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Heat seeking clarity at backup point guard

LAS VEGAS --- For the Heat, the starting point guard job stands as both a strength and source of stability.

But the job backing up Goran Dragic?

There’s nothing close to clarity there. In fact, it might be the most unsettled position on the roster.

Myriad candidates remain in the mix: Mario Chalmers (if the Heat fails in efforts to dump his contract), Shabazz Napier, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, or perhaps a player that’s not even on the roster.

Napier and Richardson are both expected to play when the Heat plays Denver at 8 p.m. Monday at Cox Pavilion (available live only on the Internet, with an NBA TV replay at 9 a.m. Tuesday).

There’s also the possibility that the Heat could go stretches without a natural point guard, because Erik Spoelstra has the option of using Dwyane Wade or Justise Winslow as a primarily ball-handler when Dragic is resting.

If Chalmers somehow makes it to training camp with the Heat, he would be the obvious choice to back up Dragic. But Miami appears intent on trying to purge the final year of his contract; his $4.3 million salary could result in a tax bill three times that amount, depending on the Heat’s final payroll number.

The Heat has time to move Chalmers, because a team’s tax bill is based on the roster on the final day of the regular season, an NBA spokesman said. But Miami appears interested in moving as soon as it can find a suitable deal, according to a league official who has spoken to the Heat.

As for the other options backing up Dragic:

### Napier: He has played with energy and delivered several crisp, creative passes since returning last week from April’s sports hernia surgery. But as was the case in Summer League last year, Napier has struggled so far with his shot. He was 2 for 11 Saturday against Utah.

Napier shot only 38.8 percent from the field last season and 36 percent on jumpers. But he said he doesn’t need to hire a shooting coach.

“The only way it can get better is if I keep shooting,” he said. “Get in the gym and shoot 500 shots a day. If you take a lot of shots every day, it is going to come for you.”

Napier’s 1.60 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked 87th of 97 point guards last season, but his ball-handling has been very good in Summer League (10 assists, three turnovers) and he has played with pace, something important considering the Heat’s desire to play faster.

He insists his confidence hasn’t been shaken by a disappointing rookie season.

“I don't need to prove it to myself,” he said. “I know I am going to be a good NBA player. I just need to continue to work on it.”

He said he doesn’t want to use the hernia injury as an excuse but that it did affect him last season.

## Richardson: The Heat has given him extensive work at both guard positions, and Richardson has been very good over the past two games, on both ends of the court. He had 18 points in the Orlando finale; 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in the Las Vegas opener Saturday.

“I feel perfect running the point,” he said. “I’m a versatile player.”

Though he has nine turnovers, compared with eight assists, overall in Summer League, he has just two turnovers in the past two games.

“I like the fact he played an entire season from that point position” at Tennessee last season, Spoelstra said. “We’ll develop that.”

The Heat drafted Richardson 40th overall, but the diverse skill set displayed in Summer League validates the fact Miami gave him a first-round grade, 24th overall on its draft board.

“He’s able to get us into offense,” said assistant Dan Craig, who’s coaching the Heat’s summer league team. “He does that without turning the ball over, which there’s a lot to be said about that.”

Richardson shot 38.1 percent in Orlando (16 for 42) but was 7 for 14 in the Heat's opener in Vegas. He’s 20 for 24 on free throws, and his defense --- aided by size (6-6), length and instincts --- is an appealing asset. He has six blocked shots in Summer League.

### Johnson: The Heat intended to give him extensive time at point guard this month, but that plan was aborted when he sustained a broken jaw in a midcourt collision in Miami’s fourth game in Orlando last Wednesday.

Johnson now awaits an Aug. 1 deadline at which point a large portion of his $845,000 salary would become guaranteed for next season.

Johnson had some good moments in Orlando but a few of the Heat’s young players stand at risk unless Miami can trade a veteran or two.

“My niche,” Johnson said, “is guarding up the floor, picking people up full court, just being a pest in that way and being able to knock down open shots when they’re available.” 

He feels comfortable enough to play either guard position but knows he must improve his assist-to-turnover ratio; he had seven assists and nine turnovers in Summer League and 42 assists and 30 turnovers last season.

### Justise Winslow is expected back tonight after missing two games because of general soreness. Check back later tonight for more Heat and Dolphins.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz