Kelly Olynyk doesn’t sound defeated after not playing for a coach’s decision for the first time since joining the Miami Heat before last season. Of course, the 7-footer would like to be on the floor, trying to help the Heat win, but Olynyk is also understanding of the challenges Miami’s roster presents.
So after spending the entirety of the Heat’s 104-92 loss to the Brooklyn Nets sitting on the bench in Miami, Olynyk is ready to move forward.
“Obviously, you want to play and you expect to play,” Olynyk said Wednesday after the Heat practiced at AmericanAirlines Arena, “but coach has decisions to make and that’s the decision he made. You respect it.”
Minutes have dwindled for Olynyk all season as his role on a deep Heat roster has become largely situational. Olynyk has started five games this season, but is now playing only 18.1 minutes per game, which is on pace to be a career low.
Olynyk said he wasn’t informed ahead of time he wouldn’t play Tuesday.
“But you’re not always going to be warned what’s going to happen in life or else it wouldn’t be life,” he said.
The signs were there early for Olynyk, who played only 15 minutes in each of the first three games this season before finding a somewhat more consistent role toward the end of last month. Still, his minutes have been in the teens just as often as they have been above 20 this year.
The return of James Johnson, in particular, has cut into the 7-footer’s minutes past two games. The forward returned Sunday in Miami’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and Olynyk played only eight minutes. On Tuesday, Olynyk slid behind power forward Duncan Robinson, an undrafted rookie, in the rotation, which coach Erik Spoelstra said was about getting a more perimeter-oriented player on the floor.
“Top to bottom, you can play any number of 15 to 17 guys, whatever it is, so it’s really tough and I don’t envy coach Spo’s position because it’s not an easy one, trying to figure out rotations and the best fit and the best combinations,” Olynyk said. “There’s only 48 minutes at every position, so it’s not easy. There’s going to be times where guys are hurt or banged up, but if everybody is healthy, there’s going to be guys who are left out.”
Spoelstra said the rotations Tuesday were part of a “domino effect” resulting from the absence of guards Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson.
Without either of the guards available, the Heat (6-11) turned to forward Justise Winslow as the primary ball-handler for the second unit, which meant smaller lineups for Miami.
“There are different layers,” Spoelstra said after practice Wednesday. “I wanted to get Justise in the second lineup as a ball-handler and that had a domino effect.”
Olynyk’s situation hasn’t been unique for the Heat this season. Wayne Ellington went through a similar surprising lack of playing time when he returned from an ankle injury last month.
The wing returned to the active roster, yet didn’t play for the three games he was back healthy. Once he did get on the floor, Ellington still only played a total of 12 minutes in two games, before breaking out with 37 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 7. He has played at least 17 minutes in every game since for Miami.
“You just got to stay with it mentally,” Ellington said after practice Tuesday. “You’ve got to stay positive. You’ve got to cheer your teammates on and make sure you come in here get this work. For me, that was the therapy, coming in here and getting this work and knowing that obviously the situation is not always yourselves, it’ll change for you. You’ve just got to stay with it.”
Olynyk admitted it can be tough to show up for work and then not get to play, but ultimately it just meant getting more work in at practice Tuesday. The 27-year-old was one of the last players on the court Tuesday, going through shooting drills with James Johnson, trying to stay ready for when he’s called on again.
“It’s like you guys coming here and not getting a chance to do this interview,” Olynyk said of not getting to play. “You didn’t get to play, so you got to get your work in somewhere. You still got to stay in shape, get a sweat, whether it’s lifting, riding the bike, conditioning, extra shots because there’s going to be another opportunity. The season is too long, so you got to be ready when that time comes and when you get called upon and you got to deliver.”
Heat will travel without pair of guards
The Heat quickly ruled Dragic out for its upcoming two-game road trip after he had his knee drained Monday. Now Miami is also slated to travel without Tyler Johnson as it prepares to take on the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors.
Johnson, who strained his right hamstring in practice Monday, did not participate with the Heat on Tuesday or Wednesday and the team has now ruled him out for the next games.
Spoelstra initially expressed optimism about Johnson’s injury, as did Johnson himself. The guard declared himself “probable” for Friday against the Bulls inside the Heat’s locker room following Miami’s loss to the Nets on Tuesday.
Johnson and Dragic are two of the Heat’s most capable ball-handlers on the roster. Dragic has been Miami’s primary starting point guard this season, while Johnson has played both guard spots.
With the two guards out, combo guard Josh Richardson will likely start at point guard once again Friday and Sunday, as he did Tuesday. Guard Dwyane Wade will also get time at the point.
Wing Dion Waiters, who continues to rehab an ankle injury, also will not travel. Center Hassan Whiteside missed practice Wednesday due to tendinitis, but will hit the road with his teammates.