WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Asking and answering:
### What seven-time Pro Bowler had interest in joining the Dolphins this offseason but never received a phone call from them?
Andre Johnson, the former All-Pro receiver who attended Miami High and UM.
Playing for the Dolphins “was something I thought about,” Johnson told me at the recent UM Hall of Fame fishing tournament in Islamorada. “I always had a dream of playing at home. I was a huge Dolphins fan. But they never called.”
Even though playing here appealed to him, Johnson said he's not angry with the Dolphins because “I understand the business side. I have a good situation” in Indianapolis, which signed him for three years and $21 million.
Johnson, 33, caught 85 passes for 936 yards for Houston last season after catching 109 for 1407 the previous year --- despite not having a great quarterback. His six receptions per game is best in NFL history and his 85 receiving yards per game is second-highest ever.
If Miami had signed him instead of Greg Jennings, it would have had one of the NFL’s best receiver groups: Johnson, DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills.
But on the flip side, Miami also would have $5 million less in cap space. Johnson’s cap hit is $7.5 million, Jennings’ $2.5 million. Miami has $11 million in space, says the NFLPA web site, though that seems a bit high.
### What’s going on with the Heat’s search for a shooter?
Miami really likes free agent guard Marcus Thornton, 28, who appears to be the most realistic and logical option because he has starting experience (126 games), is a proven scorer (12.7 per game career average) and three-point shooter (37.8 percent last season), has good size (6-4) and isn't too old (28) and also because the Heat is reluctant to use its $3.4 million midlevel exception because it doesn't want to add to its potentially large tax bill. Signing players to the league minimum results in a far lower tax hit.
The Heat spoke with the agent for Wesley Johnson, but he agreed to a minimum deal with the Clippers today. Alan Anderson, who took one year at $4 million from Washington today, wanted more than Miami has available. Gerald Green remains an option but money would be an issue if he holds out for a full mid-level from somebody.
Former Heat forward Dorell Wright, 29, is on Miami’s radar. A career 36.5 percent three-point shooter, he told WQAM-560 there’s a “great chance of me returning to Miami” and “if that opportunity came up again, it would be good for myself and my family." If Miami decides to sign him, it would be for nothing more than the minimum.
Despite expressing interest, Miami ultimately couldn’t afford Lou Williams (three years, $21 million with the Lakers) and Marco Bellinelli (three years, $19 million with the Kings). The Heat also has inquired about a trade for Jamal Crawford, but the Clippers reportedly aren't shopping him.
### What’s the word from the first three games of Heat summer league in Orlando?
Justise Winslow needs to work on his jumper and mid-range game (he’s 12 for 33 from the field), but his versatility has impressed: He can get to the basket off the dribble, finish at the rim (at least without NBA-quality rim deterrents), get to the free throw line, defend with verve, handle the ball deftly and has good instincts. It’s no coincidence the Heat has outscored three opponents by 37 with Winslow on the floor…
The 6-6 rookie Josh Richardson is long and an excellent defender and can play either guard spot, and though he’s shooting 7 for 22, he has a very good chance to unseat Henry Walker if they’re competing for one roster spot, which seems likely.… Journeyman center Willie Reed (12.3 points, 8 rebounds) has a modest chance to stick, but only if the Heat trades a veteran big man to trim salary. And even then, Miami could opt for a veteran at the league minimum unless Reed wows them…
With Mario Chalmers remaining on the trade block, backup point guard is a concern; Tyler Johnson’s ball-handling remains uneven (five assists, five turnovers) and Shabazz Napier hasn’t been healthy.... Miami was off Tuesday but plays the Clippers at 5 p.m. Wednesday on NBA TV.
### What returning under-the-radar UM players are coaches high on?
Start with linebacker Darrion Owens. According to his position coach, he was great this spring and leads Tyriq McCord in the battle for a starting job, alongside Raphael Kirby and Jermaine Grace.
“He’s a beast; can do it all, goes 100 miles per hour,” linebackers coach Hurlie Brown said recently. “He has no regard for safety.”
Among other under-the-radar players (non prominent ones) drawing praise internally: defensive end Trent Harris (has been leading in the race for the starting rush end job, though Al-Quadin Muhammad might overtake him), guards Alex Gall (likely starter) and Joe Brown, tight end Chris Herndon, and redshirt freshman David Njoku.
UM coaches believe Njoku will become a matchup nightmare at some point in his career (remains to be seen how soon) because of his combination of size (6-4) and speed and ability to play tight end, receiver and H-back.
### Though the Panthers have never threatened to leave, they also have said their lease agreement at BB&T Center is financially unsustainable and have asked for significant relief from Broward County. So what’s going on?
The Panthers’ bailout request, which met significant opposition from the Broward Commission, was supposed to be addressed by now. But it won’t be for several months, vice mayor Martin Kiar said. “I never would have voted for that,” Kiar added. (Other commissioners expressed similar sentiment to me last year.)
Rob Hernandez, deputy Broward County administrator, said a study is being done to determine if the arena is viable should the commission reject the bailout but instead allow the Panthers out of a lease that runs through 2028, something the team hasn’t asked for.
“Does that mean we want to keep them or let them leave [if they ask]? We’ll know shortly,” Hernandez said. “There’s still a lot of life and debt left in the building and we have to make sure it doesn’t become [obsolete] like the Silverdome [in Pontiac, Mich.].”
Last season, the Panthers had the league’s lowest TV ratings and worst home attendance (11,265). The Panthers said Tuesday that “nothing has changed at this time” regarding their arena wishes.
### Marlins reliever Carter Capps entered Tuesday with 44 strikeouts in 23 innings, or 17.2 per nine innings. How good is that in recent history?
It would be second-best in the past decade. Topping the list, according to our friends at Elias, is the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, who averaged 17.67 per nine in 2014. Next up: then Braves, and now Padres, closer Craig Kimbrel at 16.6 in 2012.
Capps leads all pitchers in strikeouts-per-nine innings this season, with Chapman No. 2.
But after Steve Cishek loaded the bases, Capps allowed a three-run single (you read that right) that delivered the winning runs in a 4-3 Boston win tonight.
### The Dolphins were represented among 26 team present today for a workout by Clemson offensive tackle Isaiah Battle, considered the best prospect in Thursday's NFL supplemental draft.
A team might use a mid-to-late round pick on him.
The Dolphins appear content with Jason Fox as their No. 3 tackle but will do their due diligence before every player procurement process.
Dennis Hickey has said he expects Branden Albert to be ready for the season opener, but nobody is certain.
### Goran Dragic's camp had been clear that it anticipated a Heat deal for at least $90 million, and the Heat was ready to pay that to Dragic if it needed to do that to keep him.
So it's admirable that Dragic went to the Heat and offered to give them flexibility and ultimately sacrificed money in accepting a five-year deal for just over $85 million.
An associate of Dragic said Dragic sacrificed because he wants to win, wants to play with Dwyane Wade and also knows that he will make more here than he would have for the Knicks and Lakers because of the lack of a state income tax in Florida.