After missing the playoffs in three of the last five seasons, the Miami Heat will look to their newly acquired two-way superstar, Jimmy Butler, to lead them back to the promised land. With the retirement of a certain #3, the next chapter of Heat basketball rests on the shoulders of his close friend. In addition, shedding the Hassan Whiteside contract finally gives the franchise cap flexibility heading into the 2020 offseason and beyond.
The Heat will also look for continued development from Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo as they look to build towards positive new beginnings this season.
Last season was always going to be overshadowed, and rightly so, by the farewell tour of the franchise’s greatest son Dwyane Wade. Disappointingly, but not wholly unexpected, the Heat missed the playoffs and finished 10th in the Eastern Conference after going 4-6 in their last ten games. In one of the closest playoff seeding races in recent memory, Miami fell away at the vital moment.
After winning five games less than the previous season, heading into the offseason, the Heat were a team in limbo. The franchise has coveted a leading man for a few years and Pat Riley pulled the trigger on a deal to accomplish just that. It required a four-team sign-and-trade between the Heat, Clippers, Trail Blazers and 76ers, which saw the departure of Josh Richardson to the 76ers, Hassan Whiteside to the Blazers and a protected 2023 first-round pick heading to the Clippers to acquire Jimmy Butler.
Despite entering free agency over the salary cap, the Heat exceeded expectations, impressively landing a star and adding a solid backup center in Meyers Leonard, who can stretch the floor out to the three-point line. The departure of Whiteside finally presents the opportunity for a possible Bam Adebayo breakout season in year three, after two years of steady improvement from mostly bench minutes – more to come on that later.
The draft was also notably successful for the organization selecting Kentucky’s Tyler Herro with the 13th pick and taking Kezie “KZ” Okpala with the 32nd pick in the second round. Herro turned heads throughout the association with his standout performances in the Summer League, averaging 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in 29.5 minutes per game.
Okpala, given Miami’s proven track record of scouting and developing talent, also offers huge promise for the franchise – with the Heat trading away three second-rounders in order to draft the 20-year-old out of Stanford. Clearly well-liked amongst the organization, Okpala was handed a three-year contract by Heat management without playing a single minute of the Summer League.
The offseason moves point towards the franchise’s willingness to position itself with the capability to trade for another star to pair with Butler or continue to create cap flexibility to go after another max player in free agency.
In a wide-open Eastern Conference, you would expect the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers to lock up the top two spots. After that, you can make a case for any of the remaining six slots up for grabs. The defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics are still expected to secure a high seed. So yes, the Heat aren’t going to be contending for a title in the immediate future, but this season will be all about player development and the quest to return to the playoffs.
We all know what Jimmy Butler will bring to South Beach, but this season could see the emergence of a few of his teammates. Bam Adebayo finally has the opportunity to step out of the shadow of Hassan Whiteside. In 82 games last season Adebayo ranked 29th in total rebounds (with 597) doing the majority of his work in second unit minutes. The 22-year-old has the frame and athleticism to become a real presence on both sides of the floor.
The Heat were the second-ranked defensive team in the league for points allowed per game (105.9), added Butler – a four-time member of the all-defensive second team – to its lineup. So another season of elite team defense should be on the cards, but the real question marks rest on the other side of the ball.
Justise Winslow continues to improve his offensive output season on season, despite constant questions surrounding his offensive ability or lack thereof. Last season Winslow not only proved a suitable deputy to the point guard void when Goran Dragic went down, but also produced career highs in points (12.6), rebounds (5.4) and assists (4.3). The former Duke Blue Devil made 37% of his three-point attempts last season, on two attempts per game more (3.9) than 2017-18, so the signs are increasingly positive for Winslow going forward.
The aforementioned Dragic will look to put his injury woes firmly behind him this time out, and a healthy Slovenian significantly improves the Heat offense. Long-rumoured to be on his way out of Miami as part of a Butler trade, the veteran Slovenian could prove to be a real asset once more if his unsettled situation is firmly put behind by all parties.
The most intriguing member of the roster, could well be rookie Tyler Herro. Whether Herro sees serious rotation minutes in his rookie season remains to be seen, but glimpses of his silky-smooth offensive game were on full display at the Summer League. A project head coach Eric Spoelstra will certainly relish and possibly deploy as the season progresses.
An intriguing season is ahead for the Miami Heat, progression is the aim and a playoff berth would be warmly received by the fans. But make no mistake, the focus is on the future in Miami as the Heat look to navigate towards its next period of contention.
The four-time All-Star is unequivocally his team’s best player for the first time since the 2016/17 season where he posted career highs in points (23.9), rebounds (6.2) and assists (5.5). You can expect Butler to stamp his authority on both ends of the floor this season and record similar statistics as the franchise cornerstone.
2.Bam Adebayo’s time to shine
The athletic center played all 82 games for the Heat last season and will be motivated to shine after being cut from the US team ahead of the FIBA World Cup. As he continues to polish his offensive game, look out for Adebayo to become a two-way force this season.
The Heat ranked 26th in the league for points per game with 105.7 last season. The addition of Butler and the hugely promising Tyler Herro will give the fanbase hope, but offensive improvement is a must for a playoff run.
Jimmy Butler | 18.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.9 spg
Signed a four-year, $142 million max contract with the Heat. Once again recognized as a team’s leading star. Butler will be intent on proving to naysayers that he can indeed successfully lead a team.
Bam Adebayo | 8.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 0.8 bpg
With the departure of Hassan Whiteside, Adebayo will get significantly heavier starter minutes. Is this the season he goes to the next level?
Justise Winslow | 12.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.3 apg
Showed considerable offensive improvement last time out. Heat management will hope for more of the same this time around to better complement his elite defense.
Goran Dragic | 13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.1 rpg
Struggled with injuries last season and has been constantly rumoured with a departure out of South Beach. Can the former All-Star produce a stellar season in a contract year?
Derrick Jones Jr | 7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.6 apg
“Airplane mode” turned each game last season into a personal highlight reel. Possessing superhuman athleticism, Jones Jr has developed into a valuable role player for the Heat.