The Miami Heat lost guard Dru Smith for the season last week after awkwardly landing in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bench at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Wednesday. Though the catch is that the Cavaliers’ court has a near-foot-long drop-off between the playing floor and the sidelines, where Smith landed, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic.
Smith contested a Max Strus 3-pointer midway through the first half, but landed in that 10-foot gap. The official prognosis for Smith’s injury was a Grade 3 right knee sprain. Smith was seen immediately clutching his right knee and needed assistance to head to the locker room. He did not return.
Dru Smith injured on coaches clipboard pic.twitter.com/5BJc7UbKjt
— Bones (@Bones4y) November 23, 2023
“I remember during walk-through, when I sat there to get ready for shootaround, just kind of thinking like, ‘Oh, this court’s kind of weird, the drop-off, just the separation between the bench and the court,’” Smith said, according to Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel (subscription required). “But, you know, when you’re playing, you’re not thinking about where I was going to land or if I was going to miss the court.
“When I flew by (on the shot contest), my left foot landed and my right foot went between the chair and the bench. As soon as it happened, I knew what happened. I knew I just fell into that little hole. … I would say I knew right away it wasn’t good. I didn’t know exactly obviously what was going on. But I just knew it wasn’t good.”
According to Vardon, the Heat contacted the league office to “express their concerns” regarding the court’s construction.
“The Heat contacted the NBA league office to express their concerns over the Cleveland floor, a Miami spokesman said,” Vardon’s report read (subscription required). “Spoelstra suggested after the injury occurred Wednesday, and multiple NBA sources agreed, there is no other court in the NBA with that kind of drop.
“Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse is home to minor-league hockey and Disney on Ice. It is not immediately clear what the remedy would be, other than to perhaps replace the thick blocks of wood between the court and the ice.”
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was quite frustrated with the court’s design after their 129-96 win over the Cavaliers on Nov. 22.
“It is a dangerous floor,” Spoelstra said, according to The Miami Herald. “It’s an accident waiting to happen. You close out and all of a sudden you’re going off a cliff. If the court was normal, there wouldn’t have been any kind of incident.”
Spoelstra told reporters Friday, according to Vardon, that he “doubts anything will change” with the court’s design, which will likely be a cause for concern leaguewide through much of the 2023-24 season and beyond, especially if more injuries happen near the sidelines (Smith’s was the first major one).
“It’s something that definitely needs to be looked at,” Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said regarding the court, per Vardon. “You have a situation where someone’s getting hurt and the potential to get hurt, and in this particular case it’s the floor, I think they need to take a look at it and see if there are ways things could be better.”
“Yes, the league should look at it,” LeBron James, who spent 11 combined seasons with the Cavaliers and four others with the Heat, told The Athletic over the weekend. “They should address it.”
Smith, 25, appeared in just nine games for the Heat this season, averaging 4.3 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 45.5 percent shooting and 41.2 percent from 3-point range. Smith was fifth in the Heat in deflections with 24; he trailed Jimmy Butler, Haywood Highsmith, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Kyle Lowry.
As of this writing, no league punishment or mandate has been handed to the Cavaliers, and there’s uncertainty that there will be any (subjective speculation, not anything sourced; I have as many sources as you reading this).
The Heat still have an open roster spot if it elects to supplement production without waiving Smith, whose $1.8 million salary this season will be fully guaranteed after the injury.
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