For the Heat, the starting point guard job stands as both a strength and source of stability.
But the job backing up Goran Dragic?
That might be the most unsettled position on the roster.
Myriad candidates remain in the mix: Mario Chalmers (if the Heat fails to dump his contract), Shabazz Napier, Tyler Johnson and unsigned second-rounder Josh Richardson.
There’s also the possibility the Heat could go stretches without a natural point guard, because coach Erik Spoelstra has the option of using Dwyane Wade or Justise Winslow as a ball-handler when Dragic is resting.
Napier started and played splendidly in the Heat’s 86-83 loss Monday night against Denver at Cox Pavilion. The Heat lost for the first time this summer after going 5-0 in Orlando and 1-0 here.
If Chalmers makes it to training camp with the Heat, he would be the obvious choice to back up Dragic. But Miami continues to explore trading him; his $4.3 million salary could result in a tax bill three times that amount, depending on the Heat’s final payroll number.
A team’s tax obligation is based on the roster on the final day of the regular season, but Miami appears interested in dealing a player or two as soon as something presents itself, according to a league official who has spoken to the Heat.
As for the other backup point-guard options:
▪ Napier: He has played with energy and delivered a bunch of crisp, creative passes since returning last week from April’s sports hernia surgery.
After shooting 2 for 11 against Utah on Saturday, Napier was 7 for 14 against Denver, closing with 20 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals. He missed a desperation three at the buzzer.
Napier shot 38.8 percent from the field last season and 36 percent on jumpers. But he said he doesn’t need to hire a shooting coach.
“The only way it can get better is if I keep shooting,” he said. “Get in the gym and shoot 500 shots a day.
“If you take a lot of shots every day, it is going to come for you.”
Napier’s 1.60 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked 87th of 97 point guards last season, but his ball-handling has been very good in Summer League (16 assists, 4 turnovers) and he has played with pace, something important considering the Heat’s desire to play faster.
He insists his confidence hasn’t been shaken by a disappointing rookie season. “I don't need to prove it to myself,” he said. “I know I am going to be a good NBA player. I just need to continue to work on it.”
▪ Richardson: The Heat hasn’t yet approached him about a contract, instead choosing to assess his summer work in totality. But Heat people really like what they’ve seen.
The Heat has given him extensive work at both guard positions, and Richardson generally has been up to the task.
Richardson scored only 7 points on 3-for-9 shooting on Monday and committed an offensive foul on an in-bounds pass from Winslow with Miami down 84-83 and 1.4 seconds left.
But he had a block and a steal and his size (6-6) and length appeared to bother Denver rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, the seventh overall pick who had been a Summer League standout before Monday.
“I feel perfect running the point,” Richardson said. “I’m a versatile player.”
He has more turnovers (12) than assists (11) in summer league, but “he does a great job of making easy plays,” said Dan Craig, who is coaching the Heat in summer league.
“I like the fact he played an entire season from that point position” at Tennessee last season, Spoelstra said. “We’ll develop that.”
The Heat drafted Richardson 40th overall, but the diverse skill set displayed in Summer League validates the fact Miami gave him a first-round grade, 24th overall on its draft board.
Richardson shot 38.1 percent in Orlando (16 for 42) and he’s 10 for 23 in Las Vegas.
▪ Johnson: The Heat intended to give him extensive time at point guard this month, but that plan was aborted when he sustained a broken jaw in a midcourt collision in Miami’s fourth game in Orlando last Wednesday.
Johnson now awaits an Aug. 1 deadline at which point a large portion of his $845,000 salary would become guaranteed for next season.
Johnson had some good moments in Orlando but a few of the Heat’s young players stand at risk unless Miami can trade a veteran or two.
He knows he must improve his assist-to-turnover ratio (7 assists, 9 turnovers in Summer League; 42, 30 last season).
After missing two games with what the Heat termed “general soreness,” rookie forward Justise Winslow returned against Denver but was under a minutes limit because of soreness, according to Craig. He made his only shot for his only points (an early three-pointer) in 12 minutes.