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Heat has options but difficult choice if it lands 10th pick; Behind-the-scenes on La'el Collins and how close Dolphins came to getting him; Fins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

The Heat has less than two weeks to sweat out what awaits in the May 19 NBA Draft lottery, when Miami has an 87 percent chance to snag the 10th pick, a four percent chance to procure a top three selection and a nine percent chance to have no draft choice at all.

As most of you know, if the Heat's pick falls below 10, Philadelphia gets it.

As the Heat travels the globe evaluating prospects --- in Europe a week ago and Chicago this coming week --- a few things have become clear:

### If Miami ends up selecting at No. 10, there should be several skilled wing players available, but few elite shooters.

### A wing player might not necessarily be the highest-ranked player on the board at No. 10, with several power rotation players projected to go from the mid lottery through the late teens: Kentucky center Willie Cauley Stein, Latvian power forward Kristaps Porzingis (both are projected to go higher than 10), and power forwards Trey Lyles (Kentucky), Myles Turner (Texas), Kevon Looney (UCLA; some have him falling into the 20s); Bobby Portis (Arkansas) and Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky.

Miami is in good shape with its power rotation but needs at least one more wing player with three-point range, one who can be developed behind Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng.

The Heat likely would love to add Duke 6-6 small forward Justise Winslow, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds, shot 48.6 percent overall and 41.8 percent on threes (46 for 110).

“Blessed with an elite NBA body and athleticism and plays with a crazy motor every second he's on the floor,” ESPN’s Chad Ford said.

But Ford has him going seventh in his mock draft and an Eastern Conference scout said there’s no way Winslow would fall to No. 10.

The scout also said he doubts FC Barcelona 6-8 swingman Mario Hezonja would last to No. 10, either. Pat Riley recently was in Spain scouting Hezonja, a skilled three-point shooter who also is adept at attacking the rim.

So if both are gone at 10, that would potentially leave these wing options: small forwards Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Kelly Oubre (Kansas) and Sam Dekker (Wisconsin) and shooting guards R.J. Hunter (Georgia State) and Devin Booker (Kentucky).

Among that group, “Oubre has the most upside, Booker the sweetest stroke, and Hunter might be the most prepared to come in and contribute right now,” Ford said.

But some evaluators believe Oubre, despite his athleticism, should be picked in the 20s --- not the lottery --- after one inconsistent season at Kansas (9.3 points, 44 percent shooting, 35.3 percent on threes).

Ford, in his mock draft, has Miami selecting Arizona’s Johnson, who averaged 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot 44.6 percent overall and 37.1 percent on threes (43 for 116). Johnson is very good driving to the basket but needs to work on his stroke.

"He's one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft, can play the two and three, and he's a fierce competitor,” Ford said. “He can back up both Wade and Deng if they come back or take a starting role if one of them decides to leave.”

But Ford has started to second-guess his pick for Miami and now says he might instead take Dekker, who shot 52.5 percent overall last season but just 33.1 percent on threes, down from 39.1 percent three years ago.

"Dekker is bigger, he's a better athlete, and when freed a bit from the constraints of Wisconsin's system, I think Dekker blows up," Ford said on ESPN.com. "He, too, is ready to play right now in the NBA and I think there's a swagger to him that Pat Riley will appreciate. I'd love to see [Johnson and Dekker] go head-to-head in workouts, but if I was drafting today, I think I'd take Dekker over Johnson and I think, in five years, I'd be right."

Booker, who made 41.1 percent of his threes in his one season at Kentucky, “might be the best shooter in the draft,” said Ford, who has him going 17th in his mock.

The 6-6 Hunter averaged 19.7 points but his three-point shooting plunged from 39.5 percent two seasons ago to 30.5 last season.

The NBA scout told me if Miami is picking 10th and Winslow and Hezonja are off the board, “I would take Booker at 10” among the other wing players, “then Johnson, then Oubre. Booker is the best shooter of those five [Booker, Johnson, Oubre, Dekker, Hunter].

"Johnson has an unbelievable physique and he can create his own shot but he’s a little overrated. Hunter’s shooting last season concerns me.”

With the way Riley values experienced players, trading the No. 10 pick isn’t out of the question, though having a top prospect at a low cap number has considerable value.

And what if the Heat surprisingly lands a top three pick?

Duke center Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky power forward Carl Anthony Towns are expected to go 1-2 in some order, with the third pick potentially Ohio State point guard DeAngelo Russell or combo guard Emmanuel Mudiay, a former Dallas prep star who opted to play in China instead of college.

And if Miami gets leapfrogged by any of the teams seeded 11th to 14th in the lottery, then it will sit out the first round and bemoan its misfortune. The Heat does have a second-round pick, 40th overall.

BEHIND THE SCENES ON LA'EL COLLINS

So how close were the Dolphins to landing coveted offensive lineman La’el Collins?

Tantalizingly so.

Agent Deryk Gilmore told me that Collins said at one point last week that he thought he would like to be a Dolphin, and that Collins had narrowed his choices to Miami and Dallas.

“I thought I would be coming to Miami for games this season,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore said even though no flight was booked, he and Collins intended to fly to Miami at around 3 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, with "the intent to sign" if he liked it here, before Collins told him at 10:45 a.m. Thursday that Dallas “is where I need to be.”

Among the deciding factors: Collins was immensely impressed with the Cowboys during his visit to Jerry Jones’ home on Wednesday night, and Collins has family in Dallas and Houston.

Before visiting Jones' home for dinner, Collins felt he knew the Cowboys from a football standpoint but needed to get to know them more as people.

So Collins, accompanied by his mother, broke bread with Jones, Jason Garrett, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, three Pro Bowl offensive linemen and Dallas' offensive line coach. Jones had set the stage for the visit by calling Collins directly the previous day.

The call and the visit had a profound effect on Collins. 

“Those are guys who have been faced with challenges throughout life,” Collins said of the Cowboys. “I fit right in with those guys. So, when I take the field with those guys and this team, I fit right in."

Gilmore said: "He felt, 'I can win a Super Bowl here, and it could be one of the greatest offensive lines in history.'"

In retrospect, Gilmore said there’s nothing the Dolphins could have done differently.

The Dallas/Miami contracts were identical, and the fact Miami could offer him only a guard spot, not a job at tackle, wasn’t a deciding factor, even though Gilmore said Collins' preference longterm is to play tackle.

Dallas also might play him at guard initially, Gilmore said.

“He felt great about playing between Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert,” Gilmore said. “The Dolphins should be commended for how hard they fought. Miami was pulling out all the stops.”

That included e-mailing a video with Dan Marino and other Dolphins officials making a personal appeal for Collins to sign; a call from Stephen Ross to Collins’ agent; and a visit by four Dolphins players (Jarvis Landry, Kelvin Sheppard, Mike Pouncey and Anthony Johnson) to meet with him on Tuesday in Baton Rouge.

“The players coming was huge,” Gilmore said. “The players chartered the flight on their own.”

Gilmore did an outstanding job making the best of a difficult and unprecedented situation, one in which a projected first-round pick went undrafted because he was loosely linked to a murder investigation, though police always said he wasn't a suspect.

By telling teams Collins wouldn't sign if drafted after the third round, Gilmore and co-agent Darren Jones made it possible for Collins to pick his own team.

Gilmore said 29 teams expressed interest in Collins and that he and three other agents at Priority Sports were involved in the process of determining which were the best fits to present to Collins.

Numerous factors were considered, including cost of living, which teams had strong offensive lines, which teams had quarterbacks who could get the ball out quickly, among other considerations.

Initially, Gilmore and his colleagues split the most appealing teams into two lists of eight.

Collins was asked to rank them from a lifestyle standpoint, and the agents ranked them in the other areas that were important criteria.

One of the Priority Sports agents informed each team the exact financial terms that Collins would accept, which was the most an undrafted free agent could be paid (three years, $1.6 million).

The list of contenders was whittled to six; Gilmore declined to disclose the four besides Miami and Dallas, though those two were ultimately the finalists.

Gilmore asked Collins which of those six he would like to speak with via Skype. But Collins prefered visits and wanted to take only two: Miami and Dallas.

Though he visited the Dolphins before the draft, he ultimately never made it back to South Florida a second time. In the end, Jones and the Cowboys made a lasting impression.

"It was two great organizations, two great owners," said Gilmore, who credited Dolphins president/football operations Mike Tannenbaum, his former colleague at Priority Sports, for helping push Miami to the upper tier of contenders.

"Mike was extremely influential getting them to the forefront," said Gilmore, who predicted the Dolphins will be very successful luring high-end free agents under Tannenbaum's guidance. (They already have with Ndamukong Suh.)

"Mike worked so hard at this. I felt I let him down," Gilmore said. "The Dolphins are a class act. Stephen Ross is a class act."

But this was ultimately Collins' decision, one he made after sleeping on it Wednesday night.

"He was thinking maybe Miami and then he woke up Thursday and felt like '[Dallas] is where I need to be,'" Gilmore said.

DOLPHINS CHATTER

### Former UM basketball player Joe Thomas, who tried out for the Dolphins as a defensive end the past two days, said he hadn’t played football since Pop Warner, before high school, and hadn’t even met or worked out for the Dolphins before this weekend.

About a month ago, he told a graduate assistant on the UM basketball staff that he wanted to try football, and that assistant and an agent began contacting NFL teams.

The 6-7, 245-pound Thomas, who transferred from Niagara to UM last summer, said the Dolphins were the only team to show interest in auditioning him and his invitation to rookie minicamp surprised him.

He chose to play defensive end “because it feels the most natural, like when you’re going up for a rebound.”

He said he didn’t play football in high school because “I didn’t have time. But I’ve always loved football.”

Another former UM basketball player, Rafael Akpejiori, tried out at tight end this weekend but dropped at least two passes. He was on the UM football team last season but said he didn’t play in a game because he wasn’t eligible, something UM never disclosed.

### While Akpejiori struggled, Tim Semisch, a 6-7 tight end from Northern Illinois, made a couple of impressive receptions. The Dolphins have discussed signing him to a contract.

### Asked who has stood out in rookie minicamp, Joe Philbin mentioned undrafted Colorado State running back Dee Hart, who attended on a tryout basis. “He is really doing some good things,” Philbin said…. Tennessee running back Marlin Lane also showed good speed after catching a ball in the flat.

### Penn State rookie linebacker Mike Hull picked off a pass from Chase Rettig on Saturday and had some good moments this weekend. Penn State coach James Franklin said it was a “travesty” that Hull wasn’t drafted.

### Dolphins linebacker Chris McCain, commenting on Twitter tonight about the Patriots: "Pretty sure the deflatriots thought about deflating the footballs after that week one @$$ whooping. Super Bowl should be stripped."

Incidentally, Philbin said McCain has been working at linebacker this offseason. McCain said he split practice snaps between linebacker and defensive end last season.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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