Barry Jackson

How the Heat’s creativity off the court will extend tenures of two players

Miami Heat's Derrick Walton, Jr. (5) reacts after a referee says he fouled against Utah Jazz's Alec Burks (10) in the fourth quarter as the Heat host the Utah Jazz at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Sun., Jan. 7, 2018.
Miami Heat's Derrick Walton, Jr. (5) reacts after a referee says he fouled against Utah Jazz's Alec Burks (10) in the fourth quarter as the Heat host the Utah Jazz at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Sun., Jan. 7, 2018. mocner@miamiherald.com

With the number of their available NBA days this season down to single digits under their current contracts, the Heat is taking creative but legal steps to maximize the availability of swingman Derrick Jones Jr. and guard Derrick Walton Jr.

Both players are operating under two-way contracts, which the NBA instituted last summer but limits players to 45 days in the NBA this season, with the remainder of their time spent in the G-League.

Because of injuries, the Heat has kept Walton and Jones with the NBA team longer than perhaps originally planned.

Walton has six days of NBA service time remaining, Jones nine.

The Heat saved two days for each this week by not having them accompany the Heat on its flight from Houston to South Florida on Monday night. Instead, they will rejoin the team in time for Thursday’s game against Sacramento.

Neither was with the team for practice on Wednesday.

Asked if he has their NBA service clock in the back of his mind, coach Erik Spoelstra said he leaves that to general manager Andy Elisburg.

“It’s clumsy,” Spoelstra said. “I know they both can be available [Thursday]. Hopefully as we move forward, Goran [Dragic and Tyler Johnson] will be available and we can ease that a little bit.

“But we want to maximize the full development. They’re getting tremendous opportunity to develop with us and then when they go back to Sioux Falls [South Dakota]. That’s where the bulk of the development will be, but we’re a great example of why there should be a case for a two-way player.”

Dragic (knee) and Johnson (ankle) are listed as probable for Thursday’s game.

Walton and Jones can rejoin the Heat after their G-league season ends March 24 even if they have run out of NBA days — unless their Sioux Falls team makes the playoffs, which is a possibility, though it does not currently hold a playoff seed.

The Heat’s final regular-season game is April 11.

The Heat also has the option of dumping a player (such as A.J. Hammons) to sign Jones or Walton to a standard contract, which would eliminate the need to conserve their days.

Jones said last week that changing his agreement from a two-way deal to a standard contract has not been discussed. That would seem to be an option for Jones, who has started in six of his eight Heat appearances and averaged 20 minutes per game.

The Heat has held onto Hammons on its 15-man roster in case his contract can be used in a trade. Hammons has a guaranteed contract at the league minimum this season and next season.

NEW UNIFORMS DEBUT

Heat players seemed excited about debuting their new City Edition uniforms, which will be worn for 15 games this season, beginning Thursday against Sacramento.

The uniform features white jerseys with pink, black and powder blue accents — a color scheme synonymous with that of the TV show “Miami Vice.”

Player numbers will be powder blue with black and pink shadowing, and the word “Miami” is written in the same pink color and script that appeared on the front of the old Miami Arena, which served as the Heat’s home arena from 1988-1999.

Asked if he’s familiar with Miami Vice, Whiteside said: “”I know a little bit about it. But I ain’t watched a whole lot of it…. It’s like guys with mustaches and like pink shirts and with their chests out.”

heat-city-edition

Spoelstra said of the jerseys: “I absolutely love it. It was one of my favorite TV shows growing up. I had a totally different view on Miami before I moved here, and that was my perception of it. I think it’s awesome. If I had any guts, I would show up in a Miami Vice suit. I don’t.

“I don’t think I can grow a mustache in time. But I think it’s brilliant. It captures so much of the ’80s culture of Miami, and the players can have fun with it. But it’s still about competition. This doesn’t get in the way of it at all. That’s what makes our organization cool.”

▪  Spoelstra has said Rodney McGruder, who sustained a broken tibia in October, will play at some point this season, with the timetable still undetermined.

Asked if he also expects Okaro White to play this season after sustaining a broken left foot in November, Spoelstra said: “I’m open to anything right now. There’s no timetable on either one of them. You got to respect what’s in those guys and in their hearts.”    

▪ Spoelstra was pleased to welcome point guard Briante Weber back to the organization as a member of the Heat’s G-league affiliate in Sioux Falls, with any NBA team permitted to sign him at any time.

“We like Briante,” Spoelstra said. “We like his competitive character. That’s not the first time guys have been cut and make it back with us. We’ve got a history of those kind of guys, you just have to have the right timing and the perseverance. And Briante has that kind of makeup.”

▪ Whiteside perceived the fact the Heat didn’t have any players selected for the All-Star team as an indication of lack of appreciation for the team and had some interesting comments on the matter Wednesday.

Here was Spoelstra’s reaction: “Well I think the guy that probably should have received consideration for it would be Goran [Dragic]. And again, I’ve said it before, if we would have played like we have the last six weeks for the entire season, maybe more people would have noticed.

“Hassan, the last few games, probably would have received that kind of recognition. He probably missed too many games anyway. So let’s move on. We have a lot more things to accomplish. But hopefully we can get a couple more things, maybe Wayne [Ellington] in the 3-point shootout. Has that been fully decided?

“So we’re hanging in the wind on that one. But I don’t know how you keep that guy out of it. I don’t know if I should be promoting that because he probably wants the weekend off. But I think it would be a really cool thing to experience at least once in your career.” 

Asked if this could create the proverbial chip on the Heat’s shoulder, Spoelstra said: “I don’t know about a chip. That has to be how we embrace our style of play. We’re better in strength in numbers, we’re better with our depth, we’re better when more guys are a threat and more guys are involved.

“That’s just the strength in reality of our team. That’s not a knock on it. This is a team sport. That’s the way it should always be. That doesn’t mean we don’t have great players. So we have bigger aspirations than just trying to prove to people that, hey, we should have had All-Stars.”

 

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