Some Heat notes on a Thursday:
• The Rodney McGruder injury, which could sideline him for months, creates a roster conundrum for the Heat.
McGruder needs surgery for a stress fracture in his leg. The Vertical says he will be out three to six months. The Heat says a timetable is undetermined.
Before the McGruder injury, roster spots 12 through 15 figured to be taken by players who are natural power forwards or centers: Bam Adebayo, Udonis Haslem, Jordan Mickey and A.J. Hammons.
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The other spot between 11 and 15 on the projected roster is filled by a natural power forward, Okaro White, who also can play on the wing.
But with McGruder’s injury, that imbalance on the bottom of the roster might need to be addressed, and it’s something the Heat will discuss and consider over the next few days before trimming the roster to 15 by Monday’s NBA deadline (with an additional two spots available for two-way players, one of which will be former Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr.).
There appear to be four realistic options:
1) Start the season with that projected roster, including Hammons, and make a move for another player only if the Heat suffers another injury to a wing player or finds there to be a need for another wing player early in the season.
The Heat could get by with six natural wing players - Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson (pictured above), Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow (who seemed likely to play more power forward before the McGruder injury), and the 6-8 White, who can play on the perimeter.
But if there’s another injury to a wing player, help would be needed.
2) Release Hammons, who is due a guaranteed $1.3 million this season and $1.5 million next season, and keep swingman DeAndre Liggins, who started 19 games and appeared in 61 for Cleveland last season.
Liggins 6-6, has averaged 2.1 points in 119 career NBA games while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 34.8 percent on threes.
3) Release Hammons and keep UCF 6-5 shooting guard Matt Williams Jr., who has impressed this preseason, making four of 10 threes. The Heat is very much intrigued by Williams, who has a nifty stroke and a quick release.
But the Heat also can convert his contract to a two-way contract that would send him to the Heat’s G-League affiliate in South Dakota for the majority of the season, with Miami retaining his rights.
4) Release Hammons and trade for a backup small forward or shooting guard. But that would be more difficult because the Heat’s free agent signings over the summer cannot be traded yet, and there’s no obvious player who’s trade eligible, has value and would be deemed expendable by the Heat.
For now, the Heat seemingly can get by with Richardson joining Dragic, Waiters, Hassan Whiteside and either Kelly Olynyk or James Johnson in the starting lineup. (Olynyk appears the slightly better option based on a small preseason sample size and Johnson’s effectiveness with the second unit.)
The rest of the rotation could then include whoever doesn’t start at power forward, plus Tyler Johnson, Ellington and Winslow, plus possibly Adebayo or Mickey if Erik Spoelstra goes 10 deep.
And remember, Waiters can play some minutes at small forward in a three-guard lineup with some combination of Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson in the backcourt.
So there isn’t an absolutely dire need to add another small forward or guard. But in the wake of McGruder’s injury, keeping another wing would be ideal, and the Heat will at least consider it.
• Friday’s preseason finale against Philadelphia in Kansas City is the only Heat game that won’t be televised this season. 790 The Ticket will have coverage. Miami opens the regular season Wednesday at Orlando.
JACKSON, VAN GUNDY WEIGH IN
ABC’s Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy were asked about the Heat on an ESPN conference call today.
Jackson’s take: “I believe one thing you want to be conscious of as a team, as an organization is not being satisfied with what took place last year or at the end of the year or midway -- no, you've got to make sure you start fresh and new, and I believe that they have an organization from top to bottom that reminds guys of that, that keeps it fresh, that keeps guys motivated. Erik Spoelstra in my opinion is one of the best in the business. He's an outstanding coach and a future Hall of Famer.
“He's done a great job, and I think they've done a great job of making sure they got the pieces back and also adding pieces, so in my opinion because of the way they play, the way they compete, the way they defend, the way they get after it, they are certainly a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, and if they're healthy and whole, they will be a tough out.”
Van Gundy’s take: “ I would agree with Mark in that I don't know if they're either the 11-30 team or the 30-11 team because every year things change, team dynamics change. People get paid, and you don't know how that impacts performance. I think Whiteside obviously has turned himself into a dominant player, and it's really incredible. A couple years back he was on the street looking for employment, and now you see him, and he just impacts so many games in so many areas.
“I'll second the fact that Mark said Erik Spoelstra is a Hall-of-Fame coach. He's done a terrific job in so many roles there, but in this leadership role as a head coach. He's had the best team and the best talent, and then he's had young teams that he's had to develop, and he's done a great job with both situations. One thing about Miami, they're going to guard especially hard, and they're going to be tough to play against, and a lot comes down to Dragic's offensive explosion like he had in EuroBasket this year. What he did there was terrific. His last half of the year last year was great, and if they get a great year out of him and Whiteside, they'll definitely be in the playoffs.”