- Heat guard Max Strus, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, admitted that he can’t help but think about what his next contract might look like and whether he’ll remain in Miami going forward, but he doesn’t feel like it’s affecting his play at all, per Barry Jackson and Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. “It wouldn’t be human to not think about it,” Strus said. “I wouldn’t say it’s added pressure or anything like that.”
- Following the bankruptcy of crypto exchange company FTX, the Heat‘s arena will be getting a new name. As Douglas Hanks of The Miami Herald details, the arena will be called the Kaseya Center, assuming a $117MM agreement with a local software company is approved next week by Miami-Dade County commissioners.
Omer Yurtseven‘s second season was derailed by an ankle injury that required surgery and caused him to miss the first 65 games of 2022/23. After returning in early March, he struggled to gain traction in the Heat‘s rotation despite feeling “100 percent” healthy, per Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald.
“It’s not been, I guess, the best,” Yurtseven said regarding the uncertainty currently surrounding his role. “But in terms of the opportunity, it’s there and I think the toughest part has been not knowing and staying ready. But that’s my job right now, so I’m embracing it.”
As Chiang writes, Yurtseven was getting an extended look during the preseason playing alongside Bam Adebayo in a two-big lineup, and Yurtseven started his lone preseason game before the injury. Now his role and future are uncertain — the 24-year-old center will be a restricted free agent this summer if the Heat give him a $2.2MM qualifying offer, Chiang notes.
Here’s more from the Southeast:
- Heat star Jimmy Butler was ruled out of Tuesday’s loss to Toronto due to neck soreness, Chiang adds in the same story. It’s unclear if he will be available for Wednesday’s game in New York.
- The Hornets surprisingly have the NBA’s top defense since the All-Star break, writes Nekias Duncan of BasketballNews.com, who takes a look at how Charlotte has made strides on the less glamorous end of the court. One player making a major impact is point guard Dennis Smith Jr., according to Duncan. Smith, who missed Tuesday’s win over the Thunder due to a sprained right big toe, is on an expiring minimum-salary contract and is set to his unrestricted free agency in the offseason.
- Magic guard Jalen Suggs had a strong performance in Sunday’s win over Brooklyn following a four-game absence due to a concussion, notes Nathaniel Marrero of The Orlando Sentinel. The 2021 No. 5 overall pick recorded 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 24 minutes. Suggs has been hampered by a variety of injuries in his first two pro seasons, but has been playing better the past couple months when active, averaging 10.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.2 APG and 1.6 SPG on .444/.388/.732 shooting over his past 19 games (25.2 MPG). Unfortunately, he finished just 1-of-10 from the field in Tuesday’s loss at Memphis.
- Heat point guard Kyle Lowry has yet to receive medical clearance to play in both games of back-to-back sets, he said this morning (Twitter link via Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald). Lowry’s expectation is that he’ll play his old team in Toronto on Tuesday and then miss Wednesday’s game in New York.
When veteran power forward Kevin Love signed with the Heat off the buyout market, he was hoping to help the team avoid the East’s play-in tournament bracket by securing a top-six seed, writes Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
A member of the eighth-seeded Cavaliers last season, Love’s team lost two consecutive play-in contests and missed out on the actual playoffs. After being squeezed out of Cleveland’s lineup this year, he negotiated a buyout to join Miami, optimistic his new team could skip the play-in process.
“I’m very grateful for this opportunity, the opportunity to play,” Love told Winderman. “Because in Cleveland I don’t know if that would have been the case… So I wish I had more time… But, again, every game is huge for us at this point. So trying not too hard to put too much pressure on myself or press too hard. But we do need to win basketball games.”
Miami is currently in a dead heat with the Nets for the No. 6 seed — both teams are 40-35.
There’s more out of Miami:
- Heat players are aware that the team, which had a top-five defensive rating through the All-Star break, has had one of the NBA’s worst defenses in the 16 games following said break, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. “I say the lack of communication when we get fatigued [is to blame for the lapse],” opined Bam Adebayo. “I feel like that’s the big momentum shift — when guys get fatigued, we stop talking. It hurts us because we expect guys to be in certain places and we’re not.”
- Beyond moving off the contract of center Dewayne Dedmon, the Heat had a fairly quiet trade deadline. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald explains that the team did have offers from other teams to take on some its costlier salaries, presumably for veterans Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson, but rival clubs wanted Miami to offload first-round picks in any such exchange. The Heat were unwilling to do so.
- Heat reserve center Cody Zeller, another veteran buyout market addition, appears set to return to action on Tuesday against the Raptors, Chiang reports (Twitter link). A broken nose has held Zeller out of the club’s previous six contests.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra recently raved about Kyle Lowry‘s performance in a new role off the bench after the veteran guard returned from a nagging knee injury that sidelined him for 15 games, according to Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“I think that month of really dedicating himself to getting healthy, getting his leg right, has paid a lot of dividends,” Spoelstra said. “In the minutes that we’re playing him right now, he looks fantastic. And then we’ll just continue to monitor him and we’ll see when we can take the next step.”
As Winderman notes, Lowry has averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds on .586/.579/.833 shooting in five games (24.9 minutes per night) since he returned. The Heat have gone 4-1 in those contests. Lowry is officially listed as questionable for Saturday’s important matchup with Brooklyn, Winderman adds.
Here’s more on the Heat:
- Lowry might not be starting, but he has played the entire fourth quarter in each of the past two games, both victories, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald (subscriber link). “Just getting us in sets, slowing us down, getting us to cohesive triggers and he’s being so vocal right now,” Adebayo said of Lowry’s value. “It’s vital for our team. It’s the end of the year. He had some time off, so I feel like he’s really fresh. It’s good to have a fresh Kyle Lowry out there.”
- Victor Oladipo has been a healthy scratch in three of the past four games — the one game he played was when Lowry sat out the front end of a back-to-back. He says the role reduction caught him off guard, but he’s trying to stay positive and be ready when called upon, Chiang writes in another story. “I wish I could answer,” Oladipo said of his reduced role. “It’s not something I’m used to. So I’m not really sure how to go about it. Like I said, I’m just focused on improvement and getting better.”
- The Heat will only have Non-Bird rights on veteran big men Kevin Love and Cody Zeller, but that might be enough to bring them back without using their taxpayer mid-level exception, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. The Heat could offer up to 120% of their current salaries, which would be about $3.7MM for Love and $3.4MM for Zeller, with the veteran’s minimum for both players projected to be worth $3.1MM, Jackson notes. Miami used its biannual exception to sign Love, so it will not be available in 2023/24.
- Couper Moorhead of Heat.com takes an in-depth look at the 20-year career of big man Udonis Haslem, sharing stories from teammates, staff members and coaches. The 42-year-old is retiring at the end of the season.
For the rest of the regular season and postseason, Hoops Rumors is taking a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents during the 2023 offseason. We consider whether their stock is rising or falling due to their performance and other factors. Today, we’re focusing on a handful of Southeast players.
Kristaps Porzingis, F/C, Wizards
- 2022/23: $33.8MM
- 2023/24: $36MM player option
- Stock: Up
I think Porzingis has been the Wizards’ best player this season. You could interpret that as a backhanded compliment since they aren’t very good, but I don’t mean it to be — he’s having a career year.
Through 62 games (32.6 MPG) in 2022/23, the 27-year-old is averaging 23.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.9 SPG and 1.5 BPG on .492/.375/.849 shooting. The points, assists and steals per game represent career highs, and he’s scoring more efficiently than ever, recording career bests in FG%, 2PT% (.556), free throw attempts (6.5 per game), free throws made (5.5) and true shooting percentage (.621).
Porzingis is also playing solid defense, with opponents shooting just 56% at the rim against him, per NBA.com‘s data — a strong mark. He has generally been an active deterrent, and it’s tough to shoot over someone 7’3″.
The biggest question mark surrounding Porzingis has always been his health, as he could surpass the 70-game mark for just the second time in his career this season. Maybe something in the three-year, $105MM range could be within reach – I’d be hesitant to go out four or five years.
Kevin Love, F/C, Heat
- 2022/23: $28.9MM + $3.1MM
- 2023/24: UFA
- Stock: Down
Love was the runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year in 2021/22 after putting up 13.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 2.2 APG on .430/.392/.838 shooting in 72 games (22.5 MPG) for Cleveland. He had a solid start this season, averaging 11.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 2.6 APG on .425/.409/.861 shooting in 15 games (21.3 MPG).
Unfortunately, he sustained a thumb injury that impacted his outside shooting – a huge reason why he had been an effective bench piece. Over the following 26 games (19.3 MP), he averaged just 6.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 1.4 APG on .364/.308/.926 shooting. The Cavs subsequently pulled him from the rotation, but he still wanted a chance to play, so the two sides reached a buyout agreement, with Love catching on with the Heat.
In 14 games (21.4 MPG) with Miami, he’s averaging 7.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 2.0 APG on .383/.286/.850 shooting. Love has always been a very good defensive rebounder, and he is a terrific outlet passer. However, he is an overall poor defensive player, he’ll be 35 years old before next season begins, and he has a lengthy injury history.
It’s hard to envision him getting more than a one-year contract in the offseason, and I’d be very surprised if it’s for more than the taxpayer mid-level exception (projected to be $7MM).
Max Strus, G/F, Heat
- 2022/23: Minimum salary
- 2023/24: UFA
- Stock: Down
Strus is already a success story as an undrafted free agent who originally caught on with Boston and then Chicago on two-way deals before tearing his ACL in December 2019. He worked his way back through the G League and caught on with Miami before ‘20/21, inking another two-way deal.
He impressed the Heat enough to earn a two-year, minimum-salary contract, and had a terrific season in ‘21/22, averaging 10.6 PPG and 3.0 RPG while shooting 41% from deep on high volume in 68 games (23.3 MPG). Strus was so important that he was starting for the Heat in the playoffs as they came very close to making it back to the Finals.
As with Love, Strus started the season well, averaging 15.1 PPG and 3.8 RPG on .460/.378/.864 shooting 15 games (33 MPG). He has been in a prolonged shooting slump for much of the rest of the season though, averaging 10.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 2.3 APG on .387/.328/.892 shooting over the past 57 games (27.9 MPG).
Strus isn’t a great defender, but he’s not a liability. The main reason he plays is to make timely cuts and space the floor. He’s shooting just 34% from three this season.
He’s only 26, so I have no doubt that he will get a multiyear contract and a raise on his minimum salary. But his stock is definitely down compared to last year.
Moritz Wagner, F/C, Magic
- 2022/23: Minimum salary
- 2023/24: UFA
- Stock: Up
Part of the reason Orlando was comfortable trading Mohamed Bamba at the deadline is that he had been supplanted in the rotation by Wagner, a fifth-year big man who played his college ball at Michigan. Wagner missed the first 18 games of the season while recovering from a foot injury, but has played well since he returned.
A talented, energetic and decisive scorer, Wagner is averaging a career-high 11.1 PPG along with 4.7 RPG on .496/.310/.844 shooting in 51 games (20.2 MPG). He has played well as a fill-in starter, averaging 14.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG and 1.1 SPG on .525/.339/.869 shooting in 17 games (26.7 MPG).
At 6’11” and 245 pounds, Wagner has an interesting blend of ball skills and footwork for a center. He’s quite effective at using pump fakes to drive and spin his way to the basket, frequently drawing fouls. He’s converting 62.8% of his twos and 84.4% of his 3.4 free throw attempts per game, which is why his true shooting percentage is well above average (62.8%) even though he’s only shooting 31% from deep.
The 25-year-old has outplayed his minimum-salary deal, and the Magic have his Bird rights if they want to bring him back. Wagner is not a rim protector and he’s just an OK rebounder. Perhaps something in the range of $5-8MM per season could be within reach.
Kelly Oubre, G/F, Hornets
- 2022/23: $12.6MM
- 2023/24: UFA
- Stock: Neutral
Oubre brings prototypical size on the wing at 6’7″ with an enormous 7’2″ wingspan. He’s an excellent athlete and excels in the open court.
Through 48 games (32.2 MPG), the 27-year-old is averaging a career-high 20.3 PPG along with 5.2 RPG and 1.4 SPG. He missed a good chunk of time after undergoing hand surgery in January.
The scoring looks nice, but it’s paired with below average efficiency, as Oubre has posted a .431/.319/.760 slash line for a 53.4 TS%. He has also recorded just 54 assists against 819 field goal attempts in ‘22/23, a remarkably low percentage. That isn’t an aberration – he’s only averaged 1.0 APG in 527 career games (25.8 MPG).
As a free agent in 2021, Oubre signed a two-year, $24.6MM contract with the Hornets, with the second year only guaranteed at $5MM. He has spoken multiple times about wanting to remain in Charlotte. I find it hard to believe he’ll get much more than he’s currently making on a short-term deal, but he hasn’t hurt his value either.
The Heat are preparing for the most important week of the season in their effort to avoid the play-in tournament, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Miami is seventh in the East at 39-34, three-and-a-half games behind the Knicks and one game behind the Nets. The Heat will host New York on Wednesday and then will welcome Brooklyn on Saturday.
“It’s like our March madness, our April madness. It really is,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I see the similarities right now. Every game is a must-win. And if you’re a competitor, you have to love this. Maybe not exactly where we are and how we got here. It doesn’t matter.”
The Heat didn’t expect to be fighting for a playoff spot after posting the best record in the East last season, but a combination of injuries and inconsistent play has resulted in a disappointing year. Although the players would prefer the security that comes with a top-six finish, they believe they can be a tough playoff matchup from any spot.
“As long as we win, I think we’re going to be all right, no matter what place we’re in,” Jimmy Butler said, “whether we’re in the play-in, whether we’re the eight seed against the one. As long as you win, I don’t think you have too much to worry about.”
There’s more from Miami:
- The Heat’s defense has imploded since the All-Star break, but the blame shouldn’t fall on new addition Kevin Love, Chiang adds in another Miami Herald story. Chiang notes that Miami’s defensive rating has actually been better with Love in the game, although that’s partially because he usually shares the court with Butler and Bam Adebayo.
- Gabe Vincent is trying to avoid being distracted by his upcoming free agency, but he admits it’s on his mind, per Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel. Vincent has taken over as Miami’s starting point guard while Kyle Lowry has been dealing with knee pain. “I feel like I have established myself in this league and showed everyone, all 30 teams, that I can play and I can help a team win,” Vincent said. “So in terms of being stressed out about it, I’m going to leave that to my agent and let him deal with it and just do what I can to help the Miami Heat the remainder of this year.”
- The Heat may not be done with Orlando Robinson, Winderman suggests in a separate story. He notes that Robinson is still eligible for four more NBA games on his two-way contract, and Spoelstra seems to have more confidence in him than Omer Yurtseven as the backup center. Winderman adds that Cody Zeller is likely to take that role whenever he returns from a broken nose.
The Heat are trying to manage Kyle Lowry‘s knee issues and he’s trying to adjust to a second-unit role. Erik Spoelstra is seeing some benefits from Lowry coming off the bench, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel writes.
“We’re trying to figure this out, and it’s really more of a health issue than it is a performance issue or even strategy concern,” the Heat coach said. “Want to make sure that he continues to feel good and then we can hopefully scale more minutes. But what we saw the other night was one of those great benefits and luxuries of having a Hall of Fame point guard be able to organize that group.”
Lowry has averaged 19.5 minutes the last two games. The Heat have listed him as questionable for their game against Chicago on Saturday.
- Restoring Duncan Robinson to the Heat rotation is unlikely at this point, as Winderman explains in his latest mailbag. Robinson’s best shot at minutes would be to have Kevin Love and Gabe Vincent removed from the rotation, since Max Strus and Victor Oladipo are also fighting for playing time.
Wednesday marked the first time this season that Heat guard Victor Oladipo was kept on the bench when he was healthy enough to play, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Oladipo has missed 33 games with a variety of injuries, but he was a DNP-CD against the Grizzlies even though Miami cruised to a 19-point win.
Chiang points out that Oladipo has been ineffective since the All-Star break, shooting just 35.6% from the field, and the Heat have been getting outscored during that time by 8.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. Still, coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters that he didn’t intend to bench Oladipo entirely, and his absence was a result of trying to figure out rotation minutes now that the team’s injury issues have subsided.
“How it played out tonight is not necessarily what I had on my card and the first guy I talked to was Vic, obviously,” Spoelstra said. “We have not been in this situation for three or four months, where we’ve had everybody available. I had every intention to play him in that first quarter.”
There’s more from Miami:
- Omer Yurtseven played just 2:11 in the first half Wednesday before being replaced by Haywood Highsmith, Chiang adds. There was hope that Yurtseven could take over the backup center role after returning from November ankle surgery, but he has struggled in his first three games back on the court. Spoelstra was visibly upset with Yurtseven’s defense in Wednesday’s game, Chiang observes, but the coach indicated that he’ll still get more opportunities. “O is working,” Spoelstra said. “He’s doing what he needs to do behind the scenes and drilling and working and preparing and watching film. There’s a lot of expectations in those minutes. But he’ll be prepared, he’ll be ready.”
- Cody Zeller sat out Wednesday with a broken nose, but the team is expecting him back in “a couple of days,” Chiang tweets. When he returns, the veteran center will likely wear a mask, just as he did when he broke his nose last season with the Trail Blazers.
- Jimmy Butler, who had been averaging 26.1 PPG since the All-Star break, continued his outstanding play with 18 first-half points Wednesday, but got a much-needed rest in the fourth quarter with the Heat leading comfortably, per Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel. Butler’s recent outburst has kept Miami in the race to avoid the play-in tournament, trailing the Nets by just two games with 11 left to play.“We need every bit of it,” Spoelstra said of Butler’s aggressiveness. “He’s not going to take his foot off the pedal.”
Hornets center Nick Richards has enjoyed a career year in Charlotte, writes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer.
Boone wonders if Richards, who is eligible for restricted free agency this summer, has carved out enough of a role to warrant consideration as a long-term member of the rebuilding club’s roster. Richards is averaging a career-best 7.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 1.0 BPG this season.
“I’m just trying to be more consistent,” Richards said of his improvement this season. “I’m just getting as many blocks as possible, getting as many rebounds as possible. That’s my job, that’s what I’m here for. So, I’ve just got to do it to the best of my ability.”
Boone tweets that Richards will most likely earn another start tonight, as nominal starter Mark Williams is considered doubtful to play through a right thumb sprain.
There’s more out of the Southeast Division:
- In his first contest back with the Magic following a three-game absence, a big overtime victory over the Heat, starting center Wendell Carter Jr. helped galvanize his team, writes Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. The 6’10” big man scored 27 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in Orlando’s 126-114 win. Price notes that the Magic’s defensive efficiency suffered mightily with Carter sidelined.
- After being sidelined for 15 straight games with a sore knee, Heat point guard Kyle Lowry played off the bench for the first time since January 2013 in Saturday’s loss to Orlando, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald (subscriber link). Gabe Vincent drew the start. Lowry is adjusting to the change, having started for 677 consecutive games. “At this point, I know in my heart I’m a starter,” Lowry said. “(Head coach Erik Spoelstra) and I talked and he wants to make sure I’m healthy and not have to change the lineup again and change the rotation. Great communicator he is, great coach he is, I respect (that).”
- Heat reserve center Omer Yurtseven made his first appearance this season after Cody Zeller broke his nose and had to depart the Magic game, Jackson adds. Yurtseven, a restricted free agent this summer, had just one rebound, one missed shot, and a foul in seven minutes.