SAN ANTONIO – In an interview with NBA.com before the Heat-Bulls game last week which covered an array of topics including his vision of the future for the franchise, Heat president Pat Riley did not mention point guard Goran Dragic and mentioned he’s looking to acquire another draft pick.
“Talent is still, always and will forever be at the top of the list,” Riley responded when asked what he’s looking for as the Heat begins its rebuild after the departure of Dwayne Wade. “We feel that with Hassan [Whiteside], and with Justise [Winslow] and Tyler [Johnson] and Josh [Richardson] – and some of the new guys who we got this summer – four or five of those young guys can create a nucleus.
“We have a pick this year. I have intentions, if it’s possible, to try and get another pick. And then we will have [cap] room. And so, from that standpoint, you start making a plan and formulating what it looks like down the road. But you’re going to have to get some breakthroughs – from Hassan, from Justise, from Tyler, from Josh – and then you’ll see where you go from there.”
The Heat, off to a 2-6 start heading into Monday night’s game against the Spurs, owns its first round pick in 2017 (a potential lottery pick if Miami’s season continues the way it has) and would keep its second round pick if it finishes with one of the 10 worst records in the league.
But what Riley told NBA.com sounds as if he is willing to part with Dragic – and potentially other pieces on the roster – to build around a young nucleus he feels confident in.
Dragic, signed through the 2019-20 season and due $17 million next season, has been linked in trade rumors to Sacramento for Rudy Gay since the summer. Coach Erik Spoelstra, though, told Dragic two weeks ago the Heat was not shopping him.
▪ Riley also told NBA.com he thinks “a lot” of the Heat’s offense will be run through Whiteside “within a year.”
He also said he’s not concerned about Justise Winslow’s early shooting struggles, adding his “offensive game is going to come when people shut up about it.”
“We have a winner there,” Riley said of Winslow. “And we were very fortunate to get him.”
▪ Riley told NBA.com if he had to do it over again he would have given Wade a max contract back in the summer of 2014 after LeBron James returned to Cleveland. The Heat only offered a max contract to Chris Bosh and then signed Wade to less so it could sign other players around him like Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts.
“Now, that’s a big second guess,” Riley said. “But that’s on me.”
Dragic, who was ruled out for the second consecutive game Monday with a sprained left ankle, had his walking boot removed on Monday. He also began work on a stationary bike.
Dragic, who missed five games with a sprained left ankle in Phoenix three seasons ago, said he remains optimistic he won’t be out for an extended period of time.
Even before his injury, Dragic said Monday he was disappointed with the Heat’s pace of play this season (Miami ranks 24th in pace), saying his teammates aren’t being as explosive running down the court and getting to their respective spots as they were in the preseason. Miami is averaging 96.87 possessions per game in the regular season, down from 101.62 in the preseason.
“I feel like we just need to be aggressive, especially defensively, try to get those steals more and then we could get more in the open court,” Dragic said. “We feel when we get to the right spots against great defenses it's much easier for us [to score]. But when guys are stopping too early, not running to the corner, that kind of jams the paint and it's really hard to create.”
Spoelstra, who has been clamoring for a faster pace, said ideally the Heat’s offense needs to be down the court and running actions with “19 to 20 seconds left on the shot clock.”
“Ultimately I don't know if we're going to be a top five pace team,” he said. “But we do need our opportunities off misses to get some early opportunities and attacks.”
▪ Winslow, who is shooting 33.9 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from three-point range through the Heat’s first eight games, revealed he’s been playing with a bruised shooting wrist for a few weeks now.
“It happened early in the regular season and I've been playing through it,” said Winslow, who said he feels discomfort in the wrist throughout the game including when he shoots. “Sometimes when I fall and brace myself it tweaks [the wrist] a little bit. I'd like for it to go away. But we'll see. I'm trying to play through it right now and help the team.”
▪ Whiteside said Monday he can’t believe some “people are writing [the Heat’s] season off 10 games in.”
“There's still a lot of season left,” he said. “It's a proven fact great defensive teams are in the playoffs.”
The Heat entered Monday’s game ranked second in the league in field goal percentage defense (42.1%) and with losses to teams with a combined 39-20 record.
Tuesday’s game: Hawks at Heat
When/where: 7:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Heat lead 60-47
Scouting report: Miami returns home to play its first back-to-back of the season against a Hawks team that ranks second in the NBA in field goal percentage (.482) and has shot at least 50 percent from the field five times. The Hawks also lead the league in forcing turnovers (17.3 per game), points off turnovers (20.3 per game) and steals (10.2).