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Move for Butler puts Heat in win-now mode

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Miami needs a couple more moves to get back to title contention.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Since LeBron James left the Miami Heat five years ago, the three-time championship franchise has won a grand total of one playoff series. As I’ve written before, numerous roster moves haven’t panned out for Miami — from signing Chris Bosh to a max deal in 2014 to giving up two first-round draft picks to trade for Goran Dragic and giving Hassan Whiteside a four-year, $98 million deal.

Miami seemed stuck, with few trade assets and several bad contracts — not only Whiteside, but also underperforming veterans Dion Waiters and James Johnson having two years left on their deals.

But Pat Riley changed all that with the start of free agency, executing a four-team trade that boils down to getting Jimmy Butler and Meyers Leonard in exchange for Josh Richardson, Whiteside and a 2023 first-round draft pick.

Because this is the NBA, a lot could change in the next few days. The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson reported that Heat officials love Bradley Beal and are exploring those options. Miami could still trade Goran Dragic, as Greg Sylvander of 5 Reasons Sports reported.

Trading for a 29-year-old All-Star in Butler and giving up their 2023 first-round pick puts Miami in win-now mode. (It should be noted that Miami’s 2023 pick is lottery-protected through 2025.) Butler is certainly the best player Miami has had in a few years, but he’s not a player who can lead his team to a championship. The Heat need to put more pieces around him.

Miami has improved from a team fighting for the eighth seed — as they did for two of the last three seasons — to a team battling for a fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. That’s all Miami is now, though — what they were during Dwyane Wade’s prime years of 2008-10.

As currently constructed, the Heat have Butler and some nice role players — Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. Meyers Leonard can be more productive in minutes that otherwise would have gone to Whiteside. Miami hopes that Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro can be great shooters off the bench next year. They both have looked good in the Heat’s summer league debut against the Los Angeles Lakers.

KZ Okpala, whom the Heat traded for in the second round, is not officially a member of the Heat and did not play in summer league. But Miami picked him because of his “athleticism, 3-point shooting and ability to defend multiple positions,” according to Barry Jackson. Miami probably hopes that Ozpala can replicate the 3-and-D play of Richardson, whom the Heat selected in the second round of the 2015 Draft.

Hey, at least the pieces around Butler are young guys who can still develop. But the Heat need a superstar to go from a playoff team to a contending team.

At the least, Miami’s move for Butler gives some relief to Heat fans, who now have something to cheer about after three years of .500 ball. Now that Dwyane Wade is retired, that counts for something. But Miami fans may not be satisfied with middling playoff teams for long. Riley should have something more up his sleeve — which would be useful, especially with their 2021 and ‘23 first-round picks out the window.