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ESPN panel projects Heat to miss playoffs

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ESPN's Summer Forecast panel predicted the Heat to finish with a 36-46 record.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's late July -- well after the free agency bonanza early in the month -- so the Worldwide Leader in Sports has started releasing its NBA Summer Forecast. Earlier this week, the ESPN Forecast panel released its projected East standings.

And the Miami Heat? Not doing so well.

The panel predicted the Heat to finish with the 12th-best record in the East with a 36-46 record. The blurb on Miami notes the departures of Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson, but adds, "a youth movement built around Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson could keep Miami in the hunt."

This Heat team has a lot of questions -- starting with the health of Chris Bosh -- so a low prediction is not surprising. The rest of the Eastern Conference also experienced lots of changes, so determining the standings would be a bit of a challenge for anyone.

Cleveland is the definite favorite, but does the loss of Bismack Biyombo lead the Toronto Raptors to fall? How much will Al Horford improve the Boston Celtics, or Dwight Howard help the Atlanta Hawks? How will the Chicago Bulls fare with a backcourt of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade? That's why they play the game.

The Heat have a young nucleus -- not just Whiteside and the two rising sophomores, but Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters. How does Waiters fit into the mix? Can Goran Dragic emerge as a veteran leader for the glut of guards on this Heat roster? All remain open questions.

Also, some people may want the Heat to miss the playoffs to get a lottery pick and commit to rebuilding in the post-Wade era. After all, the Heat got Justise Winslow with the No. 10 pick in 2015.

With the veteran presences from the Big Three era and last year gone, this Heat team is firmly committed to a younger core. But does that team overachieve and make the playoffs, or have more than its share of growing pains?