MIAMI — Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has some tough rotation decisions in front of him.
Center Kelly Olynyk will play in the Heat’s home game against the 76ers after missing six consecutive games with a strained left shoulder that he suffered in a loss to the Magic on Feb. 5.
In addition, wing player Rodney McGruder is on the verge of making his season debut after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg in October. McGruder will be in uniform and available Tuesday after completing his two-game rehab stint in the G League with the Sioux Falls Skyforce on Monday.
When Olynyk and McGruder both return, the Heat will have 12 players who can make a case to be in the rotation — Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Wayne Ellington, Bam Adebayo, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Dwyane Wade, McGruder and Olynyk. Miami will likely only use a nine or 10-man rotation, which will force Spoelstra to decide who will be left out.
“Great. I want to have more tough decisions,” Spoelstra said in advance of Tuesday’s game against the 76ers. “So I hope we’ll continue to have everybody available. That would be nice.”
And Spoelstra is not going to worry about players’ feelings when making these challenging decisions.
“I want to be mindful and empathetic to each player in their ambition and how they want to help and contribute to this team. But as we say here all the time, the main thing is the main thing,” Spoelstra said.
“There’s not a whole lot of time to just focus on trying to keep people happy. That’s not what this is about. This is about contribute whatever your role may be. And that might not be in concrete right now. We have to move. It’s time. I mentioned that before. There’s no time to mess around or walk on eggshells and for people to be bent out of shape about minutes. There’s no time for that right now.”
Olynyk’s return will help the Heat. The 7-footer owns the top plus-minus on the team, with Miami outscoring opponents by 102 points with Olynyk on the court.
“I won’t play him big minutes if he plays. We’ll figure it out,” Spoelstra said. “But, man, we’re all excited about hopefully getting him back in the mix. We look different when he’s out there.
“So many of the strengths that we have right now, we talk about the versatility, he just adds to all of that. And he has a way of making things look better when he’s out there on both ends of the court. Smart players, guys that have a good feel for the game, tend to do that.”
Olynyk entered Tuesday averaging 11.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 23.4 minutes in his first season with the Heat. He’s ranked fifth on the team in 3-pointers made with 68.
“We missed him,” Winslow said. “We missed his ability to keep defenses honest and spread the court, and defensively he’s a savvy guy. He has great hands. So we definitely missed him. But it’s just another guy coming back from injury that we’re going to get back and try to help him find his rhythm as quick as possible. Our strength is our depth so getting him back on our team is definitely going to help.”
As for McGruder, he will likely play his first NBA minutes of the season this week — either Tuesday against the 76ers, Thursday against the Lakers or Saturday against the Pistons.
McGruder averaged 13.5 points on 43.3 percent shooting from the field, including 1-of-11 on 3-pointers, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 assist in his two-game rehab stint with the Skyforce. The 26-year-old completed his G League assignment Monday by finishing with a stat line of 11 points, five rebounds and one assist in 25 minutes in a win over the Agua Caliente Clippers in Ontario, Calif.
“He was able to go four straight days with a good deal of work,” Spoelstra said of McGruder’s rehab stint. “He had two rock solid 5-on-5 scrimmage practice days and two games where the first one, he played about 20 minutes. Then we were able to scale him up to almost 25 minutes last night and everything was fine. He was feeling great and able to do all that work without a problem.”