11:30 update: Heat trade Mason; Breaking down LeBron/Durant MVP race; Mayock on Fins and draft; UM notes
11:30 a.m. update: The Heat has traded guard Roger Mason Jr. to Sacramento for a 2015 conditional second-round draft pick --- a move that will slightly lessen the Heat's luxury-tax burden and more importantly, will give Miami flexibility to add a player should anyone appealing shake free. Miami is thus left with 14 players, one under the league maximum.
The Heat is expected to pay the rest of Mason's salary and the Kings are expected to waive him.
The Heat might never receive the conditional second-round pick from Sacramento, but this move was all about creating a roster spot.
Players who have played in the league this season must be released by March 1 to be playoff-eligible elsewhere. The Heat will monitor that situation closely. Caron Butler is among the names that has been mentioned as a buyout possibility, but it's unclear if either the Bucks or Butler would do that. Butler has an expiring contract worth $8 million.
The Heat would be open to adding another big man or a defensively-skilled wing player.
Toney Douglas had surpassed Mason in Erik Spoelstra's estimation. Douglas has been starting when Dwyane Wade has been injured. Mason averaged 3.0 points in 25 games this season.
"We're not looking around saying we need another piece to contend for a title," Spoelstra told reporters a short time ago. But he also mentioned how this trade gives Miami roster flexibility.
A six pack of Heat, Dolphins, NFL Combine and UM notes:
### It should be wonderful theater when LeBron James and Kevin Durant square off Thursday night in Oklahoma City (8 p.m., TNT/Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller on the call).
Despite LeBron’s overall brilliance and torrid run over the past three games (115 points, 31 rebounds, 18 assists), Durant remains the MVP front-runner for several reasons:
1) He’s enjoying the best and most efficient season of his career.
2) He has led OKC to the best record in the league so far (3 1/2 games ahead of the Heat), and carried his team to a 22-8 mark with Russell Westbrook sidelined by a knee surgery. OKC is 21-4 with Westbrook, who is a game-high decision for Thursday.
3) LeBron MVP fatigue, which will likely be a factor for some voters, though none would admit it. James has won the past two MVP awards and four of the past five.
How do their numbers match up this season?
Durant is averaging more points (31.5 to 26.8), though Durant also takes three more shots per game (20.3 to 17.1).
James has a much better field goal percentage: 57.4 to 51 percent, which ties Durant’s career high.
Durant has been the much better free throw shooter: 88.2 to 75.1.
Durant, who is playing slightly more than James (38.2 minutes per game to LeBron’s 37.4), has a slight lead in rebounding average (7.8 to 7.1).
James averages more assists (6.5 to 5.5).
They are even in steals per game (1.5) and virtually even in turnovers (3.6 for Durant, 3.5 for LeBron).
According to synergysports.com, Durant has been the better defensive player. Players guarded by Durant are shooting 32.7 percent and he’s allowing .764 points per possession, in the top 14 percent in the league.
Players guarded by James are shooting 38.6 percent and he’s allowing .836 points per possession, in the top 37 percent in the league.
But those numbers don’t take into account other elements of defense, including helping when a teammate is beaten.
James said on his NBA TV interview this week that Durant motivates him and said “the way he plays the game every night is inspiring."
### NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was asked on a conference call this week if there’s more pressure on the Dolphins in this draft, compared with other teams, because they received so few snaps from their draft class last season (fewest in the league).
“There is some additional outside pressure,” he said. “The important thing is the new GM and the head coach are philosophically tied at the hip. You would be amazed how many buildings that's not the case. Without that, you have no chance.”
He said the Dolphins’ thinking should be: “We have our quarterback; let's build around this kid.”
### With the NFL Combine starting today (Wednesday), Mayock said: “This is the deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably 10 years. That's been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I've talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a top 20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top 10 pick last year.” Miami selects 19th in the first round.
### Though this doesn't pertain to the Dolphins, we share Mayock's evaluation of the quarterbacks aside from Stephen Morris (see our last post about him) because Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater attended Miami Northwestern and because of general interest in the topic.
Mayock said Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and UCF’s Blake Bortles "are locked in as the three top quarterbacks. And I don't want to overanalyze these guys, because there's a danger in that, also.
“But I just pick apart all three of them. I could not pick apart Andrew Luck. Manziel is a different kind of evaluation and you have to buy in and embrace what he does. I love the kid. I love watching him. I think you're going to have to teach him and he's got to be open and listening and learning. But your team is going to have to change how they play and embrace his style.
Bridgewater and Bortles I think can both be good quarterbacks, but I'm not ready to say either of them is an all pro quarterback. Bridgewater is the most ready to play NFL-style quarterback in this draft.”
Mayock projects Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr “into the end of the first round. [Alabama’s] AJ McCarron is solid but he's a second or third round quarterback.”
### UM landed oral commitments from two Class of 2015 prospects today: Bradenton Manatee defensive tackle Ryan Fines and Miramar High guard Leeward Brown. The 6-3, 300-pound Fines, who hasn't been given any stars by rivals.com in its rating system, had offers from Arizona and USF. Brown, a three-star prospect who measures at 6-4, 338, had offers from Marshall, Temple and USF.
### According to canesport.com, UM has become the first school to make an offer to Chattanooga (Tenn.) Class of 2015 quarterback Nick Tiano, and Tiano is interested. Auburn, UF, Tennessee and Penn State are among the other schools pursuing him.
UM offensive coordinator James Coley likes tall quarterbacks who can play a pro-style offense but also have some mobility, and Tiano fits the bill. He’s 6-4, threw for 1500 yards last season (11 touchdowns) and ran for more than 300. Rivals.com hasn’t given him any stars in its rating system but that figures to change at some point.