|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
MIAMI -- The Miami Heat released seldom-used guard Terrel Harris on Saturday in a move that clears a roster spot to potentially address their rebounding struggles.
The Heat rank last in the league in total rebounds and 29th among the 30 teams in rebounding average at just 38.7 per game. Miami's problems were further exposed in Friday's 96-89 home loss to the Chicago Bulls, who held a 48-28 advantage against the Heat on the boards.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the decision to release Harris was made to give the team more roster flexibility, with the trade deadline approaching next month and the deadline to guarantee player contracts looming next week.
But Spoelstra also said the team's rebounding problems have come up recently during his routine discussions with team president Pat Riley, with both men agreeing -- for now -- that the approach is to get more from the current roster.
"We never stop talking about trying to improve the team -- that's Pat's nature and that's why I love working for him," Spoelstra said after Saturday's practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. "But the answer right now is from within. And we all know that. The guys know that. The answers are in this gym, and we're capable of it."
Harris had played in just seven games this season and spent much of last season on the inactive list during Miami's title run.
Led by LeBron James averaging a career-high 8.5 rebounds this season, the defending champion Heat have been able to mask their issues on the glass for much of the season and remain atop the Eastern Conference standings at 22-9. But Miami has lost three of its past five games, and that stretch has included some massive rebounding differentials.
Still, Friday's loss to the Bulls was the first time in five games that the Heat have lost despite being out-rebounded by 15 or more boards. Veteran Kenyon Martin is among available free agents who have been linked in some circles to Miami, but the Heat have shown little interest recently.
Since James arrived in 2010, the Heat have addressed their roster needs during summer free agency or by waiting until after the mid-season trade deadline to add a veteran who had been waived by a team after deals between other teams. Barring a serious injury in the coming weeks, that approach by Riley and the Heat isn't expected to change this season.
By committing to playing career power forward Chris Bosh almost exclusively at center and James primarily at power forward, the Heat have gotten away from the bigger lineups they used over the previous two seasons when they carried centers Ronny Turiaf, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to get through the regular season.
But now, even with James and guard Dwyane Wade posting some of the better rebounding numbers of their careers, the Heat still come up well short on the boards. Bosh, whose 7.6 rebounds per game are the fewest since his rookie season, has faced the most scrutiny after grabbing a total of 13 rebounds over the past three games.
But his teammates and coaches have come to his defense and said it's unfair to place the majority of the blame on Bosh.
"When we get dominated, I think it's easy to point fingers and look at him because who else are you going to look at, honestly, on our team," James said of Bosh. "You see I'm rebounding. D-Wade, sometimes, is rebounding, too. So (critics) try to look at Chris and say, well, maybe he could average double-digits in rebounding. He's done it before."
But James stopped short of completely exonerating Bosh, who grabbed 16 rebounds in a Dec. 29 loss in Milwaukee.
James also said the Heat aren't constructed to be a dominant rebounding team for one simple reason.
"Why? Because we don't have a dominant rebounder," James continued. "We don't have one of those guys that's going to just pull down 12 or 15 each night. That helps a lot. You know if the ball goes up, and that particular guy is in that area, he's going to grab it. We would love for Chris to have 10 or 12 rebounds. We see it certain games. We will hope that he can do it more consistently, but he does so many more things for our team, too."
Bosh said he would invite skeptics to watch film with him so he can point out areas where he effectively does his job of boxing out, only to see someone grab the ball. But that doesn't account for games such as the one against Orlando on Dec. 31, when Nikola Vucevic set a Magic franchise record with 29 rebounds in an overtime loss to the Heat.
"Like I keep saying, I don't pay much attention to stats because numbers can be misleading sometimes," Bosh said. "If I average 10 or 11 rebounds on a team that got beat every night on the boards is that better than being the second-leading rebounder on a team that has a fighting chance every night? I don't really care too much about it."
Spoelstra said only "an uneducated follower" of the Heat would place the majority of the rebounding onus on Bosh. But he also said much more was needed from Bosh and everyone else to help Miami rebound from its struggles.
"What we talked about (Saturday) is that this is something that we're going to fix," Spoelstra said of his message to the team in their lengthy film session in preparation for Sunday's game against Washington. "We have enough guys who are capable of it. Individually, guys are capable of doing their job better. Block out or chase rebounds better. We need to have career years from some guys on the glass."