It has become almost a highwire act for the Miami Heat, not only attempting to juggle the roster amid injuries, but also meeting self-imposed limitations, including: remaining below the luxury tax, leaving open the available 15th spot on the standard roster, and continuing to carry Udonis Haslem through this 20th season on a guaranteed contract.
Those three elements factored into the Heat’s latest personnel move, with rookie guard Dru Smith waived in order to add rookie center Orlando Robinson.
“I know there’s been a lot of movement with that position,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday of Robinson being back in, and Smith being back out. “But we still feel great about all of our guys from the developmental standpoint. Dru was really good here. It’s changed now than it was two weeks ago.”
The return of Robinson comes with second-year center Omer Yurtseven with months still to go in his recovery from Nov, 15 ankle surgery, and with veteran big man Dewayne Dedmon routinely on the injury report because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
“Right now, we feel like the position of center is a bigger position of need,” Spoelstra said ahead of Monday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
The situation with Dedmon appears tenuous.
“He’s doing everything he possibly can to get out there and be effective,” Spoelstra said of the 33-year-old veteran. “Those are not easy injuries to manage. But I really admire him for the work that he’s been doing. We just want to make sure we have added depth there.”
And yet, by releasing Smith, Kyle Lowry stands as the lone point guard on the roster, increasing the playmaking workload for scorers such as Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler and Victor Oladipo.
Vincent is not on the trip, as he deals with ongoing discomfort in his left knee.
“Right now, we have a lot of ballhandlers,” Spoelstra said. “That’s just the nature of things right now; it’s very fluid. Gabe will be coming back, hopefully sooner rather than later. In the meantime, our ballhandling with Kyle, Tyler, Jimmy and Vic, we feel OK. That also could change in a week or two.”
Teams are limited to a maximum of two two-way contracts. With undrafted rookie Jamal Cain holding one, the Heat have been alternating between Smith and Robinson on the other.
If avoiding the luxury tax was not a priority, the Heat would be positioned to retain both Smith and Robinson, by shifting one of their two-way contacts, or Cain’s, to a non-guaranteed standard deal. Two-way contracts do not count against the NBA salary cap or luxury tax. Signing a player into the 15th and final standard roster spot would put the Heat into the tax.
For now, coming off a 26-point, 21-rebound effort for the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Robinson is embracing his return.
“I’ve just been ready for the opportunity whenever it came, and it came,” Robinson said of briefly returning to the Skyforce after his week last month with the Heat on a two-way deal. “I just went there, produced, and did what I was supposed to do, played winning team basketball. And now I’m back.”
Robinson also empathized with Smith, with the two having played together with the Skyforce.
“It’s just how this business is,” said Robinson, who went undrafted out of Fresno State in June. “We both understand. We had this conversation not too long ago.”
By re-signing Robinson after his 20-20 night with the Skyforce, it prevented him from being poached by another team.
“We wanted to develop him,” Spoelstra said. “We see great promise in his game. He’s improved a lot since summer league.”
Back at it
Monday marked Oladipo’s first game back against the Pacers since he was dealt to the Houston Rockets in January 2021, after three and a half seasons with Indiana.
“People think I’m from Indiana at this point,” said Oladipo, who played three seasons collegiately for the Indiana Hoosiers. “It definitely brings some nostalgia, walking into the building.”
Oladipo left the Pacers on uneven terms as he grappled with injuries and contract negotiations.
“I let the bad energy go a long time ago,” he said Monday, smiling.
Spoelstra noted that it said a lot about the degree of injury rehab Oladipo endured that Oladipo had yet to make it back to the Pacers’ arena until Monday.
“It’s been a long journey and he’s had a couple of different setbacks that would be frustrating to anybody,” Spoelstra said of Oladipo’s knee issues. “But he’s always kept a positive spirit, really worked behind the scenes. And I really commend him for that fortitude.”