For an outside view of the Heat’s roster, some perspective from a coach who once paced the sidelines here and competed against Miami for years, we solicited the views from always-insightful Stan Van Gundy, who’s now exploring teaching and broadcasting options after parting with the Detroit Pistons this past offseason.
Van Gundy, who’s moving back from Michigan to Orlando, shared his views in a phone conversation, in advance of the Heat opening training camp Tuesday in Boca Raton:
▪ On where the Heat stands in the East: “I think they will be back more to where they were in the second half a year ago. Fifty wins would be hard — not saying it’s impossible — but hard because I don’t see the really bad teams in the East. To my way of thinking right now, most everybody is going to be better and trying to win. Atlanta may be an exception in that.
“The Heat has got a lot of really good players. You look to their potential in the second half of the year two years ago, it’s basically the same group. And they found another valuable guy in Kelly Olynyk, especially in today’s game. Erik [Spoelstra] used him really, really well. If healthy, I think they will be in the thick of things in the East, certainly a team that has a chance to compete for a home court. They will never underachieve with Erik.”
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Van Gundy doesn’t agree with the notion that Indiana is ahead of the Heat. He puts Miami on par with Indiana, Milwaukee and Washington in that second tier.
“Indiana had a really good year last year, but they had amazing health,” he said. “All those [four] teams are right there. What the Heat has is a lot of depth, a lot of guys who play at a high energy, high intensity level. They may not have that one guy you can lean on every night, but they have a lot of guys that can play. And they can find different options from night to night. Their players buy into that. They’ve got multiple guys who can handle and make plays. Can all put the ball on the floor and most of them can shoot the ball.”
▪ One concern, Van Gundy said, is “shooting is an area where they have to be more consistent. I don’t know how many guys other than Wayne Ellington are knock-down shooters. Goran [Dragic] is pretty damn close to that. But they have capable shooters with Tyler Johnson, Olynyk.”
▪ Can the situation be salvaged with Hassan Whiteside?
“Absolutely. The guy is still relatively young . Erik is one of the great communicators in the game. I think there’s a great chance he matures and comes to look at it from how he can contribute to the team and comes to understand the way the game has changed to where the Heat can gain an advantage with Olynyk on the court.
“I think a lot of what went on last year was Whiteside wasn’t fully healthy and people aren’t taking that into the equation. So you had Hassan frustrated with his health, not being able to do everything, not having as big a role as he wants. But absolutely [this can still work with him in Miami]. Hassan is one of the best shot blockers in the league, rebounds the ball, has improved his offensive skills.”
▪ Van Gundy agrees that it’s still unclear if Dion Waiters is the player who was so efficient during a 25-game stretch in the second half of the 2016-17 season or a less efficient player we have often seen:
“The question going into last year was whether he can maintain that level of efficiency and [the ankle] injury makes it even more of a question. How diminished he is [when he returns at some point this year]? How consistent can he be? Where I thought he was great was down the stretch of games; they were really leaning on him, he made a lot of big shots and big plays down the stretch.
“I thought Erik used him really, really well. They let him handle as a point guard and played Dragic off the ball and Dragic is still one of the best point guards in the league. Getting a little older but still very, very effective.”
▪ On Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson: “I thought both had up-and-down years last year. I didn’t think either one had as good a year as the second half of the year before. I would expect those guys to have great years.”
▪ On Bam Adebayo: “I like Bam. He’s their type of guy too. Plays with energy and athleticism. Proved to be a more skilled guy than people thought. He’s a little undersized as a center. He’s come into the league at the right time; guys who are lob threats, can switch onto guards, that’s today’s NBA center. And he fits that really, really well.
“I think they have a great rotation up front. [Beyond Whiteside], they can go really quick and athletic with Adebayo, a guy that can really move his feet. Can go to a stretch five with Olynyk. He’s the guy we always had trouble with. We were able to play him really effectively with Bam or Hassan at the five [center] but we got killed by Olynyk when he played the five. They can play James Johnson there, too.”
▪ Is Van Gundy surprised Pat Riley tied up his cap space with good players but not All-Stars beyond Dragic? He said no, because “there is still flexibility through trades to move salary to create space or trade players and they have proven adept at doing that. What they have done more is hedged their bets so they can compete very well without having the elite player and give themselves flexibility” for 2020.
▪ On Dwyane Wade, who Van Gundy coached as a rookie: “The only player of his contemporaries that would rank ahead of him is LeBron [James]. It’s hard to be the No. 5 pick in the draft and exceed expectations, but he has done that. Best player at his position since Michael Jordan left the league; it’s pretty close between him and Kobe [Bryant]. Dwyane’s won a scoring title, won championships, been a finals MVP, 12-time all star.”
“Dwyane isn’t going to play 38 minutes a game again. He is going to play those minutes very effectively and they can get great scoring in their second unit.”
▪ On his own future, Van Gundy said: “I am talking to people about some media stuff. I will try to see if I can help some local coaches – a mentoring type thing — and if there’s a chance for me to speak to sports management students. We are going to move back to Orlando.”
The view here: ABC/ESPN, TNT and NBA TV should all be pursuing Van Gundy, who would make a excellent TV analyst. There’s nobody better NBA TV and TNT could find to replace new Spurs executive Brent Barry.
Please click here for my two Dolphins posts today.
Here’s my look at the unusual steps Briante Weber took to return to the Heat.