LAS VEGAS – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra received the first call that his assistant, Dan Craig, was selected as an assistant for the USA National Team basketball camp this month in Las Vegas.
“When I got the call from USA Basketball I almost dropped the phone,” Spoelstra said. “It was that cool of news to get and obviously it’s an incredible honor to represent our country and the whole USA program.”
Craig is one of nine coaches, including seven from the NBA, who will assist USA National Team head coach Gregg Popovich of the Spurs. The camp will be July 26 and 27 in Las Vegas and consist of 35 players from which 12 will be chosen to compete in the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics in China and Tokyo.
“DC is so deserving of it,” said Spoelstra, who is in Las Vegas for summer league where the Heat play at 2 p.m. Saturday against New Orleans.
“He’s going to do a terrific job. It says a lot about him that he was chosen for it. Not that he cares, but it will help his profile around the league as well.”
Craig has risen through the ranks since joining the Heat organization in 2004. He starting in the video room, has served as Miami’s summer league coach three times, moved onto Sioux Falls where he led the Skyforce to the 2016 G League title and was named coach of the year and now sits next to Spoelstra on the Heat bench.
In March, Craig took over for Spoelstra in Indiana after the Heat coach left the team when his wife, Nikki, who went into labor. The Pacers defeated the Heat, 113-107 in overtime.
“He doesn’t need more development,” Spoelstra said. “He’s not in a rush. He’s all about just helping the team the best that he can and the role that he has right now he has a great perspective about it. He’s going to enjoy it as long as it lasts especially having the opportunity to work with friends. But he’s ready for the next step and this is just a great opportunity to be a part of an amazing program, USA basketball.”
SACRAMENTO – Erik Spoelstra isn’t used to being in a gym and not sitting in the front row, yelling out instructions and in command of everything from who’s in the game to what sets are being run.
But during summer league the Miami Heat coach, who is entering his 11th season as a head coach, fades into the background, sitting in the stands and soaking in the play of a group of young Heat players.
Spoelstra was in the stands for two of Miami’s three games in Sacramento, including Thursday’s 86-76 victory over the Kings, giving summer league coach Eric Glass his space. He will follow the team to Las Vegas where it begins play Saturday. And Spoelstra likes what he has seen so far. … especially from the team’s marquee player and future star, Bam Adebayo.
“He’s had a great six weeks of training,” Spoelstra said before the Heat’s game against the Kings on Thursday.
“(Glass) has challenged Bam to be the loudest defender in summer league. The staff has challenged him to be the top rebounder in summer league and that’s defensive and offensive. We want the pursuit, the constant effort, the activity to keep on going to the glass and I’m seeing that.
“The other parts of his game he’s been developing and I want him to explore handling the ball more, being more offensive minded, that’s what summer league is for. He’s put in a tremendous amount of time. His confidence has grown. I think he’ll be more efficient as summer league goes on.”
Spoelstra has seen a lot to be happy about in his three days in Sacramento. He cited the effort on the defensive end and the way the team has shared the ball. Miami had 27 assists on 33 field goals in a victory over the Lakers on Tuesday.
“Your natural instincts are to try to impress everybody who is watching by doing things on your own,” he said. “But that’s not how the game of basketball (is played) when you want to have team success. The guys that stand out historically for us bought into team basketball and finding a way to continuing to be noticed within team concept.”
Spoelstra also touched on other players and topics Thursday. Here are some of his thoughts:
On visiting the Atlanta Falcons minicamp June 12: “I like visiting coaches and business people and leaders during the off-season just to continue to try to get better and get different perspectives. (Falcons coach) Dan Quinn is somebody that I met years ago. I think he runs a great program up in Atlanta. The way he does things and connects with players, the modern-day athlete, the environment he creates and the culture that he cultivates are so noteworthy that I wanted to see it firsthand.”
On forward Derrick Jones Jr. who has shined in summer league after signing a contract on Saturday: “He’s been terrific. He’s been all in with all the work. He wants more. Those guys tend to do well in our program. I was really happy for him when he signed the contract. It’s not easy in this league when you’re not drafted and then somebody cuts you. You have to show a level of grit and determination to be able to re-start. He did that, he trusted us to help him with that. His next step as a pro, it’s been fun to watch him improve.”
On undrafted rookie Duncan Robinson who had 19 points on Tuesday: “We love our shooters. He’s unique. He’s a big shooter. He’s one of the best standstill shooters that we’ve seen coming out of the draft. He has to develop diversity and complexity and level of difficulty shooting the basketball often on the move, those things. But those are the things we like to develop and we’ll want to see if a player can take the next step. We thought he’d be a very good fit with how we play and how we value shooting.”
MIAMI — The Heat entered the offseason with a lot of questions surrounding their roster and very little financial flexibility to make significant changes.
Excluding cap holds, the Heat have 11 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due about $120 million. That puts Miami way above the $101.9 million salary cap and very close to the $123.7 million luxury tax line.
Unable to sign players into space because the Heat are capped out, they will have to rely on exceptions, minimum contracts, the power of Bird rights or even trades to fill out their roster.
Ellington, 30, is one of several shooting guards who remain on the market the second day of free agency. But with players agreeing at a whirlwind pace, money drying up and teams looking to show fiscal responsibility, it appears Ellington’s options are dwindling.
The Heat and Ellington would like to get this done. Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra sincerely have a soft spot for a player who not only gives everything he has to make himself better but is as solid a person off the court as he is an asset on the court. And Ellington proved how valuable he is on the court last season when he established the Heat’s single-season record with 227 made 3-points, which was tied for sixth in the league.
But for the Heat to bring back Ellington at the $10.9 million they are allowed to pay him next year by having his early Bird rights, that would put them about $7 million into the luxury tax, and that does not include money for Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. With a team that isn’t a contender in the Eastern Conference, Miami is not likely to foot a large luxury tax bill.
The Associated Press reported 23 teams reached out to Ellington at the start of free agency although just eight had enough cap space to sign players above the exceptions. Among them, the Lakers, Suns, Phoenix have handed out significant deals. Atlanta, Chicago and Sacramento have space but they appear more interested in using that for trades. Indiana has just enough room but they signed Doug McDermott.
Which leaves. … the 76ers.
Philadelphia still has about $13 million remaining in cap space and could target Ellington, whether or not they are able to acquire Kawhi Leonard. After losing Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee) and Marco Belinelli (San Antonio) the Sixers could use another shooter, especially in the backcourt on a roster that includes two guards _ Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz – who are challenged offensively when it comes to perimeter shooting.
And remember, Ellington was born and raised in the Philadelphia area and relished the opportunity to play in front of family and friends during the playoffs.
The point is coming soon where many, many free agents will start scrambling for deals. Among the shooting guards still available: Tyreke Evans, Zach LaVine, Jamal Crawford, Avery Bradley, Rodney Hood and, of course, Wade.
The chances of Miami bringing back Ellington appear to hinge on two things: Whether Wade and Haslem return (and that may not even be known for weeks or even longer) but more likely whether Riley can make a trade to move some contracts and open enough space to re-sign Ellington without crossing the luxury tax line.
McGruder, who turns 27 next month, played in just 18 games last season after undergoing surgery in October to repair a left tibia stress fracture. His role was limited and he averaged just 5.1 points in 16.6 minutes per game.
“Rodney was on his way,” coach Erik Spoelstra said following the season. “He was probably the most productive player in training camp and through the beginning of preseason and he had basically 80 percent of his regular season taken away from him and then a totally different role than probably he anticipated and probably what he certainly was going to earn based on his offseason and the beginning of the season.”
McGruder burst onto the scene in 2016-17, making an NBA roster for the first time on the final cut down day. McGruder, who had played two years in the developmental league and a year in Hungry, stepped in for the injured Justise Winslow and started 65 games at small forward. He finished the season playing in a team-high 78 games and averaged 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists. Miami relied on him to guard some the best scoring wings in the league, including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.
McGruder will battle for playing time on a roster that could be loaded with shooting guards and small forwards including Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Winslow, McGruder and possibly Wayne Ellington and/or Dwyane Wade.
Bigger and better things that almost certainly do not include the Miami Heat.
James informed the Cavaliers of his decision earlier today, according to several reports, and will hit the open market at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, which surely will add another layer of crazy to what every year is a fascinating NBA free agency period.
The decision (as opposed to The Decision III, which is coming soon) is not what Heat Nation wanted to hear. LeBron has essentially eliminated any teams over the cap as his future employer, which realistically reduces his options to the Lakers, Cavaliers and an outside chance Philadelphia jumps into the mix. The Cavaliers can offer James a five-year deal worth more a little more than $200. Any other team with space can sign him for four years and about $150 million.
LeBron taking his talents to South Beach for a second time in eight years had a much better chance of happening if he picked up that final year of his deal. That would have expanded the pool of teams to those over the cap, which would have put the Rockets and Heat at the top of the list, although Miami probably still would have been a distant second.
Miami is $18 million over the projected $101 million salary cap for the 2018-19 season and that’s with 10 players and before any decisions are made on Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Wayne Ellington. Just by rounding out their roster with minimum deals that would put the Heat close to $125 million.
James’ next max contract will come with a starting salary of $35.4 million. So, to add LeBron as a straight up free agent, and not in a sign-and-trade, the Heat would have to shed at least $53 million in salary.
As for a sign-and-trade, that, too, is very difficult because it triggers the hard cap, which is projected at $129 million. Teams receiving the free agent in the sign-and-trade deal — in this case the Heat — can’t surpass the $129 million apron at the end of the trade. Because of this, Miami would have to send out at least $31 million to take James’ $35 million salary back in a sign-and-trade.
Even if the Cavaliers wanted the Heat’s three youngest assets with the most potential – Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow – their 2018-19 salaries come to $16.7 million. The Cavs are not taking back another $14 million in long term salaries, especially if it is to help out the Heat. If Cleveland is going to lose LeBron, it certainly would rather see him go West.
If LeBron opted in it would have been a signal that a trade was lined up, probably meaning he was headed to either Houston or Miami. But even then, Houston is a much more attractive option with their backcourt of MVP James Harden and free agent Chris Paul, who, along with Wade, is part of LeBron’s inner circle when it comes to his peers. LeBron then would have formed a Big Three that could have challenged Golden State’s stranglehold on the league.
Some, though, might still believe the Heat have a chance and LeBron still could request a sit down with Pat Riley. And because we are talking LeBron and Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg’s magic calculator, perhaps it is foolish to completely count out the Heat until LeBron’s signature is on a contract with another team’s logo in the header.
Any news surrounding LeBron goes viral. But any LeBron news leading up to his free agency tends to break the Internet.
LeBron was in Miami last weekend, attending his son’s basketball game and the Internet was wild with speculation. He also was spotted in Brickell. The craziest speculation was an unconfirmed report that LeBron was involved in some clandestine meeting with Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra during the week.
But this is not 2010. The Heat are not flush with money and Miami does not have bargaining chips like a Wade in his prime or Chris Bosh to entice the best player on the planet.
Unless Riley can pull off a miracle that would make any other of the splashy moves he has made in his 23 years in Miami look ho-hum, it’s time to move on Heat Nation.