TORONTO - Willie Reed wanted to sign with the Heat last summer partly because he believed this coaching staff could help elevate his game.
The staff has done such a good job, Reed might have priced himself out of Miami.
Reed appears likely to exercise an opt out clause that would allow him to become a free agent instead of staying in Miami for $1.5 million next season. He was originally slated to make $1.1 million next season, but his salary was boosted to $1.5 million by a new clause in the labor agreement.
But because most teams will have substantial cap space this summer and there’s always interest in skilled, young big men, it’s conceivable he could get an offer twice the $1.5 million, or even more considering the progress he has made this season, combined with his good work when filling in for Hassan Whiteside as a starter.
Reed’s five starts this season include a 22-point, 18-rebound game in Phoenix, a 22-point, 12-rebound game against the Clippers and a 20-point, five rebound game in Chicago.
After his big game in Phoenix in January, Reed said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan approached him and “said he had seen him and watched the film. He told me congratulations but also told me I wasn't going to get that against him. Knowing people recognize what I'm doing is amazing.”
Despite Jordan’s comment, Reed had another 22-point game against the Clippers.
“I've grown a lot in my game, working with the coaching staff every day,” Reed said. “The Heat does a great job of getting you in great shape. My body has changed for the better. I've been able to hold my ground better because I've gotten stronger. I've been a solid defender. I've gotten better offensively. I still have a long way to go. If I keep working, the sky's the limit.”
Reed, who’s averaging 5.2 points on 55.7 percent shooting, 4.6 rebounds and 14.6 minutes, said “I think I've proved that I belong, that I can be a factor in this league for time to come. All I wanted to do was play in the NBA since I was a kid. Once I got here, all I wanted to prove was I belong. I want to continuously show everyone I belong and I can be a factor in this league.”
Though the Heat will have $40 million or so in cap space this summer, its ability to sign several of its backups will depend on whether its can lure high-end players with most of its space. The Heat also has a $4.3 million exception that cannot be combined with cap space but that might be enough to keep Reed if Miami chooses.
“I can't lie and say it doesn't cross your mind,” he said of this summer.
Does he hope to stay? “Once the season ends, I'll make that decision,” he said. “Right now, I'm not even thinking about that.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday that what has most pleased him about Reed has been “his approach to come in every day to try to get better regardless of what happened in the game. He's earned a consistent role for the first time in his career where he has really embraced backing up Hassan [Whiteside], giving us a lot of the same qualities, a bundle of energy in those 12 to sometimes 20 minutes a game. He's really been consistent with his approach to improve and that's why he's been one of our most improved players since the first day of camp.”
Spoelstra said it’s unlikely that forward Luke Babbitt will play against Toronto because of a hip flexor injury that already has sidelined him one game.
“The goal is to be back before the end of the regular season,” Babbitt said after the team’s shootaround at Air Canada Center.
• Asked if there’s a real chance Dion Waiters can return before the end of the regular season or whether it’s increasingly unlikely, Spoelstra said: “I'm always open. He's still day to day. There isn't a new update. We want to caution on putting a timeline on it but he's making good progress.”
Waiters, who did not travel on this road trip, has missed nine games with the ankle injury.
• The Heat (38-40) enters Friday’s game in ninth in the East, one half game behind No.7 Chicago and No. 8 Indiana, who are both 39-40. Milwaukee (40-39) is sixth.
Asked if he was tracking the Thursday results – when Chicago and Indiana won – guard Goran Dragic said: “I would lie if I say no. Of course I check the scores. At the end, I'm not like, 'Indiana won last night, we're done.’ We're still in the driver's seat. If we take care of our business, we are in good spot."
Miami owns the tiebreaker with Indiana and Milwaukee but would lose a tiebreaker to Chicago.
“Our guys have been on edge for a long time,” Spoelstra said.
“We've been in that one-game season, it feels like three months. To be able to dig back from where we were, you couldn't have too many hiccups.”
• During Wednesday’s game in Charlotte, Dragic, who is from Slovenia, had a quick response to a fan who heckled him to “Go back to Russia.”
Dragic said simply: “I’m not from Russia.”
Dragic likened these comments to a fan telling someone to “go back to Mexico…. They want to provoke you. It's always something.
‘Dragic, your last name should be tragic.’ One ear in, one ear out.”
Dragic said foreign-born players hear these type of comments more in international settings. “Over there, they're throwing coins. Our bench [for the Slovenian national team] is covered with plastic [for coins]. A lot of games they're yelling some stuff that's really inappropriate, especially war stuff. You have to let it go.”