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.
The Miami Heat have sent a qualifying offer to Derrick Walton Jr. for his two-way contract, making the 6-foot-1 point guard a restricted free agent starting Sunday.
The Heat will be allowed to match any offers Walton might receive.
The move was made with the intention of bringing back Walton on another two-way contract, similar to what the Heat did with Derrick Jones Jr., earlier this month. The Heat still could offer a two-way contract to another player but would have to release Walton or Jones.
A player can’t play under two-way contracts for the same team for more than three years total. Walton just completed his first season with the Heat under a two-way deal.
Walton was signed to his two-way contract last July after going undrafted out of Michigan in 2017. He split last season between the Heat and Miami’s G League developmental team in Sioux Falls. Walton appeared in 16 games for the Heat, averaging 1.8, points 1.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 9.2 minutes. At Sioux Falls he played in 27 games, all starts, and averaged 16.1 points, 7.0 assists and 3.9 rebounds. He shot 90.2 percent on free throws, which was fifth in the G League.
Walton and Jones will be a part of the Heat’s summer league teams which play in Sacramento and Las Vegas in July.
Miami’s next order of business before free agency starts at 12:01 Sunday is to guarantee Rodney McGruder’s $1.5 million contract for next season. That decision must come before Sunday.
The Heat now have seven players from the 2017-18 roster who will become free agents Sunday: Luke Babbitt, Wayne Ellington, Udonis Haslem, Dwyane Wade, Jordan Mickey, Jones and Walton.
Miami has 10 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due about $119 million, including McGruder if his deal is guaranteed.
That puts the Heat above the projected $101 million salary cap and very close to the projected $123 million luxury tax line.
MIAMI – The last week has given us a glimpse of the Miami Heat team we are going to see in the playoffs.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has pared down his rotation to nine primary players with others like Bam Adebayo, Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt the security blankets.
With everyone healthy – and that has been a challenge for the Heat the last two seasons – Spoelstra will start Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside. That five has started nine games with the Heat going 5-4 in those games.
But the numbers when those players are on the court are startling.
That five has played 159 minutes together and has a plus-minus of a minus-30, which of third worst of all the five-man combinations used by the Heat this season.
Spoelstra is not a big fan of plus-minus statistic and will not allow it to influence his decisions. But by using this starting five he can keep a consistent second unit together of Dwyane Wade, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk and Justise Winslow. That four usually is on the floor with one of the starters or Adebayo.
The Heat have started the last two games completely healthy with the exception of Dion Waiters. Babbitt was inactive both games and in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Bulls, Adebayo, McGruder, Jordan Mickey and Udonis Haslem did not play.
“We’re healthy,” Spoelstra said. “We didn’t necessarily tighten up. We played a nine-man rotation.”
McGruder and Adebayo played in Thursday’s victory over the Bulls. McGruder entered late in the second quarter after Tyler Johnson rolled his ankle. McGruder then started the second half in Johnson’s spot.
Adebayo was called on during the first quarter of that game, after Olynyk picked up his second foul.
Spoelstra has tried to get to this rotation several times in the last five weeks. He had his entire complement of players (minus Waiters) for the first time on Feb. 27 but Ellington and Tyler Johnson both left that game after suffering thigh bruises.
The entire group was back on March 8 and finished that game but two days later Whiteside strained his left hip flexor during shootaround and Wade left that night’s game with a mild hamstring strain.
Finally, on the 76th and 77th games of the season, the Heat had all 14 of the 15 players on the roster available at the start for the first time in consecutive games this season. All are expected to be there again tonight when the Heat face the Hawks with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.
Still, that does not give Spoelstra comfort. Mickey was called on to start against Cleveland last week when Whiteside and Adebayo were unavailable. This is what he said he told Mickey recently as players were returning.
“The rotation is pretty much set right now but things will happen,” he said. “I’ve been around this league long enough that something will happen.”
The Heat were averaging 102.0 points per game when Whiteside strained his left hip flexor during shootaround on March 10. During the nine games Whiteside missed, that average spiked to 112.3 per game, with Miami looking as comfortable as it has all season playing at a quicker pace.
Whiteside, who played 19:28 on Thursday, must have felt like was returning to a different team.
“Those guy were flying around,” said the 7-foot center. “But it took me awhile to get acclimated. My wind felt straight, it’s just those guys were moving around. It’s just getting back used to it, getting back into a rhythm of just making shots, just that aspect of it.
“I felt good but I haven’t touched a ball in about three weeks. I made a couple of shots. I missed a couple. Just get back into the rhythm, knock the rust off, get back to playing well.”
Whiteside finished eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks during Miami’s 103-92 victory over the Bulls. Although coach Erik Spoelstra said his big man’s conditioning “was a little bit better than I anticipated,” Whiteside did appear to be a bit gassed at one point in the second quarter.
“He’s been doing a lot of work behind the scenes and I thought he was able to play with the pace that we’re playing at,” Spoelstra said. “He had four assists. … So we were able to play some offense through him. He made some nice easy plays on handoffs. It’s just good to have him back out there. He clearly gives us something different.”
Whiteside’s assists equaled a season and career high, which he set Dec. 30 in Orlando.
“I was just trying to play-make and get them guys going because I wasn’t making shots,” he said. “Passes always look good when they make them.”
Spoelstra immediately inserted Whiteside back into the starting lineup, a spot that Bam Adebayo held for the first eight games Whiteside missed before Jordan Mickey made a rare start Tuesday against Cleveland with Adebayo nursing a sprained ankle.
A big reason is to get Whiteside used to playing at the faster pace. Including Thursday, he will have just seven games before the playoffs start.
“Spo told me ‘G, run, run make sure Whiteside runs with you,’” point guard Goran Dragic said. “So, I was kind of trying to push it a little bit. H, he was running with us. Of course, he was a little bit tired. He didn’t play for a while. But you know it’s nice to have him back and he’s going to continue to get better physically and we need him.”
Whether that pace continues when the playoffs start in two weeks remain to be seen. Typically the game slows down in the postseason, becomes more physical. Either way, the Heat will need Whiteside at his best, especially defensively where he can protect the rim and block shots, if they want to advance.
“I thought he was very aggressive,” Dwyane Wade said. “He had his shots, he ran up and down the floor a lot. He did great screening to get our guards where they needed to get to. I like the energy he played with.
“When he plays a few more games, he’s going to get that rhythm back where he can do more things offensively. He can get a little bit more explosion back. So, it’s good to get him back.”
MIAMI — With the start of the playoffs just a few weeks away, it looks like the Heat are going to get their $98 million center back very soon.
After missing the past nine games with a strained left hip flexor, Whiteside went through his first live competitive work in Wednesday’s practice since suffering the injury. The Heat are hopeful their starting center will be able to play in Thursday’s home game against the Bulls, but rookie Bam Adebayo is expected to miss his second consecutive game with a sprained right ankle.
The 6-foot-10 Adebayo sprained his right ankle during Sunday’s loss at Indiana and will join the 7-foot Whiteside on the bench. Whiteside will miss his ninth straight game because of a left hip flexor.
Jordan Mickey, who has played in five games since Jan. 3, will make his third start of the season. The 6-8 Mickey is averaging 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 21 games.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Adebayo “really wanted to push through and play” against the Cavs but that Adebayo was not moving well enough.
“He’s walking without a limp so from that standpoint it’s good,” Spoelstra said. “But the swelling is there and he definitely cannot play in an NBA game tonight and certainly not at the speed and intensity this game is going to require.”
Without Adebayo, the Heat will be down to 7-foot Kelly Olynyk as the lone legitimate center from the rotation. The Heat also have James Johnson, Jordan Mickey and Udonis Haslem, all 6-8, who have spent time at center, although Haslem and Mickey have played in a combined 32 games this season. Olynyk is averaging 27.9 minutes and 15.2 points since Whiteside was injured but Spoelstra would not say if he would start.
The Cavaliers have been starting 6-10 Kevin Love at center.
Adebayo said he was injured in the third quarter Sunday when he landed on the foot of Victor Oladipo after blocking his shot. Adebayo finished the game with 14 points and five rebounds, his best scoring game since Whiteside went down.
Adebayo is hoping to be back for Thursday’s game against the Bulls.
“It’s day-to-day,” Adebayo said. “I’m not the type of person to sit out long. I feel like my body heals faster than most people so I feel like I’m going to come back sooner than expected.”
Adebayo said he’s getting treatment like “breakfast, lunch and dinner and just keep trying to build up my ankle strength and mobility.”
On the season Adebayo is averaging 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 52.4 percent. In his last eight games as a starter he is averaging 6.8 points and 7.9 rebounds and his shooting had dipped to 37.3 percent.
Spoelstra said Whiteside is progressing but gave no further report on his condition. Whiteside was injured during shootaround on March 10.
MIAMI – Erik Spoelstra found himself in a different position Thursday, one he has not been in for a couple of seasons.
The Heat coach looked down his bench and had … too many options?
Yes, the Heat were as healthy as they’ have been in two seasons for the entirety of their 108-99 victory over Philadelphia. Miami had 14 of the 15 players on the roster available, the lone exception being Dion Waiters. So, after deciding Jordan Mickey would join Waiters on the inactive list, Spoelstra had to whittle down his rotation.
“I got lost in all the sauce, a couple of times,” Spoelstra said, borrowing a phrase Chris Bosh favored.
“I forgot about a couple of guys. You’re used to having a different rotation and all of a sudden we have everybody available so our guys were able to compete and play hard, empty the tank. Now I’m having to make good decisions.”
The return of Wayne Ellington finally flushed out the roster. Miami started the Sixers game on Feb. 27 the same way but lost Ellington and Tyler Johnson to quad injuries before it had ended.
“We have a lot of versatility,” Ellington said. “But we feel like there’s strength in numbers. Take away one thing, we’ve got something else for you. Everybody’s got to be ready to contribute.”
Spoelstra had to make some tough decisions and on this night it was Luke Babbitt, who started the previous three games, and Rodney McGruder, who had averaged 19.8 minutes in his five games since returning from leg surgery, who never got off the bench. Udonis Haslem also was in uniform and did not play.
Of the 10 that did play, nine logged more than 20 minutes, led by Goran Dragic’s 33 minutes, 32 seconds.
Of course, that does not mean Spoelstra will stick with the same 10 Saturday when the Heat host Washington (7:30 p.m.)
“This is a blessing for us that we have our health at the most important time of the year. It beats the alternative for sure,” Spoelstra said.
“Depth is one of the biggest strengths of this team and we were able to utilize it (Thursday) and wear on a team. And everybody played as hard as they could at a high level and it took contributions from everybody. We haven’t had that kind of game in a long time where everybody that played in the game really contributed in a positive way.”
Adding Dwyane Wade and Babbitt at the trade deadline gave the Heat 12 players who could legitimately claim a spot in the rotation. And Spoelstra continues to experiment. He went back to the Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside starting five for the seventh time this season Thursday. When he inserted Babbitt as a starter a week ago against Detroit it was his 20th different starting lineup this season.
“There’re a lot guys who are still working through the rotation and it could be different guys different nights,” Spoelstra said. “We’re treating these as playoff games. The rotation will be whatever is necessary. Depth is a strength of ours and we intend on using it.”
Erik Spoelstra asked his team to take a no-excuse mentality into Monday’s game.
The Heat (15-15) listened to their coach, cutting a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to one with 1:05 remaining in the game despite having just nine healthy players available. But Miami didn’t have enough to complete the comeback, as the Hawks (7-23) closed the game on an 8-3 run to hold on for a 110-104 victory over the Heat at Philips Arena on Monday.
“Those last nine minutes, it would require that kind of effort, that kind of disposition,” Spoelstra said to reporters in Atlanta of the Heat’s late rally. “It didn’t even mean every possession was going perfectly, but you could see the level of urgency go way up. That’s what is required. And we just didn’t have it for the entire game.”
There are no moral victories for Miami, though. The loss came against the team with the NBA’s worst record.
Taurean Prince led the charge for the Hawks with 24 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Atlanta guard Dennis Schroder helped out with 23 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Josh Richardson was one of the bright spots for the Heat, as he finished with 26 points. Dion Waiters fought through a stomach illness to score 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting.
Here are our five takeaways …
Nine is not enough: Injuries have tested the Heat’s depth plenty of times this season. But Monday was Miami’s biggest challenge, as it played without starting center Hassan Whiteside, starting point guard Goran Dragic, and forwards James Johnson and Justise Winslow. Rodney McGruder and Okaro White were also unavailable, as they continue to recover from their respective surgeries. With all of these players out due to injuries and center AJ Hammons still in Sioux Falls despite counting toward the 15-man roster, the Heat had just nine players available in Atlanta, which is one above the NBA-minimum of eight. All nine played against the Hawks, even veteran Udonis Haslem saw a minute of action.
“Not having enough bodies, that’s not an excuse,” Spoelstra said. “We had enough, and we had enough energy.”
Too many turnovers, not enough defense: The Heat rely on their defense to win games. And Miami wasn’t at its best on that end of the court Monday. The Heat allowed Atlanta to score 110 points, with 46 coming in the paint. And before the fourth quarter it was even worse, as the Hawks shot 49.2 percent over the first three quarters. That’s just not good enough for a Heat team that was missing a lot of their offensive firepower with Dragic, Johnson and Whiteside out. Oh, and Miami also committed 19 turnovers. Bad defense and too many turnovers is not a good combination for the Heat, or any NBA team.
Another game, another different starting five: The Heat played their 30th game of the season Monday. They also used their ninth different starting lineup of the season Monday. That’s a pretty high number for a Heat team that entered 2017-18 leaning on continuity after bringing back 11 players from last year’s season-ending roster. But blame a long list of injuries for all of the different starting combinations. With James Johnson, Dragic, Winslow and Whiteside unavailable, Miami started Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk against the Hawks. Entering the game, this group had logged just three minutes of playing time together this season. They exceeded that just in the first quarter, as this lineup played the first 6:34 and was outscored by the Hawks 19-15 during that time. This five won’t start too many more games together this season. Only injuries will force Spoelstra to use this combination as his starting lineup moving forward.
A December to remember for J-Rich: What a month it’s been for Josh Richardson. After a slow start to the season, Richardson has made up for it by playing the best basketball of his career in December. The 24-year-old continued this impressive stretch Monday with 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting to go with three steals and two blocks. He’s now averaging 17.3 points on 56.3 percent shooting in nine games this month. And Richardson is not just excelling on offense, he’s also been the Heat’s best defender this season. Richardson entered Monday limiting players he’s defending to 38 percent shooting (6.8 percent worse than their combined average shooting percentage).
“J-Rich is playing very good basketball on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “So, from an energy standpoint, you’re talking about a guy who’s tasked with the best perimeter player every single night and then have incredible energy on the other end to get your team organized and also make some plays for the team. And he just continues to gain confidence. We want to fuel that and see where that can go. But I like the place that he’s in right now.”
What’s next?: A Wednesday game against the Celtics in Boston. It won’t be easy, considering the Celtics are 13-3 at home and own the Eastern Conference’s top record at 26-7. Throw in the fact that Miami could have to play without Dragic, Johnson, Winslow and Whiteside again, and you can expect the Heat to enter this contest as heavy underdogs. But a more favorable stretch is on the horizon, as the Heat will begin a four-game homestand and an eight-game stretch that includes seven home games on Friday. Wednesday’s matchup against the Celtics marks the end of a brutal 24-game stretch that included 17 on the road.