June 26, 2016

Whiteside, others to test Riley's success getting players to sign for less; UM fallout; Dolphins, Marlins nuggets

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

 

For a franchise that skillfully cajoles players to take less money than they could probably get elsewhere, this summer becomes the ultimate challenge for Heat president Pat Riley, with salaries about to skyrocket.

As Dallas, Portland. the Lakers and others line up to make their case to Hassan Whiteside, to woo him with a potential max deal, the conflicted Heat goes back and forth about how much to offer its shot-blocking prodigy.

Some important people inside the Heat do not view Whiteside as a max player, according to someone with direct knowledge. Therein lies the conundrum.

Does the Heat ultimately cave and offer him the max even though it prefers not to, but knowing another team will? Or does Miami hold its ground and look to Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard (who is polarizing inside Heat offices)? All of that is being discussed.

But here’s the problem: Horford’s first-year max is larger than Whiteside’s ($26 million to $22 million), and Horford will be hoping for a max deal, though the Heat believes he will be interested if Miami pursues him. The Heat also probably could sign Noah and Luol Deng for a bit more than what Whiteside would cost alone, but that wouldn’t make Miami better.

And as Heat officials deliberate what to do with Whiteside, even while calling him a priority, they assuredly noticed that when asked on Snapchat last week if he’s a basketball player, Whiteside said: “I’m a businessman that plays basketball.”

And here’s the other factor, with free agency starting Friday: With nearly all of the league having space, it will be so very difficult to persuade players – even merely decent players - to take less here, as the Big Three and Udonis Haslem and a bunch of others did.

Let’s say the Heat, which has $42 million in cap space, caves and gives Whiteside $22 million and Wade most of its remaining space. So what could the Heat realistically get for the $2 million to $4 million that’s left?

Among those who would be explored by Miami in that range: Marcus Thornton, Wesley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver and Joe Johnson (who could get more than that and also could take the Heat’s $2.9 million room exception, which cannot be combined with cap space).

Perhaps that amount could snag Josh Smith, Quincy Acy, Steve Novak, Brandon Rush, Randy Foye, Wayne Ellington, Alan Anderson, Charlie Villanueva, Luis Scola, David Lee, Anderson Varejao or Brandon Bass.

But even some of those players likely will command more than that. And unless Miami can find a taker for Josh McRoberts, --- which could create more than $9 million in space while keeping Whiteside --- then signing a higher-quality player (Deng, Mirza Teletovic, Jared Dudley, Marvin Williams, among others) for that low amount ($2 million to $4 million) is unrealistic.

So Riley’s undeniable talent for being able to convince players to take less to play here is about to be tested like never before, amid a cornucopia of cap space unlike the NBA has ever seen.

CHATTER

• Linebacker Kiko Alonso, with his knee problems behind him, was solid throughout the offseason program and the Dolphins believe he could be their best middle linebacker in years. “He’s all over the field, sideline to sideline,” Matt Moore said.

Incidentally, Alonso’s agent, Steve Caric, said an AFC South general manager told him before the 2013 draft that Alonso, who was in that draft, was the best linebacker he had seen coming into the draft since Brian Bosworth….

This coaching staff also has developed a liking for Koa Misi, much like the previous one did.

• Good move by this Dolphins staff to move Chris McCain back to defensive end after the former staff foolishly made him a linebacker. “Real happy; this fills my skill sets better,” he said. “No thinking. Just running, doing what I like to do.”…

Defensive linemen have been raving about the impact pass rush specialist Jim Washburn is making with their unit.

• The Dolphins are having having a military hiring event on Monday and we are trying to get as many veterans as possible to attend. All information can be found at www.dolphins.com/veterans<http://www.dolphins.com/veterans>. The Dolphins are hoping to host around 300-400 veterans. 

• UM badly hopes that Al-Quadin Muhammad is cleared in its ongoing investigation (football people are cautiously hopeful, but no decision has been made) because so much of the pass rush hinges on him, as well as Chad Thomas.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper told me he expects Muhammad would get 8 to 10 sacks this season. If he’s suspended, UM would need to turn to Trent Harris (5.5 sacks last season) and Demetrius Jackson, who impressed coaches this spring.

• One UM official said suspended linebacker Juwon Young, whose status for the 2016 season is very much in doubt, isn’t viewed as a huge loss, and he wasn’t in contention to start…. At least one of the players being investigated for using luxury cars foolishly called attention to himself by referencing the cars on social media.

• Though the Marlins are searching the trade market for starting pitching, they believe Justin Nicolino (who has had two solid starts in Triple A, allowing two runs in a combined 13 1/3 innings) will be better when he returns because Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said they've convinced him to stop throwing his cutter... Hill said the Marlins have moved one of their top pitching prospects, Austin Brice, to the bullpen at Double A because they believe his stuff is better suited to the pen.

Marcell Ozuna has risen to sixth in the National League in hitting at .320. The Marlins have three players in the top 10, with Martin Prado eighth at .314 and Christian Yelich ninth at .309. Ichiro Suzuki, at .345, doesn't have quite enough at-bats to qualify.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 24, 2016

Midnight Friday night: Heat works on Durant meeting; With one player already suspended, an update on where UM stands in investigation into possible NCAA violations; A look at five Heat signings today

Midnight update: As we've reported for months, a pursuit of Kevin Durant has been paramount in all aspects of the Heat's planning for this summer. And now the Heat is working on getting a meeting with Durant when free agency begins July 1.

According The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, Durant and his agent at Roc Nation "are working to solidify invitations" with the Heat, Warriors, Spurs, Celtics, Clippers and his current team, Oklahoma City.

Woj reports Durant will have those meetings with teams at one location, likely in New York.

Woj says the Thunder remains the front-runner to sign Durant but that the Warriors have Durant's attention more than any rival suitor.

It appears the Heat wants to determine whether it has a chance to sign Durant before proceeding with Hassan Whiteside, who is lining up meetings (with Dallas and potentially others) shortly after the start of free agency.

Besides Dallas, the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State and Boston are among other teams who reportedly have interest in Whiteside.

The Heat will enter the offseason with about $42 million in cap space, not including cap holds for Dwyane Wade and the team's other unrestricted free agents.

UM NEWS

Posting this updated story from me and Peter Ariz after our earlier exclusive on this:

The University of Miami has been investigating at least four football players to determine if they violated NCAA rules when they struck deals with a local car agency to use luxury vehicles, multiple sources told The Miami Herald on Friday.

One of those players, linebacker Juwon Young, was suspended indefinitely from the football team on Friday for violation of department rules and his status for the 2016 season is very much in doubt.

One of the others players being investigated by UM, defensive end Al Quadin Muhammad, has not been cleared by the compliance department, according to a school source.

UM also is still investigating at least two other football players in this matter, but their identities were not confirmed.

Two officials inside UM’s football program expressed optimism that Muhammad and those unidentified players would be cleared to play next season, but another UM official said that could not be said with any degree of certainty yet because the matter is still being investigated.

But it is known that quarterback Brad Kaaya is not among the players under investigation.

Though there is no ongoing NCAA investigation into this matter or anything involving UM athletics, the UM internal investigation comes months before the conclusion of UM’s three-year NCAA probation as a result of student athletes receiving illegal benefits from imprisoned former booster Nevin Shapiro.

That probation, which included the loss of nine football scholarships and other penalties, is scheduled to end in October.

According to a school source, UM is not concerned about its probation being extended, or new discipline from the NCAA, even if the players are found to have committed NCAA violations.

If UM determines that violations occurred, the university will inform the NCAA and tell the NCAA what it would do to discipline the athletes. That punishment would then be administered if it meets with the NCAA’s approval.

Young, who was expected to get playing time this season, was suspended partly because he was not honest with UM officials when questioned about the use of the luxury car, according to a source. It was unclear whether Young paid for the vehicle or intends to.

Multiple people inside the UM football program do not expect Young to be on the team this season. One source cautioned that he's in limbo and it's still possible he could return.

Another source said a former girlfriend of Young’s informed UM about Young’s involvement.

After appearing in four games as a freshman in 2014, Young had 57 tackles, including three for loss, one interception and one forced fumble in 10 games last season.

He was expected to get playing time this season, potentially behind freshman revelation Shaquille Quarterman at middle linebacker or behind Darrion Owens and Mike Pinckney at weakside linebacker.

Muhammad has not been cleared, but he remains on the team, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Muhammad is expected to start at defensive end if he's cleared. He had 54 tackles and five sacks last season and is UM's best pass rusher, a key cog in defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s attacking defense.

Muhammad, who considered turning pro after last season, missed all of the 2014 season because of a one-year suspension for punching another student in the face in the Sun Life Stadium parking after the spring game. That penalty was doled out by the university, not the athletic program. He was suspended for the 2015 opener because of an undisclosed violation of team rules.

No current UM basketball players are being investigated in the luxury car matter, according to two school officials.

At the conclusion of spring practice, coach Mark Richt warned his players not to do anything they would regret and not to associate with “fools.”

But since that time, running back Mark Walton was arrested on a DUI charge and suspended. The school has not announced his reinstatement or whether he will be suspended for a game, but he is thoroughly immersed in team activities. 

Miami Herald sportswriter Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report.

HEAT SIGNINGS

Left without a pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, the Heat went looking for undrafted gems in the early hours Friday morning and signed several prospects to fill its roster for Summer League play in Orlando and Las Vegas.

Though nothing was announced, five Heat signings were disclosed: South Carolina small forward Michael Carrera (confirmed by agent Seth Cohen), former St. John's power forward/center Chris Obekpa, Louisiville shooting guard Damion Lee (announced by his university) and Toledo center Nathan Booth (reported by Sheridan Hoops) and Hawaii center Stefan Jankovic.

Carrera averaged 14.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal per game for the Gamecocks last season. He's considered a very good defender and his three-point game improved dramatically last year, with Carrera shooting 40.5 percent on threes (51 for 126). He shot 44.9 percent from the field overall. Carrera will play for Venezuela in the Olympics this summer, Cohen said.

"When I speak to NBA people, they say his relentless approach to every possession, and his ability to defend from the 1 to the 4, coupled with his long-distance shooting, is what makes him attractive," South Carolina coach Frank Martin told The State in Columbia, S.C.. "Unbelievable teammate."

Obekpa, a 6-10 center from Nigeria, led Division 1 in blocks as a freshman at St. John's (4.0 per game) and averaged 2.9 and 3.1 blocks the following two seasons. He averaged 5.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in his final season at St. John's (2014-15).

He then transferred to UNLV but sat out last season, in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, and decided to turn pro after the season. Obekpa has worked to develop a mid-range jump shot.

Lee played four years at Drexel, then enrolled as a grad transfer at Louisville, where he averaged 15.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals and shot 42.8 percent from the field and 34.1 percent on three-pointers.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino told The Louisville Courier-Journal recently that Lee must develop his three-point shooting but is “pretty sound in most areas. He’s improved his pick-and-roll offense and his passing. He’s not as athletic as Terry Rozier, but one thing he does have is size.”

Booth, 6-9, averaged 19.3 points and 9.0 rebounds last season and shot 49.6 percent from the field and 37.5 percent (33 for 88) on three-pointers.

Miami also added former Hawaii standout Stefan Jankovic, a 6-11 center who averaged 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks last season.

Even though former NFL receiver Chad Johnson announced on Twitter that he will play for the Heat's summer league teams, a Heat spokesman said that is not true.

Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson have said they will play in at least a portion of summer league. So will point guard Briante Weber.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

UM player suspended and status in serious jeopardy; Heat signs four interesting prospects after the draft

Noon update: UM junior Juwon Young, who was expected to get playing time this season, is away from the team and his status for next season is in serious doubt as UM investigates a potential NCAA violation involving the linebacker, our ace contributor Peter Ariz and I have confirmed today. (Update: in the wake of this post, UM announced Young has been suspended indefinitely for violation of department rules).

Multiple people inside the UM football program do not expect Young to be on the team this season. One source cautioned that he's in limbo and it's still possible he could return but he's not in a good position.

The matter, according to a source, involved Young gaining use of a luxury vehicle from a car agency. It's unclear if Young paid for the vehicle or if he intends to.

UM also is investigating whether standout defensive end Al Quadin Muhammad was involved with this car agency and whether he committed an NCAA violation.

Muhammad has not been cleared, but he remains on the team, according to a source with direct knowledge. Multiple sources told Ariz that they expect Muhammad to be on the team next season.

UM, whose NCAA probation is ending in October, is investigating both players' involvement and would report the matter to the NCAA if it confirms any violations occurred.

After appearing in four games in his first season (2014), Young had 57 tackles, including three for loss, one interception and one forced fumble in 10 games last season.

He was expected to get playing time this season, potentially behind freshman revelation Shaquille Quarterman at middle linebacker.  

Muhammad is expected to start at defensive end if he's cleared. He had 54 tackles and five sacks last season and is UM's best pass rusher.

 

HEAT SIGNINGS

The Heat didn't have a draft pick Thursday but has begun the process of signing players who went undrafted, a process that has brought considerable talent to the team, including Udonis Haslem and Tyler Johnson.

South Carolina small forward Michael Carrera and former St. John's power forward/center Chris Obekpa both agreed to play on Miami's summer league teams in Orlando and Las Vegas, according to Carrera's agent (Miami Beach-based Seth Cohen) and Obekpa's agent (Aaron Turner).

Former Toledo center Nathan Booth also agreed to play on the Heat's teams in Orlando and Las Vegas, according to Sheridan Hoops' Michael Scotto.

Carrera averaged 14.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal per game for the Gamecocks last season. He's considered a very good defender and his three-point game improved dramatically last year, with Carrera shooting 40.5 percent on threes (51 for 126). He shot 44.9 percent from the field overall.

Carrera will play for Venezuela in the Olympics this summer, Cohen said.

"When I speak to NBA people, they say his relentless approach to every possession, and his ability to defend from the 1 to the 4, coupled with his long-distance shooting, is what makes him attractive," South Carolina coach Frank Martin told The State in Columbia, S.C.. "Unbelievable teammate."

Obekpa, a 6-10 center from Nigeria, led Division 1 in blocks as a freshman at St. John's (4.0 per game) and averaged 2.9 and 3.1 blocks the following two seasons. He averaged 5.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in his final season at St. John's (2014-15).

He then transferred to UNLV but sat out last season, in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, and decided to turn pro after the season. Obekpa has worked to develop a mid-range jump shot.

Booth, 6-9, averaged 19.3 points and 9.0 rebounds last season and shot 49.6 percent from the field and 37.5 percent (33 for 88) on three-pointers.

Meanwhile, Louisville announced that the Heat signed 6-6 shooting guard Damion Lee, who averaged 15.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals and shot 42.8 percent from the field and 34.1 percent on three-pointers.

Check back for more later.... And please see the last post for Hassan Whiteside news and where UM's Sheldon McClellan signed.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 22, 2016

Heat signs SEC standout; Dallas serious threat for Whiteside; UM NFL player rips into Golden, makes damning allegations; News and nuggets on several Dolphins rookies: Drake, Carroo, Duarte, Scott, Lucas and more; UM recruiting and transfer news

The Heat didn't have a draft pick Thursday but has begun the process of signing players who went undrafted. Among the first to agree to terms: South Carolina small forward Michael Carrera.

Carrera agreed to play for the Heat's summer league team in Orlando and Las Vegas, his agent, Miami Beach-based Seth Cohen, told me this morning.

Carrera averaged 14.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal per game for the Gamecocks last season. He's considered a very good defender and his three-point game improved dramatically last year, with Carrera shooting 40.5 percent on threes (51 for 126). He shot 44.9 percent from the field overall.

Carrera will play for Venezuela in the Olympics this summer, Cohen said.

"When I speak to NBA people, they say his relentless approach to every possession, and his ability to defend from the 1 to the 4, coupled with his long-distance shooting, is what makes him attractive," South Carolina coach Frank Martin told The State in Columbia, S.C.. "Unbelievable teammate."

The Heat typically does not announce its summer league signings until about a week after the draft.

• 12:20 A.M. update: The Heat entered the night without a draft pick and departed the night without one. Meanwhile, UM guard Sheldon McClellan went undrafted but will sign a partially guaranteed contract with the Washington Wizards, reports TNT's David Aldridge.

• 6 p.m. update: The Dallas Mavericks have emerged as a serious suitor for Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who becomes a free agent on July 1. ESPN Dallas reported on Thursday that Dallas expects to be granted a meeting with Whiteside in the opening hours of free agency.

A friend of Whiteside did not dispute that report and said Whiteside, through back-channels, is generating considerable interest around the league. ESPN identified Portland as another team expected to seriously pursue Whiteside.

That friend said Whiteside prefers to stay with the Heat if all things are equal financially.

But the Heat has given no indication whether it’s willing to offer Whiteside a max deal, even though Heat president Pat Riley has called Whiteside “our No. 1 priority, period.”

A general manager for another team said he fully expects Whiteside to receive a max deal, with a first-year salary of $22 million if the cap rises to $94 million as projected.

During the regular season, a Heat official expressed hesitation about offering Whiteside a max deal, but that was a couple of months ago and it’s unclear whether the Heat would be willing to offer that if the alternative is losing him.

“More than likely, players out there in free agency, our No. 1 priority is Hassan Whiteside,” Riley said after the season. “He's 26 years old. He's a game changer."

Because the Heat does not possess full Bird rights for Whiteside, it cannot surpass the salary cap to keep him at a competitive salary.

Miami is limited to offering him only a four-year deal, the same length as other teams can offer.

But because Whiteside has Early Bird rights, the Heat can offer him 7.5 percent raises off his first-year salary, compared with 4.5 percent for other teams.

That means a Heat deal starting at just under $22 million next season would be equivalent to a max deal with another team. And if Miami goes to the max, the Heat also could offer a four-year deal for $97.9 million, while other teams could offer a four-year deal for $93.9 million, though the exact numbers could change slightly depending on the final cap number for next season.

Additionally, six teams – the Heat, Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, Grizzlies and Magic – have a financial edge because they play in states without state incoming taxes.

But a friend said that would not be a determining factor, because it would not protect Whiteside if he is traded.

Whiteside led the league in blocks at 3.7 per game last season, was fourth in rebounding at 11.8 and averaged 14.8 points per game.

The Heat has $42 million in cap space, not including Dwyane Wade, who has said he plans to re-sign. Keeping Wade and Whiteside would consume most of that space.

Other free agent centers include Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Pau Gasol, Timofey Mozgov, Zaza Pachulia (Dallas’ incumbent center), Marreese Speights, Ian Mahinmi, Roy Hibbert, Kendrick Perkins, Jon Leuer, Chris Kaman, Bismack Biyombo and Nene Hilario.           

The Heat likes Horford and Noah among others in that group, according to a source, and Miami pursued Gasol the last time he was a free agent in 2014.

The ESPN report cited Whiteside and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley as the Mavericks’ priority in free agency.

Please click here if you missed our story earlier this month in which one general manager explained why it makes sense for the Heat to offer Whiteside a max deal.

GOLDEN SHOTS

Former UM coach Al Golden has tried to maintain a good relationship with his former players, and several UM players praised Golden effusively after his dismissal last October.

But Golden had his share of detractors among former players, including Raiders and former UM offensive lineman Jon Feliciano, who ripped his former coach in an interview with WQAM's Orlando Alzugaray today.

Among his most scathing allegations: that Golden wouldn't give Stephen Morris an MRI to determine his injury because the team needed him in 2013 (we're trying to get a comment from Morris and Golden on this; UPDATE: Neither Golden nor UM has responded to a request for comment as of 5 p.m.), and that Golden started Brad Kaaya as a freshman so he would have an excuse if he lost.

Beyond all the questionable strategic decisions that Alzugaray listed, "there was just stuff that was internal that was even worse than that," Feliciano said.  "Stephen Morris playing off one Achilles' the whole season [2013] and they didn't want him to get an MRI until after the season because we really needed him. We didn't find out the extent of Stephen's injuries until the combine. He had a ruptured Achilles. So Stephen Morris doesn't get drafted. Bouncing around the league now. Golden has this degree in psychology and he definitely used that."

[Morris was not immediately available for comment. But a close associate of Morris said he had no knowledge of UM refusing to give Morris an MRI.]

Feliciano said Golden also tried to persuade Ereck Flowers “to stay [in school, rather than declare for the 2015 draft] by saying he wasn’t a first-round pick." Flowers went pro and was selected ninth overall by the Giants.

Feliciano said: "The whole Ryan Williams situation was the most messed up situation. We know Brad Kaaya is the best quartertback we've had in a few years, but me and Brad talked about this before. I'm taking no shots at Brad Kaaya. He's going to be a first-round pick. When you have a guy, Ryan Williams, who breaks a bunch of records at Memphis, has to sit behind Stephen for two or three years, does everything right,... tears his ACL [in the spring of 2014], works his butt off to be ready by camp. They said he's not ready. He's ready. No one knows how good Ryan Williams is. Telling him this is still your team only to find out he's back, but sorry, we're going with Brad."

He said players believed Golden played Kaaya because he was a freshman and wanted to play a freshman quarterback to have an excuse if he lost. "That's how the upperclassmen felt and the people who could have been drafted felt."

Williams was cut by the Packers recently. Feliciano said the 2014 team would have won four more games with Williams (10, instead of six with Kaaya) but also admitted he is friends with Williams.

On Anthony Chickillo, Feliciano criticized Golden's approach to "make him gain 60 pounds to play defensive end instead of playing linebacker like he did in the league."

Feliciano said: "Most of the coaching staff were pretty good guys. It had to be hard to coach a certain way when you [wanted] to coach a different way.... [Golden] might not have been over his head, but he might have been stubborn to his ways. I think that would be a better term to it. We had Tracy Howard and Artie Burns... Why did we run cover 2 and cover 2 man?"

Did the players ever try to get coaches to change? "Good luck with that," Feliciano said.

Last week, after Golden told The Detroit Free Press that he felt "burned out" at UM, Feliciano tweeted: "Ruining peoples' lives, but you felt burned out?"

Feliciano said: "I am in a group text with a few of my other teammates from Miami and everyone in that text just felt disrespected, felt like he was trying to put the blame on someone else when we weren't the head coach."

 

DOLPHINS TALK

I was the only newspaper reporter at the Dolphins’ final media availability for a month, a Monday session in Overtown this week where all of the team’s rookies did good work helping grow vegetables in a garden across from Charles Drew Elementary.

Some nuggets:

• Kenyan Drake said his strained hamstring, sustained in a punt blocking drill the next-to-last day of minicamp, is not “major,” is quickly healing, and he will be fine for football activities long before the start of training camp.

“I’m feeling great,” he said.

This was the seventh injury Drake has suffered over the past four-plus years, but he politely brushed off questions about his durability that were raised by at least one scout.

“You’re going to get hurt as a football player,” Drake said. “It's about how fast you recover and get back on the field. It's not about how many times you get injured. It's about are you able to play in critical moments of the season when the team needs you to.”

Drake said he has been able to do that. He played in between 11 and 13 games for Alabama in 2012, 2013 and 2015 but was limited to five games in 2014. He missed 11 games in all at Alabama.

• Receiver Leonte Carroo, who made a favorable impression on everyone in the team’s offseason program, said his first priority is losing eight pounds.

“I'm 217 now, trying to get down to 210,” he said. “You become faster when you shed some pounds. I don't have any bad weight on me. That's what I was at the combine. Why not be as fast and explosive as I can be? I'm going to continue to be strong but also lose any weight that I felt comfortable playing at.”

• Jakeem Grant, an accomplished kickoff returner at Texas Tech, never returned a punt in college but said he’s quickly getting the hang of it. And special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi agreed during a recent media session.

Grant said he has fielded “over 1000 punts” since the start of the offseason program (though that sounds awfully high) and that he has dropped only two “because I took my eyes off it.”

Said Grant: “I didn’t do it at Texas Tech but I’m very comfortable doing it. I love being back there, just taking it and going.”

• Seventh-round tight end Thomas Duarte faces major challenges: He missed a month of practices while taking classes at UCLA. And in the preseason opener, he will be asked to do something he has never done in a game: inline blocking.

He said he practiced doing it several months at UCLA. “It's just footwork, technique stuff. You've got to build a base before you can go out there and succeed.”

Any idea if you'll be good at? "No idea. Just getting a little better every day."

But Duarte said he had no preference about whether he would be a receiver or tight end. Miami wanted him at tight end.

“I wanted a team that believed in me. And the Dolphins organization does,” he said. “They believe in my athletic ability and my ability to become a tight end. So I'm happy with that.”

• Al Golden, now the Detroit Lions tight ends coach, still keeps in touch with former Canes. He reached out to Dolphins receiver Rashawn Scott and told him to “do a good job in camp, keep pushing.”

Scott thanked Golden for his guidance, etc. Scott had some good moments late in last week’s minicamp and could make the practice squad if he has a good preseason.

• Jordan Lucas, the seventh-round pick out of Penn State, said he got work both on the boundary and in the slot over the past month.

Lucas is immersed in a competitive battle with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Tyler Patmon for the backup nickel job behind likely starter Bobby McCain.

• I spoke to first-rounder Laremy Tunsil and second-rounder Xavien Howard and will have more on them in a future post.

 

UM NEWS

Two UM developments tonight:

• We reported yesterday that UM and Alabama grad transfer Maurice Smith, a former four-star cornerback, were on each other's radars, with Smith exploring the possibilities of transferring to UM.

The situation has progressed today.  

A State of the U.com correspondent said he spoke to Smith and Smith is strongly considering UM, with Maryland and Georgia among other candidates.

And CaneInsight's Peter Ariz, a Herald contributor, tonight reports that Miami is "the likely destination" for Smith.

If he comes to UM, he would almost assuredly be one of UM's top four corners, with Corn Elder and Sheldrick Redwine and potentially Adrian Colbert.

Smith can play in the slot in nickel packages, a role Jaquan Johnson might handle if Smith doesn't come to UM.

• SNYTV first reported that Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who visited UM last weekend, is no longer considering UM.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 21, 2016

11:30 a.m.: LeBron discloses his free agent intentions; How Adam Gase is trying to take Tannehill to the next level; UM and Marlins personnel notes; Heat: Tyler Johnson, Luol Deng

Quick update: On the day of the Cavaliers' victory parade, LeBron James, moments ago, told Cleveland.com and other media outlets that he has no plans to leave the Cavs. That comes a month after Stephen A. Smith reported that James might return to the Heat if the Cavs won the title.

"I love it here. I love being here. I love my teammates," James told cleveland.com, moments before he boarded a float at The Q for the Cavs' championship parade through downtown Cleveland. "Obviously my agent will take care of all the logistical things but, I'm happy. I've got no plans to go nowhere at this point....This is the happiest time in my life right now."

And when USA Today's Jeff Zilgitt asked James if he's returning to Cleveland next season, he smiled and nodded yes.

"I love it here in Cleveland; I have no intentions of leaving," James told ESPN.

 

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Adam Gase had just been named Denver’s offensive coordinator after the 2012 season when he was chatting with then-Colts stars Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis at the Pro Bowl.

Gase knew he would be running an offense led by Peyton Manning, and Wayne and Mathis “were both like, ‘You’ve got no chance; Peyton is going to eat you up,’” Gase recalled last week, smiling. 

“I said, ‘I appreciate your confidence.’”

Not only did Gase bond with Manning and earn his respect, but Gase called plays for a Denver offense that became the first in NFL history to surpass 600 points. And he made such an impression on Manning that the legendary quarterback dropped by Dolphins headquarters to visit him earlier this offseason.

Now Gase is trying to extract more from Ryan Tannehill the same way he did with Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler.

Matt Moore offered some insight last week into exactly how Gase is doing that.

Gase’s approach – besides extremely detailed teaching – also includes pushing Tannehill to his limits but also giving him more freedom than he has ever had.

Gase tries to distract Tannehill and the other quarterbacks during drills by behaving like a rambunctious child who had too much sugar.

While the quarterbacks throw sometimes, Gase is “throwing bags at you or big balls, just making you move,” Moore said. “He’s flashing up signs, using his hands, usually numbers or thumbs up.”

Sort of like the crazy guy behind the basket when the opposing team shoots free throws.

“All of these things he does while doing a drill, it’s stuff that translates to your game naturally and that’s what you want as a quarterback,” Moore said. “There is always some crazy drill. Always a competition. He’s big on accuracy and footwork.”

During practice, Gase likes to put Tannehill and the other quarterbacks in a bunch of difficult situations: 4th and 10, facing unexpected blitzes and anything they could possibly encounter in a game.

“He puts a lot of pressure on you,.. makes practice hard,” rookie quarterback Brandon Doughty said. “You have a microphone in your helmet. [Gase] doesn’t really say much. He gives you a play and lets you roll. I thought during practice he would say, ‘The blitz is coming to the right, let’s check this.’ He doesn’t give you much, which is good, because he’s not going to be out there on game day.”

As Gase noted last week, “I put a lot on [Tannehill’s] plate. It’s almost to the point where it’s probably too much this fast. I want to see where the breaking point is. He’s been doing a good job of responding.”

Not only is Gase giving Tannehill more freedom to change the plays than Joe Philbin, Mike Sherman, Bill Lazor, Dan Campbell or anyone else ever did, but Moore says much of the playbook is now available to Tannehill at the line of scrimmage.

“Maybe it’s not the entire playbook but there’s a lot of things we can get to very quickly,” Moore said. “[Gase] really instills in your mind that if there’s something you don’t like, you can get into it or out of it at your will. We have a lot of answers to a lot of different looks. If Ryan sees something he likes, it’s very easy to get to it.  That’s probably the biggest thing…

“The whole offense can be done at the line of scrimmage. It’s very simple to get from one thing to another. In other offenses, it’s small packages or a couple plays here or there. Everything is on the table at all times” now.

No wonder Tannehill has seemingly never been happier.

“The offense is great,” he said. “I spent a lot of time trying to understand exactly what to do, where I’m supposed to go with the ball, protection adjustments. I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m learning and getting better every day.”

This also has become apparent: As far as head coaches go, Gase is the most hands-on teacher with quarterbacks that the Dolphins have had in many years.

“He’s very, very involved big time [in teaching],” Doughty said. On the final night of the offseason program last week, “we met with him an hour and half just going over what they did in Denver, what they did in Chicago, looking at clips and being very methodical about things. He knows what he wants and he will get it out of you.”

CHATTER 

• Though the Heat will have difficulty clearing out enough cap space to keep Luol Deng (if it can re-sign top priority Hassan Whiteside), there are emotional factors that appeal to Deng.

“Not only did I enjoy playing [here], but it's an amazing city,” he said. “So much to do. Everywhere you go, people really love the Heat and appreciate what you do. Here, people notice how hard you play and how hard you work, and for me that's always been who I've been.”

A Josh McRoberts trade (with no contractual commitments coming back to Miami) could allow the Heat to make a competitive offer for Deng.

• The New York Daily News says if Heat target Kevin Durant leaves Oklahoma City, Golden State is his preference and Durant will meet with suitors in Los Angeles after July 1.

• Jose Fernandez said by skipping one more start this season (besides one last week), that will allow him to pitch in postseason if the Marlins make it.

• Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill says the team sees 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee when it watches prep left-hander Braxton Garrett, who it drafted seventh overall earlier this month. Miami is very optimistic it will be able to sign Garrett, who committed (non-binding) to Vanderbilt.

• The Marlins are looking for starting pitching help, and as Fox reported, one name they’ve discussed is Tampa’s Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 3.63). But the Marlins know they don't have a lot of appealing assets to trade for a high-end pitcher.

• Mo Smith, rated the No. 12 cornerback in the 2013 class, is leaving Alabama as an immediately-eligible grad transfer and he and Miami are in the exploratory stages on each other, though Smith is assuredly exploring a lot of options and it’s too early to tell if anything will develop from this.

UM’s cornerback depth is shaky; Smith had 38 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 41 games at Alabama, including two starts. He played mostly special teams last season but worked in the slot in spring ball at Alabama this year.

• Sophomore linebacker James King, who played sparingly for Miami, has left the program. The former two-star prospect from Booker T. Washington wasn’t expected to play much.

• Before Turtle Thomas and FIU parted ways last week, we mentioned that FIU would have interest in UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga if its baseball coaching job came open. And CaneInsight's Peter Ariz, who is doing some work for The Herald, says Arteaga has emerged as the front-runner for the job.

• ESPN draft analyst Fran Fraschilla says it’s a toss-up whether UM guard Sheldon McClellan will be one of 60 players drafted Thursday.

“What will keep him out if he's not drafted is teams may not see a high ceiling for him because he's going to be 24 [in December],” Fraschilla said. “I had him in my top 60. He gets a little bit underappreciated because of his age, because he's a transfer. His strengths are his experience, positional size, ability to shoot the ball and the fact he's been well coached at two different places [UM and Texas].

"I don't want to compare him to [the Heat’s] Josh Richardson because I don’t think anyone saw this coming with Josh. Unlike Josh, he’s not a [point guard]. I don’t think Sheldon is a great ball-handler.”

Fraschilla said UM’s Tonye Jekiri and Angel Rodriguez are “long shots to be in the NBA. Angel would have to go to school on J.J. Barea [and become that type of player]. I think both Angel and Tonye will be in the [NBA’s] summer league. Tonye has got the requisite size. His strength is on defensive end as a rim protector. Chances are slim for Jekiri to make an NBA team but not impossible.”

The Heat said it hasn’t done anything individually with the UM players but has carefully scouted each of them.

• The NBA Finals finished with an 18.5 rating here (18.5 percent of Miami/Fort Lauderdale homes with TV sets; fifth among 56 major markets). That compares with our 38.1 rating for this year's Super Bowl (lowest among the 56 big markets), 6.5 for the 2015 World Series (43rd) and 1.2 for this month's Stanley Cup (46th).

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz.. For an explanation on the complex contract situation of Tyler Johnson, plus some interesting comments from Dwyane Wade and some ESPN news from today, please click here.

6 p.m. news update: Tyler Johnson contract news, other developments; Wade offers self-analysis, encouraging news about his health, in ESPN's Body Issue

A few quick notes tonight:

• As expected, the Heat extended a $1.2 million qualifying offer to guard Tyler Johnson, making him a restricted free agent and giving the Heat the right to match any offer for him.

Provided Johnson signs with the Heat after Miami has used its cap space, Johnson's cap hit would be limited to $1.2 million regardless of his salary, with the Heat permitted to exceed the projected $94 million cap to accommodate any of Johnson's salary above that amount.

Johnson, 24, can sign with the Heat for as much as $6.2 million next season, or as many as four years and $27 million.

But no other team is permitted to offer him a starting salary of more than $5.6 million next season, in according with the rarely-applicable Gilbert Arenas provision in the NBA's salary cap rules.

Though teams can begin talking to free agents on July 1, another team could not sign Johnson to an offer sheet before July 7.

Johnson expects to remain with the Heat. "Barring something crazy," Johnson told me last month, "I can't foresee anything different for me."

The Heat likes Johnson more as a shooting guard than point guard but believes he can handle both. 

Johnson's season was interrupted by shoulder surgery last season before returning during the playoffs. He averaged 8.7 points and 2.2 assists in 36 games, including five starts. He shot 48.6 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range.

• After originally planning not to retain Trent Dilfer, ESPN has changed its mind (for reasons it declined to explain) and re-signed him to join Chris Berman and newcomers Matt Hasselbeck and Charles Woodson on Sunday NFL Countdown.

ESPN declined to say whether Tom Jackson will remain on the program, noting that it is still completing its announcer assignments.

• AmericanAirlines Arena will host four college basketball games next season: UM-Wofford and VCU-Illinois on Dec. 3 and Georgetown-LaSalle and Temple-DePaul on Dec. 10.

 

WADE'S THOUGHTS

In an essay accompanying his photo in ESPN’s annual Body Issue,  Dwyane Wade, 34, said he felt like he was 28 last season and believes he has “some good years left.”

Wade appears nude, but contorting himself in such a way that private parts are concealed. He has an arm extended, holding a basketball.

Wade told the magazine that from 2012 through 2014, during the Big Three era, “those years were so hard for me. I felt like my body was betraying me -- out of nowhere, there was so much pain in my knee. Anytime I made a move, and I mean like a step or a walk, any move was painful. I remember just thinking at one point, "What have I done to deserve this?" This is something that's very important to my sport, my career and my future. And it got to a point where I was thinking, "Man, do I want to continue to feel all this pain?

“I felt like my body was betraying me. It was every game, it was every day, literally. During drills in practice one day, I thought, "Nobody in this gym knows how much pain I'm in right now." It hurt to run, stop, plant, and it's killing me. But I didn't let people know. I didn't use no excuse. I just tried to do my therapy to fight through it."

But after working with a new trainer and changing the focus of his training last offseason, Wade missed only seven games due to injury, down from 20 the previous season.

“I'd say I probably felt like I was 28 this season,” he said. “There were times when I did certain things and was like, "Man! That was like young me!" And then there were other times when I played my old-school game and played at my own pace.

“But overall, bodywise, I felt like I was about 28 this year. In the playoffs against Charlotte, I went coast-to-coast and dunked on a guy. I don't really dunk on other guys -- I don't even think about dunking on them -- but I went coast-to-coast and dunked on him. This was the playoffs -- I think it was Game 5 -- and I was like, "Oh, that's what I'm talking about! You still got it when you need it!"

Wade said he has “always had an old-man game -- it's always been a part of me. But obviously when I was 21, 22, 23, I was just more athletic and faster. Now I have to use it more because it's an older game. It's just an understanding that, you know what, I'm not going to try to use my burst all the time because I'm playing against younger, quicker, athletic guys. I'll be playing into their hands if I do that.”

He said he “never envisioned that I would be playing this long. I think I always told myself that my body would tell me, 'Hey, I gave you enough, it's time.' So whenever my body tells me that, I'll listen to it and then I'll make that decision. But nah, I'm not there yet. I've got some good years left.”

He said appearing in ESPN’s Body Issue “is bigger than looking at an athlete's body. It's more about the story we are telling of overcoming my fear of doing this. I had a fear of being naked in front of others and a fear of being judged. When I was young, my belly button was an outie, and I never even wanted to take my shirt off when we were at the swimming pool or outside during water fights. The only people who went into the pool with their shirts on were the kids who were overweight -- and me. I knew that I was different…. I was just never comfortable until about four years ago, when I started feeling comfortable with my body overall.” 

He said he works “hard on my body, man… I have to work at it now, where it used to be something that just came natural. Now I have to put in so many hours, but it makes me feel good to see the finished product. Being 34 but still being talked about -- to me, that's great, and it shows a lot about my hard work.

“No one wants to do cardio -- I hate stuff like that, but it's got to be done. One thing we do is go outside and my trainer will make me chase him on a bike. When we work out in Miami, we just keep going around the block until he feels like I've had enough for that day. A lot of people saw me chasing him last summer. It's funny. I get people honking their horns, like, "Go, D-Wade!" It's kind of cool.”

Wade also said he has “the ability to block things out. I've always been able to focus on the task at hand and not let something else bother me. Even when I'm in an arena and they are booing the heck out of me, I don't focus on them booing me, I'm focused on that possession. I'm going through all these checkpoints in my mind. I don't have time to worry about you booing me. Since college, I've always been tough enough where I'm able to put myself in those moments and not think about it -- because once you think about the moment, it becomes too big.”.

Wade will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 but has said he wants to re-sign with the Heat.

The body issue will be available on line on July 6 and in newsstands July 8. Besides Wade, 18 other athletes are photographed in the issue, include former UM and NFL star Vince Wilfork, former Olympic diver Greg Louganis, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.


Please click here for LeBron James' comments about the Heat that will surely upset some Heat fans. Plus, a lot of media notes... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 20, 2016

4 p.m.: LeBron admits Heat's comments hurt him; Media notes: NBA ratings; Familiar face in mix for national job; Simmons show launches; Marlins' analyst problem; ESPN's newest UM project; Local radio and more

Quick thing from LeBron James we found interesting in the wake of Cleveland's championship:

"When I decided to leave Miami," James told ESPN, "I'm not going to name any names, I can't do that. But there were some people that I trusted and built relationships with in those four years [who] told me I was making the biggest mistake of my career.

"And that [expletive] hurt me. And I know it was an emotional time that they told me that because I was leaving. They just told me it was the biggest mistake I was making in my career. And that right there was my motivation."

ESPN's Dave McMenamin previously identified Pat Riley as the source of James' discontentment.

"He felt taken for granted," McMenamin said, "like, 'Look, I just gave you four years of my prime and you're not going to be comfortable with my decision and root me on? You're going to try to make me feel bad going out the door?' "

#######################################

Some media notes on a Monday:

• As expected, Game 7 of the NBA Finals produced monster numbers for ABC, locally and nationally. But as expected, they didn’t come anywhere close to Super Bowl ratings.

The 18.9 overnight rating for Game 7 (the rating for 56 big markets) topped the 17.7 overnight for Heat-Spurs Game 7 in 2013 and was the highest for any ABC or ESPN program in a decade. Lakers-Celtics Game 7 drew an 18.2 overnight on ABC in 2010.

But the 18.9 is dwarfed by the 49.0 overnight rating for this year's Super Bowl on CBS.

2 p.m. Update: Nationally, the 30.8 million viewers were the most for an NBA game since Game 6 of the 1998 Finals.

Locally, Game 7 last night drew a 24.3 rating in Miami Fort Lauderdale, ranking fourth in the country among those 56 metered markets, behind only Cleveland, San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio.

That means 24.3 percent of Miami-Ft. Lauderdale homes with TV sets were tuned in, with one ratings point equaling about 16,500 homes.

By comparison, Heat-Raptors Game 7 did an 18.7 rating in Miami-Fort Lauderdale. Our Super Bowl rating (38.1) was lowest among 56 markets.

• Because ESPN has given him more assignments that expected (including the College World Series), Eduardo Perez has worked fewer Marlins games than the team anticipated – at least six fewer to date. That’s unfortunate, because Perez has been the best of the Marlins’ four new TV analysts.

That also means Fox has used Preston Wilson more than it expected.  Al Leiter, working a small package of games, is assigned to the Marlins-Cubs four-game series this weekend.

Tommy Hutton remains very much missed.

• ESPN is doing a 30 for 30 episode on the historic 1988 Notre Dame-UM game, which the Fighting Irish won 31-30 in a game filled with high drama and a VERY questionable officiating call that cost Miami. A run date has not been set.

• As The Big Lead reported, I’m also hearing that Max Kellerman is the favorite to replace Fox-bound Skip Bayless as Stephen A. Smith’s sparring partner on First Take, IF he wants the job. Kellerman and Smith have done an off-air audition together.

But former South Florida radio personality Jorge Sedano, who hosts a night-time ESPN Radio show with Israel Gutierrez, is also in the mix if things don’t work out with Kellerman, who already has a good gig in Los Angeles (working on ESPN’s Sports Nation and doing a local radio show).

It’s unclear if Kellerman would automatically take the job to replace Bayless. First Take is filmed at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

As The Big Lead noted (and I confirmed), Sedano and Will Cain will both get on-air auditions with Stephen A. in July. ESPN figures to make a decision soon after that.

The Ticket often airs the two-hour Sedano/Gutierrez show at 10 p.m., on an one-hour tape delay.

• Bill Simmons’ new HBO series, Any Given Wednesday, debuts at 10 p.m. Wednesday, with Ben Affleck and Charles Barkley his first guests.

“I’m all for, like, who can I click with,” Simmons said during a promotional appearance on NBC last week, noting the program will include sports, plus “a little pop culture, some tech, a little ‘where stuff’s going’ type of things.”

When NBC's Savannah Guthrie characterized Simmons’ departure from ESPN as, in part, “personality conflict” between Simmons and the network, Simmons replied: “I look at it the other way. I made it 14 years. It's a place that people that are outspoken or creative or frustrated creative people, they're not really meant to be there for two decades.

“So I look back and I think, like seven years, eight years might have been probably the max for it. ... We did some great stuff -- created ‘30 for 30,’ created Grantland, the stuff we did on ESPN.com. I look back and I'm amazed by all the stuff we’re able to do.”

Guthrie read a statement from ESPN President John Skipper in which Skipper said the company "severed our relationship with Bill because of his repeated lack of respect for this company and more importantly the people who work here.”

To which Simmons said: “What's interesting about that is at Grantland, I had 50 people that worked with me there, and 27 of them now are with me at The Ringer. Math doesn’t lie.”

• Dish Network, which is in seven million homes, has dropped NFL Network after the sides couldn’t come to terms on a licensing agreement.

This will be an issue during the season, when NFL Net carries seven games that aren’t on CBS or NBC. (Those two free TV networks combine to carry 10 other Thursday games that are also simulcast on NFL Net).

Expect DirecTV to push hard to lure those Dish subscribers.

• 790 The Ticket is apparently having a difficult time filling two open slots --- the early afternoon co-host job (alongside Leroy Hoard and Brian "The Beast" London) from 1 to 3 p.m. and the evening co-host job (alongside Josh Friedman) from 7 to 10 p.m.

Ticket general manager Doug Abernethy said he’s unsure how either slot will be filed.

The 1 to 3 job opened when Eric Reed quit the radio business, and the 7 to 10 p.m. opening was created when Chris Wittyngham was promoted to the 4 to 7 p.m. show, alongside Ethan Skolnick.

The Ticket wanted to hire NBC 6’s Adam Kuperstein to work the 1 to 3 p.m. show with Hoard, but Kuperstein could not do it because he has been assigned to co-anchor NBC 6’s new 4 p.m. newscast and the radio station didn’t want him doing the 790 show from NBC 6’s studios.

The Ticket also likes Will Manso, but Channel 10 would not permit him to take the job because he already has two jobs (for WPLG and Heat studio work on Fox Sports Sun).

That leaves The Ticket choosing among a few local sportswriters, in-house candidate Brendan Tobin and anyone else who surfaces.

Greg Likens, the former Dolphins host on previous rights-holder WINZ (940), has done one one-air audition for the evening slot and would be a good fit alongside Friedman. So would London.

• Former longtime Orlando Sentinel columnist Larry Guest has written a book "Sports Icons 'R' Funny" with unique anecdotes about a bunch of sports celebrities with ties to the state, including Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Steve Spurrier. For more information, go to larryguest.com.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

June 18, 2016

Marlins executive Mike Hill addresses bunch of issues: Stanton's and Chen's struggles; Gordon's return; pleasant surprises; what Mattingly has brought

          As the Marlins approach the midpoint of their season battling for a playoff berth, president/baseball operations Michael Hill addressed several topics when I spoke to him this week:

  • On pleasant surprises: “The team, how they’ve taken that next
    step. How you hoped what we saw in September was not a mirage and how these guys were coming together and starting to believe in the ability that they had and that they could achieve great things if they played together as a team and took care of each and took care of the little things. It’s that sense of team that has allowed them to overcome whatever has been thrown their way, whether it’s Dee [Gordon’s] suspension or Giancarlo [Stanton’s] struggles or Carter Capps blowing out. We always talk about the grind of the season. You never know what you’re going to face, but you have to be prepared to deal with it and overcome it if you want to achieve great things.”

          Hill also cites “the growth of Marcell Ozuna, and Derek Dietrich stepping in and stepping up, of Christian Yelich showing that he is a true three hole hitter, Martin Prado doing what he’s doing, JT Realmuto showing he’s a frontline catcher in this catcher.”

  • Glad you kept Ozuna, huh? “Ozuna’s talent was unquestioned. We really felt like last year was just part of his growth and he would learn from adversity that he faced. Pitch selection, his discipline. He’s narrowed his strike zone.

          “In this league, if they can get you out without throwing you a strike, they won’t throw you a strike. He has really tightened things up and they have to pitch to him now and he’s an unbelievably talented young man. You make mistakes, he’s going to make you pay for it.”

  • On Giancarlo Stanton, who has been struggling for much of the past five weeks, Hill said he’s not worried, that he would be worried if he were in perfect form and still not getting results: “You can see it wasn’t him. You could see he was out of sync. We had to get him in sync. That’s what everyone has been working to make happen.”
  • On Wei-Yin Chen’s struggles: “We knew there would be a little bit of growing pains coming over [from the AL] and a little bit has been his pitch sequences and pitch selections. We fully believe that’s something that’s correctable and he will be the pitcher we expect him to be.”
  • On what Don Mattingly has given this team: “A calmness. A calmness in chaos. When things are crazy, he has a tremendous feel for this team and a self-confidence in himself and his abilities. He’s not panicked, he’s calm, so we don’t need to panic and we don’t need to lose cite of the bigger [picture], of what our ultimate goal is.  You talk about Donny and all the great things that he’s done. He’s kept his bench as sharp as any bench I’ve ever been associated with. Whether it’s Chris Johnson, keeping him sharp, or Deitrich or Ichiro. He does a tremendous job making sure they get at-bats. You need a 25 man roster to be successful and he makes sure they’re all given enough playing time to stay sharp.”
  • Speaking of that, Hill envisions Dietrich continuing to get some playing time when Gordon is eligible to return from suspension July 29.

          “We’ve talked, whenever Dee comes back [eligible July 29], we’ll just continue to be creative and keep everybody sharp. We always felt [he was good enough to be an everyday player]  because of his offensive potential, his knowledge of the strike zone, his ability to get on base. Those are all things that make him an everyday player and now he’s just been given the opportunity to do it. We’ve been creative in finding at bats for him in the past.”

  • On first-round pick Braxton Garrett, the prep lefty from Alabama: “Young, athletic, lightning quick arm. I saw his last game of the year, up to 95, power curveball, plus changeup. His athleticism will allow him to move fast. Hopefully, we have him before the July 4 deadline [to sign].

          “You saw Cliff Lee [watching him pitch], honestly. The athleticism, the pitch selection, the competitiveness. We’re very excited given the six picks ahead of us. We were very excited he was still there.”

Asking and answering on Heat free agency, with cap rising higher than originally projected; Marino news; Marlins; Richt's offense; Beckham

 

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

Asking and answering Heat questions, with NBA free agency beginning July 1:

• With the cap now projected at $94 million ($2 million more than originally expected), will the Heat have enough space to sign an impact player after potentially using most of its $42 million to re-sign Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside?

Probably not. But that changes if the Heat clears out space by finding a taker for Josh McRoberts (due $5.8 million next season) or less likely, trades Goran Dragic ($15.9 million).

Other than long shots Kevin Durant and LeBron James (more on Durant below), there’s probably nobody else in this free agent class worth dumping Dragic’s salary for, because that $15.9 million isn’t going to get Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan or probably Mike Conley (who Miami likes). And the next tier of players, such as Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, aren’t necessarily better than Dragic.

McRoberts is another story. Finding a taker for him – and taking no money back - would give Miami potentially $9 million to $12 million or so in space after signing Wade and Whiteside, depending on what Wade and Whiteside sign for. 

The Heat is expected to try to re-sign Luol Deng, but that becomes a lot more realistic if Miami can trade McRoberts and take no money back. 

Other potential free agent targets in that scenario could include Jeff Green, Jared Dudley, Mirza Teletovic, Arron Afflalo, Marvin Williams, Kent Bazemore, David West, Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill and Marreese Speights, though some of those players (such as Bazemore) could command more and some of those won't command as much as $12 million.

Even if Whiteside stays, the Heat would need size if Deng and Amar’e Stoudemire leave and McRoberts is dealt. The Heat also has a $2.9 million room exception (which it could offer to Joe Johnson), but that cannot be combined with cap space.

• Yes, the odds are against signing Durant. But is there any way to sign Durant, Whiteside and Wade and fit them all under the cap?

Potentially yes. First, let’s accept that Durant likely isn’t going to accept less than his $26.4 million max, and the best way to sell Durant on the Heat would be a scenario where Whiteside is retained.

One way to achieve that: Dumping Dragic and McRoberts while taking no money back, thus giving Miami about $63 million in cap space; giving Durant a max deal; giving Whiteside a max deal (his first-year max will be $22 million) and asking Wade to take $15 million.

The other unlikely scenario: Keep Dragic, trade McRoberts, pay Durant $26.4 million, get Whiteside to take a bit under $21 million and somehow get Wade to accept a minimum deal, with the wink-wink understanding that he would get the max $35.4 million in 2017-18. It’s difficult to envision Wade accepting this.

As heathoops.com’s Albert Nahmad noted, in that scenario, Miami could exceed the cap to pay Wade a max deal in 2017 because his summer 2017 cap hold, based off that hypothetical (albeit unlikely) minimum deal next season, would be so low.

But Durant remains a long shot. He told USA Today last month: “I see great things for this team [Oklahoma City] and it’s great to be a part of it.”

• The Heat is in good position to sign Whiteside and Whiteside wants to stay if all things are equal, a close associate said. But what if the Heat doesn’t go to the max with Whiteside and another team swoops in and signs him? Then what?

We hear there would be Heat interest in Horford and Joakim Noah in that scenario (presuming it doesn’t get top target Durant or James, whom ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said could return to Miami if Cleveland wins the title Sunday).

The Heat likes both Horford and Noah, but Whiteside remains its top choice, aside from Durant.

There are mixed views internally about free agent Dwight Howard, incidentally. But as Pat Riley said, Whiteside remains the priority and it will be somewhat surprising if Miami lets him get away.

CHATTER

Besides doing more work with personnel (including evaluating tape of college players), Dolphins special adviser Dan Marino apparently is doing more coaching.

Rookie Brandon Doughty said last week that Marino is “in every meeting” with the team’s quarterbacks, joining assistants Clyde Christensen and Bo Hardegree and occasionally, Adam Gase. Marino also has been hands-on with Doughty.

“He’s been telling me I need to align to my throws, not fall off my throws,” Doughty said. “I’m going to work on that the next five weeks, I guarantee you. I get to talk to him every single day. It’s pretty cool.

"Actually had a flashback; my mom sent me a picture of Halloween of me being Dan Marino. I showed him the other day. Dan has still got it. A lot of teams don’t have a guy like that, with that much knowledge, to pick his mind. We’re in a special spot.”

• UM players love Mark Richt’s offense and the flexibility it offers to change plays.

“There's an answer for everything,” receiver Braxton Berrios told me. “It seems like there's never a bad situation or a bad play where we get stuck. No matter what defense they run, even on the absolute [best] play call for that defense, there's still a safety [valve in the UM offense], something there that we still have available without forcing anything. It doesn't have to be a bad play.”

• The Marlins wisely included a 2017 team option on Ichiro Suzuki’s contract for $2 million, which seems very likely to be picked up considering how he’s playing (.349 average entering this weekend series, .410 with runners on base, an absurd .471 with runners in scoring position).

• After a horrible month-long slump that dropped his average to .192, Giancarlo Stanton is now 5 for his last 8, raising his average to .210 after today's 9-6 win against Colorado.

• Attendance plummeted from 27,400 per game in the first year in Marlins Park (2012) to nothing above 21,386 per game in 3 ½ years since. But the Marlins always believed that if they won, crowds would return. So it’s disappointing that the Marlins, now four games above .500, are again last in the National League in average tickets sold at 20,281 entering this weekend.

The first two games of the Rockies series this weekend drew 19,767 and 19,655. It's disconcerting that neither could top 20,000, considering Miami is in contention.

“I think for sure [averaging 25,000] is realistic,” Marlins president David Samson said last week. “There’s never any disappointment with our fans. We owe it to them to do better on the field. We've been relevant for 2 1/2 months. Doing that a few years in a row, you would see attendance grow. Having a winning season would be a good first step. People want to see that the team has a chance.”

David Beckham’s MLS publicist said he remains “very optimistic we will be fielding a Miami team in 2018.”

But Beckham and Miami-Dade county have not been seeing eye-to-eye on the value of land that his group needs to buy from the county. That remains one of the holdups.

Beckham also has been trying for months to close a deal to add an investor who would provide a cash infusion.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz
         

June 17, 2016

Signs of progress, but accuracy still a work in progress for Tannehill; Dolphins post-minicamp nuggets, views; UM, Marlins, Heat

 

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 

A six-pack of postscripts from the Dolphins’ offseason program, which ended Thursday:

• You watch Ryan Tannehill make the handful of impressive, thread-the-needle throws that he delivered this week --- a dart to DeVante Parker, a missile to Jarvis Landry, a perfect spiral to Kenny Stills --- and it’s easy to envision him moving into the NFL’s top half of quarterbacks.

You can talk yourself into that belief (and the Dolphins have), seeing the strong arm, understanding the likelihood that Adam Gase should be very good for him, and taking into account the 51 touchdown, 24 interception ratio the past two seasons.

But then you watch the sometimes errant ball placement, the pass thrown behind the tight end or thrown too low -- and you wonder if Tannehill will ever be more than pretty good.

Tannehill had a good week, and nobody is perfect, but there are still areas where the accuracy could be better, situations when he throws behind a receiver or a running back or a tight end, forcing the player to contort himself to catch it and fall to the ground, instead of catching it in stride and running for significant yards after catch.

Tannehill’s completion percentage dropped from 66.4 in 2014 to 61.9 in 2015, which was 21st in the league. Accuracy has been an emphasis.

Is he where the Dolphins want with his accuracy?

“There have been a few throws where I would like to see the ball placement be a little better,” Gase said Thursday. “There have been a few times, too, where they haven’t been on the same page where [Tannehill] is going where he’s supposed to go and the receiver didn’t stem it vertical enough [and as a result] it looks like a poor throw. That’s the development of the offense. You’re not going to be perfect from the get go.”

During individual drills on Thursday, all five quarterbacks were asked to make a dozen throws, with the goal of getting the ball in a trash can in the corner of the end zone. Passes were launched from the 6, 20 and 30 yards lines. Tannehill didn’t get any balls in the trash can, hitting the side twice and missing every other time. Matt Moore dropped two in the can and Brandon Doughty did it once.

But there has been growth with Tannehill:

“The kid is constantly working,” Moore said. “Works harder than anybody. Just sitting with Gase, you can see his confidence is off the charts. The footwork stuff we’re doing is translating. Moving in the pocket, you mix that with accuracy. That’s sort of the key. Footwork, pocket movement and accuracy are really good right now.”

And say this for Tannehill: ESPN’s KC Joyner tells us Tannehill made bad decisions on just 0.7 percent of his throws in 2015, tied with Aaron Rodgers for third best in the league.

“If you’re below one percent, that’s elite,” said Joyner, who identifies bad decisions as mental errors leading to a turnover or potential turnover.

Incidentally, Chicago’s Jay Cutler went from 1.5 percent in 2014 to 1.0 percent in 2015, his one year under Gase.

• Though it’s easier for receivers to shine in May/June drills (without full pads), Leonte Carroo has made quite an impression.

Safety Michael Thomas “called me Anquan Boldin” this week, Carroo said. “He said, ‘You play like him – you’re big, you’re physical like him.’ I’ve heard that a lot. A faster Anquan Boldin.”

Carroo, incidentally, will spend most of the next five “vacation weeks” training with Jarvis Landry.

• Jay Ajayi has dropped a few out of the backfield, despite his success doing that at Boise State. He said that route running and working on his receiving skills will be a priority for him during the next month. I'm not overly concerned because he was a good receiver out of the backfield at Boise.

• Though the Dolphins have given Jordan Phillips every chance to beat out Earl Mitchell, Mitchell so far is holding his own. Mitchell said he expects that battle to continue into the season…. The Xavien Howard/Tony Lippett competition also remains very close. Howard had a pretty good week, with an interception and a pass breakup.

• Defensive ends Terrence Fede and Chris McCain – who face uphill climbs to make the roster – had good moments this week, and here’s the good news: The NFL said this week that now four (instead of two) of the 10 players on the practice squad can have up to two years of NFL service time. McCain and Fede qualify.

• Bobby McCain has had a solid offseason, but considering the lack of proven depth at slot corner (McCain, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Tyler Patmon, seventh-rounder Jordan Lucas), it’s mystifying why Miami cut Brice McCain when doing so cleared just $2.5 million in space that it never used.

So is Gase comfortable having no proven veteran slot corner?  

“We’ve got a lot of guys that aren’t veterans,” he said. “We’re young. That’s not going to be an excuse. Nobody is going to care when it comes September. Nobody cares. Just got to figure out a way to win.”

• For a lot more Dolphins nuggets from the final day of the offseason program, please click here.

CHATTER

• Mark Richt said Thursday he expects UM’s entire recruiting class to be enrolled by late June, with no academic non-qualifiers. Richt expects all three freshmen receivers will need to play this year: Ahmmon Richards (enrolled last month) and Sam Bruce and Dionte Mullins (both set to arrive June 27). Richt quizzed Richards about the offense this week and Richt said he answered “90 percent” correctly.

“If they’re a quick study, they’ll get it figured out pretty quick,” Richt said of the last group of incoming freshmen.

Richt said Bruce will be able to catch up “because he will have veteran receivers who can help him,” as well as receivers coach Ron Dugans.

• UM players have been running drills on their own, but Richt said Thursday: “We’re allowed to have two hours of meetings a week, so we’ll meet with them and we’re basically re-installing everything we installed in the spring just little by little.

"We installed it in the spring, but we installed it again in the summer and then install it again when two-a-days begin and the five-day acclimation period begins. We’re just kind of going over the same thing over and over.... When they’re bored with it, they’ve got it. They’ll have it figured out. If there’s still a little bit of uncertainty, you’ve got a little more work to do.”

• UM says it's the only school in America this academic year whose football team played in a bowl game; men's and women's basketball teams made the NCAA Tournament; and baseball team made the College World Series. Neat.

• If you missed it yesterday, here's what Al Golden had to say this week in his first public comments since being fired by UM.

• Justin Nicolino has allowed 31 hits and 12 runs in his last 16 innings, but the Marlins might need to live with that because of alarming lack of starting pitching depth in their system. Jarred Cosart, in Triple A, has been out with a strained oblique and top prospect Austin Brice (2-6, 3.00) is coming off two poor starts.

That leaves Jose Urena and journeymen Dylan Axelrod, Paul Clemens, Chris Reed (pitching well) and Chris Narveson among options should the Marlins make a change in their rotation.

• If you missed it on Manny Navarro's Heat blog, Udonis Haslem said he will work out with Chris Bosh this summer and Haslem is operating under the assumption Bosh will play next season, though Bosh hasn't assured him of that.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz