PHILADELPHIA — It’s too early to tell how good the new-look Detroit Pistons will be after acquiring five-time All-Star Blake Griffin in a trade earlier this week. But Heat center Hassan Whiteside is happy for Griffin.
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Sun/WAXY 790AM, WAQI 710AM (Spanish)
Records: Miami 3-5, Los Angeles 5-3
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
F: Danilo Gallinari
F: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
G: Austin Rivers
G: Patrick Beverley
F: Josh Richardson
F: Okaro White
C: Hassan Whiteside
G: Dion Waiters
G: Goran Dragic
Scouting report: The Heat will be without Rodney McGruder, who is out indefinitely after left tibia surgery. … The Clippers will be without Milos Teodosic, who is out with a plantar fascia injury in his left foot. … The Clippers swept the season-series against the Heat last season, 2-0, and have currently won four straight over Miami. … Heat guard Tyler Johnson has shot a perfect 20-of-20 from the free-throw line this season. That marks the third-longest such streak to start a season in team history. According to Elias, only Dwyane Wade, 24-straight to begin the 2015-16 season, and Dorell Wright, 21-straight to start the 2009-10 season, have longer streaks. … Goran Dragic is averaging a team-high 20.3 points on 49.6 percent shooting for the Heat. … Miami has struggled to execute late in close games, as it owns a 1-4 record in clutch games this season. A “clutch” situation is defined by the NBA as a game that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. … The Heat rank 21st of 30 teams in the NBA with a net rating of -2.8, which is a reliable team performance measure that’s the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive ratings (OR-DR). … The Clippers enter Sunday’s game with losses in three of their past four games, including a 113-104 loss to the Grizzlies on Saturday. … Former Heat center Willie Reed is averaging 5.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in a bench role for the Clippers this season. Reed declined his $1.6 million player option with the Heat for the 2017-18 season in hopes of earning a bigger contract this past summer, but he ended up signing a one-year agreement with the Clippers for just under $1.5 million, or his minimum salary.
Meanwhile, Dion Waiters and James Johnson sit back and wait.
The Miami Heat’s top two free agents were under the radar during the early hours of free agency, which was otherwise busy and brought a few surprises. As a handful of players agreed to terms with the majority returning to their original teams, the Heat – and their free agents – were quiet.
Miami was preparing for their Saturday morning meeting with Gordon Hayward and Waiters and Johnson were waiting for the dust to settle to see where they fit in. And with the early signs that some sense of sanity may be returning to the process, that should be good news for the Heat.
The Heat will wait for Hayward’s decision before making their next move. After sitting down with Miami, the small forward will meet with the Celtics on Sunday and his original team, the Jazz, on Monday. But if Pat Riley gets a sense of what Hayward will do today he might proceed with the rest of his plan, which certainly will include one or both of Miami’s top free agents.
Outside of the two max deals – Stephen Curry agreeing with the Warriors for $201 million and Blake Griffin returning to the Clippers for $173 million, both for five years – the deals seemed reasonable and measured. This could benefit the Heat when it comes to Waiters and Johnson.
The only teams showing initial interest in either player was the Clippers with Johnson. But that likely ended when Griffin agreed to return. So both players are sitting out there without any reports of scheduled meetings.
The Heat certainly will talk to both but their interest in bringing them back could vary. If Hayward buys into the Heat’s sales pitch, that should leave enough money to re-sign either Johnson or Waiters and all signs point to then bringing back Johnson because of the need of a power forward. And on Friday Johnson told the Miami Herald he is “a patient guy” and the Heat “can take as long as they want” with Hayward.
Johnson’s willingness to stand by while Miami conducts its initial business is a great benefit to the Heat and eases the concern they could lose him over the next few days.
Waiters’ situation is a bit more complicated. He has not spoken to reporters recently and although, like Johnson, he has said several times since the end of the season his preference is to return to Miami, the test would come if he received a decent offer in the next couple of days.
Miami will be willing to let Waiters walk if it reels in Hayward, the tricky part will be circling back to Waiters if Hayward chooses Boston or Utah. The Heat’s ‘Plan B’ is more and more looking like re-signing both Johnson and Waiters to a manageable number and having extra cap space to either bring back Wayne Ellington or pursue another free agent.
Other than Curry and Griffin, the deals announced early Saturday were reasonable compared to the first-day frenzy last season. Riley recently called those contracts “out of whack.”
And with little buzz surrounding Johnson and Waiters, if Miami opts to bring back both perhaps it could get them for $22-$25 million combined. That could leave the Heat with $14-$17 million available to add another very valuable piece depending on what they do with Wayne Ellington and if they release Josh McRoberts to stretch his contract.
ORLANDO — As Gordon Hayward waits to begin his free-agent tour with a Saturday meeting with the Heat, the rest of the NBA is making moves. And one transaction in particular could play a part in the Hayward sweepstakes.
Griffin, 28, was reported as a possible candidate to sign with the Heat and some speculated he would wind up in Miami. But no meeting between the parties had ever been set and it never was clear if Pat Riley actually had a great interest in pursuing Griffin.
Speculation on how the trade the sent Chris Paul to Houston would impact Griffin’s decision was all over the board. Some believed he would be more apt to leave the Clippers if they were blowing it all up and starting over and other speculating Griffin was more likely to stay in L.A. considering he and Paul never really got along and the Clippers were making him their priority.
Griffin has spent his entire seven-year career with the Clippers. While L.A. could offer him a five-year max deal the most he could have made with another team was about $127 million over four years .
Griffin averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists last season while shooting 49.3 percent but he would have come with a risk. He has missed 80 games in the last three regular seasons combined and the last two years his postseason was cut short, including playing in just three games in the 2017 playoffs because of a toe injury.
In 2016 Griffin partially tore his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4 of the Clippers first-round series and did not return.
MIAMI – Every season, the anticipation for midnight July 1 builds. Every team is poised with a big board of free agents that most years tops 100 names, phone numbers are programmed into cell phones and meetings have been arranged.
Nothing – not the start of training camp, the regular season or even the Finals – has executives, coaches, players and fans more lathered than the start of free agency.
The Miami Heat hit the open market with one thought: To never experience another season like last, which ended with the team missing the playoffs because of tiebreaker. And if you think coming from 19-games below .500 to finish 41-41 was celebrated? Think again.
“I’m not all goose-bumply and fuzzy-haired. That’s not my makeup,” Riley famously said days following the end of the regular season. “I was pissed off. I was upset.”
Now, to see that does not happen again, Riley and GM Andy Elisburg have some work to do.
First up is trying to squeeze lemonade out of a free agency class that mostly is filled with lemons. Okay, it’s not that bad, but with the biggest names (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry) re-upping with the Warriors, and the Clippers’ Chris Paul already being traded to the Rockets, this is not a stellar class.
Who does that leave? Utah’s sharp-shooting forward Gordon Hayward, Clippers multi-faceted forward Blake Griffin, Toronto’s ever-improving Kyle Lowry. When it comes to max free agents that should do it.
Not exactly LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade now, is it?
The next tier – Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, Denver’s Danilo Gallinari, New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday – certainly will help but are not exactly foundational pieces for a super team.
The Heat find themselves in a precarious spot. They will have at least $35 million in cap space once Bosh is released, a number that can be increased by sign-and-trades and stretching Josh McRoberts’ contract.
Miami has set up a Saturday meeting with Hayward, according to reports, and likely will kick the tires on Griffin, although their level in interest in the power forward is unknown.
But the sticky part is the timing. Miami remains interested in bringing back its top two free agents, Dion Waiters and James Johnson, but they essential play same positions as Hayward and Griffin (wing, power forward), though different styles.
Will the Heat be burned if they put Waiters and Johnson on hold while gauging the chances of signing either Hayward or Griffin or both? And do other teams swoop in and try to steal Waiters and/or Johnson Waiters early?
“We hope we’ll have some information on that first night,” Riley said last week.
This balancing act is key even though Waiters and Johnson have said all the right things. Both credit the organization for putting them in this position to cash in for the biggest payday of their careers. Johnson is 30 and looking at tripling his career earnings of about $16 million in one contract. Waiters is 25 and likely will do the same after making about $20 million in his first five years.
And while Waiters and Johnson likely are not at the top of too many teams’ shopping list, they still will be wooed early. Heat free agents Luol Deng and Joe Johnson were not close to the top of the list a year ago – some didn’t even have them among the top 30 free agents – and both agreed on the second day of free agency, Deng with the Lakers and Johnson with the Jazz.
If Waiters and Johnson are scooped up early, that could leave Miami in the case for Ibaka or Sacramento’s Rudy Gay.
One variable from a year ago, fewer teams have cap space and fewer dollars are available this summer than last. The cap rose about $15 million last summer. This year it will increase by about $5 million.
Still, the Heat have a “plan A. … a plan B” according to Riley, and those plans have worked out more often than not.
“We’ll attack it the way the Miami Heat typically does and well see what happens,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
With free agency set to start at 12 a.m. Saturday, we take a look at the biggest free-agent questions surrounding the Heat. Today we ask: What mid-level free agents should the Heat pursue? We’ll shift to a different question each day leading up to the start of free agency.
The stakes for free agency may have been raised with the Rockets already landing Chris Paul, who will pick up his option with the Clippers and then be traded to Houston. That gives Houston the start of a super team with Paul and James Harden and may put more pressure on the Miami Heat to attempt to think even bigger when the bell rings Saturday.
But landing two max free agents like Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin will not be easy and even if Miami signs one of them and brings back either James Johnson or Dion Waiters, Miami still will be searching to upgrade the roster with any of its remaining cap space or through one of its exceptions.
With just a handful of players set to earn more than $20 million a season, the market is full of players who will be looking for deals not only between $10 and $20 million but many for under $10 million. And when talking about which of those types of players would draw the interest of the team, you have to start with their own free agents – Johnson and Waiters.
It’s very possible Miami could bring both back, and possibly for around $25 million combined. But if only one returns that could depend on who else Miami signs. If the Heat lands Hayward, then a power forward like Johnson would be a better fit. If Blake Griffin decides to leave the Clippers’ sinking ship for the Heat, then Waiters may be the more valuable.
But Pat Riley will have many other options. Among those:
Rudy Gay, SG, Kings: Gay is opting out of $14.3 million for next year so he could be a bit pricey. Still, he has been linked to Miami in trade rumors in the past. He will be 31 when camp starts and is coming off a torn Achilles that limited him to 30 games last season. Still, he averaged 18.7 points. 6.3 points and 2.7 assists before the injury.
Jonathon Simmons, SG, Spurs: Simmons, who is a restricted free agent, is a Heat type of player. He is 27 and once paid money to get a D-League tryout. He would be right at home on a roster that still should include several D-League graduates. Simmons is athletic and can play multiple positions. He averaged 6.2 points in the regular season before stepping it up to 10.5 points in the playoffs.
Luc Mbah a Moute, SF/PF, Clippers: Mbah a Moute is 31 but is coming off his best season and could be ready to break out like Johnson did last season. He’ll never be that kind of offensive player – he averaged 6.1 points in 2016-17 but did shoot 39.1 percent on threes – but it’s his defense that could attract the Heat.
Jonas Jerebko, PF, Celtics: At 6-foot-10, Jerebko is a power forward with an outside shot. He averaged 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds while playing 15.8 minutes per game last season. He is 30 years old and had his best season three years ago, averaging 7.1 points and 4.8 rebounds, in his first year in Boston.
Omri Casspi, SF/PF, Timberwolves: The Heat have had interest in Casspi before. He is 6-9 and plays both forward spots. He’s had a tough three years, playing in just 36 games combined because of injuries, but if his medicals check out he can be had for a nice price. And at 29 he should have some productive years left.
C.J. Miles, SF, Pacers: Paul George eventually will be traded and the Pacers will sink in the standings. Miles would be a solid pickup. He is well respected around the league for the way he plays the game. He averaged 10.7 points and shot 41.3 percent on threes last season.