The preseason didn't end the way Rodney McGruder was hoping it would.
No player fighting for the 15th and final spot on an NBA roster wants a dislocated middle finger to prematurely end his last opportunity to leave an impression on the coaching staff -- and potentially other NBA teams.
But the 25-year-old guard walked away Friday night at least feeling like he gave the Miami Heat a compelling case to keep him around.
“I do believe I gave it everything I had,” said McGruder, who back in April helped lead the Heat's D-League affiliate team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, to the league championship while averaging 15.8 points and shooting 38.7 percent from three-point range.
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“I didn't want to have any regrets. So, I did give it everything I had.”
If roster decisions were solely based on the eye test, McGruder, who signed a three-year, partially guaranteed contract with the Heat this summer, would probably edge out veteran point guard Beno Udrih, 34, and the defensively-talented Briante Weber, 23, for that final roster spot.
But in this case the decision making process isn’t that easy. Though McGruder (7.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists) outperformed Udrih (3.3 points, 2.0 assists) and Weber (3.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.4 steals) this preseason, the Heat has a lot to weigh.
If keeping a true point guard around who can provide a steady hand should Goran Dragic go down is a top priority, then Udrih is best equipped to handle those duties. He still showed in his three preseason games he brings value in that capacity, finishing with six assists and two turnovers in 41 minutes. By keeping Udrih it also sends a message that you’re putting team needs and winning ahead of player development at this point.
If keeping a player with an elite defensive skill -- much like Hassan Whiteside's ability to block shots -- is the priority, then keeping and developing Weber makes the most sense. Although his offensive game still needs a lot of work (he had 23 assists and 20 turnovers in 150 minutes this preseason), there's plenty of upside, and on a team that isn't expected to contend why would you want to keep a 34-year-old veteran point guard or another shooting guard on a roster loaded with them.
And McGruder is ultimately that. Although he makes a lot of winning plays in the eyes of coach Erik Spoelstra (much like Justise Winslow), the Heat has plenty of depth at the two-guard spot and certainly not enough at point guard should Dragic get injured.
Ultimately, this all could come down to how much faith the Heat has in Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters and Richardson running the point should something happen to Dragic.
The Heat of course could end up keeping all three players. They could keep Udrih, who has $1.4 million guaranteed for this season, as the 15th man and then have Weber and McGruder clear waivers and accept an assignment to Sioux Falls.
But there's no guarantee that will hapen. Weber was already picked up last year by the Memphis Grizzlies and McGruder had to have opened some eyes around the league.
The Heat will likely announce by 5 p.m. Saturday that it is releasing forward Okaro White, center Vashil Fernandez and guard Luis Montero with the intent to directly assign them to Sioux Falls for this coming season. If those players clear the 48-hour waiver period they'll end up with the Skyforce.
The Heat then must set it's 15-man roster by 5 p.m. Monday.
▪ Weber's turnovers were not the only struggles he had on offense. He also shot 30 percent from the field (9-of-30) and was 1-of-7 on three-point shots. He finished minus-27 in plus/minus overall, the worst on the Heat.
“I felt I had a good preseason,” said Weber, whose 19 steals this preseason led the league. “I played my minutes hard, did what coach asked me to do. That's pretty much all I could do, just play the way I play.
“I've got a lot of things to polish up. I just got to figure out how I'm going to take my shots and where I'm going to get my shots. At the same, just be confident in shooting it. That's been the question since I left college and it's going to continue to be and what I work on the most. Because on the other side of the ball I'm pretty much set.”
▪ Wayne Ellington, who shot 40.9 percent from three-point range in the preseason (18-of-44), has a badly bruised left thigh and he's not fully confident he'll play in the Heat's season-opener Wednesday in Orlando. He was kneed fighting through a screen midway through the second quarter Friday.
“His knee got me right in a bad spot,” Ellington said. “Obviously, we'll see how it progresses over the next few days. But, I'll do everything I can to be out there. You put all this work in -- I want to be out there.”
▪ Dragic left Friday night's loss to the 76ers with a smile on his face -- in large part because of how effective the Heat’s offense looked again racing up and down the court all preseason.
“Some teams they need a lot of time to get a chemistry. I feel like we already have that,” Dragic said. “We still need to work hard and get better, but we feel like we had a great training camp, great preseason.”