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Has Pat Riley failed Jimmy Butler?

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With hindsight, we look back at Heat decisions to prioritize 2021 cap space over all.

Miami Heat Introduce Jimmy Butler Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Miami Heat beat the Sacramento Kings last night, snapping a three-game losing streak. But Miami is still 12-17 on the season, good for 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Miami is fortunate to sit in a conference with only four teams above .500 — they’re just two games behind the sixth-seeded Toronto Raptors.

But it’s difficult to envision this team playing at a championship-contending level this season, barring a significant trade. Even Jimmy Butler admitted after the Heat’s win last night that “we’re a ways away from being a good team this year.”

The Heat’s disastrous 2020-21 season has led to a new debate — has Pat Riley failed Jimmy Butler?

Now, the Heat’s grand plan to use 2021 cap space to sign Giannis Antetokounmpo and/or Victor Oladipo evaporated before their eyes. Miami signed Bam Adebayo to an extension, giving up max cap space. Antetokounmpo signed his supermax extension.

Oladipo reportedly still wants to join Miami, but the Heat missed an opportunity to trade for him in the off-season. And he also got hurt in the Houston Rockets’ game against Miami last week and hasn’t played since.

The Heat’s abysmal 2020 off-season exacerbates the failed dreams of 2021. Avery Bradley has been hurt, Moe Harkless hasn’t offered anything and Meyers Leonard got a $9 million salary only to appear in three games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

And to top it off, KZ Okpala hasn’t played well in the chances he’s gotten this year. Losing Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. in free agency without getting any suitable replacements has only compounded the Heat’s issues this year.

If we’d like to go back, we could also discuss the Heat’s strong interest in Bradley Beal, who signed an extension with the Washington Wizards in 2019 and still has not asked for a trade. But a better example of Riley missing an opportunity would be Chris Paul. (And to be fair, I was against a Heat trade for Paul in the summer of 2019.)

Before Paul’s resurgent season with the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, rumors swirled that he could end up in Miami. Some even thought Paul’s trade stock was so low that the Heat could trade for him without giving up Tyler Herro or Justise Winslow. But the Heat’s desire to keep the 2021 books clean overrode their interest in Paul.

Has Riley made mistakes? With hindsight, we can say planning for 2021 turned out to be a fool’s errand. And there’s no excuse for the way the 2020 off-season turned out. Meyers Leonard was a non-factor in the bubble, and the Heat still gave him $9 million after seeing that. But there’s time for Miami to turn this around before this season becomes lost.