SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With the Heat reaching the season’s midway point this past week, we solicited views from two Eastern Conference scouts and three ABC/ESPN analysts. Some of the feedback:
### John Hollinger’s computer-driven formula gives the Heat a surprisingly low 42.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. But if Miami makes it, is there any first-round matchup it could win?
Doug Collins said “it would be interesting to see them” against Chicago and Toronto because both teams start “two bigs.” Conversely, “teams that play stretch fours are tough covers for Miami. Atlanta is a very tough matchup for them because they put shooters on the floor and your defense gets strung out. Miami really struggles with that [because] they’re not a real athletic team. Luol Deng has slowed down a bit; [Dwyane] Wade will pick his spots.”
Mark Jackson: “I would say the way they’re playing, no. Early on in the season, I thought they could be a good team that would be dangerous in the playoffs. Right now, they are not playing up to par. But this is a team that’s well coached, a world-class organization. They have quality players, so they have plenty of time to get it right where they can be dangerous.”
Jalen Rose: “I agree with Mark. One asterisk I would add is we know it’s about matchups. If I had to pick a team that they could possibly face in the first round and would really give them an issue, it would be the Toronto Raptors. Chris Bosh played for that team and Wade obviously has the championship pedigree. Going against that team in the first-round could be interesting, but not the way they’re playing right now.”
The two scouts very much doubted Miami could make it out of the first round. Said one of them: “They don’t have the talent Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington, Toronto and Chicago have. Those other teams are younger, more motivated, deeper, just better.”
### So is the Heat underachieving by not being anywhere close to a top-four seed?
Collins: “For Wade and Bosh to miss [a combined] 18 games and be where they are, I don’t think they’ve underachieved. They had some huge question marks coming in. And they don’t have the three-point shooting they had in the past.”
First scout: “Considering the injuries, they’ve underachieved but not significantly so. Losing Josh McRoberts was big; he was a big piece for them. Washington, Cleveland, Toronto, Atlanta, Chicago are much, much better and they all have outstanding point guard play. The Heat’s point guard play is awful."
With Hassan Whiteside now starting, "you look at Miami’s lack of punch off the bench --– you have mostly guys fading or reclamation projects. Not a lot of young, live legs besides James Ennis, who’s a borderline rotation player. And they’re not guarding people like they used to.”
### So why can Portland, which has two All-Stars (LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard) be so much better than the Heat, which also has two All-Stars?
“Nic Batum, [injured] Robin Lopez and Wes Matthews are much better than what the Heat has around Wade and Bosh, and Portland has shored up its bench,” one of the scouts said.
### On Hassan Whiteside: Collins: Besides the “rim protecting, his activity impresses me. He’s got a big upside.” If he keeps developing, “it would be huge for them. But he can’t get drunk on his own success. Now your name will be going on the board and people will talk about you in the other locker-room. Now you have to be even better.”
First scout: “We didn’t consider him because the book on him was he was very immature and unprofessional. Not a lot of teams would have given him a chance. But they’ve gotten the best out of him. You’ve got to give them credit.
“At the very least, he looks like a good backup. And he’s got starter’s talent. He can block shots, can rebound. Is [Toronto starting power forward] Amir Johnson more talented? No. He’s smaller, not the shot-blocker and rebounder this guy is. But let’s see where [Whiteside] is in five weeks.”
### On Luol Deng: Collins: “Luol can sometimes get lost because he’s so unselfish. He’s always moving without the ball. His efficiency is up and he's such a hard worker on defense.”
First scout: “Chicago would get him stuff with movement; they would post him up. They need to post him up more.” (Heat players were very effective in getting him the ball on the move on Friday.)
### On the point guards: Collins: “I don’t view [Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole] as a front-line point guard. Wade has actually become their point guard.”
What about Shabazz Napier? “I love winners; winning always translates,” Collins said. “That’s why I love Kemba Walker, and Shabazz was a lot like that. Napier is a little smaller. He will have to learn to play off screens, not get knocked off screens, and get them into offense. So teams don’t go under picks against him, he has to make midrange jump shots.”
First scout: “Cole has really hurt himself in a contract year. His warts are coming out. He’s not a good playmaker, a below average shooter. Chalmers is basically an undersized two who can occasionally make shots.”
Second scout: Cole and Chalmers “are backups, nothing more. LeBron masked their deficiencies to an extent. Napier was a big disappointment to me. He struggles with quickness and size, and when you don’t have exceptional quickness at his size, it’s a problem. He allows too many blow-bys. Bigger point guards will post him up. He’s not long. Similar to [Knicks and former UM guard] Shane Larkin.”
### On Danny Granger: First scout: “He can’t beat anybody off the dribble, so he better make jump shots.”
### On Chris Andersen: Second scout: “The Birdman of old impacted the game more. He benefited a lot from LeBron because he penetrated and passed for all those dunks Birdman would get. With two lousy point guards he’s going to have fewer eye-catching dunks.”
### Though the Dolphins have been non-committal with several players, they privately indicated they want to re-sign free agent tight end Charles Clay. An offer is expected in the coming weeks. Tight end is one position the Dolphins feel good about, with Clay and Dion Sims. In his final media availability, Bill Lazor was very complimentary about Sims' development.
### The Dolphins met last week with Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who very much intrigues them and would be in play if he’s still available with Miami’s 14th overall pick.
### An NFL official said there was a lot of buzz at the Senior Bowl last week about a couple of teams being interested in luring two of the Dolphins’ respected talented evaluators: director of college scouting Chris Grier and top national scout Adam Engroff, potentially as a package deal. Engroff has had a role in Miami's selection of several players in the West (Paul Soliai, Sean Smith, Rishard Matthews, former Hawaii standout Davone Bess, among others.)
The official said there's still uncertainty about who Mike Tannenbaum will keep, with several front-office contracts expiring in the coming months. (Dennis Hickey is obviously staying for at least the next year.) And Grier and Engroff are valued.
### Talks have stalled between the Marlins and left fielder Christian Yelich on a long-term deal --- a significant gap remains --– and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria also has declined the Marlins’ initial multiyear offer. Yelich isn’t a free agent until after 2019, Hechavarria after 2018. Both were interested in multiyear contracts but not at the money offered.
### Though Ichiro Suzuki's one-year contract with the Marlins calls for a base salary of $2 million, he can earn as much as $5 million total if he reaches certain thresholds with plate appearances, which
will be difficult to achieve barring injuries to a starting outfielder. If Ichiro somehow collected the entire $5 million, the Marlins' payroll would swell to $70 million.
### UM athletic director Blake James disputes any notion that Al Golden kept his job because of a large buyout (which is a substantial portion of the $10 million-plus left on his contract).
“Al is here because we believe in him as a coach,” said James, who remains in pursuit of a neutral site football game with UF (possibly in Orlando).
A UM trustee involved in athletics said the buyout is substantially lower after next season.
### At least three uncommitted players were scheduled to visit UM this weekend: three-star Los Angeles based defensive tackle Kevin Scott, Delray Beach Atlantic three-star defensive end Shelton Johnson (who reportedly leans toward FSU) and two-star Georgia-based quarterback Evan Shirreffs, who came to his visit without a UM offer but was hoping for one.
### Can't say enough about the improvement of UM center Tonye Jekiri, whose 13 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks helped UM win 66-62 at Syracuse today. He's now averaging 10.4 rebounds per game, which leads the ACC and ranks 14th in the country. UM is now 14-5 overall, 4-2 in the ACC.
### Sports business items: The Dolphins have a good chance to land the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowls (finalists are announced in May) and the Marlins have an excellent chance to get the 2017 All-Star Game….
David Beckham’s group has zeroed in on three to five sites in the greater downtown Miami area for an MLS stadium, with a site near Marlins Park still in the running. (UM hasn’t been contacted about a joint stadium in recent months.)
Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez said he hasn’t spoken to Beckham’s group in four or five months. “Downtown property is very expensive; we had a quarter of an acre sell for $125 million on the water [and Beckham] has to assemble 9 or 10,” Gimenez said.
“Not saying they’re all $125 million, [but] it's hard to assemble those pieces. They want it to be urban. They wanted [fans to be able to] march to the match. There are a few places that could happen. A site near Marlins Park would be adequate.”