NBA AM: Briante Weber Fights to Make HEAT

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Perhaps no team underwent more turnover this offseason than the Miami HEAT. The front office was tasked with replacing core players like Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire among others. Now, the team is also scrambling to replace Chris Bosh after he failed to be cleared due to his blood-clotting issue.

The team had a productive offseason, adding quality players like Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt, Willie Reed and Beno Udrih in free agency. The team also re-signed Hassan Whiteside and brought back combo guard Tyler Johnson by matching his offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets.

The preseason has given head coach Erik Spoelstra a chance to tinker with his new lineup. With so many pieces to integrate together, the next few weeks will be crucial for the team to build chemistry and get a feel for each other on the court.

The result of the first preseason game had to be encouraging for Spoelstra and his staff. Although it was just a single exhibition game, the starting lineup of Tyler Johnson, Goran Dragic, Whiteside, Babbitt and Justise Winslow was one of the team’s best offensive units on the night – scoring 16 points midway through the first quarter. Nearly every available player on the roster appeared in the game and played meaningful minutes (with a few exceptions). The HEAT are among the many teams in the league that already have a full roster, with 15 guaranteed contracts on the books, so competition for roster spots doesn’t appear to be very open.

One player who does present the front office with some questions is guard Briante Weber. After going undrafted last year, the 23-year-old split time between the Memphis Grizzlies, the D-League and the HEAT last season. Miami brought him on late in the year in order to provide depth for their playoff run.

By all accounts, Weber appears to be a player who can make significant contributions in the NBA despite having just seven games of experience on his resume. He came on very strong in nine games with the HEAT in the Summer League and really began to turn heads with his ability to fill the stat sheet.

His game isn’t necessarily flashy, but he can get the job done all over the court. He averaged 9.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.9 steals per game between the Orlando Summer League and Las Vegas Summer League. The performance that really opened eyes was when he recorded nine points, 10 rebounds, six assists and six steals in Orlando.

He has shown that he can be a menace on defense, locking down the opposition at times and creating turnovers. A knee injury during his senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University kept him just 12 steals short of setting the NCAA record for all-time career steals.

In his preseason debut on Tuesday night, Weber finished with four points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals in 21 minutes against the Washington Wizards. Heading into this season, Weber figured to compete for minutes at the backup point guard position, but the late addition of Udrih puts his future with the team up in the air.

Udrih’s signing gave the HEAT 15 fully guaranteed contracts. Weber is on a partially guaranteed deal that has already guaranteed him $327,989 of his $874,636 salary for this upcoming season. Waiving a player with that much money already guaranteed – especially one who has shown glimpses of potential when given opportunities – may be a tough move for Miami to make.

Weber has said in recent weeks that he isn’t too focused on what will eventually happen with his place on the team. He told reporters during Summer League in Orlando that he’s just focused on playing his game and controlling what he can control. He knows that his productive stint with the HEAT is his audition – not just for Miami’s brass, but for other teams around the NBA too.

Weber is another example of the HEAT finding role players who seemingly flew under the radar. Players like Whiteside, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are all guys the HEAT pulled virtually out of nowhere to eventually become significant contributors. Whether or not Weber does the same remains to be seen.

Udrih, 34, is much more experienced than Weber and seemingly set as the team’s backup point guard. Not to mention, Miami is in desperate need of three-point shooting, so keeping Weber (who hasn’t proven to be a knock-down shooter) may not be the best use of the team’s roster spots.

Weber could very well land with another team. Yesterday, news broke that Detroit Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson could miss up to two months as he deals with tendinitis in his left knee. The Pistons would likely turn to Ish Smith to handle starting point guard duties, but will likely be looking to add another floor general through free agency.

Given how much upside Weber has, the HEAT will be faced with a tough decision when making their final cut. And if Weber continues to play well throughout the duration of the preseason, the decision becomes even more complicated. Miami also knows that if they let Weber go, he could get snatched up by another team rather quickly.

HEAT fans rave about Weber’s game, but it remains to be seen if he can crack the final roster. Adding to the intrigue is that the team will be without Richardson until early November as he recovers from a knee injury, so the HEAT could be down a player in the backcourt at the start of the season.

It is refreshing to see an undrafted player like Weber have this opportunity to showcase his abilities and battle for a roster spot. Sometimes, an opportunity is all a fringe player needs in order to show the world that they belong in the NBA.