Barry Jackson

Miami Heat explore ways to keep emerging forward Okaro White

Miami Heat forward Okaro White shoots to the basket against Mavericks' forward Dirk Nowitzki in the second quarter of the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thurs., Jan. 19, 2017.
Miami Heat forward Okaro White shoots to the basket against Mavericks' forward Dirk Nowitzki in the second quarter of the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thurs., Jan. 19, 2017. pportal@miamiherald.com

The NBA says the Heat will need to trade or release a player if it wants to keep emerging forward Okaro White beyond this weekend.

And the Heat is actively exploring options to achieve that.

An NBA official in touch with Miami’s front office said the Heat has explored trading Derrick Williams to create a roster spot for White, the 6-9 forward who has regularly been receiving late-game minutes since joining the Heat on Jan. 17.

If the Heat is unable to trade Williams, releasing him is among the other options under consideration.

Washington is among the teams believed to have interest if Williams is released, according to a Williams associate. It’s also possible that he could be claimed or acquired via trade by a team that hasn’t reached the league-required cap floor: Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Denver, Utah, Phoenix or Minnesota.

Heat people say that Williams, who’s making $4.6 million this season, has maintained a positive attitude despite appearing in only 24 games this season, including 11 starts.

He has averaged 6.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 15.4 minutes per appearance while shooting only 39.3 percent from the field and 20.5 (9 for 44) on three-pointers.

White’s second 10-day contract expires Sunday and teams are not permitted to sign players to a third 10-day contract. So the Heat’s options are to part ways with White or sign him for the remainder of the season.

Because the Heat is operating above the salary cap, Miami can sign White only to a two-year deal, according to heathoops.com’s and cap expert Albert Nahmad.

Privately, Miami has not made any longterm commitment to White but clearly would prefer not to lose him if possible.

He’s averaging 4.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 17.1 minutes in his seven games, while shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 5 for 11 on three-pointers.

White joined the Heat as a 16th player because the Heat met the NBA qualification to add an additional player beyond the standard 15-player roster limit.

Under NBA rules, a team can apply for a roster exemption once at least four players have been sidelined for at least three games, with each certified by an independent doctor to be sidelined for an additional two weeks.

The Heat likely could continue to meet that requirement, with Justise Winslow (shoulder surgery) likely to miss the season, Chris Bosh not medically cleared because of blood clotting; and Josh Richardson and Josh McRoberts not close to a return from foot injuries.

But an NBA spokesman, asked if White could be maintained as a 16th player at the conclusion of his second 10-day contract, responded:

“They would have to sign a different player to a 10-day contract -- unless if they really wanted to sign a player for the remainder of the season following the two 10-day contracts they would have to release another player on the roster and if they still qualified they could then sign another player to a 10-day to still stay at 16 assuming they met the requirements.”

White, who received a $100,000 guarantee from the Heat to attend training camp, was cut by Miami before the season and appeared in 23 games for the Heat’s D-League team in South Dakota, averaging 18.4 points and 8.7 rebounds.

White, who went undrafted out of FSU in 2014, spent last season with Aris B.C. of the Greek Basketball League, appearing in 35 games and averaged 13.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.57 steals and 26.8 minutes while shooting 49.1 percent from the field.

He was selected as the Greek Basketball Player of the Year and named to the All-Greek A1 League First Team, All-Defensive Team and All-Imports teams.

He has impressed the Heat with his defense, length, versatility and ability to shoot with range. Heat coaches also appreciate how he worked to improve his game in the D-League this season.

In Sioux Falls, “I really put up a lot of shots, trying to keep my shot consistent from three-point,” he said. “I wanted to try to keep my three-point shot consistent. That comes with repetition.”

He said he also has worked on “playing lower, being 6-8, 6-9, guarding smaller guys and quicker guys or faster guys, being able to play lower and keep my center of gravity at a low level.”

He said the Heat had him add muscle mass last summer, and his weight jumped from 205 to 217 at the end of training camp. He said he’s 210 now and wants to be at 215 this season and 220 this summer.

When he was cut in late October, what did Heat president Pat Riley tell him?

“His main message was stick towards the plan,” White said. “Don't look at this as the end of my career or end of life. He really gave me some encouraging words. He was like, if you want anything in life, you've got to work hard for it. I took those [words] to Sioux Falls.”

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