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Vernon decision looming; Ross' notable comments today; Where Heat stands at All-Star break, with players weighing in; Heat/Dwight Howard trade report

For weeks, the Dolphins have suggested they want to keep free agent Olivier Vernon and that they value him. But that public appreciation hasn't yet morphed into serious contract talks.

According to a team source, Miami hasn't yet told Vernon how much it's willing to offer him. In fact, there have been no meaningful discussions between the parties.

But the NFL calendar will force the Dolphins' hand in the next two weeks.

Teams can use their franchise tag beginning Tuesday and until March 1, but no later.

If Vernon receives the franchise tag, that would result in a salary of about $15 million next season, an amount which would be reflected entirely on Miami's 2016 cap. It also would prevent him from hitting the free agent market March 9.

It's customary to engage in contract talks with a free agent before slapping the franchise tag on him. It's curious those talks haven't happened yet with Vernon, but there's still time for those conversations at next week's NFL Combine, when teams usually speak to agents.

Allowing Vernon, 25, to hit the free agent market would be risky, because teams are paying big dollars for young defensive ends with pass-rush skills.

Vernon is curious to see how this plays out. He said at the end of the season that while coming back to Miami would appeal to him, he isn't going to give the Dolphins a hometown discount.

The Dolphins have told people they believe Cam Wake is still a top defensive end, even after Achilles' surgery. But even with Wake, Miami would need to find another starting defensive end if it doesn't keep Vernon.

Pro Football Focus rates Vernon third among all impending free agents, behind Bears receiver Alshon Jeffrey and Broncos linebacker Von Miller.    

Here's PFF's assessment: "If you want an example of a player turning it on right before free agency, look no further than Olivier Vernon. Halfway through the season, Vernon looked like just one of many under-performers in Miami this season; that changed drastically in the second half. PFF’s second-highest graded overall edge defender in the regular season, Vernon earned positive game grades in each of the last eight weeks. Leading all 4-3 ends in QB hits, with 30, he would accumulate 24 of those in those final eight games, in addition to eight of his 10 sacks and 25 of his 41 hurries."

Vernon had 7.5 sacks last season and a career-high 61 tackles.

### Our Adam Beasley has a story on the home page that Miami "definitely" wants Lamar Miller back. 

### Via Jeff Ostrowsky the Palm Beach Post, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made some eyebrow-raising comments in a speech today to the Palm Beach Civic Association.

“After three years, if we haven’t made the playoffs, we’re looking for a new coach,” Ross said. “That’s just the way it is. The fans want it.”

[The Dolphins indicated later that Ross was not giving an ultimatum to Gase but instead talking about how things work now in the NFL.]

He also said: “Instead of getting a retread that really hasn’t had a great track record as head coach, I was looking for somebody that really could be the next, if you will, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, you know, really great head coach, and I think we got one.”

According to that Palm Beach Post piece, Ross also the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin "bullying incident was really a product of racism."

And he said: “It’s a lot easier to succeed in business than it is to create a winning football team. I’m going to get it right yet.”


After a first half featuring riveting wins against Oklahoma City and Cleveland and dumbfounding home losses to Minnesota and Brooklyn, Luol Deng has one question about his 29-24 team.

“Who are we? Who is the Miami Heat?” Deng asked in a conversation with two reporters as the team adjourned for the All-Star break last week.

“We’ve shown how good we can be at times,” Deng said. “We’ve shown we can score. We’ve shown we can defend. We’ve shown we can rebound. It’s about consistency and doing it every night. We have the talent.”

The Heat returns to practice Wednesday after seven days off --– Miami resumes play Friday at Atlanta --- and here’s what the organization knows:

### Despite allowing a season-high 119 points last Tuesday against San Antonio, the Heat generally has been stout defensively. Miami allows 96.3 per game, second behind only San Antonio.

Teams are shooting 44 percent against the Heat, which ranks seventh.

### The Heat doesn’t play with the tempo it hoped.

Miami ranks just 29th in possessions. Even though Erik Spoelstra and Goran Dragic want to push the pace more, much of the first unit isn’t well suited to an up-tempo game.

“Sometimes you need to play perfect defense and perfect offense against the top teams to try to beat them [at this pace],” Dragic said. “Hopefully, we can start playing a little bit faster, have more possessions.”

### Here’s the Heat’s biggest shortcoming: Miami is averaging 96 points per game, ahead of only Philadelphia.

One major reason for that: Miami shoots only 32.3 percent on three-pointers, ahead of only Minnesota and the Lakers.

The Heat has explored adding a skilled shooter by Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline but has few appealing and available assets to offer in return. Miami has dealt three future first-round picks and is prohibited from trading another first-round pick until after this June's draft.

Chris Bosh said last week that the Heat could use another shooter and that opponents sag off of some of the Heat’s wing players.

"It would help if we could knock them down more consistently,” Bosh said. “Justise [Winslow] is still getting used to the three-point line. He's had some good nights but he's had some nights he's struggled."

Though Bosh already has hit a career-hit 81 threes, on 36.5 percent accuracy, Josh McRoberts is shooting just 3 for 24 on threes (two seasons after sinking 105 threes on 36.1 percent shooting for Charlotte) and Gerald Green is making 31.9 percent of his threes, down from 36.2 two seasons ago.

Also, Dragic has made 40 threes, on 33.1 percent accuracy, two seasons after sinking 122 threes for Phoenix and making 40.8 percent of his attempts. And Winslow shoots 25.8 percent on threes.

“We may be different than other teams,” Spoelstra said.  “We're not going to be a team that's shooting 40 threes a game. That's not playing to our strengths. But we have guys that can knock down timely ones.”

Heat president Pat Riley said on TNT last week that "I want to win now. I'm getting too old to win down the road. I want to win now."

But Wade said “we’re not in the upper echelon of the league…. We’ve made strides and we have to continue to make strides. It’s got to get more consistent. We’ve gotten better. We’re just not as good as the Golden States and San Antonios and the Clippers and those teams playing really good basketball.

“For the first half of the season, we’ve had some good moments. We’ve also had some not so good losses and a few bad moments here and there. But we’re still in the thick of things.”

Miami stands fifth in the East, two games behind No. 3 Boston, one behind No. 4 Atlanta and 6.5 behind No. 2 Toronto but just one game ahead of No. 6 Indiana.

Dragic said the 29-24 record is below the Heat’s talent level and Bosh said: "I think we're capable of doing better but I'm not a what if guy. In the grand scheme of things, we're [two games] out of third. It's always hard to get over that last hump but we're capable of doing it. We want to be playing our best basketball late March, early April. That's when we want to peak."

Among network pundits, Doug Collins expressed concern about the Heat’s point production, Jeff Van Gundy noted the offense is more potent with Hassan Whiteside on the bench, and Charles Barkley said:  “The only guy that’s going to make a difference on that team and take them deep in the playoffs is Hassan Whiteside. And I think he’s too inconsistent to do that."


We reported yesterday that the Heat is opening to considering offers for Hassan Whiteside, and New York Daily News NBA writer Frank Isola reports today that Miami has spoken to Houston about a trade involving Whiteside and Dwight Howard.

But the Heat would need to send off players making more than $20 million (combined) to make this work within the confines of the salary cap. Whiteside makes just $981,000, making this complicated.

So the Heat could make this work by including Luol Deng ($10.2 million), Chris Andersen ($5 million) and Josh McRoberts ($5.5 million), but Miami then would need another cheap wing player from Houston to replace Deng in this HYPOTHETICAL scenario (perhaps Marcus Thornton)? 

Howard, 30, is averaging 14.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and shooting 61.2 percent from the field. Whiteside, 26, is averaging 12.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.9 blocks and shoots 61.7 percent from the field.

Howard is just four years older than Whiteside but has much more wear and tear on his body. Howard has played in 937 NBA games (regular season and playoffs), compared with 112 for Whiteside.

Howard has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season and he's expected to exercise it. Unlike Whiteside, Howard has full Bird Rights. So the team acquiring Howard could pay him more than other suitors could.

Another report today, from radio reporter Adam Spolane, said the Hawks also are involved in the Heat/Rockets discussions and Miami has discussed trading Goran Dragic as part of that deal, with Al Horford and Jeff Teague coming to Miami.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz