May 18, 2016

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

 

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

An announcement is expected Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PAT RILEY'S PRESS CONFERENCE

Highlights from Pat Riley's postseason press conference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 17, 2016

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

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two scouts have told me that mechanical work is needed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHATTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time (ET)

Game

Network

Thu, Sept 1

8 p.m.

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

ESPN

Sat, Sept 3

7:30 a.m.

Georgia Tech vs. Boston College (Dublin, Ireland)

ESPN2

 

Noon

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

ABC

 

Noon

Hawaii at No. 3 Michigan

ESPN

 

3:30 p.m.

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

ABC

 

5:30 p.m.

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

ESPN

 

8 p.m.

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

ABC

 

9 p.m.

No. 2 Clemson at Auburn

ESPN

Sun, Sept 4

7:30 p.m.

No. 9 Notre Dame at Texas

ABC

Mon, Sept 5

8 p.m.

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

ESPN

SPOELSTRA'S THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Spoelstra said he expects no surgery for any player.

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

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

Pat Riley will address the media on Wednesday.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 16, 2016

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

MORE ON WHITESIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s why:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 15, 2016

Wade, Spoelstra, Winslow reflect after Heat's Game 7 loss; and Wade looks ahead

Reaction after the Heat's 116-89 Game 7 loss at Toronto:

• Erik Spoelstra: "Heck of a series to be involved with. It was a privilege to be part of a seven-game series like this. Players were playing injured on both sides. 

"I thought once we got it to six at the end of the third, I thought we had a chance. Our young guys gave us a burst of energy. Got within six when Tyler [Johnson] hit that three. But Toronto kept on coming. They wore us down.

"We're not making any excuses. Toronto beat us fair and square. Give them credit. Players on both teams were playing through injuries. It's unfortunate people thought this was maybe not the most elegant series. But it was one of the more competitive series. If you're a true basketball fan, you can find joy in a true grind like this....

"We don't view [Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson and Johnson] as young guys any more. They've been fearless all year long and they're a major part of why we have gone as far as we did.... Winslow finds a way to make you have to play them.

"Very proud of this group. You don't have a season like this all the time in this league. I can speak for the staff, coaching staff and management --- we are all grateful to be with this group of professionals in this locker-room. It was an enjoyable, gratifying season."

Do you think of what ifs with Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside?

"I feel very badly for CB because I know what this games means to him," Spoelstra said... "I really miss CB. But, no. That's why this team was able to get to this point. They never made excuses. The guys in that locker-room should be proud of this season."

• Dwyane Wade: Did you max out what you have as a team?

"Yeah we did. Today, the better team won. We use no excuses. We thought it was a fair series, but today they were the better team for the majority of the game."

Was a chance lost to get to the Eastern Conference Finals?

"Obviously, that was the goal," Wade said. As I talked to Goran [Dragic], we've been together a year and a half, we've been snakebitten a little bit. All you want is a chance. I wish we could have gotten a 100 percent chance, a full chance to see what we could do [if we got to the Eastern Finals].

"It's not always another season, another season. You want to take advantage of the opportunities. But we exhausted all possibilities. We did everything we possibly could to try to get there.  Takes nothing away from what we accomplished. Hopefully, going forward, this organization is not snakebit like it was the last two years losing key players....

"It's a critical offseason for the growth of what we've trying to do as an organization since our run to the Finals... This year was another step in the right direction. Obviously the health of Chris Bosh is important to the future of this organization. We miss him. I missed this year, even more than last year. It's an important offseason. It will be important for the organization, important for Chris and of course it will be important for me."

Wade, on the Heat's rookies: "It's hard in the moment to reflect. More reflecting as the days go on. For those guys to get playoff experience... seven-games against a good Charlotte team and... good Toronto team... That experience will do great for them. They have so many more of these opportunities left. You smile about the possibilities of what they can do. They don't even know yet. This experience... will propel them for the rest of their careers."

What difference did Bismack Biyombo make? "He was active and aggressive," Wade said. "Kind of the same game he had in Game 5."

• Justise Winslow, via Fox Sports Sun, said long rebounds were hurtful today: "It was a great season as a whole for me. As a rookie, to have the role I had, to make it the playoffs, make it to the second round. I'm disappointed. I felt we had a real shot to make a deep run. Definitely tough one to swallow."

Hard to believe no more games? "It's emotional. It will sink in tomorrow. I'll be looking at myself  with nothing to do. Then I'll cheer up. I'm definitely going to miss it. Lot of work to do this offseason. There will be time to reflect tomorrow and days after that. Try to get back to work soon.

"Everything I learned I feel like I'm going to be a better player from it. Whenever I can mentally, emotionally allow myself to reflect I'm sure I will look back and be be sort of satisfied, sort of happy with the season I had."

• Dwane Casey said he had no doubts about sticking with a big lineup against the Heat's small lineup: "It's something I knew we would stick with. I think the 20 offensive rebounds told the story.... Tonight, our big guys made them pay."  (Toronto out-rebounded the Heat, 50-30.)

Check back tomorrow for more Heat news.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

May 14, 2016

Lots of Saturday Heat nuggets on eve of Game 7: Eye-opening numbers on Heat's small lineup; Heat grants permission; Whiteside and other notes

 

They’re two of the best words in sports – Game 7 --- and now the Heat gets to experience the delicious drama, the palpable pressure for the second time in two weeks. A trip to the Eastern Conference Finals – and a long-anticipated playoff showdown with Cleveland’s LeBron James – rides on the outcome of Sunday’s second-round finale in Toronto.

“It’s great to know how this team responds with our back against the wall,” Heat rookie Justise Winslow said of a team that is 3-0 in elimination games this postseason and is trying to become the first franchise in NBA history to rally from 3-2 deficits to win two series in the same postseason.

The Heat enters Game 7 with one of the great individual playoff performers of the 21st century, with Dwyane Wade now 12th on the NBA’s all-time postseason scoring list and 20th in playoff victories with 102. He leads the league in baskets this postseason and is averaging 25.2 points in this series.

The question is which of his teammates will serve up something significant and substantive in support on Sunday.

Perhaps it will be Joe Johnson, who was 1 for 18 on threes in this series before hitting his final one Friday. “They've got to go in sooner or later,” he said after Game 6. But “my confidence never wavers.”

Perhaps it will be Luol Deng, averaging just 6.8 points on 34.1 percent shooting in this series, but helping in other ways, after scoring 19.3 per game in the first round.

“I realized in this series early what they're trying to do -- they’re doing a good job of staying home on our three-point shooters,” he said. “My mindset is to be a force defensively.”

Or perhaps the support for Wade will again come from Goran Dragic, whose 30 points in Game 6 were a career playoff high and continued his postseason rollercoaster.

Dragic scored 25, 26 and 20 over the final game of the Charlotte series, and the first two again Toronto, then averaged 13 points on 36 percent shooting over the next three, before erupting to shoot 12 of 21, with seven rebounds and four assists, in Game 6.

With Dragic driving relentlessly to the basket, 12 of his 21 field goal attempts Friday were inside the paint, and eight of his 12 baskets were within seven feet. He vowed to have the “same” attacking “mindset” on Sunday.

"I don't want to go home to Europe [yet]; l still want to be here," Dragic said. “We feel like when we play more aggressive and when everybody is attacking, then that is our game."

That’s where Winslow comes in. With the Heat playing a small lineup, 6-9 center Bismack Biyombo must come out to the perimeter to guard him.

And when Winslow hit a three-pointer in the first quarter Friday, it compelled the Raptors to take notice.

“When he hits those shots, it’s much easier for the whole team,” Dragic said. With Biyombo forced to defend Winslow, “that gives me and D-Wade room to operate and we can penetrate.”

Winslow said before Friday, he hadn’t played center since high school. He said battling against Biyombo, who has a two-inch and 30-pound advantage, is physically taxing.

“That's what we lift weights for,” Winslow said. “You switch a lot during the season on bigger guys so I was used to it. “

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who often has opted to stick with a big lineup when the Heat goes undersized, said the Heat’s small lineup “had nothing to do with [Friday’s result].”

But Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan says the Heat “made a great adjustment going small. That's something we have to make the adjustment to [Sunday]. We couldn't get them in rotation like we wanted to because of them switching. It took away a lot of passing angles as well. And we have to understand we've got to be dominant when it comes to rebounding.”

Toronto won the rebound battle by only two in Game 6, a victory for Miami considering the Heat’s downsizing.

Just how effective have Miami’s small lineups been? The Heat has scored 138 points and outscored the opponent by 27 points during the 63 minutes when none of its centers (Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem, Amar’e Stoudemire or Josh McRoberts) have been on the floor this postseason. That’s an average of 105 points per 48 minutes.

Of those 63 minutes, Deng has been on the court for 56 of them.

Why is this lineup working? “We’re a quicker lineup that way,” Wade said. “It opened the floor, which is great. Me and Goran are always trying to get in the paint and when we are able to see the floor open, I think we both feel a lot better about our chances.

“We had 40-something paint touches in the first half [of Game 6]. That’s the game we’re trying to get to…. [The lineup] is just unconventional. Sometimes unconventional works.”

More than being unconventional, the Heat will need to be at peak efficiency Sunday. “It's going to be fun to have the crowd against you,” Deng said. “When we look back one day, we'll be very thankful to be in the position we're in.”

FIZDALE CONTACTED

The Heat has granted the Memphis Grizzlies permission to interview Miami assistant coach David Fizdale for their head coaching job, a source said.

The Grizzlies showed interest in Fizdale very early last week, but the decision was made for the interview to wait until the conclusion of the Toronto series. A Heat win Sunday could further affect the timing.

The Grizzlies also have interviewed Charlotte assistant coach Patrick Ewing and, according to ESPN, have asked for permission to interview Spurs assistant Ettore Messina. Grizzlies management reportedly also has spoken with former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins about the job.

Fizdale, 41, a former All-West Coast Conference point guard at the University of San Diego, has worked as an assistant for one year with Golden State, four seasons with Atlanta and eight years with the Heat, holding the title of assistant head coach the past two.

“Fiz is a great basketball coach, a dear friend of mine,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. “He is a tremendous teacher of the game,… a tremendous basketball mind.”

WHITESIDE TRAVELS

Hassan Whiteside, sidelined the past week with a sprained MCL in his right knee, was ruled out for Game 7 and said he isn’t sure when he will play again.

But he traveled with the team to Toronto on Saturday. “We just want him with us,” Spoelstra said. “Our trainers are traveling with us and he needs a lot of treatment.”

Whiteside said the knee is “getting better. Each day passes, I'm feeling better. I can't really put a measurement on [a target date to return]. It… depends on what the doctors say and how everything is feeling. I don't really want to make anything worse."

If the Heat wins Sunday, it would fly directly to Cleveland to begin the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday.

As for Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas, who has been sidelined since an ankle injury in Game 3, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said: “I don’t think he will play in Game 7. His ankle is nowhere close to being ready.”

• The Heat is now 8-1 under Spoelstra in home elimination games. In NBA history, only former Syracuse Nationals coach Al Servi (8-0) has a better record. And the Heat is 10-4 when facing elimination under Spoelstra, the best elimination-game record in the league since he became the Heat's coach.

• Per AP, the Heat is trying to win a Game 7 for the fifth consecutive time, something only the Celtics and Lakers have achieved.

• Toronto is now 0-7 in playoff games when leading in a series, the longest such streak in NBA history.

• According to ESPN, the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem and Cavaliers and ex-Heat swingman James Jones are third all time with 10 wins in playoff series in which their teams trailed. Derek Fisher leads in that category with 12; Robert Horry is second with 11. 

• Justise Winslow, listed at 6-7, became the sixth rookie to start a postseason game for the Heat --- joining Steve Smith, Kurt Thomas, Anthony Carter, Wade and Mario Chalmers --- and teammates couldn’t stop raving about him, especially how he handled heavy minutes at center.

“Hopefully this summer he will have a growth spurt and dominate at the [center] spot,” Luol Deng joked. “His screens were great. He was boxing out, battling in there. For a rookie, I keep saying he's very mature and very understanding of whatever role is given. He went from not playing [in Game 3] to starting [in Game 6]. Mentally, a lot of young guys would have checked out.”

• A few numbers to keep in mind if Game 7 is close: Wade leads the NBA with 41 clutch points this postseason, with the league defining clutch as the final five minutes of games (and overtime) with a margin of five points or fewer.

Wade is 15 for 29 from the field and 9 for 10 on clutch free throws in 44 clutch minutes.

All other Heat players have a combined 43 clutch points on 12 for 36 shooting during these playoffs. Joe Johnson is 3 for 12, Goran Dragic 4 for 9.

• Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson will call Sunday's Heat game (on ABC) and all possible remaining Heat games this season (on ABC or ESPN).

• Dragic’s 30 points Friday were a career playoff high, and Elias says the last NBA player whose first 30-point game in the playoffs forced a Game 7 in the second round or later was Kenny Smith in May 1993.

• For news on the Dolphins' latest signing and the Eastern Conference Finals schedule, please click here.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 13, 2016

Whiteside addresses issues after Game 6; Dolphins close in on adding starting veteran DE; Lots of pre-game Heat notes: Deng, McRoberts and more

We'll have a lot of Heat on Saturday, but here's what Hassan Whiteside had to say tonight in speaking for the first time since a Sunday MRI revealed a sprained MCL in his right knee:

• Any chance he plays in Game 7? "No."

• Is he traveling to Toronto? "Yes." (Because Miami will fly directly to Cleveland if it wins, that will allow him to be with the team in Cleveland should the Heat advance, and should he be ready to play by then.)

• When is a realistic target date to return if Miami wins Sunday? Game 1 in Cleveland? Game 2? "I can't really put a measurement on it. It just really depends on what the doctors say and how everything is feeling down there. I don't really want to make anything worse."

• On how the knee feels: "It's getting better. Each day passes, I'm feeling better. I'm just kind of rehabbing and getting better each day. I don't really have a time period for you but just getting better."

• What about the stability test he needs to take to gauge his progress? "No, I don't know when that test is coming up, but I'm just going to keep icing. Each day, I keep doing more and more stuff towards basketball."

• His thoughts on his team: "D-Wade is just dominating the series. Lu is dominating the series. Goran is playing really well, he's dominating. We have a lot of talented guys on this team. They played amazing. Goran got in the paint a lot and made it tough on those guys. D-Wade did D-Wade stuff."

By the way, the Raptors reiterated that their center, Jonas Valanciunas, is out of Game 7.

Meanwhile, here's the full Eastern Finals schedule:

Cleveland vs. Toronto/OR/Miami

Game 1 – Tue  May 17  Toronto/Miami at Cleveland         8:30PM    8:30PM      ESPN/R

Game 2 – Thu  May 19  Toronto/Miami at Cleveland         8:30PM    8:30PM      ESPN/R

Game 3 – Sat  May 21  Cleveland at Toronto/Miami         8:30PM    8:30PM      ESPN/R

Game 4 – Mon  May 23  Cleveland at Toronto/Miami         8:30PM    8:30PM      ESPN/R

Game 5 * Wed  May 25  Toronto/Miami at Cleveland         8:30PM    8:30PM      ESPN/R

Game 6 * Fri  May 27  Cleveland at Toronto/Miami         8:30PM    8:30PM      ESPN/R

Game 7 * Sun  May 29  Toronto/Miami at Cleveland         8:30PM    8:30PM      ESPN/R

(See below for more Heat notes and check back here Saturday for more Heat.)

DOLPHINS NEWS

• The Dolphins are planning to sign veteran defensive end Jason Jones, according to a league source.

Jones later told ESPN's Josina Anderson that he plans to sign with Miami on Monday.

He gives the Dolphins four starting-caliber defensive ends: Cameron Wake, Mario Williams, Jones and Andre Branch.

Jones visited the Dolphins twice in the past two months, but the Dolphins wanted to hold off on signing him until after May 12, when it would not affect how many compensatory draft picks Miami will get in next year's draft.

Jones, 29, started 15 games for Detroit last season and had 31 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus rated him the league’s 43rd best edge defender last season.

He had five sacks for Detroit as a starter in 2014.

Jones has played eight NFL seasons: four in Tennessee, one in Seattle and three in Detroit. He has 28 career sacks, 24 passes defended and 10 forced fumbles.

A second-round pick out of Eastern Michigan in 2008, Jones also visited the Dallas Cowboys last month.

The Dolphins have been planning to go into the season with Mario Williams starting at one defensive end spot and Cameron Wake and Andre Branch likely sharing time at the other, with Branch playing a lot on run-heavy downs to conserve Wake’s energy.

Wake is coming off an Achilles’ injury and the Dolphins say he is expected to be ready to play by Week 1.

Jones’ signing could change the dynamics and create competition with Branch for the defensive end role, opposite Williams, in base defense.

The Dolphins also have Chris McCain, Terrence Fede and CFL import Cleyon Laing at defensive end.

And Dion Jordan is eligible for reinstatement after a one-year suspension, with his agent saying on Twitter that he could be comeback player of the year.

The Dolphins entered the day with $18 million in cap space.

         

HEAT NOTES

• Luol Deng says he's playing tonight, despite a sprained wrist. Deng said the wrist has improved in the past day and he feels good. The Raptors say DeMarre Carroll (wrist) also is expected to play.

• The Heat is starting a small lineup, with Justise Winslow at center, Deng and Joe Johnson at forward, and Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic at guard.

• Heat fans who have been imploring Josh McRoberts to shoot more the past two seasons might be surprised to know that McRoberts said no Heat teammates or coaches have ever told him that.

They also might be surprised by this: McRoberts was sixth among all power forwards in three-point attempts for Charlotte two years ago (105) and seventh in attempts (291).

Conversely, in his two seasons with the Heat, McRoberts had only 201 field goal attempts combined (twos and threes).

Most of that is a function of reduced playing time, largely the byproduct of knee injuries in each of his first two seasons with the Heat. After appearing in only 59 games combined in his first two years here, McRoberts has become a bigger factor in postseason, with nine appearances in the Heat’s 12 games, including all three games that Hassan Whiteside missed.

He entered Game 6 having attempted only 19 shots overall in postseason (making seven) and 0 for 5 on threes. But he has contributed in other ways, including defensively (five steals and five blocks entering Friday).

Erik Spoelstra said last month that the Heat “always becomes a smarter team” when he’s on the floor. Why so?

“For the center position, he can pass extremely well,” Spoelstra said. “I like the things he gives us. And guys like playing with him. That's a big compliment. I trust his decision making. He's not going to be a guy who's aggressive like Dwyane [Wade]. That's not his skill set. But he makes the right plays. And he puts pressure on the defense in a different way.”

McRoberts has taken 10.8 shots per 48 minutes in his two seasons with the Heat, not substantially different than the 11.5 per 48 in his final season with Charlotte. That figure has dropped to 9.1 in postseason, entering Friday.

“There are certain times I can be more aggressive but for the most part I'm doing what I need to do to help us put the ball where it needs to go,” he said.

After making 36.1 percent of his three-point attempts in his final year with the Hornets, he hit only 12 for 49 this season (24.5 percent).

But his playoff defensive metrics have been outstanding. When McRoberts is in the game, opponents have shot only 44.2 percent from less than five feet this postseason, compared with 53.5 percent when Hassan Whiteside is in the game. He had a particularly impressive block of Jonas Valanciunas in Game 3.

“Physically, I'm not able to do some of the things Whiteside is able to do,” he said. “I'm not intimidating anybody down there, I don't think. It's just being in the right spot.”

Whether he returns for the final three seasons of his contract is very much in question. Though he can be asset when he’s at his best, it would not be the least bit surprising if the Heat explores trading him this offseason to free up an additional $5.8 million in cap space this summer.

LINEUP MOVES

Spoelstra said there has been no change in Whiteside’s status, six days after sustaining a sprained MCL in his right knee. He continues to be limited to rest and treatment, with no return considered imminent.

• Best visual of the Heat’s morning shootaround? Dwyane Wade wearing a “Father Prime” hat, having embraced his newest nickname.

• Entering Game 6, DeMar DeRozan was shooting 31.4 percent when guarded by Luol Deng, and 42.6 percent against everyone else. “He's long, he's active,” DeRozan said. “He plays the passing lanes well.”

• Even though local rights-holders aren’t permitted to broadcast games after the first round, Heat TV voice Eric Reid is doing them anyway. At the Heat’s request, he calls every postseason game from the arena, so that his call can be available for Heat postseason video and archival material.

“It’s enjoyable; I’m getting to call these great games,” he said. “We started with the 2005 Heat-Pistons conference finals. They’re woven into the fabric of the Heat’s historical record.”

Please click here for a lot more Heat, Dolphins, Marlins and some UM news today.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 12, 2016

UM moving closer to indoor facility; Wade's excellent season, playoffs makes summer increasingly complicated; Thursday evening Heat (Whiteside, Deng) and Dolphins (cornerbacks, Suh, Wake)

UM informed Board of Trustees at a meeting today that it is within a hair of being able to announce a major donor who is significantly contributing to an indoor football practice facility.

One trustee in attendance said the trustees were left with the impression that this project will get done, barring donors backing out at the last minute.

The donor's identity was not disclosed at the meeting.

UM already has architectural drawings of the facility and has shown them to multiple people, including recruits.

UM athletic director Blake James has said the facility will cost more than $20 million. UM believes it's critical to have one because more than 20 practices were delayed or disrupted by weather last season.

"A lot of people are like, ‘Why do you need an indoor [facility]?’" Richt said in March. "You need an indoor because of rain and lightning, there’s so many afternoon thunderstorms around here. I heard you can miss as many as 22 practices in a year.

“It’s for the lightning, but it’s for a lot of other things, too. A lot of people will use the indoor every third or fourth day, when it’s just smokin’ hot, just so the bodies don’t get depleted all the time. There will be a lot of other uses for it, for other sports and everything else. That’s priority No. 1. We must have an indoor facility; there's just no question about it."

UM also could have used an indoor facility at Pro Day, when NFL scouts and executives watched UM players try to impress them in a steady rain.

 

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

As the Heat tries to desperately delay its offseason in Game 6 against Toronto on Friday, there’s a tendency among Heat fans and media members (me included), to frame the Heat’s summer salary-cap permutations with this preface: “If Dwyane Wade settles for…”

As in, if the Heat can trade Josh McRoberts this summer, Miami will have $46 million in cap space instead of $40 million. And if Wade settles for $12 million or so, the Heat then would have $34 million to pay Hassan Whiteside and acquire a skilled-shooting small forward (younger than Joe Johnson) to complement Justise Winslow. (Remember: If Miami uses its ample cap space, the Heat must fit everyone under the cap except Tyler Johnson.)

But the way Wade is playing this postseason (21.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 9 for 15 on threes), in the wake of improved durability during the regular season, it’s time to stop thinking in terms of Wade making another significant sacrifice.

The Heat might be tempted to ask for one, but it also knows it must approach this with caution after last May’s rare organizational public relations misstep, when Miami initially angered Wade by floating a salary starting in the $12 million range, according to a Wade associate.

After a month of tension, the sides struck an accord and Wade was given one year at $20 million after sacrificing more than $15 million that he could have made (but didn't) if he had pressed for max salaries earlier in his Heat tenure.

Miami eschewed making a big multiyear offer to Wade at the time, because leaving flexibility for a run at Kevin Durant was at that time, and still remains, the highest priority in its 2016 summer planning.

Since his fence-mending June summit (handled deftly by Micky and Nick Arison), Wade has professed his love for the organization and told me in February: “I don't want to be on the market at all [this summer]…. I’m not curious at all. I want to get to it [with the Heat]. I want to be able to sign my deal and move on and not have to deal with any rumors, any free agency…. This is where I want to end my career. So we'll figure it out.”

But keep this in mind: Wade, at 34, can fully justify asking for something closer to $20 million than $10 million next season. He missed far fewer games this season (eight, compared with 20 in 2014-15). And with most teams having more than $20 million in cap space this summer, the market value will rise for nearly every quality free agent.

There is widespread speculation that Charlotte free agent Nic Batum could command a max deal (starting at $25 million) or something close to it this summer. So if never-an-All-Star Batum (14.9 points, 42.6 percent shooting this season) gets that, what does 12-time All Star Wade deserve after averaging 19.0 points on 45.6 percent shooting during the season and again excelling in postseason? The one advantage Batum, 27, has over Wade is age, of course.

Those wanting Wade to take less should keep this mind: Though Dirk Nowitzki is making $8.3 million now, he earned $20.9 million at 34. Kobe Bryant made $27.9 million at 34. And Tim Duncan, making $5 million now, was earning $22.2 million at that age. And that was with a cap far below next season’s projected $92 million.

So here’s the conundrum: If you give Whiteside $22 million and Wade $16 million, that would leave just $2 million (which will get you nothing decent) or $8 million if McRoberts’ contract can be dumped on another team with Miami taking no money back. And $8 million likely wouldn’t be enough to keep Luol Deng or snag one of the better small forwards in this free agent class.

You want to tell Wade to see what he can get on the open market and come back to us later? That’s not the way either party wants to handle negotiations for such a transcendent player.

Perhaps you get Wade to take less if Kevin Durant agrees to come, with the wink-wink understanding that Wade will be taken care of when the cap soars again to a projected $107 million in 2017-18.

But you don’t necessarily convince (or even ask) Wade to take much less for Al Horford (if Whiteside leaves) or Batum or virtually anybody else in this class, with the Heat having learned last summer the messy consequences of angering its franchise player.

• If you haven't heard, Hassan Whiteside is definitely out for Game 6 of the Heat-Raptors series Friday with the sprained MCL in his right knee. Erik Spoelstra said Whiteside will continue with rest and treatment... Luol Deng's MRI revealed no break to his left wrist, just a painful bruise. He is listed as questionable for Game 6 but said last night that he would play if the MRI revealed nothing serious.... Hubie Brown will work Friday's Heat game --- the first game of this series without a Barry brother on the call. ESPN says Dave Pasch will do the game with Brown because NBC-bound Mike Tirico is finished with his NBA duties.

Here's a video of Wade.

CHATTER

• So far, the newer hitter-friendly dimensions at Marlins Park have resulted in five homers that wouldn’t have been last year: four for the opponent, one for Miami (Giancarlo Stanton), who said the change has made no difference at all…

I asked Stanton, who's cautious about getting excited after years of disappointment, if things are finally headed in the right direction here. He gave a measured response: “We’ve had a good month. We have to have a good first half.”… Incidentally, according to ESPN, only three teams have hit as many 450-foot homers as Stanton has since 2010 (31). Amazing.

• The Marlins, the only team with no lefty in their bullpen, signed veteran Joe Beimel (29-34 career; 2-1, 3.99 for Seattle last season) and assigned him to extended spring training.

• The NFL’s deadline to sign players without it affecting compensatory picks passed Thursday – that was significant for the Dolphins --- and Miami seemingly could use another corner.

Still, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph insists Miami has enough at cornerback, with Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett competing to start opposite Byron Maxwell; Bobby McCain in the slot in nickel and dime packages; seventh-round rookie Jordan Lucas, plus Tyler Patmon (24 NFL games, including 22 for Dallas) and Chimdi Chekwa (31 career games, including four starts for Oakland) and Iko Ekpre-Olomu (still strengthening his knee).

“Most teams have, probably, three capable corners who they can play and trust,” Joseph said. “I think we've got three or four guys - guys that we know can play - and hopefully three or four more that can help us."

The Dolphins internally have discussed unsigned veteran corners Leon Hall and Antonio Cromartie. The only 2015 full-time cornerback starters, below the age of 35, that are still available are Cromartie and Arizona’s Jerraud Powers (Miami has not pursued Powers). [UPDATE: Powers signed with Baltimore on Friday].

Here are the other available cornerbacks who played in the league last season and are affected by the compensatory pick deadline: Former Falcons nickel-back Phillip Adams, Charles Tillman (12 starts for Chicago last season but 35), former Bears backup and ex-Jaguars starter Alan Ball; part-time Detroit starter Josh Wilson (just 5-9, and Miami likes bigger corners); former Oakland starter Tarell Brown (Miami hasn't pursued); former Saints backup Chris Owens; part-time Giants starter Jayron Hosley (Miami hasn't pursued); journeyman Cassius Vaughn; and Tampa Bay part-time starter Mike Jenkins (age 31, and 5-10).

According to USA Today's Tom Pelissero, Cameron Wake’s new deal includes a 2016 pay cut from $8.4 million to $7.1 million, but the ability to make $2 million if he reaches 15 sacks. Of his $7 million salary for 2017, $3 million is fully guaranteed.

• Adam Gase said on Sirius XM radio that he expects Ndamukong Suh back for OTA practices, which begins May 24th.

“The great thing about Suh, he’s in constant communication, he’s always kind of calling and talking with coaches, he has his iPad,” Gase said. “He calls me every once in a while, just seeing what’s going on. He’s just got his regiment and he’s kinda been doing his deal that way out west for quite a few years now.

“I know this — come training camp and in the season his body’s ready to go. He has a way of preparing and it may be unique but it really works for him. And I feel like when we get going in OTAs, him being here for all those practices, that is a very important time for us. Just getting him around the building for us when he’s ready to go, that’s going to be great.”

Suh likes to train in Oregon during most of the offseason. Suh has missed the past couple of weeks of the offseason program but NFL players aren't required to attend until veteran minicamp in June.

Last year, Suh participated in the OTA practices and the minicamp but did not attend some of the voluntary workout sessions.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 11, 2016

Postscripts, reaction after Heat Game 5 loss; Kiper, McShay on how Brad Kaaya figures into 2017 draft; More UM football, basketball nuggets

For the second consecutive playoff series, the Heat finds itself down 3-2, but this time, in much worse shape physically than a series ago.

Already without Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside, the Heat lost Luol Deng in the third quarter with a wrist injury, with X-rays inconclusive. So the Heat finished tonight's 99-91 Game 5 loss without its entire starting frontcourt to begin the season.

Deng injured his wrist when he braced his fall after colliding with a cameraman. He will get an MRI when the team returns to Miami Thursday afternoon. 

"If there's nothing serious, I'll be playing," Deng told reporters in the locker-room afterward, via Fox Sports Sun. "Right now, it's just about being sure. I just got to know what it is.... The swelling got worse. It happened in the first half. It was just painful in the second half. I was going to go back out there and play, but [the doctor] thought [to sit out] just to be safe."

Deng's injury means the Heat played the entire fourth quarter with all small forwards and guards, something it had not done a single minute during the regular season. Miami used at least three lineups that had never played together before. Justise Winslow was essentially the Heat's center in the fourth quarter.

Dwyane Wade (20 points) did some damage late; Goran Dragic (13 points) fueled a late first-half 10-0 run that cut a 20-point deficit to 10; Josh Richardson (13 points) had some good moments and Winslow had 8 points and 7 boards.

But there wasn't nearly enough, with Deng shooting 0 for 8 before his injury, and Joe Johnson 5 for 13 on an 11-point night.

Toronto's best players finally came alive, DeMar DeRozan scoring 34 (on unusually efficient 11 for 22 shooting) and Kyle Lowry scoring 25 and coming up big late to offset another subpar shooting night (9 for 25). DeRozan and Lowry combined to score 20 of Toronto's 24 points in the fourth.

The Heat closed at 40.3 percent from the field and had fewer assists (12) than turnovers (13).... Beyond the Deng injury, Toronto lost DeMarre Carroll to a left hand contusion.

• Teams that win Game 5 of a 2-2 series have won 82 percent of those series in NBA history. Of course, that did Charlotte no good when it went up 3-2 on Miami in Round 1. But according to ESPN, no team has come back to win two series that it trailed 3-2 in a single postseason. The Heat is trying to become the first...

Game 6 is 8 p.m. Friday on ESPN. Game 7, if needed, would be 3:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

Some postgame reaction:

• Erik Spoelstra: "Neither team played like this during the regular season. It's coming down to how efficient you can be with your offense.... Even though we played so poorly in the first half, you figured it would come down to a possession... down the stretch.

"We couldn't get over that hump. We felt we would be able to when we got it to one. I don't know if the offense is going to trend better for either team right now. We really felt like we were able to get the job done and we didn't and you have to give them credit."

On playing a small lineup, Spoelstra said: "You saw the block outs. We're putting bodies on them. We're being thrown around. They were able to get some important extra possessions. We had some advantages the other way. That's the give and take of it."

• Wade: "It was very unfortunate [with injuries]. I don't know what happened with Luol yet.... We lost two big guys in this series so far. Injuries are the worst part of the game; it changes so much the outlook of your team. A lot of things happen just by the game being physical. Hopefully, Luol is with us [for Game 6]. If he's not, the next guy has to step up.

"[DeRozan and Lowry] made shots. They're All-Star players. They're going to get going at some point. DeMar was locked in all night. That wasn't what beat us. Just a slow start for us, down 17 early.... From there, we played great basketball. Every time it seemed like they were going to pull away, we kept fighting. Cut it to one."

• Toronto coach Dwane Casey: Miami "is a prideful team, very good defensive team, physical team. You're not going to get anything easy in the halfcourt.... Patrick Patterson is doing a good job staying in front of Joe Johnson, allowing us to stay big. Bismack's foot speed allowed us to stay big [against a small Heat lineup]."

 

UM NOTES

Some Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday night:

• The more we hear about junior-to-be Brad Kaaya’s draft stock, the more we wonder whether UM will be able to hold onto him for his senior season.

Last week, ESPN's Todd McShay projected Kaaya as the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, behind Clemson QB DeShaun Watson. And today, Mel Kiper ranked him as the 13th-best prospect (among juniors and seniors) in the 2017 draft.

“Listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Kaaya will have to bulk up to withstand the pounding in the NFL, but he's a tough competitor,” McShay said on ESPN.com. “You can tell watching him play that he's very smart and processes information quickly. He has the tools to develop and shows good touch/timing as a passer.”

Kiper, on Kaaya: “Anther player certain to be dissected, based on the mountain of tape he has already piled up, having thrown almost 800 passes, when many juniors are about to start for the first time. Kaaya is a talented QB with a big arm, touch and growing poise as he reads the whole field. He continues to get better.”

Kiper, like McShay, also ranks Kaaya as the No. 2 QB prospect eligible for the 2017 draft, behind Watson.

Kiper’s top 12 prospects, via ESPN.com: 1) Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett; 2) Alabama outside linebacker Tim Williams; 3) LSU running back Leonard Fournette; 4) Watson; 5) LSU safety Jamal Adams; 6) Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell; 7) Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson; 8) UF cornerback Jalen Tabor; 9) Michigan safety/linebacker Jabrill Peppers; 10) FSU offensive tackle Roderick Johnson; 11) USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and 12) Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen.

• UM keeps making progress on financing for an indoor football practice facility, which is a top priority, and it’s looking likely to happen. One trustee said there have been very positive meetings with interested donors recently, and cracked that having your name on a practice site can be real incentive for some wealthy people.

“That’s something I’m confident we’ll make happen in the very near future,” UM athletic director Blake James said last week.

And he went a step further at the ACC meetings in Amelia Island today, telling the Palm Beach Post’s Matt Porter: "I think we’re real close. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people. We haven’t finalized the numbers, but I think we’ll be making some announcements real soon.”

James has said building an indoor practice facility likely will cost north of $20 million. It’s essential, because more than 20 practices were delayed or canceled by weather last season.

• Jacksonville-based safety Ahman Ross’ decision to decommit from UM last night leaves the Hurricanes with 14 oral commitments for 2017, including three defensive backs: Orange Park-based Nick Roberts (rated the No. 32 cornerback by Rivals), Southridge safety Billy Gibson (talked to two recruiting analysts who raved about him) and Columbus’ Christopher Henderson (a receiver/running back in high school who has the speed to move to cornerback in college).

• Privately, members of the former UM coaching staff were convinced some Southeastern Conference schools were cheating and bemoaned how difficult it was for them to recruit against that. So they couldn’t have been surprised when Dolphins first-round pick Laremy Tunsil admitted on draft night that he took money from a coach at Mississippi.

• As colleague Michelle Kaufman reported on Twitter today, five-star point guard Derryck Thornton (who’s transferring from Duke) plans to visit UM this weekend, with Kansas, Washington and USC also on his list.

Thornton played in all 36 games for Duke as a freshman this past season, starting 20. But he didn’t start any games in the ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament despite being the only available pure point guard on the roster.

Thornton, who averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 assists as a freshman, said previously that he plans to transfer closer to his native Chatsworth, Cal. So UM faces an uphill climb here.

For lots of Dolphins, Heat and Marlins nuggets, please click here. And please check back tonight for Heat-Raptors postscripts and reaction. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

May 10, 2016

Exploring behind-the-scenes changes that are helping the Marlins; More Heat nuggets and Dolphins notes

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

It’s awfully difficult to change the culture in an organization that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 years (second-longest drought in baseball), was 110 games under .500 over the past six, and witnessed all seven of its minor league affiliates finish in last place in 2015. But the Marlins, despite a poor effort tonight in a sloppy 10-2 loss to Milwaukee, are slowly taking encouraging steps.

Player procurement and performance will always be paramount in a team’s success, and the Marlins who are thriving (Martin Prado, Giancarlo Stanton, AJ Ramos, Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, among others) deserve credit foremost for the ongoing stretch of 12 wins in 16 games, leaving Miami at 17-15 after tonight's setback.

But behind the scenes, other factors are helping internally, from top to bottom:

• Don Mattingly’s hiring. Of Jeffrey Loria’s eight managerial hires since Jack McKeon, this has the potential to rank as his best.

“He’s amazing,” Jose Fernandez said. “I love his passion. I love the environment he has [created]. He’s like a friend, is always going to have your best interests in mind.”

Partly because of the tone Mattingly has set, Fernandez seems happier than ever before. “I am in love with this team,” Fernandez said.

So what is Mattingly doing specifically? He didn’t flip on his players, or yell at them at all, or call any you-better-get-your-act-together meetings, after a 5-11 start.

“The steadiness he brings is comforting to a lot of people in here,” catcher Jeff Mathis said, adding Mattingly’s hiring “has been good for everybody here. He brings the same energy and attitude every day and that’s something that was needed in this locker-room.”

Pitcher David Phelps put it this way: “Donnie doesn’t lose his emotions. He keeps his cool. He had a very quiet confidence about him in the spring. You can tell the difference here; guys aren’t hanging their heads if we’re losing. You can’t have a team riding highs and lows. That carries over to players and [is bad for] a young team.”

The other factor with Mattingly, Mathis said, is “the attention to detail. There’s a huge list of small things” that are being emphasized now, from base-running fundamentals, to handling a pitching staff. Chris Johnson said he never spent more time in spring training on fundamentals than he did this year under Mattingly.

• The addition of pitching savant Jim Benedict as a special assistant. The Marlins thought so much of him that they traded a pretty good pitching prospect, Trevor Williams, to acquire Benedict from the Pirates.

Benedict, in his behind-the-scenes role as a roving pitching guru, has made a difference with several of the Marlins’ young arms.

"He gave me tips on my delivery to make me more efficient,” said AJ Ramos, who has a 1.38 earned-run average. Kyle Barraclough watched his minor-league tape with Benedict last month, made a minor mechanical adjustment at Benedict’s urging and has a 1.64 ERA since his promotion.

• A re-commitment to the minor league system. The Marlins made a smart move in luring Marc Delpiano from the Pirates to run the team’s farm system, and a Marlins minor league official cited several changes that have followed.

Among them: “We’re spending more money. [President/baseball operations] Mike Hill and everybody stepped up. We redid the batting cages [at the minor-league facility in Jupiter]. The video room is better equipped now. We used to have to retrieve balls in minor-league camp; now they’re spending more on baseballs. We have a full-time independent league scout for the first time.”

Another thing also struck that Marlins minor-league official: “People are being held accountable now, and it’s refreshing. We’ve been told, and this comes from the top, to hold players and ourselves to higher standards and demand excellence.

“If you don’t run hard 90 feet down the line, there must be consequences. We had a kid [in minor-league camp] who didn’t run hard to first in spring and he was sent to the other field to run. He was singled out and we made an example of him.

“It’s playing the game the right way that we’re teaching. There’s no doubt we had a depletion of talent in the minors. But there also needed to be a culture change here, and it’s happening.”

So far, the Marlins’ minor league teams are 51-71, with one of the four teams in last place. So there's much work that remains.

This front office needs to draft well; there is a dearth of high-end position player prospects above the low-level minors. And it must replenish the pitching pipeline now that Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino are in the majors and others (such as Andrew Heaney) were used in trades.

But the early signs are encouraging.

“The message,” that Marlins official said, is “we’re not going to leave any stone unturned” in finding and developing players.

CHATTER

• The Heat’s Joe Johnson conceded that he, Goran Dragic and Luol Deng now feel “a big responsibility” to help Dwyane Wade more “because he has put us on our back and we have to chip in.”

Consider that Wade on his own outscored that trio in Games 3 and 4 (68 points to 65), shot far better than the three of them both overall (53 to 36 percent) and on threes (4 for 8, compared with 1 for 15).

• Erik Spoelstra went only 12 minutes the entire regular season without Chris Bosh or Hassan Whiteside or Amar’e Stoudemire or Udonis Haslem or Josh McRoberts or traded Chris Anderson on the court.

But in Game 4, with Bosh and Whiteside sidelined, Spoelstra went essentially center-less for 10 minutes, with the quintet of Deng (playing center), Wade, Dragic, Johnson and Justise Winslow outscoring Toronto by 14 points in those 10 minutes.

That lineup had played three minutes total as a group during the regular season and were a minus eight. Johnson likes that lineup, because it puts so many play-makers on the court.

“It’s great; when we go small, [opponents] aren’t going to switch as much,” Deng said. “They are going to really try to lock in on Joe or myself. They have to lock in on stopping the ball and that’s going to get guys open. If they don’t, guys are going to get down the lane and get good looks."

Spoelstra was non-committal about whether he would use that lineup more in Game 5, saying he has a lot of good options.

• The Heat or Toronto will definitely play at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC --- either Game 7 of their series or the winner playing in Game 1 against Cleveland.

• For a ton more Heat notes from earlier today, including the latest on Hassan Whiteside; some perspective on what Wade is doing; Charles Barkley's comments about D-Wade; and the Heat's reaction to an ESPN report of tension between Wade and Dragic, please click here.

• Couple of thoughts from an NFC scout on the Dolphins’ draft: “We all liked [Rutgers receiver] Leonte Carroo. Powerful guy. Can make contested catches. Built like a running back…

"[Alabama running back] Kenyan Drake has explosive speed. Smart kid, though I found him a bit arrogant. He would be able to handle blitz pickup. Has better hands than [Alabama teammate] Derrick Henry, can catch the ball of the backfield. He’s a straight-line speed guy. I worry about his durability. If he couldn’t stay healthy as a part-time player at Alabama, how is he going to do it in the NFL?...

"[Western Kentucky quarterback and seventh-round pick] Brandon Doughty has a chance. We liked his mechanics and production. We had some interest in picking him. [Texas Tech receiver] Jakeem Grant is a great gadget player but he needs to make it [as a returner].”

• In the weeks before the draft, we told you that the Dolphins (with coordinator Vance Joseph at the front of the line) preferred big corners such as Eli Apple, William Jackson and Dolphins second-rounder Xavien Howard to smaller corners such as UF's Vernon Hargreaves.

Reporters finally got a chance to ask Joseph why he feels that way.

"The receivers in the league are getting much bigger now," he said this past weekend. "Obviously, you look for good players first and if they have the size you want, its prototype. But you want guys who can cover first [and have] quickness, ball skills, good lateral movement stuff. The size is extra.”

But what about the argument that taller corners sometimes don't have good hips?

Howard "is a second-round pick," Joseph responded. "When you are drafting guys in the first and second round, you’re hoping [they] have size and the movement stuff. And [Howard] does. Most guys, when you draft them later on, they may have one redeeming quality. It could be size but not movement, but [Howard] does have both. He’s a 6-foot guy with a 5-foot-10 corner’s movement skills. That’s special.”

• It's becoming clear that undrafted Iowa rookie Marshall Koehn (16 for 20 on field goals last season; 47 for 53 on extra points) will have a legitimate chance to unseat incumbent Andrew Franks (13 for 16 on field goals as a rookie, 33 for 36 on extra points).

“We want to see him become more consistent,” special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said of Franks, while also praising some aspects of his rookie season. "[Koehn] has a great skill set. He reminds me a lot of Andrew. Only difference is he kicked at a bigger school.”

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