The 2020-21 campaign was one of disappointment and letdown for the Miami Heat, who were not able to capitalize on their run to the 2020 Finals the previous season, instead going from Eastern Conference champions to first-round fodder for the eventual NBA title-winners, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Last year saw Miami pay dearly for its mistake of choosing to make minor roster changes rather than improving its roster ahead of 2020-21, something they did in hopes of keeping enough cap flexibility to make a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo in free agency.
The Heat did not make the same mistake this past offseason, however, and now boast the most tough-nosed roster they’ve had in a very long time, one fit for the culture bred in South Florida.
Below, check out our preview for the 2021-22 Heat campaign.
Returning: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Victor Oladipo, Dewayne Dedmon, Omer Yurtseven, KZ Okpala, Udonis Haslem, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent
Additions: Kyle Lowry (Toronto), PJ Tucker (Milwaukee), Markieff Morris (LA Lakers), Caleb Martin (Charlotte), DJ Stewart (Mississippi State), Javonte Smart (LSU), Micah Potter (Wisconsin), Dru Smith (Missouri) and Marcus Garrett (Kansas)
Subtractions: Goran Dragic (Toronto), Trevor Ariza (LA Lakers), Kendrick Nunn (LA Lakers), Andre Iguodala (Golden State), Nemanja Bjelica (Golden State) and Precious Achiuwa (Toronto)
* They should be elite defensively… This upcoming Heat team, as mentioned above, is the most Heat team imaginable, with a roster full of bulldogs defensively who give max effort on the less glamorous end of the floor, led by their top three stars, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry, who are all among the top two-way players at their respective positions. Last season, Miami ranked 10th in defensive efficiency, a disappointing number for a franchise that prides itself on defense. But now, with guys like Butler, Adebayo and Lowry, along with the additions of PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris, it’s difficult to imagine the Heat not improving a great deal on that end of the floor.
* Their best player is one of the most impactful players in basketball… Much was made about Butler’s poor showing in the first round against the Bucks, and we can’t defend it: He struggled. But that doesn’t take away the fact that the former Marquette standout was one of the most impactful players in basketball last season, putting up a 21.5/6.9/7.1 stat line to go along with a league-leading 2.1 steals per game. For his efforts, Butler ranked No. 6 in the NBA in Value Over Replacement Player, No. 4 in Box Plus/Minus and No. 3 in Win Shares per 48 Minutes, proving that the Heat forward was a top player in the Association last season, poor playoff showing or not.
* Adebayo is still developing, and that’s scary… Miami’s big man Adebayo only has two years under his belt as a full-time starter, and in that stretch, he’s gone from being mostly just a play finisher and a defensive stopper to becoming an All-Star. Adebayo often brings the ball down for the Heat, initiates offense out of the high post and has started getting more comfortable shooting out of the midrange, even off the dribble. And that’s all to go with his elite ability to defend multiple positions, including point guards for certain stretches. Considering Adebayo is still just 24, there’s no doubt he’s still got room to grow, too, a scary idea for the Heat’s opponents in the loaded top-half of the East.
* The Lowry pickup could be the missing piece... After seasons of speculation, the move finally happened with Lowry agreeing to join the Heat this offseason. The pairing couldn’t be a more perfect fit, either, as Lowry is of the same mold as Butler and Adebayo in that he gives max effort when he’s out there and loves to defend, something that couldn’t be said about the now-in-Toronto Goran Dragic. Giving Miami another top playmaker and a great scorer at the point-guard spot, Lowry could prove to be a tier-changing acquisition for Miami.
* They still have elite coaching… From a development standpoint to in-game decisions and pre-game planning, Erik Spoelstra and his staff are among the top coaching groups in the league, something that could help make up the difference on nights where Miami could find itself with a talent disadvantage, as was proven in the 2020 playoffs.
* Scoring could be an issue… The Heat’s offseason additions will go a long way in making them an elite defensive club again. They won’t do much to help a middling offense that ranked 18th in points scored per 100 possessions last season, however. That leads us to expect Miami to struggle to put up points in 2021-22 on certain nights, particularly when guys like Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro are cold from the outside.
* They are quietly pretty old… Udonis Haslem won’t be counted on much next season as far as on-court contributions, considering he’s 41 years old. But he’s not the only player on Miami’s roster getting up there in age, either, as Tucker is 36, Lowry is 35, Morris is 32, Dewayne Dedmon is 32 and as is Butler, the Heat’s most important player. Durability will be a concern for this Miami roster.
* Their depth is lacking… At backup point guard, the Heat are set to count on Gabe Vincent, a solid two-way player with some shooting touch, but not someone who has established himself as an every-night NBA player. At backup small forward, they have KZ Okpala, who has struggled mightily in limited action thus far in his career. If they choose to go with Max Strus as their backup to Butler, that’s another player with some potential as a backup, but who isn’t proven. That’s all to say, that leaves a lot on the shoulders of Herro, Morris and Dedmon as Miami’s only proven backups, and if Herro doesn’t progress after a down sophomore season, that could be a huge issue for the Heat.
* Oladipo’s injury situation is a concern… The X-Factor for this Miami team will be Victor Oladipo depending on if and when he does return from yet another season-ending injury in 2020-21. If Oladipo returns looking anything like his previous self, the Heat will be contenders. But what’s likelier is that Miami brings the former All-Star guard along slowly and doesn’t put too much on his plate until later in the season. If Oladipo isn’t impactful, the Heat’s weak depth looks even weaker.
* The Heat are among the least flexible teams in the league in terms of being able to make in-season moves. After rehauling their roster to sign Lowry and Tucker, extending Butler and signing many players to minimum contracts, they only have three players on the roster that can currently be traded. Their trade flexibility will open up in December and January once free agents that were signed become eligible to be traded, but they severely lack tradeable salaries. After their starters, most of whom seem very likely not to be moved, their next highest salary is Tyler Herro at $4.0 million. His salary combined with several of their minimum players will heavily limit the type of return they can get in a trade. They are also just $6.6 million below the hard cap, which is another factor that could hold them back from adding significant money to the payroll.
* Miami has a set 14-man roster and sit just $256,000 below the luxury tax. Their willingness to exceed the tax could dictate how aggressive they could be closer to the trade deadline and buyout season. Avoiding the luxury tax doesn’t mean that ownership is necessarily trying to save money this year, but doing so would delay the repeater tax, which could come soon thanks to future payroll. If Miami’s only plan is to fill out a roster spot or two with veterans that get bought out, they could salary-dump one of their minimum players at the trade deadline to help with that. The savings from getting off one minimum player could allow the Heat to sign two veterans to prorated minimum deals while avoiding the luxury tax.
– Yossi Gozlan
2nd in the Southeast Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference