January 17, 2015

A player-by-player assessment as the Heat nears the season's midpoint

With the Heat reaching the season’s midpoint on Tuesday against Oklahoma City, a look at where each player stands after 40 games:

### Dwyane Wade: The good: Ranks 10th in the league in scoring at 22.1 and fourth in field-goal percentage among shooting guards, at 49.5.

With more playmaking responsibilities, his assist average (5.6) stands at its highest since the season before LeBron James’ arrival.

The concern: Has missed 10 games because of hamstring issues, after missing 28 last season due to injuries and maintanance on his knees. At least his knees haven’t been a problem this year…. Committing 3.2 turnovers per game, fourth-worst among shooting guards.

Bottom line: Still a very good player, elite on some nights, but durability remains an issue. He turned 33 on Saturday.

### Chris Bosh: The good: Ranks 12th in scoring at 21.6 and has generally raised his game in the wake of LeBron’s departure.

The concern: Rebounding has been OK (7.7 per game, 29th in league) but not exceptional; keep in mind he averaged 10.0 and 10.8 in his final two seasons with Toronto. And his shooting percentage (47.5), while solid, is his lowest since his second season.

Bottom line: More often than not, Bosh has met expectations, at least from an offensive standpoint. But he hasn't exceeded expectations. And because of the limitations of the Heat's supporting cast, more is needed from Bosh for the Heat to climb above .500 and have any chance to advance past the first round.  

### Luol Deng: The good: Shooting far more accurately (49.8 percent) than anytime in the past six years… Defense has been an asset, particularly in recent games.

The concern: Deng is at his best offensively when teammates get him the ball when he’s cutting or on the move. But in too many games, he has been an afterthought or passive offensively, with 10 games of single digit scoring, compared with nine all of last season for Chicago and Cleveland…. His 71.4 percent free-throw shooting is well below his career average (77).

The bottom line: When the Heat plays well, Deng usually also plays well. That isn't a coincidence. But the overall impact hasn't measured up to the $10 million salary.

### Mario Chalmers: The good: Scored at least 20 points in five of the Heat’s first 14 games (none since) and his 10.7 scoring average is a career high.

The concern: On pace for career lows in shooting percentage both overall (39.7) and on threes (27.3: 33 for 121).  Has made at least half his shots from the field in only four of the Heat’s past 20 games, including 15 for 43 on the recent West Coast trip…. Averaging a career-high 2.3 turnovers.

Bottom line: After teasing with several big games early in the season, Chalmers has descended into the type of shooting slump that doomed him late in last year's playoffs.

### Norris Cole: The good: Assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.56-to-1 is slightly about average (23rd of 47 qualifying point guards).

The concern: His 38.8 shooting percentage is third-worst among point guards who have started at least half their team’s games… Shooting a dismal 24.7 percent on threes (21 for 85).... Has had some good moments defensively, but like all of the Heat’s point guards, has also allowed too many blow-bys.

Bottom line: If Cole doesn't improve significantly, it's difficult to envision Miami extending the $3 million qualifying offer needed to make him a restricted, as opposed to an unrestricted free agent, this summer.

### Chris Andersen: The good: Shooting 62 percent from the field, eighth among all players with a minimum of 25 appearances…. His 11.5 rebounds per 48 minutes is average for qualifying centers (tied for 27 of 56).

The concern: Has missed 15 games with assorted injuries… Scoring average down from 6.6 to 5.1, partly because there are no longer LeBron-delivered lobs.

The bottom line: Has been starting out of necessity recently but seems miscast in the role. His $5 million salary would hold value in a trade.

### Hassan Whiteside: The good: The season’s most pleasant surprise, Whiteside ranks fifth among all NBA players (minimum 15 games) in rebounds per 48 minutes (18.5) and first in blocks per 48 minutes (6.3). Scored in double figures in six in a row (including 23 against the Clippers) before foul trouble limited him to four points in 15 minutes Friday against Sacramento….

The concern: His 6.9 fouls per 48 minutes ranks in the top third for most fouls, per 48 minutes, among NBA centers.

Bottom line: While the growth and production have been impressive, and the skill set is intriguing, the sample size remains too small to make any definitive judgments. Quality backup? It would seem so, at the very least. But quality starter? That very much needs to play out.

### Danny Granger: The good: After sitting out 20 of the Heat’s first 28 games, Granger scored 18, 21 and 14 points in three games in a row in late December.

The concerns: Since then, has shot 7 for 35 in seven games, dropping his overall accuracy to 38.9 percent…. Twice as many turnovers (20) as assists (10).

Bottom line: Though he’s moving better than he did earlier in the season, he’s clearly not the player who was an offensive force for Indiana in his prime. The hope is that he can make enough threes to justify continued minutes.

### Shawne Williams: The good: Shooting a career-high 42.7 on threes (56 for 131). Started the Heat’s first 17 games (just five since) and played well at times, including 16 points in a win against Toronto.

The concern: Doesn’t have any other clearly above-average skill besides three-point shooting. Averaging 3.5 rebounds as a “stretch” power forward and has had lapses defensively.

Bottom line: Minutes in the second half could hinge on how well Granger plays, as much as anything.

### Udonis Haslem: The good: Though playing time has been modest (26 games, 14.7 minutes per), the energy, defensive effort and rebounding can still make a difference at times, including Friday against the Kings. His 13.0 rebounds per 48 minutes rank in the top third among power forwards.

The concern: Shooting percentage has dipped to 43.0, well below his 51.4 and 50.7 percent shooting in the past two seasons.

Bottom line: Seems likely to play only when Bosh, Whiteside or Andersen has injuries or foul trouble.

### Shabazz Napier: The good: At times, displays a craftiness lacking in the Heat’s other point guards…Shooting 37.1 percent on threes, ranking 24th of 89 point guards who have appeared in a game.

The concern: Vulnerable defensively and his 1.28-to-1 assist to turnover ratio ranks 83rd of 89.

Bottom line: Over the next 42 games, the Heat needs to get a better feel about whether he's a potential starter. He makes some creative passes that the Heat's other point guards simply cannot, but defensive shortcomings and looseness with the ball are troubling.

### James Ennis: The good: Energy and athleticism have helped in short bursts and defensive awareness has improved.

The concern: Needs to boost his 31.4 percent three-point shooting to earn more playing time.

Bottom line: Expectations after a dynamic preseason have been tempered, but Ennis could be a potential longterm rotation player if he can become a more consistent three-point shooter from the wings.

### Justin Hamilton: The good: Has kept an NBA job, for whatever that’s worth.

The concern: Despite having decent range, has shot only 6 for 30 on jumpers, isn’t a big deterrent at the rim and his rebounding is subpar for a 7-footer. Didn’t make much of a case during five December starts.

Bottom line: Size could keep him bouncing around the league for a few years, but Hamilton possesses no singular skill to suggest he's anything more than a journeyman.

### Josh McRoberts: The good: Shot 52.8 percent and displayed deft passing skills during his 17 games.

The concern: A likely season-ending knee injury leaves the Heat not completely sure how good this team would be with him…. His 7.3 rebounds per 48 minutes rank among the league’s worst for power forwards.

Bottom line: The Heat played well at times with McRoberts on the court, but Yahoo! reports the Heat was willing to part with him in its recent bid for Nets center Brook Lopez. And McRoberts' subpar rebounding numbers would be a longterm concern if cast as a starter. 

### Tyler Johnson: Incomplete. Appeared in just one game since signing 10-day contract.

Bottom line: Athleticism and diversity of his game are intriguing, and his three-point shooting improved in the NBDL. Worth an extended look.

Please check back Sunday afternoon for the Sunday buzz column, with lots of Canes, Dolphins, Marlins and Heat... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

January 16, 2015

2 p.m. Saturday: Network announcer suspended after solicitation of prostitute; Big recruiting weekend on tap for UM; Dolphins address UM stadium situation

Quick 2 p.m. broadcast note: CBS and Turner suspended basketball analyst Greg Anthony indefinitely today, a day after he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in Washington D.C.

But there was one difference in how the networks handled the matter. CBS announced that Anthony, the network's lead college basketball analyst, will not work again for them this season.

But Turner declined to say whether Anthony would return to the network's NBA coverage this season.

"Greg Anthony has been suspended indefinitely and we will have no further comment at this time," Turner said in a statement.

Anthony, the former NBA point guard, was arrested at 5:46 p.m. Friday in a prostitution sting. He was scheduled to work today's Michigan State-at-Maryland game with Ian Eagle, but CBS yanked him from that assignment.

His arrest leaves CBS in a difficult spot, because the network already had lost its co-lead NCAA analyst, Steve Kerr, during the offseason. Kerr, as most of you know, left to coach the Golden State Warriors.

So who will CBS pair with Jim Nantz on the FInal Four? 

The most logical options include Clark Kellogg (who replaced Billy Packer as CBS' lead analyst in the winter of 2008 before being shifted back to the studio last year), Bill Raftery (who works primarily for Fox but has had permission to work the NCAA Tournament for CBS), Reggie Miller, Len Elmore, and Doug Gottlieb, or some combination of two of those five. 

Mike Gminski and Jim Spanarkel also worked the tournament for CBS last year. 

CBS also could try to seek permission from ESPN to use Jay Bilas (who previously worked NCAA Tournament games for CBS) or even Dick Vitale, but I'm not sure what ESPN's incentive would be to do that. Both have exclusive contracts with ESPN.

On Turner, Anthony had been alternating with Grant Hill and Chris Webber as the analyst on games not worked by TNT lead analyst Reggie Miller. Anthony's suspension likely will result in more assignments for Webber and Hill.

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With National Signing Day approaching on Feb. 4, it’s a big weekend of recruiting visits for UM, which has a legitimate chance to snag as many as six uncommitted players who are expected on campus.

The six to keep an eye on:

### Jacksonville-based four-star defensive tackle Kendrick Norton. This is a position of need for the Hurricanes; UM’s only oral commitment at DT is three-star Bradenton-based Ryan Fines, who projects as a backup, according to recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein.

Norton recently named a top five of Miami, UCLA, Michigan, North Carolina and Mississippi. Regarding Miami, he told Wolverines.com: "I have a good relationship with the coaches. My mom loved the coaches. It's beautiful down there, and I can stay  relatively close to home."

Rivals.com rates him the 15th best defensive tackle in this class and the 198th best prospect overall.

### Washington D.C.-based four-star defensive back Marcus Lewis. Rated by rivals.com as the No. 6 safety and 93rd-best player overall in this class, Lewis already has de-committed from two schools: Virginia Tech and Florida.

Besides UM, he’s also visiting Kentucky and Washington State. Rivals.com tabs Kentucky as the favorite but UM as a dark horse.

He would be a key addition, because UM has lost out on a few defensive back targets, including Westminster Christian’s Tim Irvin. UM already has one high-end safety commit in Killian’s Jaquan Johnson.

### New Jersey-based three-star linebacker Saleem Brightwell. Miami and Pittsburgh appear to the strongest contenders for Brightwell, who’s rated the nation’s 49th-best outside linebacker by Rivals.com. Michigan State is also in his top three, but he hasn’t committed to visiting there.

UM has two linebacker commitments (West Palm Beach’s Charles Perry and New Jersey’s Jamie Gordinier) and would like to add one or two more.

### Booker T. Washington four-star receiver Antonio Callaway. Callaway, whose season was cut short by a torn meniscus, hasn’t said how he’s leaning. He will visit Florida next weekend and Alabama the weekend after. And Callaway reportedly grew up with thoughts of playing at Florida.

UM already has three oral commitments at receiver, including four-star Maryland-based prospect Lawrence Cager, whose comments this week haven’t been entirely consistent. One day this week, he spoke of possibly flipping to Alabama if the Crimson Tide can fit him into this class. But the next day, he reaffirmed a strong commitment to UM. We’ll see.

### New York-based three-star defensive end Austrian Robinson. Robinson has named Maryland as he leader, and he’s also planning to visit Mississippi and Ohio State the next two weekends, after his UM visit this weekend. He told rivals.com that Maryland is the favorite simply because it’s the only one of the four that he’s visited.

But a strong visit this weekend would boost the Hurricanes’ chances. UM has two defensive ends committed: four-star Scott Patchan (already on campus) and Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons prospect Richard McIntosh Jr.

### Royal Palm Beach three-star offensive tackle Fred Johnson. He already has named UM as his clear front-runner. If he commits, he would be the seventh offensive lineman in this class. He has spoken of also possibly visiting UF, LSU, Tennessee and/or Virginia Tech.

Several UM oral commitments also are visiting --- Fines, Gordinier, defensive back Robert Knowles, offensive linemen Tyler Gauthier, Hayden Mahoney and Tyree St. Louis and four-star running backs Mark Walton and Jordan Scarlett.

The one that particularly bears monitoring is Scarlett.

Scarlett told our Manny Navarro this week that he’s only 85 percent committed to UM because of “how their season went. It wasn't the best season out of all my options of the schools. And I just feel like I don't want to miss on an opportunity of taking visits and seeing what's out there."

He will visit UF and FSU the next two weeks to determine if he believes either is a better fit than UM.

Incidentally, Orlando based four-star running back Dexter Williams, who de-committed from UM a few weeks ago, told The Orlando Sentinel that Miami remains in the mix and he also plans to visit Notre Dame and Texas A&M.

Williams said he decommitted from Miami because “I was kind of worried about the coach’s job” but added “I still have a lot of interest in Miami” and that Hurricanes coaches have been recruiting him “harder and harder” recently.

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Adam Beasley will cover the Dolphins' angle of the Sun Life Stadium modernization in a story to be posted shortly.

A couple of UM items from today's Dolphins press conference:

### As we reported previously, the Dolphins said today that UM's capacity at the stadium will be 55,000 and that capacity will be achieved by placing very large vertical banners in the upper end zones. Those banners, as displayed in the Dolphins' news conference today, will have a large "U" on them.

Athletic director Blake James told us those upper end zones seats might be opened for select games when demand warrants.

Capacity for Dolphins games will be 65,326.

### Ross said the Dolphins didn't ask UM for any input on the renovations. "We're spending all the money and they're benefiting," Ross said, before adding that the Hurricanes are a good tenant.

### Once the canopy is in place for the 2016 season, 92 percent of the seats will be in the shade for Dolphins games, compared with 17 percent now.  

Please see the last post for the weekly media column, in case you missed it... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

January 15, 2015

Media column: From tickets to TV ratings, how Heat interest now compares with LeBron era; Dolphins, NFL, NCAA TV notes

FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN

Asking and answering sports media and business questions:

### We know the Heat’s win total has plunged without LeBron James. But what about local interest in the team? Has that dropped, too?

There are a few ways to measure this. For starters, the Heat has sold out all 19 home games, extending its home sellout streak to 224. That’s paid attendance, not bodies in the seats, which the Heat declined to disclose.

But White Glove International CEO Michael Lipman, whose company partners with the Heat on re-selling tickets, said Heat tickets on the secondary market are generating far less money this season than last. But he said that has resulted in more paid tickets being re-sold to people who want to attend games.

For premium seats, “tickets are down a third of the price from last year,” he said. “The premium seat holders are taking a loss on the seats when they re-sell. For upper bowl seats, the average ticket price was $60 to $80 last season on the secondary market. Now they’re going for $30 to $40.

“Lower-bowl seats are 20 to 30 percent cheaper. But more fans go to the games now because it’s more affordable [in the re-sale market]. And the Heat has done a good job branding the product.”

But for non-marquee games, there seem to be more unfilled seats in the lower bowl than last season.

The challenge for the Heat will be this offseason, because the multiyear contracts for many of the premium seats are expiring.

As for TV ratings, 5.1 percent of Dade/Broward homes with TV sets have been watching Sun Sports’ Heat cablecasts on average, down 23 percent from the 6.8 for Heat games both at this point last season and overall last season.

But that 5.1 rating is still very solid, ranking fourth-highest among NBA teams. (One local ratings point equals 16,328 homes.)

Nationally, the Heat has dropped in merchandise sales from first overall last season to eighth from October through December 2014. That’s obviously tied to LeBron, whose jersey was the most-sold both last season and during the past three months.

One other point: There doesn’t appear to be a significant post-LeBron effect so far for businesses around AmericanAirlines Arena. Bruce Earl, regional manager of the Bayside Hooters, said his business is comparable to last season both before and after Heat games. But Bayside restaurants likely will feel an impact without a long playoff run in May and June.

### Most dumfounding comment of the NFL playoffs so far?

Had to be ESPN’s Skip Bayless, after Andrew Luck outplayed an erratic Peyton Manning in the Colts’ win at Denver, inexplicably insisting that Colts owner Jim Irsay “made [a] big mistake dumping Peyton for Luck. Peyton has had three straight better seasons.... Is it possible that, subconsciously, the Broncos wanted no part of Seattle in another Super Bowl?” Huh?

### Why did NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who are universally praised, come under fire last week?

For leaving some viewers with the perception that they were defending commissioner Roger Goodell in summarizing the Robert Mueller investigation of the league’s handling of the Ray Rice fiasco.

As cameras focused on Goodell watching the Patriots-Ravens game, Michaels said “the report… outlined several improvements the league should make, some of which have already been implemented.”

(Deadspin reported Michaels discussed this with a producer during a commercial break, but NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus told Newsday that Michaels and Collinsworth weren’t instructed what to say.)

Collinsworth said: “The decision to initially suspend Ray Rice for two games was a mistake. Roger Goodell has admitted that. I never once in all my dealings with the commissioner doubted his integrity.”

Collinsworth is absolutely entitled to his opinion. But here’s the problem: The topic was too complicated, too nuanced, to cover in less than a minute of air time during a competitive playoff game. If they were going to raise the issue, they owed it to the audience to give a more detailed account.

Michaels could have noted the inconsistencies that still exist, including that the Associated Press stands by its story that a woman in the league office confirmed receiving the Rice video tape long before Goodell claimed he saw it --- something Mueller couldn’t substantiate because all 128 female employees (who weren’t under oath, incidentally) denied knowledge of it.

The issue should have been addressed in the pre-game show, not uncomfortably shoe-horned into a playoff telecast.

### With CBS and Fox each airing conference championship games Sunday, who has the better game presentation?

The announcing teams (Jim Nantz/Phil Simms and Joe Buck/Troy Aikman) are comparable, but CBS has the slight edge in game production, partly because Fox inexplicably refuses to list the entire starting lineups early in games, instead opting to superimpose the names of a few impact players.

Fox has the far better officiating expert in Mike Pereira. CBS’ Mike Carey lacks Pereira’s TV presence and seems hesitant at times when explaining whether calls should be reversed.

Fox uses Pereira correctly by asking for his opinion before referees rule on a challenge. CBS sometimes doesn’t summon Carey until after the replay challenge has been ruled on. And when Carey’s opinion is solicited before the replay review, his success rate on predictions isn’t particularly high.

### As we noted in the last post from earlier today, ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have the Dolphins selecting Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson 14th overall in their mock draft. Any dissenting opinions from draft analysts?

Absolutely! NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has Miami selecting Mississippi State inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney. "He has the size to bang inside with linemen and plenty of speed/atheticism to make plays in coverage," Jeremiah said.
 
He also fills more of a need than Thompson would because McKinney could play middle linebacker --- a position that Miami will explore upgrading partly because of Koa Misi's durability issues.

### To whom did former All-Pro Ed Reed give his "you are who we thought you were" award on Showtime's Inside the NFL?

To the Dolphins and Chargers, for starting strong but then fizzling late.

### How did South Florida’s ratings stack up for the College Football Playoff title game?

Not well, comparatively. Among 57 major markets, Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s 12.3 rating (12.3 percent of TV households) ranked 51st --- though that’s higher than every UM game this season except UM-FSU. West Palm Beach was 21st (20.4).

### This year's College Football playoffs drew monster TV ratings. (The championship, predictably, was the most-watched program in cable TV history.) But what’s the new challenge with next year’s playoffs?

Whereas this year’s semifinals were on New Year’s Day, next season’s semis --- hosted by the Orange and Cotton bowls --- will be on New Year’s Eve, when some fans would prefer to be out partying.

Each of the four semifinal games played at the OB over the next 11 years will start at 5 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, but the OB won’t know if it’s the early or late game until after the matchups are set.

### Strangest part of ESPN’s college football championship Megacast Monday?

Had to be the strained, at times awkward dialogue among the motley crew of analysts on ESPNU. Mark Schlereth, Jay Bilas, Julie Foudy, Barry Melrose, Aaron Boone and Michael Wilbon texted, scarfed down food, demonstrated how to use a vuvuzela, discussed cast members of The Mary Tyler Moore show and desperately tried to fill air time with lots of “wows” and virtually anything they could think of, no matter how irrelevant.

This was akin to forcing six people with different interests to sit together for 3 ½ hours at a party and asking bystanders to watch.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

January 14, 2015

10 a.m. Thursday: Kiper's pick for Dolphins; UM announces early enrollees; Heat linked to Lopez; Marlins sign reliever

Quick 10 a.m. note: ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have the Dolphins selecting the same player at No. 14 in their first mock drafts: Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson.

Kiper, on ESPN.com, says "the great thing about" the 6-2 Thompson "is he's not just a freak in the athletic sense. He's also a freak in his football instincts. This is a kid who has played safety, linebacker and in 2014 was every bit a future NFL running back when the Huskies asked him to help out there for a few games. Ideally, he ends up at weakside linebacker, perhaps in the Lavonte David mold, using sideline-to-sideline speed to disrupt attack angles and chase down ball carriers and underneath pass-catchers. He can also use his big-time explosiveness as a gap blitzer and coming off the edge. There's developmental work to be done here, but maybe not much because the football instincts are so good."

Kiper has Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley being chosen with the two picks before Miami's selection, and West Virginia receiver Kevin White and Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes in the two picks after.

Also, Kiper has Jameis Winston going first to Tampa Bay and UM offensive tackle Ereck Flowers 19th to Cleveland. His entire first mock draft is available on ESPN.com's "Insider" package.

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A six pack of notes on a Wednesday night: 

### UM had hoped for six to eight early enrollees in this recruiting class. As it turns out, the school confirmed that only three scholarship players are enrolling this week --- all four-star prospects. UM announced three walk-ons also are enrolling early.

The early arrivals on scholarship are Bradenton-based defensive end Scott Patchan (a well-regarded prospect coming off an ACL injury), Killian safety Jaquan Johnson and junior college tight end Jerome Washington.

Here’s how ESPN assesses each:

On Johnson: “Overall Johnson grows on you the more you watch him. At first glance he can be a bit difficult to appreciate his movement skills, but he consistently makes plays with the ball in his hands. There are a variety of roles in which this prospect could bolster a roster. As a cornerback he would have to see significant reps to prove he belongs there, but his skill set and talent level indicates this could be a nice fit. Very exciting prospect. Needs to get in the weight room.”

(UM will play him at safety; the staff likes his instincts and intelligence. In interviews, he comes across as a conscientous young man who spends ample time studying film.)

On Patchan: “Athletic prospect with good length and could potentially be a player who could drop into coverage depending on the defensive scheme. Will need to add size and strength to be a consistent defensive end with his hand in the ground but has the upside with size and growth potential.”

On Washington, who has been playing for a club team in New Jersey: "Interesting prospect. Possesses some very good raw, natural tools and can come to a program with a good deal of time to develop. Hasn't faced high level competition and will need to develop. But a tight end with nice upside. Initial contribution may be limited but could grow into a highly production and real good FBS tight end."

The three walks-on: Vinny Testaverde’s son, Vincent, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 116 yards for Texas Tech last season; Joel Evans and Marcus Lugo.

UM provided no information on Evans or Lugo, but Lugo is a former tight end at Cypress Bay. Rivals.com and ESPN list Evans as a running back from Durham.

### Less than three weeks after orally committing to UM, four-star Towson, Md.-based receiver Lawrence Cager told rivals.com that he’s also considering Alabama, which is recruiting him but is waiting to see if it can fit him into its 2015 class.

“Alabama and Miami are really the only schools in it,” he said.

But later, he said: "I still feel good about Miami." Auburn also is pursuing him.

### According to ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk, the Heat has shown a “strong interest” in Nets center Brook Lopez, who is reportedly being shopped.

Lopez, 7-0, would be appealing because his contract expires after next season (the Heat wants a ton of 2016 cap space) and because he’s an offensively-skilled big man.

But his history of health issues (feet, ankle, back) would be cause for concern. Since playing in all 82 games in his first three seasons, Lopez has played 5, 74 and 17 games the past three seasons. He has missed 10 games this season.

Lopez, 28, is averaging 14.7 points and 6.4 rebounds after averaging 20.7 and 6.0 in 2013-14.

Lopez is earning $15.7 million this season and has a player option next season at $16.8 million.

Unless the Heat was willing to part with Luol Deng, acquiring Lopez would require dealing three to five supporting cast players to make the deal work from a salary cap perspective.

The Heat cannot package its $2.65 million disabled player exception with other assets in a trade.

### Though Joe Philbin hasn’t fired any coaches, he also has declined to say that all of his assistants will be asked back. Once Philbin is comfortable saying that Kevin Coyle is definitely going to return, the Dolphins are expected to convey that publicly. To this point, that hasn’t happened. According to multiple reports, defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers is the top candidate to join new Jets coach Todd Bowles as New York's defensive coordinator.

### Though every Dolphins receiver beyond Jarvis Landry stands at risk, there’s no indication that any is asking to leave at the moment.

Rishard Matthews’ former agent conveyed to Dolphins management in August that Matthews preferred to be sent somewhere where he would play more than he would here, but the matter was quickly dropped when Dennis Hickey said that wasn’t going to happen. And Matthews’ new agent hasn’t made that request.

And though the Dolphins haven’t committed to keeping Mike Wallace, Wallace told me in December that he very much likes playing here and the lack of deep balls hasn’t made him re-assess that.

### The Marlins continued to add bullpen arms, signing veteran reliever Nick Masset to a minor-league contract. The right-hander is 18-14 with a 4.02 ERA in six seasons.

He was 2-0 with a 5.80 ERA in 45 innings for Colorado last season after missing the previous two seasons with shoulder problems and thoracic outlet syndrome. Before that, he had a 3.05 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Reds.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

January 13, 2015

Tallon, MacLean assess Panthers at midway point; Dolphins, Canes, Heat, Marlins news and notes

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN 

With the Florida Panthers reaching the midpoint of its season on Tuesday, we solicited perspective on where they stand, position by position, from general manager Dale Tallon and Delray Beach-based Doug MacLean, who guided the Panthers to their only Stanley Cup Finals and now works as an NHL studio analyst on Rogers SportsNet in Canada.

Tonight's 8-2 setback at Winnipeg was among the Panthers' most lopsided losses of the season. But overall, the first half has been a success: 20-12-9 and 49 points, which leaves them three points behind Boston and the Rangers (who are tied for seventh/eighth) for the final playoff spot, but also with games in hand on most teams in the top eight (but not the Rangers). In the East, the top three teams in the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions make the playoffs, as well as two wild card teams.

The season has “exceeded [my expectations] a little bit,” Tallon said. “It has jelled a little quicker than we anticipated. We have solid pros that really care and good leaders that have helped push our young guys along. We are right where we need to be. We’re knocking on the door and now we have to push in.”

The Panthers entered Tuesday 25th of 30 teams in goals per game (2.38) and 29th in power play percentage (13.1), but trading for another scorer “is not my mindset,” Tallon said.

“The big star scorer is the one thing we all strive to get in this league, but they’re hard to find," Tallon said. "We’ll build from within. We’ll get a lot of picks this year; we have good kids in the minors now.”

As far as completion of Tallon’s master plan is concerned, “we’re halfway to 60 percent there,” he said. “This is the second phase of the young guys. We’re in great position cap wise. [Owner] Vinnie Viola has said we can go get whatever we need.”

Tallon would consider pursuing a top free agent scorer eventually “if you need that one guy to put you over the top… Right now, we’ll draft and mentor and develop and see where it takes us.”

MacLean’s take: “Guys who don't compete and don't play hard --- that's been a problem here, but not this year. These guys are playing different than they have the past couple years. The Gerard Gallant/Roberto Luongo combo has re-energized that group. There were terrible vibes about the organization in the past. Now there are good vibes. Vinnie Viola has helped that. There will be two, three points separating the bottom three playoff teams. Do they get in? I hope so. Everything is positive and trending up.”  

Assessing the roster by position:

CENTERS

### Tallon: He likes the upside here, with still-developing Nick Bjugstad (15 goals, 25 points/new six-year contract) --- “Nick has size, speed, skill, desire” --- and Aleksander Barkov (3 goals, 8 points) – “we haven’t seen the best of Barkov. They will have some inconsistencies at their age, but [we have] two big, strong center-men.”  And “we’re deep up the middle, with [Vincent] Trocheck, Dave Bolland and Derek McKenzie.”

### MacLean: “You don’t know if Bjugstad is polished enough to be another Eric Staal [the Carolina Hurricanes star], but he might slide in right under those top guys. Maybe a top five to 10 center down the road. No. 1 center men are hard to find, and he’s a legitimate one. And Barkov has a huge upside. Has a chance to be a real good player. If you have Bjugstad and Barkov up in the middle, you’re in good shape.”

DEFENSEMEN

### Tallon: “Very solid group moving forward. [Rookie] Aaron Ekblad (24 points, team-best plus-12 plus/minus) has just been terrific. He has had very few bad games, unbelievably steady offensively and defensively. Amazing maturity. Willie Mitchell and Brian Campbell have had really solid years. Dimitri Kulikov is coming into his own. Dylan Olsen and Erik Gudbranson are a great pairing. And we have a great crew of young guys on the farm and in colleges and juniors.”

### MacLean: “Ekblad has been a major surprise with what he has brought offensively. They put him with Brian Campbell and you wondered is that the right move to play him with a guy as loose offensively as Brian. But he’s been great with Brian. I’ve been surprised how much Ekblad can create. I coached him in the prospects game in Calgary and marveled at how polished and mature he was. I would have said he would be very good No. 2-3 defenseman. Now, listening to Denis Potvin, I am thinking he might be a No. 1.”…

“Willie Mitchell was a really good signing. He’s a battler, high quality guy and has the smarts to make up for deterioration [in skill]…. I like what Campbell is doing. He’s had to change his game. He’s been good with the kids. You don’t like the $7 million [salary] but you like him on your team….

"Dmitri Kulikov is an erratic player, not as tough as Robert Svelha was, but you don’t give up on those guys. I kept hearing Kulikov would be traded. But he’s still a kid and you don’t trade young kids. I like Gudbranson better than Kulikov; he’s meaner and tougher. He can someday be a Willie Mitchell type of guy. I don’t know if he has the leadership of a Mitchell but he could be a much better player than Mitchell.”

GOALTENDER

### Tallon: Luongo (ninth in goals against average at 2.23) “has been fantastic. World class guy on and off the ice, how professional and classy he is.”

### MacLean: “He might not be in the top 10 [among NHL goaltenders anymore], but he's playing like he's in the top 10.” And MacLean loves what Luongo has done to change the culture.

WINGERS

### Tallon: Jonathan Huberdeau has three goals in his past four games to push his season total to seven and “it’s very encouraging to see him come back to his old form. Jimmy Hayes had 13 goals; that has been a real bonus for us. Jussi Jokinen [third on the team with 23 points] has been terrific. Brandon Pirri will score for us in the second half.”

### MacLean: “You want Huberdeau to take a step because in juniors it looked like he would be a superstar. Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, Brad Boyes, Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland are veteran guys that have to play their role. You will not see them get better than what they are.”

MacLean likes the upside of Hayes, though “he isn’t the same [caliber] talent as Bjugstad.”

Everyone knows another established scorer would help, but MacLean said he wouldn’t trade one of Panthers’ high-end young players to acquire one.

“Fight for the 6th, 7th, 8th seed and keep your young guys,” MacLean said.

“If Ekblad and Bjugstad and Huberdeau and Barkov become stars, then unrestricted [free agent] wingers will say, ‘I have a chance to play with those guys,’ and then it becomes an attractive place for them. Then people want to come there.”

COACH

### Tallon: “I felt [Gallant] was the right guy, from his ability to deal with young guys and veterans and his overall way about him. He’s passionate and very knowledgeable but keeps it very simple. Doesn’t overcomplicate the situation and utilizes everyone.”

### MacLean: “I coached Gerard in juniors, taught him in high school and coached him in the NHL. I had to fire him in Columbus, because my owner made me fire him. That was the worst day of my life. Gerard knew that and we remained great friends. He's learned a lot.

“Technically, he's fine. It's the ability to manage the group, manage the people around you and Gerard is really good at that. The players respect him and like him; he's honest with them. He's a straight shooter.”

CHATTER

### Samson Satele, aware Mike Pouncey wants to resume playing center, said he hopes the Dolphins re-sign him and give him consideration at guard. But he hasn’t played guard in an NFL game.

### We hear defensive tackle Jared Odrick --- who was fined $15,000 by the Dolphins for yelling at a coach during the Baltimore game --- will be high on the list of targets for a few teams. Miami hasn’t told him if he’s wanted back. That doesn't mean they don't want him back. But Dennis Hickey is being very deliberate in evaluating free agents. 

### ESPN's Adam Kaplan says well-regarded defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers is a "probable" target of new Jets coach Todd Bowles for New York's defensive coordinator job. They previously worked together with the Dolphins.

### New Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum has said previously in his NFL Network analyst role that in a division with Tom Brady, cornerback must be a priority for Miami. Expect that message to be conveyed to Dennis Hickey. Incidentally, Jamar Taylor underwent shoulder surgery for a torn labrum but expects to be fine for OTAs.

### Thoroughly impressive 90-74 UM win tonight at No. 4 Duke, snapping the Blue Devils' 41-game home winning streak, which had been the nation's longest. As is often the case, UM (12-4, 2-1) did it with terrific guard play: Angel Rodriguez had 24 points, five steals and five assists; Manu Lecomte 23 points and Sheldon McClellan 14 points.

And center Tonye Jekiri, who is vastly improved, had a double-double (10 points, 10 boards).

"If there was any team I felt confident in beating, it was them," Rodriguez told ESPN. "We match up great with them."

Said Jim Larranaga: "I didn't know how we would respond. When a team extends their defense like Duke does, it opens up driving lanes if you have guards good enough to get by the pressure."

### FSU coach Jimbo Fisher says the Seminoles’ indoor football practice facility gives them a big advantage in recruiting, and UM athletic director Blake James said he’s exploring building one.

More than 15 practices were disrupted by lightning or rain last August and September. “Everyone realizes it’s a necessity, and we’ll continue working on it,” James said. “Florida State’s cost $15 million. It would probably be in that range.”

But James said it won’t be a bubble because of hurricane codes.

### One reason Al Golden chose to observe Cowboys camp is because he has been friends with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett for many years… Bovada.com put UM’s odds at 75 to 1 to win the national title next season --- 35th-best in the country and tied with Michigan, Penn State, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Ohio State is first (5 to 1), TCU second (15 to 2), FSU seventh (16 to 1) and Florida tied for 14th (33 to 1).

### Not only did Hassan Whiteside enter Tuesday's game against the Lakers having scored twice as many points in his past four games as he did in his entire first two NBA seasons with Sacramento (58 to 29), but consider this: When Whiteside is in the game, Heat opponents shoot only 50 percent on shots within five feet of the basket (ranking Whiteside third among all centers). When Whiteside is on the bench, opponents make more than 62 percent of those shots, among the worst in the league.

[1 a.m. update: Whiteside had 15 points, 9 boards and 5 blocks in tonight's 78-75 Heat win at the Lakers, which moved Miami (17-21) to within 1.5 games of Cleveland (19-20) for sixth in the East. Dwyane Wade left in the first half with a strained hamstring.]

### The representative for arbitration-eligible Marlins closer Steve Cishek (39 for 43 in saves in 2014) broached the idea of multiyear deal, but the Marlins prefer to go year-to-year with him. He’s a free agent after 2017.

### Though the Marlins made a multiyear offer in an attempt to get Jose Fernandez under contract past 2018 (when he becomes eligible for free agency), they were left with the strong impression that agent Scott Boras prefers to take his clients into free agency.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

January 12, 2015

Dolphins continue to need to address positions that should have been solved; Heat, Canes hoops

So the Denver Broncos today fire a coach who went 46-18 in four seasons. The Jets fire a coach who guided them to two AFC Championship game appearances.

The Dolphins? No, we’re good. Nothing to see here.

No need for staff changes, at least not now, not after another failed season makes it 23-25 in Joe Philbin’s three years and leaves Miami stuck on one winning season in the past nine.

There’s an undercurrent of irritation for Dolphins fans watching the Colts not only because Jeff Ireland deemed Michael Egnew the better choice in 2012 over the guy playing under his nose at FIU, T.Y. Hilton, (selected 14 spots later) but also because Joe Philbin couldn’t handle a gifted young player (Vontae Davis) who was immature but neither a thug nor a distraction.

His only crime? He behaved like a kid sometimes, needed bathroom breaks at practice.

And so we saw Davis do yesterday what no Dolphins defensive back could do in a similar situation Nov. 23 in Denver, when the Dolphins --- like the Colts on Sunday --- entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead. The Dolphins squandered that cushion; the Colts, conversely, didn't give the Broncos an inch. 

Not coincidentally, we saw Davis make exceptional plays on the ball Sunday. We saw him play the type of game the Dolphins haven’t gotten from a cornerback playing opposite Brent Grimes all year.

To understand the extent of what the Dolphins foolishly gave up in trading Davis for a second-round pick (that turned into Jamar Taylor), consider: Quarterbacks had a league-low 38.8 rating in Davis’ coverage area this season. He had four picks and didn’t allow a touchdown.

The cornerbacks who played alongside or opposite Grimes for Miami?  

Cortland Finnegan had a 102.1 quarterback passer rating in his coverage area. Jimmy Wilson, who played mostly in the slot, had a 129.1 rating against, excluding his snaps at safety.  

Taylor was 93.6. Will Davis had the best of the group (73.9) before his knee injury. Grimes, who had another good season, was at 84.8.

But the bigger issue is this: With a handful of positions, the Dolphins remain the hamster on the wheel, cyling through player after player but never fixing problems for very long, either because they procure a player who isn’t a longterm solution or add good players who have issues the Dolphins find problematic (attitude, injury, excessive bathroom breaks, too vocal, a bad habit of bullying teammates).

Three positions where that wheel-on-the-hamster remains an issue:

### Cornerback: The Grimes signing was among the best Ireland ever made. No issue there.

But in the past six years, the Dolphins have used a first-rounder (Vontae Davis), two second-rounder (Sean Smith and Taylor), a third-rounder (Will Davis) and several lower-round picks on corners, including fourth-rounder Walt Aikens, who has earned little to no trust from the coaching staff because of on-field missteps and off-field maturity issues.

They’ve churned through a bunch of free agents (Richard Marshall, Dimitri Patterson, Cortland Finnegan).

And so they’re again left needing serious help at a position that frankly should have been solved when Davis and Smith were drafted in the first two rounds in 2009. They foolishly didn't try to re-sign Smith, who has been solid for Kansas City.

### Guard: Since 2008, they’ve invested a fourth-rounder (Shawn Murphy), three third-rounders (John Jerry, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner), gave millions to Joe Berger and Richie Incognito, Lance Louis, Shelley Smith and others.

And though Turner has the physical attributes to perhaps develop into a starter --- and it’s too soon to give up on Thomas --- the Dolphins enter the offseason without a single above-average NFL guard on their roster, presuming Mike Pouncey returns to center, which is his strong preference.

### Receiver: The issue here is not talent. As Armando Salguero cogently detailed on his blog, the conundrum concerns money (Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson) and attitude (Mike Wallace and Rishard Matthews) --- issues that put every member of this group at risk except Jarvis Landry.

And so after making Wallace the highest-paid free agent in 2013 with a $61 million deal, and awarding contracts worth $35 million to Hartline and $10 million to Gibson and deeming Brandon Marshall too much of a distraction for Philbin and a young quarterback, and whiffing on fourth-rounder Clyde Gates and third-rounder Patrick Turner, and churning through journeymen Anthony Armstrong, Legedu Naanee, Davone Bess, Marlon Moore, Greg Camarillo and a partridge and a pear tree, the Dolphins need to again spend another spring worrying about a position that should have been solved.

Unlike guard and cornerback, there's enough talent already at the position. But it's the other stuff that will assuredly result in turnover at receiver.

A friend said Matthews, who has been fined numerous times for being overweight and tardy over the past three seasons, asked for a trade in late August, but Dennis Hickey said no.

Hickey appears to value Matthews more than Philbin does. But Matthews is still cheap ($673,000 cap hit) and he outplays his contract.

You could probably add linebacker to this list, too. But at least the Dolphins solved offensive tackle and have found a young quarterback who's ascending, at the very least.

Couple other quick items:

### Despite Hassan Whiteside's good work Sunday against the Clippers (23 points, 16 rebounds), Erik Spoelstra said he will stick with Chris Andersen as the starter Tuesday against the Lakers.... Whiteside became the first Heat player other than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to produce at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in the same game since the Big Three came together, according to Elias.

### UM has a big opportunity Tuesday for a huge resume-building win at Duke (9 p.m., ESPN2). Duke is sixth in RPI, Miami 76th.

Duke is coming off a road loss at NC State and "I'm sure they'll be fired up to be back at home and we're looking forward to the game," Jim Larranaga said.

Of having to face a Duke team coming off a loss, Larranaga said, "As far as coming off a loss --- I can't remember the last time they lost two conference games back to back. I'm sure it's been a while. They're such a well balanced team. They have the premier low post player in the country (Jahlil Okafor); he is surrounded by outstanding perimeter shooters that really can stretch you defense. They put tremendous pressure on the ball defensively, making it very hard to run any kind of offense." 

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

January 11, 2015

Haren pushing for trade but tells Marlins he will report to spring training regardless

Pitcher Dan Haren, who had been considering retirement, has informed the Marlins that he will report for spring training, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

But that doesn't mean that Haren necessarily will pitch for the Marlins.

Haren, 34, has again asked the Marlins to trade him to a West Coast team so that he can be closer to his family in Southern California.

The Marlins have found no takers to this point, but they have renewed attempts to trade him and there's still a possibility a deal could be worked out.

As part of the trade with the Dodgers that sent second baseman Dee Gordon and Haren to the Marlins, the Dodgers agreed to pay Haren's $10 million salary next season whether he pitches for them or not.

The Marlins want to keep that money whether they retain Haren or not. So a team trading for Haren would need to pay his $10 million salary.

If the Marlins trade Haren, that $10 million would be allocated toward paying Mat Latos' projected $8.3 million salary.

The Marlins would gladly welcome Haren because they believe he's still a quality big-league starter and would be effective in spacious Marlins Park.

And Haren has made clear to the Marlins that he believes they have a talented young team and that his desire to pitch on the West Coast is strictly family-driven.

Haren was 13-11 with a 4.02 ERA last season. Left-handers hit only .226 off the right-handed Haren last season, but right-handers hit .279.

If Haren ends up pitching for the Marlins, he likely would join Latos, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and Tom Koehler in the opening day rotation, barring injuries. Ace Jose Fernandez is expected back by June or July.

If the Marlins trade Haren, then David Phelps (acquired in the Martin Prado deal with the Yankees) or Brad Hand likely would be the fifth starter to open the season.

The Marlins have not been involved in bidding for high-end free agents James Shields or Max Scherzer.

So while there remains some uncertainty about where Haren will pitch, this much is clear: The Marlins know now he's not retiring (unless he has a change of heart in the next several weeks.)

Please see the last post for a note on the Marlins' search for a fourth outfielder and lots of Heat, Dolphins and Canes items.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

January 10, 2015

Wade on why pre-LeBron teams got better results than this one; Bosh admits wrong assumptions; Dolphins, UM, Marlins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

As the Heat flounders at 15-21, the questions must be asked:

How can a team with two All-Star talents be languishing six games below .500? And how can Heat teams that featured only one All-Star at that time (Dwyane Wade) win 43 and 47 games -- and finish fifth in the East the two years before LeBron James arrived --- whereas this team with Wade and Chris Bosh stands eighth in a diluted conference, on pace for 34 wins?

Injuries play a large role; Wade has missed as many games (eight) as he missed combined in those final two pre-LeBron seasons. Bosh also has missed eight. But that doesn’t explain the 9-12 record in games that Wade and Bosh have played together, nor the defensive decline from the pre-LeBron teams.

Bosh revealed last week that he made some assumptions about this team that he shouldn’t have, and Wade suggested this Heat team has more talent but less of an established identity than his pre-LeBron teams. (More on that in a minute.)

Some points to consider:

### It’s unusual for a team with two legitimate All-Star caliber-players to have a losing record at this point. In the past 10 years, only one team has had two players in an All-Star game and finished below .500 --- the 2005-06 Rockets, which went 34-48. And there were extenuating circumstances: Their two All-Stars, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, missed 25 and 35 games, respectively. 

Wade, who’s sixth in the league in scoring at 23 per game, is second among Eastern Conference guards in fan voting. But Bosh (13th in scoring, 26th in rebounding) is fourth among forwards and his streak of nine consecutive All-Star game selections isn’t assured of continuing. Conference coaches pick the All-Star team reserves.

### Consider the lineups of the two pre-LeBron teams that were a fifth seed. The 2008-09 Heat that finished 43-39 and lost to Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs started Wade, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and a combination of Michael Beasley, Shawn Marion (before he was traded that February) and Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon (who both arrived in that trade).

The 2009-10 Heat, which finished 47-35 and lost in the first round to Boston, started Wade, Beasley, O’Neal, Quentin Richardson and one of three point guards (Chalmers, Rafer Alston and Carlos Arroyo).

Wade said this roster --- which includes a starting lineup of Wade, Bosh, Luol Deng, Chalmers and Chris Andersen --- has more talent, and most would agree.

But Wade, while very good now, was a top five player during those seasons, averaging 30.2 points and 26.6 points. There are other differences: Those teams finished 13th and second in defensive field goal percentage; this one is 27th.

Those teams scored 4.5 and 2.7 more points per game than this one, which is 28th in scoring. Those two teams had better point guard play, even with Chalmers a constant on both.

Those teams had fewer significant injuries. Those teams protected home court (28-13, 24-17). This one doesn’t (7-12). The 2009-10 team was 14th in rebounding; this one is last.

Also, “that team had a little bit more of an edge early on,” Wade said. “I don’t want to say more toughness. But it was a team that knew what we wanted to do, knew what we could do. This team came in with a lot of question marks and didn’t know what team it was going to be. That team’s identity was kind of set.”

Wade said this team hasn’t established “togetherness” to withstand adversity.

What's more, those team played in a conference that was arguably stronger than the East now, especially the 2009-10 team, when the eighth seed (Chicago) was .500.

Haslem said it’s difficult to compare this team with the pre-LeBron teams because “it seemed like ages ago.”

But “this team has enough talent to win 40 something games, close to 50 if we stay healthy,” he said. “We’ve got the talent. Look at me: I can’t even get on the floor! [Besides Wade and Bosh], Luol Deng is a former All-Star (2012 and 2013), Danny Granger a former All-Star (2009). Look at the emergence of Hassan Whiteside.”

But Deng and Granger are clearly past their prime.

### One Heat official said this roster is simply not as good as what the front office expected, that the pieces don’t ideally complement each other and that the point guard play has been much worse than anticipated.

Wade also said he “would have thought” the Heat would be competing for a top-four seed, which now seems unlikely. Miami entered the weekend 9 ½ games behind No. 4 Washington.

“We’re [six] games under, and it’s going to take a while to climb out of that,” Wade said.

Bosh said being well under .500 “sucks. I didn’t envision this. It’s taught me one thing: Never assume. I did make some assumptions about this team.”

Such as?

“I thought the continuity would be a little better," Bosh said. "As soon as we got Josh McRoberts going, he goes down.”

Bosh also said he believed this would be a better team defensively, that the pieces would fit together sooner and that “we were going to get off to a good record.”

### The Heat is calling up 6-2 rookie guard Tyler Johnson from its NBDL affiliate in South Dakota. Johnson, who was averaging 18 points per game, showed promise during the Heat's Summer League program last summer, and has become a YouTube hit because of his explosive dunks. He signed a 10-day contract with the Heat.

CHATTER

### The Dolphins' game against the Jets on Oct. 4 in London will start at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, the NFL announced Saturday. That will allow the game, which is technically a Dolphins home game, to be televised
nationally.

The league announced that next season's Buffalo-Jacksonville game on Oct. 25 in London also will start at 9:30 a.m., which is 2:30 p.m. in London. The NFL experimented with a 9:30 a.m. start for the first time
when the Lions and Falcons played in October in London.

### Dolphins guard Mike Pouncey, who has said he wants to go back to playing center next season, was named to the Pro Bowl, replacing injured 49ers guard Mike Iupati. Pouncey joins Brent Grimes and
Cameron Wake as Dolphins in the Pro Bowl Jan. 25 in Glendale, Ariz.

### Though Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler’s cap hit is similar whether he’s on the team next season or not ($4.4 million to $4.2 million), that won’t necessarily save him.

After Jeff Ireland signed Wheeler, new Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum –-- then an NFL Network pundit --- criticized the move, calling Wheeler a journeyman and saying he would have used that money to keep Sean Smith, who signed with Kansas City and was rated the fifth-best cornerback in football in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus.

Wheeler said his criticism of coaching strategy on Green Bay’s game-winning touchdown “could be” why his playing time diminished a lot after that.

“I would think I could help,” he said.

### Tannenbaum indicated there has been no decision on the future of Mike Wallace; the matter is complicated by the fact Wallace’s behavior issues weren’t limited to the finale. Wallace has pouted or complained during previous games, which has worn thin on some teammates.

### A friend in touch with former Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad, who swam nearly 16 hours to safety after falling off his boat off Palm Beach Wednesday, said Konrad saw one boat about 50 yards away while trying to swim to safety but those boaters (apparently unaware he was in the water) didn’t stop.

The Coast Guard, looking for him overhead, didn’t see him below, either.

### Kicker Zach Hocker, signed by the Dolphins last week to challenge Caleb Sturgis, was 5 for 7 on field goals of 50-plus at Arkansas (Sturgis is 6 for 13 on such kicks as a Dolphin) but converted just 14
of 23 from 40 to 49 yards. The Redskins drafted Hocker in the seventh round last May, then cut him in August.

### UM athletic director Blake James said some people in the 8000-member Hurricane Club have told him they will not make the required annual donation (at least $50) to remain in the club because “they are upset where the football program is.”

But UM doesn’t know the precise fallout because the donation deadline isn't until late May.

Meanwhile, James gracefully is handling the fan backlash; he said one angry fan sent him the same email 54 consecutive times.

### James said he has met with Al Golden and his staff and Golden is “planning on changes to make things better, a variety of things.” James also said ticket prices aren’t expected to change.

### Ichiro Suzuki sits atop the Marlins’ ranking of free agent options in their search for a fourth outfielder.

But they’ve also been in conversations with others, including Andy Dirks, who hit .276 with 24 homers in three seasons for Detroit before a back injury sidelined him in 2014.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz    

January 09, 2015

Rob Konrad update after harrowing swim to safety; Barkley trashes Heat; Familiar names in new places; UM-UF

A six pack of notes on a Friday:

### Former Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad, who swam to safety Wednesday night after falling off his fishing boat off the coast of Palm Beach, remained hospitalized late Friday but said he’s OK and still recovering from the ordeal, according to a Dolphins official in contact with him.

Konrad, 38, was not ready to comment publicly on Friday, but two friends said he was stranded for nearly 16 hours, not the nine hours originally reported by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Konrad, alone in his boat, departed Hillsboro Inlet in Deerfield Beach at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and fell overboard at 1 p.m. after hooking a fish and losing his footing. The 36-foot boat, which was on autopilot, drifted away from him and was found Friday morning near Grand Bahama Island.

A friend in contact with the family was told that he was bitten by a man-of-war during his swim to safety. He ended up reaching shore at 4:40 a.m. Thursday behind a mansion off South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach, a significant distance from where he fell off the boat in waters off Deerfield.

Wearing only underwear, Konrad told the security guard on duty about his harrowing experience, and an ambulance was summoned to transport him to Good Samaritan Medical Center, where he has been receiving treatment for dehydration and hypothermia.

According to an associate, a family friend contacted authorities when Konrad did not show up for a scheduled dinner. His personal assistant also contacted the Coast Guard.

Konrad, who played for the Dolphins from 1999 to 2004, is CEO of Alterna Financial, a financial services company in South Florida.

The Dolphins official said Konrad conveyed his appreciation for “everyone’s concerns.”

### In case you missed Charles Barkley’s musings on the Heat Thursday night, he said: “They’re awful… They stink… They’re a bad team.”

He cracked that the Heat is gaining on the woeful Knicks, that they’ll probably win only one game on this road trip (Tuesday at the Lakers) and that Dwyane Wade went to the locker-room not to get his ankle retaped but because “he didn’t want to cry in public.”

### The UM administration confirmed at the Adidas announcement on Thursday that the school’s basketball coaches expressed concern over how the Nike-to-Adidas decision would affect recruiting.

But the coaches are making the best of this, and they’re looking on the bright side.

“One thing I’ve shared with our point guard recruits,” Jim Larranaga said, “is take a look at the NBA, who’s wearing Adidas, three of the best -- Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose and John Wall. They’re in Adidas. We’ve had Shane (Larkin), Angel (Rodriguez) and now Sheldon (McClellan), great guards. If Adidas is good enough for them, there’s no reason you can’t come to UM and have that same kind of success.”

The switch to Adidas was a sensible one for UM, because it will deliver tens of millions more dollars for UM than the Nike deal did.

### Familiar name update: Former Marlins and UM first baseman Gaby Sanchez signed to play in Japan. He hit .229 with seven homers and 33 RBI for the Pirates last season…. Former UM offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, fired from the same position by the Jacksonville Jaguars, reportedly will be Jim Harbaugh’s passing game coordinator at Michigan and coach receivers and quarterbacks.

### Jim Morris said the UM baseball team is ranked 14th in one preseason poll.

### UM and UF have talked about playing a football game in Orlando, Tampa or New York, and Orlando’s Citrus Bowl appears to be the most realistic option. Blake James said he’s working on renewing the rivalry but nothing is imminent.

Please see the last post for the weekly media column, if you missed it. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

January 08, 2015

Media column: ESPN's creative plan for Monday's championship game; Dolphins take over UM; Fins, UM TV notes

FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN

ESPN’s novel “Megacast” coverage of the BCS championship game last January was such a success that the Worldwide Leader is predictably repeating that strategy on Monday’s Oregon-Ohio State national title game.

If you prefer to watch traditional coverage, tune to ESPN. One big difference from last year’s FSU-Auburn championship: Chris Fowler, not Brent Musburger, will be calling the game with Kirk Herbstreit. A traditional ESPN Radio broadcast will air locally on 104.3 The Ticket, with Mike Tirico and Todd Blackledge.

But if you crave something different, here’s a look at your options:

### On ESPN2, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, new Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi and new Nebraska coach Mike Riley (along with ESPN analysts Chris Spielman and Tom Luginbill) offer detailed analysis of the game as it happens from a film room equipped with multiple camera angles, coaches clicker technology and a Telestrator.

This “Film Room” presentation was the highlight of ESPN’s championship game Megacast last January, because of the excellent work of then-Pittsburgh (and now Wisconsin) coach Paul Chryst, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Boston College’s Steve Addazio.

The coaches and commentators were more conversational than during a traditional game broadcast, and the coaches even predicted an FSU fake punt moments before it happened.

### On ESPNU, fans can eavesdrop on ESPN personalities watching the game from a "viewing theater." Among those scheduled to appear: Jay Bilas, Aaron Boone, Julie Foudy, Barry Melrose, Mark Schlereth and Michael Wilbon.

If last year was any indication, this option is best in small doses, unless you really enjoy watching people watch television and listening to their conversations.

During last year’s championship, the funniest moment on the “ESPN Voices” channel were unintentional, including actress Cheryl Hines asking if the person who snaps the ball to the quarterback is called the snapper, then admitting, "I could have Googled it before I got here."

### ESPNEWS is offering “Off the Ball,” described as “an inside look at the way former players and coaches – and current ESPN analysts – look at plays away from the ball,” focusing on matchups in the trenches, wide receivers against defensive backs, etc. Bob Wischusen anchors, joined by Kevin Carter, Matt Millen, Jason Sehorn, Matt Stinchcomb and Amani Toomer.

### ESPN Classic will present an announcer-less broadcast featuring only natural sounds of the game (from 100 microphones positioned throughout the stadium) and halftime performances by both bands. But four out of five doctors say silence on a sports telecast can induce lethargy, and you might be surprised how much you miss the announcers.

### ESPN Deportes airs the game in Spanish.

### ESPN3.com, the network’s broadband service, will offer five video options: a broadcast with the radio call of each school; a perspective of the game from a “Spidercam” positioned over the stadium; another perspective from the student section of each team, showcasing “how the most enthusiastic fans in the building are living and dying with every play” (I’ll pass); and a “data center” with on-screen graphic content including analytics and social media reaction.

### The “Command Center,” available on ESPN’s Goal Line, serves up a commercial free broadcast featuring the ESPN Radio call and a split screen, with one half showing live action and the other offering replays, stats and isolated camera feeds.

AROUND THE DIAL

### HBO transformed UM into Dolphins-land the past two days, placing Dolphins logos outside the athletic offices, on the practice field and inside the football locker-room as it films Ballers, a 10-episode fictional series debuting in June. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as a former player who becomes a financial advisor to pro athletes and helps them sort through life issues.

Several pro athletes appear, including three current Dolphins (Jared Odrick, Will Davis and Dannell Ellerbe), former UM and NFL tight end Jeremy Shockey, Raiders defensive end LaMarr Woodley, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz, ex-NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall (who’s also a consultant on the project) and Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer.

HBO wanted Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to appear, but he had a schedule conflict.

The series filmed a fictitious Dolphins practice this week, but HBO said only one NFL player participated: Jaguars receiver Arrelious Benn.

The show is being produced by actor Mark Wahlberg and producer Stephen Levinson, who previously worked together on hit shows Entourage and Boardwalk Empire. HBO said some taping was done at UM, not at Dolphins headquarters, for logistical reasons.

### After initially canceling Sports Final, NBC 6 management changed its mind and decided to continue airing the market’s longest-running Sunday night sports show, with Stefano Fusaro anchoring.

### Among markets with only one NFL team, Dolphins ratings in Miami-Fort Lauderdale were the lowest of any NFL market this season, just like last year. The highest-rated: 22.2 for the Denver game. Lowest-rated: 14.0 for the finale against the Jets.

Overall, Dolphins games averaged a 16.9 rating, down from a 17.7 in 2012 and 17.1 in 2013.

### Conversely, the 10 UM football games that aired on ABC or one of the ESPN networks averaged a 7.3 rating in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market. The three highest: UM-FSU with a 16.2, the UM-Louisville opener with a 9.0 and UM vs. South Carolina in the Independence Bowl with a 7.0. The lowest: UM-Pittsburgh with a 4.3.

### Most watched regular-season NFL game this season? Philadelphia-Dallas on Thanksgiving.

### In past years, CBS and Fox would each get two NFL divisional playoff games this weekend. But this year, NBC and CBS will each televise one and Fox two because of a change in the TV contract that moved one of NBC’s Saturday wild card games to ESPN and one of the divisional games to NBC. Next year, that NBC divisional playoff game will be taken from Fox.

### The New York Times announced this week that Knicks beat writer Scott Cacciola will get "a break from such woeful basketball," because the Knicks "appear to have officially given up on this season….

“He deserves to see the game played at a higher level. For the next month or so, we would like to point him to some good, quality basketball, wherever it may be. Any suggestions?"

### Please see our last post for our analysis of Al Golden's media tour this week. And one quick update from that post: We noted last night that insidetheu.com was reporting that defensive tackle Earl Moore is transferring. But a UM spokesman and Moore's mother told The Herald today that Moore is not transferring.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz