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NBA AM: Miami HEAT Treading Water, But Don’t Count Them Out

Following an NBA Finals berth, the Miami Heat have struggled to put everything together this season. But with Jimmy Butler back, better things are on the horizon.

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As things currently sit, the Miami HEAT are not in a position to make the playoffs this season, but all it takes is a quick winning streak for that to change. With the addition of the play-in games for the ninth and tenth seeds in the conference, the HEAT have a realistic shot of making it. They are right on the brink of the tenth seed, and only about a game and a half out of the eighth spot. 

The team has not been successful this season due to a lack of consistency as well as COVID outbreaks within the team. After playing the Wizards in January, the team suffered from the Washington curse and lost stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo for a stretch of games. They went on to drop two straight to the Philadelphia 76ers and lost to the reeling Detroit Pistons squad. The HEAT have been one of the hardest-hit teams due to COVID this season, but it has been a common theme throughout the league.

Moreover, Butler has only played in half of the team’s games this year. Goran Dragić has missed more than a handful of games and so has the star of the bubble, Tyler Herro. Kendrick Nunn fell out of favor for a little while after poor performances to start the season. Avery Bradley just suffered a calf injury and will now miss 3-to-4 weeks, according to Shams Charania. The team has just not been able to all be on the court at the same time and that has held them back this year. 

Let’s not forget that they took down the Indiana Pacers 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and the Boston Celtics 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals this past season. They did lose Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr., two key players from their finals run, but the core of the Miami team is still intact and under contract.

In terms of future roster makeup, both Andre Iguodala and Meyers Leonard have pending club options on the horizon that could be declined. For Iguodala, it’s unrealistic to pay $15 million at 37-years-old.  Although he remains a valuable presence on the court, his play is not up to the money on the table. Leonard was a factor in the team’s playoff run last season, but not a big one. As he recovers from a shoulder injury that has put him out for the season this year, it should not be surprising if the team elects to go in a different direction.

Elsewhere, Precious Achiuwa and Tyler Herro should be big factors for the team next season. Achiuwa has been somewhat of a steal for the HEAT at the 20th overall selection in the 2020 NBA Draft due to his strong interior presence. He is not a shooter by any means, but he uses his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame to his advantage around the rim. As he gets more accustomed to the NBA, especially with a full offseason, he’ll be a key piece moving forward.

Herro, on the other hand, is posting 17.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Even if he continues to average in the high teens for points and keeps knocking down threes, Herro will be a huge part of the HEAT in the years to come.

Looking at free agency, there’s a whole crop of potentially available players, all depending on how the season unfolds from here – Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to name a few. If the Los Angeles Clippers have another disappointing postseason run, Leonard could opt out, get even more money and join another contender. But a couple of more realistic names for the HEAT to consider might be former All-Stars like Kyle Lowry and Andre Drummond. 

Lowry may not be an upgrade over Dragić, but he’s averaging 17.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game on a middle-of-the-pack Toronto Raptors squad. The Raptors will probably part ways with Lowry this offseason – if not before the trade deadline – and the fit with Miami is an easy one.

Adding Drummond brings the flexibility to permanently move Adebayo to the forward spot and let him roam more freely on defense. If the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to part ways with the big man, the double-double-earning veteran might be perfect. 

All in all, the HEAT are still a very good team and can’t be counted out in the Eastern Conference. While the bubble NBA Finals feels like a whole lifetime ago, the crazy ups-and-downs of pandemic basketball have proved troubling, but not insurmountable for the reigning conference champions. With Butler back on the court and rhythm starting to click, it won’t be long until Miami has the groove back entirely.

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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