2 p.m. update: The Heat signed center Justin Hamilton, its former second-round pick out of LSU, and waived guard DeAndre Liggins, who was working under a second 10-day contract. Hamilton averaged 19.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.5 assists and shot 49 percent for the Heat's NDBL team in South Dakota. Hamilton is playoff-eligible, by the way. He signed for the remainder of this season, with a non-guaranteed team option for next season.
FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
UM's basketball season ended Thursday (barring some postseason invitation that Jim Larranaga has said is not going to happen). But good news looms for Larranaga's program: Next season’s team should be considerably better, more potent offensively, and more interesting to watch.
UM will get a boost from high-scoring guard DeAndre Burnett (who missed this season with a wrist injury) and two transfers who were ineligible this season: former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez and ex-Texas guard Sheldon McClellan.
McClellan, who averaged 13.5 points for the Longhorns in 2012-13, is “a very, very talented offensive player --– kind of a combination of Durand Scott, Rion Brown, Trey-McKinney Jones,” Larranaga said. “He has size, length, jumping ability, shooting ability, driving ability, can make free throws. He hasn’t become the defender he should be. Most of the really good offensive players rest on defense. We can’t afford that.”
Senior guard Rion Brown calls McClellan “a freak of nature. He’s athletic even just passing and dribbling!”
McClellan said he came to Miami because of Larranaga and “how he handles players. And transfers have done well here” – include Shane Larkin and McKinney-Jones.
He said “motivation and time management” were problematic for him at times at Texas, but he has improved in both areas. “I’m in the gym more now,” he said, adding that a backcourt duo of himself and Rodriguez “can be pretty scary.”
Players rave about how Rodriguez has become the team’s vocal leader even though he wasn’t eligible to play this season. He has corrected players when they do something wrong at practice, even yelling when needed.
Rodriguez, who averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists at Kansas State last season, “can create for a lot of people,” freshman guard/forward Davon Reed said. “He’s a guy you want to play with because he makes the game easier for you.” And he’s a skilled defender.
UM is expecting a lot from Burnett, who averaged 36 points for Carol City as a senior two years ago. “He's a great scorer,” Reed said. “He can catch and shoot, can go off the dribble.”
Larranaga said UM will play a lot of small ball next season, because most of its best players will be guards: Rodriguez, Reed (who will see a lot of time at small forward), Burnett, McClellan, Manu Lecomte (improved considerably as the season progressed) and two newcomers: four-star point guard JaQuan Newton (rated the nation’s 35th-best recruit by rivals.com) and three-star shooting guard James Palmer (rated the 114th-best player). “Scoring will not be an issue next year,” senior Erik Swoope said.
UM’s incoming class has two three-star power forwards (6-8 Omar Sherman and 6-9 Ivan Cruz Uceda), but no natural center unless UM finds one with its last scholarship available, which Larranaga prefers to use on a senior transfer.
Larranaga said it’s “impossible" to find a big man "with skills who knows how to play.”
“There are not a lot of those guys out there. Those guys are so highly recruited. There are not a lot of those guys in the NBA anymore, guys like Dwight Howard."
Sophomore seven-footer Tonye Jekiri hasn’t progressed as much offensively as UM hoped.
“Last summer, he worked at it, but he didn’t kill himself,’ Larranaga said. “He really needs to become fanatical if he wants to score at all. The only baskets he’s really getting are right at the rim. He makes a jump shot once every five games.”
Larranaga privately has said his biggest regret was not playing Swoope more earlier this season. But Swoope said: "What we did this year was a testament to his coaching. We could have been way below .500. He got the most out of this team."
### Besides the drop-off in defensive metrics from last season, the biggest change in Heat performance this season has been Miami’s play late in close games. Last season, in the final five minutes of games with a five-point margin or fewer, Miami was 32-8 and outscored teams by 131 in 176 minutes.
This season, Miami is 19-13 in those games and has outscored teams by nine (12th in the league) in 139 minutes. (Indiana is plus 54.) Last season, the Heat shot 49 percent in the clutch, with 88 assists and 40 turnovers. This season, it’s 43 percent, 40 assists, 33 turnovers.
Chris Bosh is shooting 58.5 percent in the clutch and LeBron James 48.6, but each has had turnovers in the final seconds of close games in the past week, and every Heat guard in Erik Spoelstra's rotation is shooting below 40 percent in the clutch.
### The Dolphins, who hope to sign guard Shelley Smith after his visit today, still had $26 million in cap space as of 4 p.m., according to the NFLPA web site. [UPDATE: The Dolphins have signed Smith to a two-year deal. They also have reached a two-year deal with cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was one of the league's top corners for Tennessee before a decline in play the past two years with St. Louis. He missed the final nine games last season with a fractured orbital bone.]
### Free agent right tackle Zach Strief declined an offer to visit the Dolphins. Indications are that he prefers to return to New Orleans.
### In exchange for Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins will get a seventh-rounder in the 2015 draft, but only if he’s on the 49ers opening day roster. Though Stephen Ross repeatedly said he planned to meet with Martin, they never did, according to the Martin camp. No Dolphins official called Martin directly when the trade was made, though that's not unusual.
### The Dolphins envision new defensive tackle Earl Mitchell as an every down player. He received an identical four-year, $16 million offer from San Diego but liked Miami’s defensive system better…. Though New England-bound Darrell Revis has a home in South Florida and likes the Dolphins, he wanted to play on a short contract with a Super Bowl contender. So Miami wasn’t a serious contender, despite an inquiry.
### Marcell Ozuna, who the Marlins have projected as their starting center fielder, is hitting .179 this spring (5 for 28). Conversely, center fielder Jake Marisnick surprisingly has hit well (7 for 21, .333) after seeming overwhelmed offensively in his Marlins stint late last season. Ozuna's offensive game is far more advanced than Marisnick's, and the Marlins are counting on Ozuna's bat coming alive at some point this spring. If it doesn't, an interesting decision looms in center field.