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Ira Winderman: How a competitive chameleon kept the Heat afloat

By doing anything and everything required, Max Strus carved out an NBA career from starting in Division II in college, going undrafted out of DePaul, being let go by the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls, fighting back from Dec. 2019 knee surgery and emerging from a two-way contract..

By doing anything and everything required, Max Strus has helped keep the Miami Heat afloat this season.

Lost amid the injuries and absences that have had the Heat sideways is the unlikely glue that has helped hold it all together.

Because this season, Max Strus has started and come off the bench, has spent time at power forward, small forward, shooting guard and, according to the tracking at Basketball Reference, even point guard. Through it all, he stands with Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry as the only Heat players to reach double figures in points, rebounds and assists apiece in at least one game this season.

In a league where continuity is the goal, chaos has become the calling for the fourth-year guard.

No, it wasn’t planned this way, when, during training camp, there was the orderly move from last season’s starting role to being recast as sixth man, in order to allow Tyler Herro’s ascension to the five first.

And then nothing went according to plan, with injuries to Butler, Lowry, Herro and Caleb Martin turning Erik Spoelstra’s rotations upside down. Factor in Victor Oladipo’s reemergence, and the only given became that there would be no givens for Strus.

“Every night,” Strus says as he catches his breath from a pregame warmup, “it seems like it’s a different task and a different way to play.”

All done with no complaint, but also with the addendum of, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have trouble adjusting to it.”

From projected reserve, Strus went into the weekend with starts in 24 of his 45 appearances.

So far this season, he’s been listed as a starter at shooting guard, small forward and power forward.

“I just try to be great at whatever it is I’m being asked every night,” he says. “It’s not easy, to say the least. But it’s not up to me.”

On a team with a few stubborn veterans (that’s just the reality), there is a necessity for do-as-told grunts. Not all are equipped to handle such drudgery. But not all have had to make such a climb just to reach these levels, all while not allowing last season’s playoff breakout to shift the focus.

It has made Spoelstra’s journey through the Heat’s injury and ego minefield all the less treacherous.

“I’ve had the conversation with Max and a few other guys,” Spoelstra says, “but Max, in particular, to this situation, where his role has shifted a bunch. And I don’t want to like broadcast it too much, because then you breathe it into existence. But there is a reality that if your role is shifting night to night, that can be taxing.

“What everybody wants is consistency. And he was pretty clear and had a good understanding of what his role was when everybody’s healthy, and I think he’s super dynamic off the bench. He’s ignitable, but he also is a very good basketball player. It’s not just the shooting. He does a lot of other things.”

And then came the roster’s instability.

“Because of a lot of the injuries, we’ve had to insert him into almost an equal amount of starts,” Spoelstra says, “And that wasn’t planned. And then it almost has happened week to week, where it’s a different role. But he’s been steady. I love his spirit the last few weeks. And I do believe in a karma.

“And I think if you just keep showing up with a great team spirit every day, things eventually start to work out in your favor, individual, but the most important thing is he helps you from a team standpoint.”

With Strus an impending free agent, and seemingly headed to a summer payday, stability remains the best way to maximize value.

Either that, or he potential could stand as this offseason’s best available chameleon.

“I’m just trying to adjust to it and fit in and get in where I fit in,” he says, still sweating from his pregame warmup, before he heads into another game of role-unknown. “But I know it was going to be like that. Last year was kind of like that, too, starting and not starting. It’s a long season and guys are going to be hurt, so just trying to fill in and help our team as much as possible.

“I just do what I’m told. I’m just happy to be on the floor.”


UNEVEN RISE: If the story at the start of the season was about how much the Heat missed power forward P.J. Tucker, with his offseason free-agency move to the Philadelphia 76ers, it lately has become how uneven the ride has been for Tucker with the 76ers, including benchings during crunch time. “Being who I am and being a guy that proved to my previous coaches where it’s like I can’t not be on the floor, to being in a position I’ve never been in, where I’m not playing, and I’ve still got to stay positive. You’ve still got to be professional,” Tucker told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s a push and pull of everything . . . of what you’re used to and what your job is, what you came here for.” To 76ers coach Doc Rivers, it’s all matchup-based. “If there’s someone for P.J. to guard, I’ll say, then we need him on the floor,” Rivers said. “If there’s no one for him to guard, then we will go with more smalls. It just depends on the night.” The irony is that with the Heat, Tucker always was on the floor because the thought was he could guard anybody.

MINUTES RACE: For as scant as the minutes have been for Udonis Haslem this season in his role as de facto Heat captain emeritus, his 37 minutes this season entering the weekend were only five fewer than former Heat forward Andre Iguodala has played for the Golden State Warriors. Like Haslem, 42, Iguodala, 38, has come to be viewed more in a limited big-man role. “Right now, he’s our third big,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. The faith remains of Iguodala being able to contribute. “He just knows how to play basketball, and when we’re in sync, he’s always in the right spot moving the ball,” guard Stephen Curry said, according to San Jose’s Mercury News. “His defensive presence is huge, you can fit pretty much any four guys around him and we can play a high level of basketball.”

RECORD SETTING: Although he fell short of his goal of making the Heat roster coming out of camp, guard Mychal Mulder made a statement this past week when he became the career all-time 3-point leader for the team’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, passing Henry James’ 318. “I heard during a few games that I was moving up the list,” Mulder said. “First I was third, then second, but I never knew how behind I was. I figured over the course of the season that as long as I’m taking the right shots and they are continuing to fall, I would get to that number, whatever it was.” Mulder, who has had NBA stints with the Heat, Warriors and Orlando Magic, leads the G League in 3-pointers, available to be signed by any NBA team.

STILL GOING: Having played for the G League team of the Utah Jazz, which counts his father as a part owner, Zaire Wade, the son of Heat icon Dwyane Wade, is attempting his latest basketball tryout in the NBA’s Basketball Africa League. ESPN this past week chronicled the attempt by the 20-year guard who previously played at American Heritage High School in Plantation. “It was easy for him to quit, but this kid had doubled down on himself, and I love that as a father,” Dwyane Wade said of his son in Paris, where the BAL held its tryout combine. “It shows me about his character, so I’m proud of him.” Zaire Wade is returning from a knee injury that last season short circuited his G League attempt. “This is another opportunity for him to showcase not just his talent, but his professionalism, his growth,” Wade said.


0. Remaining road games for the Heat against the Western Conference, with Friday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks ending that 15-game portion of the schedule.


Source: Berkshire mont

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