That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free-agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today—from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record—as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s team: Miami Heat
2017-18 Record: 44-38, lost in first round to Philadelphia 76ers
Who’s new: None significant
Who’s gone: None significant
The lowdown: The search for an identity and prosperity in the post-Big Three era continued for the Heat with mixed results. They did reach the playoffs and yet clearly have fallen far from the Eastern Conference elite, having been scrubbed clean of franchise players.
Goran Dragic was their leading scorer and an All-Star at 17.3 points per game in his best overall season in Miami. A disappointment, though, was center Hassan Whiteside, who bristled at his reduced role and being benched in fourth quarters. Although his numbers were respectable (14 ppg, 11.4 rpg) he was hardly the impact player Miami wanted when they gave him $25 million a season.
Injuries limited Dion Waiters to 30 games and others on the roster struggled to fill his scoring load. An emotional boost arrived at midseason when favorite son Dwyane Wade returned via trade. He played 21 games and often provided flashbacks from his glorious past. In the end, however, the Heat were merely good enough to grab one of the last few playoff berths, a stark difference from when they ruled the East and played for titles.
When you don’t have a Draft pick for the second time in three years and are too strapped for cash to get a seat at the free-agent table, you get the kind of summer Miami had: relaxing and quiet … maybe too much so.
Acquring Dragic from the Phoenix Suns four years ago involved those Draft picks and stole a piece of Miami’s future. That left the Heat scrambling for crumbs from the undrafted player pile and hoping to find a free agent on the cheap.
The Heat are also paying the price for team president Pat Riley’s spending spree in recent summers to keep players like Whiteside, Waiters, James Johnson, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson. The most curious of the bunch is Tyler Johnson’s contract, which doesn’t expire until after the 2019-20 season. Because of a balloon structure, Johnson receives nearly a combined $40 million this season and next, which is great for him but not so good for Miami’s cap flexibility.
At least the Heat had enough to bring back Wayne Ellington on a one-year deal. Ellington had a career season from deep (39.2 percent) and was one of the better 3-point shooters in the league. There was some fear in Miami that Ellington would price himself beyond the Heat’s reach, but Miami were helped by a mild free-agent market. That kept Ellington from locking down a rich, multiyear extension. Besides, he preferred to return to Miami, where he can keep his stock high for next summer.
The Heat also missed out on adding Carmelo Anthony, who became available after being traded by Oklahoma City Thunder and released by the Atlanta Hawks. Although he strongly considered Miami, Anthony obviously wanted to be with a title contender more than a spot on South Beach and signed with the Houston Rockets instead. Miami’s small forward spot seems crowded with Richardson and Justise Winslow chopping up the minutes. Plus, Winslow—who is extension-eligible next summer—faces a key season in 2018-19.
The main task this summer for the Heat was getting on the same page with Whiteside. Their relationship seemed headed for a split as the summer began. Whiteside fumed over his role in the rotation and especially his reduced minutes in the fourth quarters. Coach Erik Spoelstra increasingly kept Whiteside benched during tight games and Whiteside no longer was a first or second option on offense.
No doubt, the Heat at least weighed the possibility of trading Whiteside. But at an average of $25 million the next two seasons, his contract proved tough to move. In these situations, such contracts only fetch another bad contract in return, or require the team to sweeten the deal with a first-round pick. Miami were willing to do neither.
Instead, the two sides talked it out and reached an understanding. Of course, it’s easy to call a truce in the offseason. The truth will reveal itself when Whiteside finds himself in (or out of) the final five minutes of a close game. Whiteside may become a bit more attractive to other teams at the trade deadline as he closes in on the end of that contract.
It’s an interesting and delicate time for the Heat, who are still searching for an identity after the departure of LeBron James. Chris Bosh isn’t walking through that door and Wade’s upcoming season, his 16th in the NBA, will be his last. In the meantime, whose team is it? With abundant sunshine, no state tax, Spoelstra, the charms of South Beach and Riley’s steady leadership, the Heat will always be in play for A-list free agents.
Yet, the state of this team is handcuffed to a batch of decent-but-not-great players who are sucking up cap space. Relief and major change is perhaps two years away. Will Riley, who turns 74 in March, still be in control then?
Coming Next: Denver Nuggets
By Shaun Powell
First appeared on NBA.com
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