The last few years haven’t felt great for Miami Heat fans. Aside from the 30-11 finish to the 2016-17 season, Miami has played uneven basketball. Pat Riley has given out some bad contracts, including four-year deals to Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters.
The Heat aren’t close to championship contention. And that’s OK.
We’re about to enter the biggest free agency period since 2010. An April 26 ESPN article said that several of Kevin Durant’s current and former teammates believe he’ll sign with the New York Knicks. Why would Durant leave a team he’s done nothing but win championships with? Because joining the 73-win Golden State Warriors in 2016 put a dent in his legacy. He needs to win a championship on his own team to firm up his résumé against LeBron James and other all-time greats.
Kyrie Irving could also sign with the Knicks this summer. And that would move the Knicks from nearly two decades of irrelevancy to the favorite to win the championship. (Irving leaving the Boston Celtics for New York would have him leaving one of the league’s best-run franchises — with a great coach and an executive team that quickly moved from the Big Three era to their current playoff contention — to one of the NBA’s worst-run ones.)
Kawhi Leonard may leave the Toronto Raptors this summer to join the Los Angeles Clippers or Lakers. Will Leonard or Irving stay with their respective team if they make it to the NBA Finals? Who knows.
Simply put, there is so much uncertainty for any team’s future outlook. The Heat went from being 1-1 in the 2014 NBA Finals, having stolen home-court advantage from the San Antonio Spurs, to losing LeBron James in two months. The Oklahoma City Thunder had a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Western Conference Finals against the 73-win Warriors before losing Durant that summer. And the Thunder have gotten bounced in the first round three straight years since then.
What will happen with the Philadelphia 76ers if they can’t beat the Toronto Raptors, with Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick all impending free agents?
Moreover, can we really say the Heat would be much better off if they had signed Gordon Hayward in 2017 or traded for Butler in 2018 (in exchange for Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson and a 2019 first-round pick, according to Adrian Wojnarowski)? Hayward will make $30 million for each of the next three seasons, and he’s a sixth man on the Celtics. The trade for Butler would have solidified Miami as a middling playoff team without much of a near-term future.
Yes, Pat Riley has made some bad personnel moves recently. But the Heat have seven of their next eight first-round picks, including a lottery selection this year. While Richardson may not be a reliable fourth-quarter scorer, he’s a solid starter and tenacious defender. Adebayo can be the prototypical glue guy on a championship team. And Justise Winslow took a huge leap forward in his fourth NBA season.
The Heat may not be close to championship contention. But we could say the same thing about several teams currently competing for the championship in a few months.