Tyler Johnson left NBA Summer League with his jaw broken. James Ennis left with his spirit seemingly broken.
Now both are healed and pushing to secure roster spots.
Johnson appears very likely to make the team, with half of his $845,059 salary already guaranteed.
There’s less certainty with Ennis, whose entire $845,059 salary would become guaranteed if he’s on the roster Oct. 28.
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If Ennis impresses in training camp, he figures to stick, though it’s possible the Heat could restructure the guarantee deadline for a second time this summer.
If Ennis struggles, the Heat could release him and go with 14 players or sign someone else.
The Heat’s 16th through 20th players are considered journeymen or D-League types, with forward Greg Whittington perhaps the best equipped to compete for a roster spot among those five long shots. The Heat, at the moment, isn’t inclined to sign a veteran such as Gerald Wallace.
Late in Summer League in Las Vegas, Ennis sat inside Cox Pavilion after a game in mid-July, as despondent as any athlete could be in that type of setting.
“It seems like I haven’t gotten better. I have no answers right now,” he bemoaned that day.
Ennis called his Summer League play “terrible” — 29.7 percent shooting (19 for 64) in seven games, 2 for 23 on three-pointers and more than twice as many turnovers (23) as assists (11).
Nearly three months later, Ennis appeared in much better spirits this week. One big reason: The tendinitis in his knees has subsided. He said that was a big factor in his summer struggles.
“I was down on myself because I expected more from me,” he said this week. “But I looked at it and said, ‘You’re injured.’ I was playing at 65 percent. I did a lot of treatment. My knee is a lot better. You’ll see it in the preseason.”
Ennis, who shot 40.9 percent from the field and 32.6 percent on three-pointers last season, believes the shooting will improve because of a subtle change in his technique.
“[Assistant coach Keith] Smart had me shoot the ball on my way up, not shoot the ball when I’m up in the air already,” Ennis said. “I feel it’s more fluid now.”
The other priority is improving his ball-handling.
“The reason I was losing the ball a lot was I was standing straight up,” he said. “When I stay low, like I have been, it’s good. I’m handling the ball very well right now.”
He insists the Summer League downer has not shaken his confidence.
“I did good last year,” he said. “When you have an injury it’s hard to play your game because you’re always worried about the injury. Now my mind is cleared.”
At his best, Ennis gives the Heat energy and athleticism, disruptive defense (17 blocks and 25 steals last season) and a finisher on fast breaks (20 dunks last season).
“He looks much better physically,” Erik Spoelstra said Thursday.
As for Johnson, the Heat’s efforts to develop his point-guard skills during Summer League were short-circuited when a collision with a Clippers player resulted in a broken jaw.
Still missing a tooth in the front of his mouth, Johnson worked at both guard spots during informal workouts in September and during the first few days of camp.
“I love his competitiveness,” Spoelstra said. “Tyler just finds a way to be effective.”
Though he enters fifth or sixth in the guard hierarchy (with rookie Josh Richardson), the Heat values Johnson’s versatility and athleticism.
“I’ve worked on my ball-handling and playing point guard and my shooting,” he said.
He knows he must finish more consistently; last season, he missed four of 14 dunks and shot 29 for 49 at the rim (59.2 percent).
Johnson has studied video of two point guards (teammate Goran Dragic and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving) and two shooting guards who have the ball in their hands a lot (San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili and Houston’s James Harden).
“I studied the way they attack the rim in transition and how they finish,” Johnson said.
▪ Hassan Whiteside has missed the first five sessions of camp, over three days, because of a calf injury. Mario Chalmers was held out of much of Thursday’s practice with a leg issue.
▪ Rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson have impressed teammates and coaches with their defense. “They’re different defenders,” Dwyane Wade said. “Justise is stronger. He’s hard to move. I look at him like a Ron Artest kind of player. Josh is quick, athletic, long.”