May 24, 2016

Jay Ajayi ready to be Dolphins starter and some eye-opening metrics about that; UM says no to CB; Heat; Marlins

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Everything that could go right for Jay Ajayi the past few months has: Lamar Miller signed with the Houston Texans. The Dolphins’ pursuit of CJ Anderson and Chris Johnson fell short. Miami hired a coach, Adam Gase, who loves Ajayi’s skill set. The Dolphins didn’t have a high enough pick to draft Ezekiel Elliott and instead took speedy Kenyan Drake, who isn’t viewed as a three-down back.

So Ajayi stands as the front-runner to start, with Gase raving about his professionalism and noting he has “kind of separated himself from the rest of that group as far as consistency.”

Ajayi admitted: "I've been excited since I found out Lamar was moving on and the position would be available. I've been pushing myself… to have a great season, trying to prepare mentally to [be] a starter… I'm ready to elevate my game to a new level…. I think I’ve been doing a great job so far."

The most significant question: Will be there any drop-off from Miller, whose 4.5 rushing average was tied for 15th in the league, to Ajayi, whose 3.8 would have tied for 35th if he had enough carries to qualify?

Sidelined the first seven games last season with a cracked rib, Ajayi rushed for 8.2 and 8.0 yards per carry on a combined 11 attempts in his first two games. But he fell off dramatically, averaging no more than 3.3 per carry in six of his final seven games and rushing for two yards on seven carries in the finale against New England.

But ESPN’s KC Joyner, who analyzed all of Ajayi’s 49 carries, tells me that pedestrian per-carry average is misleading. Joyner said Ajayi received bad blocking on 71 percent of his carries, among the highest (or worst) in the NFL. He averaged 1.9 yards per rush on those plays with poor blocking, better than the 1.2 league average.

When Ajayi got good blocking, he averaged 9.0 yards per carry, better than both Miller's and the league's "good blocking" average, Joyner said. With Miami’s offensive line seemingly improved, Ajayi’s per-carry average should get a boost.

The Dolphins believe he’s closer to the player who averaged 5.6 yards per carry at Boise State and was a beast in the red zone, with 50 touchdown runs. Gase likes his shiftiness and ability to make decisive cuts.

“I know I can be a powerful runner (who) prides himself on breaking tackles,” Ajayi said. “But I wanted to add another arsenal to my game of being able to make those quick cuts, getting that one cut and getting down the field fast.” That’s why he’s shedding 10 pounds, to 220.

Ajayi dropped to the fifth round largely because of concerns about his knee, which he insists were overstated.  “That injury occurred my freshman year, and I didn't miss a game after that,” he said. “I was never concerned about it and I feel great.”

Gase also likes Ajayi’s upside as a receiver; he caught seven passes for 90 yards last season after catching 73 for 771 (10.6 average) and five touchdowns at Boise State.

"Just seeing Coach Gase's offenses and seeing that he likes to throw the ball a lot,… we're going to need to know how to run good routes," he said.

• We hear this staff likes Damien Williams and he’s the front-runner for the No. 3 job (behind Ajayi and Drake), though Daniel Thomas might push Williams. Isaiah Pead faces an uphill climb. Miami continues to monitor Texans free agent Arian Foster, who’s coming off a ruptured Achilles after averaging just 2.6 yards on 63 carries.

• Players said the new offense is featuring some no huddle, and Ja’Wuan James said that --- combined with the heat --- left the defensive line slowed and tired in Tuesday’s practice. Keep in mind, though, that Miami has only one 1 p.m. home game in September, against Cleveland (but three in October).

• Please click here for a ton more Dolphins notes from today, on Tony Lippett, Jarvis Landry, Ja'Wuan James, Laremy Tunsil and Jason Jones.

CHATTER

• Whereas Dwyane Wade was aggressive in recruiting Joe Johnson in February, he isn’t going to try to woo internal or external free agents in the next two months because “I’m a free agent like they are. It's a little different than being under contract and saying, 'Hey, come to play with me.' You want to make sure that individual is doing what's best for them. I want personally what they feel is best for their career. Of course you want to play with great talent.”

• Of the teams with the top six batting averages in baseball, all are in the top 10 in runs, except – you guessed it – the Marlins, who are third in average (.274) but 23th in runs, a crazy differential and only slightly better than last year (eighth in average, 29th in runs).

Why does this keep happening with this team? Because the Marlins are below average in many offensive categories – hitting with runners on (20th, .245), steals (27th with 13), homers per at-bat (22nd) and more. Only Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Dietrich and Marcell Ozuna have hit well with runners in scoring position and two out. As one example, Christian Yelich hits .400 with none on, .236 with runners on.

• Though former four-star cornerback JC Jackson had strong interest in Miami, and cornerback is a need position, UM informed his junior college position coach, Isaac Shipp, that it won’t pursue him after initial inquires.

When Shipp told UM cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph that Jackson was acquitted on armed robbery charges, Rumph following marching orders, told Shipp that Jackson “got kicked out of [UF] and the fact was in that situation period” concerned Mark Richt and the school, Shipp said.

“Miami doesn't want the drama; I get it,” Shipp said. “Good luck when you play against him.”

Jackson is considering South Carolina, among others.

So UM continues to search the transfer market for corners. In the meantime, we were told last week that UM was working on adding another transfer receiver and a fullback from Division 2 Mars Hill College, nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter reported today that the Mars Hill fullback, former Georgia prep player Marquez Williams, will indeed be added and given a scholarship. He had no major offers out of high school, ESPN said.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday Dolphins notes: Lippett progressing in move to CB; James back; Landry loves new offense; Jason Jones on coming here

Some developments at Dolphins headquarters Tuesday, on the day the Dolphins were awarded the 2020 Super Bowl in a vote of NFL owners in Atlanta:

• Tony Lippett can appreciate the nuances of the position he’s assigned to defend more than most anybody else in the NFL. Less than two years removed from catching 11 touchdowns and being named an All-Big 10 receiver at Michigan State, Lippett has positioned himself for a significant role at cornerback, a spot where the Dolphins need their young players to mature in a hurry.

Rookie second-round pick Xavien Howard looms as the front-runner to start opposite Byron Maxwell, but Lippett could emerge as the starter if he outplays Howard over the next three months.

Lippett said he stopped thinking of himself as a receiver on the day Miami picked him in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and immediately informed him he would be a cornerback, a position he hadn’t played since his freshman season in college.

“I like where I’m at,” he said Tuesday, following an offseason practice that was closed to the media. “I’m more comfortable than last year. I became a smarter corner. Every day I’m trying to become this big corner, use my strengths.”

At 6-3, Lippett offers the height and length that fits the prototype of new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. He says he’s getting more comfortable playing the press style that Joseph prefers.

“He harps on it every day, as far as press,” Lippett said. “He loves it. He teaches it. He’s always in the DB meeting room. That’s what he wants to do and that’s what all of us are trying to do every day, to get better at that.”

Lippett said he has studied other tall corners --- such as Sean Smith, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner – and believes his size “is an advantage. You still have to do what the smaller corners do, be good with your eyes.”

The biggest challenge in the move to corner, he said, is “being patient.”

For example? “Sometimes when you lunge, you can get swept right on by and then receiver can be on top of you real quick,” he said. “I try to have patience and not lunge, be technique sound.”

Having played receiver “helps me on the field as far as splits and separation, and knowing how a receiver tries to create leverage against a corner. It happens so quick.”

Any downside to having been a receiver?

“Sometimes, when the ball is in the air, when he breaks, I turn around and look sometimes,” said Lippett, who had fewer than 10 passes thrown in his coverage area last season, in limited playing time. “When I was a receiver, that’s probably what I did. I try to decrease the habit of doing that.”

Tuesday’s OTA practice was not open to the media, and Adam Gase did not speak to reporters, but three other players did:

• Ja’Wuan James said he is fully recovered from the left big toe injury that sidelined him the final nine games last season.

“Tough process, that was first time being hurt in my career,” he said. “I’m excited after missing last year. This all feels new and fresh to me and I’m happy to be here.”

Even though Laremy Tunsil was a tackle at Mississippi and projects long term as an NFL tackle, James insisted he was excited when Miami drafted Tunsil.

James said he will remain at right tackle. Tunsil is slated to play left guard barring an injury to James or left tackle Branden Albert.

“He’s a strong kid, good kid,” James said of Tunsil. “He’s asking me questions, [Albert questions] trying to really learn. Laremy reaches out to me. He’s a guy that wants to learn. I respect that about him, really think he can help us.”

James said while he was sidelined, “I used [the time] to make myself mentally stronger. I was watching extra film, doing a lot of stuff that I could,… anything I could do to get better.”

• Jarvis Landry's reaction to being named the NFL’s 98th best player in an NFL.com vote of players?

“Honored and disappointed. Disappointed because any guy that wasn’t No. 1 believes he should be No. 1. If not, I don’t want to play with them. I don’t want him around me.”

Landry likes coach Adam Gase because he’s “a great teacher. Great attention to detail guy. When he gets up here and gives his presentations, he’s very precise. He will usually marry a clip up with the picture. We will get film before and allows us to be, for visual learners like myself, to be more precise in what he’s looking for.”

And he likes Gase’s offense, because “the beauty about this offense is it puts guys in different positions to create mismatches. Everything about the league is about mismatches, finding those matchups. This offense allows guys like myself, guys like DeVante Parker, Jay Ajayi, the tight ends, gives the quarterbacks opportunities to pick his matchups and pick the winning guy. His offense will allow us to have a better quick game, to keep the quarterback upright. We spread teams out. I think we’ll be able to run the ball pretty well and also pass the ball."

Landry said he’s fine regardless of whether he has a role on kickoff and punt returns: “That’s totally up to the coaches.  Right now, we’re focused on bringing guys like Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake up and seeing what they can do early.”

• New defensive end Jason Jones said he also considered overtures from Dallas and Pittsburgh but picked Miami “because I just felt comfortable. My gut feeling is what I went with.”

He visited the Dolphins twice, each of the past two months. He agreed to terms four days after the May 12 deadline affecting compensatory draft picks, but insisted he did not have a silent deal with the Dolphins in the weeks leading up to that day.

Ndamukong Suh, his friend and former Lions teammate, sat in on Jones’ interview session today, playfully filming it on his phone, but Jones said Suh did not try to persuade him to sign with Miami.

Jones, primarily a defensive end, can also play tackle and “I think they are going to use my skill sets to wherever Vance wants to use me at. I’m a defensive end. I’ve moved inside at times.”

• The Dolphins signed third-round receiver Leonte Carroo and seventh-round tight end Thomas Duarte, leaving third-round running back Kenyan Drake as the team's only unsigned rookie draft pick.

Please check back later tonight for more Dolphins news, plus Heat, UM and Marlins... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 23, 2016

7 p.m. Monday Dolphins notes; Stephen A. Smith "hearing about" LeBron James return to Miami if Cavs win; Some thoughts, notes on that and Marlins items

If you read this earlier than 7 tonight, please scroll to the bottom for Dolphins notes:

Could LeBron James return to the Heat? The odds are against it, and the thought is somewhat (though no entirely) difficult to fathom.

But the notion cannot altogether be ruled out, amid this today from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, as relayed by Pro Basketball Talk:

“I’ll drop one other tidbit of information, because people have been ignoring what I’ve been saying," Smith said. "I’ve hinted around it for months as you well know. But I’m going to say this again.

“LeBron James promised the city of Cleveland, 'I’m coming back to bring you that elusive title that has escaped this city since 1964.' He never said anything about staying once he does accomplish that.

“I’m in Miami last week. I’m in Miami a few months ago. Skip Bayless, I’m hearing about a return to Miami if this man wins. He ain’t going nowhere if he loses. But, if he wins, his options are open. LA, but especially Miami, a return to South Beach.

“Look man, there’s a lot going on. And there’s a lot riding on him winning. Losing changes everything, because it keeps there in Cleveland. But more importantly, it keeps him stuck, because he knows he can’t leave until he fulfills his promise. And if you can’t because you’re not a champion, that’s far worse than just choosing to stay because you want to. It’s going to get very interesting. Keep your eyes on it.”

A few thoughts:

• I consider Smith very credible with NBA information, so this should not be dismissed out of hand. He was the first mainstream media member to broach the possibility of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade teaming up in 2010.

• James’ friendship with Wade cannot be understated, as explored in this outstanding ESPN.com piece last week. And James said earlier this season that he would love to play alongside Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony late in his career.

• One person in sports whose information I’ve found to be consistently credible, who speaks with James’ associates, told me in early March that those associates had raised the possibility (not probability, but possibility) of James returning to the Heat and that James was unhappy with some things going with the Cavs.

I, nor anyone outside his inner circle, can speak to what James is thinking at this moment. Plus, he’s winning now, and winning can be the eternal band aid.

• The Heat was unhappy about how James left, but it’s impossible for me to envision that Riley or Micky Arison (who both badly want to win) would spurn him if he wants to come back. I gave some of those details of sources of discomfort between James and the Heat in this piece before LeBron’s first game back in Miami (with Cleveland) on Christmas Day 2014.

Since then, more has come to light, including a report that the Heat wasn’t pleased when members of James’ entourage were distracted and disengaged during that meeting that Riley was summoned to in Las Vegas.

• Pro Basketball Talk reminded what James wrote in his letter to Sports Illustrated when he left the Heat.

“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”

• Do I expect LeBron to come back? The odds are against it. It’s difficult for me to envision a player who wants to be liked once again enraging fans in his home state --- where he wants to be welcomed back after retiring --- even if he wins them a championship.

But Smith is too credible on this --- and the bond with Wade too strong --- to bet a substantial amount of your savings against it, either.

• This is the ultimate fantasy conversation, but in case you wondered, James' max salary for next season would be about $30 million. If if the Heat dumped Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts for no money back, Miami would have $27.3 million committed to Chris Bosh (who will remain on Miami's cap this summer regardless of any health situation), Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson next season, plus $1 million to retain restricted free agent Tyler Johnson's rights (the cap hit would remain that even if TJ signs for more), plus $4 million as cap hits for open roster spots up to 12 (replaced when actual players are signed).

With a $92 million cap, that would leave $60 million to $62 million to split among James, Wade and Whiteside, or James, Wade and another player cheaper than Whiteside. There would need to be major sacrificing done to accommodate James/Wade/Whiteside.

Again, all fantasy talk for now. But Stephen A. succeeded in making it a talking point today.

MARLINS ITEMS

By striking out twice Sunday, Giancarlo Stanton tied an MLB record with 17 strikeouts over his past six games. Only Mark Reynolds (2010) and Brett Wallace (2015) achieved that ignominious feat. But at least Stanton had a hit Sunday, as he hopes to snap out of his slump.

Stanton ranks 66th among qualifying big-league outfielders with a .211 average. Conversely, Christian Yelich is ninth at .320, Marcell Ozuna 11th at .311.

• Tommy Hutton, who obviously never should have been dropped by the Marlins and Fox, has found a temporary game analyst gig: He will work American Athletic Conference tournament games Tuesday afternoon and evening for CBS Sports Network. He also does a weekly Monday afternoon segment on Andy Slater’s WINZ talk show.

DOLPHINS NOTES

• The Dolphins are now loaded at defensive end, but Mike Tannenbaum says there will be significant playing time for at least four -- Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones and Andre Branch. And as the Dolphins noted, Jones can also play defensive tackle if needed.

• When Chris Grier was named GM earlier this offseason, he vowed there would be no more dysfunction in terms of the coaching staff and the front office not being on the same page.

So it was notable that team president Tom Garfinkel told three Dolphins fan web sites this over the weekend: "I’m not qualified to watch film and evaluate the players, but I can say that the evaluation and decision-making process and how the draft played out is vastly improved and was very impressive to watch. Probably most importantly, what I see is everyone really on the same page and working together. There is healthy debate but the personnel department is working to deliver players that fit the coaching staff’s scheme and profile for the kind of players they want."

Seems simple enough, but that didn't always happen with the previous coach (Joe Philbin) and previous front office.

• Some wondered why the Dolphins decided not to invest any more time or money on their weekday talk show Finsiders, which was canceled in March --- two months before the team shifted to WQAM.

Garfinkel explained why the team replaced that show with more digital content: "The Finsiders was a three-hour radio show. The Finsiders had 800,000 listeners for the entire 2015 calendar year. For context, one coach’s speech on Facebook last year had 1.2 million views and the first 25 episodes of Dolphins Daily had combined viewership of over 2.3 million. With that said, one thing we’ve heard from fans is that they miss the longer format, so we’ll soon be rolling out a new program called The Audible that will be a longer-form show that fans can interact with. We also are working on a redesign of our website where we better aggregate all the content from different platforms into one place."

For a look at that entire interview that Garfinkel did over the weekend, click here.

• Kenny Stills has made a strong early impression on the coaching staff. And DeVante Parker is picking up the new system well.

• Check back Tuesday, when the Dolphins make four players available after an OTA practice. (Only one OTA session will be open to reporters each week; this week's will be Thursday.) And Adam Beasley is in Charlotte covering the Super Bowl vote.

Please check back tonight for Dolphins… Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 21, 2016

With Whiteside, Heat outside free agent splash likely would be delayed a year: Exploring 2017 scenarios; Dolphins, UM, Marlins

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Should the Heat wait until 2017 to make a splash in outside free agency?

Not only might that be the most prudent plan, but if Hassan Whiteside re-signs – a very good possibility, if not a probability amid Pat Riley's comments last week --- that would seem to be the only realistic approach.

Though the Heat fully intends to make a run at Kevin Durant in July, it privately knows that Durant signing with Miami this summer is a longshot. That made it easier for Riley to say that Whiteside is the priority this summer.

"To me, the only way you can make a dramatic change in your team is to get a proven superstar… in free agency,” Riley said last week when asked whether his master plan extends into the summer of 2017. “Every now and then, it happens. You have to keep yourself a little bit flexible for that opportunity."

Even if Whiteside signs a huge multiyear deal with Miami in July, the Heat can create that flexibility in 2017, provided Dwyane Wade agrees to a one-year contract this summer or a one-year deal with an option that all parties agree will not be exercised.

A few points to keep in mind, while also remembering that either the league or union can opt out of the current labor deal after next season, providing they disclose their decision by Dec. 15, 2016:

• If Chris Bosh plays even just one game next season, he would be on Miami’s cap for the 2017 offseason.

That means Miami, barring trades, would go into the summer of 2017 with Bosh, Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson accounting for $52 million in cap space, with the cap projected to rise from $92 million this summer to a projected $107 million in 2017.

If Whiteside and Tyler Johnson sign longterm in July, let’s hypothetically project them for accounting for $27 million, with most of that going to Whiteside. Factoring in cap holds for open roster spots, that leaves $26 million in 2017 Heat cap space, which would rise to just below $32 million if McRoberts is traded or exercises an opt out in the summer of 2017.

With salaries set to erupt, that $32 million probably would not be enough for Wade and a genuinely elite player. But it could get you Wade and one or two good players from a free agent tier including Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Danilo Gallinari, Taj Gibson, Andre Iguodola, Tony Allen, JJ Redick, plus many of this summer’s free agents who sign deals with 2017 opt-outs.

But trading Goran Dragic (due $17 million in 2017-18) for no money back potentially could create space for a max player such as Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, while keeping Whiteside, Wade, Bosh and the Heat’s young players.

Because max salaries are a percentage of the cap, max contracts for players with seven or more years of experience could top out with first-year salaries of between $32 million and $36 million in 2017-18.

• If Bosh cannot play next season and Miami waives him, then the Heat’s cap space (with Whiteside signed) would mushroom to about $56 million in this no-McRoberts scenario, even with Dragic on the team, because Bosh’s $25.3 million salary would be wiped from the books.

That would immediately give the Heat room not only to sign Wade but also add a player who will get max money: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Paul, Griffin, plus Durant and ultimate longshot LeBron James if those two superstars sign deals this summer with 2017 opt-outs. If the Heat can't snag a star, Miami also could sign a player in the next tier such as Serge Ibaka or Paul Millsap, plus have money left for Wade and another good player.

Trade Dragic and McRoberts for no money back in this no-Bosh scenario, and Miami’s 2017 space easily tops $70 million, enough to potentially add two All-Stars around Wade and Whiteside.

And a new labor deal could make the economic climate even more favorable to the players. So the Heat should be in good shape in the summer of 2017, provided its only multiyear deals this summer are given to Whiteside and Johnson (at modest money, in Johnson's case).

• Though the Heat is expected to explore the market for McRoberts to clear cap space, the flipside, as one Heat person conceded, is he offers protection at power forward in case Bosh has a setback.

Luol Deng would be the internal preference over McRoberts. But the Heat privately must gauge from Deng whether cap space left after signing Wade and Whiteside and hypothetically dealing McRoberts –-- perhaps $8 million or more --- would be enough to persuade Deng to re-sign, and whether Deng would be willing to accept a one-year deal.

Deng probably could command more than $11 million in the open market but said he likes it here.

"When you watch players play with [McRoberts], who know how to play with him, they're very effective,” Riley said. “He's very unorthodox. He has the ability to make plays at 6-10, 6-11, and the consistency of being able to shoot 38, 37 percent from three, which I think he's capable of. He never got enough opportunities. We're still high on him. We're praying all the time he stays healthy."

Albert Nahmad, who does an excellent heathoops.com blog, raised another available option for McRoberts: using a stretch provision that would allow Miami to waive him and incur a cap hit of $2.4 million each of the next five years instead of his scheduled cap hits of $5.8 million and $6 million over the next two.

My personal choice would be to trade him (and take no money back) or keep him as protection in case Bosh has another health problem.

CHATTER

• The thing we keep hearing from inside the Dolphins locker-room, including from players who privately complained about Joe Philbin: There’s a different vibe with Adam Gase. Players like his energy and how he communicates with them. Dan Campbell had a lot of that too, but Gase has the critical bonus of being a skilled play-caller and quarterback mentor.

“I like the fact he's confident, he's calm, very smart, knows what he's doing,” said Jelani Jenkins (who, for the record, never complained about Philbin). “Those are the first impressions. Seems like he's 80 years old coaching with how smart he is, how much he knows about the game.”

• One peculiar aspect of MLB’s suspension policy is that players can’t do anything once fans who paid admission enter the ballpark. So Dee Gordon can take batting practice at Marlins Park during his 80-game suspension but must leave as soon are fans are admitted. And he can’t play in minor league games where admission is charged.

According to the Marlins, Gordon – who has been at extended spring training in Jupiter and isn’t playoff-eligible - has not offered to give back the expensive, custom-made diamond-studded pendant that Jeffrey Loria bought for him after winning last year’s batting and stolen base title.... After Saturday, Giancarlo Stanton was mired in a stretch of 15 strikeouts over 18 hitless at bats. He's also 4 for his last 48.

• Though Mel Kiper has UM junior-to-be Brad Kaaya as a top-15 draft pick next year if he turns pro early, one NFC scout told me he doesn’t consider him a first-rounder (yet), and worries about his mobility, plus this: “He can’t throw with people in his face.”

Deejay Dallas, who orally committed to UM today, is only the second four-star commitment in UM's 15-member list of 2017 oral commitments, though 247sports.com and ESPN generally have higher regard for more of the players in this Hurricanes class than Rivals does.

UM intends to use Dallas at receiver. Miami Central guard Devaughn Donaldson is the only other player given four stars by Rivals.

• Baseball America ranks UM catcher Zack Collins the No. 16 prospect in June’s draft, and he stands to be UM’s first first-rounder since Yasmani Grandal went 12th in 2010.... UM ended the regular season 43-10, and 21-7 in the ACC, while winning its second ACC regular season title in three years.

• UM basketball believes it is firmly in the mix (with Southern Cal, Washington and Kansas) for five-star point guard Derryck Thornton, who had a good visit to Miami's campus this past week and is transferring from Duke after one season.

Though he spoke earlier of wanting to play closer to his family's home (he went to high school in Nevada), he has a good relationship with Jim Larranaga and UM’s offense fits his skills. So UM believes it has a legit chance, although not necessarily greater than the other three contenders for him.

Virginia Commonwealth 6-10 forward Michael Gilmore, another transfer option, will visit UM in early June. He produced modest numbers last season (3.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 11.5 minutes per game). 

UM has two scholarships left for next season after James Palmer's transfer to Nebraska. UM is looking at transfers who would need to sit out a year (such as Thornton and Gilmore) and grad transfers who would not.

May 20, 2016

Friday afternoon: Dolphins slot corner battle; UM nuggets (coaches, cornerbacks, Larranaga) and Bonds on Ozuna, Stanton's struggles

With Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum confirming today that Iko Ekpre-Olomu has been cleared to do everything, an interesting battle looms with front-runner Bobby McCain for the slot corner job, with former Cowboys nickel back Tyler Patmon also in the mix. 

Bengals free agent Leon Hall is still available, but the Dolphins haven't brought him in for a visit. Hall, who underwent back surgery earlier this offseason, has visited four teams but remains unsigned.

"Excited to see what he can do," Tannenbaum said of Ekpre Olomu, who fell from a likely early-round pick to a seventh-rounder in 2015 because of the devastating knee injury that sidelined him his rookie season and eventually led to the Cleveland Browns releasing him this past March. "He's done everything we've asked so far."

So if the 5-9 Ekpre Olomu regains what he had before the injury, what could the Dolphins be getting?       

NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote this before the draft, after his injury in advance of Oregon's playoff game that season: "What he lacks in measurables, he makes up for with production, natural ability and confidence. He might lack the size teams want from an outside cornerback, but he's more than capable of playing in the slot and playing press, off or zone effectively.  

"Very fluid mover. He can transition like his hips are on a swivel and he has the foot quickness in tight spaces to match. Instinctive and alert. Will transition from man or zone coverage and become a willing tackler against crossing routes that enter his side of the field. Not a robotic defender -- adjusts on the fly as plays unfold. Uses the boundary effectively. Doesn't shy away from tackling. Competitive and won't prematurely open up out of fear. Tracks the ball effectively and has plus ball skills. Mentally tough and twitchy. Playmaking tendencies. Aggressive for size in press coverage. Has experience outside and in the slot. Projected as an NFL gunner on special teams."

But... "He gets in trouble trying to bait throws," Zierlein said. "Spends too much time trying to read quarterback and jump routes. Scouting community down on short cornerbacks. Prefers to play trail technique but lacks length speed to recover when challenged over the top against bigger targets. Missed more tackles in 2014 than in any other season. Can get wild and lose technique as a tackler. Tape from 2014 has scouts questioning his long speed."

Zierlein quoted an AFC South scout saying this before the 2015 draft: "He's tough and has ball skills. He's just being asked to go play right now but he'll get the right technique work in our league and watch how good he becomes then. He's going to be great."

Now the question is whether he has regained enough of that speed and mobility to become a contributing NFL corner. 

The Dolphins think a lot of McCain, so much that they cut Brice McCain even though his contract wasn't onerous, and traded Jamar Taylor for what amounted to a stick of gum.

Bobby McCain allowed 18 of the 31 passes thrown in his coverage area to be caught for 264 yards last season, with a 107.5 passer rating in his coverage area. But the Dolphins loved the ball-hawking skills he showed at Memphis and believe he will be improved.

As for Patmon, he had one interception and seven passes defended for Dallas in 22 games over 2014 and 2015. He played in two games for the Dolphins last season after being claimed off waivers.

Check out Adam Beasley's stories on the home page for what Mike Pouncey said at today's Dolphins charity golf tournament (a few players spoke) and a couple other items from Tannenbaum.

• UM has indicated it's open to extending basketball coach Jim Larranaga’s contract beyond 2021-22. (He's under contract through that season).

 “I really never want to retire,” Larranaga, 66, said. “I don't see myself as a retiree. I'm not going to assisted living or a senior citizen home. I'm going to coach until I'm dead.”

• UM players publicly and privately have raved about several of the assistant football coaches, and credit UM for quietly increasing its coaching salary pool by 25 to 30 percent this year, according to a source. UM outbid Georgia Tech for well-regarded offensive line coach Stacey Searels.

• UM badly needs cornerbacks who can help immediately and hasn’t found one in the transfer market, but cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said coordinator Manny Diaz believes safety Adrian Colbert – a veteran transfer from Texas – can play corner if UM chooses.

(Diaz's and Colbert's time together at Texas intersected in 2012 and for Diaz, early in 2013).

None of the contenders for the No. 3 cornerback job (Michael Jackson, Ryan Mayes, Terrance Henley) seized the job  in the spring. Safety Jaquan Johnson remains an option, with Rumph having gently lobbied for him to play corner.

Marcell Ozuna’s on base percentage had increased by 35 points above his career average (to .350) and his batting average by 32 points (to .302), and he is heeding hitting coach Barry Bonds’ advice to be patient and take more walks. Bonds sees so much potential here.

“If he works on his base-running, he could be a 30/30 player,” Bonds said. “He plays a great center field. He has a great arm. But base-running is his Achilles' heel. He's a little tentative running the bases. That's his only Achilles' heel. But he'll get that."

Keep in mind that Ozuna has stolen only 10 bases in parts of four seasons. His career high for home runs is 23, two seasons ago.

Bonds has advised Ozuna to “respect the pitcher enough where he does hit his spot, you have to tip your hat to that. You can't come out of your zone and do something stupid that really isn't going to benefit you. He's learning patience, looking for a good pitch to hit. and if he misses it, you still have two more shots at it.

“He has a good approach. He’s happy all the time. He's maturing. He's got lots of talent. Sometimes it just takes the right person to send a message you understand or get.”

• Though Giancarlo Stanton (batting .221) is too good for this slump to continue, this is worrisome: He’s striking out 33 percent of his plate appearances, compared with 28 percent previously in his career, and has the sixth most strikeouts in baseball. And there’s this: He’s 0 for 15 with eight strikeouts with two outs and runners in scoring position. Only San Diego’s Derek Norris is worse in those situations (0 for 16).

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 19, 2016

Thursday afternoon: Mike Tannenbaum, Adam Gase address assorted issues; Heat rookies get mixed news from NBA

 

The Dolphins and WQAM-560 celebrated the first day of their new partnership with live interviews with Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum. Highlights of what each had to say on the team's new flagship station (Tannenbaum with Marc Hochman, Channing Crowder and Zach Krantz; and Gase with Joe Rose and Curtis Stevenson):

 

TANNENBAUM'S THOUGHTS

• On Laremy Tunsil falling to 13th: "I've been around the league 20 years. And that was a first for me. We talked about every scenario. If this draft was Feb. 1, he would have been one of the top picks.... This is a good player, and more importantly, he's really a good person. Obviously, he had made some mistakes. That was an old video. It surfaced for him at the wrong time. For us, it created a great opportunity....

"It was an easy decision. It was unanimous... We had an area scout, Matt Winston, who went into Mississippi more than once. We knew about the kid. We knew about his character. He was a good teammate... I'm really glad he was there when we picked. I think we're going to be happy for a long time."

• On any concern amid Jason Cole's Bleacher Report story that Tunsil has a pre-arthritic ankle condition that scared away some teams: "None. Zero. He's full go. He's fine. We never had a concern about his ankle."

• On the offensive line: "I feel like we're improved. I certainly have the mindset it's never perfect. It's never good enough. We have a long ways to go. With that said, signing Kraig Urbik, [Sam Young], Jermon Bushrod, drafting Tunsil, we're markedly improved there.... We have four guys in Bushrod, Ja'Wuan James, Tunsil and Branden Albert that can play left tackle. That gives us such a luxury. You throw in Sam Young, who has played left tackle in this league as well. You can never have enough of those guys. If you don't have tackles and corners, it's hard to win in this league."

• Asked by Crowder whether Dion Jordan (eligible to return from suspension) will get a sack this season, he said: "We certainly hope so... Right now, he's not eligible to play. It's something we don't have much to share.... Once he's reinstated, he will be a member of the team and we'll go from there... We're still waiting on the league. I don't think there's anything imminent."

• "I really like the trajectory of this team." 

 

GASE'S THOUGHTS

• On Laremy Tunsil, who is expected to begin his rookie season at guard barring an injury to starting tackles Branden Albert or Ja'Wuan James, Gase said "we are going to move him around" in offseason practices "and figure out what the best five are. We are going to try to get him... work in both spots. We want them to be able to play multiple positions. We are going to keep moving guys around and seeing what the right five is."

• On Ndamukong Suh, who has been training in Oregon, away from teammates: "He's got great access to an amazing facility, has a traditional way about going about his process."

• On what offseason personnel news most excited him: "Most excited I got was when we got Cam Wake extended. I was excited Cam was able to make sure we extended his time here. Every time I see him out there doing things he looks really good to me."

Wake continues to recover from last season's ruptured Achilles. Vance Joseph has said he expects Wake back for Week 1 of the regular season.

"Every time, I err on the side of caution," Gase said. "When we go to Seattle [in Week 1], that's when I want to make sure he's ready to go."

• On his receivers: "The fact they're young is great because there shouldn't be anybody complaining their legs are tired. Every time I go out there, they're really getting after it. You never see them slow down.... That's one of the reasons I brought in Shawn Jefferson as a receivers coach. It's almost like you are creating a basketball team with our skill positions - different body types, makes us difficult to defend."

• On Jay Ajayi: "Jay is doing a good job. He's been very consistent. He has been here every day. Does everything right. He's kind of separated himself from the rest of that group as far as consistency with what he's done day in and day out."

• On Ryan Tannehill: "Watching him in the weight room, watching him on the field, I've been very impressed with that.I've been very impressed with his intelligence. [He likes how he has communicated with teammates.] Obviously the arm talent is there. Hopefully we can put him in good situations,... get him in a rhythm and get him rolling.

HEAT NEWS

Heat forward Justise Winslow was named to the All-NBA rookie second team on Thursday, earning more first-team votes than any rookie who was not named to the first team.

Winslow received first-team votes from 44 of the 130 media members who voted. But that was well behind the 71 first-team votes awarded Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor, who received the fewest first-team votes of anybody on the All-rookie first team.

Heat guard Josh Richardson fell just short of the second team; he and Charlotte rookie Frank Kaminsky received the 11th-most points in the weighted grading system, behind the 10 players named to the first- and second-teams.

Richardson and Kaminsky each received 47 points, three behind the point total of Sacramento’s Willie Cauley-Stein.

Richardson also received four first-team votes. Shortly after the all-rookie teams were announced, Richardson tweeted: “And they wonder why this chip will never leave my shoulder.”

Winslow appeared in a team-leading 78 games this season, becoming just the fifth rookie to lead the Heat in games played for a single season. He averaged 6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 28.6 minutes per game. He’s the 11th Heat player to be named to an All-Rookie team.

Richardson averaged 6.6 points in 52 games and led the league in three-point shooting percentage after the All-Star break.

The All Rookie team included Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis (who were both unanimous selections), plus Phoenix’s Devin Booker, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Okafor.

The all NBA Rookie second team included Winslow, the Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell, Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay, Indiana’s Myles Turner and Cauley-Stein.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please check the last post for 99.3 percent of what Pat Riley said yesterday.

May 18, 2016

Sources: Dolphins moving games back to WQAM; Everything notable Pat Riley said during his 46-minute press conference today, on many, many topics

 

Some breaking broadcast news: As expected, the Dolphins are moving their games back to WQAM-560, multiple sources said Wednesday night.

An announcement is expected Thursday.

WINZ-940 and Big 105.9 had carried Dolphins games the past six seasons and parent company iHeartRadio made a bid to retain rights. 790 The Ticket also met with Dolphins management.

But the Dolphins instead decided to accept what is believed to have been a very attractive financial offer from CBS Radio, which purchased WQAM from Beasley Broadcasting last year.

WKIS-99.9 FM will simulcast the games with WQAM, and there will be expanded pregame and postgame shows.

Jimmy Cefalo, WQAM morning host Joe Rose and Bob Griese are expected to remain the team's radio announcers.

This will mark WQAM's third stint as the team's flagship station; 'QAM carried the team's games from 1997 through 2004 and from 2007 through 2009, before the Dolphins moved to WINZ, drawn in part by the lure of becoming one of the few teams in pro sports to have their own five-day-a-week talk show, even during the offseason.

Unlike WINZ, WQAM will not carry a daily Dolphins program, but the team did not ask for one, because the Dolphins' new management did not value that nearly as much as the former management did.

In fact, the Dolphins canceled their daily "Finsiders" show on WINZ in March because it no longer wanted to finance and produce a daily program.

The Dolphins replaced that program with more digital content, which has drawn strong traffic. The first 25 episodes of "Dolphins Daily" drew more than 2.3 million viewers.

WQAM will now have rights to both the Dolphins and University of Miami and might retain rights to the Florida Panthers, whose contract has expired. WINZ, in losing the Dolphins, is left with only the Marlins among local teams.

Meanwhile, 790 The Ticket has agreed to a longterm contract extension to continue carrying Heat games.

This Dolphins regime has never attempted to put a muzzle on critical hosts. But WQAM host Orlando Alzugaray, while a fan of the team, has been especially scathing in his criticism of this Dolphins front office and ownership and it will be interesting to see if his tone becomes less caustic with the Dolphins moving to his station.

 

PAT RILEY'S PRESS CONFERENCE

Highlights from Pat Riley's postseason press conference:

• On Chris Bosh: "We, all of us, it's not just the Heat, the doctors and also Chris are looking to proceed forward to find a way to get him back on the court. That's all we can say right now. We are very encouraged by trying to find a way over the next two or three months to find a protocol and program that will get him back playing. That's always been our objective. We're in this together. It's an X factor when it comes to everything we plan on doing this summer. First things first is to sidle up along with Chris Bosh and see where we can go up right to the end with this.

"Last year, we were blindsided and Chris was too, by what happened to him. This year, when it happened, we're in it eyes wide open with him. We all knew what the treatment was going to be last year. And we went through that. When we got to that point this year, we approach it in a way where we can get Chris back on the court. That's his desire. That would be our desire [for him to play] but it will have to be done in a way we all feel good about. It's two years in a row. It definitely has hurt the team, but more so than anybody, he's the one who's suffering through it... Up to the All-Star break, he was our best player."

He said it's impossible to put a time frame on when there will be resolution on Bosh. "We will join in him in trying to find a way to get him back on the court. That's what it's about."

• On impending Hassan Whiteside: "He's obviously our No.1 priority, period. You don't have to look further than that. While there might be players out there in free agency, our No. 1 priority is Hassan Whiteside. He's 26. He's a game changer.

"I don't think he's even reached his real ceiling in a couple areas of the game that I think that now he will be more comfortable with once his situation ends. When a player spends six years of his career having everybody tell him why he's not good enough to be in the NBA. What young players do first is try to show you I'm good enough to play in the NBA. That could be individually important; it might not be as good for the team. Once that's out of the way, the roof is the ceiling. He has shown all of us he can be 15 and 15 and 4 blocked shots and 70 percent field goal guy. There are other layers to his game I think he can even be better at. He's very, very, very high on our priority list.

"I met with him the other day and asked if he likes chocolate gummies in his gift basket or do I need to take you to Parrot Jungle or get you on a ferry ride or take you on the best locations to buy a house in Miami or do you need a sight-seeing tour. He smiled and said, no coach, I know enough about Miami.

"He will be right there at 12:01 am [July 1] for us. I want to build a team that can win and he's got to be part of it. You get to the other part of negotiations and find out how much he wants to win, too. That doesn't mean anybody has to take a haircut.... He's got to carry a load almost every night that will allow you to win and be a contender. I think he can do that....

"I saw him in Texas with [Heat scouting chief] Chet [Kammerer]. He was playing for Marshall. He was in the middle of the lane with his hands up. Tall, skinny guy. They had him in the middle of the lane on defense with his hands up.... We thought about drafting him at 32, 31. Going from high school to college, failing in the NBA. Going to Lebanon, going to China, NBDL. Yes, he fell into our lap at a time when he had enough of people not believing what he could do. He had a little bit of an angry approach to it, as you know. I would have treated the Kelly Olynyk thing different [his altercation with the Boston center last year]. I've told him how to treat those things now --- not chase a guy down 50 feet and get ejected for two games. He can make up those kinds of things in the paint.

"So he learned a lot. What he brought to us was he brought this incredible talent, this state of the art talent. There was an anger to him at that time that he wanted to prove he can play. He's proven that. He's had quite a journey over the last five or six years. We have him here and we want to keep him here.

"We want you now to be able to carry a team, and that's going to take a lot more focus and discipline and growth and understanding what winning is all about. I think he's ready for that.

"Everybody knows the kind of impact he has. All of them probably think the same way I do that there's an upside to this guy. That's important. It's important we contact him and make him our priority because it isn't just to attract other free agents. It's for us to want to win. I want to build a team that can win. He's got to be part of that."

• Overall thoughts: "I would like to keep the real core of the team together and build from there. You know we're always looking for a whale [meaning superstar], if there's one out there. we have the flexibility to do that. It changes things. That is the difficult question for me. How far have we come and how good are we? That really can't be answered. That can only be answered hypothetically if Chris was healthy. Then you would have a real idea of how everything fit.

"All you can do is go back and lament he didn't have the time with Goran when Goran was playing his best basketball. He didn't have the time with Hassan with the both of them in the playoffs. I do believe with what we have, and with Dwyane's leadership. I told Dwyane today, I think this is the best season he's had prior to the Big Three. This was better than any season he had when he was with the Big Three, even though we went to the Finals four years in a row and won two championships. He had to disperse his game a little bit for everybody else.

"To take on the load and the pressure and to go back to what we expect of that kind of player every night, which is an all of the time superstar. There is no such thing as an all of the time superstar... He played 74 games and I want him to continue to think about 74 as a magic number. And not go over 230 pounds this summer or I'll go looking for him.

"I think we're close. We took a step forward. This team was one of the best locker-rooms we've had. Guys really respect each other. We have great internal leadership. Great growth from our young guys. Our veterans can play. We have a good mix. I'm very optimistic. Why would I not be optimistic? Plus, we have the flexibility this year and next year."

• On whether to give Wade one year or more in his next contract this summer: "We'll sit down and talk about that with Dwyane. He wants to win as much as he wants to do anything. Compensation, to a player, is not just a way to get paid and live your life. Compensation to a player is about recognition and respect. We know where he belongs.... He's a lifer. What he's done in this city over the last 13 years is irreplaceable. We want to do the right thing, there's no doubt."

• Overall: "I really think we took a major step forward this year. All of you know me: I'm never satisfied with ever ending a season early. When you objectively look at where we were two years ago and where we are today and the possibilities not only of an infusion of young talent that already have been through a little bit of an pressure cooker. The opportunity this summer this summer we may have...

"The flexibility we have created, we took a big step forward. Fourteen games in the playoffs like we just played. When you have adversity, you don't make any excuses and move on and say you can win in spite of that. Well, it was a little bit too much [adversity] in the seventh game against Toronto, but 14 great, tough compelling playoff games. I'm looking forward to what's going to happen in the summer."

• Does he see this as a 1-year or 2-year process with both 2016 and 2017? Is this a two-summer process?

""Trying to keep flexibility is very important. You build a team, keep the corps together and add some young players and develop from within. Try to keep your corps guys together. I do think you've got to keep one eye looking at the market. If you take a look at all the teams that have lottery picks, God bless them... Unless a team that's a contender was able to get one... All these great gifted superstars of the future are on losing teams. I thought we got one last year in Justise; we were fortunate....

"To me, the only way you can make a dramatic change in our team is to get a proven superstar if you can sometimes in free agency. Every now and then, it happens. You have to keep yourself a little bit flexible for that opportunity."

• On Justise Winslow: "Justise can pretty much fit into [positions] anywhere 2 through 4 if you want to use him that way and he can run offense for you. Eventually, he will be playing the position he's very comfortable with and that will be in the frontcourt somewhere."

• On Luol Deng: "Like Goran, a tough start. Once LeBron left, it was a free fall to put things back together and I think we did. Lu saved us even though we didn't make the playoffs [last year].... He found his way along with Goran, again, in the middle of the season. He was defending all the perimeter players; he was getting more space to run and cut. He's a great leader, high character guy. We love him. I consider him one of our core people. We've got to try to do everything we can do to keep him."

• On needing three-point shooters: "If you can get a lot of players who are rhythm shooters and can develop the range to consistently make threes, it isn't as much go out and get three-point shooters. You've got to run a very coherent, intelligent offense to make them productive. It just doesn't happen. There are some guys like Kyle Korver, JR Smith, are off the charts. There are other guys you have to create open areas for them to make shots.

"You can become a great three-point shooting team by creating opportunities that are comfortable for players who are good shooters. Our staff is one of the very best in developing players who might not be that comfortable out there, and all of a sudden, they become good, then they become efficient, then they become maybe prolific.

"If somebody were to tell me that Josh Richardson was going to lead the league in three-point shooting after the All-Star break, I would have lost my house and my wife and everything. He felt very comfortable in what he was doing and how we were playing."

• How do you go about determining how close you are to a championship? "You always do something from within first. Who do we really feel is vital to our roster right now that we already know about? We have a good feeling about that. Then the opportunities through trades and free agency to try to find a player or couple players that fit. You don't know what teams are going to be gaining or losing players. The whole landscape in the Eastern Conference could change with who's competitive and who isn't. It's hard to gauge that."

• Riley likes the Heat's fast-paced tempo after the break and hope it continues, but that's Spoelstra's call.

"You can run. You can play half-court. You can pressure defense. You can pack the paint. You can do a lot of things. Right now, with everybody talking about how you need to play to win, it's predicated absolutely on your personnel. Yes, we would like to play at a fast pace. Erik did a great job putting together something that was very coherent and opened up the floor for our best players. It's not a secret that something did look different after the All-Star break. And he had to do it.

"How he decides to play next year will be determined on what he sees in training camp. It isn't just an offensive game. You talk up tempo basketball, you go find our best offensive games, we're probably holding teams to 38, 39 percent, 40 percent. Your offense is only as good as what you do on the defensive end. You want to explode out of there? You better make some stops. You better rebound the ball. That's why Hassan is so important to us in a lot of ways. He will block shots, he will rebound the ball, he'll change 10 other shots. He will scare the hell out of four or five other people coming into the paint. He's got some intangibles that you simply can't find.

"It's the same thing from a defensive standpoint. We're seeing 60, 70 pick and rolls a game. Offensive players are becoming so proficient in the downhill concept of getting to the rim and opening holes for shooters. That has to be dealt with. You might play three pick and roll defenses differently in a 24 second shot clock because of the multiple pick and rolls you see. It was very simple for me 10 years ago, everything we could trap and suffocate, we would do. We did it pretty good. You can't do that today. You have to have multiple schemes that players have to pick up and sometimes it's not that easy for a lot of players to pick up the schemes quickly."

• On Dragic: "He will start Aug. 1 training with his national team once a day. We are going to send a coach or coaches over to work with him. He needs to develop his game a little bit in certain areas based on how the game is being played....

"Last year, he talked about how crazy it was -- the trade, his wife was pregnant, couldn't find a house, went back [to Europe]. It was really unsettling. Now he's settled. I said you can't use that excuse next year. That's over.  We already gave you the 'I wasn't settled; I wasn't in shape; I didn't play in the national team. He's got a free summer. He's happy. He's healthy. His No. 1 objective is to come back in October in better shape and a better player.

He's got to improve his game in certain areas of his game. I've see players at 32, 33, get better in certain areas of their game.... I keep telling him 50 [percent from the field], 80 [percent on free throws], 40 [percent from the free-throw line]. I will give you 10 percent on your free throws because you'll be tired from picking your ass up off the floor from getting knocked down all the time for all that space that Spoelstra is going to create for you.

"That's another thing. Come on, you've got to create something just to make sure he gets space. He's got to be a player than can create and score when there is no space. That's part of the game also, because when teams start to take things away from you and the offense that the coach creates, what are you going to do? Sit you on the bench. No, we're not going to do that to you. That's up to you to go out of the box... He said, 'I totally understand, coach.'" 

• He said Josh Richardson is probably a two-guard longterm. "Josh is not going to run offense for you. He can get you into offense. Especially he will have to develop a catch and shoot jump shot game, catch and shoot threes. What I like about him best to this day... is his defensive ability, his competitiveness, his character. I don't think I've ever seen many guards come from behind and block shots the way that he does. He has really good timing as a defensive player. Now, as teams will take away what they think is a new-found three point shooter, is putting his head on the ball, putting the ball on the floor, and taking the ball to the rim.

"His upside is there. Justise's is there. We like Tyler Johnson, as you know. I am excited to see what Briante Weber is going to do in the summer league. We've got a lot of good guards. Most of our guards are two-way guards."

• On Dwyane Wade's threes: "It was something he had to go to to win some games. He used to do that for us. He used to be able to hit threes occasionally in big game situations. He has always been a to-the-rim guy, a medium range jump shooter and to the free throw line. That's what he was. Three-point shots were only prayers, end of shot clocks. He would make them. 

"When you work in a program like Coach Spo has for our three-pointers, if you did it for 20 minutes a day, you are going to improve. He has a release point and he has a shot that will allow him to move at least two or three feet back without throwing the ball out there.

"The threes I saw him make, every time he lifted and released, I said, this has got a chance. And the ones before, when he was jacking them up, they had no chance. He is going to need that a little bit, too, next year. Maybe he could become a 40 percent, 38 percent three-point shooter. I wouldn't give him an open look. Once he went to work with the coaches on it, that shot, if he had to take it, was normal. That would be a big added part of his game next year because nobody ever thinks he can do that."

• On Josh McRoberts: "You saw a little bit of it in the playoffs. What you saw against Toronto in the last couple of games and even against Charlotte. He's really a unique player in a lot of ways. That's why we signed him. Being sidelined and really stopped in his tracks from playing consistently is the No. 1 reason why he's sort of out there; we don't know.

"When you watch players play with him, who know how to play with him, they're very effective. He's very unorthodox. Once you get it down knowing how to play with him --- he's going to do something out of the box. He will see it and the team will see it. He will drive baseline under the basket, and he will see a guy making a slot cut, and he will throw it behind his back. The day those two players see that happening one dribble before, is when you will see the value of a Josh McRoberts.

"He has the ability to make plays at 6-10, 6-11, and the consistency of being able to shoot 38, 37 percent from three, which I think he's capable of. He never got enough opportunities. We're still high on him. We're praying all the time he stays healthy."

• On Udonis Haslem's future: "Whatever he wants to do. I'm 71 and Udonis is 36. I thought he was 33. He still has the fire in him to compete. Going from what Udonis provided to a team as an on the floor every night warrior to an off the floor and a situational player and an incredible big time leader. He said he learned more than ever about leadership this year in thinking about what he had to bring to the team that day because he wanted to talk to Hassan or Justise or Gerald or somebody.... What he got was a great result. Who's to say UD wasn't one of the reasons that locker room wasn't so copacetic? 

"He can still play. He played in the Charlotte series and gave us great minutes. That's what we want - a player who wants to play but preaches to the players, 'this is the way you have to be and if I'm going to sacrifice... by not playing, I don't want to hear it from you... You better be working.' He's like Dwyane, like Zo. He's a forever guy."

• The Heat has no draft pick. His staff "is putting together the books just as though we had a lottery pick. When that time comes, we'll set up the draft room. Between now and the draft, there will be a lot of conversations. We'll see whether we jump back in the first and the second if we can. We will be very well educated on the players who may not be [drafted]. It's just another step in the process of finding players."

• On Riley's future: "I don't know what else I would do. The reason I still really want to do this is the development and growth of Andy Elisburg. Before that, Randy Pfund, Dave Wohl. To see Erik's growth not only as a coach but someone who has a personnel bent. And rightfully so, because it's his system. To have Adam Simon and Chet Kammerer and Keith Askins.... There have been a lot of people that have grown with me and have somewhat alleviated the pressure of the day to day things I don't want to do, so I can sit there in the dark and stare at my screen-saver and come up with ways to get Micky into the tax but also play for championships. [Laughs all around the room here]

"There will be one day when they will be next and it will be on them and I can be laughing at them from some island somewhere about sustainability. It's a privilege. The NBA has served all of us well."

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 17, 2016

Winslow, Richardson ready to try to get from good to great; Heat postscripts; Dolphins, Marlins nuggets

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

When he’s not drawing charges or playing center in Game 7 of a playoff series, Justise Winslow likes to makes customized hats --- “they will be on shelves soon," he promises --- and the words displayed on the one he wore Tuesday (“really really good”) could accurately describe the rookie seasons for both himself and Josh Richardson.

Both also hope it someday describes Winslow’s three-point shooting and Richardson’s ball-handling and playmaking, areas they acknowledge need improvement, and two points of emphasis when they return to the gym in a few weeks.

Both Winslow and Richardson are determined to take another jump next season, from good players to something more than that, and that should be very comforting for an organization that places a premium on work ethic, that loathes contentment.

“I have a lot of fuel in my fire to get better this summer,” Winslow assured Tuesday.

“It's very motivating, especially to have somebody like [Dwyane] Wade in your locker room, and you get to see greatness every day, whether it's just preparing to watch film, working out in the weight room.

“It's motivating to see greatness in person, playing against guys like Paul George, LeBron [James], Steph [Curry]. It motivates me to be the best I can be. I’m definitely going to get a lot better.”

When the Heat summons him back to the gym in June, Winslow will launch hundreds of jumpers, both midrange and beyond the arc, after shooting 42.2 percent overall his rookie season and 27.6 percent on threes (32 of 116).  

Winslow drew confidence from making three corner threes in four attempts in the final two games of the Raptors series.

The Heat, over the past year, made a mechanical adjustment with his shot after his one season at Duke, and Winslow said he “might tinker a little more” with coaches on his technique, which coach Erik Spoelstra acknowledged as a likelihood, too.

Two scouts have told me that mechanical work is needed.

“I know there’s work to be done,” Winslow said. “A lot of it is mental. You see it with guys at the free throw line. You hear about them making all these free throws in practice and they get to the free throw line and it's all mental.

“That's one of the biggest things, getting over that mental hump. I think at times this year I did. But if I can get to that feeling where I was in Game 7, where I felt really locked in --- those portions in the third quarter --- I want to feel that way, do that in every game.”

Winslow, who could become a very good starter if he improves significantly on offense, said: “I don't want to limit myself. This year, I was pretty much only shooting the corner threes and attacking more from the top because that's what I was comfortable doing. I wasn't so comfortable attacking from the corners. I’ll work on everything. I'll be a lot better next year.”

Spoelstra agreed, saying “he will put in the time improving two, three, four facets of his game. He will come back a new and improved player in those areas.”

After playing in 91 regular-season/playoff games, Winslow acknowledged Tuesday: “I am pretty tired right now. But if we were playing Cleveland, I wouldn't be.”

Winslow said “the way I responded” to not playing in Game 3 against Toronto “shows a lot about how I was brought up and different things I've learned. I didn't want to go through it but [expletive] happens.”

As for Richardson, the summer priority is “ball-handling and playmaker…. I'm comfortable at point guard but I want to be better at making plays for my teammates. Watching film throughout the year, there were situations where I felt I could have done a little bit more, made a better play.”

The NBA leader in three-point percentage since the All-Star break, Richardson noticed that once he started showing up more on opponent’s scouting reports in the playoffs, “the way they played tendencies was a lot different. From the scouting report, they know exactly what you like to do. It's definitely going to make me diversify what I can do with the ball.”

The objective is to improve an assist-to-turnover ratio that was 35th among point guards during the regular season (2.1 to 1) and 29th in the playoffs (1.8 to 1) and seeing the floor better, both to penetrate and create for others.

Both rookies want to play at least some Summer League games and the Heat can be heartened by how much they’re driven to be great.

“I don't think [being content] is the type of guy I am,” Richardson said. “I've always been a guy who puts my head down and works all the time. This summer, I want to get as much accomplished and get as much better as I can.  

“I always know in the back of my mind that there were 39 other guys picked before me. That's one of those things that will sit with me forever,… [keep] a chip on my shoulder.”

CHATTER

•  Goran Dragic, who dealt with free agency and his wife’s difficult pregnancy last summer, vowed he will come to camp in better shape this year… Udonis Haslem said today: “I don't see why I wouldn't finish my career here. It's business. You never know. I feel like I got couple, two good years left, to compete if you need 15 minutes or 20 minutes or somebody's hurt and I need to play a couple games in a row. I can still do that and hold the fort.”

• Heat assistant David Fizdale interview for the Memphis Grizzlies head job Tuesday and “we were hanging out all night last night preparing,” Spoelstra said. “I love Fiz. I want him to get his opportunity.”... Luol Deng said he would "love" to re-sign here. But that would be very difficult to achieve if Hassan Whiteside re-signs.

• For a look at what Spoelstra had to say in his postseason news conference, and the Toronto mayor's shots at the Heat today, please click here.

• Amid stadium renovations topping $450 million, South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee chairman Rodney Barreto told me this week he’s “extremely optimistic” the Dolphins will land one of the three to be awarded next week in Charlotte, N.C. (2019, 2020 and 2021).

As The Palm Beach Post's Hal Habib reported, Barreto will use Hall of Famer Larry Csonka to make their presentation to NFL owners, an idea suggested by Dolphins executive Nat Moore. “We wanted something totally different,” Barreto said.

But the four other bidders are formidable: Atlanta and Los Angeles are getting new stadiums that will be ready by then and Tampa has waited one year longer for a Super Bowl than Miami. The other bidder, New Orleans, has less of a case, having hosted the game in 2013, three years after Miami’s last Super Bowl.

“I feel we have a new stadium,” Barreto said, in regard to Atlanta and L.A. building new facilities.

• The Dolphins, at least in the early stages of Reshad Jones’ protest over his contract, hasn’t shown much interest (as of last week) in re-doing a deal that will pay him $7.2 million this season and $7.1 million in 2017.

Perhaps that changes, with Jones sitting out of the voluntary offseason program. Miami badly needs him when the season starts, but it will be tough for Jones to give up paychecks then, too.

“We’ve got four [safeties] who are very capable,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “Obviously, Reshad is a great player. Walt Aikens has corner movement,…is going to grow into a pretty good free safety or strong safety. Mike Thomas is very, very efficient. Isa Abdul-Quddus can really run, a low 4.4 (40 time) guy.”

• Two former UM standouts making comebacks – cornerback Brandon Harris (off a torn ACL) and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (out of football since 2013, but only 32) --- conveyed to the Dolphins through their agents that they would welcome Dolphins interest (or workouts), but the Dolphins so far haven't shown interest.

 • The Marlins say they definitely expect right-hander Jarred Cosart back at some point this season, so this is discouraging: Only one of his first four starts at Triple A New Orleans has been good. He has allowed 34 baserunners in 18 innings, with a 5.87 ERA.

AJ Ramos, who has converted all 12 of his save chances, is still overlooked somewhat. When he hangs out with close friend and teammate Giancarlo Stanton in Los Angeles (this past winter) and elsewhere, everybody “thinks I’m Giancarlo’s little brother. They think I’m some scrub.”

• For a look at ESPN's interesting opening weekend college football lineup, please click here.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Tuesday 6 p.m.: Toronto mayor takes shot at Heat; Broadcast notes; Spoelstra addresses issues

Three quick things as Tuesday afternoon turns to evening (and check back tonight for a full buzz column): 

• Toronto mayor John Tory, in a letter to CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus complaining about the Raptors being referred to as “other” in a poll asking people to predict the NBA champion, managed to get in two shots at the Heat:

“We're accustomed to being underestimated. Just a few days ago LeBron James said he was looking forward to playing the Heat — a team that is now golfing," Tory wrote ".... [And] Dwyane Wade thought he could take practice shots during our national anthem. Well we showed him how we feel about that."

• Broadcast note: Chris Spielman today joined Colin Cowherd, Robert Smith and Jason Whitlock as the latest broadcaster to move from ESPN to Fox. Spielman, a college football analyst for ESPN, will be an NFL analyst for Fox and contribute on college football games. Skip Bayless is expected to join Fox when he leaves ESPN this summer.

• For college football fans into long-term planning, ESPN unveiled its opening weekend lineup today:

 

Time (ET)

Game

Network

Thu, Sept 1

8 p.m.

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

ESPN

Sat, Sept 3

7:30 a.m.

Georgia Tech vs. Boston College (Dublin, Ireland)

ESPN2

 

Noon

2016 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff: No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 18 Houston (NRG Stadium, Houston)

ABC

 

Noon

Hawaii at No. 3 Michigan

ESPN

 

3:30 p.m.

No. 6 LSU vs. Wisconsin (Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.)

ABC

 

5:30 p.m.

2016 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game: No. 13 Georgia vs. No. 19 North Carolina (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)

ESPN

 

8 p.m.

No. 12 USC vs. No. 1 Alabama (AT&T Stadium,  Arlington, Texas)

ABC

 

9 p.m.

No. 2 Clemson at Auburn

ESPN

Sun, Sept 4

7:30 p.m.

No. 9 Notre Dame at Texas

ABC

Mon, Sept 5

8 p.m.

2016 Camping World Kickoff: No. 14 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Florida State (Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.)

ESPN

SPOELSTRA'S THOUGHTS

Here's what Erik Spoelstra had to say in his postseason media briefing today:

• Spoelstra declined to address Chris Bosh's situation: "There's nothing new. Right now, we're going to get away and decompress. Obviously, it was very tough for the team. You really feel for CB because you know how much the game means to him. You really feel for him. It was a tough year emotionally for this team, starting with Coach [Keith] Smart, when he had to take his leave of absence for his cancer. I've never been through anything like that...

"At the same time, it was an extremely gratifying year. Everything we went through, we really developed some friendships and relationships through this almost eight months of a season. We were disappointed about the final result. We will always have bigger expectations here at the Heat.

"For me, I obviously get evaluated on the final result. That's what I will live with the next three or four months. I also see gratification when you observe your team growing and enjoying each other's success and company. We feel excited about the possibilities."

• On David Fizdale's Memphis interview today: "He's ready. I'm nervous. He's fine, he's prepared. We were hanging out all night last night preparing. I love Fiz. I want him to get his opportunity. All of us are rooting for him. Hopefully, it happens. If it doesn't, he's got a great gig here and he's got great impact on our success. This is the first time for me as a head coach that someone on my staff has interviewed somewhere else, and someone that's so dear to me."

• On Justise Winslow and the process of improving his perimeter shooting: "We will bring back Justise at the beginning of June. We love player developing. He's a very willing worker. He will embrace all of it. People will be focusing just on technique [of the jumper]. It's not just that. We will have several weeks of work with him. He is relentless. He will put in the time improving two, three, four facets of his game. He will come back as a new and improved player in those areas.

• He said Winslow and Josh Richardson will be around the team in Summer League but doubts they will play much beyond a handful of games. Both want to play.

He said with young players "you can't improve 10 things. You get very specific with two or three things. We have great confidence we can improve specific areas."

• On Hassan Whiteside: "Hassan is a great personality; haven't coached many guys like him before. Doesn't fit into your stereotypical box. He forced me to become a better coach in a lot of different ways, learning how to motivate and inspire him and communicate and connect with somebody who's a different personality.

"We spent a lot of time together. He was great, willing to work on things. He might do it in a different way than other guys I've coached, but I've embraced that. I like that.

"Hassan is a fun personality. He's different as he always says. I anticipate spending more time with Hassan as he gets healthy. We are fully open to player development all the way up until that date [July 1 start of free agency]."

• On Josh Richardson's plans to improve as a point guard: "That's one element of player development. He will be working on two or three other things as well all summer long."

• On Goran Dragic: "You want to leverage his strengths as much as possible. He really improved in a lot of areas. He had to run a team different from the teams he has been successful on. That helped him immensely during the playoffs. He learned how to execute in halfcourt basketball. When we were able to play a different pace and tempo after the All-Star break, he had an improved skill set to play multiple styles of basketball, which is absolutely a necessity in the playoffs. You can't just play one style.

"I've enjoyed seeing Goran's growth as a basketball player. Now he's learning how to impact winning on both sides of the floor. He's been a joy to coach."

• On Amar'e Stoudemire, who wasn't happy with his playing time: "I'm fine with that. He should be. I've never had a problem with players. We don't seek out players that like to sit on the bench. Those aren't the guys that help you win big games. I really enjoyed him this year. He's a funny personality in the locker-room, a guy who brings people together."

• Asked if he needs more three-point shooting in free agency: "Teams can win different ways. [Threes] tend to be the trendy thing right now... The most important things is finding the best fits around the players you currently have. Can players bring out the best in each other? That's the most important thing than specific styles of play."

• Spoelstra said he expects no surgery for any player.

• On Josh McRoberts: "I love the way Josh McRoberts plays the game. I love the way he thinks the game. I love his skill set. It's an unconventional skill set that for some average eye you don't necessarily see what he brings to the game. He brings winning plays. He makes players better with passing ability, his vision, his ball-handling his overall skill set for someone his size. He played his best at the end of the year.... You are starting to see why guys like playing with him so much. He makes the game easier for everybody."

• On developmental point guard Briante Weber: "I like him. Chet [Kammerer] and his staff really liked him out of the draft last year, but the knee injury precluded that. I started watching a lot of film of him during the summer to see why Chet liked him so much. I can see why. He's a Heat type guy. We have a great group of guys who will work their tail off this summer. He's one of them. He's wired that way [to work]."

Pat Riley will address the media on Wednesday.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 16, 2016

Player-by-player look at where each Heat player stands, contractually and otherwise; The two financial advantages the Heat have in keeping Whiteside

 

A player-by-player look at where each Heat player stands heading into the offseason:

The order goes thusly: Player; age; stats this past regular season; contract status and comment.

Chris Bosh; 32; 19.1 points, 7.4 rebounds in 53 games; Due $23.7 million, $25.3 million and $26.8 million over the next three seasons; Despite missing the second half of the season with a blood clot for the second year in a row, the Heat remains hopeful (though obviously it cannot be 100 percent certain) that Bosh can play next season, according to both a team source and ESPN’s Dan Le Batard (whose Heat information is consistently on target). If Bosh never played another game, his salary could come off Miami’s cap no sooner than Feb. 9, 2017.

Luol Deng; 31; 12.3 points, 6.0 rebounds in 74 games; Unrestricted free agent. By thriving at power forward after the All-Star break, Deng likely priced himself out of Miami’s price range if the Heat allocates the cap space likely needed to keep Whiteside. Could return if Whiteside leaves or if either Deng or Whiteside surprisingly takes a contract below market value.

Goran Dragic; 30; 14.1 points, 5.8 assists in 72 games; Due to make $15.9 million, $17 million, $18.1 million next three seasons, with a $19.2 million player option for 2019-2020. Played much better in the second half of the season once the Heat began pushing the pace. Though the Heat always has held Memphis free agent Mike Conley in high regard, Dragic seems more likely than not to return next season. The organization was pleased with his work the past few months.

Gerald Green; 30; 8.9 points in 69 games; Unrestricted free agent. Though he improved defensively, Green shot 39.2 percent overall and just 32.3 on threes. Would be unlikely to return at anything more than the minimum.

Udonis Haslem; 35; 1.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in 37 games; Unrestricted free agent. Heat very much values his leadership, screen-setting and other dynamics, but it’s difficult to envision Miami being able to accommodate anything more than a minimum offer ($1.5 million range). Likely would be invited back at that money if he’s interested.

Joe Johnson; 34; 13.4 points, 3.6 assists in 24 games; Unrestricted free agent. Heat could avoid using cap space on Johnson by offering him its $2.9 million room exception, but  questionable if that would be enough.

Tyler Johnson; 24; 8.7 points, 3.0 rebounds in 36 games; Restricted free agent. Heat wants to keep him and is in good position to do so; Miami can match any offer, with outside offers limited by league rule to no higher than $5.6 million in the first season. And whatever his salary is, only about $1 million would count against Miami’s cap.

Josh McRoberts; 29; 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 42 games; Due $5.8 million next season, with a $6.0 million player option for 2017-18. Nobody should be surprised if the Heat tries aggressively to move McRoberts’ contract to create more cap space this summer.

Josh Richardson; 22; 6.6 points, 2.1 rebounds in 56 games. Has team options for $874,636 next season (which assuredly will be exercised) and $1.01 million in 2017-18. Richardson was a revelation --- the league’s best second-round rookie and the NBA leader in three-point shooting percentage after the All-Star break. Can play either guard spot or small forward.

Amar’e Stoudemire; 33; 5.8 points, 4.3 rebounds in 52 games. Unrestricted free agent. Though he likes living in Miami, Stoudemire wasn’t thrilled with his amount of playing time and figures to explore other options, with a return not out of the question.

Dwyane Wade; 34; 19.0 points, 4.6 assists in 74 games. Unrestricted free agent. His improved durability and strong play could earn him a deal exceeding $15 million next season, close to the $20 million he made this season. Has emphasized that he wants to finish his career here.

Briante Weber; 23; Scored two points in his one appearance; Can make about $500,000 if sticks with team all next season, but only $123,000 is guaranteed. Developmental point guard whose defense, in particular, intrigues the Heat.

Hassan Whiteside; 26; 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, league-high 3.7 blocks in 73 games. Unrestricted free agent. Expected to get maximum offers starting at nearly $22 million. Heat values him, but is expected to try – at least initially – to convince him to take less. (If Miami surprisingly can lure Kevin Durant, a Whiteside return would be unlikely.) Please see below for more on this.

Justise Winslow; 20; 6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds in 78 games; Under team control for next four seasons. Due $2.6 million next season. Impressed the Heat with his defense, poise and versatility but improving jump shot is summer priority.

Dorell Wright; 30; Signed final week of season. Unrestricted free agent. Would love to return, and Erik Spoelstra says he’s still a skilled shooter. But Heat must decide whether to make offer at the minimum.

 

MORE ON WHITESIDE

We'll tackle several Heat summer issues over the coming days, including this from my newspaper column Sunday:

There will be considerable debate inside the Heat over the next six weeks about how much to offer Hassan Whiteside when free agency begins July 1.

The Heat values him but someone who has spoken to the team's front office said he believes the Heat will try to convince him to take something less than the max deal he almost assuredly could get elsewhere.

(Whether the Heat will go to the max, if Whiteside balks at something less, remains to be seen. And of course, all this is moot if the Heat can sign Kevin Durant, which is Miami's No. 1 priority in free agency. If Miami can sign Durant, keeping Whiteside becomes highly unlikely. That's why the Heat needs a read on Durant before it can move forward with Whiteside.)

Whatever Miami decides to offer Whiteside (and that’s undetermined), the good news is that NBA rules allow Miami to pay Whiteside more than any other team can give him.

What’s more, even if the Heat doesn’t offer Whiteside the max (and it has the cap space to do so), a deal close to the max would earn more money for Whiteside over the next four years than a max deal with other teams would, in most cases.

Here’s why:

• Though both the Heat and other teams can offer Whiteside a contract of no more than four years, the Heat (because it has his Early Bird rights but not his full Bird rights) can offer annual 7.5 percent raises over his first year salary, whereas other teams can offer only 4.5 percent annual raises, cap expert Larry Coon told us two weeks ago.

The first-year max salary for Whiteside will depend on the final cap number and could fall between $21.6 million (Coon’s estimate) and $23 million. If it’s $21.6 million, the Heat could offer Whiteside a four-year, $96.1 million contract; other teams could offer no more than $92 million over four years.

If it’s a $23 million first-year max, the Heat could offer $102.32 million over four years; others teams could offer no more than $98.17 million over four years.

• Only seven states don’t have a state income tax, and only five NBA teams play in those states (the Heat, Magic, Spurs, Mavericks and Rockets). Residents of Tennessee also get some relief, but it's not as black-and-white as the seven other states, according to published tax laws. So those five teams in Florida and Texas can realistically pay players more than others.

During Carmelo Anthony’s 2014 free agency, SI.com broke down how much Anthony could make (after taxes) by signing with the Knicks and Heat. Remember that Anthony could sign for five years with New York, only four with Miami.

If only the first four years were calculated, the Knicks could have paid Anthony $99.9 million, compared with $95.9 million for the Heat. But once taxes were factored in, Anthony would have pocketed more with the Heat over those first four years ($55.3 million) than with the Knicks ($51.6 million) even though the Knicks were paying him $4 million more in salary!

And with Whiteside, the difference in income would be even more pronounced between what he would earn with the Heat and what he would earn in states with high income taxes, because unlike with Anthony, the Heat would be the team with the ability to offer 7.5 percent annual raises, compared with 4.5 percent for others.

So if Miami tries to persuade Whiteside to sign for less than the max, expect the Heat to point all of the aforementioned to Whiteside and agent Sean Kennedy.

Because Whiteside doesn’t have full Bird rights, the Heat has to fit his salary under the cap unless he takes 104.5 percent of the league average salary (about $6.5 million). And he’s not taking 104.5 percent of the league's average; his market value is obviously far above that.

A friend says Whiteside, who’s a bargain at $981,348 this season, likes it here and reveres Pat Riley. The question is this: Will that, the larger percent annual raises and lack of state tax be enough to sway Whiteside if Miami’s offer is several million dollars less that what he can get elsewhere.

Incidentally, opponents shot 54 percent from less than five feet against the Heat when Whiteside was on the court this season, 58.9 otherwise. That 54 percent was better than every starting center expect Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut and Rudy Gobert.

In the playoffs, opponents shot 53.5 percent within four feet and 30.9 percent from five to 9 feet with Whiteside on the court, 55.2 and 48.7 otherwise. And that doesn’t even take into account the shots Whiteside’s presence discourages opponents from taking.

For Dwyane Wade's and Erik Spoelstra's thoughts after today's games, please click here.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz