Miami Heat roster drama centers on men in the middle


With the core of its championship lineup returning mostly intact, the only serious opening on the Heat roster is at backup center.

WEB VOTE Who do you think will win the Heat job as backup center?

Two of the Heat’s four developmental centers very likely will not make the team. And the two who probably will stick around aren’t expected to play much, if at all, during key moments of games.

But for now, that battle for two backup center jobs (and any leftover minutes behind Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony) is the closest thing to pass for drama during Heat training camp.

“They all bring something different, which makes it interesting,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Jarvis Varnado and Mickell Gladness bring that energy and shot-blocking, quickness. Dexter Pittman brings the physicality and the size. Josh Harrellson brings stretch shooting with size and already has had a role with a good team.”

Pittman, 6-11, is the only one of the four with a guaranteed contract, worth $854,389, which makes him a favorite to win a job, unless he is badly outplayed by two of the other young centers during the eight-game preseason schedule that begins Sunday in Atlanta.

Entering his third season, the 6-11 Pittman has tried to allay the Heat’s concerns about his conditioning — he’s down to 275 pounds and wants to get to 265 — and about his penchant for fouling (one every 4.1 minutes last season).

“I’m focusing on not fouling,” he said. “At this weight, I can move my feet better so I don’t foul as much. I’m getting up and down the court better.”

Outside threat

Harrellson, who appeared in 37 games for the Knicks last season and started four, missed all four of his shots in Wednesday night’s scrimmage at AmericanAirlines Arena but said he has been making about half of his jump shots in practice.

Harrellson, 6-10, said he was “terrible, the worst player” in high school, but developed as a senior at Kentucky and impressed the Knicks with his hustle and long-range touch (20 for 59 on three-point shots).

He isn’t considered as strong a defender as Gladness or Varnado, but he insisted Wednesday, “On the ball, as a low-post defender, I’m one of the best out there. I’ve held my own against Dwight Howard. … I will continue doing every day what it takes to make them notice me.”

Gladness, 6-11, who appeared in eight games for the Heat and 18 for Golden State last season, is a skilled defender and shot-blocker (26 last season) without much of an offensive game. “They don’t need me to do a lot offensively,” he said. “It’s not a major priority.”

The 6-10 Varnado, who set the NCAA career record for blocks at Mississippi State, is the only one of the four without NBA experience and faces the longest odds of the young centers.

A former Heat second-round pick, he averaged 10 points a game in Italy last season, but like Gladness, his offensive game is limited.

This and that

• After Sunday’s game against the Hawks (2 p.m., Sun Sports), the Heat will fly from Atlanta to China for games Oct. 11 and 14 against the Clippers. Dwyane Wade, who had offseason knee surgery, said he doesn’t know whether he will play in China. “For all my fans, I’m going to play as many as I possibly can,” he said.

Spoelstra said the Heat will visit The Great Wall of China during its trip but hasn’t decided if all 20 players will travel to Asia. … Joel Anthony (hamstring) and Mario Chalmers (quadriceps) remain limited. … Spoelstra said though Ray Allen “can handle [the ball] at times … I don’t see him being a backup point guard for us.”

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