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Exploring Heat's chances of keeping lottery pick; Dolphins bring in more players; Marlins infield chatter

With the Heat tonight falling to 10th in the conference and a season-worst nine games below .500, the chances of Miami missing the playoffs seem more realistic than at any point this year.

And if that happens, there’s still a real chance --- though nothing close to a guarantee --- that the Heat could end up retaining a first-round pick that is supposed to be forwarded to Philadelphia.

The Heat’s first-round pick, which was originally sent to Cleveland in a LeBron James sign-and-trade and now belongs to the 76ers, is lottery-protected through the 10th pick this year.

The Heat ended tonight with the 10th-worst record in the league. But merely finishing with the 10th worst record doesn’t guarantee that the Heat will retain the pick.

The weighted NBA draft lottery, expected to be held during the conference finals in May, first establishes the top three picks. After that point, teams receive their pick in inverse order of record, with a 30-52 team picking ahead of a 35-47 team, for example, if neither landed a top three pick.

If the Heat finishes with the 10th worst record, it has an 87 percent chance of having the 10th pick. But if a non-playoff team with a better record than Miami should defy odds and land in the top three of the lottery, then the Heat would be pushed out of the top 10 and the pick would thus be forwarded to Philadelphia.

And regardless of Miami’s final record, it still has a chance – albeit a small one – of landing a top three pick, as long as the Heat misses the playoffs.

The Knicks, Philadelphia, Orlando, the Lakers, Denver, Sacramento and Minnesota will finish with a worse record than the Heat. That’s seven. Detroit probably will too.

The question is whether Miami will finish with a worse record than Charlotte, which is a half-game behind the Heat, or Boston, Brooklyn, Indiana or Utah.

But even if the Heat keeps the pick this year, it must eventually forward a first-round pick to Philadelphia in 2016 (when it’s again top 10 protected) or in 2017 (when it’s completely unprotected).


Besides being permitted to allow local players to visit and work out at their practice site, NFL teams also are allowed to bring 30 non-local draft prospects to their headquarters for visits (but not workouts). Some teams do not use all 30 of those visits.

The Dolphins don’t release the names of those visitors, but some names invariably leak.

And the Dolphins are using those visits on a mix of players --- some first-round possibilities, others who project as mid-round picks and some who might not be drafted at all.

Miami’s known visitors among non-local players:

### Potential first-round picks: receivers DeVante Parker (Louisville) and Breshad Perriman (UCF) and Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley.

### Potential second-round picks: Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, Utah cornerback/safety Eric Rowe and Auburn receiver Sammy Coates.

### Potential mid-round picks: Hobart offensive lineman Ali Marpet, who projects as an NFL guard; Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan and Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson.

### Potential late-round picks or free agents: Minnesota safety Cedric Thompson, Maryland defensive tackle Darius Kilgo and USC receiver George Farmer.

The names of a few other visitors might leak in the coming weeks. Walter Camp Football reported Washington State receiver Vince Mayle, a potential mid-rounder, visited the Dolphins but that was denied through the player.

### In the last blog, we reported what the Dolphins were willing to pay receiver Michael Crabtree, who visited the Dolphins nearly two weeks ago, and what kind of money Crabtree was looking for. The figures were shared by a source with intimate knowledge of the situation.

Contrary to my report and another published report, The Palm Beach Post subsequently reported today that the Dolphins and Crabtree have not discussed money at all.

A second involved source with direct knowledge of the talks between the Dolphins and Crabtree emphasized to me this afternoon that the Palm Beach Post report is inaccurate.

The Dolphins typically discuss salary parameters with players they think highly enough to bring in for visits, and Crabtree was no exception.

The Dolphins have left the door open on Crabtree and might re-engage his agent in discussions in the coming weeks, potentially after the draft. They also are considering Greg Jennings.

### Safety Antrel Rolle, who signed with Chicago, told WSVN Fox-7 that he never heard from the Dolphins in free agency. (Miami's priority was re-signing Louis Delmas.) "It would have been interesting to bring my talents back" to South Florida, Rolle said.


Owner Jeffrey Loria says the Marlins have baseball’s best outfield. But this is also significant: They no longer have one of the worst infields.

ESPN’s Buster Olney rated the top 10 infields and listed the Marlins among seven honorable mentions, which seems about right. They’ve upgraded at three positions, and the one incumbent starter, Adeiny Hechavarria, raised his average from .227 in 2013 to .276 last season (sixth among big-league starting shortstops) and showed the best range of any NL shortstop, according to baseballreference.com.

What can the Marlins expect from their new infielders? A few nuggets about each on the eve of opening day:

### Second baseman Dee Gordon: In 2013, after hitting .234 in 38 games for the Dodgers, Gordon was demoted to Triple A Albuquerque and had a request for hitting coach Franklin Stubbs: “Can you teach me how to hit and become an everyday player?”

Gordon changed “a little of everything,” won the Dodgers’ second base job last spring --- his first full season at that position -- hit .289 (fourth among all second basemen) and stole an MLB-high 64 bases in 83 attempts.

The next challenge: Boosting his .326 on-base average, third-lowest among 16 leadoff hitters (minimum 100 games).

“The Dodgers told me not to think about the on-base average,” Gordon said. “I try to walk more but these guys aren’t going to walk me. To walk, you need to get respect of the pitchers and that’s something I’m still trying to get.”

His 12 errors were third-most among second basemen, but the Marlins see upside defensively… The Dodgers are paying his $2.5 million salary and he’s under team control through 2018.

### Third baseman Martin Prado: This might surprise you: Only 25 active players and four active third baseman (minimum 3000 plate appearances) have a higher career batting average than Prado’s .291. The four: Miguel Cabrera (now a first baseman), Alex Rodriguez, David Wright and Pablo Sandoval.

Fredi Gonzalez, who managed him in Atlanta, told me he “loves” Prado, 31: “He brings a great dynamic to the clubhouse. Tough out. Puts the ball in play. Moves runners over. Very good defensively.”

His consistency appealed to the Marlins. Prado, who has two years left on his contract, hit between .282 and .307 each of the past seven seasons except 2011 (.260). The power has been somewhat modest: between 10 and 15 homers every season since 2009.

But the Marlins were willing to sacrifice power for a high average and decent run production (70, 82, 58 RBI the past three years). He pounds lefties (.366 last year, fifth-best in baseball). And “he’s a clutch player,” Marlins general manager Dan Jennings said.

### First baseman Michael Morse: Signed for two years and $16 million, Morse has been generally reliable: He batted between .279 and .301 each of the past five seasons except an injury-plagued 2013, when he hit .215. He hit 13 to 18 homers every year except 2011, when he blasted 31 for Washington.

And “all the parks I’ve played in have been big,” like MarlinsPark, Morse said.

Morse has played more outfield than first base (he has nine errors in 153 games at first since 2010) but said he prefers first base and has hit best when he’s at first.

“The one thing that has held him back is health,” manager Mike Redmond said. Morse has played more than 102 games just twice in the past five years. He said he hopes to finish his career here; he grew up in Fort Lauderdale and attended the Marlins’ first game in 2003.

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