July 13, 2016

Heat signs conference player of year; Examining Dolphins' undrafted rookies, who face an uphill climb; plus Dolphins notes

 

Quick Heat note today before we get to the Dolphins: The Heat, which already has 15 players signed to fully or partially guaranteed contracts, signed a 16th today: forward Stefan Jankovich, a sweet-shooting 6-11 power forward who was Big West Player of the Year at Hawaii last season.

Jankovich averaged 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.21 blocks, 1.2 assists and 24.7 minutes in 33 games (all starts) while shooting 54.3 percent from the floor, 39.3 percent from three-point range and 77.2 percent from the line. He helped the Rainbow Warriors capture the Big West Tournament Championship and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

In addition to being selected to the All-Big West First Team and to the Big West All-Tournament Team, he led Hawaii in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage for the season and topped the Big West Conference in free throws made and attempted.

He averaged 7.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 13.5 minutes for the Heat in the Orlando Summer League while shooting 53.3 percent (8-of-15) from the field, 40 percent (2-of-5) from three-point range and 80 percent (4-of-5) from the foul line. Entering today, he had logged 26 minutes in two games for the Heat's Summer League team in Las Vegas.

Teams can carry as many as 15 players during the regular season and as many as 20 in training camp.

 

DOLPHINS TALK

During a decade of mediocrity, one positive constant has been the Dolphins’ ability to find undrafted rookie contributors: Davone Bess, Dan Carpenter, Damien Williams, Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt, among others.

But with training camp two weeks away, each of the Dolphins’ 12 undrafted rookies face uphill climbs to make the 53-man roster, though several figure to end up on the 10-man practice squad.

Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn, expected to challenge incumbent Andrew Franks, enters camp as a clear underdog; Franks was more consistent in the offseason program.

San Jose State rookie Ryan DiSalvo, who improved during the latter stages of May/June practices, has a chance to unseat veteran snapper John Denney. Miami would save $650,000 against the cap it keeps DiSalvo instead.

Draft analyst Tony Pauline cited former Louisville linebacker and Homestead High alum James Burgess (90 tackles last season, seven career interceptions) and ex-Florida Tech tight end Gabe Hughes (32 catches, 566 yards, three touchdowns) as Miami’s undrafted rookies that he believes are best equipped to make a team. But both are underdogs to make the 53.

Burgess --- who had 19 passes defended over the past three years, including two against Jameis Winston (and an interception against him) --- wasn’t drafted primarily because of his size (5-11, 227).

“But he should have been drafted,” Pauline said. “Fast, explosive, makes plays around the ball. Traditional weakside linebacker. Size is the only limitation. He would be a nickel linebacker. The concern is he’ll get smothered at the point of attack. Could be an eighth linebacker.”

Burgess said six teams contacted him after the draft but he picked Miami because it’s close to home (Florida City) and “I feel like I can make this team.”

He said some Hurricanes fans have lashed out at him on Twitter because he flipped his commitment from UM to Louisville on National Signing Day four years ago. He said he simply “felt comfortable with [then-Louisville coach] Charlie Strong” more so than he did with then-UM coach Al Golden.

“It was the best decision for my career,” he said. “Played in a bowl game every year. Won a BCS bowl.”

The Dolphins have two other undrafted rookie linebackers: Boise State’s Tyler Gray (51 tackles, three sacks last season) and Akil Blount, who had 75 tackles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns at Florida A&M last season and is the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Blount.

As for Hughes,“if he doesn't make the 53, he will be on practice squad,” Pauline predicted. “Terrific pass catching tight end.” Hughes said his biggest college offers were from Western Michigan, Toledo and Samford.

Former UM receiver Rashawn Scott, who caught 52 passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns for the Hurricanes last season, made a bunch of catches in the offseason program and has polished his route running while working with ex-Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers. But odds are heavily stacked against him and Temple receiver Brandon Shippen, Miami’s other undrafted rookie receiver. One or both could make the practice squad.

Pauline says keep an eye on cornerback Lafayette Pitts, who had four interceptions in four years as a starter at Pittsburgh but was buried on the depth chart in Miami’s offseason program. “When I watched Pitts as a sophomore, I thought he had Darrelle Revis type potential,” Pauline said. “Then his game leveled off. Maybe practice squad.”

The Dolphins' other undrafted rookies: ex-Maryland cornerback A.J. Hendy, former Kentucky defensive end Farrington Huguenin and Toledo guard/center Ruben Carter.

DUARTE PLAYS CATCH UP

• Hughes is waging his long-shot bid for the No. 3 tight end job against veteran imcumbent Jake Stoneburner (five catches, 57 yards and two touchdowns for the Dolphins last season), MarQueis Gray (29 NFL games, 12 catches), Dominique Jones (13 NFL games, three receptions) and Thomas Duarte.

One of Miami’s three seventh-round picks, Duarte not only must catch up after missing all but three of the Dolphins’ offseason practices because of classes at UCLA, but also must prove he is capable of inline blocking, something he practiced last season but said he never once was asked to do in a game.

How good can he be at in-line blocking? "No idea,” he said. “The Dolphins believe in my athletic ability and my ability to become a tight end. So I'm happy with that.”

Said Adam Gase: “We will like his skill set as a receiver. We will see when we get pads on in training camp as far as a run blocker and pass protector.”

• The Dolphins, in recent years, have never felt better about their depth at offensive tackle than they do now.

Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said: “This is going to be the most depth at tackle I've ever been around" and he won't have to "open your newspaper and find a left tackle in the classified." Branden Albert, Ja’Wuan James, Laremy Tunsil, Jermon Bushrod, Sam Young and Dallas Thomas can all play tackle, and Billy Turner said he has received reps there.

• In Sports Illustrated’s ongoing series of exclusive videos on former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams, his wife, Kristin, said Williams had an opportunity to avoid a suspension by submitting someone else’s sample, but didn’t do it.

"The one test where he got caught that had him suspended for the four months, we could have switched it that day if we wanted to,” Kristin said. “That guy, we knew him so well … he tested Ricky and left them both [samples] sitting on the counter and left for 45 minutes and then came back. But Ricky's an honest person. That thought never entered his mind I don't think…. When the drug testers would come, some of them were like family.”

Williams told SI.com that he believes 60 to 70 percent of NFL players use marijuana.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please click here for the latest on UM's potential suspensions and luxury car investigation, plus Heat and Marlins.

July 12, 2016

9 a.m. Wed. Mark Walton news; From use of luxury cars to brandishing a gun, UM sorting through football disciplinary issues; Dolphins, Heat, Marlins nuggets

Quick 9 a.m. update: UM running back Mark Walton's attorney (Farrell & Patel) tells me this morning that it will file a complaint against the city of Miami police, alleging the police botched his case even though charges were dropped. The complaint will be filed with the city's internal affairs division, the law firm says. (See below for more.) 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

The Mark Walton matter was resolved this week with the lifting of the UM running back’s suspension, but Mark Richt is dealing with other disciplinary issues less than two months away from his first game as UM’s coach.

Among them:

• Ace Herald correspondent Peter Ariz and I have learned that freshmen receiver Sam Bruce is facing a potential one- or two-game suspension for brandishing a gun in a photo that resulted in Bruce withdrawing from St. Thomas Aquinas in February, shortly after signing his letter of intent with UM.

Bruce made the photo of himself with the weapon because of a dispute with a former Aquinas male student, a dispute centered around Bruce’s ex-girlfriend. A source said the photo ended up in the hands of the former student, who then called police and Aquinas. No charges were ever filed.

It’s always possible Richt could change his mind and decide not to suspend Bruce if his behavior is exemplary in August; neither I nor Peter nor anyone has a crystal ball and can predict if a coach will have a change of heart.

But a UM source with direct knowledge said Tuesday the university’s full intention at this point is to be suspend Bruce for two games to start the season because there is an expectation of how Hurricanes players should represent themselves and that there should be consequences for their actions.

Bruce, rated by Rivals.com as the seventh best receiver and 47th best player overall in the 2016 class, enrolled at UM in late June and is expected to receive playing time this season, potentially as a returner as well as a slot receiver.

• Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, arguably UM’s best defensive player, remains under scrutiny as UM continues to investigate whether at least four football players violated NCAA rules when they struck deals with a local car agency. As of Tuesday, Muhammad had not been cleared and it was undetermined if he would face discipline.

A source said UM is not expected to bring back linebacker Juwon Young, who was suspended indefinitely last month both for his involvement and for not being forthcoming with UM officials. UM also has investigated whether linebacker Jermaine Grace was involved.

UM’s investigation has focused on whether the players received discounted or heavily discounted luxury cars in exchange for some future stake in their careers.

Three sources told Peter and me that the dealership in question is South Beach Exotic Rentals.

Asked this week if his dealership had rented cars to any UM athletes, the company’s owner, Juan Caballero, said by phone: “I’m not aware of any of that. Maybe lower levels of the company have.”

Asked if he has ever given UM players free cars to drive, he said: “We’re not giving anything for free. Jay Z paid when he rented a car. Justin Bieber paid.”

Caballero said “no [UM] player is getting any sort of special treatment. I couldn't name one person on that team.”

A UM player said eyebrows were raised when Young drove to practice last season in an expensive car. According to a UM source, a former girlfriend informed UM about Young’s involvement.

ACC teams typically bring one offensive player and one defensive player to the conference’s media day, next week in Charlotte. But UM, cognizant of the car controversy, is taking punter Justin Vogel (along with quarterback Brad Kaaya) instead of Muhammad or Grace.

It's important to again note that the NCAA is not investigating UM. If Miami finds wrongdoing, it will report what it discovered to the NCAA and get the NCAA's blessing on Miami's suggested discipline for student athletes who committed violations.

• Walton, reinstated from suspension after a DUI charge against him was dropped, is not expected to be held out of any games. A day after Walton’s attorney accused the police of botching the matter, city of Miami police chief Rodolfo Llanes defended his department’s handling of the case.

“Mr. Walton was taken into custody based upon probable cause, which is the legal standard required to effect an arrest,” Llanes said today in a statement emailed to several media outlets, including The Herald. “Mr. Walton’s physical contact with the Miami Police Department began with visual observations of possible impaired driving.  Further investigation revealed he was driving with a suspended license. 

“Mr. Walton’s eventual blood alcohol level was below the .08 threshold, however it should be noted that Mr. Walton is not of age to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. The declination to file criminal charges as a function of prosecutorial discretion should not be used to presume wrongdoing on the part of the Miami Police Department or any of its officers.  Our investigation revealed there was no evidence of any prior relationship or association.”

Walton’s attorney, Joey McCall, told WINZ’s Andy Slater this week: "We learned with our own investigation that at least two City of Miami officers, through the alleged victim, lured Mark over to a house, were hidden when he got there, and then rushed him with guns drawn. One officer came from inside the house and the other officer came from around the side of the house. 

“Mark was literally terrified and as a result cooperated with whatever he was made to do. All he could think about was trying to stay alive." 

So, why, Slater asked, were there cops at her house waiting for Walton as McCall described?

"We learned from other officers within the City of Miami police department that the arresting officers, among others, were essentially conducting a warrantless sting operation that they were not assigned to do and weren't asked to participate in," McCall told Slater. "Based on additional information we received, the alleged victim and at least one of the arresting officers have a personal relationship of some kind and knew each other prior to April 23."

CHATTER

Though the Heat has 15 players with fully or partially guaranteed contracts, Miami remains in conversations with point guard Beno Udrih, according to his agent. The Heat has left open the possibility of his return at the minimum, but he hasn’t decided what to do.

• According to agent Joel Bell, center Willie Reed accepted a two-year deal at the minimum from the Heat, instead of an offer for more elsewhere, because “he enjoyed his time with the Heat in Summer League last year and remembers how great the organization is and the coaches are. He said [assistant coach] Juwan Howard showed him a couple things that helped him and he remembered that.”

Howard continues to impress people; he has been very helpful in the development of Hassan Whiteside.

By the way, Bell said that the 26-year-old Reed, who was 6-9 in college at St. Louis, measured in at 6-11 1/2 this week.

• Please click here for a lot of interesting things that Udonis Haslem had to say today, about Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant and others.

• Despite the fear that Ndamukong Suh’s contract (which was restructured) would be an albatross on Miami’s cap, the Dolphins will be in pretty good shape next offseason.

If the cap rises from $155 million to $160 million, the Dolphins would have $16 million in space, plus a large chunk of 2016 carryover space ($17 million, according to the players’ union) and the ability to clear out a lot more by cutting or restructuring Branden Albert ($10.6 million cap hit in 2017), Mario Williams ($10.5 million), Byron Maxwell ($8.5 million), Earl Mitchell ($4.5 million) and Isa Abdul-Quddus ($5 million), among others. They also could restructure Mike Pouncey ($8.9 million).

• Please click here for more Dolphins nuggets from a few hours ago, on Billy Turner, the Miko Grimes Anti-Semitic comment fallout and Wes Welker.

• The Marlins are one of only three teams that haven’t signed their first-round pick (Alabama prep lefty Braxton Garrett) and the MLB deadline for that is Friday. The Marlins have said they are optimistic they will strike a deal with Garrett’s agent, Scott Boras. With the slotting system for picks, it's not possible for a player to hold out for an obscene sum of money, as they once could.

• The Marlins (with limited available trade assets) continue efforts to acquire a starting pitcher from a group include Tampa’s Jake Odorizzi, San Diego’s Drew Pomeranz and potentially Oakland’s Rich Hill, among others.

If they can’t, their best hope for a competent fifth starter might be Jarred Cosart, who has allowed four runs in eight innings over two starts in Single A after missing a month with an oblique injury.

Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena (1-2, 3.63 in nine minor league starts) and Jeremy Guthrie are the other internal options, but Guthrie hasn't been impressive at Triple A (6-5, 7.08 ERA). And Nicolino remains erratic.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

5 p.m. Tuesday: Dolphins notes: Turner & guard battle; Miko fallout; Wes Welker; Heat: Haslem on his return, Wade's departure, Bosh and more

The Dolphins’ six-way battle for two starting guard spots includes two men who say they have never played guard in a game in their lives (tackles Laremy Tunsil and Jermon Bushrod), jack-of-all trades Kraig Urbik, perpetually beleaguered Dallas Thomas and two veteran Dolphins draft picks eager to prove their worth, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas.

Tunsil, Miami’s ballyhooed first-round pick, is expected to be a starter eventually this season, if not immediately. But among the other contenders, Turner has as good a chance as any to start, if he can hold off Bushrod, a former Pro Bowl tackle who’s still awaiting medical clearance after offseason shoulder surgery.

Turner, the Dolphins’ third-round pick in 2014, was Miami’s first-team right guard during the team’s minicamp, though he also received work at tackle during the offseason program. Playing with the first team during the summer is a familiar position for Turner, who played with the first team throughout training camp last season before Douglas was surprisingly named the starter.

But Douglas struggled and Turner replaced him after four games and started the final 12.

“Last year, it was a little frustrating for me,” Turner said. “Essentially, I treated last year kind of like my rookie year. My first year I was here, unfortunately, I got hurt and broke my foot. But I was able to come into training camp and get better. Unfortunately, I wasn’t starting at the beginning of the year. I was happy I got to play and got to start. And as the season progressed, I was able to get better… and lose some of my bad habits.”

Former offensive line coach John Benton previously likened Turner to a “bull in a china shop,” a powerful force who needed to refine his technique. Turner compared the shift to new offensive line coach Chris Foerster as something “like learning a new language. There is going to be a challenge with that – breaking old habits and learning new plays and new techniques.”

Though only three starters are determined – center Mike Pouncey and tackles Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James – Turner said: “I think anyone that knows football and knows our offensive line knows that we have the potential to be the best offensive line in football. If you look at our offensive line and just go down the list (of) how many first-round picks we have and how many guys we have that are perennial Pro Bowl players – and how many guys that are on the cusp of being perennial Pro Bowlers – we have a lot of guys. I think we have a lot of attitude on the offensive line, which is definitely going to help us.”

• The Dolphins and Buccaneers declined to comment about the latest offensive Twitter rant served up by Miko Grimes, wife of Tampa Bay and former Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes.

Referring to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum, Miko Grimes tweeted: “Gotta respect Ross for keeping his Jew buddies employed but did he not see how Tannenbaum put the Jets in the dumpster w/that [Mark] Sanchez deal?” 

The Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday said it is “outraged and deeply concerned with Ms. Grimes’ recent comment, which evokes textbook anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories about secret Jewish control. Her suggestion that an NFL front office would operate as a ‘Jews-only club’ is nothing less than classic, garden-variety anti-Semitism.

“Using her fame, as a former AM radio show host and as the wife of a professional athlete, as a platform to defame others is simply unacceptable. Intolerance of others is never the answer. Ms. Grimes needs to realize that her words were deeply offensive.”

Miko Grimes also trashed Ryan Tannehill, as she typically has in the months before and after the Dolphins released Grimes in March. Comparing fans of former Lakers star Kobe Bryant with fans of Tannehill, Miko Grimes said:  “Both are super stupid but at least Kobe was a baller. Tannehill is a bum!”

She also tweeted:  “The Dolphins [expletive] stink! They will never be great as long as Stephen Ross is the owner, Tannenbaum is the G.M., and Tannehill is the QB!”

She said Grimes planned to retire if the Dolphins didn’t release him and “no way I was gonna let him retire with a bum at QB, G.M., and owner! No [expletive] way! We will go out on a high with a REAL QB, not a WR at QB!”

• Receiver Wes Welker, who dressed in a Dolphins uniform and served as a voluntary coach during part of the Dolphins’ offseason program, told Sirius XM NFL Radio on Tuesday that there’s a “a small percentage” he will play again. Coach Adam Gase said last month that the team does not intend to sign Welker as a player but he is always welcomed in a pseudo coaching-type role.

HASLEM'S THOUGHTS

The "Heat Lifer" moniker seems empty now with Dwyane Wade's departure.

But at least Udonis Haslem is back (for a one-year deal at just under $4 million), and his value as a leader and mentor to young players cannot be overstated.

Here's what Haslem had to say in a conference call moments ago:

• On losing Wade: "It hasn't set in 100 percent. From the conversations with CB [Chris Bosh], once we step in the gym for practice that first day, that's when it's going to be real. That's when we realize Dwyane is not there and it's a new direction we're heading in. Right now, it's not really real. Just trying to focus on what my next step is as a player. These 13 years of being with Dwyane, I never imagined it ending like this. I learned a lot from him. Obviously, I wanted him to come back. But I know there were a lot of things he was feeling that he was burying for a while that just came to a head this particular summer.

"For whatever reason, the organization and him couldn't come to an agreement. In hindsight, I don't know if I should have handcuffed him like Chris Paul did with DeAndre Jordan and made him change his mind. I don't know what that would have done. I felt like it could have been avoided but for whatever reason it just wasn't."

• On Bosh: "I don't know. Nobody knows physically what the situation is. Me personally, as the leader, I'm preparing [like] he's going to be here, be healthy, be contributing. That's the way we're going to look at it, the positive approach I'm going to take with him."

• Haslem said "I've been looking at Ray Lewis videos to help me be better for the next phase of my career."

• On his thoughts: "Just glad to be back, obviously, for the 13 years I have been a part of this organization. I have always had my mind on finishing this way with this organization. I never envisioned finishing it without my brother [Wade].

"To lead the next group of guys, the next generation, even without [Wade]. The leadership he brought is something I've been able to take from him that has prepared me for the next step of my career, to lead these guys.

"We plan on getting these guys together. Getting an opportunity to get to know one another and comfortable with each other and learn more about each other than just basketball." 

• He said he will continue to be "the guy that sets the tone at practice. My role will change off the floor, coordinating guys. That's something Dwyane would always do, getting guys together for dinner.... My leadership was being at practice early to work with some guys. I have to step into a different role of being hands on off the floor, not just being in the gym, not just being a physical presence but a spiritual and a guy who brings guys together off the floor."

• On standing alone now as the longest-tenured Heat player: "It's bittersweet. It's something to talk about when I'm done, being the last one here. We always talked about finishing it together. It just didn't work out that way. This is the way it's supposed to be for me. This is the way I'm supposed to end my career. It will be the perfect end to my particular story. How I got here... It's only right it ends like this."

• On Justise Winslow losing Wade as a mentor: "Dwyane is definitely a mentor,... very, very influential. I will be there with [Winslow] every step of the way. No doubt in my mind he will reach his full potential. I will be that guy that will be there before practice, after practice to do what it takes to help these young guys reach their potential."

• Haslem expects the team to play at an even faster pace than it did in the second half of the season.

• On Kevin Durant joining Golden State: "All I care about is No. 3 going to Chicago. I don't give a damn about Kevin Durant or anyone else, to be honest."

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 11, 2016

UM reinstates Walton; Why charges against Walton were dropped

A Monday afternoon update (check back for more on other topics later):          

UM reinstated Mark Walton off suspension on Monday evening, hours after the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office dropped all charges against the UM running back.

Walton was suspended indefinitely when he was arrested on April 23 for driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a suspended license.

But Walton had been immersed in all team activities in recent weeks, according to multiple sources.

In spite of his suspension being lifted, UM declined to say tonight whether Walton would be disciplined further, in terms of being required to sit out any games.

Walton was arrested at 3:45 on the morning of April 23 in a residential neighborhood about four miles from campus and charged with DUI. WINZ-940's Andy Slater reported he also was investigated for impersonating an officer and groping a woman, but charges were never filed.

In an inter-office memo to the chief of county court on Monday, assistant state attorney Nicole Garcia wrote that Walton, at the time of arrest,  “admitted to drinking two cups of beer approximately three hours prior to his arrest.”  Garcia said the DUI charge was dropped because “the breath samples provided were all below the .08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.”

Garcia said “had the Defendant’s breath reading been at a .08 or above, there would be a legal presumption that the Defendant was impaired.  Had the Defendant provided a breath sample under a .05, there would be a legal presumption that the Defendant was not impaired.  Because the Defendant provided a breath sample above a .05 but below a .08, there was no presumption of impairment.

“Because there is no legal presumption of impairment, more evidence would be needed to prove the Defendant was DUI at the time of the arrest. This evidence usually comes in the form of field sobriety exercises and observations by an officer or civilian witness. The remaining evidence was insufficient to prove beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt that the Defendant was DUI.”

Garcia said the second charge, driving with a suspended license, was dismissed because of Walton’s “substantial compliance.” She said he paid the fine, but his license has not been reinstated and “any similarly situated defendant would have been afforded the same benefit.”  

Walton's attorney, Joey McCall, said by phone that “we are relieved the charges have been dismissed” but that it “should have been done a lot sooner.”

McCall said Walton’s reputation was unfairly damaged and Walton might pursue “civil remedies for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution."

Walton impressed coaches during spring practice and received considerable work with the first team. He’s competing with Joseph Yearby and Gus Edwards for the starting running back job.

As a freshman last season, Walton ran for 461 yards and nine touchdowns, though he averaged just 3.5 per carry.

He also caught 22 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown and returned 17 kickoffs for 300 yards (17.6 average).

If you missed my post last night on the Heat's roster moves, and some thoughts about what they've done, please click here.

July 10, 2016

Sunday 10 p.m.: Details on all the Heat's moves today and where the roster stands and some thoughts on the situation

The Heat assembled an entire bench -- and added candidates to replace Dwyane Wade at shooting guard --- during a frenetic six-hour stretch today. The upshot is a roster that now stands at 15, four days after the Heat had only seven players under contract.

Scroll to the bottom for my quick thoughts on what Miami did and where the roster stands.

The details:

• The Heat matched the Nets' four-year, $50 million offer sheet for Tyler Johnson. But because Miami had used all of its cap space by the time at which it matched the offer, his cap hit is just $1.2 million even though his salary is $5.6 million this season.

The problem for the Heat is Johnson's $18 million and $19 million cap hits in years three and four of the deal.

That could be onerous for a team seeking flexibility to pursue elite players in free agency. But the Heat chose to overlook that, instead valuing the asset of having a young, improving combo guard who's a formidable three-point threat and plays with high energy. Johnson cannot be traded for a year, incidentally.

• The Heat acquired forward Luke Babbitt for a second-round pick from New Orleans, a pick that once belonged to the Pelicans before the Heat traded Jarnell Stokes last February.

Babbitt fills the need for a three-point shooting small forward. He made 40.4 percent of them last season (44 for 109) after hitting 51.3 percent of his threes the previous season (59 for 115).

Overall, the 6-9 Babbitt averaged 7.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 47 games for New Orleans last season, including 13 starts.

He has one year left on his contract, at $1.2 million.

• The Heat agreed to terms with center Willie Reed, who impressed as a member of the Heat's Summer League team last season before the Nets snagged him with a guaranteed contract.

Reed, 6-10, averaged 4.7 points and 2.1 rebounds and 10.9 minutes in 39 games for the Nets, including two starts.

Reed agreed to a two-year deal at the minimum; the second year is a player option.

• Wayne Ellington, 28, agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal, but a person with direct knowledge said only the first year is guaranteed.

There is a conditional guarantee on the second year, according to a source; the Heat must inform Ellington by a certain date (typically in late June) whether that guarantee will be exercised for 2017-18.

Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Ellington are all candidates to replace Wade in the starting lineup. Regardless who starts, all three of them should play (with starting point guard Goran Dragic). 

Ellington, 6-4, averaged 7.7 points in 76 games for the Nets last season, including 41 starts. He shot just 38.9 percent overall and 35.8 percent on three-pointers (96 for 268).

He's a career 37.6 percent shooter on threes; he made 90 threes for the Lakers in 2014-15. This will be his seventh team in eight seasons.

• James Johnson, 6-9, signed a one-year, $4 million deal. He can play small forward and power forward and is considered a strong defender. But his offensive game is somewhat limited.

He appeared in 57 games and made 32 starts for Toronto last season, but his numbers were modest (5.0 points and 2.2 rebounds), partly because he averaged just 16.2 minutes.

He shot 47.5 percent from the field last season but just 30.3 percent on threes (20 for 66). He has made just 26.6 percent of three-pointers in his career, never making more than 22 in a season.

This will be his fifth team in eight seasons. He has never averaged more than 9.1 points per game in his career.

 • Udonis Haslem resigned for one year at $4 million, a reward for sacrificing financially in previous seasons. He is expected to play for the Heat for the minimum in 2017-18.

Here's where the Heat roster stands:

Center: Hassan Whiteside, Willie Reed

Forwards: Chris Bosh, Justise Winslow, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem, Luke Babbitt

Guards: Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington, Briante Weber

It wouldn't be surprising if Beno Udrih returns at the minimum.

Overall thoughts: The Heat did a decent job rebounding from the Wade setback to assemble serviceable depth, though all of the imported veterans (aside from Reed) are either journeymen OR at least somewhat one-dimensional.

We like the Babbitt pickup; Miami badly needed another skilled shooting big, and Babbitt -- good value at the minimum -- can play either forward position. Reed has upside, and Williams is a talent, though he hasn't lived up to being a second overall draft pick. 

But ask yourself this: Would you rather have Wade or the players used to fill his cap space -- Haslem (who could have returned anyway with the $2.9 million room exception that Miami hasn't used) - plus Williams, Ellington, Reed, James Johnson and Tyler Johnson (who could have returned even if Wade had)?

I'd rather have Wade than Williams, Ellington, Reed and James Johnson, even if it meant giving Wade a third year on his contract. And giving Wade a third year would have been necessary to persuade him to accept a salary of $20 million this coming season.

And this was also curious: Why was the Heat comfortable guaranteeing $18 million for Tyler Johnson for 2018-19 (let alone $19 million for 2019-20) when it wouldn't offer Wade a third year at any amount?

Age is the obvious answer, but it's still somewhat puzzling, especially because of how well Wade played this past season and even more so considering Johnson's deal leaves the Heat with much less flexibility to sign a max player either of the next two years, though trades still could clear out enough space to achieve that.

(And there would be plenty of room for a max contract next summer if Chris Bosh has another setback and cannot play at all next season. Bosh is intending to play.)

Basically, Pat Riley eschewed the likelihood of having a good team for the next three years (with the potential for more, depending on health, which is a big IF) and instead gambled that he could once again assemble a great team in 2017-18 or 2018-19, even with the probability of a step back this season.

But achieving greatness will require not only being able to trade salary to sign a max player in coming years (Blake Griffin? Russell Westbrook?) but also being able to lure such a "whale" without Wade's help.

Never sell Riley short. Nevertheless, this is an enormous gamble and one Riley could regret if he cannot snag any of the handful of elite players that will become available in the next two summers.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

 

July 07, 2016

Buzz back next week

Off for a few days. Buzz will return next week. Manny and Ethan will keep you updated on the Heat's moves in the wake of Dwyane Wade's departure.

July 04, 2016

11 a.m. Tuesday: Wade books meetings, mulls future; Where Heat stands after Durant picks GS; Tunsil has ground to make up; Dolphins rookie talk; Monday morning Heat: Tyler Johnson, Wade, options for low-money deals

Dwyane Wade will meet Wednesday with the Denver Nuggets, who are offering two years and $52 million. Wade so far hasn't accepted Miami's two-year, $40 million offer. Chicago also remains very much in play.

Lots of Heat and Dolphins today:

With Kevin Durant joining Golden State, the Heat is now expected to shift its focus to re-signing Dwyane Wade, using its $20 million in cap space to strike a new deal. The Heat has always been optimistic that it will re-sign Wade and has offered Wade a two-year, $40 million contract, with $20 million payouts each of the next two seasons. Wade so far has declined to accept that and wants a third year in the deal. He is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with the Milwaukee Bucks, who would need to clear cap space to sign him.

More on the Heat below, including potential options to round out the roster (scroll down for that): 

DOLPHINS ROOKIE TALK

• The Dolphins have been a magnet for criticism though a decade of 67-93, and it’s difficult to think of any personnel decision that would exasperate their fans more than beleaguered Dallas Thomas beating out first-round pick Laremy Tunsil at left guard.

It’s still very difficult to fathom that could happen – considering Tunsil’s unique athleticism, draft position and exceptional body of work at Mississippi.

But Thomas ended minicamp with the starters (getting all significant first-team snaps), while Tunsil showed growing pains during the offseason program, victimized by some mental and physical errors. Thomas was simply better in the eyes of the coaches, though offensive line play is the most difficult to assess without pads.

In one case, Tunsil failed to move over quickly enough to block Ndamukong Suh, leaving Suh unabated to the quarterback.

Growing pains are expected, especially because Tunsil is changing positions. But the Dolphins must hope Tunsil develops quickly in August, that a player who has never played guard in a game becomes better than a player (Thomas) who has played it for years.

“There is no way Tunsil is not starting opening week,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper predicted by phone last week. “It should be an easy transition to guard. For a kid with that kind of talent to move inside --- where he has a tackle next to him like Branden Albert --- shouldn’t be difficult. [Converted tackle] Brandon Scherff was a really good rookie guard [for Washington]. Jonathan Ogden played guard his first year [for Baltimore].”

Tunsil doesn’t minimize the move, though, saying recently: “I’ve got to learn a new position” and “I've got to learn the playbook. All types of things I've got to learn.”

For a player who wasn’t beaten for a single sack last season, what has it been like to be beaten several times in practice?

“It's not tough at all,” he said. “We're in the NFL now. The top level of football. Everybody is going to be good. You've got to go over that point where you've go to be better that everybody. You've got to outwork everybody.”

Say this for Tunsil: There have been no maturity issues for a player who fell in the draft largely because of a two-year old bong photo. Teammates are impressed that he asks questions.

“In order to be good, you've got to be a pro about everything,” he said while helping do gardening at a Dolphins community event in Liberty City last month.

He agrees with Adam Gase that there “is room for improvement” but won’t bite when asked if starting is important to him.

Let me be clear: The skill set is too impressive for him not to be very good in the long run. But whether that happens by the Sept. 11 opener, whether he earns more trust than Thomas, remains the question.

“I’d be very surprised if he’s not a very good offensive tackle longterm,” Kiper told me. “The only thing that can hold Laremy Tunsil back is Laremy Tunsil. The only time I saw him struggle was when he seemed bored out there. He was dominant otherwise. And there is no boredom in the NFL.”

• Kiper told me he does not believe Jakeem Grant’s size (5-7) will hurt his chances of being an effective slot receiver: “Look at Wes Welker; this league is 7 on 7 catching the ball, making plays in traffic and space and creating space. This kid is lightning quick.”

But he must eliminate drops (nine last year at Texas Tech).

And Kiper loves the upside of receiver Leonte Carroo, who has drawn raves from teammates and said he’s losing seven pounds to get to 210.

 “He was a nightmare [to cover at Rutgers],” Kiper said. “The thing with him is he’s thick and a tough guy. He is like smaller power forward like Charles Barkley who can muscle you around. When it looks like he’s covered, he’s not because he shields defenders very well and has vertical stretch ability. I am not going to say he’s Anquan Boldin but he’s a good player.”

• Seventh-rounder Jordan Lucas could end up being anything from the backup in the slot behind Bobby McCain (he’s competing with Ifo Ekpro-Olomu and Tyler Patmon) to not making the team.

HEAT CHATTER

The Heat has not told Tyler Johnson whether it will match the offer sheet that he will sign with the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. But everybody involved, starting with the Nets and Heat teammates, expect the Heat will not match because of the huge salaries and Heat cap hits in years three and four of the four-year, $50 million deal ($18.9 million in year 3, and $19.6 million in year 4).

Conversely, the Nets are allowed to have cap hits of the average of his four-year salary every year (meaning $12.5 million each of the next four).

For 2018-19, the Heat has already close to $74 million committed to just four players: Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow. Committing another $19 million to Johnson would leave the Heat with a bit over $12 million in space to fill out its roster, with the cap expected to settle at $105 million, according to USA Today. (That doesn't even include Dwyane Wade or Josh Richardson).

And Miami wants to have the flexibility to be in the market to sign an elite player most offseasons in this new era of inflated spending. So that type of financial commitment to Johnson simply doesn't make sense, and that's no knock on Johnson.

• The Bulls' signing of Rajon Rondo leaves them without enough cap space to pursue Wade, meaning the Nuggets and Bucks are his only known suitors beyond the Heat.

The Bucks will meet with Wade this week, according to ESPN's Marc Stein, but would need to clear out cap space to make a legitimate offer. The Nuggets, who have plenty of cap space, has reached out to both Wade and Udonis Haslem.

The Heat still expects to strike a deal with Wade. But Wade likely would ask for all of the Heat's remaining cap space, which will be a tad over $20 million if Miami doesn't match the Tyler Johnson offer sheet.

• If Wade takes all of the Heat's remaining cap space and the Heat doesn't trade Josh McRoberts, Miami would need to fill at least six roster spots with minimum contracts and one with a $2.9 million room exception.

Despite the inflated market, the Heat is hopeful that some decent vets would fall through the cracks and have to settle for the minimum. Among the "fall through the crack" candidates (and some of these players will assuredly get paid more than the minimum):

Guard: Marcus Thornton (a Heat target previously), Beno Udrih (could be back at minimum), Wayne Ellington, Randy Foye, Alan Anderson, Leandro Barbosa, Seth Curry, Kirk Hinrich, Gary Neal, Brandon Rush, Lance Stephenson, Mario Chalmers

Small forwards: Chase Budinger, Chris Copeland, Gerald Green (Heat, initially not inclined to bring him back, now might consider it), Tayshaun Prince, James Anderson

Power forwards or centers (some of these can only play PF): David Lee, Josh Smith, Jason Smith, Quincy Acy, Luis Scola, Brandon Bass, Chris Andersen, Andrea Bargnani, Tyler Hansbrough, Udonis Haslem (wants most of Heat's $2.9 room exception), Chuck Hayes, J.J. Hickson, Ryan Kelly, Chris Kaman, Charlie Villanueva, Steve Novak, Kendrick Perkins, Thomas Robinson, Anderson Varejao, Willie Reed (Heat has inquired)

Again, some of these players will get money (it's only July 4). But some could be willing to settle for bargain deals if the money dries up in a couple of weeks. There are several remaining free agents that we excluded from the above list (such as Gerald Henderson and Kevin Martin and Nene, etc.) because they would seemingly be in line for more money than what Miami has available.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

July 02, 2016

Saturday night: Wade, Bosh, Durant, other Heat notes, Loria, UM's Walton

As Dwyane Wade reportedly mulls whether to take meetings with other teams next week, one potentially attractive suitor fell off the board tonight, with the Knicks signing Courtney Lee to be their starting shooting guard.

That leaves middling, rebuilding Chicago and Denver as the only known suitors with enough cap space to sign Wade. 

As we noted yesterday, the Heat always has been optimistic that it will reach a deal with Wade and will be surprised if he leaves. But as we've reported, Wade also has been unhappy with the Heat's handling of this, so nothing can be ruled out.

If Miami doesn't snag Kevin Durant and gives its $20 million in remaining cap space to Wade, that would leave only the $2.9 million room exception and minimum contracts to fill out the roster beyond Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Josh McRoberts (who is available if anyone wants to trade for him) and Briante Weber.

It appears Udonis Haslem would like a large chunk of the Heat's $2.9 million room exception, and it remains to be seen whether Miami will consider that. Remember, the Nets just gave $6 million over two years to Heat discard Justin Hamilton, who has played all of 43 NBA games.

• Though the Heat knows it’s an underdog in the battle for Durant, there are several ways his first-year max salary of $26.5 million can be accommodated by Miami.

The most realistic: Trade Dragic and McRoberts for no money back; ask Whiteside to start at $20 million instead of $22 million; and persuade Wade to take the remaining $16 million or so.

With the cap set at $94.1 million tonight, players with Whiteside's experience will have a first-year max of $22.1 million, as heathoops.com's Albert Nahmad noted, and Durant's first-year max will be $26.5 million.

• When the Heat meets with Durant in The Hamptons on Sunday, Miami’s contingent will include Micky and Nick Arison, Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Andy Elisburg and Alonzo Mourning.

• We've been told again that barring another blood clot, Chris Bosh’s plan is to play next season. The Heat remains optimistic, but not ready to make any public assurances. 

• According to a source with direct knowledge, there has been contact between Riley and the rep for Jamal Crawford, but the Heat is in a holding pattern until it gets a decision from Durant.

Beno Udrih remains around the Heat facility and remains a possibility for a minimum Heat deal next season.

• The Heat is among several teams that have expressed interest in center/power forward Willie Reed, who played well for Miami’s Summer League team last year and averaged 4.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in 39 games for the Nets... Through one day of free agency, Miami hadn’t called on Amar’e Stoudemire, whose agent said he wants to find regular minutes.

• The Heat hadn't pursued Gerald Green in the first day of free agency, but he could become an option if Miami can't find anyone better at the minimum (or with the room exception).... The Heat hasn't called on Dorell Wright and appears ready to move on after his playoff stint.

• Please click here for a Tyler Johnson update and other Heat news from this morning's post.

• Marlins players have complained about the front office at times in past years, but that hasn’t happened this year. Whereas associates of Mike Redmond and Dan Jennings said Jeffrey Loria meddled, that has not been the case now, Don Mattingly said.

“He doesn't bother me at all with lineups; nobody does,” Mattingly said. “It's been excellent. If he's in town, he usually comes in and says hello. We talk maybe once a week or something. It's been really good. Obviously, he's not worrying about the day to day every game like [president/baseball operations] Mike Hill. I am sure they are communicating with Jeffrey. It's been really good. I really like Jeffrey.”

Jose Fernandez shockingly allowed a career-high nine runs (six earned) in 5 2/3 innings of a 9-1 loss to the Braves today. He also allowed two homers, for the second time in his career. The Braves rank last in baseball in home runs.

• UM running back Mark Walton’s trial on a DUI charge was set for July 11, and UM appears ready to let that play out before determining whether Walton will be suspended for any games.

• Please click here for the skinny on the Panthers' newest $22 million pickup today.

Check back Sunday for Dolphins stuff... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

July 01, 2016

Noon Saturday: Panthers add another solid player; Tyler Johnson takes 2 meetings; Deng, Joe Johnson leave; Teams reportedly making big offers for Wade; Riley's new expectations for Whiteside; Panthers owners address issues

Quick 12:30 update: Jason Demers, considered a quality top-four defenseman, said he's signing with the Panthers. Sirius Radio reported the terms at five years and $22.5 million.

He had seven goals and 16 assists and was a plus 16 in 62 games for Dallas last season. For his career, he has 28 goals and 115 assists in 428 games and is a plus 39.

This past week, SB Nation's KT Bauer did a thorough synopsis of Demers here.

Bauer writes: "Demers, 28, comes from one of the better puck moving systems in hockey. The Stars were able to consistently outskill their opponents with a precise breakout and fluidity through the neutral zone. Demers was key in this system, often being relied on to make the first pass. He's also been a contributor to the to the Stars power play, registering 3 goals and 2 assists.

"As cited by Derek Neumeier of Defending Big D, Demers began this past season playing pivotal minutes for the Stars and excelled through his steadiness, It's not just shorthanded where Demers is trusted defensively by his coaching staff, either. According to Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Demers starts a higher percentage of his even strength shifts in his own zone than any other Stars defender, at 35.6%. ... Demers grew into his role as a top four defenseman playing big minutes in tough situations. One of Demers' most attractive attributes is his right-handed shot."

But Bauer adds: "Demers has a history of injuries in his relatively short career with concussion and wrist issues that have caused him to miss substantial time. Sometimes injuries follow a player due to his style, sometimes it's just bad luck. Considering Demers' injuries were caused by Lessio's hit from behind and a head shot by our old friend Corey Emmerton, I don't expect him to struggle to stay healthy. Still, head, wrist and shoulder injuries always lend lingering concern.... Another concern is Demers taking too many penalties. His total this spiked to a career high 72 minutes this past season despite only playing 62 games."

Please scroll down for my interviews with Panthers owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu.

SATURDAY MORNING HEAT

Couple 8 a.m. Heat notes:

• Guard Tyler Johnson, a restricted free agent, met with the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets in Chicago on Friday, according to a source. He also has had conversations with several other teams, including Brooklyn.

As of this morning, he wasn't in a rush to resolve his situation and wasn't on the verge of agreeing to terms on an offer sheet.

Johnson can decide to accept terms of an offer sheet in the coming days, but he cannot sign an offer sheet until July 7. The Heat would then have three days to match.

His Heat cap hit would be $1.2 million next season regardless of the size of the contract, but a sizable offer elsewhere could result in big Heat cap hits in years three and four, if Miami matches.

If you missed it, here's more on the type of contracts that teams could present to Johnson, within NBA rules. (Scroll down for that.)

• Swingman Joe Johnson agreed to a two-year, $22 million deal with Utah. So much for any Heat hopes of Johnson accepting Miami's $2.9 million room exception.

• According to The Vertical, Luol Deng agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal with the Lakers. The Heat wanted to keep him but was always pessimistic it could create the cap space, as we reported Thursday. As it turns out, the $18 million per year is nowhere near what Miami would have been realistically able to play.

So the Heat's starting forwards in the playoffs (Johnson and Deng) have agreed to $94 million deals in the past eight hours.

• Ethan reports that Minnesota and Denver are among teams that have expressed interest in Udonis Haslem. The Heat prefers he return at the minimum, but Haslem could get more elsewhere.

FRIDAY NIGHT HEAT

A few Heat free agent notes on a Friday:

• The pursuit of Dwyane Wade by other teams is getting serious, according to The Vertical, which reported tonight that Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Milwaukee "have started a courtship process that has included offers in length of two and three years and upward of $20 million a season – a salary the Heat so far have been reluctant to offer....The Nuggets and Bulls have been among the most aggressive pursuers of Wade."

Adrian Wojnarowski's report said "the Heat's initial offer of $10 million annually – which would've constituted a 50 percent pay cut from his $20 million 2015-16 salary – deeply angered Wade, league sources told The Vertical."

(We reported yesterday that Wade was unhappy with the Heat, according to a friend of his.)

Woj writes: "Even with the Heat planning to counter to a higher figure, league sources said, Wade has been insistent on starting to explore the market and meet with teams once he returns from an overseas vacation."

Here's the Woj report.

ESPN reported tonight that Wade is in contract talks with the Knicks and Bucks and could schedule meetings next week. But keep in mind that the Knicks and Bucks have less cap space than Miami's $20 million.

The Bucks have $15 million in space and can add a bit more if they rescind a qualifying offer to Miles Plumlee.

The Knicks could clear out $16 million or a bit more.

Still, the Heat remains at least cautiously optimistic about getting a deal done with Wade, who has consistently said in the past year that he wants to finish his career here. That likely would mean committing all or most of its $20 million in cap space to Wade.

The Heat would be surprised if Wade leaves.

Miami needs some clarity from Kevin Durant on Sunday before it knows exactly how much it has available of Wade.

But if Durant surprisingly signs with the Heat, Miami would try to take care of Wade by trading Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts. The plan is not to replace Wade with Durant but to have them play together. 

• Spoke to several agents today who thought they might hear from the Heat on their free agent clients but did not, with one saying it is clear Miami is focused on Durant and will move onto other things after getting resolution there.

• Tyler Johnson began discussions with teams today, and though the Heat has expressed interest in signing him to a multiyear deal, Johnson wants to let this process play out, which might include signing an offer sheet that the Heat would have the right to match.

Brooklyn and New Orleans are among those who have shown interest, according to a friend of Johnson. The Vertical also mentioned Chicago and Charlotte.

Jordan Clarkson's four-year, $50 million deal with the Lakers could portend a similar deal for Johnson. His Heat cap hit next season will be $1.2 million even if Miami matches a Clarkson-like offer for him.

• If Durant passes on the Heat, and Wade gets Miami's remaining cap space, that would leave the Heat with a $2.9 million room exception and minimum deals to fill out a roster including Chris Bosh, Wade, Goran Dragic, Whiteside, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Briante Weber. Udonis Haslem could return at the minimum. That would be nine players.

A McRoberts trade would free up $5.8 million, but would leave Miami even more in need of another stretch four (someone like free agent Anthony Tolliver, who the Heat has shown fondness for in the past), in addition to the need for another reasonably-priced shooter. Here are some options.

• Now that Whiteside has agreed to terms, a reminder about what Riley said (in May) about what the expectations would be for him if he resigned.

"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," Riley said. "I think he's ready for that....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."

PANTHERS NEWS 

The Panthers’ eight-year, $60 million extension with Aaron Ekblad today, and the seven-year, $44.5 million deal last week with defenseman Keith Yandle (five goals, 42 assists last season) were the latest examples of the willingness of Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu to spend money since purchasing the team less than three years ago.

Both owners weighed in on assorted issues in separate conversations recently:

• Cifu wants to make this clear: “We won’t have players picked off. We will make sure everybody we want to keep will be Florida Panthers. I am 100 percent confident of that. Everyone that’s a good player and with good character, we will make sure are still Panthers.”

Having already agreed on six-year deals for centers Nick Bjugstad (for $24 million) and Aleksander Barkov ($35.4 million) in the past year and an eight-year deal for Ekblad, Cifu has said the Panthers are working to re-sign center Vincent Trochek (Trochek assures it will get done).

And they want to keep Jonathan Huberdeau (arbitration eligible after next season) and Reilly Smith, a restricted free agent after next season.

“We have to pick the right six, seven, eight guys that that we make our corps for the long term,” Cifu said. “The cap doesn’t allow you to give $6 million to every player.”

Said Viola: “The bottom line is if we had a choice at this point, we would really like to commit to our core longterm and build from within. It doesn't mean we won't go out and get a veteran for a particular purpose or a particular skill set [as they did with Yandle].  We need to make a commitment to those players… longterm. We want them to feel this is their career home.”

• The Panthers used a sizable chunk of their cap space today, including three free agent signings. (See the last post for that.)

So are they willing to spend to the cap?

“Absolutely,” Viola said. “If we thought that was going to be the difference between a Stanley Cup or not, absolutely. We think if we could achieve excellence by playing at the mid of the mid --- $3 million or $4 million below the cap, we're comfortable there. It leaves you some space to maneuver around the trade deadline.”

The Panthers still have a $5.5 million cap charge for injured Dave Bolland on their cap next season, even though his future is murky at best, and confirm that he cannot be bought out because he’s injured.

• Cifu said the priority is “making our team a little faster and more physical and deeper. We had a lot of injuries.”

The Yandle trade helps the power play, which ranked 23rd.

“We looked at what our No. 1 deficiency was last year which was the power play; Yandle gives you 50 points a year and he’s very good on the power play,” Panthers hockey operations chief Dale Tallon said when I asked him about a player who had 22 of his 47 points on the power play last year.  

“He’s got a great shot. He’s a quarterback and is offensively gifted. That was a big need for our team.”

• Though the owners were pleased with this season (which included a division title but a first-round playoff ouster), they add caveats.

“I would say it was a very solid baby step forward,” Viola said. “You're never pleased because we're relentless and uncompromising around our simple objective. We want to win the Stanley Cup every year.”

Though Cifu is highly encouraged and said “we’ve had enormous strides,” he also said: “Our goal every year is to win the Stanley Cup. While strong positives came out, ultimately the season was not a success, if you will, because if you don't think you can be a champion, why do it? We're figuring out how to do it.”

But Cifu said he and Viola had a five- to seven-year plan “in our head and we are ahead of we're we thought we would be. The next two, three years will be really important. People want to see that consistency. We want to see the fan base respond every night. We’ve sold a boatload of new season tickets” and have a 90 percent renewal rate so far.

Cifu said Yandle signing with the Panthers shows “that top players want to win in Florida.”

• The Panthers lost $36 million in 2013 (according to Broward records), but the county’s decision last December to give the team $86 million in public funds “really, really helps us,” Viola said. “I think we can get [losses] down to low, low double digits. And I think that's somewhat sustainable.”

• Roberto Luongo, 37, still has six years left on his deal, with an annual cap charge of $4.5 million. The Panthers want to get him more rest next season and believe new backup James Reimer will help achieve that.

“I think [Loungo] is in great shape, incredibly nimble,” Cifu said. “Thought he played really well this season. Until somebody tells me otherwise, he is very much part of longterm future.”

Cifu concedes playing all six years as an above-average NHL starter “might be a bit of a stretch. But he has a number of very good years ahead of him.”

• On the dismissal of several employees (in scouting and on the assistant coaching staff), Viola – without discussing anyone in particular – said: “So many people are still here. We had three years to take a close look at everybody. We have a simple belief: If a person is in a position where they're not growing, they're not prospering, then the leader is doing a disservice allowing that person to be there.”

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 30, 2016

Noon: Details on three Panthers signings; Drama with Wade negotiations; Whiteside staying with Heat; Heat dealing with backcourt issues, plus Wade, shooter search, Deng; UM, Dolphins, Marlins, Panthers

Noon update: NHL free agency started in the past 20 minutes, and the Panthers have added three players: forwards Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault and new backup goalie James Reimer. 

Sceviour, 27, had 11 goals and 12 assists and was a plus six for Dallas last season. He has 28 goals and 34 assists in 170 NHL games over five seasons, all with Dallas.

Marchessault, 25, had 7 goals and 11 assists in 45 games with Tampa Bay last season. He has eight goals and 11 assists in 49 NHL games with Tampa and Columbus.

Reimer's signing was a bit surprising because Florida traded for goal Retto Berra last week. The Panthers want to get Roberto Luongo more rest, and Reimer is very solid.

He was 17-14 with a 2.31 GAA for Toronto and San Jose last season. He started 37 games last season and had three shutouts.

Reimer, 28, is 85-76 with a 2.83 GAA in his career, with 188 starts over six seasons.

Reimer signed for five seasons, with salaries reportedly of $5 million the first and $3 million each of the following four.

HEAT TALK

10 a.m. update: We reported last night (see below) that a friend of Dwyane Wade said he was unhappy about how the Heat has been handling his contract talks.

And The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reports "Rival teams starting to take Dwyane Wade's free agency seriously, w/ GM's telling they've made multi-year offers to his reps. Rival execs expected to speak with Wade on phone today, armed with belief his contract impasse with Heat has him considering move."

8 a.m.: Heat fans can exhale at this hour. Hassan Whiteside announced on Snapchat at around 7:30 this morning that he's staying with the Heat.

"I have played on eight teams since college," Whiteside said on The Players Tribune. "I'm not ready for a ninth.  I have decided to re-sign with Miami. I just wanted to take this time to tell all the fans how much you mean to this team, and to me. Can't wait to get back to work and try to bring another championship to Miami.""

As we reported yesterday, there was growing sentiment inside the Heat to give Whiteside a max deal even though the team was hesitant initially. And Miami relented, giving Whiteside four years and $98 million because it knew it likely would lose him otherwise.

Whiteside will make $22 million next season, leaving Miami with $20 million in cap space this summer. The Heat hopes to increase that total to $26 million if it can trade Josh McRoberts. It also wants to re-sign Dwyane Wade and add a shooter, plus at least one backup big. (UPDATE: The Herald's Ethan Skolnick said Whiteside will give the Heat some wiggle room, and take a bit less than the max, if Miami can sign Kevin Durant.)

Because the Heat is using cap space, it cannot exceed the projected $94 million cap to sign anyone except Tyler Johnson (Gilbert Arenas provision) and minimum contracts.

The Heat knows it would need to trade Goran Dragic to create cap space if Kevin Durant surprisingly picks Miami. Otherwise, it wouldn't have enough space for Durant and Wade.

The Heat also has a $2.9 million room exception that cannot be combined with cap space.

Tyler Johnson has a $1.2 million cap hit next season, no matter how big a contract he signs next season. If the Heat declines to match, that would remove the $1.2 million hit. (Please see below for a lot more on this.)

Some other developments:

Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski says Pat Riley and Micky Arison will represent the Heat in Sunday's meeting with Kevin Durant in the Hamptons... We mention Luol Deng below, about the Heat not being optimistic about having the space to keep him. Woj reports the Jazz will be aggressive in pursuing Deng and that Minnesota and the Clippers also inquired.... We explain the Tyler Johnson situation below. Woj reports Johnson will start taking meetings Friday in Chicago and that Chicago, New Orleans and Charlotte have interest, with a big contract looming.

Elsewhere:    

While the Heat prepared to meet with Kevin Durant in New York on Sunday, they’re also dealing with backcourt issues involving Dwyane Wade, Tyler Johnson and the search for another shooter. Where things stand:

• Wade is unhappy with the Heat about the approach it has taken with his contract, a friend of Wade said this week. That’s why, as ESPN reported, his agent has told Dallas, San Antonio and other teams that he’s available, though some NBA people believe Wade is simply looking for leverage.

An involved person said the Heat has been unable to tell Wade exactly what it’s willing to pay him because a lot will depend on whether it can sign Whiteside or Durant. That apparently has frustrated Wade, who wants to feel like a priority.

But let’s be clear: Miami wants to keep Wade, who said earlier this year that he intends to finish his career here. And it would be surprising if this doesn't end with Wade re-signing and both sides professing their love for each other. The possibility of him leaving cannot be ruled out, but it's still difficult to envision this.

• The Heat wants to add a shooter and plans to pursue Jamal Crawford, who reportedly will meet with Orlando on Friday.

Crawford, 36, averaged 14.2 points for the Clippers last season, shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 34 percent on threes (117 for 334). Whether the Heat would have the cap space for him would depend on several factors; it would help if it succeeds in trading Josh McRoberts, who's very much available.

If the Heat cannot sign Crawford or another one of the better free agent shooters (such as Mirza Teletovic or Jared Dudley), it will consider trading for Chicago’s Mike Dunleavy, who will make $4.8 million next season. Dunleavy, 35, returned from back surgery in February and started 30 games; he shot 40.7 and 39.4 percent on threes the past two seasons.

If those options don’t materialize, the Heat will look for a less expensive shooter such as Marcus Thornton or Wesley Johnson.

• According to Cleveland.com, the Heat also might meet with coveted Raptors free agent guard DeMar DeRozan. This would be very much in character for Pat Riley, who likes to meet with all the very top free agents. [UPDATE: DeROZAN HAS AGREED TO STAY WITH TORONTO.]

But it would be impossible to accommodate DeRozan, Wade and Whiteside without trading Goran Dragic. Miami is trying to deal McRoberts (due $5.8 million next season), which would push the Heat’s cap space to $48 million, but Miami isn’t looking to deal Dragic unless it needs cap space to add a star free agent.

The Heat might find a team willing to take on McRoberts' salary to get to the salary cap floor, but it might need to throw in a draft pick (the Heat has very few available) as a carrot.

• The Heat wants to keep Tyler Johnson and has a right to match any offer but might walk away if a team gives Johnson an offer sheet with huge salaries in the third and fourth years. No team can offer Johnson more than $5.6 million next season and $5.9 million in 2017-18, but can offer essentially anything (up to $25 million) in the final two years.

If a team is willing to pay him, say, $15 million each of the final two years of a four-year deal, that would result in a $15 million hit on the Heat’s cap each of those two seasons. (By contrast, the team making the offer would have an annual cap hit of his average salary over the four seasons combined for a contract this large).

Teams can sign Johnson to an offer sheet beginning July 7, with Miami having three days to match. Johnson is expected to let this play out, though he has said previously: “I love the Heat organization.”

His Heat cap hit next season will be just $1.2 million if Miami keeps him.

The Vertical’s Wojnarowski predicted on Dan Le Batard’s ESPN show that Johnson’s new deal will average at least $10 million a year. Welcome to the new NBA, which dawns in a couple of hours.

 

• The Heat would like to re-sign Luol Deng, but it’s not optimistic about having the space to do so if it signs Wade and a high-end center. 

CHATTER

• Of UM’s incoming freshman class, everyone has enrolled except receiver Dionte Mullins (waiting on test scores) and safety Cedrick Wright. UM expects both to enroll in August.…. Eager to use a fullback at times, UM has added four of them in the past two weeks (including UM shot-putter Gian Piero Ragonesi) and now has six. Four of the six are walk-ons; former Mars Hill fullback Marquez Williams and Gage Batten are on scholarship.

• Though Billy Turner was the Dolphins’ first-team right guard throughout the offseason, the Dolphins remain hopeful Jermon Bushrod – who hasn’t yet been cleared for team drills off shoulder surgery – will become a factor there. Will he be cleared for training camp?

“I got to be,” he said. “The shoulder feels strong. It’s been a long road.”

Bushrod, a former Pro Bowl tackle, has never played guard before and “it’s not easy, but I’ve embraced the process. I’m OK with it. I’ve just got to work the technique, be a little quicker, be stouter.”

Bushrod, Laremy Tunsil, Dallas Thomas, Turner, Jamil Douglas and Kraig Urbik are competing for two starting guard spots.

• A National League scout said Thursday trade pickup Fernando Rodney (who is allowing opponents to hit just .137 against him) gives the Marlins “as good or better as any eighth inning guy, with the way he’s throwing. Really good stuff. If he commands it, he's getting outs. It's a good bullpen now.”

Closer AJ Ramos and Rodney are a combined 41 for 41 in saves with 31 hits allowed and 71 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings.

• NHL free agency begins Friday and the Panthers (with $19 million in cap space) expect to add a forward or two.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz