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Heat signs free-agent Wesley Person
By Michael Cunningham
Aug 12, 2004

(sun-sentinel.com) - It appears the Heat essentially will send out Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade and a large collection of smallish shooters for 2004-05.

The Heat used its final salary-cap exception Wednesday on veteran guard/forward Wesley Person, so the team now can offer only minimum salaries to free agents. Coach Stan Van Gundy said Person, along with Rasual Butler and Eddie Jones, could play both shooting guard and small forward.

All three are 6 feet 7 or shorter, but Van Gundy said the Heat was more concerned with putting shooters around O'Neal, who will draw constant double teams. Van Gundy said he doesn't anticipate adding a veteran to join O'Neal, Michael Doleac, Udonis Haslem and Malik Allen on the front line.

"I don't look at our roster now and see any real holes," Van Gundy said. "I think signing Wes really took care of the last hole we would have had. We were probably short a guy at that spot.

"At this point we really don't have any holes, but Randy and Pat are always looking, and if there is someone who can fill a need then we are probably looking to do that. If not, we are comfortable going into the season with what we have."

What the Heat has is a lack of size at the forward positions but plenty of players who Van Gundy hopes can make the open shots that O'Neal will help create.

Person has made 42 percent of his 3-point attempts over 10 seasons. Jones and Butler also are accomplished shooters, and Damon Jones, signed last week to back up Wade, also can make shots. Van Gundy said he believes the Heat also has some big men that can shoot, including Doleac.

"There [are] some things that makes the game easier offensively, and one of them is the ability to shoot the ball," Van Gundy said. "I think with some of the people we signed ... we are pointed in that direction of having a very good shooting team around Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade."

The drawback could be defense and rebounding. Van Gundy said the only sure starters today are O'Neal, Wade and Jones, so the lineup could potentially feature a 6-7 small forward (Butler) and a 6-8 power forward (Haslem).

Van Gundy acknowledged that could create matchup problems, particularly against teams with small forwards with strong post games.

He said the Heat's small forwards would have to work hard in those situations and that their teammates would have to help.

"Where we have really got to get to work in training camp is at the defensive end of the floor," Van Gundy said. "There are some different things we have to work on defending, but we are going to make it tougher [defensively] on other people, I think.

"No one is going to come [here] and say, `My job is to shoot, and I don't defend and I don't rebound.' That just doesn't fly here; I think everybody knows that. But we were looking for [shooters]."

Van Gundy said no matter which lineup he settles on, he wants Person to be on the floor in crucial situations.

That's not only because of Person's shooting ability, but also his experience. The Heat is a relatively young team other than O'Neal and Jones.

Person, a veteran of 692 games, has never shot worse than 37 percent on 3-point attempts in a season and has shot 40 percent or better eight times. He shot 40 percent on 3-pointers in 58 games last season while averaging 5.8 points and splitting time with Memphis, Portland and Atlanta.

Person said he has played some small forward.

"I think the main thing I have to do is concentrate on rebounding more at that position and also just keeping a body on a guy," he said. "One of the advantages I have got is I can outrun them. I think the main thing I can do is space the floor and make open shots. I think that is one key in this league now."

Person said Portland offered to re-sign him, but he was looking to play for a team with title hopes. He signed for the lower-level exception of $1.6 million.

Karl Malone is considering retirement while being courted by the Heat, Lakers and Spurs. Malone reportedly would make about $1.8 million if he returned to the Lakers.

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