The last time we used the word "blueprint" to describe a Miami Heat team that was under duress happened to be four years ago in Boston when the Miami Heat, down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in year two of the "Big Three" era. We know how that story turned out at the end as then former Heat star LeBron James put on one of the single greatest performances the NBA has ever seen. It saved Miami's season, the Heat went on to win back to back championships and ultimately saved the entire blueprint that was at stake.
This current Miami roster while obviously not under the same microscope and scorn plus certainly we can all agree not nearly as talented or revered is actually under a similar circumstance heading into the Friday's Game 6 showdown with the Charlotte Hornets who now face playoff elimination down 3-2 after a heartbreaking 90-88 loss at American Airlines Arena. It's no secret that the Miami Heat were going to be a very interesting team to talk about entering this upcoming offseason but how they approached was always going to be determined by how their postseason ended in a success or failure.
The Heat are on the precipice of facing the latter.
It's not that Miami are down 3-2. It's how they got here.
In Games 1 and 2 Miami went from averaging 113 points per game in two wins and some of the most efficient basketball we've seen in memory to now averaging just a shade below 85 points per game in Game 3-5, which obviously equaled three straight losses.
There are many questions as to how and why the Heat have arrived at this point. First and foremost giving credit to the Charlotte Hornets and especially their head coach Steve Clifford for making the proper adjustments to actually staying in this series. Now they have all the momentum on their side as they go for the dagger on Friday night.
The larger question that's looming right now is this: Should the Miami Heat lose on Friday or even Sunday for Game 7, what's the offseason approach that will be taken?
This is what we know. Miami will have roughly $40 million in cap space to work with this July. The only guarantee I believe will be the return of Dwyane Wade. While he's scheduled to become a free agent in July, he has already insisted he doesn't want the same back and forth public drama that took place between him and the team last summer.
What about Hassan Whiteside? He made just over $900,000 this season and whether the Miami Heat organization believes he is a max player or not, the reality is Whiteside will get paid this summer -- whether its by Miami or another organization who is willing to take a shot on the talented and enigmatic 7'1 center.
What about a guy like Luol Deng who. while many Heat fans initially showed some levels of frustration with during much of his two year tenure in Miami, certainly turned things around in a big way when Chris Bosh went down and produced at the stretch four for Miami. He hits the market this summer and his late season turnaround may have raised his offseason value.
Even a guy like Joe Johnson who Miami was lucky to claim off waivers on the cheap after he was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets is a question mark. Johnson spurned advances from actual title contenders such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder. He has shown both the highs and lows on the court for Miami yet he's expressed wanting to get one last "lucrative" deal at age 34 before he calls it quits. The question is given what the Heat front office have seen from Johnson in recent weeks and facing some possible salary cap restrictions would they even want to commit to him given the recent inconsistencies?
There are certainly loads of questions facing Miami this offseason but this upcoming weekend will definitely determine Pat Riley's approach to the future. Should Miami extend this postseason run by Sunday afternoon then all will be calm. If it comes crashing down Friday night in North Carolina losing four straight to the Hornets, more questions will be on the horizon.