying to sneak into yesterday’s scrimmage.

“Today, he made a go,” Spoelstra said of Dragic, the reigning EuroBasket MVP. “Yesterday was mostly a day off.”

Dragic likened assistant coach Chris Quinn, tasked with following the 31-year-old point guard around on Wednesday, to “his shadow.”

Setting the early example of wanting to practice as much as he possibly could was important in setting the tone for camp, Dragic said.

“The second part of last season, we had great chemistry, but it’s not like after five months off you’re gonna come back to the gym and suddenly, you’re going to play the same,” Dragic said. “It’s not realistic. … We know that our legs are tired, we’re tired right now, but we need to push.”

Neither Dragic nor Spoelstra indicated how much he would practice on Friday.

Goran Dragic: If Slovenia can win European Championship, Miami Heat can win World Championship, ‘Why not?’

Heat guard Goran Dragic flexed his muscle while leading Slovenia to a EuroBasket championship.

 

Goran Dragic and the Slovenian national team overcame long odds to win the EuroBasket championships this summer.

Now Dragic sees a parallel to his NBA team, the Miami Heat.

“Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team,” Dragic said today on a conference call from Slovenia with Heat media. “Nobody is going to give us chance at Miami. But I always believe, why not?

Dragic became an international sensation during the last month, leading Slovenia to its first championship and the first gold medal in any team sport in the country’s history. Slovenia finished 9-0 and Dragic was named the tournament MVP while averaging 22.6 points and 5.1 assists. He scored 35 points in the Gold Medal game victory over Serbia, a game, that according to Dragic, was watched by 94 percent of the country’s two million residents.

Slovenia’s previous highest finish was fourth in 2009.

“As soon as we won the finals all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” said Dragic, who said about 25,000 fans braved a rainy day for a victory parade.

“I worked hard. I practiced hard. With all my body, with all my mind I was all in.”

Throughout the tournament, which started Aug. 31, Dragic kept thinking about something coach Erik Spoelstra told the Heat before last season.

“At the beginning of the season Spo was saying winning a title is tough, not physically tough, but even mentally tough. Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.

“So much work but the main focus is in your head. You need to go through all those emotions when you are feeling bad, when you are good. When it’s tough times, when it’s good times. This is probably one of the toughest roads in my career.”

Dragic, 31, announced last spring he would be retiring from his national team after this summer and said today this is the perfect way to go out.

But, he said some “crazy people” are trying make his retirement a political issue and put it to a referendum that he continues playing.

“I said many, many times I’m officially retired from the national team,” he said.

Now, Dragic will return to South Florida on Sunday and hit the court Tuesday at Florida Atlantic University for the start of training camp, jumping right into the long, arduous NBA season. In the past, he said playing internationally during the summer has benefited him when it came to returning to prepare for the NBA season.

Something he still believes even if he may need more time to recover in the next few weeks as his teammates are huffing and puffing through four days of two-a-days, a scrimmage on Saturday and six preseason games starting Oct. 1.

“Nothing to worry about,” said Dragic, despite having to leave Sunday’s gold-medal game in the second half because of cramps.

“I’m going to be ready for training camp.”

President Pat Riley was asked on Thursday about the team allowing Dragic to ease his way into camp and said it’s up to Spoelstra. Riley, though, hinted that Dragic’s time on the court, at least early, could be limited.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that his teammates would understand after what he’s done. … that he might need a little bit of rest right now,” Riley said.

Even Dragic’s teammates appear ready to make sure their leader does not overdue it. Power forward James Johnson said Dragic isn’t going to want to rest and that “sometimes you have to save a man from himself.”

Dragic laughed when informed about what Johnson said but he did not disagree.

“What J.J. said is right,” Dragic said. “If you ask me I can start practicing twice a day. I had enough rest. I think I am going in fresh to training camp.”

Dragic was in his homeland during free agency but kept up on the Heat’s offseason moves. He even became involved in the recruitment of Gordan Hayward, face timing him when the Heat met with the free-agent forward.

As it turned out, Hayward signed with Boston. The Heat recovered by re-signing Johnson, guard Dion Waiters, bringing back guard Wayne Ellington and adding forward Kelly Olynyk.

“When I found out we signed Dion, JJ, Wayne and added a couple of pieces. … it was great,” Dragic said.

“I feel like with this team we can do something special, that we already demonstrated last year. I’m hoping this year we’re going to be healthy at the beginning of the season and then we can show what we can do.”

[With start of training camp days away, Pat Riley believes Heat are ‘one step away from being a very good team’]

[Heat president Pat Riley on Dwyane Wade: ‘Any opportunities that are there, we’re always going to approach that’]

[Heat 2017 training camp preview: Hassan Whiteside is back with some new faces behind him on the depth chart]

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After winning EuroBasket gold, Goran Dragic is ‘fully confident’ he will be ready for start of training camp

Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat drives around Deron Williams #31 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on March 6, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. Miami won the game 106-98. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

MIAMI — It’s been quite the offseason for Goran Dragic.

The Heat point guard led Slovenia to the EuroBasket gold medal this month and is now preparing for the start of training camp. For the first time since the end of last season, Dragic spoke to South Florida reporters in a Friday afternoon conference call.

Here’s some of what Dragic had to say … Continue reading “After winning EuroBasket gold, Goran Dragic is ‘fully confident’ he will be ready for start of training camp”

With start of training camp days away, Pat Riley believes Heat are ‘one step away from being a very good team’

MIAMI — The Heat’s current 19-man roster has combined to make zero All-Star game appearances. But Miami is still widely expected to end up as one of the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff teams this season.

That may be tough for some to figure out, but the Heat feel those expectations are justified.

“There were only 12 All-Stars in the Eastern Conference last year, correct?,” Heat president Pat Riley said Friday morning in a press conference at AmericanAirlines Arena. “So we feel like we had players last year who had All-Star years, they just weren’t selected. We do have some stars on our team, but they’re not considered that [by others].” Continue reading “With start of training camp days away, Pat Riley believes Heat are ‘one step away from being a very good team’”

Miami Heat 2017 training camp preview: Hassan Whiteside is back with some new faces behind him on the depth chart

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside smiles before an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

With the Heat starting training camp on Tuesday, we are ramping up our coverage with our position-by-position breakdowns. Today we bring you a closer look at where Miami stands at the center position. We went through the Heat’s point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards earlier this week. Check the bottom of this post for links to the rest of our position breakdowns. Continue reading “Miami Heat 2017 training camp preview: Hassan Whiteside is back with some new faces behind him on the depth chart”

How hard should the Miami Heat push Goran Dragic in training camp?

MIAMI — With the Heat set to begin training camp on Tuesday, there’s one looming question.

How hard should coach Erik Spoelstra push Goran Dragic in camp and the preseason? Dragic has spent the past month playing with the Slovenian national team in the EuroBasket tournament. Continue reading “How hard should the Miami Heat push Goran Dragic in training camp?”