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Leonard, once a starter, now helping Heat from the sideline

Sun Sep 20 4:30pm ET
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer

Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard, center, applauds his team from the sideline during the first half against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference final, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard celebrates a basket against the Boston Celtics during the first half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard (0) cheers on the team from the sideline during the second half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard, top, runs onto the court during a time out to celebrate with Tyler Herro (14) after Herro's 3-point basket against the Boston Celtics in the first half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard, right front, cheers on his team during the first half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard, center, runs onto the court during a time out to celebrate with Tyler Herro (14) after Herro's 3-point basket against the Boston Celtics in the first half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Meyers Leonard was bent forward at the waist, standing a few feet away from Miami coach Erik Spoelstra on the Heat sideline, screaming with every bit of the volume that his deep and booming voice can generate.

This is his role right now for the Heat.

His only role.

Leonard is in a tough spot these days; a full-time starter during the regular season, he is now out of the rotation as the Heat have made their run to the Eastern Conference finals. It is a bitter pill for him to swallow - yet to his credit, he hasn't acted the least bit bitter about his current reality.

''My team knows this, and our coaching staff knows this,'' Leonard told The Associated Press. ''I would do anything to be out there. And I'd be lying if I said that I'm not competitive as hell. I wish I was impacting the game on the floor. I'm not, but as a person and as a player, I want what's best for everybody.''

So for now, the 7-foot, 260-pound, chiseled center is the tallest, strongest and best-paid assistant coach in these playoffs. He calls out what he's seeing on every possession, pulls aside teammates for quick one-on-one chats when necessary, and on off days he's getting his on-court work in just in case he's needed to play.

Leonard has started 49 of his 51 appearances with the Heat this season, more starts than he made in his seven seasons with Portland combined. But in the playoffs, he's logged a total of nine minutes, all in one appearance.

''Meyers is one of the most special people I've ever had the opportunity to coach and to be around,'' Spoelstra said. ''He is just an incredible human being and teammate. He has all our hearts. We will do anything for him because he is so pure.''

Leonard, more than anything else, got unlucky at the worst possible time.

He badly sprained his left ankle in early February and wasn't anywhere near being ready to return to the lineup when the NBA season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. And then when team facilities shut down as a precaution, Leonard's rehab process had to be amended as well.

That was the first issue. The second was Miami became a different team a few days after he got hurt, pulling off a trade to bring Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to the Heat. Crowder has become a starter, and Spoelstra told Leonard before Miami resumed play in the NBA's restart bubble that he was taking the rotation in a different direction.

It was tough on Leonard mentally. He was struggling when he got to the bubble because of his ankle, then spent days wrestling about whether he should stand for the national anthem or kneel with his teammates, and on top of all that he essentially lost his job as well.

''There's just two things that I won't ever let be questioned and that's character and work ethic,'' Leonard said. ''Every day when I walk through the door, I'm going to be a great guy, a great teammate. It's not fake. So I'm trying to make my impact now from the sideline.''

There are a few starters who aren't in the same roles that they were for the four teams remaining in this NBA season. Avery Bradley opted out of joining the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble. Will Barton - who led Denver in minutes per game this season - has a knee injury and has missed the Nuggets' entire postseason run. Gordon Hayward has missed much of Boston's playoff stint while recovering from a sprained ankle. Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn, a starter all season, is in Miami's second unit now.

Leonard saw the Heat change, and his role change with it. He didn't sulk, lash out or complain.

''It's not easy, being in this kind of situation, going through the injury he went through and having the hiatus where he didn't get the full opportunity to rehab it,'' Spoelstra said. ''But he's making the most of it, and if he gets his opportunity, he will be ready.''

Leonard also sees the reason why he should be helping the Heat however he can right now. He's never been this close to an NBA championship; the Heat lead the Celtics 2-1 in the East finals, with Game 4 on Wednesday night.

He'll be ready to scream some more then, too.

''I am, in the best way possible, the most jealous of watching our team's success,'' Leonard said. ''I literally said this to my wife the other night. I said, `Elle, we are six wins away from a ring.' That is so damn special.''

Player Notes
Goran Dragic Oct 11 7:00pm ET

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (foot) was doubtful for Sunday's NBA Finals Game 6 against the Lakers, but intends to play and is listed as active. Playing with a plantar fascia tear seems like a bad idea, but Dragic reportedly has been told he won't reinjure himself by playing. Dragic won't be near 100 percent and will likely be on a minutes limit, so you shouldn't give him heavy consideration for your DFS lineups. Kendrick Nunn will likely see fewer minutes with Dragic playing, though there's also the possibility that Dragic tries to play and the pain is too much. It's a complicated situation in a must-win Game 6.

Goran Dragic Oct 11 12:30pm ET

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (foot) is listed as doubtful for Sunday's Game 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Dragic has been listed as doubtful each game since suffering the injury in Game 1. It sounds like Dragic will test out his foot pregame, but it's highly unlikely that he suits up here. Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn will gain the most fantasy value from the absence of Dragic. Herro is the better option between the two.

Anthony Davis Oct 11 12:30pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis (heel) is listed as probable for Sunday's Game 6 contest against the Miami Heat. However, Davis mentioned on Saturday that he'd be fine for Sunday's contest. He is fully expected to play through the issue and should see his normal workload. LeBron James (groin) and Danny Green (finger) are listed as probable as well, but are expected to take the court on Sunday. The Lakers are a little banged up, but will play through the pain.

Danny Green Oct 11 12:20pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (groin) and guard Danny Green (finger) are listed as probable for Sunday's Game 6 against the Miami Heat. Both players have been listed as probable throughout the series, but continue to play. Green was limited earlier in the series, but played 24 minutes during Game 5. James and Green are expected to see a full workload here.

Kevon Looney Oct 6 9:10pm ET

Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney is expected to have a bigger role on the team next season. Head coach Steve Kerr mentioned that Looney is looking at 20-25 minutes per game for the 2020-2021 campaign. That is a fairly significant increase, but won't make a huge impact on his fantasy value. Looney has been unable to stay healthy and isn't a great option in Golden State. He could have deep league value, but probably not worth a look in 12-team leagues on draft day.

Lauri Markkanen Oct 6 9:00pm ET

Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen is hopeful that he can prove the doubters wrong next season. "My expectations are even higher than ever now, just going back to my fourth year and performing at a high level," said Markkanen. Former head coach Jim Boylen failed to get much out of his young core during his time in Chicago. It sounds like Markkanen is already hitting it off with new head coach Billy Donovan. Markkanen has plenty of talent and should have a significant role on the team going forward. Fantasy owners could look at Markkanen as a sleeper player for next season.

Aron Baynes Oct 6 8:50pm ET

Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes could be headed elsewhere this offseason. The veteran was non-committal when asked about his future with the team. I loved my time in Phoenix, Baynes said. I knew what it was coming in here and I was able to go out there and take advantage of the role that was given to me throughout a number of different situations." Baynes will hit free agency after posting career highs in multiple categories. He could very well land a significant role on another organization. His fantasy value will be dependent on where he signs in free agency.

Goran Dragic Oct 6 8:40pm ET

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (foot) won't suit up for Tuesday's Game 4 matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. He tried to get up some shots pregame, but it was too painful. It doesn't look good for Dragic's chances of playing in this series, but consider him questionable for Game 5. Tyler Herro is expected to join the starting five, while Kendrick Nunn gets more minutes as well. Herro is the better fantasy option between the two.

Bam Adebayo Oct 6 8:40pm ET

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (neck) is officially back in the starting five for Tuesday's Game 4 matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. He has been sidelined since Game 1, so this is a big lift for Miami. It's unclear whether or not Adebayo will be limited, which makes him a risky DFS option. Kelly Olynyk will see his minutes and playing time decrease here. Meyers Leonard might fall out of the rotation completely.

Bam Adebayo Oct 6 5:40pm ET

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (neck) is planning to make his return for Game 4 of the 2020 NBA Finals against the Lakers on Tuesday night, according to sources. Adebayo missed the previous two games of the series due to a neck strain that he suffered in Game 1, forcing the 23-year-old to exit during the second half of the contest. Adebayo's potential return to the lineup will be encouraging news for the Heat, who may be forced to play without guard Goran Dragic (foot) for the remainder of the series as he is without a timetable for a potential return. Adebayo will serve as a solid DFS option for Tuesday's game if he ends up making his return.

Danny Green Oct 3 8:10pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green (hip) was limited during the Game 2 victory over the Miami Heat. He took a hard fall during the second quarter and appeared to have injured his hip. J.R. Smith saw a few minutes after Green checked out, but it doesn't sound like Green will miss time. However, Green was awful during Game 2, so fantasy owners should not expect a bounce back performance out of him.

Bam Adebayo Oct 3 8:10pm ET

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (neck) is listed as doubtful for Sunday's Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He was unable to play in Game 2 due to a neck sprain. Meyers Leonard drew the start, but only played nine minutes. Kelly Olynyk ended up benefiting the most by dropping 24 points in 37 minutes of play. He's looking like a solid DFS option, assuming Adebayo is sidelined again.

Goran Dragic Oct 3 8:10pm ET

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (foot) is listed as doubtful for Sunday's Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He suffered a left plantar fascia tear and the Heat are not optimistic that Dragic will be able to suit up. Tyler Herro should remain in the starting five, while Kendrick Nunn will see more minutes coming his way. Both players could be interesting DFS options without Dragic on the court.

Jimmy Butler Oct 2 6:30pm ET

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (ankle) will suit up for Game 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. He sprained his left ankle during the first half of Game 1 on Wednesday. It was going to take a lot to keep Butler off the court for this game. Sadly, they will be without Goran Dragic (foot) and Bam Adebayo (neck) on Friday. Butler is going to be asked to do just about everything on offense for Miami.

Bam Adebayo Oct 2 6:30pm ET

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (neck) has been ruled out for Friday's Game 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers. This is a huge blow to the Heat who are already without Goran Dragic (foot) for this game. Kelly Olynyk, Derrick Jones, and Meyers Leonard are expected to see more playing time on Friday. Jae Crowder could see more action as well, but it'll be hard to fill the void left by Adebayo. None of these players are great DFS options. Jimmy Butler is going to be asked to carry the load on offense.

Goran Dragic Oct 2 6:20pm ET

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (foot) has been ruled out for Friday's Game 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He is still dealing with a foot issue that he suffered during the first game of the series. Kendrick Nunn is expected to join the starting five, while Tyler Herro gets more minutes as well. Both sound like appealing DFS options with the Heat roster banged up.

Goran Dragic Oct 1 12:10pm ET

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (foot) could be in danger of missing Game 2 versus the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. The veteran guard suffered a torn plantar fascia during the first half of Wednesday's contest. The team is going to continue to evaluate Dragic before deciding what to do. It sounds like his status for Friday's game is doubtful, but we'll wait and see. Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn would see a boost in fantasy value, assuming Dragic is out.

Bam Adebayo Oct 1 11:50am ET

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (shoulder) suffered an injury and was unable to return during Game 1 versus the Los Angeles Lakers. He was only able to play 21 minutes before suffering a left shoulder strain. The X-rays were negative, which is good news. However, the team might have Adebayo undergo an MRI as well. It's unclear if he'll be able to suit up for Game 2 on Friday. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard would likely gain significant fantasy value if Adebayo sits out.

Jimmy Butler Oct 1 11:40am ET

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (ankle) suffered an injury during the Game 1 matchup versus the Los Angeles Lakers. He sprained his left ankle during the first half of the game, but was able to play through the issue. Butler is currently listed as questionable for Game 2, but it would be shocking if he didn't play. There should be more updates on his status before the game on Friday. Fantasy owners should feel confident that Butler will be on the court for Game 2.

Jayson Tatum Oct 1 11:30am ET

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is reportedly looking to sign a max contract extension this offseason. Celtics team president Danny Ainge said that the organization is confident that they will come to terms on a contract. The two sides won't be able to talk right away due to league rules, but Ainge believes they will be able to lock up Tatum. The All-Star forward appears happy in Boston, so the two sides should be able to come to an agreement. Tatum is basically a lock for the first round in every fantasy format.