Though the Miami Heat’s surprising spring came to an abrupt end this past week in the NBA Finals, the run won’t soon be forgotten across South Florida. It should provide plenty of inspiration and a strong foundation for a team headed into an offseason of change.
After a grueling up-and-down season that saw Miami finish 44-38, the Heat lost the first play-in game and ultimately had to sneak into the playoffs by escaping with a win in their second play-in contest. From there, the Heat upset the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks, then defeated the arch-rival New York Knicks, setting the stage for a stunning Eastern Conference Finals win over the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics.
But the run ended in the mile-high altitude of Denver, as the Nuggets eliminated the Heat in Game 5 Monday, Miami’s second loss in the NBA Finals in four years.
And so the offseason begins with questions aplenty. Are the Heat just one move away from winning it all? What type of move would that be? And what would that move entail that could still make this roster work?
Team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra will soon get to work on some of those answers, and with the NBA Draft next week, and the NBA free-agency signing period next month, those answers may come into focus sooner than later.
This season, the Heat decided to run things back with a similar roster from last year. It was good enough to win three rounds. However, it is evident that if Miami wants to consistently compete with the best of the best in the NBA, they will need to have a memorable offseason … and maybe add one more star.
The Heat, in the wake of the loss in Denver, appeared content with their near-impossible run, but they know there is more to come. And the Eastern Conference, on the whole, is bound to get better this summer around them.
“I think we go (into the offseason), and (know that) it’s a special bond with this group,” Miami guard Kyle Lowry said before giving a nod to his backcourt running mate, Jimmy Butler. “We were led by one of the best basketball players on this earth, and he instilled confidence in us. We’ll look back at some point and say, ‘Hey, it was a great year, great run.'”
Riley and Spoelstra will assess several different objectives and goals this summer, with the ultimate end of winning the title this time. In the interim – and as we move toward the summer – here are some of the key storylines surrounding Riley’s club:
Can Miami reload with a star guard to create a Big 3?
Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard and Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal are reportedly being shopped their respective franchises.
One of Miami’s biggest problems throughout the regular season, and especially in the Finals, was 3-point shooting, and a lack of consistent star play. Butler and Bam Adebayo both had great postseasons, but their play tended to be wildly inconsistent. Acquiring a third star to pair with them could push them over the hump and keep the club on the league’s national radar.
Lillard authored 11 productive seasons in Portland that included the 2012-2013 Rookie of the Year award, seven All-Star nominations as well as seven All-NBA Team appearances. Lillard, 32, is a sharpshooting point guard who can create space off the dribble for open shots, and possesses the ability to be a high-efficiency and volume scorer.
Lillard stated on the “Last Stand” podcast recently that Miami “is an obvious one” in terms of his choices for teams to play with next season. And since he’s under contract, that type of acquisition would have to be by trade.
If a deal for Lillard falls through, Miami can explore Beal’s potential. Beal has been in and out of the trade market for years, but it finally seems that Washington is headed into a rebuild and looking to ship Beal, 30, for a solid, young haul.
Miami has been linked to Beal for years and now may be a better time than ever to acquire the three-time All-Star. A deal for either player would likely revolve around shooting guard Tyler Herro, 2022 first-round pick Nikola Jovic, and some combination of Miami’s role players that emerged in the playoffs, like Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent.
A trade would also signify that Miami is going all-in on this current roster for one more run at a ring.
Can the Heat re-sign their own free agents?
Part of what allowed the Heat to win three rounds was depth and the effectiveness of their role players. Players like Vincent, Max Strus and Kevin Love stepped up when needed. Teams may have taken notice and might recruit some of these players when free agency opens July 1.
There is a definite possibility that Miami will lose some talent, but with that comes available salary-cap space to add reinforcements. The need for a rebounding center and overall height can be addressed during free agency for the Heat, but it could be at the cost of some of Miami’s most productive bench players.
For Riley, the battle will be how much can his club retain, all while staying competitive from a contract standpoint to match opposing offers. Miami’s notable free agents include:
• PG Gabe Vincent (unrestricted free agent)
• SG Max Strus (unrestricted free agent)
• SG Victor Oladipo (player option)
• SF Haywood Highsmith (restricted free agent)
• PF Kevin Love (unrestricted free agent)
• C Omer Yurtseven (restricted free agent)
• C Cody Zeller (unrestricted free agent)
It is safe to assume that Oladipo will accept his player option, return from injury and play another season under Spoelstra. It is not so certain that everyone else will return.
A return from injury for Herro and Oladipo?
The health of Herro and Oladipo will be a major storyline headed into training camp. Both were injured in the first round vs. the Bucks. Herro had a hand injury and Oladipo tore his patellar tendon, yet Miami made it work without them.
Oladipo, 31, has an unfortunate injury history, and it begs the question, at his age, if he will be able to return to his productive ways again. Herro was originally on a 4-6-week recovery timetable. And though he was available Monday in Denver, he did not play.
There is a possibility that the injury could be worse than reported, but training camp is months away, and keep in mind, Herro was dressed and ready to play in Game 5.
“Just a really tough call and I’ll probably have to wrestle with that all summer,” Spoelstra said of sitting Herro. He added that the NBA Finals are “the hardest played, most physical competition you can have, and that would be a tough thing for a guy that’s been out for two months that hasn’t had any kind of ramp up.”
When healthy, both veteran guards are productive, especially Herro. And if Miami wants to run it back without a major addition, both players will be in line for major minutes.
Udonis Haslem leaves a leadership role open in the locker room. Who’s next in line?
Haslem, the Heat’s captain, has finally retired after 20 NBA seasons, all of them with the Heat. He has been around for Miami’s highs — winning all three of the Heat’s championships — as well as their lows. While he didn’t play much in the past few seasons, his veteran presence in the locker room was beneficial to Adebayo, among others.
Adebayo, in fact, said after the regular-season finale that Haslem used to “sit on the bench and mentor me. Just listening to him and really taking his advice to heart helped out.”
Haslem’s efforts didn’t often show on the stat sheet, but rather in words, attitudes and knowledge imparted on the entire roster. It remains to be seen who might have the credentials to be next up for this role.
Who is on Miami’s board for the NBA Draft?
The Heat own the No. 18 overall pick, allowing them a look from a plethora of talented players. Miami needs a rebounding center, or a spark-plug offensive threat off the bench in case the Heat lose Vincent or Strus.
The draft, which will be held in New York on June 22, is headlined by Victor Wembanyama, a generationally talented 7-foot-3 center with an impressive offensive game similar to the likes of Kevin Durant and Kristaps Porzingis. As for Miami, some players on Riley’s board could be:
• Jett Howard, small forward, Michigan
• Bilal Coulibaly, small forward, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 (France)
• Dereck Lively II, center, Duke
• Jalen Hood-Schifino, shooting guard, Indiana
• Kris Murray, small forward, Iowa
• Jordan Hawkins, guard, UConn
Indeed, Miami’s offseason will be a big one for Riley. The future of the franchise, and its competitive nature in the highly competitive, highly congested Eastern Conference, hangs in the balance.
“We’re all hard-wired to compete,” Spoelstra said, “for the ultimate prize.”