The Miami Heat are in serious trouble, sitting at 7-14 just four months removed from appearing in the NBA Finals. Miami is coming off a horrid loss to the lowly Washington Wizards playing without Russell Westbrook, despite the Heat having a mostly healthy roster.
A silver lining to this embarrassing outing would be if the team could select at a high place in a stacked 2021 draft class but the team doesn’t own a single pick in the entire draft.
While injuries and a lack of momentum have seriously impacted this season, many of these losses even without Jimmy Butler are inexcusable. Bam Adebayo was signed to a max contract extension over the offseason and has played very well, but he can’t do it all by himself.
A lot of the blame can be pointed to the front office and its decisions over the summer. Re-signing Meyers Leonard to that high of a price tag was always a head-scratcher and one that looks even worse considering the fact that he has been ruled out for the season. The Heat has roughly $14 million invested in bigs that never appear in games. Leonard is a stellar teammate, is liked by the organization and will forever be a storied part of Heat history, but re-signing a guy to be a walking trade chip is a horrible idea.
The trade-off to not re-signing Jae Crowder was to preserve space in 2021, space that’s now close to meaningless. Kawhi Leonard is a pipe dream and the rest of the class would be, at best, the third-best option on a contending team. Losing Crowder would be okay if there was any sort of production being had from Moe Harkless, who the team looked to to replace that production, but there’s been virtually nothing from him and he’s now facing an injury. And Avery Bradley, the team’s other big free agent acquisition, has been dealing with COVID-19 and now a three-to-four week injury. The Heat lost a 12-point-per-game scorer in Crowder that provided tough defense and got nothing in return to offset that void.
Rookie Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala, the equivalent of a redshirt rookie, were both expected to be massive contributors to this team. While Achiuwa has played well and often, it hasn’t been enough to contribute to wins, while Okpala clearly isn’t ready for big minutes just yet. There’s certainly a lot of hope for these two, with each flashing greatness, but that isn’t helping the team this year.
If you were one of the many fans waiting on the aforementioned 2021 free agency class to turn things around: think again. The once-stacked free-agent class is now much more barren, resembling that of the 2020 class. Sure, the Heat has cap space and yes there are going to be solid players like Victor Oladipo and DeMar DeRozan available, but what does that do to improve the outlook of the team right now? With so many holes on the roster, it’s going to take multiple moves to close them.
Kyle Lowry, John Collins (restricted free agent), LaMarcus Aldridge, Dennis Schroder, Lonzo Ball (restricted free agent), Mike Conley, Montrezl Harrell (Player option), Serge Ibaka (player option), Kelly Oubre Jr., Josh Richardson (player option) and Lauri Markannen (restricted free agent) are among the other players the Heat could pursue in the summer of ‘21, but is there any certainty the Heat could get any of those guys?
The 2017 draft class players are all restricted free agents, meaning there is a likelihood that any offer the Heat throws at them is matched. Lowry, Aldridge and Conley are all getting up there in age and the rest might not move the needle. Most of the Heat’s hope lies in swinging a good midseason trade or two, getting value free agents to fill holes on the roster and then re-signing guys like Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson.
Last season Pat Riley made a genius trade in acquiring Crowder, Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill, all contributors to the Finals run, for the oft-injured Justise Winslow, faltering James Johnson and disgruntled Dion Waiters. If Riley can make that move, there are still high hopes to be had for what he could pull off at this deadline.
Maybe Riley calls the underperforming Dallas Mavericks about Richardson or Johnson? Maybe he goes after P.J. Tucker or Rodney McGruder to reignite some fight in this team. It’s possible he pursues Mike Muscala, Ben McLemore, Ed Davis or Thaddeus Young with Leonard’s disabled player exception valued at $4.7 million. All that is known is that Riley can’t sit around and do nothing because the savior to this season isn’t on this iteration of the team. Perhaps the third two-way contract spot is finally passed, allowing a veteran to join the team that could contribute for Miami. But as of now, that’s doubtful.
As for the players currently on the team, there isn’t much positivity to go around. Kendrick Nunn was playing well but was removed from the lineup upon the return of Miami’s guards and he’s simply too unreliable to count on. Two-way players Gabe Vincent and Max Strus have played well in stints but again, neither is consistent enough to count on. Goran Dragic can’t be closing games if he isn’t able to drive in and knock down layups like he did last season.
Butler and Adebayo are pretty much the only good things about the team as it stands, though neither is free of judgment. Adebayo needs to take over more often and take more shots instead of being passive and waiting around on the mismatch.
So now the Heat sits at a crossroads. At option one, Riley makes a midseason trade for a star like Oladipo, DeRozan, or, much less likely, Bradley Beal. At door two, the Heat hopes that its record isn’t indicative of its talent, makes a play-in game and then loses in the first round or two. And at door three, the team makes moves around the edges this season before re-tooling in the upcoming summer. Or, less likely, the team sells players like Nunn, Olynyk or Bradley and tries to get into the first round of the upcoming draft.
This Miami roster is extremely talented and deserved to make the Finals last season, but Heat culture is all about the lack of complacency and right now, this team has lost what has always set it apart from the others.