FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
As the Heat tonight pursues a long shot bid for free agent star forward LaMarcus Aldridge (which would very likely require a sign-and-trade), the Heat has reached out to a few skilled veteran three-point shooters, including Marco Bellinelli and Marcus Thornton, according to a Heat source.
But there are two complications, both involving money:
Because Dwyane Wade's one-year, $20 million deal puts the Heat well above the luxury tax threshold, the Heat will be limited to a $3.4 million taxpayer’s midlevel exception and isn’t sure if it will spend all, part or any of it. That’s still being discussed internally and owner Micky Arison will make that decision.
And to keep alive Aldridge and other attractive options, Miami cannot use the $3.4 million at this point for this critical reason: A team cannot receive a player in sign-and-trade if it has used its taxpayer's midlevel exception, according to cap expert Larry Coon's incredibly detailed cap thesis.
The Heat has 14 veterans under contract --- 11 of those are fully guaranteed, and those 14 do not include draft picks Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson --- and Miami has been trying to trade players (Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen are among those available) primarily to reduce its tax burden, with the intention of replacing them with cheaper ones.
Several of those players would be moved to Portland if Aldridge surprisingly chose the Heat over six other suitors.
According to a Heat official, Thornton and Bellinelli are among a very select group of shooters that interest Miami.
The Heat and free agent guard Lou Williams (the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year) have mutual interest, according to someone with direct knowledge, but this would require a sign-and-trade with Toronto because Williams will command more than the taxpayer’s midlevel.
Other teams also are interested in Williams, who averaged 15.5 points last season, and I have no indication of any ongoing sign-and-trade discussions on this front.
Bellinelli, a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter, appeals to Miami but likely will command more than the taxpayer’s midlevel. [FRIDAY 2:30 p.m. UPDATE: Sacramento is signing Bellinelli to a 3-yr, $19 million deal --- more than Miami had available.]
The 6-4 Thornton, originally drafted by the Heat 43rd overall in 2009 but immediately traded to New Orleans, could be more realistic. He has averaged 12.7 points and shot 36.2 percent on three-pointers in a six-year career. Last season, he averaged 7.9 points and shot 37.8 percent on threes for Boston and Phoenix.
There are a handful of other guards that would be bench upgrades: Jason Terry, Gary Neal, Wesley Johnson, Alan Anderson and Rodney Stuckey, but all could command more than the minimum, and Miami hasn’t decided if it will pay more than that.
J.J. Barea has been mentioned as a possibility, but NBA.com backed off a report calling Miami the front-runner. (We’ve been cautioned that he’s considering several teams.) As of Wednesday, the Heat hadn’t reached out to several free agent Heat alums: Caron Butler, Rasual Butler or James Jones....We like Lakers free agent Wayne Ellington, but the Heat as of Wednesday night had not pursued that.
### Please see the last post for details on how Miami could accommodate Aldridge within restraints of the salary cap, and a bit on Wade's new deal.
According to an official who has spoken to the team, the Marlins are open to dealing pitchers Mat Latos and Dan Haren, two impending free agents, but that could change if the Marlins build on this modest win streak and start reeling off victories. They’re also willing to move reliever Steve Cishek, who likely won’t be tendered this winter.
But at this point, they’re not looking to deal third baseman Martin Prado (who’s under contract through 2016).
### The Marlins reach the halfway point of this dreadfully disappointing season on Friday, and the question remains: How can a team with a credible player at every position, a team widely predicted to be a playoff contender, be languishing 12 games below .500 and with the third-fewest wins in baseball?
“There was no overestimation [of talent],” Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson insists. “We’ve underachieved.”
Marlins consultant Jack McKeon said he feels empathy for owner Jeffrey Loria because: “He's done the right things, but like a manager, you can make the right moves and the guys don’t execute. This should be a winning team.”
The odd thing about the Marlins’ train wreck is that three of their five big offseason moves were enlightened in retrospect: the Dee Gordon and Prado trades and acquiring two pitching prospects for Casey McGehee, who’s hitting .213 and was designated for assignment by San Francisco this week.
Injuries (to Henderson Alvarez, Prado, Michael Morse and now Giancarlo Stanton) and Jose Fernandez’s three-month absence shouldn’t be underestimated.
Beyond key injuries, there have been a half-dozen developments the Marlins front office never saw coming:
### How weak this team is in the clutch (Justin Bour’s Wednesday heroics aside).
The Marlins squandered a bases-loaded, no-out situation opening day, and it was a harbinger. The fact the Marlins are hitting .255 (14th in the league) is misleading. Here’s how they rank in clutch spots: 26th with runners is scoring position (.227), 23rd with runners in scoring position and two outs (.200) and 28th with the bases loaded (.194).
“We have a chance to put a team away and it’s just not there,” Dawson said. “You keep shaking your head, waiting for it to happen.”
### Marcell Ozuna’s power outage.
He had 23 homers and 85 RBI last season but is on pace for eight and 52.
“His makeup is he’s an aggressive hitter, but he’s gotten away from that to focus on getting on base more,” Dawson said. “He has to be himself. He’s a 25 home run guy and can drive in 85-90 runs, but that comes with aggression. I’ve talked to him.”
### Christian Yelich’s decline.
ESPN analyst/former Nationals GM Jim Bowden and Dawson say Yelich has what it takes to win a batting title. So how do you explain the .251 average, after hitting .288 and .284 his first two seasons?
“Sometimes he has a tendency to get down on himself,” Dawson said. “He’s a patient guy and likes to get into a hitter’s count.” But sometimes to his detriment.
He’s hitting .287 in June, which is very encouraging.
It’s notable that 72 percent of Yelich’s balls in play this season have been ground balls –-- among the most for any left fielder, and there’s some luck involved here, because he’s not finding a lot of holes. But because he’s not hitting a lot of fly balls, only 12 percent of his batted balls are line drives, among the worst in baseball.
### Mat Latos’ ERA swelling to 5.27, 10th-worst in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify. This, after five seasons in which he had an ERA of 3.50 or lower (one of only five starting pitchers to do that).
His fastball velocity has increased slightly, to 91.2 MPH, from a year ago, when he had a 3.25 ERA. But he’s giving up far more line drives: 28 percent of balls hit, compared with between 15 and 22 percent each of his first six seasons.
“Location is his problem," a National League scout said. “He thinks just throwing hard is the answer and it’s not the answer. Good hitters hit good fastballs. The worst thing that could happen to him was being traded back home.”
### Steve Cishek blowing as many saves in seven chances (four) as he did in 43 last season.
### What a mess first base has been, aside from the last two days. Between Morse and Bour, Marlins first basemen entered Thursday with the 25th-lowest average in baseball (.228) and second-fewest RBI (31).
Though Bour and Derek Dietrich can play first, the Marlins desperately need Morse to rebound in the final 1 ½ years of his two-year, $16 million deal, because there’s no top first-base prospect in their system. The good news: After hitting .215 in 2013, Morse rebounded to bat .279 in 2014 for the Giants.
### Among the feedback we've heard from Dolphins players: There's definitely concern about the situation at guard, where nobody has seized a position (though rookie Jamil Douglas has had some good moments); optimism about the secondary even beyond Brent Grimes (Jamar Taylor, Brice McCain were solid in May/June practices and Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett flashed); and praise for how linebacker Chris McCain has handled his increased responsibilities.
Also, lots of positive feedback from players on the Dolphins' receivers beyond the top four -- some believe Rishard Matthews would thrive if he had a larger role and players are impressed with some receivers who likely aren't going to make this team, such as Michael Preston.