Mateo’s Hoops Diary: In Dame deal, Cronin over his head

Jack Kent Cooke and Barbara Jean Carnegie. Golden Boy Promotions and Canelo Alvarez.  Mick Taylor and The Rolling Stones. When relationships run their course, the end can be as bitter as watching a partner’s success without you. Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of a public divorce. We should be lucky it’s not as bad as it was for Tiger Woods, or no one has gone crazy like OJ.


Joe Cronin is that guy at the party who refuses to accept his partner (Lillard) is eyeballing the big shot in the room. Training camp is 11 days away, and Lillard keeps liking posts online thanking him for his services in Portland. Right now, it’s getting uncomfortable, but hopefully, it won’t turn toxic, but this is the NBA after all.


Friday, Cronin’s chief crony (Adrian Wojnarowski) echoed the calculated whispers fed into his shell that Portland was looking around the league for more offers and that recent chats didn’t include the Miami outfit. Comically, I heard no mention of the Heat daring them to find a better deal. History is likely repeating itself from last February when Woj insisted the Brooklyn Nets had no interest in trading Kevin Durant, only for him to pivot when he had no choice.


The reaction around the league for the KD swap was that Phoenix compensated Brooklyn fairly while getting away like John Dillinger. ESPN graded the Nets a B for the exchange, yet included this detail in its reasoning in its exclusive content: “It would be interesting to know what the Nets could have gotten from the New Orleans Pelicans and Toronto Raptors, teams with higher-upside young prospects and (in New Orleans’ case) tantalizing draft picks coming from the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.”


At the time of the deal, Mikal Bridges, the best player in the swap, was described as “the definitional 3-and-D archetype,” but since the trade, he has blossomed into a player on the verge of stardom.


By the way, Durant only helped the Nets win one series, tried to have the owner fire his GM and coach, and was gone midway through the first year of his four-season extension. Brooklyn got back Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Juan Pablo Valet (currently with Bàsquet Manresa), four First Round Picks, two Second Round Picks and one pick swap.  Durant is still in the top 10 in the world and likely among the greatest 25-ballers to ever touch the hardwood.


At the end of the article, there was this: “Ultimately, debating whether the Nets got enough for Durant is almost beside the point…”


Suddenly, these PR agents masquerading as analysts/reporters demand that the Trail Blazers get a war chest of picks, a star player, the rights to Michael Jackson’s master recordings and, if I hear correctly, a blood sacrifice.  Allegedly, Blazers brass wants the Heat to “scrounge” its bulletproof offer, too, but that would be an exercise in futility for Pat Riley’s team.  They won’t compete with themselves.  The adults in the room indicated the interest is there, but sloppy Joe Cronin has pigheadedly searched for a suitor that doesn’t exist beyond third-team relief.


Why should anyone else trade for Lillard? Don’t they know of the power the pissed-off star player wields and how coaches are quick to meet the proverbial guillotine? Let another team bring him in. I guarantee 30% effort on his behalf, enough to break a sweat but not nearly to win. Such a move would likely put the coach and executive’s jobs at risk for wasting everyone’s time. 


Keep in mind, one of the four pillars of South Florida media, Barry Jackson (Miami Herald), reported that Lillard would ask for a trade to Miami if dealt to another squad. 


Lillard is one of the top point guards in the league. Citing the Durant trade as the standard price on a deal is foolish.  Sub Zero (Lillard) is a Portland hero, and only Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler can say they did more for the team. But he’s never impacted winning like the Slim Reaper has. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell did go for hauls, but spare me.  Neither should have.  The Heat are not required to jump off a cliff because Cleveland and Minnesota walked too close to the edge and tipped over.  


Woj carrying Portland’s water won’t spur irrational action by the Heat.  With the season quickly approaching, I believe it starts, and Portland, at some point, circles back to Miami because the vibes are sour due to another season of mostly losing.  Lillard will eventually turn into the malcontent who can’t be around the young players because it’s clear what he wants is the last thing they do.

Most impactful Miami Heat players of all-time

The Miami Heat has been operational since the 1988-89 season.  Through its halls have passed some of the league’s greatest players.   The names below are staples of the culture and the most impactful competitors to represent the Heat.  


Honorable Mention- Mario Chalmers:


Chalmers was a great activator. His versatility as a combo guard made him an excellent catch-and-shoot option and cutter next to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.  In the corners, Rio converted 44.6% of his tries, and those shots were 30% of his field goal attempts.  His marksmanship helped gape driving lanes in the half court, and he was good for a couple of paint baskets too.


Defensively, he was solid, reading the passing lanes and staying in front of ball handlers. 


During the Heat’s 2012 and 2013 Playoff runs, The Superintendent (Chalmers) averaged 10.4 points nightly while splashing 35.6% of his 3-point shots.   


One of his finest moments in White Hot was Game 4 of the 2012 Finals in Miami, dueling Russell Westbrook.  He recorded 25 points to Westbrook’s 43, but both couldn’t stop each other.  Chalmers relocated on the perimeter for catch-and-shoot bombs supplied by James and feasted on drive and cuts, finishing layups through traffic.  He tied with Wade for the second-leading scorer on the Heat. 


In the 2013 Finals, Chalmers got his licks in (19 points) on the Spurs as they were routed in Game 2. He dropped six quick points at the end of the third quarter that ignited a 32-6 run for Miami for the next eight minutes.  In Game 6, with the Heat facing elimination, Chalmers scored 20 points, making 63.6% of his field goals and four of five triples in 42 minutes.


If only coach Erik Spoelstra trusted him more in 2011. 


  1. Udonis Haslem


The Captain recently retired after 20 years of service, becoming the only guy alongside Dirk Nowitzki (21) and Kobe Bryant (20) to play at least two decades for one team.  


In his younger days, he was the perfect four next to Wade, capable of hitting the midrange shot, extending + denying possessions and playing fierce defense. As a third-year forward, Haslem was first in offensive rebounds during the 2006 Finals, where he averaged over six boards and over a steal.  


UD was one of the toughest men in the league.  He averaged at least eight rebounds in six seasons, one coming alongside the Big Three (2011).  


UD is a role model who gave up minutes so others could have opportunity and develop their skills.  He didn’t play much after 2016, but he could have if he wanted to go elsewhere.  In his career finale, Haslem scored 24 points on nine of 17 shots. 


9.Goran Dragić:


Steve Nash’s understudy, who later turned into an All-Star for the Heat, was the good soldier through multiple builds. He was elevated to team co-captain in October 2017 after leading the club in scoring the first year of Dwyane Wade’s departure.  He kept the title until he was included in the sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry.  


In seven years with Miami, Dragić played in 431 games, regular season and Playoffs combined. In 2018, he was like a wrecking ball attached to a crane for destruction when entering the lane.  He converted 57% of his layup attempts that year, and only 27.3% of his two-point shots were assisted. 


In the Orlando bubble, Dragić was Miami’s leading scorer, sweeping the Indiana Pacers and its second leader in the stat against the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.  While balling in Game 1 of the Finals, he tore his left plantar fascia, benching him until the last match, but he was still wounded.  


He was more than a gateway player between builds. Dragić was a star when Miami needed him to be one.  In his tenure, he recorded 13,394 minutes in a Heat uniform and finished 10th in Playoff scoring for the outfit (712). The Dragon will never be forgotten.


8.Bam Adebayo:


Bam Adebayo has become the Heat’s second-best draft pick, selected at 14th in the 2017 Draft.  In six seasons, he developed into a top-five defender and playmaking big with range up to 16 feet from the cup. 


Adebayo just turned 26 in July, and he’s already been a starter on two teams that made the NBA Finals while making the All-Star Game in both campaigns.  In NBA history, there are only 17 Center/Power Forwards who, at 26 or younger, had started for more conference champions than Adebayo, per Stathead.  He is also one of 37 players to do it twice by his age.  


Against the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 Finals, #13 was Miami’s strongest performer. He logged 21.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists on 41.7 minutes a night through five matches, primarily guarding Nikola Jokić too.  For the regular season (2023), Adebayo scored 1,098 points in the paint, second of all players, just behind Giannis Antetokounmpo. In 2020, he finished fourth. 


Since “Paint Points” have been recorded by the NBA since the 1996/1997 season, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, and Hassan Whiteside are the only other Heatles who have been top 10 in the stat. 


7.Chris Bosh:


CB sacrificed the most during the Big Three’s four-year dominion of the East.  He was a hybrid big with an inside-out game on both sides. His screening and deep jumper opened avenues for his partners, and he missed just 25 regular season games during that stretch. On nights when James or Wade, or both rested, Bosh would take over.


In road trips against the Hawks and Spurs without Wade and James and versus the Trail Blazers without #6, Bosh delivered a dub each night in style. First, on Jan. 5, 2012, in Hotlanta, he splashed a right-wing triple when Chalmers got doubled at the top of the key. 


Next season in San Antonio, on March 31, 2013, he buried another catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from straight away as Danny Green and Tiago Splitter followed Ray Allen to the left side. 


 In Portland on Dec. 28, 2013, off a poor feed from Wade, who was iced on the roll, Bosh canned a right-wing bomb over two defenders to close the curtains.  


His finest moment came in the last seconds of regulation during Game 6 of the 2013 Finals when James missed a left-wing triple.


“Rebound to Bosh, kicks it to Allen…,”  ABC broadcaster Mike Breen exclaimed live. Then Allen’s 3-pointer swished, forcing five more minutes.  At the end of overtime, Bosh tracked Green curling to the corner off a sideline inbound, met him 24 feet out, and denied the tie.  


When James left for Cleveland, Bosh shifted back to the first option. As the go-to guy, he earned two more All-Star selections until blood clots ended his career.  


6.Shaquille O’Neal:


O’Neal arrived in Miami at 32 but had three-and-a-half years of Diesel left in the tank.  In his first season in White Hot, he was second in field goal percentage (60.1) and #2 in MVP voting. Despite lower production than his season averages, he still logged a double-double in the 2006 Finals. Additionally, during that Playoff run, he was the league leader in offensive rebounds (75) and blocks (34).


Heat president Pat Riley said in 2016 O’Neal was the biggest whale he ever caught, giving him the most credit for “changing everything” for the Heat.


O’Neal could float in the air, power through and around defenders, and at times, devour double teams and glide down the court like a runaway train. 


In Game 6 of the 2006 ECF, O’Neal took charge, dropping 28 points, 16 boards and five blocks to push the Heat into its first championship series. In the next series, he assisted the squad in defeating the Dallas Mavericks in six games.


In three Playoff runs with Miami, Shaq Fu averaged 18.8 points, nine rebounds and one-and-a-half blocks. 


  1. Tim Hardaway: 


It’s been 25 years since Hardaway last suited up for the Heat, and he still holds the two best passing seasons for the club. In 1998, he logged 672 dimes, and in 1997, 695.  The only other Heat player to crack 600 assists in a year is Sherman Douglas, doing so twice.


In 1997, Hardaway was the decision maker for Miami’s first 60-win (61) season, and with Alonzo Mourning, led it to the ECF, losing in five games to Michael Jordan’s Bulls.


His crossover was one of the most lethal moves defenders have ever seen, creating separation for a jumper or dive to the hole.  Between 1997 and 2001, only 20.2% of his two-point shots were helped on by teammates.  


  1. Alonzo Mourning:


Zo was the Heat’s first superstar. When he was traded to the Heat in 1995, it went from being a cute expansion group to a team on the rise.  The face of the team wasn’t just Pat Riley anymore, but a ruthless, two-way big with a dazzling smile shared that honor.


In 1997, he and Hardaway led Miami to the ECF, losing in five to the champions, who would repeat.  Then, the Heat fell three years straight to the Knicks. 


After helping Team USA win gold in the Sydney Olympics, Zo was gearing up for the next season (2000/2001) when a physical exam returned problematic.  He was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which robbed him of his gifts. Although, his health improved shortly, and he was able to play in the last 13 games of that year. But the condition persisted after the 2001/2002 season, where he played in 75 games.  He missed all of the following year.


Eventually, after a kidney transplant in December 2002, a short stint with the New Jersey Nets, and getting traded to the Toronto Raptors, who bought him out, Zo was back in black.  He would go on to play a reduced but highly impactful role in Miami’s win in the 2006 Finals.  In his brief 14 minutes in Game 6, Zo swatted five of Dallas’ attempts.  He led the series in blocks (9), playing just 66 minutes.


Heat lineups

 3.Jimmy Butler:


 In four years, the Jimmy Butler experience has resulted in two Finals trips, three tours to the Conference Finals, the most Playoff wins for any team since 2019/2020 (38) and a handful of personal awards. 


Butler led the Heat, as the fifth seed, past the East’s first-ranked Bucks in round two and the third-positioned Celtics in the ECF in 2020. In the Finals, he recorded two triple-doubles in Miami’s wins over the Los Angeles Lakers. 


After he missed the pull-up 3-pointer to tie in Game 7 at home against the Celtics in 2022, he vowed to come back the next season, and he fulfilled his promise. Under his leadership, the Heat became the second eighth seed to make the Finals and first Play-In group to do so. 


On the way to the 2023 championship series, Butler and Co. took out the top squads in the East, Milwaukee and Boston.  The Bucks were no match as he laid waste to their defenses.  The latter lost Game 7 at TD Garden, a night Butler had 28 points, seven rebounds, six dimes, and three steals, and also held The Larry Bird Trophy, in the home of the Green.


While hobbled, facing the Denver Nuggets in round four, JB averaged 41.1 minutes a night and was Miami’s leading playmaker (6.4) and second in scoring (21.6).


2.LeBron James:


He is the most talented player to put on the uniform.  James’ four years in Miami was him at his apex, winning back-to-back MVPs and consecutive championships as option one.


Defensively, he was the most versatile player in the league during these years.  In the 2011 ECF, he had moments neutralizing the reigning MVP Derrick Rose and also guarded Tony Parker at times two years later in the Finals.  He made an All-Defensive team in each season.


Offensively, he was an unstoppable bulldozer with better finishing numbers than most centers, while he took shots from everywhere.  He made jumping over John Lucas and slamming a one-handed lob look effortless.  Bodies would bounce off him, and he wasn’t phased, like when he pulverized Jason Terry, converting an alley-oop pass in Boston.  And he was a killer. At the old Oracle Arena, he isolated Andre Iguodala, stepped to his left and buried a well-contested left-wing triple for the win. Wade didn’t play that night.


In Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, before Ray Allen’s equalizer, the Heat was down 10 points at the start of the fourth quarter. To hold off a hostile championship celebration, King James scored 16 points on seven of 11 shots and set up Chalmers and a shoeless Mike Miller for 3-point shots.  


In Game 7,  James scored 37 points and made the go-ahead basket in front of Kawhi Leonard, which put the game out of reach.


He missed 18 games in four years with the Heat, none coming in the Playoffs.

1.Dwyane Wade:


Wade is one of the greatest slashers the NBA ever saw.  In his Playoff debut, he broke down Baron Davis with his dribble up top and dashed into the lane for a game-winning floater.  By sophomore year, he was a star worthy of Second Team All-NBA, leading the Heat with O’Neal to Game 7 of the East Finals but losing to the Detroit Pistons.  He missed the previous match after warmups didn’t go smoothly, and the Heat lost by 25 points that night. 


Next season, Wade took over the Finals, overcoming a two-game deficit and winning the next four over the Mavericks.  In that series, he logged 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists.  He earned Finals MVP.


In the post-Shaq, pre-Big Three era, Wade distinguished himself as a certified top-three player, even finishing third behind James and Kobe Bryant for MVP in 2009, despite logging a higher point, assist and minute average.


That season, in March (9), Wade had 48 points in a double-overtime win at home, outplaying Chicago’s Ben Gordon and a young Rose.  At the end of the second overtime, Flash stole the ball from John Salmons attempting a behind-the-back dribble in front of Haslem. Then he raced to the opposite key and took off for a one-legged triple to call the game. 


In year two of the Big Three experiment, Wade willingly deferred touches to James to ensure the Heat had the highest chance of winning. He instantly became the most overqualified side piece in the NBA, but it helped earn back-to-back championships and push his ring count to three.


When James left, Wade put forth two strong seasons, getting to one Game 7 of the East semis with a battered unit versus the Toronto Raptors.  In round one of that Playoffs, Wade saved his team from a road elimination, dropping 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter in Charlotte in Game 6.


When he returned from tours in Chicago and Cleveland, he helped Miami get back to the Playoffs in 2018 after missing it in its first season without him.  In 2019, his farewell tour was the highlight of a frustrating year as the team didn’t have enough to carry him into the sunset.  He went out the only way he could, emptying the clip and recording a triple-double with his closest pals at Barclays Center in attendance.  


Wade holds the team record in points, assists, steals, starts, minutes, made free throws and converted field goals. He has a 12,097-point lead over #2 in scoring, Mourning, per Stathead.  


At the start of his Hall of Fame speech, Wade was interrupted by supporters chanting, “Let’s go Heat.”  There’s no finer way to sum up how Wade’s career went, with the honors he achieved and the hearts he touched.  

Tyler Herro’s time in Miami has mattered

The Heat capturing the White Whale, Damian Lillard, likely means the end for Tyler Herro in Miami. There is a path to trading for Sub Zero (Lillard) that doesn’t include #14, but pulling off such a swap should get Portland’s Joe Cronin sent to the gulag. 


In four seasons, Herro logged 8,830 minutes in a Miami Heat uniform in the Playoffs and regular season. Of players who have spent their first four years with the team, only three have scored more: Dwyane Wade, Glen Rice and Rony Seikaly.  In the Playoffs, Wade is the lone name ahead of Herro.  


From the supernatural run the Heat went on in the bubble to the moment he dove for a loose ball that broke two bones in his hand, Herro was always a good soldier.  He earned the league’s reserve crown in 2022 while averaging 20.7 points nightly.  The following campaign, as a starter, he still recorded 20 points per game, but on a higher 3-point attempt rate and True Shooting percentage. 


Without Herro, the Heat went on another improbable run to the Finals but fell three wins short of the championship.  This gave his critics/detractors ammo to go on record, stating the squad was better without him. They’re wrong.  


Assuredly, the group plays differently if he doesn’t go down, but he was balling in Game 1 in Milwaukee before the injury.  Secondly, Herro’s availability doesn’t stop Jimmy Butler from incinerating defenders and schemes.  Had he been healthy, Bam Adebayo would’ve had one of his most-trusted playmakers feeding him lobs through the middle too. Herro only converted 37.8% of his attempted triples in the regular season, but somehow he wouldn’t be useful. Riddle me that.  


Before Game 2 of the Finals, Denver’s coach Michael Malone was asked about Herro’s potential impact on the series. He said, “We know what kind of talent he is” and elaborated on all his skills.  


Unfortunately for Herro, he couldn’t get back in time to help his team. In the previous Playoff run, he hurt his groin and played poorly before that. Sometimes players are unlucky until they aren’t.


At 23, Herro is far from his peak as a shot creator and is underestimated as a distributor. In 2023, he assisted on 19.1% of his teammates’ baskets, putting him in the 93rd percentile for his position.


On the attack, he is a drop coverage killer and finishes well within 3-10 feet of the basket (48.3%). 


Defensively, Herro spent 61.1% of the season matched up with guards. He held them to 44.7% shooting from the field.  In 2022, his Defensive Field Goal Percentage was 40.8%. 


 As a sixth man, a lot of his time came against other reserves, but it was balanced by playing 9.8 minutes in fourth quarters, good enough for eighth in the league that season.  As a starter, he was used just as much in the last intervals.


As of today, Herro is sixth in made 3-pointers (601) and 17th in points logged (4,272)  for the Heat.  He turned into one of the top five draft picks in franchise history because of his dedication to the lab.


His 37-point eruption in Game 4 of the 2020 East Finals, which came as a rookie, should always be remembered fondly in Heat lore.  That night, he was the best player on the court that Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown stood on to push the Heat to a 3-1 lead over the Boston Celtics.   


In 2022/2023, Herro logged the second-most minutes of all Heatles while being fifth in games played.  If this is the end, his time in White Hot mattered.  Wherever he ends up, his new outfit is getting a future All-Star.

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Damian Lillard’s rep is not on the line

Damian Lillard’s reputation as one of the top leaders in the NBA should be unassailable. He’s also one of the three players in Trail Blazers history with the World’s Most Famous Deadhead and the Glide, and a deserving member of the league’s Top 75 (76 really) ballers list.  Yet these days, he’s besmirched by outside fans and media for wanting to play for the Eastern Conference champs while his commitment to Portland hasn’t ended. Naturally, most of the lot is siding with management over labor. 


Some whine, “He has four years on his contract, plus he said he wouldn’t run from the grind…” But teams try to get off bad deals when players aren’t living up to them.  When those moves are made, writers, broadcasters and fans applaud the machinations of the exec(s) who got it done.


And the lickspittles also cry that Portland shouldn’t send him to Miami, his chosen destination, because it can’t offer the most lucrative deal for him. They confuse Lillard with an imbecile and are wrong about Miami’s potential package.


Yet I care not for their observations because the Blazers drafted his successor instead of honoring the agreement with Dame to build a contender around him. Scoot Henderson will likely turn into a fine player, but he’s an understudy for the foreseeable future. Unless his impact is like Magic Johnson’s or that of Larry Legend as a novice, his addition doesn’t move the pendulum in the short term for conference supremacy. Had the team traded the pick before Draft night, everyone would have known they were for real about competing. 


Lillard did say he envisioned himself having a chance to win a championship in Portland before last season, but he’s changed his mind. His agent Aaron Goodwin is throwing his weight around by contacting suitors not named the Heat and telling them to buzz off; this makes Dame a “villain” because he is fixing the market for himself, which will probably work.


In a rose-covered world, Lillard stays in Portland and delivers its first title since Walton led the ‘77 outfit over the 76ers for the jewels.  But in the real one, he wants out because what he desires today is not what he craved in the past.  And likely because the Trail Blazers’ average 42 wins a year in the regular season since drafting Lillard, and he has appeared in 87% of those games.  


Maybe ring culture got to him, or like many people, he doesn’t want to spend all his years in the same sandbox. Perhaps both, but it doesn’t matter.  People at the peak of their professions should be skilled enough to decide where they want to work.  Lillard’s been at the top for a long time.  


I’d prefer he doesn’t waste away as a stud mentor to a group with a first-round ceiling. Last season was his 11th in the NBA, and Dame logged the highest scoring average of his career (32.2).  He turns 33 on July 15.


When the front office’s anxiety and desperation levels rise because no deal is percolating, props to Goodwin, aside from the one left simmering on the stove top with Miami, the figurative stare down with Lillard will end. Trying to hightail his wagon out of town with years still committed while leaving the only organization he’s played for in this fashion still isn’t enough to taint his fame.  


It’s important to remember the league is a business first, and labor will not hesitate to use that card against management.

Mateo’s Hoops Diary: Max and Gabe Deserve Their Flowers

Friday was graduation day for Max Strus and Gabe Vincent.  Both, in their time with the Miami Heat, turned from undesired prospects to must-have role players that helped the group make history.  With their services, the Heat reached its seventh NBA Finals, this time as the second eighth seed and the first Play-in group to do so.  


In the regular season, Strus was 11th all-time in team history in made 3-pointers (428) and fifth in the Playoffs (90).  Vincent finished 18th (288) and eighth (77) in the same category.  Without their artillery strikes, Miami’s famed shot at glory never occurs.


Strus suited up for the Heat 230 times in the regular season and Playoffs.  He’s a combustible weapon from deep who improved at dribbling on drives and cuts.  Through three rounds in the 2023 Playoffs, he converted 34.9%* of his attempted triples.  His finest moment in the Finals was Game 2, when he uncorked the Heat’s offense with 14 points in the first quarter.


Vincent contributed to 239 outings for the group. He was them since before the Orlando bubble, where he recorded 15 seconds total during the 2020 Postseason.  He eventually took Lowry’s job and finished his tenure with White Hot recording 12.7 points a night on 37.8% deep shooting in the 2023 Playoffs.


 In Game 2 of the Finals, he logged 23 points and gave Jamal Murray fits on switches to assist the Heat in its only win in the championship round.  


The club’s financial situation made it vulnerable to outsiders poaching the goods, and that’s what happened.  The Heat managed to at least exchange Strus in a sign-and-trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs, getting back a second-round pick and a $7.3 million trade exception. Yet, the consequences are dealing with him and the up-and-coming Cavaliers multiple times a year and potentially in the Playoffs. 


Nnamdi wanted to stay, reportedly, but the Los Angeles Lakers made him an offer he’d be silly to pass.  He’ll now be LeBron James’ bailout man like Mario Chalmers was ages ago.  


Friday wasn’t a total loss for the reigning East champs because it signed former Heater Josh Richardson for the low. He is only 29, and his career was budding with White Hot before getting dealt in the Jimmy Butler four-club swap in 2019.  Yet, since he left Miami, JRich has been passed around more than loose bills at a peep show.  


Richardson does some similar things as Strus and was well-liked in his four-year stint.  The production can be replicated, but he’s not as ignitable as Strus and likely won’t generate the same gravity behind the 3-point line.



In the worst-case scenario, the Heat can move Kyle Lowry back to lead, but there’s still a hole behind him or in the starting unit if his health doesn’t hold up.  On Draft night, Miami picked up five more undrafted prospects. Two are guards.


Developing undrafted diamonds is a skill the organization is recognized for league-wide.  But squeezing the juice out of these guys takes multiple seasons.  If Richardson is a dud and the new understudy, whoever he is, isn’t ready, Strus and Vincent’s departures will be a destructive blow to competing on Jimmy Butler’s timeline.


Unless the White Whale Damian Lillard, who asked for a trade Saturday, parachutes into Miami.  That is the great equalizer and shifts the Heat back to contention.  


According to The Athletic and TNT, the Nets and Heat are the leading suitors. Things move fast in the NBA, and a situation can change in a day if an opportunity isn’t seized.




Bam Adebayo and Butler aren’t turning into long-range sharpshooters, ever.  Tyler Herro enters next season as the most dependable outside threat, but he’s an off-guard.  The outfit needs a playmaker who keeps the ball swinging, buries catch-and-shoot triples and doesn’t turn the rock over.  Lillard can do all of that in his sleep with an arm tied behind his back, but in case he ends up elsewhere, that’s the floor the starting point guard has for next season.    


At exit interviews, Strus said it was special getting to the Eastern Conference Finals and the Finals as a starter.  “That doesn’t happen for a lot of people.  A lot of guys don’t even make the Playoffs in their career. I have a lot to be thankful for…”


He was honest, too, with his explanation that money would be a key factor in his decision.


Vincent said the group was what he was most proud of because of how it fought through adversity.  “I just wish we could have got it done for the rest of the guys.”


Strus and Vincent’s hard work carved them a permanent spot in Heat history.  At the end of their new deals, they’ll still have a long career expectancy in the NBA.  It may just be the end for now.  



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Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Suns create new star trifecta with trade for Bradley Beal

Peacetime in the NBA lasted three days following the Nuggets’ parade through Denver. Phoenix swiped Bradley Beal from suitors, sending back expired goods in Chris Paul that might be surrendered, plus acquired a pointless asset in Landry Shamet with some sloppy seconds.

Real deal Beal and the Wizards finally divorced after 11 years with zero trips out of round two. Yet, he was third all-time in minutes played in the regular season for the squad (24,091).

Through 740 outings, Beal logged 16,448 points in the Playoffs and regular season as a Wizard. In the last two years, he was limited to 90 games because of injuries and a suspected soft tank. When available, he is a fierce three-level firecracker who draws extra attention and is underappreciated as a secondary passer.

Before last season, the top brass did him no favors, exchanging Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Ish Smith for Will past “The Thrill” Barton and Monte Morris to the mountain cowtown. Yes, that squad that became the second team from the ABA consolidation in 1976 to win a title after the Spurs.

This Just In: The Kroenke family is weighing sending exiled Wiz general manager Tommy Sheppard a cubic zirconia-laced circlet for arming the champs with the Pope and Smith’s valuable counsel from the sidelines.

Beal is a gunslinger, but, surprisingly, Phoenix emerged in the hunt for him post signing Frank Vogel as head coach when it needed a point guard or reserve munitions. For his career, the former Gator has recorded a scant 10% of his time as lead orchestrator, per Basketball Reference’s position estimate.

The new acquisition doesn’t fit Frankie’s mold on defense either because Beal isn’t recognized as a disruptor, but he has a 6 ‘8 wingspan to work with. The one thing I’m sure to rule out is the Suns throwing Russell Westbrook a life preserver.

But wait. Do the Suns have enough to offset the coin flip curse of 1969?

Dissatisfied Deandre Ayton might develop an allergy to the rock playing and screening next to three high-usage scorers. He’s needed a fresh start for multiple seasons, but the Suns kept him hostage. There’s no word if the top brass will negotiate a ransom with an interested outfit for help in other areas. Although, I fear dealing DominAyton will have less than stellar returns because of two recent Playoff letdowns.

The Suns have three ignitable weapons. Guarding this group on a sideline inbound will be a nightmare dealing with a trifecta that’s effective working off a script.

Before Game 5 of round two, the Nuggets and Suns were tied with two wins. For the pivotal next game at Ball Arena, the Suns used 12 players, and one of its starters logged eight minutes. At the very least, having Beal (healthy) lets Phoenix roll with a shorter rotation. Putting in Beal for Josh Okogie might be an approximation, too, of when Durant replaced Harrison Barnes in the Warriors lineup seven years ago. There’s a deadlier marksman now behind the sights.

Devin Booker, KD and Beal can each attract a double team, but how does a rival send one if the Suns are moving the ball and keeping Ayton and the fifth starter involved? Perhaps when one sits, but most of the game will go by with at least two in.

On the other side, Beal will work with proven schemes and capable defenders. For this to work, he must stay in front of the ball outside, get over screens quickly and never leave his feet. If he does get beat, Durant and Ayton will likely be roaming behind him in the backline. Significant strides on this end are achievable. The new guy will see firsthand at training camp with Booker when they match up.

Beal made the rich even wealthier, and he gets to age gracefully next to some of the best. The Nuggets won’t sweat this, but the rest of the West will.

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: The Heat is a team to be proud of

A tale of two arenas; Monday, one side was bathing in champagne and the other likely in tears. Aaron Gordon, Christian Braun and coach Michael Malone, at separate times, embraced the fans waiting for them behind the line ropes in the tunnel. Then Ömer Yurtseven passed the hallway with his suitcase, looking like he’d seen a ghost.

Heat vice president of basketball ops Andy Elisburg even made an inconspicuous escape through the loading dock as we, the press vultures, scattered and waited for the Nuggets to pass by en route to the locker room.

“Those last three or four minutes felt like a scene out of a movie. Two teams in the center of the ring throwing haymaker after haymaker…” Erik Spoelstra said moments after Game 5.

But I’d say the entire season felt that way. In the last couple of months, the Heat expended everything it had physically to get to the NBA Finals, overcoming the Play-In Tournament to three wins away from a title.

It wasn’t luck, and qualifying it as such would be a tasteless misrepresentation of genius. The Heat legitimately became the beast of the east when it took out the alleged monsters at the one and two seed, Milwaukee and Boston.

Sure, Giannis Antetokounmpo logged 38% of the series minutes in round one. Miami still eliminated Milwaukee in its building the night the Greek Freak dropped 38 points and 20 rebounds.

In the next series, the Heat shattered the fifth-seeded Knicks’ home-court advantage and won both in Miami to go up 3-1. Jimmy Butler missed Game 2 because flop merchant Josh Hart jumped into his ankle, probably capping his explosion the rest of the Playoffs, despite what he says. Miami finished New York off in six.

Its seven-match Eastern Conference Finals with the Celtics should be remembered as a classic. A wise scribe once said the best series involves both squads winning at least two on the road. Miami won three, lost three and then redeemed itself, but in the ECF, three victories came away, and Boston earned two at the Kaseya Center.

The Playoffs have an unmatched ability to expose a player’s genuine basketball character. Tyler Herro, a 20-point per game scorer who recorded 37.8% of eight attempted triples in the regular season, broke two bones in his shooting hand 19 minutes into Game 1 in Milwaukee. His absence could have plunged the group’s chances because of its reliance on him as a dribbler and floor spacer. Yet, the Heat continued to move the rock well and log the highest 3-point percentage in the Playoffs.

Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin combined to make 38 of 76 (50%) 3-pointers in the ECF with Boston. Max Strus was at his best in the Conference Semifinals against New York, contributing 14.7 points on 35.4% long-range efficiency but an eye-popping 79% on 2-point tries (19).

Kevin Love, former ‘Wolve and Cavalier acquired from the buyout market in February, had 18 starts out of 23 Heat Playoff games. His marksmanship and lacerating outlet, plus half court passes, were a secret weapon through three rounds. Spoelstra inserting him as a starter in Game 2 of the Finals in Denver was one of the pivotal adjustments that propelled the visitors to a dub. He shot poorly but recovered extra possessions and was disruptive against the Nuggets’ drives in the backline.

Butler was the frontman for the Heat’s campaign. In Game 4 against Milwaukee, he dropped 56 points, tied for the fourth most ever in a Postseason match. Through it all, he finished with 592 on his scorecard in 23 outings. Only 16 players in NBA history have supplied more through a Playoff run.

In the Finals, Adebayo was the Heat’s finest performer. He was tasked with trying to contain the league’s most nuclear weapon, the Joker, and still had the energy to bestow 21.8 points on 45.5% shooting in over 41 minutes nightly.

The Heat made mistakes too. Spoelstra didn’t trust Haywood Highsmith to play real time in the Finals, and Butler was too passive for lengthy spurts in multiple outings, while Miami was overmatched. Had Highsmith been used as a rotation piece when Vincent and Strus went cold instead of relief minutes, and Butler had been more authoritative, it would have only delayed the inevitable.

Wednesday, the Heat conducted exit interviews. Adebayo said the moments he went through with his teammates were appreciated.

“You never know what can happen next year,” Adebayo said. “You never know what can happen at the deadline. So for me, I just soak in all the good moments, the bad moments, the adversity, all of it. You cherish it because that’s what makes it a brotherhood. We’ve been through so much this year, and I feel it’s brought us closer as brothers.

But one of them is guaranteed to be gone from the locker room. Captain Udonis Haslem’s watch has ended.

UD’s impact is unreplicable. He sacrificed playing time for the development of the troops starting back in 2015. Haslem trained as hard as anyone and was a respected voice behind the scenes, in spite of uniformed factions of the fanbase and clueless media members wondering why the Heat used the 15th roster spot on him. He’s walking away because he’s fulfilled as a pro, and the guys get it now.

At Sunday’s media day, while Denver was up 3-1, Butler said there was no appreciation for the journey. It came short, but the Heat was the second eighth seed and first play-in team to reach the NBA Finals. JB didn’t think too much of it because he’s cursed with always wanting more. But Wednesday he said his biggest takeaway was his gratefulness to compete with his teammates.

The theme of the regular season was one step forward, two backward. It’s why the group developed the reputation for getting tasks done the hard way. The Heat was the 12th seed on Nov. 21, a month into the season, through 18 games. It never ascended past the sixth seed.

“I am just grateful to be a part of the run we had,” Strus said. “It was a very fun basketball experience for me, and I’ll always remember the moments and run we had. As far as what’s next, I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to it, enjoying the journey and letting things take care of itself.”

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Matthew Tkachuk and Jimmy Butler led the Panthers and Heat to the finals.

Pressure Point: Heat, Panthers give S. Florida rare gift, face challenges

The malaise felt today in South Florida is the hangover from two exhilarating months of thrills and delights from an improbable dual championship pursuit by the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers ending with an abrupt thud on consecutive nights.

These two teams in very different sports linked by geography adhered to parallel scripts all the way to the bitter end, from No. 8 seeds that barely made it into the playoffs to riding companion waves of destiny that carried to their respective finals but washed out short of the trophy presentations.

We certainly hoped for a parade or two, but couldn’t have expected any more effort than these two teams gave us.

That was underscored in the wake of the Panthers’ humbling 9-3 exit at Vegas on Tuesday night when Panthers coach Paul Maurice revealed that four of his players had broken bones, including superstar Matthew Tkachuk with a fractured sternum.

In the spirit sharing the pain, Heat star Jimmy Butler sprained an ankle during the playoffs and appeared limited in the NBA Finals, though he discounted it was a factor. (Certainly doesn’t account for why he rushed that last desperation shot with 17 seconds left and ample time to work for something better.)

Playoffs take physical toll

Injuries aren’t an excuse. By any objective assessment, the Heat and Panthers were beaten in every phase of the game in their finals. The Panthers, for chrissakes, went 0 for 14 on the power play in the Stanley Cup final and gave up a short-handed goal to begin the Game 5 blowout.

The Denver Nuggets and Vegas Golden Knights were the superior team and deserving champion in each final series.

Still it is a letdown for South Florida because of how difficult it is to get to a championship series, and we may never see the likes of this again.

The Panthers and Heat nearly didn’t make the playoffs this year and will find it challenging to get back next season.

The Heat was overpowered by the Nuggets’ big men, just as they were by the Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals. More brawn is needed in the front court, has been for years.

But it will be difficult just to keep key parts of this roster together due to salary cap constraints.

Heat in salary cap bind

The Heat already has $176 million in payroll commitments to 10 players for 2023-24; the cap is expected to be around $134 million. Three of five starters in the Finals — Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Kevin Love — will be unrestricted free agents.

The team is committed to one more season at $29.6 million for aging guard Kyle Lowry. Duncan Robinson, relegated to a reserve role for most of the season though a bright spot in the NBA Finals, is owed $18.1 million next season.

Still, Pat Riley and salary cap guru Andy Elisburg have been painted into a corner by burdensome contracts before and found creative ways out. Already rumors and speculation are linking Portland’s eight-time All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and Washington Wizards veteran guard Bradley Beal to the Heat.

So expect the offseason to be intriguing, though far less entertaining than the playoff run.

Bill Zito, in three years as Panthers general manager, has also proved to be astute at roster reshaping, notably swinging the deal for Tkachuk while up against the salary cap ceiling.

With the Keith Yandle contract coming off the books, Zito has about $10 million in cap space to work with this summer.

Several Panthers facing surgery

The problem for the Panthers will be in recovering from this grueling playoff run. Maurice said Tuesday night that several players will need surgery and face months of recovery.

The NHL season opener is about four months away.

The physical toll and effort expended by both teams lends perspective to the spectacle of the past two months in South Florida sports.

“You can appreciate it now. What we went through is miraculous,” said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who during the playoffs broke a foot, twice dislocated a shoulder and tore an oblique.

“The way some guys played and collectively as a team the way we played was pretty incredible.”

The region has had a fair share of championships but having a pair of lovable overachievers locked in on the same pursuit simultaneously was remarkable to experience.

Dual playoff runs captivated South Florida

For weeks we ate dinner in front of the TV or flocked to sports bars and arenas in neighboring counties (even for away games). We stayed up until 2 a.m. to see the Panthers win in four overtimes over the Hurricanes at Carolina to open the Eastern Conference finals.

We saw the Heat squander a 3-0 series advantage in their Eastern finals, losing a heartbreaker at home in Game 6, only to somehow throttle the Celtics in Game 7 in Boston.

Watching the Heat and Panthers win their respective Game 7s to eliminate Boston teams in their shared arena were high points of the whole postseason from a South Florida perspective. The opposite feeling is shared now.

Or as Maurice said, “This is one of the top four or five bad days of your life when you lose in the Stanley Cup.”

Then he added, “but even now standing here, I love those guys. They gave me a great year of my life.”

The Panthers and Heat have given all of South Florida a great gift. Now the baton passes to the baseball Marlins (currently in playoff position) and the football Dolphins and Hurricanes.

Hopefully dream chasing becomes contagious around here.

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

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Nuggets beat Heat in Game 5 to win first NBA championship

The crowd roared as confetti rained on the Denver Nuggets, holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy for its first time. As the final minutes of Game 5 faded, family members of players and coaches rushed through the tunnels to join their people. Public relations agents, ex-players down to the ball boys and security guards were walking with their chests out in jubilation.

To start, Miami forced Denver to commit four turnovers in three minutes, but coach Michael Malone stopped time, summoning his troops for a correction. It resulted in an unmatched 12-point burst, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra issued the club’s first break.

Bam Adebayo missed two easy shots at close-range defended by Nikola Jokić but swiped off the nerves, making four straight buckets, facing up, and attacking through pick and pop plus the roll. Max Strus was his only help, scoring eight points while the rest of the unit had two.

Jimmy Butler was plagued again by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s rapid hands, getting blocked on a low post-up, and he missed as Jokić’s length bothered him in drop coverage. The first sign of an off night for JB came when he missed both free throws in the first following three bricks.

In the first interval, the Heatles were curbed to 35.7% shooting but took four more shots and two additional freebies. They also drew two fouls apiece on Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green and Jokić, compelling Malone to sit his trusted former back-to-back MVP two minutes earlier than his average.

In the second quarter, Butler isolated Deandre Jordan for a scoop layup and finished a fastbreak dunk. Kyle Lowry splashed two 3-pointers, one at the top of the key against the drop and another well-contested strike from the corner.

Defensively, the Heat contained Jamal Murray to a pair of baskets by staying with his dribble and contesting the step-back up top or pull-up from the elbow.

At halftime, the Heat led 51-44. Adebayo had 18 points on eight of 13 attempts. Butler had eight on 25% shooting.

In the third quarter, Jokić fractured the visiting advantage by exploiting mismatches of Vincent stuck on his hip and backing down Adebayo from the perimeter to cup for a hook with a putback.

Miami multiple times tried to get actions going in the paint, but Michael Porter Jr. and Jokić’s tentacles caused eight misses in the box.

In the fourth quarter, Spoelstra made a dreadful mistake by inserting Cody Zeller for a minute. Miami was up a point, but within multiple possessions, he was attacked in the paint, and his overhelping on a drive gave away the Heat’s advantage as Murray canned a left-wing trifecta.

Suddenly, JB turned from Alfred the Butler into Playoff Jimmy as he hit two 3-pointers, a pull-up in the post, plus five free throws. But as Miami was up one with 90 seconds left, Bruce Brown tracked down an offensive rebound and laid it up off the glass, giving Denver the lead.

Miami engaged in the free throw formality, but it was too late. The Denver Nuggets won the 2023 NBA championship. It was the first time the organization had been in the title round since the 1976 ABA Finals when losing to the New York Nets in six games.

At the postgame presser, Malone said his team isn’t satisfied with the outcome, but it’s looking towards more.

“The last step after being a champion is to be a dynasty, “ Malone said. “So we’re not satisfied. We accomplished something this franchise has never done before, but we have a lot of young talented players in that locker room, and I think we just showed through 16 Playoff wins what we’re capable of on the biggest stage in the world…”

Porter, who at 23 had his third back surgery, arrived at the speakers table next, reeking of champagne and asking someone in the room to join him up front. There were no takers. He said adjustments were made, but being a close-out game, the intensity level was the most significant change.

“It was physical, people were missing shots, it wasn’t a pretty basketball game, but that’s what winning a championship is all about,” Porter said. “You got to be able to win in many different ways… It’s just about winning.”

Caldwell-Pope was next. He said it was amazing to have the Nuggets get back to its first Finals since 1976.

“I’m excited to just be a part of the history that we made tonight,” Caldwell-Pope said.

While KCP was answering another scribe’s inquiry, Jokić arrived and informed him his media availability had concluded by affectionately pouring a beer on his head.

When the Joker took the stage, he was asked about the emotions in his journey, going from pick #41 in round two of the 2014 Draft to NBA champ and Finals MVP. He said, “It’s good. We did a job. I think we played the best basketball in the Postseason…It’s a great journey, the 41st pick, but to be honest, that doesn’t matter. When you’re here, you’re a player, and they have [seven] guys that are not even drafted [who are] contributing for them to win.”

The parade will pass through Denver Thursday.

Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Nuggets push Heat to the edge of the cliff by going up 3-1 in the NBA Finals

At the Heat’s postgame presser, coach Erik Spoelstra said that every time his team got within six and eight points, the Nuggets were able to push the lead back over double digits. In real-time, it was like watching an older sibling raise an object out of reach of a younger one.

A mixture of man coverage and the 2-3 zone thwarted Denver’s plan of attack in the first quarter. It was the opposite of the start to Game 3, as Miami had locked up the paint Friday and allowed three of 11 shots to fall early. On Wednesday, the hosts couldn’t stop Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray from getting what they wanted inside, but the attempts outside the lane were contained.

First, Miami harassed every Nugget role player, only permitting two field goals by guys not known as the Joker and the Blue Arrow. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. were seeing various defenders when they stepped into the paint with the ball and failed to finish through traffic.

Midway through the first interval, Jokić twisted his ankle between two Heat defenders while going up again for a putback. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, the Heat targeted him in drop coverage and on drives after a mismatch on the baseline. The Joker still played the opening 12 minutes and got a short break as Gordon woke up and carried the Nuggets into the next period.

There was nothing single coverage could do for AG as he scored 15 points in the second quarter on six of seven shots. When given space on the wing and in the corner, he splashed two trifectas. With Caleb Martin on his back in the post, Gordon scored twice, canning a nine-foot fadeaway and turning around for a thunderous jam.

In the first half, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were the only Heat starters producing. Kevin Love got on the scorecard with a 3-pointer, but Max Strus and Gabe Vincent were dead freight, each logging donuts. Off the bench, vintage Kyle Lowry discharged 13 points on three of four shots and six made free throws.

At the intermission, the Heat was down 51-55.

Spoelstra gave Strus and Vincent short leashes in the third quarter, but they should have been glued to the bench altogether. Strus missed two shots on the left wing and defended poorly off-ball, allowing a backdoor cut plus the score and another inside gash from Porter. And with the burst Lowry gave before halftime, Spoelstra, naturally, turned to his vet, playing him triple Vincent’s minutes in quarters three and four.

Like in Game 3, the turd quarter returned, affecting everyone minus Love. He unleashed a flurry of nine points with back-to-back triples and a contact layup rewarded with a freebie. Yet, Butler floundered on three straight looks, misfiring on the break, smoking a hook in the dunker spot, and fizzling on a pull-up in front of Murray in the post. Adebayo also converted one of four tries with no free throws and had three turnovers in the third.

Early in the fourth quarter, Jokić picked up his fourth and fifth fouls, earning him a seat for five minutes. When he sat, the Heat made three of seven shots, but it was still down nine points when he returned.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished two coffin-closing defensive sequences in crunch time. First, he stripped Butler as he was getting backed down through the middle, sparking a three-on-one break, and then successfully contested Adebayo’s turnaround jumper from six feet out.

Bruce Brown logged four of five shots in the fourth and was the only visitor to make multiple field goals in the last frame. Every bucket he hit was like a sledgehammer to the backside of the Heat as it tried to get up.

The Nuggets won 108-95 to take a 3-1 lead in the Finals heading back to Denver.

Postgame, Butler said the team’s mentality was the same as it always is: thinking about one game at a time.

“Now we’re in a must-win situation every single game… It’s not impossible, so we got to go out there and do it. We got three to get,” Butler said.

In NBA history, one team has come back from a 1-3 deficit to win the Finals: the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers that defeated the 73-win Warriors outfit.  The all-time record is 1-34.

The Heat will not practice or hold media availability Saturday.

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