Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says he, center Hassan Whiteside are in constant contact; adds relationship ‘isn’t what it seems on the outside’

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and center Hassan Whiteside. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Perhaps it wasn’t quite an intervention as Pat Riley suggested, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his embattled player, center Hassan Whiteside, have been in communication all summer.

And Spoelstra says that relationship is not what it appears to be.

“I have absolutely been in touch with Hassan,” Spoelstra said following the Heat’s summer league practice Wednesday at The Clark High School in Las Vegas.

“We’ve gotten together for lunch, in constant contact on the phone and in texts. Like many things in this league, it’s not what it seems on the outside. It’s pretty normal NBA life. I’m looking forward to the start of the season with a healthy Hassan. I know he’s looking forward to that. And we still have a good part of the summer to get better.”

Following the season, after Whiteside spoke out several times about his frustration over lack of playing time, including one profanity-laced outburst that cost him an undisclosed fine from the organization, Riley said Spoelstra and Whiteside needed an “intervention.”

Said Riley: “The disconnect between he and Spo that’s going to take a discussion between them and it’s going to take thought on the part of coach and also Hassan.”

Whiteside is the Heat’s highest paid player, signing a four-year, $98.4 million contract two summers ago. He still is owed $52.5 million the final two seasons of the contract.

Spoelstra was much easier on Whiteside during his season-ending news conference, saying he thought the narrative and story lines about Whiteside were “unfair,” adding “I love working with Hassan.”

Whiteside’s numbers declined during the regular season to 14.0 points and 11.4 rebounds while playing 25.3 minutes per game, a dip of more than seven minutes per game from the previous year when he led the league in rebounding.

Then he was a total non-factor in the postseason, averaging 5.2 points and 6.0 rebounds while playing just 15.4 minutes per game as the Heat were eliminated by Philadelphia in five games.

Now, Spoelstra believes the difference will be a healthy Whiteside. The 7-foot center missed 28 games last season, including 18 because of separate left knee bruises. He sat for nine games in March after injuring his left hip.

“I think Hassan having an opportunity to start off the season healthy will be a really big boost for us,” Spoelstra said.

But it isn’t just a healthy Whiteside that has Spoelstra looking forward to this season despite the fact the Heat have yet to make a move with the exception of signing Derrick Jones Jr. to a standard contract. Riley continues to explore trade options but nothing has materialized.

Spoelstra cited the return of guard Dion Waiters, who played 30 games before having ankle surgery; swingman Rodney McGruder, who played 18 after undergoing surgery in October to repair a stress fracture in his leg; and James Johnson, who had surgery to repair a sports hernia surgery following the season, as optimism that the team will be better.

Miami finished last season 44-38 and sixth in the Eastern Conference.

“I look at all those guys that had some injuries that they were dealing with last year as opportunities,” Spoelstra said. “In my mind, you’re almost adding a new player, adding a Derrick Jones, adding a Rodney McGruder, adding a Dion Waiters, adding a healthy Hassan Whiteside. Having a fully healthy James Johnson. These are new players you’re adding into the mix of already a playoff team. That’s something that’s exciting to me.”

Spoelstra also pointed to the improvement made this summer by center Bam Adebayo and Jones.

“We feel really good about our roster,” he said. “We love the internal growth we’ve had. Guys have had tremendous summers already. You’ve seen the improvement that Bam has made in terms of his skill level and running an offense through him. Being a little bit more offensive minded.

“We have great opportunities for internal growth. We have a lot of the guys returning. … we think the continuity and the corporate knowledge we bring from one season to another can really help. What we’re seeing is a lot of turnover every single offseason with a lot of teams. That’s not the easiest thing to manage. We bring some familiarity which we think can be a help.”

[What do you need to know about new Heat two-way contract player Duncan Robinson? He’s not just a shooter]

[Where has Heat second-year center Bam Adebayo shown the most improvement this summer?]

[Heat GM Andy Elisburg had advice for Cavaliers GM after losing LeBron: ‘It ends, and you have to start again’]

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Mailbag: Were injuries to blame for Heat’s first-round playoff exit?

Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic, left, Wayne Ellington, second from left, James Johnson, second from right, and Kelly Olynyk, right, reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI — It’s time for another Heat mailbag.

If you weren’t able to ask a question this time, send your questions for future mailbags via Twitter (@Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44). You can also email me at achiang@pbpost.com. Continue reading “Mailbag: Were injuries to blame for Heat’s first-round playoff exit?”

Heat’s James Johnson undergoes offseason surgery for sports hernia

Miami Heat’s James Johnson (16) and Josh Richardson (0) react during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

MIAMI — James Johnson doesn’t mind playing through pain, and he did it in several games this past season.

On Monday, the Heat confirmed Johnson underwent surgery for a sports hernia following the Heat’s first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Sixers. Yahoo Sports first reported the news.

The injury is “something that was bothering him through the season” and Johnson is expected to make a full recovery “over the next few weeks,” according to a source. This represents a detail to help explain an up-and-down season for the Heat forward. Continue reading “Heat’s James Johnson undergoes offseason surgery for sports hernia”

Dion Waiters progress report: Erik Spoelstra expects a much healthier, better player than we saw this season

The Miami Heat expect Dion Waiters to make a full recovery from his ankle surgery. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

MIAMI –Dion Waiters played just 30 games this past season after signing a four-year, $52 million contract.

The Heat’s starting two guard never fully recovered from an ankle injury in the final weeks of the 2016-17 season and underwent surgery in late January after reinjuring the ankle a month earlier.

While Waiters continues his rehab, coach Erik Spoelstra believes next season the Heat will see a much better player than we saw earlier this season.

“I’m not sure when, but he’s going to be more than 100 percent,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t think he’s felt right, physically, since when he first got here. He got in great shape, but once he injured his ankle, then he was always dealing with that.”

Waiters, 26, dealt with a groin injury early in his first season in Miami (2016-17) before getting healthy and having a solid two-month stretch prior to rolling his ankle in March. He ended the year averaging 15.8 points, 3.3 and 4.3 assists.

But after opting not to have surgery on the ankle with free agency approaching, he never was right this past season. He finished averaging 14.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

“I think this is going to be a really important summer for him,” Spoelstra said. “He’s going to be here and he’ll be working a ton behind the scenes just to get his legs right, then he’ll work on the next step of getting in world-class shape and then he’ll get into the next phase of really developing his basketball skills.

“The next five months will be pivotal for his process.”

[Erik Spoelstra calls narrative, story lines on Hassan Whiteside ‘unfair’]

[Heat Mailbag: Best trade partner for Whiteside; chances Carmelo Anthony ends up in Miami]

[Bam Adebayo plans to work on ‘everything’ this summer after promising rookie season with the Heat]

[What’s in store for the Miami Heat this offseason?]

[The achievers and the underachievers for the Heat in their series with the 76ers]

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Heat’s Josh Richardson questionable for Game 5 with sprained left shoulder

The Miami Heat’s Josh Richardson leaps past the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) for a basket in the first quarter in Game 4 of the first-round NBA Playoff series at the AmericaneAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, April 21, 2018. The Sixers won, 106-102, for a 3-1 series lead. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

MIAMI — As if being down 3-1 in their first-round playoff series against the Sixers wasn’t difficult enough to overcome, the Heat could also be without a starter in Game 5.

Starting small forward Josh Richardson is questionable after suffering a sprained left shoulder — his non-shooting shoulder — in Saturday’s Game 4 loss. He did not practice Monday, but the Heat are hopeful he’ll be able to play through the injury Tuesday in Philadelphia. Continue reading “Heat’s Josh Richardson questionable for Game 5 with sprained left shoulder”

With thumb ailing, Heat’s Tyler Johnson not worried about offense; says team’s defense must improve

Miami Heat’s Tyler Johnson loses control of the ball as Philadelphia 76ers’ Robert Covington defends during the first half of Game 3 in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI – Just when Heat guard Tyler Johnson was starting to find a groove offensively in this series he ran into Sixers center Joel Embiid, lost his balance and tried to brace himself with his left hand.

Minutes later, after a Heat timeout, Johnson came back onto the floor with his hand taped to stabilize his thumb.

“I lost my balance when I ran into him,” Johnson said today following practice. “I tried to brace myself on the floor and jammed my thumb.

“We got a little tape job on it. That’s more to make it a little bit more comfortable. It’s a little sore, nothing that’s not manageable.”

X-rays were negative and Johnson will be in the lineup for Saturday’s crucial Game 4 of this opening-round series with the Heat trailing the series 2-1 after Philadelphia’s 128-108 Game 3 victory.

Johnson looked more comfortable offensively on Thursday, helping the Heat early with eight quick points. He made all four of his shots, three coming before the injury, and finished with 10 points in just 17 minutes. Johnson, though, did not have a rebound or an assist.

Johnson struggled during the first two games in Philadelphia with 14 points on 3-of-10 shooting. In Game 3, he equaled his entire field goal output for the first two games in the first five minutes with Miami’s first two baskets (both 3-pointers) and a 21-foot jumper. He scored eight of Miami’s first 11 points.

But the Heat’s starting shooting guard is not worried about the team’s offense. The Heat have allowed the two highest scoring games in their playoff history in Games 1 and 3 of this series. The Sixers’ 130-103 Game 1 victory was then followed by a 113-103 Heat answer in Game 2 before Philadelphia turned a two-point game after three quarters on Thursday into a rout.

“There are ways we can continue to get better at our defense,” he said. “For the most part, we scored enough points (in Game 3) to win. We scored enough points in Game 1 to win. It’s going to have to be more like how it was in game, 2 trying to hold them under 100.”

Johnson was asked where the Heat can improve defensively.

“Everywhere,” he said. “Catch and shoot. Making sure we limit their transition buckets. Their offensive rebounds continue to get us in trouble a little bit.

“They’re getting whatever they wanted half-court offense and then you throw on top their fast breaks, just because of who they are, they are going to get some, that’s when it’s tough.”

[Heat know getting Hassan Whiteside back on track is ‘a game-changer.’ But is it possible against Sixers defense?]

[Dwyane Wade on physical nature of Heat-Sixers series: ‘It’s the playoffs, baby, let it go’]

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Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3 vs. Heat

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts from the bench after a missed foul shot by LeBron James in the final seconds of the game at the Wells Fargo Center on April 6, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Cavaliers 132-130. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

MIAMI — It looks like Joel Embiid’s playoff debut will come in Game 3.

After Sixers coach Brett Brown called Embiid doubtful before morning shootaround, the All-Star center was upgraded to probable just a few hours before Thursday night’s game against the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. Embiid missed the final eight games of the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture. Continue reading “Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3 vs. Heat”

Heat will have another chance to face Joel Embiid-less Sixers. Embiid ruled out for Game 2

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers puts his protective face mask prior to Game One of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoff against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center on April 14, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Heat will have another chance to face the Joel Embiid-less Sixers.

Embiid has been ruled out for Monday’s Game 2 as he continues to recover from surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture. But the Sixers also announced Sunday that their starting center did clear the NBA’s concussion protocol, which is a sign that he’s close to making a return. Continue reading “Heat will have another chance to face Joel Embiid-less Sixers. Embiid ruled out for Game 2”

Heat ‘don’t mind’ taking on underdog role in playoff series vs. Sixers: ‘We’ve been underdogs the last two years’

The Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic (7) takes the ball between the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons (25) and Robert Covington (33) in the first quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. The Heat won, 102-101. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

MIAMI — There wasn’t much separating the Heat and Sixers in the regular season.

In 192 minutes, Miami outscored Philadelphia by two points over four matchups this year. The Heat and Sixers split their season series 2-2 and each game was decided by single digits, including a one-point Miami win and a two-point Philadelphia win. Continue reading “Heat ‘don’t mind’ taking on underdog role in playoff series vs. Sixers: ‘We’ve been underdogs the last two years’”

Is Goran Dragic worried about his sore knee entering playoffs? ‘I’m going to feel it, but it’s not going to slow me down’

Phoenix Suns guard Mike James (55) defends against Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

MIAMI — Goran Dragic isn’t worried about his sore right knee entering the playoffs.

“I’m good. 100 percent, I’ll be good,” Dragic said Thursday. Continue reading “Is Goran Dragic worried about his sore knee entering playoffs? ‘I’m going to feel it, but it’s not going to slow me down’”