SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With Sunday's critical Game 4 looming, we solicited input on the state of the Heat from a team official, ABC's Jeff Van Gundy, TNT's Steve Kerr, two veteran NBA scouts and an Eastern Conference general manager. Reaction ranged from Kerr chastising Dwyane Wade (“he needs to let go of his ego and stop pouting”) to the Heat official criticizing the underachieving bench. Some highlights:
### The Heat better hope that Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem (who had 19 combined minutes the past two games), Mike Miller and James Jones aren’t as bad as they have looked the past month because those four – combined with Joel Anthony – are due $52.3 million over the next three years. And even if the Heat uses the one-time amnesty clause to remove Miller from its salary cap, a league spokesman said Miami – barring unlikely additional cost-cutting - still would have only the $3 million mid-level exception available to teams paying the luxury tax, not the $5 million full mid-level exception.
The problem, as one Heat official put it, is the bench players “are very limited offensively. They cannot drive to the basket, they cannot create their own shot. And they can’t make a shot at the moment. A lot has to be done with the bench.” The scouts agreed, saying this is “not a championship-caliber bench.” ESPN's Kurt Rambis said, "The pieces don't fit. They need to find a better supporting cast.''
Battier, Miller and Jones have three of the four worst shooting percentages among all qualifying players still alive in postseason. Haslem, yanked from the starting lineup in Game 3, is 2-for-14 on mid-range jumpers in the playoffs. Not only has his jumper been off all year, but opponents this season blocked an unholy 20 percent of his shots in the paint --- third-most in the league.
The Heat hoped quality reserves with something left would take substantially less to sign here, beyond washed up Mike Bibby. But that isn’t happening.
Keep in mind that Miller ($18 million), Haslem ($13 million) and Anthony ($11.3 million) have three years left on their contracts, Battier ($6.4 million) and Jones ($2 million) two each. And unless Miami can convince a very good player to take the mid-level (we should all be skeptical because money drives most of these decisions) or unless Pat Riley makes a lopsided trade, this will remain an issue long after these playoffs. The onus is now on Riley to hit on most every move (including the draft), because of Miami's financial limitations in the Big Three era.
“Miami needs to get younger and more athletic on their bench,” Kerr said. “San Antonio has done a better job with their bench. They bring in a lot of energy with [Manu Ginobili], Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal.” With Battier (33), Miller (32) and Haslem (31), Kerr wonders, “Is it age? Is it just the end for those guys to be consistent?”
One scout said, “Miami’s role players shrink from the challenge. The tools you think are there with Miller haven’t added up to the player you would expect.” Remember that in 2010, the Heat gave far more to Miller ($29 million) than the Bulls gave Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson ($21.5 million combined).
The other scout said, “Notice how those one-dimensional shooters have struggled in the playoffs – Battier, Steve Novak, Ryan Anderson, Matt Bonner. In the playoffs, teams have more time to prepare for them and do a better job closing out. Besides spot-up threes, Battier basically has no other way to score. You can talk a lot about center with Miami, but if they had a capable sixth and seventh man, that would make a big difference.”
### Kerr, on Wade: “Dwyane needs to get over himself right now. He’s worried too much about his own stuff. That will kill you as a team. His pride is getting in the way. He needs to bust his [butt] and play hard, stop complaining. His image took a huge hit Thursday.
“It’s like he’s almost embarrassed and complaining about every call. He’s not getting back on defense and when he does, he does something like taking out Darren Collison [with a flagrant foul in Game 2].” He said the coaching staff must talk to Wade about failing to get back on defense. But Erik Spoelstra insists it’s a non-issue.
Kerr said Wade’s confrontation with Spoelstra “isn’t inexcusable, but what would be inexcusable is if he doesn’t address it with the team and with Spo and doesn’t come out and play as hard as he can.”
Wade attempted only two field goals within 10 feet in Game 3 (his lowest total of the season), and Kerr said, “I don’t even think he should take another three until he has made a few 15 to 17 footers.” Wade is 8 for 33 outside the paint against Indiana.
### One scout said the onus is on Spoelstra to get Wade better shots, in part by posting him up “or running back doors with LeBron.” But Van Gundy said it doesn’t make sense to post the 6-4 Wade up against 6-8 Paul George.
### Van Gundy’s biggest concern is this: Without Chris Bosh, “they are a very unbalanced team. They could lose Wade or James and they have enough perimeter players where they can offset that better than losing Bosh. It doesn’t mean Bosh is better.
“Indiana is not concerned about Miami’s bigs because they don’t feel like Miami’s bigs can consistently hurt them," Van Gundy continued. "Offensively is where they’re hurt the most without Bosh." The Pacers big men have said they can roam free in the paint more without having to worry about Bosh. And Bosh's absence really hurts Wade on pick-and-rolls.
Van Gundy said if the Heat is going to continue going small so much, the poor shooting defeats the purpose of that, and leaves Miami vulnerable on the glass. "They're being pounded on the boards," Van Gundy noted. That's why Van Gundy wouldn't be surprised if Haslem re-gains a prominent role in Game 4.
So did Van Gundy - who picked Miami to win the championship in 2011 and 2012 - and others overestimate this team? “They’re top heavy and perimeter heavy, but it’s the wrong time to evaluate a team when you have a major injury," he said. "I said last week, before the series started, that last year’s Miami team is better than this year’s team, and I did not think that before the season. But I still think they will find a way to win this series. They have to accept responsibility for their predicament and play better.”
### Kerr said Miami’s offense -- which is 3 for 19 on unguarded catch-and-shoots in this series (including 0-for-7 for Miller, Battier, Jones) -- “is so inept, that Indiana said, 'These guys aren’t that good and if we’re patient, we’ll score enough and shut them down.' Their half-court offense is not very good and it’s hard to run half-court offense with Dwyane and LeBron because they’re both ball stoppers.”
### The GM chuckled at all the uproar about the Heat and said, “Let’s not jump off a bridge here. Wade is going to play great before this series is over. The concern I would have is Indiana is strong in areas where Miami is not.”
### One of the scouts questioned Spoelstra starting Dexter Pittman at center and Battier at power forward in Game 3. “Is Battier going to defend David West better than Udonis Haslem? Of course not,” he said. “He’s not going to rebound. That’s grasping at straws. And Pittman? Come on. That’s outsmarting yourself. I wouldn’t have deviated from Haslem even though he has struggled offensively. Indiana doesn’t respect any of their centers, and why would they?”
### Kerr said if Miami loses in this series, “it’s not too soon to consider breaking it up, if you believe the pieces don’t quite fit.” The GM said he doubts that would happen this summer because the Heat could attribute what's happening now to Bosh's absence.
A FEW DOLPHINS, UM NOTES
### Because Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill knows more about Mike Sherman’s offense than Matt Moore and David Garrard, Moore admits “it’s a little awkward” that “if you have a question, you ask the rookie. But Ryan’s been great with that.” Receiver Legedu Naanee was so impressed with how Tannehill looked on field in recent days (“puts the ball in the right spot”) that he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the three wins the job. It’s very, very close” so far. Philbin cracked that Tannehill knows the offense better than he does.
### Moore, speaking Friday about the new offense: "I feel really good about how it uses the entire field. There's no pressure to get the ball to one specific guy. You can go back there and just wing it."
### The Dolphins have signed only two draft picks, but Jeff Ireland said the others will be signed "soon - things are rolling." As of Saturday night, they had signed sixth-rounder B.J. Cunningham and seventh-rounder Kheeston Randall... Ireland said he "could be done at receiver" but doesn't know for sure. He and the coaches want to take a long look at the young receivers in the next four weeks before deciding whether to consider another veteran.
### Though a Yahoo story suggested the Big 12 – which has more a lucrative TV deal than the Atlantic Coast Conference – might pursue FSU and UM, two UM Board of Trustee members said it hasn’t been discussed inside UM and they could not envision Miami being interested. One pointed out UM would need to pay more than $15 million in ACC exit fees even if it wanted to move.