WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Legitimate questions swirl around this Heat roster; the 28 percent three-point shooting in preseason (third-worst in the league) hasn’t done anything to allay that concern, and there are still a lot of unknowns about how this starting unit will mesh, considering the lack of ideal spacing.
But among general managers, some opposing head coaches and network TV analysts, there’s considerable optimism.
Sampling opinion from each of those groups:
### GMs: In NBA.com’s annual general manager poll, released Tuesday, the Heat finished fourth in the East, behind Cleveland, Chicago and Atlanta, but ahead of No. 5 Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee.
Nobody predicted the Heat would win the East (Cleveland got 96.6 percent of the votes, Chicago the rest), but 13.8 percent of the GMs forecast the Heat to finish second, 20.7 percent picked Miami third and 31 percent fourth.
“All those GMs that picked those other teams ahead of us, I want to beat them,” Chris Bosh said.
Also, Miami finished fourth in the most improved category (10.7 percent), behind Oklahoma City (25), Milwaukee (17.9) and New Orleans (14.3).
### TV analysts: “They are as good healthy as anyone [in the East] except Cleveland,” ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy told me…
ESPN’s Jalen Rose e-mailed that he would rate the Heat third “behind the Cavs and Bulls. Hopefully, Dwyane [Wade] and LeBron [James] face off during the playoffs since neither has had an Eastern Conference rival.”…
TNT’s Reggie Miller told me Tuesday: “I could easily see this as a top four team. But if these guys are only on the court… for 50 to 65 games, I could see them barely scratching in to get to the playoffs. But talent wise, they’re a top four talent team. You don’t want to see them in a seven-game series… When you have a Pat Riley in your back pocket, and you’re trying to game plan in a seven-game series versus those two [Riley and Erik Spoelstra], advantage Miami.”
TNT’s Brent Barry: “I don’t know if they’re good [enough] to leapfrog… Toronto. There’s a lot of weight being put on the shoulders of Hassan Whiteside. He was a phenom last year. We had six months here to get him rounded into shape, be healthy and ready to go and that hasn’t happened. That’s got to be a little bit scary.
“On potential, you can say they’re a top four team, but I don’t know if they’re going to get the minutes or production of a team like Toronto, who has got themselves a little more together and was one win away from 50 last year and maybe is playing a little bit more hungry than what Miami is in the early part of the season.
“But [Miami] is a playoff matchup you don’t want to see. Bosh’s and Wade’s experience alone, the way Luol Deng can defend two positions, if Whiteside is healthy, that would be a very tough matchup for anybody come springtime.
“[Also], there’s way more consistency with Miami’s second unit this year with the way Mario Chalmers can play the backup point guard position. Gerald Green can get hot at any time. Amar’e Stoudemire… Josh McRoberts moves the ball around.”
### Opposing coaches: “They’re definitely a playoff team and I think they could be a top four team in the Eastern Conference,” Sacramento coach George Karl said. “They’ve done a good job with their roster. Their depth has gotten a lot better [with Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire]. Last year, I didn’t think they were a very strong team coming off the bench.”
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Miami should emerge as one of the top challengers behind Cleveland, presuming, as Hornacek said, that Bosh returns to form. “The East is very underrated,” Gentry said.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said that even before adding Green and Stoudemire, “Miami already was going to be good if they can stay healthy. The main thing is getting Bosh back. He’s obviously one of the best players in the league. They really improved themselves with the draft and free agency. Hopefully Bosh will be able to get back to where he was before the illness.”
As a primer on a busy offseason, here’s the Eastern landscape with the season starting in a week:
To be a four seed –-- obviously assuming Cleveland will be one --- Miami would have to jump two among five teams: Chicago (no major offseason pickups beyond rookie Bobby Portis); Toronto (lost Amir Johnson and Lou Williams; added DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola, Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joseph); Atlanta (lost Carroll; added Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway Jr.); Milwaukee (lost Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley but added Greg Monroe, Greivis Vasquez and welcomed back Jabari Parker from injury) and Washington (lost Paul Pierce but added Dudley, Gary Neal and Alan Anderson).
There’s also Charlotte (which added Nic Batum, Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb and Jeremy Lin but lost Lance Stephenson, Mo Williams, Biyombo and Gerald Henderson), Boston (added David Lee and Amir Johnson; lost Brandon Bass) and Indiana (lost David West, Roy Hibbert, CJ Watson and Scola; added Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill).
Brooklyn probably has regressed (lost Deron Williams, Mirza Telatovic, Mason Plumlee and Anderson; added Andrea Bargnani, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin).
But the rest of the others in the East added decent pieces. The Pistons snagged Ilyasova, Marcus Morris and Steve Blake (they lost Monroe and Caron Butler). The Knicks signed Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams. And Orlando and Philadelphia adding high draft picks (Mario Hezonja, Jahlil Okafor, respectively), with the Magic better positioned to compete for a bottom-tier playoff spot than the perpetually rebuilding 76ers.
### FYI: Mark Jones and Hubie Brown call Wizards-at-Heat for ESPN at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
### Cameron Wake’s snaps have plummeted (Derrick Shelby is now playing more than Wake), and though Wake’s hamstring injury has contributed to that, another factor is that Dolphins coaches like how Shelby has played against the run. Pro Football Focus rates Wake sixth-worst among defensive ends against the run.
According to sportingcharts.com, Wake – who has appeared in every game --- has played only 49.3 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps, ranking 371st among all defensive players and 50th among defensive ends. That’s way down from his 71.5 percent last season.
For perspective, Houston’s J.J. Watt leads d-ends by playing on 97.4 percent of his team's defensive snaps this season. Miami’s Olivier Vernon has played 60.2 percent of Miami's defensive snaps, and Shelby has played 55.4 percent.
Even if Wake remains hot after Sunday’s four-sack outburst, the question is whether the Dolphins will pay a part-time player the $8.3 million base salary Wake is owed next season. Wake’s cap hit would drop from $9.8 million to $1.4 million if he’s cut.
Most likely is an attempted restructuring with Wake. With Vernon and Shelby impending unrestricted free agents, there’s no position with tougher decisions for the Dolphins next offseason than defensive end.
### How could safety Jonathan Dowling go from being the first player mentioned in Dan Campbell’s post-game speech Sunday to being cut a day later?
We’re told the Dolphins like tight end Brandon Williams and received a tip that another team planned to claim him if Miami didn’t move him up from the practice squad. So Miami needed an opening on the 53-man roster for Williams. But the Dolphins signed Dowling to the practice squad tonight.
### The Dolphins internally discussed the merits of hiring former NFL coaches Greg Schiano and Mike Smith but decided against it and never contacted either. If they had been hired, it would have been as an assistant, not as defensive coordinator.
Schiano could emerge as one of numerous options for UM if Miami moves on from Al Golden.
### Rishard Matthews told Jim Rome today that even when Joe Philbin was here, Dan Campbell "was the guy they placed in front of us to speak to get us motivated and fired up for a game and any type of situation."
What does that say about Philbin? Sigh.
### A testament to Brad Kaaya’s decision-making: He’s one of only two quarterbacks in the country with at least 200 pass attempts but no more than one interception. He has one pick, 10 TD passes. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (no picks) is the other…. Please see my post from earlier Tuesday for a lot more UM nuggets.
### Add former Cubs manager Rick Renteria to the list of candidates who have spoken to the Marlins about their managerial job, according to a source. Renteria, who once played for the Marlins, was 73-89 in his one season as Cubs manager (2014) before being fired.
He joins Larry Bowa (two meetings), Manny Acta, Bo Porter, Phil Nevin and Alex Cora among others who have interviewed. The Marlins, in no rush to make a hire, have been waiting to see if the Dodgers fire Don Mattingly, who would be a strong candidate if available.