NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Miami Heat
Coach: Erik Spoelstra (10th season)
Last Season: 41-41 (ninth place in the Eastern Conference)
Notable Additions: Kelly Olynyk (free agency), Bam Adebayo (draft)
Notable Subtractions: Willie Reed (free agency)
Vegas Over/Under: 43.5 wins
Best-Case Scenario: The clock doesn’t strike midnight. The formula the Heat found in the second half of last season is real, and they are one of the best teams in the East.
Miami was a .500 team last season, but there was nothing average about it. The Heat bookended the year with an 11-30 start and a 30-11 finish. They went on a shopping spree this summer under the assumption that their strong finish meant more than their weak start. Plan A was Gordon Hayward. When he went to Boston, they went all in on their current core. They re-signed Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Josh Richardson to contracts worth a combined $154 million and signed Kelly Olynyk to a four-year, $50 million contract. It was a departure from their previous strategy under Pat Riley, in which they hoarded cap space and went after the biggest names in free agency. The Heat used to convince stars to be role players. Now they are trying to turn role players into stars.
After injuries thinned out their rotation last season, Erik Spoelstra molded the remaining players into a group better than the sum of its parts. Waiters and Goran Dragic played like they were in NBA Jam. Johnson was the do-everything forward people have been waiting on him to become for a decade. Hassan Whiteside rolled to the rim, blocked shots, and grabbed rebounds. Everyone else shot 3s, moved the ball, and played sound positional defense. The Heat are counting on Spoelstra executing the same formula again, except with better players. Richardson and Justise Winslow are healthy, while Olynyk is a big upgrade over Josh McRoberts and Luke Babbitt. Miami has one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. With the East even weaker than usual, that could be enough to get home-court advantage in the first round.
Worst-Case Scenario: Miami’s cast-offs turn back into pumpkins, and integrating its new pieces upsets the delicate balance it created last season.
The Heat’s turnaround last season came at the 3-point line. They shot 3.5 more 3s per game after the All-Star break than they did before it, and went from making 35.6 percent of those shots (18th in the NBA) in the first half of the season to 38.3 percent (fifth) in the second. Part of the change was losing Winslow (a 20 percent 3-point shooter) for nearly the entire year and Richardson (33 percent) for a 19-game stretch in early 2017 that coincided with Miami’s 13-game winning streak. Both players are more talented than Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder, but they may not be as willing or capable of embracing limited roles on offense. Dragic (40.5 percent), Waiters (39.5 percent), and Johnson (34 percent) also shot well above their career percentages from beyond the arc last season. If they regress to the mean, the floor will shrink, the driving lanes will narrow, and Spoelstra’s well-oiled machine will turn into a house of cards.
There are a lot of volatile personalities in Miami. Waiters is a no. 4 overall pick who has already played for three teams in five seasons in the NBA. Johnson played for four teams in seven seasons, including two separate stints with the Raptors, before coming to the Heat. Dragic pushed his way out of Phoenix, and Whiteside washed out of the league for a while because of his attitude. They played with a collective chip on their shoulders last season, and getting everyone to sacrifice for the greater good may not be as easy the second time around. It’s hard to say “no one believes in us” when almost the entire rotation has a big contract. The Heat had better hope for good chemistry with this group because the team will have no cap room and little flexibility next summer. It’s possible that Miami has spent a fortune and eliminated all of its cap flexibility all to lock in a no. 7 seed in a weak conference. Ask Portland how spending big to keep an overachieving team together can turn out.
TL;DR: Is being an Eastern Conference version of the Blazers even a bad thing?