Erik Spoelstra

Heat Notes: Johnson, McGruder, Waiters, Johnson

The Heat have had to use countless different lineup combinations throughout the season as players have come and gone due to injuries, but recently it has been Tyler Johnson that has become a key staple in the starting lineup.

As Ira Winderman writes for The Sun-Sentinal, Johnson has provided an energetic approach that has made him a perfect fit for the starting lineup, especially as Erik Spoelstra continues to look for ways to jumpstart his team.

The Heat have made several significant changes in the wake of Goran Dragic‘s injury, most notably converting Justise Winslow to being the team’s primary ball-handler and creator.

There’s more from the Heat:

Heat Notes: Whiteside, Spoelstra, Wade, McGruder

Hassan Whiteside has impacted the Heat in a much more positive way this season, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, who shares perspectives from some of Whiteside’s teammates and other figures around the franchise.

Whiteside, who missed part of last season due to injury, was unhappy with his playing time after his minutes dropped from 32.6 per game to 25.3. The Heat handled the matter internally at the time, working with him to become a better teammate and approach games with a team-first mentality.

“I think I’m just in a better place than what I was last year,” Whiteside said, according to Jackson. “Going through all the injuries and stuff, I was real frustrated with myself too, not being able to be there with my teammates, not being able to contribute like I wanted to. There was a lot of frustration with myself also, with the injuries. I’m just happy we’re winning. All the other stuff will come.”

Whiteside has averaged 12.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.8 minutes per game this season with Miami. His overall mindset and willingness to trust coach Erik Spoelstra has helped improved their relationship as a result.

“Spo’s my guy,” Whiteside said. “We overcommunicate. We got an understanding. He wants to win. I want to win. We’re definitely in a better place.”

Spoelstra, who’s coached Whiteside for each of the past five seasons, is impressed with his growth and maturity. Whiteside has put forth a ton of work in recent months, including improving his quality of screens to help his team.

“Every year, he’s becoming a better basketball player and learning how to become an ultimate winner. And he’s enjoying it more,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the whole thing that’s tough for players to really grasp. The more you breathe life into somebody else and enjoy somebody else’s success, whatever it is that you are searching for yourself, you usually end up getting because of that giving mentality.”

There’s more out of Miami today:

  • Erik Spoelstra will tie Pat Riley‘s franchise record by coaching his 849th regular-season game with the Heat on Monday, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel tweets. Spoelstra, who’s in his 11th season as head coach, can pass Riley’s record on Wednesday against the Clippers.
  • Dwyane Wade played his final game in Chicago on Saturday, tallying 14 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists in nearly 27 minutes. “I have more of a connection here than anywhere else,” Wade said postgame, according to Mark Strotman of NBC Sports. “It’s my birth city. It’s the place where my vision to become an NBA player started, watching my favorite team and watching my favorite players growing up. It definitely felt different than any other city but it was a good different. It was a joyous time for me to be here.”
  • Rodney McGruder has earned a higher ground for restricted free agency this summer, Winderman details for the Sun Sentinel. McGruder, 27, met the criteria of starting half of the season (41 games) last week, raising his $1.9 million qualifying offer to $3MM. The CBA also states that the “starter criteria” could include playing 2,000 or more minutes, according to Winderman, with McGruder logging 1,185 minutes just over the halfway point of the season.

And-Ones: Henderson, Spoelstra, Bol, K. Allen

Gerald Henderson‘s efforts to make an NBA comeback will be put on hold for now, and perhaps for the rest of 2018/19, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Sources tell Haynes that the veteran guard is joining the Hornets’ broadcast team at FOX Sports Southeast, apparently for the remainder of the season.

Henderson, who missed the entire 2017/18 season due to a hip injury, spoke back in June about hoping to catch on with an NBA team for the ’18/19 campaign. However, it seems that no opportunities materialized for the former 12th overall pick.

Still just 31 years old, Henderson last played in the NBA for the Sixers, appearing in 72 games for Philadelphia in 2016/17. He averaged 9.2 PPG with a .423/.353/.806 shooting line in a regular rotation role for the club.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • After Tom Thibodeau became the fourth NBA coach in the last two years to lose his dual title of head coach and president of basketball operations, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports writes that the trend has run its course. While that may be the case for now, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst believes it’s just a matter of time until we see another franchise try it. Windhorst suggests that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will be a candidate to assume some or all of Pat Riley‘s personnel control when Riley eventually retires.
  • Within that same ESPN story, Windhorst reports that NBA teams remain “very high” on Oregon center Bol Bol, who was ruled out for the rest of his freshman season after undergoing foot surgery. Clubs will always be wary of big men with foot injuries, but Bol has a solid support system in place, and a number of executives believe he could still be a top-10 pick in June’s draft, per Windhorst.
  • Former Celtics guard Kadeem Allen, who is playing for the Knicks’ G League affiliate after spending the preseason with New York, spoke to Adam Zagoria for The Arizona Daily Star about his desire to get back into the NBA.

Southeast Notes: Winslow, Mozgov, Hornets, Gordon

Justise Winslow took a giant leap with the Heat in December, seeing most of his minutes at point guard and proving his worth by running the team’s offense during games. The sudden transformation came when All-Star guard Goran Dragic sustained a knee injury, forcing coach Erik Spoelstra to make a quick decision and give more ball-handling duties to Winslow.

Winslow has thrived in Dragic’s absence, providing multiple 20-plus point games and high assist games with Miami.

“Justise at the point guard is a lot different,” teammate Hassan Whiteside said. “He’s so big, he can just a lot of time bulldoze his way to the basket when he can’t get a pass.”

The rapid increase of production from Winslow, the Heat’s 2015 first-round pick, has earned the confidence of Spoelstra and the Heat’s coaching staff. Spoelstra outlined his perfect hypothetical stat line for Winslow in the coming years, giving him a high benchmark to set.

“I think the perfect stat lines for him would be 14, 15 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, five steals,” Spoelstra said, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. “There’s very few guys in this league that can have that kind of balance and effect on a basketball game and he’s one of those kind of guys.”

Winslow has averaged 14.7 points, 5.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game over his last 13 contests, with the Heat holding a 9-4 record during that span.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Magic center Timofey Mozgov underwent a successful arthroscopic procedure in his right knee, the team announced on social media. Mozgov had the surgery on Friday in Miami, with his return to basketball activity dictated on how he responds to treatment. Mosgov has yet to play a single game with Orlando this season.
  • Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer examines the situation between Kemba Walker and the Hornets, with Walker set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Charlotte has failed to build a successful team around Walker during his time with the team, Fowler writes, but could offer him a five-year maximum extension worth $190MM in free agency. Walker has averaged a career-high 25.3 points, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals this season with the Hornets.
  • Magic coach Steve Clifford praised Aaron Gordon for his solid play in recent games, as relayed by Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel.“I think he’s playing at an incredibly high level and some nights he’s not getting as many shots, but I think it’s because he’s really locked in on just making the right play and making plays for his teammates and things like that,” Clifford said of Gordon. “I think his defense and his rebounding have been terrific and I think he’s in a stretch of games here where he’s just playing really well.”

Spoelstra: Whiteside Leaving Bench Early Is “Unacceptable”

In last night’s loss to the Magic, Heat center Hassan Whiteside left the bench early during the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and did not return. Per ESPN, head coach Erik Spoelstra was not given an explanation at the time, surmising that Whiteside was “probably extremely upset like we all are.”

However, teammate Dwyane Wade provided a more detailed explanation, telling reporters that Whiteside simply left the bench area to return to the locker room early because he had to go to the bathroom, which Whiteside confirmed today, per David Furones of the Sun-Sentinel.

“I didn’t know it was going to be as big of a deal as it was. I couldn’t hold it. My stomach was bothering me,” Whiteside said. I had to go to the bathroom. I’m sorry if that makes me a bad guy.”

Despite Whiteside’s explanation, Spoelstra apparently still wasn’t happy, perhaps not believing that the center’s absence was completely caused by stomach issues. Per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, Whiteside was disciplined internally.

“It’s totally unacceptable behavior by Hassan,” Spoelstra said. “We handled it, as a team, in the locker room today. That’s all any of you need to know.”

Whiteside, who averaged just 25.3 minutes per game last season, his lowest since his first season with the Heat in 2014/15, has so far logged a similar 26.9 minutes per game this season. However, both his rebound and block numbers are up, with his 13.7 RPG good enough for third in the NBA behind Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan.

And-Ones: Team USA, G League, Sessions, D. Gordon

Steve Kerr and Brad Stevens are considered the most likely candidates to succeed Gregg Popovich as head coach of Team USA, but there could be other names in the mix, relays Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype. During a recent podcast, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski mentioned Erik Spoelstra as a possibility, along with Nate McMillan and Villanova’s Jay Wright, although he added that the job will probably go to a current NBA coach.

ESPN colleague Brian Windhorst, who joined Wojnarowski for the show, questioned whether McMillan is really in the running, but called Spoelstra a “very strong” candidate, noting that he is highly respected around the league and is the second-longest-tenured head coach with the same team. Spoelstra’s main obstacle is that he’s not already on the Team USA staff.

There’s more NBA-related news to pass along:

  • The G League’s new alternative to college basketball is getting mixed reviews from some of the nation’s top high school players, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN. The league plans to offer $125K “select contracts” to top prospects who are at least 18 years old but aren’t yet eligible for the NBA draft. Givony talked to a few five-star recruits who haven’t chosen a college — along with their families — and found both interest and skepticism about the new arrangement. “My first reaction was I’d like to hear more,” said Richard Hurt, the father of top-10 recruit Matthew Hurt. “… There are some things that are intriguing about it. It’s not the money. It’s the opportunity to focus solely on what your craft will be. Similar to what a trade school would be.”
  • Ramon Sessions may be headed to Israel, notes Orazio Cauchi of Sportando. Maccabi Tel Aviv is reportedly considering an offer for the 11-year NBA veteran, who played a combined 28 games last season for the Knicks and Wizards. Sessions may replace another former NBA player, Jeremy Pargo, who will miss several weeks with an injury.
  • Drew Gordon tells NetsDaily.com that he sees the G League as his chance to return to the NBA after three years of being overseas. Gordon, who is playing for Long Island, has just nine games of NBA experience, all coming with the Sixers during the 2014/15 season. “I’ve basically been living my life out of four suitcases for the last five, six years,” he said. “It’s always interesting to immerse yourself into different cultures and having to live there for an extended period of time. You just have to learn to go with the flow with certain types of things and be able to adapt quickly and make changes with your game and everyday lifestyle.”

Woj’s Latest: McConnell, Clippers, Kawhi, Butler

The Sixers have discussed a possible contract extension for T.J. McConnell, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said during the latest edition of The Woj Pod. Despite some “conversations” about a new deal, Wojnarowski doesn’t suggest that those talks have gotten serious, and Zach Lowe adds that he doesn’t expect Philadelphia to extend McConnell early, since the team wants to maximize its cap room for next summer.

[UPDATE: Sixers not planning on in-season extension for McConnell]

Still, it will be interesting to see what happens with McConnell, who would be eligible for up to four years and about $47.5MM on an in-season extension. Wojnarowski indicates that the Sixers‘ backup point guard is “in demand” on the trade market, but has always been a favorite of head coach Brett Brown. As long as Markelle Fultz remains a question mark, McConnell is an important part of the club’s rotation.

[RELATED: Sixers turned down Suns’ trade offer for T.J. McConnell]

Wojnarowski and Lowe relayed a few more noteworthy tidbits on their latest podcast, so let’s round up the highlights….

  • Wojnarowski believes that the Clippers’ chance of landing Kawhi Leonard in 2019 are “better than not.” However, while he thinks L.A. is in a great position for Leonard, he cautions that anything can happen between now and next July.
  • Wojnarowski also expects the Clippers to “be heard from again” in the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes, though the ESPN scribe expects many other potential trade partners to re-engage the Timberwolves once Minnesota gets “more realistic” about its asking price.
  • Elsewhere on the Butler front, Wojnarowski notes that the All-NBA swingman has made it clear that the Lakers are “not really a consideration” for him. Conversely, the Lakers think they can do better than Butler with their potential max-salary slot, Woj adds.
  • Both Wojnarowski and Lowe raved about Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, with Woj suggesting that Spoelstra could command $10MM annually as a “free agent” coach. An executive from a rival team asked Lowe last season if he thought the Heat would be willing to part with Spoelstra for a first-round pick — both Woj and Lowe agree that they wouldn’t.

Author Claims LeBron Wanted Riley To Coach In Miami

Early in his first season in Miami, LeBron James sent a message to Heat president Pat Riley that he should take over coaching duties from Erik Spoelstra, author Ian Thomsen claims in a new book. That story is among several contained in “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA,” which Thomsen promoted in a recent appearance on Zach Lowe’s podcast (Hat tip to Dane Delgado of NBC Sports).

Spoelstra was in his third year as head coach when a rift reportedly developed between him and James during a 9-8 start. After a loss to the Mavericks, James dropped a subtle hint to Riley that he wanted him back behind the bench.

“[I] asked how things were progressing,” Riley recalls in the book. “They just said, ‘We’re not feeling it, or something like that.’ We talked about the typical things we have to do, have patience, all that stuff. And I remember LeBron looking at me and he said, ‘Don’t you ever get the itch?’

“And I said, ‘The itch for what?’ He said, ‘The itch to coach again.’ I said, ‘No I don’t have the itch.’

“He didn’t ask any more questions and I didn’t offer any more answers but I know what it meant and I always go back and wonder what he was thinking at that time. He walked out scratching at his leg like it was itching.”

Riley, of course, remained in the front office as Spoelstra led Miami to four straight NBA Finals and a pair of championships. James was involved in a similar scenario after returning to Cleveland, where he reportedly clashed with coach David Blatt, who was eventually replaced by Tyronn Lue.

Southeast Notes: Heat, Spoelstra, Gates, Porter

The Heat have fired a team executive who is under an FBI investigation into a suspected money-laundering scheme, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports. Jeffrey R. David was hired in July as chief revenue officer for The Heat Group after a similar role with the Kings. He had been placed on administrative leave before Miami decided to let him go. David is suspected of diverting $13.4MM in funds from two of the Sacramento franchise’s top sponsors and using it to purchase beachfront property in Southern California.

In other news from around the Southeast Division:

  • The lack of talent on the Heat roster makes it unlikely that Erik Spoelstra will be on the hot seat during the upcoming season, Winderman opines in his latest mailbag post. Miami is not expected to contend in the Eastern Conference and Spoelstra may have to do his best coaching job just to get the Heat into the upper half of the playoff race, Winderman adds.
  • Undrafted small forward Kaiser Gates was among the players who worked out for the Hawks on Wednesday, according to Amico Hoops. The 6’8” Gates started 18 games for Xavier last season and averaged 7.2 PPG and 4.6 RPG. He played for the Bulls in the Las Vegas summer league. Atlanta subsequently firmed up its 20-man training camp roster, so it would have to shed someone if it wanted to add Gates.
  • Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. could get lost in the offensive shuffle with the addition of Dwight Howard and a healthier John Wall, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington speculates. The team has urged Porter the past two years to shoot more often, attack the basket with greater zeal and become a more vocal presence, Hughes continues. That becomes more complicated with Wall, Bradley Beal and Howard carrying more extensive resumes on the starting unit, Hughes adds.

Southeast Notes: Spoelstra, Kidd-Gilchrist, Wall

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will have a difficult time coming up with a rotation after team president Pat Riley failed to address the logjam at several positions, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes. With Hassan WhitesideKelly OlynykBam Adebayo and James Johnson on the roster, there aren’t enough frontcourt minutes to go around and keep everyone happy, Winderman continues. There’s also an excess of shooting guards options (Rodney McGruderDion WaitersTyler JohnsonWayne Ellington and Josh Richardson) even if Dwyane Wade isn’t re-signed, Winderman adds.

We have more from around the Southeast Division:

  • The Hornets are thinking seriously about going with smaller lineups more often, featuring Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at power forward and Frank Kaminsky at center, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports. Charlotte has plenty of rotation-worthy options at small forward and shooting guard to allow those position changes to take place, Bonnell continues. If Kidd-Gilchrist logs significant playing time at power forward, Kaminsky could join an unsettled rotation at center and his perimeter defensive shortcomings wouldn’t be as much of an issue, Bonnell adds.
  • This is a pivotal season for Wizards point guard John Wall, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington points out. Following the upcoming season, Wall’s four-year, $170MM-plus extension kicks in and it’s time for him to show he can lead a major contender, Hughes continues. He must improve his field-goal efficiency and mesh well with incoming center Dwight Howard, Hughes adds.
  • Heat summer-league star Derrick Jones will struggle to find playing time, Winderman wrote in another mailbag piece. Get that info, plus other Miami notes, right here.