In exit interviews with the media today, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and several players expressed optimism for next season after a 30-11 season turnaround left Miami just shy of the playoffs.
Crucially, that includes several Heat free agents.
James Johnson said that loyalty to the organization will outweigh other factors, including money. Dion Waiters said he’s just getting started with the Heat. And Spoelstra sees a future for Justise Winslow for a team that thrived after his season-ending injury allowed more shooters to take the floor.
James Johnson: "I think the loyalty to this organization will out weigh a lot of other things, including money." JJ set to be a Free Agent pic.twitter.com/V0f755Tnev— Chris Fischer (@ChrisFischer07) April 17, 2017
"I haven't forgotten the potential and what we can build on this summer." - Erik Spoelstra on @IAmJustise— Surya Fernandez (@SuryaHeatNBA) April 17, 2017
"Justise brings a tremendous amount of versatility, defense, toughness, winning plays, things that we emphasize" - Spoelstra on @IAmJustise— Surya Fernandez (@SuryaHeatNBA) April 17, 2017
Ellington his team option: “I have a good feeling.”— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) April 17, 2017
Of course, this is still fresh after the season’s end. We should take all these quotes with a grain of salt. Who predicted right after the Heat’s loss to the Toronto Raptors in the second round last year that Dwyane Wade had played his last game with the Heat? Pat Riley called Wade a “forever guy” then. After Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls, the three-time NBA champion said that the Heat “didn’t even fight” to keep him.
Moreover, Heat fans who want to see the team return to championship-contending status have to wonder if a similar team — possibly with a Winslow who has developed a passable jump-shot — can replicate their 30-11 finish to the season and win more than 50 games next year.
Even if that’s plausible, can a team whose best players are Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters and James Johnson compete for an NBA championship, or merely serve as an overachieving regular season team? The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons won a championship with a no-superstars model, but now the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have loaded up on talent. Riley has to ponder these questions as he goes into the off-season. He said the Heat are going to rebuild quickly. We’ll see what he does.