WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Two days before LeBron James makes his returns to AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat was reminded tonight just how far it has fallen and reminded, yet again, how LeBron helped put them in this spot, not only by his decision (nobody can fault him for that) but also the timing of his decision (the Heat certainly can fault him for that).
More on the backdrop of LeBron's return in a minute, and the mixed emotions accompanying it.
But it's difficult to envision a more humiliating, more humbling loss that this 91-87 setback to a Philadelphia team that entered 3-23.
Ahead by 23 in the third quarter, the Heat was outscored 49-30 in the second half and mustered only nine points in the fourth, its lowest output in any quarter this season.
After halftime, Miami had 14 turnovers, shot 28 percent overall and 3 for 16 on threes and repeatedly settled for jumpers in the fourth quarter, with Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers each missing two long jumpers in the final two minutes. Luol Deng closed 3 for 11, Danny Granger 2 for 7, Norris Cole 2 for 8.
And so Miami drops to 13-16, with the danger of falling even further below .500 with Cleveland and Memphis next up.
Instead of climbing above .500 during this stretch of seven consecutive home games, Miami is just 1-3 on the homestand and is just percentage points ahead of Brooklyn for the seventh spot in the East, and just 1 1/2 games from being out of playoff seeding altogether.
The Heat's TV crew said Chris Bosh, nursing a calf injury, is unlikely to play Thursday, with Miami now 2-4 in Bosh's absence.
"We really struggled getting into offense," Erik Spoelstra said after a loss that dropped Miami to 5-10 at home. "They stepped up their pressure. We didn't have a lot of answers. Once we started turning it over, it became a landslide from there. For a young team, they really get after you with their quickness. Our offense was empty."
On the comedown this is for Miami, Spoelstra said: "I'm not above it. None of us are. This league is unforgiving. We just have to find a way."
As for LeBron, his visit Thursday will be met with affection from former teammates, appreciation from Heat management, but also a reminder of the questions that the Heat had difficulty reconciling in the aftermath, the questions that led Pat Riley to tell ESPN's Dan Le Batard in October that he will forgive him eventually (but not yet).
It’s not a question of why LeBron left --- Heat officials understand his affinity for his hometown, his desire to be liked by people, his concerns about the Heat roster --- but more so, why he handled his departure the way that he did.
The Heat, consistently classy, hasn’t uttered a disparaging public word about LeBron and will honor him with a video on Thursday.
But what has become clear in conversations since LeBron’s exit is that several Heat people strongly suspect LeBron knew all along that he would be leaving for Cleveland, certainly before he summoned Riley to fly across the country to meet with him in Las Vegas (where James was hosting his annual Nike camp), a day before he crafted his “I’m Coming Home” essay with Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins.
LeBron’s people say that is not the case. But James could have easily had that session with Riley in Miami days earlier, and the natural Heat suspicion is that there was nothing Riley could have said that would reverse James’ decision that was announced less than 48 hours after that Las Vegas meeting.
What bothered the Heat was this: If LeBron had let Riley know sooner, Riley could have made a legitimate run at Carmelo Anthony, Marcin Gortat, Kyle Lowry and other free agents. Instead, most of the top names were off the board when James informed the Heat.
Inside the Heat, there is the belief that how James handled this was driven by the desire to do what helped him best from a PR standpoint. The universally-praised SI essay achieved that.
There was also the issue of how James treated Riley during free agency. Riley said James never returned his calls and e-mails. Couldn’t James have told Riley something, anything?
There are also questions inside the Heat about whether power played a role in LeBron’s departure. As one Heat employee said, Cleveland gave him everything he wanted.
The Heat didn't give LeBron’s entourage as many season-tickets as he sought (as ESPN has reported) or attractive seats across from the Heat bench or the extent of personnel control that Cleveland granted by allowing him to dictate roster moves (James Jones, Mike Miller, etc.).
And according to a league (non-Heat) source, when the Heat tried to hire Randy Mims, LeBron’s personal assistant, after James signed with the Heat, the Cavaliers complained to the league, claiming it was a circumvention of the salary cap, and thus torpedoing the hire.
So it’s ironic that Cleveland hired Mims this season as an “executive administrator/player programs and logistics.”
Riley told Le Batard that he asked LeBron if there was anything the Heat could have done differently. "He told me personally no," Riley said, adding that when James informed him of his decision, it "devastated me."
For James’ former teammates, there appear to be only positive feelings. James told Cleveland media on Tuesday that he has talked to Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem throughout the season.
“It’s all love,” Haslem said Tuesday of their relationship, adding that he texted James in October when his wife had their third child and again on Thanksgiving. Haslem said he hopes the reaction of Heat fans on Thursday “will be classy and people will be appreciative.”
### Ticket of America’s Michael Lipman said he sold four courtside seats for Thursday’s game for $15,000 apiece ($60,000 total) --- two to a doctor and two to a rapper. He believes that’s the Heat’s highest price ever for a regular season game.
### Dolphins owner Stephen Ross decided to keep Joe Philbin because he likes the work Philbin has done and also values continuity. But Ross told me he also likes the progress Ryan Tannehill has made under Philbin and Bill Lazor and didn’t want to disrupt that.
Tannehill enters the final weekend 15th in passer rating, fifth in completions, sixth in completion percentage, 11th in yards and 12th in touchdowns (26, compared with 12 picks).
### Factoring in $7.9 million of unused carryover space, the Dolphins will enter the offseason about $6 million below the projected $140 million cap.
And they would have $30 million in cap space if they release Dannell Ellerbe ($5.6 million savings), Cortland Finnegan ($5.5 million), Randy Starks ($5 million), Brandon Gibson ($3.2 million), Shelley Smith ($2.8 million) and Nate Garner ($1.6 million).
That, perhaps with a couple of other restructurings, would create enough space to re-sign Charles Clay and add quality free agents at defensive tackle, cornerback, safety and guard. FYI: Brian Hartline’s cap saving would be $3.1 million if he’s cut.
### Left tackle Branden Albert, recovering from major knee surgery, said Monday he remains hopeful he will be ready for the start of training camp but has no firm timetable.
### UM offensive coordinator James Coley said "it's crazy" that receiver Stacy Coley has only 19 catches for 153 yards and no touchdowns after producing 33 for 591 and seven touchdowns as a freshman.
Receivers coach Brennan Carroll said one factor in Coley’s falloff is that he missed some time last offseason for dental work, which put him behind.
But “what I’m encouraged about is he’s taken under control what needs to be fixed,” Carroll said. “He’s got a great desire to be good. He’s ready to be a great receiver for us.”
### Athletic director Blake James said the first five games for 2015 are set: Bethune Cookman (Saturday before Labor Day), at FAU, Nebraska, ACC opponent TBD and at Cincinnati.
### The Marlins filled the only open spot on their 40-man roster by claiming right-handed reliever Preston Claiborne offer waivers from the Yankees. He's 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 62 games and 71 innings in his Yankees career. If the Marlins want to add more players to major-league contracts, they'll need to clear a spot on their 40-man. They're looking for a fourth outfielder.
### Please see the last post from Tuesday afternoon for Dolphins roster and NFL TV news.