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Josh Rosen, taking a snap in minicamp, has a lot of work to catch up to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Craig Davis/Fivereasonssports.com)

Don’t rush to judgment on Dolphins’ position battles

The Dolphins’ offseason program has mercifully come to a close.

That means everyone can exhale and take a break from the breathless analysis of the quarterback contest between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen.

This is a time of hyper scrutiny about everything in every aspect of public interest. And, yes, Dolphins coach Brian Flores did say, “Everything counts,” including how players performed play to play, day to day during the past four weeks of OTAs and minicamp.

But he also said the game and the team is fluid, and he’s not announcing a depth chart going into training camp.

Thus, there is no basis for any of us who have watched a handful of practices over the past four weeks to draw any definitive conclusions about the QB sweepstakes or other position battles.

How soon to play Rosen will be vital question of season

Somehow, we’re getting blow-by-blow critiques of confrontations between linemen before anyone has donned a pad.

Career disappointment DeVante Parker is being awarded gold stars as a June sensation.

Maybe the 2014 first-round pick has finally found his Zen as an NFL receiver. But let’s wait till fall, lest we’re left with fool’s gold again.

As for the quarterbacks, in spring ball Fitzpatrick did look like a seasoned veteran of 14 seasons and Rosen like a guy beginning his second season with his second team trying to find his way as a pro.

As is be expected.

Even Rosen was watching Fitzpatrick for clues, saying, “Whatever he does well, I’m trying to figure out why he did it and emulate it and continue to add my own flavor to it.”

What to watch in training camp

How that dynamic evolves beginning when camp opens in a couple of months will be the prime source of intrigue through the preseason, and it won’t necessarily end when the regular season starts.

We certainly don’t know how it’s going to play out based on these past few weeks when neither does Flores and his staff.

These sessions did whet my appetite for what training camp and exhibition games will reveal. Such as:

Will 2019 first-round pick Christian Wilkins establish himself quickly as an anchor of the defensive line?

Will third-rounder Michael Dieter look as at home as a potential starting guard when the pads go on as he did in shorts?

Will Mike Gesicki turn athleticism into production at tight end in his second season or does he still lack the physicality for the NFL?

Will anyone generate a pass rush?

Will linebackers Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan take significant steps in their second year as starters to elevate a suspect corps?

How will talented but raw rookie Preston Williams fit into a solid group of receivers.

But what I’m most interested in watching is what Flores and his staff accomplish with a roster that clearly is not deep in quality.

Reshad Jones can still help Dolphins defense, if they still want him

Like with the players, there is no basis to draw conclusions about the coaches based on offseason performance.

I do like qualities that Flores has shown. He is genuine and has a clear view of what he believes are the elements that go into building team success.

Coaching matters more in football than in the other team sports. We’ve seen how Bill Belichick maximizes personnel to win year after year in New England.

Can Flores bring that knack to Miami after years as a Belichick assistant? Now he’ll be measured not only against the master as a division rival but also against his Dolphins predecessor, Adam Gase, now with the Jets.

A question of coaching?

With that in mind, the biggest revelation from the offseason sessions was talented defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick talking about the difference for him so far in the Flores/Patrick Graham defensive scheme.

While Fitzpatrick will be used in multiple roles, as he was as a rookie, he said he never quite grasped the ever-changing plan for him last year under then-defensive coordinator Matt Burke, saying in a Miami Herald story, “It was kind of all over the place. It was sporadic.”

Not only are his duties more clearly defined now, he told the Herald that new D-coordinator Graham has shown him some tough love in video sessions:

“They showed me some of the good plays. Some of the things that I was doing well. Some of the things I’ve improved on. It really helped me. Because it’s humbling. They’re not going to lie to you. I love and appreciate it, because great coaches are not going to lie to players. I think it’s definitely good that they coach us like that.”

Who knows where those methods will lead? It will be something else to watch as the summer unfolds and the fall reveals whether a different staff can turn around last year’s historically poor defense and produce more consistent offensive results.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

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Reshad Jones showed he was all about 'Team' on the first day of Dolphins minicamp. (Craig Davis)

Reshad Jones says he’s committed to Dolphins; are they committed to him?

DAVIE – Brian Flores was clearly grateful to avoid beginning the final week of offseason work with controversy surrounding the highest-paid player on the team.

Yes, Reshad Jones was in camp Tuesday and participated in the first of three days of the Dolphins’ mandatory minicamp.

The two-time Pro Bowl safety had opted to skip the previous three weeks of OTAs and earlier voluntary offseason sessions.

Consider that a dead issue. Jones, coming off shoulder surgery in February, said he opted to train away from the team to get himself healthy and physically ready for the rigors of his 10th NFL season.

Jones dispelled any question about whether he is on board with the rebuilding Dolphins under the Flores regime and said he is not worried about rumors that he may be traded.

“I’m in great shape. I’m still one of the best safeties in this league, and whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I’m here, I love the city, I love the fans, I love to be a part of the Dolphin organization.”

Where does Jones fit?

But intrigue remains concerning where the two-time Pro Bowl defender will fit into the scheme being concocted by the Dolphins’ first-year coach and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

And whether Jones will be fully invested in a role that may be different than he’s had in the past.

The memory remains from last season of Jones refusing to go back into the Jets game as part of a rotation plan rather than in his customary every-down routine.

Understandably, Flores said he isn’t concerning himself with what happened last year in Miami while he was directing a New England Patriots defense on the way to another Super Bowl title.

Indications are Flores wants to run much the same system with the Dolphins, and it will utilize a lot of different looks and players in multiple roles.

That likely explains why there are 18 defensive backs on the current roster, the largest of any position group.

The glut of safeties include J.J. McDonald and Minkah Fitzpatrick, as well as Bobby McCain, primarily a slot cornerback who worked at free safety in place of Jones during OTAs.

So does Jones return as the presumptive starter?

A week ago Flores made a point of saying, “I think everybody’s got to work to be a starter in this league, and on this team. … I would say there’s no sacred cow, not in this game.”

Flores downplayed that Tuesday, saying, “That wasn’t part of the conversation” he had with Jones.

“That’s not really a talking point when I’m one on one with a player,” he said. “The conversation was about coming in, learning the playbook, having good communication, working on your fundamentals and technique. Really, a conversation I have with every player.”

Where that conversation will lead with Jones won’t become clear this week. Before the team took the field Tuesday, Flores made a point of letting media members know that Jones wouldn’t be working exclusively with the first unit because they were running some exotic packages that he had needed to learn.

It is apparent that this defensive scheme will be more exotic than standard.

Plenty of DBs needed

In New England, Flores’ defense commonly utilized six defensive backs on the field in passing situations.

“It’s just a lot of movement, a lot of packages, guys paying different roles. Fast paced. It looks exciting,” Jones said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Whether Jones is part of it when games start to count in September is uncertain.

There have been media reports that the Dolphins would prefer to trade Jones for a draft pick. That would make sense if the team is writing off this season and stockpiling future assets.

Jones is 31 and past the stage of being a long-term core player to build around.

He has a guaranteed salary of $13 million for 2019 with a cap hit of $17.3 million, which wouldn’t make him easy to trade.

But make no mistake, Reshad Jones remains a valuable asset that would enhance what Flores aims to accomplish defensively this season.

“I earned my respect in this league. I’ve done everything possible. I’ve been a two-time Pro Bowl safety, everything you can possibly imagine,” he said.

“I put the work in year in and year out and I’m here to help this team win football games.”

As far as finding his way into the exotic packages of Flores’ defense:

“I’m catching up pretty fast.”

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

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Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen looks for a receiver during the third week of OTAs. (Craig Davis for Fiveresonssports.com)

Davis: Should Dolphins QB job be open competition or just play Rosen?

 

DAVIE – The more you see of the Dolphins in May the less you can be sure of where this quarterback situation will be in September.

Sure, journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick merits the tag of de facto starter if they were lining up to play today. You watch the OTA workouts and Josh Rosen is dutifully following along in the veteran’s shadow from drill to drill.

Coach Brian Flores keeps preaching the mantra of competition. It’s clearly designed to bring out the best, not only in the quarterbacks but an entire roster of upstarts and wannabes.

But here’s what will be interesting to observe later this summer through training camp and exhibitions to the onset of games that count: Will the let-the-most-deserving-play dictum really take precedent over the need to settle the most important issue for the future?

That is, will Rosen get the starting job even if he is outplayed by Fitzpatrick in the preseason?

It’s certainly easy to make a case for that. After investing second- and fifth-round draft picks in Rosen, does it make any sense to not start him from Day 1 and see what they’ve got?

The answer will determine whether drafting another quarterback remains the top priority next year or they can move on to another vital area of need.

In my view, the semblance of a competitive situation, whether a ruse or for real, makes sense. Rosen needs to earn the trust of his new teammates. He’s still finding his way in the league after a less than stellar rookie season.

Is QB competition real or a ruse?

The situation will sort itself out. Unless Rosen performs terribly, he will get the opportunity to play.

How that is determined and when it occurs will be the first revealing look into the Flores regime. It may also reflect the Steve Ross X factor – the owner may not want to wait for return on his investment in Rosen.

The one thing we know, the future isn’t with Fitzgerald.

For now, Flores can tout his fundamental belief that competition is like the tide, it raises all ships in the fleet collectively.

Flores, on Wednesday, portrayed both quarterbacks as motivated by past failings.

“I think they both have chips [on their shoulders],” he said.

Four weeks of spring football, which concludes next week with the mandatory minicamp, isn’t about drawing big-picture conclusions.

Nobody is in pads or getting hit for real. The distinctions are more mental than physical. Watch the quarterbacks and you notice, presumed third-stringer Jake Rudock throws a nice spiral too.

Offense demanding for QBs

What is going on is a lot of mental grinding inside those helmets. With a new coaching staff and many players still getting acquainted, there’s a massive amount of learning being done and still ahead.

On offense, the task is to try to grasp the intricate system offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea brought from New England that the Patriots built a dynasty around.

Considering it is a quarterback-centric system, it is ideal for ultimately determining whether the Dolphins have found what they are looking for in Rosen.

“I think any quarterback in this system, it takes a lot [to master],” Fitzpatrick said. “This system puts a lot on us. We’re all in there working as hard as we can to get it down and figure things out. It’s an offense that as a quarterback you love to be in because there’s a lot on your plate.”

Rosen said it’s not totally foreign to him because there were elements of the system with the Arizona Cardinals where he played under Mike McCoy, who coach with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels when both were in Denver.

“They put a lot on the quarterback operationally,” Rosen said. “You see Tom Brady at the line of scrimmage and he’s orchestrating traffic, he’s doing everything super fluidly because he’s been in the offense for so many years. So you can only hope to get somewhere close to that fluidity in it.

“This offense puts a lot on the quarterback and it’s a challenge that I enjoy. … But the thing is, you’ve got to get it down and I’m in that process. Still a steep learning curve but maybe a little bit softer than if I came in kind of cold feet from college.”

Steep learning curve ahead

As for how that process is progressing, here’s Flores’ perspective on Rosen:

“It’s under three weeks, but he’s smart, he’s got a big arm. He’s talented. He’s got some leadership ability. But he’s got a lot to learn. There’s no doubt about that.

“This offense is not an easy one to learn. There’s something new every day. But he’s getting better every day. I like that. I think that’s the case with a lot of the guys we have on this team.”

This year is unconventional, given the circumstance the Dolphins have created for themselves. It’s not about winning now, it’s a laboratory to assemble pieces that, hopefully, can enable them to win soon.

There is the added intrigue of a coach and some assistants trying to transfer success they experienced in New England to a franchise that hasn’t had any in a long time.

It is difficult to reasonably foresee many winning Sundays in 2019, yet it could be one of the most interesting Dolphins seasons to watch in years.

As for what May tells us, here is what Flores has learned about this group:

“They are tough, they give great effort. It’s a smart group. This is a mentally tough group. We’ll see once the pads come on how physically tough we are. But I imagine we will be that too.

“And I think they don’t back down from challenges. I try to challenge this group on a daily basis, and they respond. It’s not perfect every day. It’s an imperfect game, but they work hard, that’s for sure.”

Good thing, because there is so much work to be done.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

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Don’t bet on Heat getting opt out help

With the exception of the surprising return of Dwyane Wade — once from the icy depths of Cleveland and once from the brink of retirement — nothing Heat fans have hoped for has happened of late.

The Jimmy Butler deal? Nah.

A big move at the 2018 trade deadline? Nope.

Getting in the playoffs or getting higher in the lottery standings? Uh uh. Miami ended up in the worst possible in between position.

Benefiting from some lottery luck? Course not.

So the latest hope trafficking — sorry @Lefty_Leif of Miami Heat Beat for stealing the reference — has concerned the chance that Hassan Whiteside ($27 million) and Goran Dragic ($19.2 million) could opt out of the last season of their contracts and free up cap space for the Heat go get a star.

That, essentially, two players who were benched for parts of this season (Dragic after an injury and Whiteside because of the ascension of Bam Adebayo) would help the Heat out of its mess. 

This notion resurfaced this week from the nether regions of Twitter, and started to make the rounds. Even I have made the case that Dragic could consider this, since he’s 32 years old and his family loves Miami — so maybe he would be open to opting out to take a team-friendly 3-year deal that gives him a little more security.

But after poking around some Wednesday, and connecting with someone very close to one of the two players, and with a knowledge of the Heat’s situation, I’m not going to sell this line to any Heat fans anymore. It just doesn’t appear to be in the cards. That source said there was “zero chance” that Dragic or Whiteside would opt out.

“Believe me.”

I’m gonna believe that.

And so should you.

CK Parrot’s takes on the Dolphins’ first round options

Chris Kouffman (@CKParrot) is everywhere.

(Well, he’s actually in Tampa watching tape and managing money, but you get what we mean.)

He appeared on more than five hours of draft previews on our popular Three Yards Per Carry podcast. He made a stop in with Brendan Tobin and Brett Romberg and our Kevin Mayer on the 790 The Ticket morning show.

And he popped in for an hour with Ethan Skolnick and Chris Wittyngham on the Five Reasons flagship podcast.

You can find that episode here. 

We spent a lot of time debating Josh Rosen — Ethan likes trading a third round pick for the Arizona Cardinals quarterback, and CK does not.

Here are some of CK’s takes on players who may be available to Miami at some point in the draft:

Jawaan Taylor, Florida (OT): “He is the best tackle in the draft. The best left tackle in the draft specifically is Andre Dillard of Washington State. And he’s going to get pushed up because he is a left tackle. But Jawaan Taylor is the best tackle period. He reminds me of Laremy Tunsil. He would give me pause certainly if he were available at that 13 overall pick, even looking at him next to a Jeffrey Simmons. But most likely they’re going to try to trade down.”

Isaiah Johnson, Houston (CB): “This is a guy that is a lengthy corner that has genuine speed and good hips. Whereas Greedy Williams is not going to help you much in the run game and support tackling, Isaiah Johnson has a different sort of attitude and will come up and hit you and be really physical. I’m not saying he’s better than Greedy Williams. He is a wide receiver convert and so it’s going to take him a little bit of time. But again, if you don’t care about 2019 as much, you will allow him to develop. I think that will be a fantastic pick for the Dolphins somewhere in Day 2.”

L.J. Collier, TCU (DE): “A Trey Flowers clone. If you watch him on tape and watch him play against offensive tackles, I counted like six times in two games that he just straight up punched an offensive tackle to the ground. It wasn’t that the tackle tripped on somebody. He just knocked his ass up. He’s got those heavy hands, he’s a very powerful passrusher, he’s got different pass rush moves. He can pass rush inside, outside. Really productive guy at TCU. He went to the Senior Bowl and Pro Football Focus had him with the highest pass rush win rate of anybody.”

For more evaluations, check out this story from Josh Houtz here.

 

 

 

Less #Culture, Better #Planning for Heat

The Scavenger’s Miami Heat success story all-but-officially ended with five minutes left in Sunday’s fourth quarter in Toronto, checking out for Dwyane Wade with the score tied at 93 and exactly five minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was reasonable that Rodney McGruder wouldn’t play beyond that; after all, while it’s entirely unclear which players Erik Spoelstra should and does trust at this late stage of the season, the one he absolutely always and rightly will is Dwyane Wade. Spoelstra first surprised me back in the 2015-16 season, after Wade missed a buzzer three-pointer against Charlotte, with one of the coach’s sharpest quotes, that he would go to his grave with Wade taking the last shot at the end of the game. It is a statement Spoelstra has repeated frequently since, most recently after Miami fell in Minnesota as Wade missed from deep just prior to the gun. And they remain words to live by, regardless of what the math may have sometimes said.

So, no, there’s absolutely no issue with Wade entering and McGruder exiting there, nor with the plan to get Wade the ball on the final possession of Sunday’s regulation, with the contest tied at 103. It didn’t work in part because the official gave the ball to the wrong guy, Dion Waiters, allowing Kawhi Leonard to claw on to Wade like a crowd of rabid fans in the center of Shanghai. And it didn’t work in part because nothing really has for the Heat this frustrating, forgettable season, other than that one Wade miracle against the Warriors, which feels a lot like what the Dolphins did to the eventual champion Patriots with that fancy lateral play — a flash of fun signifying nothing. McGruder would re-enter, by the way, with 39.6 seconds left in overtime, subbing in for James Johnson with the Heat down seven. After that garbage time, he would be tossed into the trash, sent to waivers to get the Heat under the luxury tax if someone claims him, since this is a squad that ownership decided, quite correctly, didn’t warrant the allocation of even more money and the suffering of other related penalties.

But what did this season warrant exactly?

And how was it so doomed from the start?

Those are the burning questions to take into the offseason. That’s what the Heat must determine. That’s the self-scouting they must embark upon, engage in, and endure. How did this go so horribly wrong, with so many competent people in charge, in the most competent organization in South Florida sports by a landslide no Democrat in Broward County has ever enjoyed, in one of the smartest and most stable organizations in all of professional sports for an eternity? How did they bungle this so badly? How could they sign so many slightly above-average players to such exorbitant agreements — with none of those players really wanted on the floor at the end of games that mattered? How could they misread the market so significantly? How could they be so stubborn as to continue to push forward this season when pulling back may have made more sense, only to see this team win more than three straight games only once, and now slump on the precipice of losing six straight games at the finish?

How could they not learn from the #HeatLifer catastrophe — a backhanded slap at LeBron James that backfired badly when they later pushed the franchise’s only  truly irreplaceable personality to justifiably storm off — to spend several years pushing the #HeatCulture narrative, only to get played by it, giving James Johnson one of the odder contracts in franchise history after he kept quoting the catchphrase on social media, and giving Waiters the second-oddest after he did the same (even in a column in Players Tribune), only for Waiters to wait on ankle surgery and return in something hardly resembling Riley’s Heat condition? Yes, #HeatCulture exists, in the player development, in the work ethic. But even that slogan can only go so far, as we saw Sunday with McGruder who, for his weaknesses, embodied it as much as anyone but Udonis Haslem on the current roster. No one should blame the Arisons for wanting to get under, even if it meant gifting Wayne Ellington and his 12.1 points per game on 38.1 percent three-point shooting to the Detroit Pistons, a playoff-chasing rival; even if meant the Heat seeming to suppress Kelly Olynyk’s minutes during the team’s choppy January to avoid a tax kicker (he ended up exceeding it); even if it meant cutting against the #HeatCulture narrative to cut the gritty guard McGruder (a starter for too much of this season) with two games left.

That’s not the issue.

The issue is that we cannot possibly justify them paying it.

Not for what that payroll has produced — basically a .500 record over three years.

Some in our network have tried to make excuses for the Heat, pretty much all season, and even now.

And yes, you can line up some of them.

It wasn’t ideal for the Heat’s trade ambitions to be aired during training camp, with that extending into the season until Jimmy Butler was finally sent to Philadelphia — that uncertainty for players (and likely some unhappiness) made this a particularly challenging team to coach. The injuries have hurt, particularly the extended absence of Goran Dragic, who should still be appreciated more than he is, even if his presence makes it more complicated to allow Justise Winslow to flourish. And sure, the timing of Winslow and Josh Richardson getting sidelined was terrible, with Richardson not just once but twice. Yes, some of the officiating of late has seemed to cut against the Heat more than it’s worked for them.

But think of all that’s broken right.

Who expected Hassan Whiteside to handle himself so maturely this season after the way last season ended, especially after he got shuttled to the bench? Credit to him, and to the Heat, for that happening. But if you were told that Whiteside would be a consistent contributor throughout, that Wade at age 37 after a summer of uncertainty would still be scoring 21 in the final week, and that Winslow and Bam Adebayo would make such noticeable strides, would you envision the Heat slipping in the standings from sixth to ninth or maybe even 10th? Falling from 44-38 to no better than 40-42, and possibly 38-44? That they would miss the playoffs, while mostly trying, in this conference, falling behind the rosters that Brooklyn, Detroit and Orlando are running out there?

No, you wouldn’t.

And so it can’t be excused. We can excuse the Dolphins, the Marlins, the Panthers. They haven’t known better. Or, they’ve known better, but they haven’t done better. Over and over. We can’t excuse this franchise. We can’t accept it from this one. This one is our only hope. This one doesn’t rely on gimmicky, unattainable slogans, this one doesn’t try to paper its problems by compelling its fans to chase squirrels (look, Vice Jerseys! hey #OneLastDance!); this one has never acted as if mediocrity is enough. (The old Heat would laugh as Orlando celebrating a Southeast Division title tonight.). This one doesn’t put itself where it is, ending a season prior to America’s Tax Day, then making news by cutting a player two games prior to the end of the season reduce its own NBA tax. This one, with five minutes left in a critical game, has at least five players its coach can count on. Or at least three. Night after night. Play after play. And yet, too often, it was Wade. Only Wade.

But, no, no one should get fired. No one should get reassigned. No one should get prematurely retired, certainly not the person who made basketball matter in this place. This braintrust has earned enough trust over time to avoid such a call, at least for this offseason. That, however, can’t last forever, because it never does in sports. Joe Dumars built a champion in Detroit, and then he brought in chumps, and then he got chomped. There are countless such examples. We are concluding #OneLastDance, and that should finish in a blaze of Wade glory. Loyal No. 3 has earned the right to take every single shot he wants the last two games, from anywhere at any time. He’s the one — other than flashes of the Kids — who has made this season somewhat tolerable, and he’s done it appearance after appearance for a relative pittance, and we shudder to think what next season will be like when he isn’t around to offer Heat supporters a nostalgic distraction, a pump-faking testament to what was once so good here. But after #OneLastDance will come #OneLastChance for this Miami Heat front office, to make the fans believe again. Because right now, that belief is as out the door as #HeatCulture and the symbol of this season — the likable but limited Rodney McGruder.

 

Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) has covered the Miami Heat since most of Miami Heat Beat was in diapers — and reminds them of such, in irritating fashion, every day. 

Sour end feels near for the Heat

MIAMI — It’s been exactly a half-century since the slick Pennsylvanian by way of Alabama and Manhattan  made his proclamation in this same city, a response to a heckler at a promotional dinner for Super Bowl III, a hearty promise of victory his ragtag Jets would fulfill.

As guarantees go, this wasn’t exactly that.

Justise Winslow, just 22, isn’t Broadway Joe.

But what is the Heat swingman supposed to say when asked if his squad can still pull this out? That his team hasn’t shown any consistency all season, not enough to inspire confidence, not with him still a bit rusty returning from injury and his Kid cohort Josh Richardson leaving Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics with another of his own, this one to the leg and seeming at least semi-serious? That the Heat has three difficult contests remaining on the 2018-19 slate, including two against two of the three best teams in the East? That it’s looking like ninth, the worst possible outcome for this Miami Heat squad — neither in the playoffs nor really in the lottery hunt — is also the single most likely one now?

Of course not.

“What is it, four games?” Winslow asked reporters. “4-0.”

So that’s as close as you’ll get to a called shot on a night that the Heat’s core perimeter players — Winslow, Richardson, Dion Waiters, Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic — missed 43 of 64 shots, wasting excellent efforts from Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. But that’s the thing with this team. That’s been the thing all along. Everything is half. Half a good quarter. Half a good game. Half a good week. Half a good roster one night. The other half the next.

Half the time the zone works.

Half the time — especially when it’s used as much as it was Wednesday — it doesn’t, even if Erik Spoelstra said otherwise.

And it’s not just on the court. The front office and coaching staff have been half-stepping all season, never diving into anything. Half committed to the guys with the contracts, half committed to the Kids. Half committed to the present and future, half committed to the past. Half committed to pushing for the playoffs, half committed to holding rotation players out or dealing them for nothing to cut into the luxury tax.

Half measures.

Half wins.

Half losses.

Well, two more losses than wins, 40 compared to 38, with too many of those defeats to terrible teams (Phoenix, Atlanta) coming back to haunt now, as you knew they would. If this season is lost, it wasn’t lost with this loss Wednesday, to one of the conference’s supposed contenders, quirky as the Celtics may be. It was lost with the losses against the tankers, when it was obvious the Heat’s talent wasn’t enough to overcome arrogance.

And it’s hard to ignore the obvious, that they will be one step away again.

One win from the playoffs in 2016-17.

One spot from Donovan Mitchell in that next draft.

Stuck in the middle, again and again.

South Florida’s visionary franchise…. often, oddly without a direction.

“The Heat have set the tone for being ahead of the game,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst told us on our podcast this week. “They’ve been ahead of the game on so many things. You listen to Tony Fiorentino talk about when he first came to Miami, and how ahead of the game Pat was on video work, and how they were ahead of the game on scouting. And Chet Kammerer, one of the great scouts has been ahead of the game on finding players. And the way they were ahead of the game on getting their players physically fit, Riley was ahead of the game on that. They were ahead of the game in salary cap manipulation. They were ahead of the game in Super Team building. Certainly there had been Super Teams that were built before the Heat, but the way the Heat did it all in one fell swoop and managed it, they were ahead of the game.”

Now they’re just below middle of the pack, and have been only slightly better in the cumulative over the past five seasons.

“They’ve always, always, always been ahead of the game, and thought it out,” Windhorst continued. “And so it’s just such a shock to the system that they made the mistake of locking themselves into a non-All-Star players the way that they did. And the fact that this summer, the biggest free agent summer since 2010, the Heat are completely locked out of it. And it’s just so unusual.”

It’s not as if they haven’t tried, of course. They tried for Kevin Durant, but ended up just keeping Whiteside. They tried for Gordon Hayward, and were close, and Hayward (25 points, eight rebounds, five assists) showed Wednesday why the Heat courted him so vigorously prior to his calamitous injury.

“He had a big night for them,” Wade said, after the second-to-last regular season home game of his career, with the last coming next Tuesday against the 76ers. “That’s what good teams do. They have different guys on different nights that can have those big nights for them and you don’t have to just rely on one guy. That is why this team right here (the Celtics) is good.”

The Celtics are good enough for fourth in the East, which is actually a disappointment compared to preseason projections. But better than the Heat, because the Heat haven’t known which player to rely on this season. It was Richardson early, but he doesn’t fit the alpha role. It has been Dragic at times, when he’s gotten healthier after an extended absence, though he struggled Wednesday. It has been Winslow some, too, but then he suffered the thigh bruise setback, and he didn’t look sure of himself in his return. And even then, the Heat haven’t turned over the keys to him completely; too often, he’s put in a watching role, as others get their turns; in a sense, this season has been Justise vs. Justify (the expensive presence of the veterans). Of late, it’s Dion Waiters, who had 21 points Wednesday, but is averaging an outlandish 11.2 three-point attempts per game over the past six games, making some shots for sure, but also snuffing out possessions that could be used by others.

Oh, yeah, and often, the player relied upon been a 37-year-old who was more than 80 percent sure he wouldn’t even play this season, until he did. (Check out our episode with our cinematographer Bob Metelus for that, with the back story of how he, Lisa Joseph, Gabrielle Union and others had to convince him to play). It’s a tribute to Wade that he’s carried so much burden, but it’s also reflective of an organization in flux. He wasn’t supposed to be needed like this. Not now. Not anymore.

And now he has four games left, unless Miami fulfills Winslow’s guarantee and wins them all, or at least three. Do you expect them to do that? With Winslow gimpy? With Richardson uncertain? With Waiters chucking? They’ve won at least four straight only once this season, a five-game stretch just prior to Christmas.

“We have four left,” Wade said. “We knew we have a tough schedule. We have to figure out a way to win some games down the stretch. We are going to go out there and give our best every night and hopefully we get a few to put ourselves in.”

Not exactly Namath.

“It feels like we’ve been in the playoffs for several weeks,” Spoelstra said. “We need to shut our doors and not listen to everything out there. It’s going to go down to the last game as expected.”

You know they’ll shut them halfway.

And go 2-2.

 

Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) has covered the Miami Heat since 1996, which means he hasn’t seen many teams miss the playoffs. (inset photo by Alejandro Villegas)

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