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Heat notes (Joe Johnson, plan for Whiteside, Deng); Riley's Thursday comments; and Marlins' battle for rotation spots

Some Thursday afternoon news:    

### The Heat, Cleveland, and Atlanta are receiving heavy consideration from Joe Johnson, who was waived by the Nets today, according to NBA writer Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops. Boston and OKC are close behind those top three, Scotto reported.

As Ethan has reported, Dwyane Wade plans to lobby Johnson to join the Heat.

Pat Riley already has said the Heat doesn't plan to sign a player until the range of March 10 because of luxury tax considerations, and it remains to be seen if Johnson (who doesn't need an extra two weeks of paychecks) would be willing to wait.

Asked tonight whether he needs to rethink signing a player before March 10, Riley said: "We have to really wait and discuss that. Players have to clear waivers. Once they clear waivers, we'll get in touch with their agents and we'll have them prioritized."

Asked whether signing someone becomes a priority in the wake of Beno Udrih's injury, Riley said: "We are going to have to wait. Being down another point guard, we may have to rethink that, but right now, that's not the priority."

(Riley made those comments to several reporters, including our intern Aric DiLalla, at a Heat charity gala.)

To avoid going back over the tax threshold, the Heat would need to offer Johnson no more than a minimum deal, and wait for another couple of weeks.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer previously reported that Johnson will sign with the Cavs, while several others have said the Cavs are confident they will land him. The Hawks, where Johnson spent seven seasons earlier in his career, are reportedly making a big push.

The 6-7 Johnson, 34, averaged 11.8 points and shot 40.6 percent overall and 37.1 percent on threes in 57 games (all starts) this season for Brooklyn.

To be playoff eligible, players must be released by March 1, but can sign with a new team any time before the end of the regular season.

### Riley declined to comment on Chris Bosh's health or whether he might play this season. "I'm not going to make any comment on that; I'm not a doctor," he said.

Regarding Bosh, Riley said: "They are continuing to find ways and explore options."

### Point guard Andre Miller also is now available for Miami to consider, but he’s just a 21.7 percent career three-point shooter.

### Hassan Whiteside said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra informed him that “coming off the bench is not long term.”

With 65 points and 54 rebounds in the past three games, Whiteside is the first player since Charles Barkley in 1986 to produce at least 60 and 50 in three games in a row off the bench.

And teammates are as happy with him as they have ever been. He’s “very focused, not caring about anything but being dominant,” Wade said. “Playing like a monster out there… We would love to get that Hassan every night… He’s crushing people [on screens].”

### Luol Deng, who had only one double-figure rebounding game before the All-Star break, has 11, 10, 16 and 11 in four starts at power forwards since then, while averaging 22.3 points in those games.

With Deng at power forward, he said friends on “Atlanta and the Wizards said how fast we played, that it took them off guard.”

 

MARLINS CHATTER

Unable to afford another quality veteran pitcher to augment their rotation, the Marlins at least have some intriguing options internally: two promising young left-handers and a veteran who appears to have righted himself after two disastrous years with the Cubs.

If Jarred Cosart pitches very effectively this spring, as the Marlins hope, he would project as the team’s fourth starter, behind Jose Fernandez, Wei-Yin Chen and Tom Koehler.

That would leave right-hander Edwin Jackson and young lefties Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino as the top options for the fifth spot. Two could stick if Cosart struggles, with David Phelps among others also being given a chance to earn a rotation spot.

Jackson, 32, bombed for the Cubs after signing a four-year, $52 million contract before the 2013 season. He led the National League with 18 losses in 2013, was third with 15 more losses in 2014 and won only 14 games over those two seasons, while allowing an absurd 487 base-runners in 316 innings and producing a bloated 5.60 earned-run average.

But a move to the bullpen rejuvenated him. He pitched well in relief for the Cubs last season (2-1, 3.19) before being released in July, then went 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA for the Braves out of the bullpen. The Marlins signed him at the minimum in January, with the Cubs paying all but $500,000 of the $12 million he’s owed in 2016.

Despite thriving in the bullpen, “I still look at myself as a starter,” Jackson said. “There’s still something I want to prove to myself, not to anyone else. Wherever I am [starting or relief], I will be the best I can be. [But] my mind frame is breaking the rotation.”

Of his disastrous Cubs experience, Jackson said: “Anything that could happen did happen. It’s how you respond. I pitched well enough to be in the rotation [last year]. I would pitch once every eight, nine days last year and didn’t complain.”

After allowing opponents to hit .281 and .302 against him in 2013 and 2014, Jackson limited batters to a .218 average last season, including .167 in 24 innings with the Braves to close the season.

He attributes his improvement to being “in a better rhythm. It was more rhythm than mechanics.”

Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill said Jackson’s “stuff hasn’t diminished at all.” The team believes pitching coach Juan Nieves and roving pitching guru Jim Benedict can extract more from him.

One thing Jackson isn’t lacking: body art. He has a dozen tattoos, each reflecting “where I was in my life and how I felt” at the time.

Last offseason, he had a famous Martin Luther King quote tattooed on his side: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

If Jackson wins a starting spot, he likely would need to hold off two talented second-year players.

Among the Marlins’ pitching prospects, Conley, 25, was the most impressive last season, finishing 4-1 with a 3.76 ERA, with 59 strikeouts in 67 innings, and allowing no more than three earned runs in any of his final eight starts.

The former second-round pick out of Washington State went 34-21 with 3.52 in 3 ½ minor league seasons.

“I’ve shown I can get major-league hitters out,” he said at the end of last season.

The key for Conley “is my hand speed and fastball arm slot, when batters think it’s a fastball and realize it’s not.” His fastball averaged 91.2 mph last season, and Conley tinkered with his delivery this offseason to try to generate more power.

That’s important, because 66 percent of Conley’s pitches were fastballs last season, compared with 19 percent changeups and 15 percent sliders.

Before last season, Conley never paid attention to how hard he was throwing.

“I look at the radar gun all the time now,” he said. “Jose Fernandez told me to look at the radar gun between pitches.” He said that helps him determine what he wants to throw next.

Nicolino, conversely, isn’t particularly worried about velocity. His fastball averaged just 88.7 mph last season, and he excels when he’s keeping hitters off balance by changing speeds. He had low strikeout numbers in the minors and just 23 in 74 innings last season.

“Nicolino is never going to be a strikeout guy,” said former Marlins manager and general manager Dan Jennings, who’s now with the Washington Nationals. “He’s going to be a pitch-to-contact guy, a location guy. Conley can strike people out with his slider.”

Nicolino’s overall numbers (5-4, 4.01 ERA in 12 starts) weren’t bad, but he had two poor September starts, allowing seven runs in one blowout loss and five in another.

“I don’t think we saw the best of Nicolino,” Hill said.

Nicolino said the key for him is throwing his “changeup off my fastball to both sides of the plate and not getting into a pattern. In my [poor] starts, there was more of a pattern.”

### Among the Marlins’ three new TV analysts (Eduardo Perez, Al Leiter, Preston Wilson), Perez will work the most games -- 70 to 80, he said. The Marlins and Fox say it's undetermined how many games Leiter will work; he has other commitments calling Yankees games for YES Network and doing studio work for MLB Network. Leiter and Wilson might work a comparable number of games, Fox says.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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