03/18/2014

Scouts evaluate Marlins; Dolphins book draft visits; UM personnel moves; Heat chatter

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN    

Random thoughts on the Marlins from four veteran big-league scouts who have evaluated them this spring:

### There’s more optimism than I expected, based primarily on the pitching staff. “They have some of the better young starters in baseball and a decent bullpen,” one said. "Their pitching is better than Atlanta’s.”

Said another: “Their team is better than the Phillies and Mets. Their pitching is very deep, and they have a power staff. All high quality starters.”

And another said: “I like their team. There’s a lot more positive energy now. I think they can get to .500 and maybe [better] because Philadelphia and New York are in disarray.”

### Among players that have impressed the most this spring: Pitchers Brad Hand and Tom Koehler. Each has allowed one run in 12 innings; one will be in the rotation, one likely in the bullpen. “Koehler’s stuff has gotten better,” one scout said. “He’s already a No. 4-type starter and could end up being a No. 3.”

### Prized lefty prospects Andrew Heaney and Adam Conley, both sent to minor league camp on Monday, also drew plaudits. One scout said: “Heaney can be really special, and Conley had got a good arm; he can relieve or start. I’m very impressed with the amount of good arms they have coming.”

### Concerns were voiced about Marcell Ozuna, who is 5 for 36 this spring. But manager Mike Redmond said today he still expects him to start in center field. 

“Last two weeks will be key for him, because this is the time pitchers break out their breaking stuff, and he’s vulnerable to that,” one scout said. “He’s a wild swinger. The tools are there, but he’s had a bad spring.  If they go with a [Brian] Bogusevic/Reed Johnson platoon instead, those guys are serviceable.”

Johnson (13 for 29 this spring) has been much better than Bogusevic (6 for 29). Jeff Baker also could see time in left field. And Jake Marisnick can’t be ruled out if he keeps hitting like this (.375 this spring).

Said another scout: “Ozuna has that big Gary Sheffield pump going, and it seems like he’s late getting his hands back and foot down.”

### From a scout perspective, there aren’t many doubts about Christian Yelich, even though he’s hitting .222 this spring. Though Ozuna has the stronger arm, “Yelich looks like a little better center fielder to me,” one scout said. “His range is better. Good instincts. He’s going to hit .280 to .300 in his career.”

### One scout worries about Rafael Furcal, 36, who has battled a hamstring injury this spring after missing all of 2013 with shoulder surgery. “When he has played, I haven’t been impressed,” one scout said. Another said: “Furcal looks heavy to me.”

Donovan Solano (.364 this spring) and Derek Dietrich (.371) are decent options at second base if Furcal misses time in the regular season, and both have hit well this spring. “Dietrich has played better than the Marlins probably expected,” one scout said. “He’s become more disciplined at the plate.”

### One scout said the Marlins are making a mistake if they start the season with Garrett Jones playing every day at first base, instead of platooning with Jeff Baker. Jones is hitting .158 this spring, Baker .296. “Jones can’t hit left-handers, and he’s got a very long swing right now,” one of the scouts said.

### One scout said the Marlins’ biggest worry should be “first, second and third base. Not very good. Casey McGehee [hitting .225] is a stopgap at third. Free-swinging guy. Hasn’t been great. He’ll play a representative third base.”... Another said: “One thing you learn in Japan is how to learn to hit breaking balls. It should make McGehee a better hitter.”

### On the Carlos Marmol experiment: “So far, he has been OK. He has thrown the ball over the plate, which for him is quite a challenge. But can he ever be trusted?” Two scouts said reliever Carter Capps, acquired for Logan Morrison, hasn’t thrown as well as they expected, at least not yet.

### Relievers Henry Rodriguez and Arquimedes Caminero have impressed. “Rodriguez might be a hidden gem,” one scout said. “Throws 98, decent curveball.” Another said Rodriguez “pitched this week as well as I’ve seen in a long time."

CHATTER

Teams are allowed to bring 30 non-local players to their headquarters for draft visits, and the Dolphins are summoning two University of Arizona players to Davie on Wednesday: cornerback Shaquille Richardson (good mix of size at 6-1 and speed, having run a 4.38 in the 40) and outside linebacker Marquis Flowers (a former safety with four interceptions and 6.5 sacks over the past two years). Neither was invited to the NFL Combine, but both have created a buzz.

XL Sports Management’s Marco Marciano, who represents both players with Frank Gaitan, said Flowers’ versatility and ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield is appealing to teams. Players cannot work out during visits to team headquarters but can meet with coaches, management and staff.

### One agent said the Dolphins told him they will be looking for a running back in the draft, and they feel they can find one in the mid-rounds if necessary. The top prospects --- all potential second-rounders --- include Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Auburn’s Tre Mason, Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk and Washington’s Bishop Sankey.... ESPN reported that Denver free agent running back Knowshon Moreno would love to join the Dolphins, but it's unclear if the interest is mutual.

### Though the Dolphins have inquired about Devin Hester, his agent said they hadn’t booked a visit as of Tuesday. Hester made his first visit to Atlanta today…. Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin continues to make the most sense for Miami at No. 19, but ESPN’s Mel Kiper said Pittsburgh might take him at 15.

### Houston’s Dwight Howard, after battling the Heat’s Greg Oden on Sunday: “He’s got to get his timing back, and it takes a while to do that. He can’t get frustrated.”

But does Oden need to be more of a threat offensively by the time the Heat faces Indiana in the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup? Dwyane Wade insists no: “He does a great job of screening and doing the small things.” The Heat has been outscored by 21 points with Oden on the court this season (entering Tuesday), but he’s much better playing with Chris Bosh --– which is why starting him makes sense.

Oden played well in his third start of the season Tuesday, with six points (3 for 6 from the field) and three rebounds in 14 minutes, his season high. Miami was plus eight with Oden on the floor.

### Couple of other postscripts from Miami's 100-96 win at Cleveland: LeBron James was magnificent, with 43 points (including 25 in the first quarter), six rebounds, four assists and three blocks... Chris Bosh has been Miami's best shooter late in close games this season (topping 54 percent), and he nailed a three to break an 88-88 tie, then hit a jumper to extend the lead... 

Udonis Haslem got rare late-game minutes and made the most of them, including a key block of a Dion Waiters shot down the stretch. Haslem had six boards in eight minutes. "He really can make an impact in those short burst minutes with some rebounding and energy," Erik Spoelstra said... With Dwyane Wade (rest) sitting out on the first night of a back-to-back, Toney Douglas started and had nine points and five assists... The offshoot of Oden entering the starting lineup has been Michael Beasley's departure from the rotation. Shane Battier is getting those minutes off the bench.

### UM coach Al Golden said he has given thought to moving Ray Lewis III to running back (where he excelled in high school) but will leave him at cornerback if he’s one of Miami’s top four corners (which doesn’t seem very likely to me)… Golden said he wants to give Corn Elder, recovering from a knee injury, some playing time at receiver this season in addition to cornerback duties… Anthony Chickillo, left off the field on a lot of third downs last season to the surprise of many, said he spoke to coordinator Mark D’Onofrio about that and expects that to change. “I want to be in on third down,” he said. 

### Quick plug for a good cause: Merchandise being sold on Superfansportsfundraising.com this week is being used to help raise money for Pembroke Pine Charter Schools, with the school raising the most money getting a visit from Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers. The web site sells all sorts of pro sports and college merchandise.

Tuesday afternoon UM football update: More encouraging signs from Olsen, news and notes

Quick hits from UM spring football practice, which resumed this morning spring break:

### In the Canes’ fifth practice of the spring, Kevin Olsen continued to show clear improvement from the fall. His accuracy has improved, and he appears more decisive in the pocket, though he did throw an interception to linebacker Juwon Young today.

"Kevin right now is having a really good spring,” Al Golden said. “He's really mature, doing all the little things you need a quarterback to do and it's showing on the field. He's distributing the ball really well for us, running it. He has to continue to raise his confidence level and continue to lead, but that'll come the more comfortable he is with the offense."

Ryan Williams was up and down Tuesday and at one point missed a wide open Standish Dobard in the end zone on a short throw. But Golden said: “He’s having an excellent spring. Ryan’s accuracy is evident on the field. Not a lot of balls on the ground. His percentage has been high. That’s what he can do. Every guy we have has a different talent; his is his ability to read it conceptually, diagnose it and get the ball out quickly.”

Williams remains the front-runner for the job, but this is far from a slam dunk. This battle likely will extend well into August, and Olsen continues his ascent, it will be a more difficult decision than UM envisioned.

### Though Dallas Crawford has had growing pains adjusting to safety, Golden said he still believes that’s his best chance to get on the field and there's no thought of returning him to running back.

### Golden said tight end Jake O'Donnell "has had a really good spring. He's up to about 254. Clive (Walford's) absence has benefited him. He's getting a lot of work and is really coming through for us. Jake's one of our fastest tight ends."

### When Anthony Chickillo returns from a foot injury, Ufomba Kamalu and Al-Quadin Muhammad will battle for the end spot opposite him. Chickillo is resting the foot as a precaution.

With “(Anthony) Moten in the wing we have a chance to really improve that position in the fall," Golden said. "Right now we have Quan and Tyriq McCord at the other end with Trent (Harris) and those other guys behind them. Demetrius Jackson can play that spot too. That's probably the best depth we've had there from start to finish. It's going to be a lot of competition."

### Chickillo is pleased he decided to return to UM instead of going pro: “I’m happy. It’s a chance to raise my stock.”

Golden said he’s encouraged by the play of the defensive tackles, but we want to see it for ourselves in September. “Jelani Hamilton has to keep coming on,” Golden said. “It’s time for him.”

What stands out about defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, an early enrollee? “His strength,” Golden said. “Oh my God. Really strong.”

Chickillo said Heurtelou reminds him of former Cane Micanor Regis.

Golden reiterated he hopes to get a big contribution from summer arrival Michael Wyche at defensive tackle. Earl Moore continues to get first-team tackle reps opposite Olsen Pierre, who’s the best of the group. Olsen and Wyche assuredly will be in the tackle rotation; at least two others must emerge.

### For those looking for encouraging morsels about the defense, there’s this, which shouldn’t be overstated: “They were more physical and tougher than the offense today,” Golden said. “The offense is going to have to regroup."

### Golden said Hunter Knighton, out of the hospital after collapsing and losing consciousness on the practice field several weeks ago, "is being integrated right now. Our biggest concern right now is getting him caught up on school. The next step is getting back to football." Golden declined to speculate on a timetable.

### Cornerback Artie Burns made it clear he hopes to unseat an older player for a starting job: “I feel I can go in and start.”

### Tim Harris said his new role at UM is almost identical to the one he had at UM under Randy Shannon “but I feel more comfortable doing it. I understand the roles.”

He needs to graduate from college to be able to coach, and Harris said he is two semesters away from doing that. “I know I can coach,” he said. “My record speaks for itself.”

By the way, Erik Spoelstra said Greg Oden will get his second straight start for the Heat tonight, in Cleveland. Check back tonight for Heat, Dolphins, Marlins and a few more Canes items I heard today.

03/16/2014

10 a.m. Dolphins item; Dwyane Wade at historic shooting level and LeBron James close

Now that the Heat is back on track with Sunday's win against Houston, let's take a minute to acknowledge something remarkable that has gone somewhat under-the-radar regarding LeBron James and Dwyane Wade:  

### Wade is poised to post the highest shooting percentage by any shooting guard in the past 29 years and the highest of any starting shooting guard since the NBA implemented the three-point shot in 1979-80.

Wade is shooting 55.1 percent from the field --– something Michael Jordan never did over a full season. Jordan’s high: 53.9 in 1990-91.

And if he stays above 54 percent, it would be the highest by a shooting guard since Atlanta backup Mike Glenn shot 58.8 in 1984-85. The highest field-goal accuracy by a starting shooting guard in the three-point era was Otis Birdsong, at 54.5 percent in 1980-81.

What’s more, Wade is on pace to lead all shooting guard in accuracy for the fifth time in the past six seasons. (He was beaten out by Wilson Chandler in 2009-2010). Wade has topped 50 percent only once before – 52.1 last season.

Shooting 54 percent, let alone 55, “is something I’ve never done before, so it would be great,” he said. “I take pride in my field-goal percentage, have always cared about it. I was 49.6 percent in college. I wanted to be at 50. I try to take good shots.”

For perspective, only one other NBA guard has shot better than 50 percent this season: Phoenix's Goran Dragic at 50.8.

So what’s the biggest difference? Wade said he worked on his mid-range game and post game during the offseason, and the results are dramatic.

Consider that Wade is shooting 53 percent from 3 to 10 feet, well above his 46.4 career mark. From 10 to 16 feet, he’s at 47.5 percent, a huge jump from 38.1 in his career.

He’s shooting 55 percent when he posts up, up from 48 percent last season: “I’m pretty good on the post game. I added that. I didn’t have it in college.” He also has diversified his game by polishing his Eurostep move and adding a hook shot.

Wade has taken only one heave at the end of a quarter after shooting 17 over the past five seasons. Will he avoid those shots to keep his percentage high?

“I haven’t been in that position [to take them],” he said, with Wade usually on the bench at the end of the first and third quarters. “It depends on how I’m going. Sometimes, I’ll want to shoot. Sometimes, I’ll dribble it out.”

It also helps his percentage that he shoots three-pointers sparingly (he’s 9 for 27), after launching 243 in his final season playing without James. Wade noted the Heat already has enough three-point shooters without him lofting a lot of them. But Indiana coach Tom Crean, his friend and former coach at Marquette, said last summer that it’s a part of his game he will need to polish as he gets older.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said “the No. 1 factor” in Wade’s remarkable shooting percentage is his shot selection and “not settling” for bad ones: “Most players aren’t capable of that type of maturity. It becomes about them.”

### James stands at 56.9 percent from the field, even after shooting just 45 percent over the past six games. He needs an exceptional close to post the highest shooting percentage of any starting small forward (and better than any guard, for that matter) since the three-point shot was implemented.

Cedric Maxwell shot 58.8 percent for Boston in 1980-81 but attempted only one three-pointer. Conversely, James has attempted 240 and made 89, which would naturally drag down a high shooting percentage.

In the three-point shot era, 11 starting small forwards have shot at least 55 percent in a season. James seems likely to do it twice in a row, after shooting 56.5 percent last season.

For perspective, the highest Larry Bird ever shot in a season was 52.7, Scottie Pippen 52, Rick Barry 51, Alex English 54, Julius Erving 54.6, Chris Mullin 55.3. Dominique Wilkins, Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek never shot 50 percent.

“Do you realize his field goal percentage, literally since his first season, every year has gone up?” TNT’s Greg Anthony said. “That’s unbelievable. How can a perimeter player shoot 58 percent?  When you’re the focal point of the defense, and you’re playing at an elite level, to shoot that high of a percentage is absurd.”  

DOLPHINS ITEM

Right tackle Zach Strief, who declined an invitation to visit the Dolphins --- re-signed with New Orleans today. "Saints are his home," agent Ralph Cindrich explained of his decision not to pursue Miami.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have expressed preliminary interest in Houston free agent right tackle Ryan Harris but no visit has been set up, according to Herald colleague Adam Beasley. Harris and Eric Winston are the top remaining right tackles available. The Dolphins instead might choose to draft one, potentially Notre Dame's Zach Martin at No. 19.

 

Please see the last post for Dolphins, Marlins and Canes items Twitter:@flasportsbuzz

Dolphins free agency, Heat notes, Riley/Shula/LeBron moment, Marlins, UM chatter

Sunday morning tidbits:

### Keep this in mind about new Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was a very good player before declining and battling hamstring and orbital injuries the past two years:

One recurring issue is that he has allowed simply too high of a percentage of passes to be completed against him: 66.7 and 63 percent in 2010 and 2011 (his most recent very good season), 73 percent in 2012 and an absurd 76 percent last season (26 of 34).

By comparison, Nolan Carroll (who left for Philadelphia) allowed just 47.8 percent last season, and Dimitri Patterson (who was released) just 58.1.

The problem is Finnegan’s per-catch average has ballooned, from 8.8 in 2011 (fourth-best among all cornerbacks) to 13.6 last season. At his best, Finnegan, 30, is a feisty corner who gets under the opponent’s skin. But the Rams thought he had lost a step. “It’s the first job I’ve ever been fired from,” he said of the Rams cutting him recently. “I have a chip on my shoulder.”

### Here’s how Pro Football Focus evaluated new Dolphins guard Shelley Smith, who started only two games last season but played in 14: "In Smith’s 371 snaps this season he put up a run blocking grade of +12.3. He had the fifth-highest percentage of [running play] snaps graded positively among all guards. Those kinds of numbers are too impressive to just be a fluke. The Rams’ guard plays with great leverage at 6-foot-3 and was a terror pulling all year.

"The only problem is in Smith’s 731 career snaps he has a pass blocking grade of -10.1. A lot of teams aren’t willing to sacrifice that much pass protection for a good run blocker and Smith could have a tough time winning a starting job wherever he goes.”

### The Dolphins have been giving thought to having Koa Misi play middle linebacker, which would shift Dannell Ellerbe outside. But they’ve also toyed with that before.

### Though the Dolphins remain interested, right tackle Zach Strief's priority remains trying to get a deal done with New Orleans... 

Though the Dolphins could do worse than Bryant McKinnie as a veteran tackle backup – and he would welcome a return – Miami has not discussed that, according to his representation. Incidentally, McKinnie will host a celebrity basketball game at 7:30 Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena to benefit underprivileged students in the Miami area. Cost: $25 for adults, $15 for kids. (The arena will be cleared after the 3:30 p.m. Heat game).

### Pretty neat tonight to see Pat Riley and Don Shula on stage together at Heat announcers Eric Reid's and Tony Fiorentino's outstanding annual charity event, which benefit's Lauren's Kids. "There's nobody I respect more than coach Shula," Riley said, on stage at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. "Don Shula for me is an all-time, all-time."

### Riley flew in from Atlanta, where he was scouting the SEC Tournament, to give a testimonial to LeBron James, who was honored at the event. "I just got off the plane from Atlanta; I was looking for somebody to help LeBron," Riley quipped.

Riley said there are ups and downs in his career but "with LeBron, it's been nothing but great. He's not just an incredible player. He does so much for other people." Riley called James "a person I admire and love." (Top that, Phil Jackson!; a New York Daily News column speculated today that Jackson will try to lure James to the Knicks, which is a major longshot.)

Riley said the arrival of LeBron in Miami in 2010 and the Heat's two subsequent championships "has changed the state. It has changed the city. I knew somewhere along the way, the impossible could really happen. And it did."

### James gave a classy speech. "So blessed and excited," he said. "I represent more than myself. I represent every single kid that looks up to me as a role model, a superhero... I take that role very seriously."

Then he said the "real superhero" is Lauren Book, who was the victim of sexual abuse by her nanny as a child and is the founder of an organization that educates kids and adults about sexual abuse and raises awareness. (She's the daughter of prominent lobbyist Ron Book, who also has been instrumental in helping his daughter's organization.)

 ### After showing promising signs earlier this month, Greg Oden's play has leveled off in recent appearances, raising questions about how much can be realistically expected as he works his way back from four years of injuries. In the last four games, spanning 20 minutes, Oden has four points, two rebounds, five fouls and three turnovers, and Miami has been outscored by 27 points during his time on the floor.

Overall, Miami has been outscored by 22 in Oden's 138 minutes. The other Heat players with a negative plus/minus: Michael Beasley (minus 9), Toney Douglas (minus 80) and Udonis Haslem (minus 106).  

### One Marlins official said if center fielder Marcell Ozuna continues to struggle offensively and doesn’t make the team out of spring training, one good possibility is moving Christian Yelich to center and have Brian Bogusevic and Reed Johnson platoon in left. The Marlins also could opt for defensively-gifted Jake Marisnick if he is absolutely exceptional offensively all spring, which they aren’t necessarily expecting. But they’re still hopeful Ozuna will turn it around.

### What led to UM offensive lineman Hunter Knighton losing consciousness earlier this month? According to multiple people, he had been sick for a few days, hadn’t eaten much and tried to participate in the U-tough training program before collapsing. It was very scary, “touch and go” for a few days, but he’s now out of the hospital and doing well.

### UM is no longer pursuing four-star football/basketball standout Derrick Griffin, who couldn’t make it academically. 

 

03/14/2014

Heat makes roster move; Encouraging outlook for UM hoops; Heat, Dolphins, Marlins chatter

2 p.m. update: The Heat signed center Justin Hamilton, its former second-round pick out of LSU, and waived guard DeAndre Liggins, who was working under a second 10-day contract. Hamilton averaged 19.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.5 assists and shot 49 percent for the Heat's NDBL team in South Dakota. Hamilton is playoff-eligible, by the way. He signed for the remainder of this season, with a non-guaranteed team option for next season.

 

FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN

UM's basketball season ended Thursday (barring some postseason invitation that Jim Larranaga has said is not going to happen). But good news looms for Larranaga's program: Next season’s team should be considerably better, more potent offensively, and more interesting to watch.

UM will get a boost from high-scoring guard DeAndre Burnett (who missed this season with a wrist injury) and two transfers who were ineligible this season: former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez and ex-Texas guard Sheldon McClellan.

McClellan, who averaged 13.5 points for the Longhorns in 2012-13, is “a very, very talented offensive player --– kind of a combination of Durand Scott, Rion Brown, Trey-McKinney Jones,” Larranaga said. “He has size, length, jumping ability, shooting ability, driving ability, can make free throws. He hasn’t become the defender he should be. Most of the really good offensive players rest on defense. We can’t afford that.”

Senior guard Rion Brown calls McClellan “a freak of nature. He’s athletic even just passing and dribbling!”

McClellan said he came to Miami because of Larranaga and “how he handles players. And transfers have done well here” – include Shane Larkin and McKinney-Jones.

He said “motivation and time management” were problematic for him at times at Texas, but he has improved in both areas. “I’m in the gym more now,” he said, adding that a backcourt duo of himself and Rodriguez “can be pretty scary.”

Players rave about how Rodriguez has become the team’s vocal leader even though he wasn’t eligible to play this season. He has corrected players when they do something wrong at practice, even yelling when needed.

Rodriguez, who averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists at Kansas State last season, “can create for a lot of people,” freshman guard/forward Davon Reed said. “He’s a guy you want to play with because he makes the game easier for you.” And he’s a skilled defender.

UM is expecting a lot from Burnett, who averaged 36 points for Carol City as a senior two years ago. “He's a great scorer,” Reed said. “He can catch and shoot, can go off the dribble.”

Larranaga said UM will play a lot of small ball next season, because most of its best players will be guards: Rodriguez, Reed (who will see a lot of time at small forward), Burnett, McClellan, Manu Lecomte (improved considerably as the season progressed) and two newcomers: four-star point guard JaQuan Newton (rated the nation’s 35th-best recruit by rivals.com) and three-star shooting guard James Palmer (rated the 114th-best player). “Scoring will not be an issue next year,” senior Erik Swoope said.

UM’s incoming class has two three-star power forwards (6-8 Omar Sherman and 6-9 Ivan Cruz Uceda), but no natural center unless UM finds one with its last scholarship available, which Larranaga prefers to use on a senior transfer.

Larranaga said it’s “impossible" to find a big man "with skills who knows how to play.”

“There are not a lot of those guys out there. Those guys are so highly recruited. There are not a lot of those guys in the NBA anymore, guys like Dwight Howard."

Sophomore seven-footer Tonye Jekiri hasn’t progressed as much offensively as UM hoped.

“Last summer, he worked at it, but he didn’t kill himself,’ Larranaga said. “He really needs to become fanatical if he wants to score at all. The only baskets he’s really getting are right at the rim. He makes a jump shot once every five games.”

Larranaga privately has said his biggest regret was not playing Swoope more earlier this season. But Swoope said: "What we did this year was a testament to his coaching. We could have been way below .500. He got the most out of this team."

CHATTER

### Besides the drop-off in defensive metrics from last season, the biggest change in Heat performance this season has been Miami’s play late in close games. Last season, in the final five minutes of games with a five-point margin or fewer, Miami was 32-8 and outscored teams by 131 in 176 minutes.

This season, Miami is 19-13 in those games and has outscored teams by nine (12th in the league) in 139 minutes. (Indiana is plus 54.) Last season, the Heat shot 49 percent in the clutch, with 88 assists and 40 turnovers. This season, it’s 43 percent, 40 assists, 33 turnovers.

Chris Bosh is shooting 58.5 percent in the clutch and LeBron James 48.6, but each has had turnovers in the final seconds of close games in the past week, and every Heat guard in Erik Spoelstra's rotation is shooting below 40 percent in the clutch.

### The Dolphins, who hope to sign guard Shelley Smith after his visit today, still had $26 million in cap space as of 4 p.m., according to the NFLPA web site. [UPDATE: The Dolphins have signed Smith to a two-year deal. They also have reached a two-year deal with cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who was one of the league's top corners for Tennessee before a decline in play the past two years with St. Louis. He missed the final nine games last season with a fractured orbital bone.]

### Free agent right tackle Zach Strief declined an offer to visit the Dolphins. Indications are that he prefers to return to New Orleans.

### In exchange for Jonathan Martin, the Dolphins will get a seventh-rounder in the 2015 draft, but only if he’s on the 49ers opening day roster. Though Stephen Ross repeatedly said he planned to meet with Martin, they never did, according to the Martin camp. No Dolphins official called Martin directly when the trade was made, though that's not unusual.

### The Dolphins envision new defensive tackle Earl Mitchell as an every down player. He received an identical four-year, $16 million offer from San Diego but liked Miami’s defensive system better…. Though New England-bound Darrell Revis has a home in South Florida and likes the Dolphins, he wanted to play on a short contract with a Super Bowl contender. So Miami wasn’t a serious contender, despite an inquiry.

### Marcell Ozuna, who the Marlins have projected as their starting center fielder, is hitting .179 this spring (5 for 28). Conversely, center fielder Jake Marisnick surprisingly has hit well (7 for 21, .333) after seeming overwhelmed offensively in his Marlins stint late last season. Ozuna's offensive game is far more advanced than Marisnick's, and the Marlins are counting on Ozuna's bat coming alive at some point this spring. If it doesn't, an interesting decision looms in center field.

03/13/2014

4 p.m. Thursday afternoon Dolphins free agent chatter; Heat, broadcast notes

Couple quick items on remaining priority positions of need as the Dolphins plow through the first week of free agency:

### Right tackle: Zach Strief, 30, remains by far the best unsigned player at the position, and the Dolphins called his representation earlier in the week, expressed interest in Strief and spoke of setting up a visit. But Strief had been committed to a banquet in Cincinnati and was unable to take any visits.

UPDATE: The Dolphins reached out to Strief again on Thursday and asked him to visit. A decision is pending. The leaguewide sense has been that he prefers to return to New Orleans, but the Saints and Strief haven’t been able to come to an agreement. And he is now receptive to talking to other teams.

Pro Football Focus rated him seventh among all tackles last season, based on his 2013 performance.

Mel Kiper reiterated today that Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin makes the most sense for Miami with the 19th pick in the first round, though he wonders if Pittsburgh might take him four spots earlier. Martin could slide into the starting right tackle job.

Beyond Strief, the list of other remaining free agent tackles isn’t extraordinary --- a group include Michael Oher, Eric Winston, Ryan Harris and J’Marcus Webb.

[UPDATE: Tampa announced at 2 p.m. that it's releasing Donald Penn, who Dennis Hickey knows well from his time in Tampa. But he's a natural left tackle and Oakland and Washington could have interest in him at that spot.]

### Guard: Shelley Smith is visiting with the Dolphins tonight after visiting with the Patriots at this hour, and his camp is hopeful there will be an offer from Miami. The good news: PFF.com ranked him 21st among all guards for 2013 and fourth as a run-blocker. But he has started just eight games over the past two seasons.

Miami has called to express some level of interest in several other guards, including Daryn Colledge and Wade Smith and center/guard Even Dietrich Smith. Davin Joseph remains a possibility. Figure on the Dolphins signing at least one veteran guard.

### Cornerback:  The Dolphins have considerable faith in Jamar Taylor, and he figures to join Brent Grimes and a to-be-determined veteran among their top three corners. The Dolphins haven’t ruled out a return by Dimitri Patterson, but nothing was imminent on that front as of Thursday afternoon.

Miami has expressed interest in Tarell Brown and Walter Thurmond, and there are decent other options: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cortland Finnegan, Brandon Browner, Terell Thomas, Josh Wilson, EJ Biggers, Antonio Cromartie, Antonie Cason, Jabari Greer, plus past-their-prime Champ Bailey and Dunta Robinson. Several of those players have been taking visits elsewhere, including Browner and Thurmond with Washington and Cromartie with Arizona (among a bunch of others with other teams).

[5 p.m. update: Finnegan will visit the Dolphins on Friday, according to NFL.com's Albert Breer. He was cut by the Rams after this past season. He played in only seven games because of injury, starting pick and picking off a pass. PFF ranked him 109th of 110 cornerbacks last season.]

Nolan Carroll signed with Philadelphia today, and Miami didn't tender RJ Stanford.

### Random stuff: Since his 61-point outburst, LeBron James has scored 22, 19, 17, 23 and 19 points over the next five games. Only twice before during his Heat tenure (early in year one, late in year two) had LeBron scored so few points over a five-game stretch… With his team having lost four of five, Erik Spoelstra wants to give his players a mental break. So he scheduled no practice for today and no shoot-around on Friday, when Miami plays Denver. It’s unusual not to have one or the other when games aren’t back-to-back... As we mentioned yesterday, ESPN/ABC wants Chris Fowler to replace Brent Musburger as the network’s lead play-by-play voice on college football. And ESPN/ABC made it official today, announcing Fowler would assume those duties, paired with Kirk Herbstreit, in a new contract that runs through 2023.

03/12/2014

Tiger loses in Miami court; Dolphins, Heat, Canes items; Musburger demotion, Local TV news

Some quick hits on a Wednesday evening:

### A jury on Wednesday night found Tiger Woods’ company, ETW, liable for deceptive and unfair trade practices in a civil case that had played out during the past week in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.

Bruce Matthews, a South Miami resident, and his company (Gotta Have It Golf Inc.) alleged that Woods breached a 2001 licensing agreement by not providing a specified number of autographs and photographs.

The six-person all-female jury awarded $668,000 in damages to Matthews’ company, but interest will increase the total to about $1.3 million, according to Eric Isicoff, one of Matthews’ attorneys.

Woods’ company is expected to appeal.

Matthews’ attempt to recoup more than $1 million in attorney’s fees remains pending with the court.

Woods testified, under a subpoena, for more than 45 minutes on Monday, a day after he finished tied for 25th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

"This has been a long time coming,” Isicoff said. “The behavior of ETW Corporation has been reprehensible and we are very pleased with the jury’s verdict.”

 ### The fact that Dolphins executives invited Mike Pouncey (along with Ryan Tannehill) to dinner with Branden Albert on Tuesday night is yet another indication that Pouncey remains very much a part of this team’s future, regardless of the fact the Ted Wells report cast him in a negative light.

The Dolphins, who are cautiously hopeful Pouncey will not be suspended by the league for his role in BullyGate, haven’t yet agreed to Pouncey’s desire for a contract extension (beyond an option that will be picked up for 2015). But barring another regime change or a big falloff in his place, it's clear Dennis Hickey wants him in Miami longterm.

“I’m very excited to be playing with Mike Pouncey,” Albert said.

Albert, incidentally, told reporters today that “whoever the best pass rusher is on that Sunday, I’ll be on.”

Albert said of Ryan Tannehill: “I’ve got to protect his blind side. We all know how important that is. A quarterback has to be upright to do his job and that’s what I’m here for.”

### Dennis Hickey and Dawn Aponte ended up saving a lot of money by not making an offer to Randy Starks before Tuesday night. His two-year, $12 million deal is below the $7 million to $8 million a year he had hoped for.

Starks got a $2 million signing bonus and a $3 million base salary for 2014, which is guaranteed. He can earn another $1 million in incentives each of the two seasons of the contract. His $5 million base next season is not guaranteed.

### 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Jonathan Martin to USA Today: "I can't wait to give him a big hug. It’s an opportunity for Jonathan Martin to prove to the football world that he is worthy of his high-round draft status.  The goal is for this to be win-win.  As far as the other thing, I think everybody deserves an Etch-A-Sketch opportunity for a second chance."

The Dolphins will receive a seventh-round pick in 2015 if he makes the 49ers' opening day roster in 2014. Harbaugh coached Martin at Stanford.

### Brent Musburger has decided to accept a demotion at ABC/ESPN instead of retiring or looking for a job elsewhere. ESPN announced today that Musburger --- who signed a new contract --- will be the lead announcer on college football on the new SEC Network, which typically will televise the third or fourth-best SEC game each week. That’s quite a step down from his previous role as ABC’s lead college football announcer. Musburger, who will be paired with Jesse Palmer on SEC games, also will continue to call Big 12 basketball for ESPN.

ESPN wants Chris Fowler to replace Musburger, alongside Kirk Herbstreit, on its lead college football announcing team. That will become official assuming Fowler and ESPN work out a new contract.

### The big local broadcast news today was Warren Buffett buying WPLG-Channel 10. In a less important development, the station is shifting Victor Oquendo, its No. 2 sportscaster, to news; Oquendo will co-anchor at 4:30 and 5:30. WPLG hired Fort Myers sportscaster Clayton Ferraro to fill its No. 2 sportscaster job, behind lead sports anchor Will Manso.

### Erik Spoelstra, who has entrusted Michael Beasley with fourth quarter minutes recently, said this morning: “He’s starting to understand what this team is built for.” And defensively, “he’s getting better. He can make athletic plays. He gives you youth. He’s been making steady progress all year long.”

### UM extended its season with a 57-53 win against Virginia Tech today in the opening round of the ACC Tournament and now advances to play N.C. State at 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN. Tonye Jekiri had 12 rebounds; Erik Swoope had 14 points (his sixth double figure scoring game in a row) and 8 boards, Davon Reed had 14 and Rion Brown a team-high 15 (despite shooting 2 for 10 from the field). Donnavan Kirk is missing the tournament because of a leg injury. 

03/11/2014

Starks deal done; Dolphins free agent chatter and more players on their radar; Heat, Marlins

Wednesday morning update: After not making an offer to Randy Starks between last April and Tuesday afternoon, the Dolphins re-engaged with Starks' agent last night, and the sides were finalizing a new contract on Wednesday morning, according to a source.

3 p.m. UPDATE: The deal is done. Starks re-signed for two years, a deal that can be worth as much as $12 million. But not all of that is guaranteed.

Re-signing Starks gives Miami a solid three-tackle rotation with Jared Odrick and Earl Mitchell.  Pro Football Focus ranked Starks seventh among all d-tackles last season.

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

 Dolphins tidbits as the free agency gates swing open:

 ### The Dolphins assuredly upgraded at left tackle (Branden Albert) and safety (Louis Delmas), but there are questions about their strategy at defensive tackle (Earl Mitchell is very likely in, though he hasn't signed yet; Paul Soliai is out), and all three newcomers have both strengths and blemishes.

The good news on Delmas: He makes more impact plays (five sacks, six picks in 65 career games) than departing Chris Clemons (1.5 sacks, four picks in 72 games). Delmas allowed only 43.8 percent of passes thrown against him to be completed last season (14 for 32), which was best in the league among all safeties.

The bad news: When he’s burned, he’s burned badly, because he takes poor angles at times. The 14 receptions against him in 2013 averaged (gulp!) 22.4 yards, worst in the league. He missed 13 combined games with knee problems over 2011 and 2012; he played in every game last season but missed a lot of practice time because of his knees.

The good news on Albert (SKIP OVER THESE TWO PARAGRAPHS IF YOU READ THE LAST POST): He relinquished just four sacks in 555 pass rushing chances last season, which is exceptional, and allowed the fewest quarterback hurries (13) of any tackle who played nearly that much. Over the past three years, he has consistently ranked in the top 12 among all tackles in pass blocking.

The worrisome news? Though he graded out very well as a run blocker in 2010 and 2011, he was slightly below average last season (40th of 76), per PFF.com. He has had back problems in the past, but the Dolphins believe that’s a non-issue now. His nine penalties last year were among the most per snap among tackles.

The good news on the 6-3, 300-pound Mitchell: At 26, he’s four younger than Starks and Soliai. He was highly coveted. ESPN’s Bill Polian ranks him as the fifth-best free agent at any position in the entire class. He has pass rush potential; PFF insists he had four sacks last season (NFL.com credits him with only 1.5) and ranked him 26th of 69 tackles as a pass rusher.

ESPN’s Scouts Inc. says Mitchell “has become a real inside force and one of the most productive penetrators in the NFL at generating consistent inside pressure. He is a much better athlete than most guys who play his position, and his effort is outstanding. He is a one-gap penetrator with good quickness and really works to finish the play. He is young and will only get better.”

The bad news: PFF ranked him 57th of 69 against the run in 2013. And overall, PFF rated him 51st among tackles last season, compared with seventh for Starks, 13th for Jared Odrick and 20th for Soliai.

### The Dolphins presented Soliai with a last-minute two-year, $11.5 million offer, with only the first year guaranteed. What’s more, Soliai was given only a 24-hour window to accept Miami's offer after receiving it last Friday. He got a much better deal from Atlanta (five years, $33 million, $14 million guaranteed).

### Besides Mitchell (who will be paired with Odrick), the Dolphins want to add another defensive tackle. [WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Now we know it will be Starks.] They have inquired about several who have been both starters and reserves, including Cam Thomas (San Diego) and Terrence Cody (Baltimore). They called about pricey Tyson Jackson, who signed with Atlanta.

### The Dolphins are exploring the right tackle market and are interested in several, with free agents Austin Howard (he and the Jets couldn’t come to terms Tuesday afternoon) and Breno Giacomini (Seattle) on their radar. [UPDATE: Howard agreed to terms with Oakland late Tuesday night, according to ESPN. And Giacomini will visit the Jets.] New Orleans' Zach Strief is the best free agent right tackle available and certainly not out of the question for Miami. But he would be pricey.

### The Dolphins missed out on two of their preferences at guard: Rodger Saffold (who got more money -- five years, $42.5 million -- to sign as a tackle with Oakland) and former Bronco Zane Beadles (Miami made a good offer, but Jacksonville bid more at five years, $30 million).

But the Dolphins have expressed interest in several free agent guards who are still available, including former Dolphin Wade Smith (16 starts for Houston last season, rated 59th of 81 guards by PFF/ four sacks allowed) and former Packer and Cardinal Daryn Colledge (rated 39th of 81 guards, two sacks relinquished for Arizona last season).

They also have shown interest in Evan Dietrich Smith, who was PFF’s eight-ranked center last season but also has experience at guard, where he would presumably play if Miami signs him. Dietrich-Smith plans to visit Tampa Bay, but Miami has inquired.

### Running back is not a priority for the Dolphins, but Dolphins executive Dawn Aponte called Tuesday to check in with the firm that represents free agents Ben Tate, Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown. All three had very good per-carry averages last season, and any of those or several others are possibilities at the right price. [UPDATE: Gerhart agreed to terms with Jacksonville tonight, per NFL Network. And late tonight, Donald Brown agreed to terms with the Chargers, according to NFL Network.]

### Cornerback Dimitri Patterson was cut only after declining the Dolphins’ offer to take a pay cut from his $5.4 million salary. But Patterson likes Miami and the sides haven’t ruled out a return at a lower price. Meanwhile, cornerback Nolan Carroll --- who wants starter’s money --- was scheduled to visit Buffalo on Tuesday night.

### New GM Dennis Hickey advocated that Tampa draft linebacker Dekoda Watson, so it’s no surprise that Miami has inquired about Watson, who took his first free agent visit to Jacksonville on Tuesday.

### With the Joe Philbin connection, the Dolphins have shown interest in one former Packer (receiver James Jones, according to draftinsider.com), but not another (they haven’t called on tight end Jermichael Finley, who’s visiting Seattle).

COUPLE OTHER ITEMS

### Partly because of his defense, guard Toney Douglas has really grown on this Heat coaching staff after Heat people were lukewarm initially…. It’s surprising and could even be perceived as disrespectful that Miami kept guard DeAndre Liggins, who’s on a 10-day contract, active for Monday’s game while leaving James Jones inactive and thus in a suit. Jones said he hasn’t asked Erik Spoelstra for an explanation, and Spoelstra hasn’t given him one. “It’s not necessary to explore,” Jones said. “He has his reasoning. I trust him.”…

When Dwyane Wade --- the only shooting guard in history to average at least one block per game in his career --– blocked 6-10 Drew Gooden on Monday, it marked the 143rd time he has blocked a shot of an opponent at least six inches taller. Remarkable.

### As of Tuesday morning, MLB hadn’t ruled out fining Red Sox owner John Henry for his tweet that the Marlins should apologize for their regular season lineup. MLB doesn’t like owners taking shots at other teams. In 2009, Henry was fined $500,000 for suggesting that several teams (the Marlins were implied as one of them) were pocketing revenue-sharing money.           

03/10/2014

What Dolphins are getting in Branden Albert; Fins, Heat notes; Late addition to UM football class

Some notes on a Monday:

### So what exactly are the Dolphins getting with 29-year-old left tackle Branden Albert, who is expected to sign a multiyear deal with Miami on Tuesday for about $10 million per season?

1) Here’s how Pro Football Focus evaluated him heading into free agency: “He graded negatively in run blocking in 2013, just as he did in 2012, and it’s an area of his game that has never been dominant, though it hasn’t been terrible either.

“Mostly solid in pass protection, Albert only gave up four sacks in 555 pass blocking snaps in the quick-attack Andy Reid offense, but pass blocking is clearly his forte. With nine regular season penalties, Albert had the second-worst penalty grade for tackles in 2013, a consistent mark against him that potential suitors should note in this free agency period. He may make mistakes at times, but the good outweighs the bad significantly.”

2) Albert allowed four sacks last season, five in 2012 and 2011 and 10 in 2010. In PFF’s ranking system of offensive tackles as pass blockers, Albert was rated 11th of 76 tackles in 2013, 11th of 80 in 2012 and sixth of 76 in 2011. That’s outstanding, and this is, too: Last season, nobody who played nearly as many snaps as Albert allowed fewer quarterback hurries. (Albert allowed 13.) In 2012, only two who played as many snaps allowed fewer than his 12.

3) Though his run blocking metrics weren’t very good the past two years, he graded out very well as a run blocker in previous years. Last year, as a run blocker, PFF rated him 40th of 76 tackles. In 2012, he was rated 62nd of 80. But he was 12th of 74 in 2010 and 27th of 76 in 2011.

4) As noted above, penalties are an issue at times. His nine last year were ninth-most among tackles. He had 10 penalties (11th-most among tackles) in 2011, but five in 2012.

5) The former Dolphins administration had concerns about his durability, but this regime apparently doesn’t. Albert, who has missed time with a back issue in the past, played in 15, 16, 13 and 12 games over the past four years, from 2010 to 2013, respectively.

### Paul Soliai is down to three teams and the Dolphins are not one of them. Soliai is aware he likely won’t be signing here, barring something unexpected. (And nothing can be ruled out in free agency, especially because Soliai likes it here.) But it doesn't look good for Miami. The Dolphins and Soliai have had conversations in recent days but continue to have a different view of his value, especially with regard to guaranteed money. The Falcons are among teams reportedly in pursuit...

The Dolphins are considering several defensive tackles to replace Soliai and Starks, with Houston's Earl Mitchell among those on Miami's radar. Jason Hatcher, Linval Joseph, Henry Melton and Arthur Jones are also available.

### Drew Rosenhaus said on his Sunday night segment on WSVN-Fox that he has begun negotiations with the Dolphins on safety Louis Delmas and should have resolution, one way or the other, in a couple of days. [UPDATE: Delmas signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Dolphins this afternoon]. So Chris Clemons will move on.

### The Heat, which was lost three in a row entering tonight’s home game against Washington, hasn’t lost four in a row since the first year of the Big Three (2010-11). Miami also lost five in a row that year, its longest losing streak since LeBron James joined Miami.

 ### James has shot 6 for 18 and 8 for 23 in his past two games, the first time since November 2010 that he had back-to-back games with a field goal percentage of less than 35 percent….His streak of 332 games with at least one free throw attempt ended Sunday in Chicago, his first game without one since December 2009, when he played for Cleveland…. Since his 61-point outburst, LeBron is averaging 19.3 points and shooting 39 percent.

### UM is adding Green Cove Spring (Fla.) Clay High offensive lineman Tyler Grimsley as a late addition to this recruiting class, according to CaneSport.com. Grimsley, who visited UM last weekend, will be on scholarship at UM and eligible to play this upcoming season.

Grimsley didn’t have a qualifying test score until after National Signing Day. A two-star prospect, Grimsley also had reported offers from UAB and Weber State.

"Nobody knew who he was," his offensive line coach, Frank Garis, told Canesport. "But he has rare explosive quickness combined with man strength. He's a big kid, is a big-time weightlifter for us, can medal in the heavyweight class for us this year…. He played predominantly guard for us. The year previous he also played a couple of games at tackle. Miami is taking him as a center until he adds more weight to play guard."

### Tenth-seed UM (16-15) will play 16th-seed Virginia Tech (9-21) in the ACC Tournament at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the winner meeting seventh-seed North Carolina State (19-12) at 7 p.m. Thursday.

03/09/2014

Amid progress, questions surround Oden, Beasley; Dolphins, Canes, Marlins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

No players, aside from the Big Three, generate more curiosity from Heat fans than Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. And the final five weeks of the regular season offer interesting storylines, and questions, for each.

With Oden, the issue is whether he can become a 20-minute-a-game player in time for a likely Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana. For Beasley, it’s whether he develops the trust of this coaching staff to earn regular postseason minutes, something that seems more of a possibility now than previously.

Oden, who has played just five minutes in each of his past two appearances, said he’s fine with how he’s being used but “would hope” to get to 20 minutes or so eventually when he does play. He’s averaging 8.3 minutes and hasn’t played more than 13 in any game.

“I want to make sure my knee doesn’t swell up – that’s the big concern,” he said. “But the knee has been pretty good. I’m happy with the progress. Some games they need me, some they don’t. I’m still not where I want to be, more so offensively. I want to start making the jump hook that I’m missing. When I get a chance to play, I just don’t want to mess up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said he feels no urgency to increase Oden’s minutes, even though some national TV analysts say he needs to take the training wheels off Oden and play him more.

“I know everybody has a taste of it and wants to start fast-tracking and pushing the envelope a little more,” Spoelstra said. “That is not in our vocabulary, not in our thought process. We want to keep him to the point where he’s still available. If we can continue that, after so many games and weeks, we’ll re-evaluate. I feel comfortable with the minutes he’s been able to give from a conditioning standpoint.”

Oden has made 59 percent of his shots on offense (19 for 32, most on dunks) but is just 2 for 7 on post-ups. Defensively, though Tim Duncan backed him down for a basket and foul on Thursday, his work has been very good, with opponents shooting 13 for 33 against him (39 percent).

The Heat has outscored teams by five in Oden’s 124 minutes, but Miami is plus 18 when Oden plays with Chris Bosh (75 minutes) and minus 13 in Oden’s 49 minutes without Bosh.

"I'm happy for him,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “I root for him more than I ever rooted for anybody. I knock on wood and cross my fingers every day he stays healthy."

As for Beasley, Spoelstra showed considerable faith by playing him 21 minutes against the Spurs, marking the fifth time in six games he has logged at least 18. He had been held out of four of the previous six games.

Ray Allen calls Beasley the team’s “best scorer,” and his 51.4 shooting percentage is by far a career high, well above his 45.1 career mark. He’s third on team and 29th in the league (minimum 40 games) in points per 48 minutes at 26.0. He made two exemplary defensive plays Thursday night, and the player he’s guarding is shooting just 36.3 percent this season, according to Synergysports.com.

So why was his role reduced for a few weeks, beyond defensive lapses? This is telling: During his first 19 appearances, Miami outscored opponents by 62 with Beasley in the game. But Miami was outscored by 78 in his next 15 appearances, during which his playing time plunged. In eight games since, Miami is plus 23 with Beasley on the court.

Over the past month, Beasley said his defensive grades have been “some good, some bad.” And he said he still gets yelled at sometimes for passing up open shots.

Despite the inconsistent minutes, has this experience still been enjoyable for him? 

“Definitely,” he said. “To be around this group of guys is a privilege. Guys I’ve looked up to since I was 6, 7 years old. Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James. It’s like a family here.”

Does it bother him to get pulled quickly sometimes? “I’m in it for the big picture,” he said. “If my contribution only consists of 40 seconds then I play those seconds hard.”

Could he honestly have said, three years ago, that if it he played just 40 seconds, he would be OK with that?

“No,” he said. “But that comes with maturity. It comes with knowing who you’re playing with, who you’re playing behind and knowing the big picture…. It’s not in my control. If I could control it, I’d be playing 48 minutes. Everybody would.”

He said his most progress has come “on the mental side, staying ready…. I’m my biggest critic. There is so much I can work on, on both sides of the floor. I see it every game. I’m getting better, learning every day.”

His attitude has not been an issue, Heat people say. The maturity is evident in several ways, including the fact he arrives early for practice and no longer collects cars (real ones) as toys (he’s gone from 11, as a rookie, to three). “He has been great, embraced the routine,” Spoelstra said.

Said Shane Battier: “We don’t have time to play games. Guys who come into this locker-room understand that. Whatever issues they had in the past we don’t seem to have here. We’re about winning here and that’s all that matters. Michael has been that way since day one. He’s really tried to make an effort. He hasn’t had the habits a lot of us have had but he’s tried.”

Teammates threw him a surprise 25th birthday party in New York in February. “I’m the youngest one on the team so everyone treats me like a little brother,” he said. “Every one wants to see me do good. If I’m messing up, one guy gets on me, the other 12 follow. We love each other genuinely.”

The Heat hasn’t told him if it wants him back next season, and that decision won’t be made until the summer.

### For the first time since April 2003, the Heat has gone two straight games without ever holding a lead. LeBron James hadn't done that since his rookie season with Cleveland, per Elias.

CHATTER

### The Dolphins have told people that even after addressing the offensive line in free agency, it will still be a heavy focus in the draft. Even beyond Notre Dame’s Zack Martin (a potential pick at No. 19), they’ve shown interest in several other guard/tackles, including Michigan’s Michael Schofield and North Dakota State’s Billy Turner.

### Though some other agents bristle at their belief that Dawn Aponte is wielding more power than ever before in shaping the Dolphins’ contract offers, there has been some positive feedback on the revamped front office, too. For example, Chris Clemons’ representatives appreciated that general manager Dennis Hickey gave them a heads-up before Louis Delmas visited. (They have different agents.) The Dolphins have entered into discussions with Delmas' representation, incidentally.

### It's good that Joe Philbin and Hickey are watching film together every morning, because the coach and GM must forge a similar vision for players that Hickey acquires. For example, former GM Jeff Ireland viewed Michael Egnew as a stretch-the-field tight end and was frustrated that the coaching staff never used him as a seam threat and instead made him a pseudo blocking fullback. Something like that is less likely to happen now.

### Dan Uggla, made available by the Braves, would love to return here, but the Marlins passed, with Uggla due $26 million over the next two seasons and Atlanta unwilling to absorb all of that.

### A few UM spring observations: Coaches are very encouraged by the play of safety Deon Bush; they believe he’s back to the form he showed as a freshman before struggling through last year’s sports hernia. “That held me back [last year] with running, cutting and explosiveness,” he said. “I feel better than ever now.” Jamal Carter is making a strong case to win the other safety job, though he must beat out Rayshawn Jenkins when Jenkins returns from injury. UM wants more consistent play from Jenkins….. Freshman cornerback Ryan Mayes has surprised; he’s fast, long and covers a lot of ground.... Coaches like the pass-rush potential of linebacker Darrion Owens, who appears to be ahead of Juwon Young, the other early-enrollee linebacker.

### David Beckham’s group needs another month to determine the viability of building a stadium big enough to share with UM football, and that remains a toss-up at best. And even if Beckham can build a 40,000-seat stadium (UM's absolute minimum requirement for seating), UM still would need to escape the final 18 years of its Sun Life lease.