How can the Miami Heat improve?

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How can the Miami Heat improve?

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Pat Riley's approach to free agency has changed considerably since 2010, simply because the Miami Heat have nowhere near the same amount of money left to spend as they did during the coup that brought LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together. Still, the sales pitch from the Heat president will remain the same. "There's a lot of room out there this year," Riley said. "But there aren't many teams that have a chance, really, to win a title. And I think a lot of veteran players might be interested in something like that." So again, when free agency starts on Sunday, Riley and the Heat will ask prospective newcomers to make a sacrifice. They can also show those recruits that their current formula works -- with this year's NBA championship trophy serving as proof. After draft night came and went without the Heat making any significant changes to their roster, Miami's attention now moves to free agency. Because the NBA's shopping window hasn't opened, Riley didn't discuss any of his specific targets by name. But it is widely assumed that the Heat will try to woo Boston guard Ray Allen, who when healthy remains one of the game's best outside shooters. James, the league's reigning MVP of both the regular season and NBA Finals, shared that terribly kept secret on his Twitter account Thursday night. "While watching the Draft my son Bryce ask Is Ray Allen gonna play for the Heat,'" James tweeted. "I said I don't know. I hope so.'" Let the recruiting begin. Riley said the Heat have "five or six" guys targeted to open the free-agent period. "If we could add a shooter that would help us, because we are that kind of a team," Riley said. "If we could get a real big that had to be guarded and had some versatility, then we might try to go in that direction. If there's a 3-point shooter that's long and can defend, then we might go in that direction. So there is a lot of areas you can go. There isn't one specific thing. I just know that we want to find as much space as we can on the floor for Dwyane and for LeBron and for Chris to be able to operate." The Heat spent years making sure they would have the spending capability to land a trio like James, Wade and Bosh in 2010. This summer, Riley and the Heat will go into free agency only able to offer the mini mid-level exception of 3 million, or a veteran's minimum contract of about 1 million, or the ability to package some future draft picks in trades. Moving players through trades is another option, though Riley said the Heat are "not exploring" that yet. Riley said there have been no discussions about using Miami's one-time amnesty provision this summer, on Mike Miller -- who made seven 3-pointers in the title-clinching win over Oklahoma City -- or anyone else. Riley also said that Miller plans to take a couple weeks to decompress before making any decisions about his future or surgical options. Miller met earlier this week with Dr. Barth Green to evaluate his back, the primary source of his pain during the season. Riley said the team will guarantee center backup center Dexter Pittman's contract for next season, meaning he will earn about 885,000. Eddy Curry might factor into the team's plans again, with Riley saying he would have a conversation before too long with the veteran center who appeared sparingly in 14 games this season, none in the playoffs. He also said that the strained lower abdominal muscle that sidelined Bosh for nine playoff games was more daunting than previously thought. "He's still nursing an injury," Riley said. "He had a significant abdominal injury that I'm sure that if we weren't in the playoffs against Boston then he probably would not have played for another three or four weeks." Wade removed himself from Olympic consideration on Thursday, telling USA Basketball that he will need surgery on his left knee this summer. Bosh, who also played on the 2008 gold medal-winning team at the Beijing Olympics, said earlier this week he was "all in for now" on participating in the London Games, but would reassess after speaking to doctors. And on Friday, that reassessment came: Like Wade, Bosh has taken his name out of the Olympic mix. "This injury was a pretty serious one," said Henry Thomas, Bosh's agent. "He was able to come back and play under the circumstances because he was trying to contribute to them winning a championship. There's still pain. There's still discomfort. And the real concern is if he doesn't rest and do the rehab associated with the injury, this could become sort of a chronic thing for him." Riley also said the celebration of the championship, at least for people like him, coach Erik Spoelstra and other team executives, is pretty much complete now. This past season was fueled in many respects by the pain of losing the 2011 finals to Dallas. Obviously, that pain was replaced by joy this time around -- but Riley is still hoping the Heat find some way to sharpen the focus again, even after winning it all. "One of the things that you need to think about, all of us after last year, how did we feel when we got beat by Dallas here? You saw guys falling down in the hallway here because of their disappointment and how discouraged they were," Riley said. "So whatever the players did last summer, I would advise them to try to go back to their caves and hibernate again." He is not as brash as he once was -- for example, he won't guarantee that the Heat will repeat as champions, like he famously did when he was coaching the Lakers during their "Showtime" era. All Riley will say now is that Miami believes it has built a team capable of contending for a long time. "If you can win it, you enjoy it, you put it in your back pocket," Riley said. "We've won two titles in the last six years. We have a compelling, contending team. It excites me to try to make it better. And so we're a contender. We'll be the defending champion next year, but as long as you have a chance and you feel like you can improve this team, then that's all it's about."

Draft hellos and Sunday farewells on CSN's 'Draft Central'

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Draft hellos and Sunday farewells on CSN's 'Draft Central'

What was handwriting on the wall became official pink slips Sunday for two veterans regarded as leaders during the bumpy first-year regime of Ryan Pace and John Fox. The general manager and head coach, though, are all business when it comes to what’s turned into a high-speed turnover of their roster.

Safety Antrell Rolle and guard Matt Slauson were released early Sunday evening. Both had already hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark, but neither was sabotaging the team’s salary cap situation. Rolle, in fact, had used up all his guaranteed money following a disappointing first year of a three-year deal. He was limited to just seven games in his debut Bears season, but even when he was on the field, his struggles appeared to offset what leadership he might have brought to the defense. Slauson, on the other hand, was a savior on a taped-together offensive line that first moved Kyle Long to right tackle the week before the regular season, lost left tackle Jermon Bushrod to a back injury, lost center Will Montgomery to a broken lower leg in Week 4 and got substandard play at right guard from Vladimir Ducasse and Patrick Omameh. After his own injury-shortened 2014, Slauson was the glue in 2015. But whispers about his lack of athleticism at this stage of his career followed the signings of veterans Manny Ramirez and Ted Larsen in free agency, and Friday’s second-round selection of Cody Whitehair turned up the volume in that rumor mill.

There’s been no indication from Pace, Alshon Jeffery, Long or the agents of those players that these moves coincide with long-term contract extensions for both, which can be front-loaded with guaranteed money given the Bears’ comfortable salary cap situation right now. It would certainly provide a better clue but won’t necessarily wind up being the answer. Conspiracy theorists will say the team will try to extend Long at guard money before switching him to the more lucrative right tackle position. But all of Long’s public comments since the signing of free agent right tackle Bobby Massie point toward a desire to stay put. Pace’s reluctance to clarify that over the weekend provides the sense yet another move for Long could be coming — like it or not, kid.

This is the crossroads draft for Pace’s long-term vision. The much-debated selection of Leonard Floyd outside of Halas Hall is met with a swagger inside that the coaching staff will make him well worth the No. 9 overall pick and that he won’t be the next Shea McClellin. It’s a confident group inside the Hall’s walls right now. Now the hard part: putting their belief into results on the field. Or maybe they think the hard part already took place the past two months in acquiring the pieces they have and that the next part will just happen.

We’ll have much more on the Sunday moves, as well as those from Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. tonight on Comcast SportsNet's hour-long edition of "SportsNet Central: Draft Central." Jim Miller, Dave Wannstedt and Pro Football Weekly’s Hub Arkush join me in studio to further discuss the draft picks and the moves that followed.

Bears signing Brian Hoyer a statement bigger than just a backup QB

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Bears signing Brian Hoyer a statement bigger than just a backup QB

The signing of Brian Hoyer was just another margin note to another NFL Draft weekend. But of all the moves made by the Bears this weekend, none might have made any clearer mission statement than the addition of this 30-year-old (31 in October) backup quarterback who is on his fifth team in the last six years and had winning records as a starter with his last two but might be remembered as the only quarterback to lose his job to Johnny Manziel.

For one thing, the last time the Bears signed a backup quarterback from Michigan State was in the late 1990s when they became the fifth team for Jim Miller, who sat behind Shane Matthews and Cade McNown before rescuing the 2001 season and taking the Bears to the playoffs.

And that in fact appears to be the plan with Hoyer, that if something befalls Jay Cutler, the Bears will not spiral down the way they did in 2011, when Caleb Hanie let a 7-3 start turn into an 8-8 playoff miss after a Cutler injury.

Because, whether skeptics agree or not, the Bears do in fact see the 2016 playoffs as very much within reach.

Privately the internal expectations for 2015 were exponentially higher than the way the season played out, vindicated in some measure by five losses by four or fewer points and one on an overtime touchdown with a roster that lost two of its three wide receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal) for seven games each, their projected No. 1 draft pick (Kevin White) for all 16, virtually all of their projected top defensive linemen and being physically without their No. 1 tight end (Martellus Bennett) for five games.

A team resigned to any sort of rebuilding mode typically does not take developmental time away from a quarterback prospect and put a veteran No. 2 in place ahead of him, not unless there are lofty expectations in the short term. And Hoyer was signed for one year while the Bears ignored the quarterback position in the draft.

This is in the vein of the Bears’ securing Brian Griese in 2006 to back up Rex Grossman despite the distinguished rookie season turned in by Kyle Orton that ended in the playoffs. It was there in acquiring Todd Collins as a veteran behind Cutler in 2010 despite some seeming promise in Hanie; in Josh McCown for the 2013 season; even in Fox and the organization choosing to re-sign Jimmy Clausen last offseason, a quarterback familiar to Fox and a former No. 2 draft choice. Those teams didn’t accomplish their goals, but the plan was there.

The 2012 Denver Broncos under Fox did bring in Hanie to back up Peyton Manning (who hadn’t missed a game in 13 years before his 2011 neck issues). But they also invested a No. 2 pick in Brock Osweiler, who was Manning’s backup through this season. The Bears don’t draft quarterbacks high, none higher than the fourth round since 2003, which does explain some things, but that’s a topic for another time.

Veteran journeymen don’t necessarily come even close to working out. But the intention is clear: Development is always good, but not at the expense of what is considered a promising present, particularly with a starting quarterback at his best at age 33, and not at the risk of precipitous backsliding if that backup is needed.

Hoyer does not pose a job challenge to Cutler; he wasn’t signed to push Cutler. And no member of the 2016 draft class was going to, either. Early last offseason, Fox and Ryan Pace pointedly withheld any “he’s our quarterback” sentiments. This offseason, both have been so clearly pleased with Cutler’s performance and personal makeup, it was amply apparent that Connor Cook, Kevin Hogan, Paxton Lynch or any other member of this draft class was a challenger. If the Bears weren’t pleased with their starting quarterback, they could have traded well back in Round 1 and taken Lynch long before the Broncos did.

Fox and Pace subscribe to under-predicting and over-producing. But their actions have the feel of a very strong expectation.

Bears announce release of Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

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Bears announce release of Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

The Bears announced the departures of a pair of veteran players Sunday, releasing offensive lineman Matt Slauson and safety Antrel Rolle.

"We thank Matt and Antrel for the dedication and leadership they brought to our organization," Bears general manager Ryan Pace said in the announcement. "Both men did everything we asked of them. Part of growing as a team is making difficult decisions like the ones we made today. We never take them lightly given the respect we have for everyone who has put on a Bears uniform. We wish each of them the very best as they move forward."

Slauson started 37 games during his three seasons with the Bears including all 16 last season, starting 12 games at left guard and four at center. Slauson spent four seasons with the New York Jets prior to joining the Bears.

Rolle's release was reported earlier Sunday afternoon, and the safety — who appeared in seven games in his lone season with the team in 2015 — tweeted the following shortly after the initial report came out.

Rolle spent five seasons with the New York Giants before joining the Bears last offseason. Bothered by injuries, he appeared in just seven games last season, recording 45 tackles.