The Miami Heat will wrap up the preseason this week with three games in four nights beginning Tuesday at home against the Orlando Magic and ending Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Then comes the unpleasant part for coach Erik Spoelstra: Whittling the roster from 20 down to 15.
“I’m not looking forward to this weekend,” Spoelstra said Monday.
The only real decision for the Heat — barring a trade or the unexpected release of Chris Bosh — will be deciding whether to keep the steady hand of veteran point guard Beno Udrih or continue to turn the page in the franchise’s youth movement and keep 23-year-old defensive dynamo Briante Weber.
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“Well, they’re two totally different players,” Spoelstra replied Monday when asked how the competition was going between Weber and Udrih, the only true backup point guards on the roster. “Bri is dynamic defensively. There’s so many unpredictable things that are disruptive, it’s uncanny. Offensively, he brings a lot of energy, and he’s developing the rest of his game.
“Beno is a 13-year vet that’s played on championship level teams. He doesn’t get sick at sea. He can get you organized and is a very steady, high-IQ player. So, two totally different type of guys.”
Though Udrih or Weber would likely be inactive a lot of nights barring injuries to others, the Heat’s final decision could say a lot about what the franchise wants for this coming season. Does Miami want to invest in another veteran that could help the team win now on nights Goran Dragic is out, or keep an exciting young asset that still needs time to grow?
Udrih, guaranteed his full salary of $1.4 million whether the Heat keeps him or not, finally played Saturday in Louisville for the first time since tearing the plantar plate in his right foot on Feb. 22. He missed the Heat’s first three preseason games while recovering from tightness in his back, and then sat out Friday’s win at San Antonio even though Udrih said he was healthy and available.
In Saturday’s loss to the Timberwolves in Louisville, Udrih started and had two points, two assists and one turnover in 18 mostly non-impactful minutes. After being out so many months, Udrih, 34, said it felt good to get back out on the court. But he said he’s still going to need some time to establish a better rhythm and get in better game shape. He’s hoping to do that this week.
“I obviously know that the future is going to be with younger guys, not older guys,” Udrih said Monday. “But I still have presence on the court and off the court. Whatever happens [with roster cuts], like I said, I can’t control that. I can control helping my teammates and trying to make that step forward and getting one percent better every day.”
While Weber, who has a partially guaranteed contract of $874,363 this season, has continued to flourish on defense (he leads the Heat with 13 steals in 82 preseason minutes), he’s got nearly as many assists (13) as he does turnovers this preseason. And he knows his offense remains a work in progress.
Spoelstra has been encouraging him all summer to play with purpose. Or, as Weber says “having a head on my shoulders and not running out there like a chicken with his head cut off.”
“I think I’ve done a better job just being more comfortable under the system,” Weber said Monday. “But I’m still getting some coaching tips on it. I’m still a work in progress. It’s not going to happen overnight. Like coach says, get 1 percent better every day.”
If the Heat decides to cut Weber, there’s always a chance they could keep him on its D-League roster with a promise to bring him back later in the season after other moves are made. But chances are other NBA teams would scoop him up. Memphis did so last year.
▪ Spoelstra has gone with Derrick Williams as his starting power forward for the last three preseason games, but he made it clear Monday he’s still not ready to give the former No. 2 overall pick the starting job just yet.
“I’m not really at that point right now,” Spoelstra said. “We’re developing him and his minutes and his confidence right now until he understands our system. But I did like the way he played this weekend. To be frank, I may have gone back to Luke [Babbitt] on Saturday if he was healthy to give that another look as well.”
Babbitt, who started the Heat’s preseason opener and is an enticing option for Spoelstra because of his dangerous three-point shooting touch, missed the Heat’s back-to-back games in San Antonio and Louisville with a tight right groin. On Monday, Babbitt participated in some non-contact drills, but said the groin is still not up to par.
▪ Spoelstra said guard Josh Richardson, who has been recovering from a partially torn MCL in his right knee since Sept. 9, was “able to get out there and do a decent portion of the non-contact work” Monday. But it’s clear the Heat is not going to push him very hard to be ready for the season opener and prefers he heals fully and avoids a setback.