Mere months ago, the Miami Heat finished the regular season as the top team in the Eastern Conference, downed the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers in the opening two postseason rounds and were advanced to its second Eastern Conference Finals in three seasons against the Boston Celtics.
The Heat took Boston to seven games, though it lost three straight home contests at FTX Arena. By the end, both teams were battered by injury — most notably Jimmy Butler (knee), Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Tyler Herro (groin), Robert Williams (knee), Jayson Tatum (shoulder) and Marcus Smart (ankle), among others — truly transforming it into a series of attrition. Miami made an inspiring comeback towards the tail-end of Game 7, but were not able to complete the comeback effort, falling 100-96.
There were plenty of questions heading into the Heat offseason, a few of which I detailed here. Though one of the most clear-cut questions I left off, because it’s a repeat question with Pat Riley almost every offseason: Will Miami trade for another (super)star?
We’ve known that Pat Riley chomps at the bit to pry away stars from other organizations, which has always been one of his mightiest traits, for better or worse. And up until the end, the Heat were in the sweepstakes for Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell — three of the biggest stars made available on the trade market this offseason.
The biggest takeaway from their offseason: Miami seemed so locked in on acquiring another star and not wanting to run it back — why wouldn’t the brain trust not try to improve the team if they can? — that it ultimately is.....wait for it.....running it back (to a degree)!.
The only additions to Miami’s roster are rookies Nikola Jovic, who they drafted No. 27 overall, and Darius Days, who they signed to a two-way deal in August on the last day of summer league. Conversely, they lost one of the most important players in P.J. Tucker, who flocked to East rival Philadelphia for the full-MLE — a contract Miami could not afford to give the 37-year-old Tucker if it wanted to hunt for an extra star or two.
Still, the Heat still reside in a similar position compared to last season — among the competitive, albeit better, Eastern Conference contenders.
Are they so-famously the NBA’s “Dangerous Loomers” yet again?
Perhaps! But why?
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Heat’s current over-under for wins on the season is 48.5, the fifth-highest in the Eastern Conference. While an over-under betting total is obviously far from what will actually happen in an NBA season, it’s a prognostication that roughly estimates where some believe how the Heat will do heading into the season.
Make no mistake, 48-49 wins isn’t bad. And the Eastern Conference is deep; To with Miami, Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, the Cavs, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks are all very capable of making serious noise.
But so are the Heat.
While “running it back” spells poor vibes from the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, I’d argue the Heat have a better infrastructure now compared to then. They also retained much of their core that placed top-5 in the league defensively and just outside the top-10 in offense last season.
Losing Tucker — especially to a conference rival that’s a contender — stings, but Miami now essentially switched him out for Oladipo, who played eight regular season games last year. Miami’s also banking on steady production from what looks to be an in-shape Kyle Lowry and possible improvement from Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, among others.
The Heat might not be on the same tier as the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Bucks or Celtics at their current stage — they’re still without a concrete starting 4, an important component to their schematic versatility — but it’s not crazy to believe the Heat, who went 53-29 last year, are directly below that tier.
The Heat got to see Lowry-Butler-Adebayo together in just 34 of their 82 regular season games last year; Miami went 24-10 in those games — a 58-win pace — posting a 7.3 NET rating when they were on the floor together. More on-court familiarity — especially if they play more than 40 percent of their games together, especially if the rest of their core is healthy — theoretically heightens the team’s ceiling. That helps when Miami has arguably the league’s best coach in Erik Spoelstra wielding his pseudo-swords schematically to maximize everyone’s capabilities.
Sure, Kyle Lowry nor Jimmy Butler are getting younger. Butler just turned 33, while Lowry is approaching 37. Though Butler was one of the league’s top playoff performers last year while Lowry — when healthy — engineered the Heat’s offense as good as anyone.
The offense fell on its face in the postseason, in-part because of its lack of shot creation in conjunction with multiple players’ bodies dismantling. But the full-time integration of Oladipo and improvement from its other primary/secondary creators (Herro, Vincent, etc) should offer more creation upside.
If Omer Yurtseven’s development continues to trend upwards, Miami will have their backup center behind Bam Adebayo; the fearless Strus is scheduled to be let loose with an established rotation spot while Caleb Martin could be thrusted into his biggest role yet.
And should I remind everyone that Duncan Robinson — Miami’s forgotten 3-point sniper — is still on the roster? While he might not be expected to begin the season in the rotation, there’s still plenty of room for Robinson to carve out a rotation role if — and when — he further diversifies his offensive game.
Head coaching scandals aside, yes, the Celtics landed Malcolm Brogdon (and Gallinari, who’s injured for the season) without disposing of any of their top-8 rotation players; the Bucks are healthy; the Sixers added Tucker and De’Anthony Melton to their already-formidable core; Cleveland and Atlanta made impactful acquisitions for Mitchell and Dejounte Murray, respectively; Brooklyn added depth to their bench while retaining both Irving and Durant, while many thought at least one wouldn’t return; the perpetually lengthy and feisty Raptors will grit-and-grind opponents like they’re coffee beans on a nightly basis.
The East is deeper and stronger than it was a year ago.
But that doesn’t entail the Heat falling flat; Don’t let the Heat get hot. Since they didn’t add a notable name — the closest is a fully healthy Oladipo, which, by the way, could be dangerous — Miami looks like they’re dangerously looming in the wind yet again.
Perhaps no team leaguewide (other than Toronto?) salivates the opportunity to strike its prey more when they’re looked at as underdogs. Now, they might be getting viewed as a team fighting for homecourt after winning the Eastern Conference after a revolving door of absences for much of the year.
If the cards fall right, the one-called dangerous loomers might sneak into the room as one of the league’s top teams yet again in 2022-23 — especially when we all know anything’s possible over an 82-game season.