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NBA PM: The Curious Case of James Ennis

Will James Ennis make the Miami HEAT’s regular season roster or will he be let go?

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The Curious Case of James Ennis

The first preseason game of the 2015-16 season is officially less than one month away. Players will soon begin cycling back to their respective team, with training camps slated to start by September 29.

By now, teams have completed most of their roster moves. The busy 2015 offseason is nearly complete, leaving teams to fill out remaining open roster spots and training camp invites. Players signed on training camp deals will often receive a small guarantee and then be assigned to the D-League.

Speculation will now begin for a lot of players on the roster bubbles. We see each season in the NFL teams cut their rosters down to the final 53 players. While it’s not as big of an event as the NFL’s cut-down date, NBA teams are required to trim their rosters down prior to the start of the season as well. Teams can sign up to 20 players during the offseason, but must be at the maximum level of 15 by October 26.

One player whose future seems uncertain is Miami HEAT forward James Ennis. The former second-round pick in 2013 is seemingly on the bubble and may have a tough time landing on the HEAT’s final roster.

The HEAT have had a fairly quiet summer, but seem to be among those favored to do well this season. They drafted Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, veterans Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic were re-signed to new deals and Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green signed as free agents. Chris Bosh is even said to be looking in great shape after his health scare last season.

The team’s starting lineup of Dragic, Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh and Hassan Whiteside figures to be one of the best in the Eastern Conference. But last season, that lineup didn’t play a single minute together with Dragic arriving at the trade deadline and Bosh going down with a blood clot over the All-Star break.

The health of the starting lineup will prove to be critical over the course of this season. Questions remain around Wade and how many games he’ll be able to play given the extended miles he has on his legs. While Bosh is said to be in great condition these days, we’re still not sure how he’ll return once the season begins.

Projecting the team’s second unit seems to be fairly easy as well. For the time being, it seems as though Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers will be included in the second unit. They are constantly brought up in trade discussions, but remain on the team at least for now. Green looks like he’ll be Wade’s primary backup, and could even start on nights in which Wade rests. Winslow can fill in behind Deng or Wade on some nights as well.  

Tyler Johnson gives head coach Erik Spoelstra some versatility off of the bench. The team has experimented with him some in both guard spots and he was the team’s primary ball handler during the Summer League before suffering a broken jaw. Johnson is said to be healed from that injury and ready to go for training camp. Newcomer Stoudemire will also give Spoelstra some options as he can play at the four or even the five in smaller lineups. The team will be welcoming back Josh McRoberts to the lineup after missing most of last season with a knee injury.

That leaves us with Ennis. He appeared in 62 games last season and played just 17 minutes a game. He averaged five points and 2.8 rebounds during those contests. The HEAT were hoping Ennis could be part of the youth movement last season that saw several of its younger players contribute significantly, including Whiteside, Johnson and Henry Walker. Ennis showed flashes at times that he could contribute, but failed to remain consistent throughout the season. Ennis earned just three starts and often played during end-of-game situations.

Ennis entered this summer looking to prove himself, but turned in sub-par showings during the Summer League. In seven games combined between Orlando and Las Vegas, Ennis averaged just 8.7 points, five rebounds and 1.5 assists in 25 minutes per game. He shot just 30 percent from the field and eight percent (2-of-23) from three-point range.

It was last summer that we saw Ennis play his way onto the team after averaging 15.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent (13-of-27) from three-point range. The HEAT would have liked to see a better showing from Ennis this summer now that he has a full season of NBA experience under his belt.

The HEAT currently have 13 fully guaranteed contracts on the books for next season after guaranteeing Whiteside’s contract last week. By virtue of remaining on the roster past August 1, Johnson’s contract became guaranteed for $422,530 (or half of his full-season salary) this season, meaning he’s all but locked in as the 14th player on the roster. After that, the HEAT signed Keith Benson, Briante Weber, Corey Hawkins and Greg Whittington to summer deals with the expectation that they’ll be assigned to the D-League when the season begins.

Ennis benefits because those players don’t figure to be in the team’s long-term plans. Unless the team makes another trade (or one of those other players thrives in camp), they’ll basically be deciding if they want to keep Ennis on the team or to keep that 15th roster spot open to stay flexible in order to sign another player. His contract will guarantee for the full amount of $845,059 when the HEAT open up the regular season on October 28.

Ennis is one of many players around the league that will be entering training camp fighting for his NBA life. He is already at a disadvantage given his poor showing during Summer League. Cutting a player like Ennis is tough because he’s been on the team for a full year now and is close with a number of guys on the team. He was recently pictured working out in California with Bosh, Wade, Whiteside, Chalmers and other teammates.

Ennis is a great guy inside the locker room and a good teammate, but decisions like this are often the toughest that general managers face. But at the end of the day, players understand that the NBA is a business and anything can happen.

Doc Rivers Unsure How to Use Pierce

One of the most underrated pickups of the summer was the Los Angeles Clippers signing Paul Pierce. He’ll provide the Clippers with his veteran leadership and is as accomplished as they come. While the addition of Pierce is great on paper, head coach Doc Rivers is still unsure on how he’ll be using Pierce.

“I don’t know how we’re gonna do it with Paul,” said Rivers. “Like, I don’t even know if I’m gonna start him. It’s gonna be interesting. I think it’s gonna be great. I just don’t know yet. We have a lot of [good] players, which is great.”

Pierce will be entering his 18th season in the NBA this year and his first with the Clippers. Since leaving the Boston Celtics two years ago, his playing time has decreased in an attempt to keep the 37-year-old around for the playoffs. Last season with the Washington Wizards, Pierce averaged a career-low 26.2 minutes per game.

“Paul will be great,” Rivers said. “I don’t want to overuse him. I know that. So, I don’t even know how we are going to use him yet. I want to play him at [power forward] a lot. What I want him to be is healthy in the playoffs. So however we can figure that out, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

Despite his playing time decreasing, Pierce has still proven that he’s able to compete at a high level. He averaged just under 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in 73 outings for the Wizards. He increased his production during the playoffs to 14.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in two series. He had several clutch shots for the Wizards throughout the year and shot a postseason career-high 52 percent from three-point range.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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