The Future of the Miami Heat
The 2018-19 Heat season for the most part was a disappointment, as Miami missed the playoffs for the third time in five years. The biggest bright spot to the season was Dwyane Wade’s “One Last Dance” campaign, the final season in his legendary hall of fame career. Wade had quite a few memorable moments throughout the season, such as this amazing buzzer beater against the Warriors.
Another bright spot was the emergence of second-year big man Bam Adebayo as the starting center. Fourth-year player Justise Winslow stepped up when Goran Dragic went down with injury and flourished as the starting point guard. Despite missing out on the playoffs and Wade retiring, Miami’s youth had flashed some potential.
The offseason, though, saw Miami lay down the blueprint to return to relevancy. In the draft, Miami selected Tyler Herro from Kentucky with the 13th pick. A fierce competitor with an elite shot, Herro looks like the answer to Miami’s spacing problems. After some draft day trades, the Heat also selected Kezie Okpala with the 32nd pick in the draft. An incredible athlete, Okpala projects to be a versatile defender with a varied offensive skillset. In free agency, Miami shocked the NBA world when it acquired Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade from the Philadelphia 76ers. It took a four team trade, giving up young promising 3-and-D wing Josh Richardson, mercurial big man Hassan Whiteside, and a first round pick, but Miami finally landed a proven in prime All-Star with which it could build a system around.
Miami’s biggest problem last season was its lack of a go-to perimeter scorer, especially in clutch situations. Last season Miami was tied for 7th most clutch games, and went 21-24 under those conditions. They tried to push Richardson to be the closer, but through no fault of his own he simply struggled with consistency. The Heat turned to Wade for some success, though he couldn’t be a long-term solution with his impending retirement. With Jimmy Butler, the Heat have a clear-cut go-to scorer when things get tight. Able to score off drives, at the free-throw line, or behind the arc, Butler will be Miami’s answer in clutch moments. This alone could improve Miami by a few wins.
Looking forward to next season, Miami should easily make the playoffs. With Butler as the on and off court leader, the other players can focus on their individual roles. Adebayo and Winslow should continue to improve as they rack up experience and get closer to their primes. Dion Waiters looks back in shape following a long road back from ankle surgery. Add in contributions from Herro, a summer league standout, and possibly Okpala and Miami has an excellent supporting cast around Butler. The ceiling of the team feels like a fourth or fifth seed and winning a playoff series, but that’s still a drastic improvement over the last few years. Almost as importantly, it sets Miami up for further down the road.
After the incredible 30-11 season from 2016-17, Pat Riley locked down that core on four-year deals. This move ended up backfiring, as Waiters had his surgery and James Johnson battled numerous injuries. Those deals will come off the books completely by the summer of 2021, a summer several NBA teams are circling as the next big free agency. That summer, elite superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bradley Beal, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard will be available. By then, the Heat will have an experienced supporting cast, a co-star to recruit in Butler, and the cap space to sign a max level free agent. Should things break their way and they land one of the big fish, Miami will be back in title contention. Until then, Miami will have a fun squad with Butler leading the way that’s going to be a nightmare to knock out in the playoffs. Like South Beach’s weather, the Heat’s future is looking bright and sunny.