After half a decade toiling in mediocrity, the Miami Heat put themselves back on the map when they upset the first-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the 2020 playoffs. The fifth-seeded Heat perfectly executed a plan to slow down league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo en route to securing the Eastern Conference title. It was the defining moment for the NBA’s latest underdog success story.
All it took was one season for things to go south. The Heat‘s 2020-21 season was a forgettable one. Despite career years from Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, they underachieved at every turn. Their season ended in the most embarrassing fashion possible: getting swept — the only team in either conference to lose all four first-round games — by the same Bucks who they beat last year.
Well, not the exact same Bucks. After their embarrassing playoff exodus last season, Milwaukee retooled the team around Antetokoumpo and Khris Middleton. The front office traded for Jrue Holiday and surrounded its star trio with the right depth pieces. Head coach Mike Budenholzer revamped Milwaukee’s tactics on offense and defense.
The Bucks’ new formula hasn’t won them anything meaningful yet. But it showed their commitment to improving and they look much better off for it.
The Heat find themselves in a similar situation. Their chance to pursue championships with this core won’t last long as key players are aging and contract extensions are due to kick in/be decided upon in the coming years. There’s no time to be patient. Miami needs to have itself a hugely successful offseason to remain near championship contention.
This offseason will be crucial for how well the Miami Heat contends for the next few years. The front office can’t play things too close to the chest.
Even with all the disappointment from this past season, Miami isn’t too far away from being a real title contender. They faced a lot of misfortune throughout the season with injuries, as almost all of their key players missed big chunks of the season.
If the Heat were luckier, they could have drawn a first-round matchup with the New York Knicks or Atlanta Hawks, who are significantly inferior to the Bucks. But a less humiliating end to the season wouldn’t change the fact that this team needs more firepower to be real title contenders.
Pat Riley and the Heat’s front office needs to get rich or die tryin’. But how exactly do they go about tryin’? There are a few routes to go, but some of them may be tricky to execute.
The most obvious option is trying to convince Kawhi Leonard, who has a player option to decide on after the season, to sign with the Heat in free agency. The Miami Heat will have to make extra cap room to make this possible, and Leonard passed on a championship-winning team to go to the LA Clippers, so it’s hard to see him leaving for one of the league’s biggest disappointments of this past season.
There will be other stars — albeit none as good as Leonard — available, too. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be unrestricted free agents. Both players have the scoring and playmaking abilities to juice Miami’s offense. Chris Paul and Mike Conley could do the same, but both were just a part of the teams with the best records in the league, so it doesn’t seem logical for them to bounce.
John Collins, a 23-year-old restricted free agent, is a ferocious lob finisher that can shoot threes but he may not be available. The Atlanta Hawks can match any offer he gets and he just played a big part in the Hawks’ resurgence and playoff success.
Finding a new star will hopefully revitalize the Heat’s offense, which slipped to 18th in the league in efficiency a year after being seventh. Getting their key players healthy at the same time won’t be enough. Miami needs more reliable creation, namely players who can put pressure on the defense by driving into the paint.
Adding talent won’t be easy for the Miami Heat
Finding a new star won’t be enough, either. In addition to finding another star-level talent, Miami will also have to shake up the core they have right now. They can’t just add better players to this current core and try again. They don’t have the time to wait if they want to capitalize on the rest of Butler’s time as one of the NBA’s very best.
After only improving around the edges last offseason, the internal improvement of the team wasn’t enough. Even though Butler posted his most efficient scoring season to date and Adebayo showcased a more well-rounded offensive game at times, no one else was reliable enough.
Kendrick Nunn caught fire near the end of the regular season — 16.9 points on 53.8 field-goal shooting and 39.8 percent from beyond the arc in his last 18 games — but was ineffective in the postseason. Tyler Herro was too inconsistent all season long. Goran Dragic, at age 35, has begun to lose a step. Duncan Robinson still offers very, very little self-creation. It’s clear that the Miami Heat need a more dependable third option.
But the Miami Heat also need more from their first two options. Butler made lots of noise about being a big-time playoff performer only to average 14.5 points on 29.7 percent shooting against the Bucks. Meanwhile, Adebayo looked as unsure as ever. His passivity to shoot makes him his own worst enemy and derails the Heat’s offense. The stars set the tone for the whole team. The lackluster one they set in the playoffs doomed Miami.
The Heat may also have no choice but to reshape the team they just had due to the abundance of decisions to make in the offseason. Miami will have to decide whether or not to accept the team options on Dragic (19$ million) and Andre Iguodala (15$ million). Neither player is worth their respective options but Miami may not be left with a choice if they can’t lure in any high-quality players.
The contracts of Robinson and Nunn have expired. They will be restricted free agents, meaning another team could price them out of Miami’s range. Victor Oladipo, Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon and Nemanja Bjelica are unrestricted free agents. The Heat have to decide who to retain and for how much.
The front office has the choice to keep most of its core players and bet on the same group in a season with a more typical structure and a normal-sized offseason. It should not make that choice. Complacency will get them nowhere fast.
Granted, they do have to be careful with the moves they make because they don’t have many assets. They have almost no draft capital that they can trade and only a few young players at their disposal.
When it comes down to it, the Heat need to make everyone but Butler and Adebayo available, and many of those available players should be found new homes. The Miami Heat need to get “stupidly locked in” to taking full advantage of this window of opportunity.