From the 7:27 mark onward in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat’s Saturday 111-101 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City — when Jimmy Butler checked in for Haywood Highsmith — Erik Spoelstra had a lineup of Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Butler and Bam Adebayo.
It was a lineup many of us hoped to see when the Heat traded for Oladipo in March 2021 — three All-NBA Defensive Team players making up for the defensive liabilities of Robinson and Herro. (As an aside, Herro got robbed of a block yesterday.) And the lineup protected Miami’s lead, avoiding another squeaker on this just-concluded road trip.
The actions between Robinson and Adebayo were reminiscent of their frequent dribble hand-offs during the 2019-20 season. Look at these two plays — one from last night, the other from the Bubble “seeding games.”
Duncan and Bam continue to make sweet music. pic.twitter.com/0MziTIN0Gg— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) August 9, 2020
And Spoelstra, who has often closed with Max Strus instead of Robinson, kept Strus on the bench. Strus has been mired in a slump all month long; he hasn’t shot above 37.5 percent from 3 in a game since Nov. 30. Now, Robinson shot 2-of-11 from 3 Thursday night in Houston in between two good shooting performances in Oklahoma City and Mexico City. Neither one has been consistent.
It raises the question — is Strus shooting himself out of a big contract?
Strus will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. His career trajectory mirrors that of Robinson. They both started with Miami on two-way contracts before playing two seasons on minimum-salary deals.
Robinson followed up his otherworldly 3-point shooting in 2019-20 — he shot 44.6 percent from 3 on more than eight attempts per game — with a solid 40.8 percent in 2020-21. He did enough to sign a five-year, $90 million contract in the summer of 2021.
But his shooting struggles started immediately. Robinson lost his starting job by the end of the regular season and was out of the rotation for much of the 2022 playoffs.
Now, Robinson has a negative-value contract. Knowing how that Robinson deal turned out, the Heat may have resisted giving Strus a big payday even if he hadn’t slumped. But now that Strus has struggled, where does that leave him?
Strus will keep his starting job. Spoelstra won’t change the lineup with the Heat above .500 for the first time all season long. Strus will get plenty of opportunities to shoot himself out of his slump; Butler and Kyle Lowry will miss games here and there.
He has to prove himself as a quality rotation player — even when his shooting his off — to earn another contract. It’s easy to say Butler’s friendship with Strus will keep him in Miami. But Butler said he fell in love with P.J. Tucker. And Miami didn’t match a three-year offer Tucker received from the Philadelphia 76ers.