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The X-Factors: Miami

The Miami HEAT have been one of the East’s best teams this season, but certain factors can dictate whether they go deep in the playoffs or find themselves in a first-round exit. Matt John examines.

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Over the past two weeks, Basketball Insiders has taken a look at the X-Factors that can shape the fate of those who will be in the playoff running when the NBA returns with its 22-team format. So far, we’ve taken a look at teams that are:

1. On the outside looking in: New Orleans and Portland
2. Basically in a gap year: Brooklyn
3. Getting their first taste of playoff action with their new squad: Memphis and Dallas
4. A gritty opponent that no one wants to face: Indiana and Oklahoma City
5. Possibly the most unpredictable playoff team ever: Houston

Today, we’re looking at the boys down in South Beach — the Miami HEAT.

With Jimmy Butler onboard — Miami’s best acquisition since LeBron James — it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team’s had its best season since 2016. What is a surprise this season is that the results go beyond just what Jimmy Butler has done.

Miami’s success primarily starts with Butler, yes, but he’s not leading a bunch of scrubs to the playoffs. Far from it, in fact. Miami has gotten better as a whole because roles occupied by previous alumni have basically been upgraded with new faces.

  • Defensive Enforcer/Board-Getter: Previously occupied by Hassan Whiteside and now dominated by Bam Adebayo, and that only partially covers how magnificent Bam has been this year.
  • Three-Point Specialist: Previously occupied by Wayne Ellington and now taken over by sophomore surprise Duncan Robinson.
  • Designated Complementary Scorers: Previously occupied by Dion Waiters and Dwyane Wade and now replaced with younger, more reliable shooters like Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn.

Lest we forget, Goran Dragic has been awesome in his new role as the sixth man, Derrick Jones Jr. has continued to develop nicely, and because of the hiatus, Miami now has more time to integrate Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. The HEAT are really good, and they could potentially get better, but not enough to be considered “great.”

The general consensus on them is that as impressive as they’ve been — in the sense that the team surrounding Butler has been noticeably better than we anticipated — they still need another elite player or two before they move up high enough to reach “contender” status. Could they prove those naysayers wrong with a fruitful playoff run? It depends on a few things.

First, let’s talk about their two top dogs, starting with Butler. This hasn’t been his best season shooting the three-ball. Butler’s never been a three-point marksman — he hasn’t relied on it nearly as much as other modern-day All-Star wings do — but as a career 33 percent shooter from downtown, seeing him shoot so badly from three — 24.8 percent this season — that he basically abandoned it all together is astounding.

Then, there’s Adebayo. Adebayo has been one of the best all-around bigs in the league. He hasn’t just been a menace on defense and on the boards. He’s also been one of the league’s best passing bigs as well. He can pretty much do everything on the court right now except one thing — shoot threes. In his defense, nobody in Miami is asking him to do that… yet.

Amazingly, Miami is tied for first in three-point shooting in spite of Butler’s woes and Adebayo’s lack of contribution in that department, shooting at a 38 percent clip as a group. It’s no doubt played a factor into why they have the sixth-best offensive rating at 112.7 points per 100 possessions — Robinson, Crowder, Herro, Dragic, Nunn, Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard all shoot between 36 to almost 45 percent from three. In the modern NBA, it’s honestly pretty impressive that the HEAT still have a top-10 offense in the league despite their two best players not being a floor-stretchers.

The real question is, can a team with a makeup like that go deep in the playoffs? We all know that the playoffs are a different game. Opponents will look to exploit weaknesses as frequently as possible. Having as much shooting as possible is a strong advantage. In Miami’s case, teams are going to leave as much space for Butler and Adebayo as possible. They’ll blanket their three-point shooters as best they can to keep the offense from humming. Butler is a playoff proven star but not a superstar, and Adebayo is a playoff rookie. Erik Spoelstra’s got a proven track record, but as good as this team is, they don’t have the overwhelming talent that the Heatles did back in the early 2010s, so his work will be cut out for him.

It will also depend on who Spoelstra trusts out there, which is another X-Factor. Miami has 11 players on it roster right now worthy of playing in the playoff rotation — Butler, Adebayo, Dragic, Nunn, Robinson, Herro, Crowder, Iguodala, Jones, Olynyk, Leonard — but another proven fact about the playoffs is rotations always shorten. Teams go with fewer guys than they normally do in the regular season as a means to tie up loose ends. The ones that go deeper in their rotation usually regret it. Spo definitely has some decisions to make there.

Miami is tied for the 11th-best defensive rating in the league, allowing 109.4 points per 100 possessions, which honestly is far from bad. Adebayo and Butler have a lot to do with why their efficiency on that end isn’t too far behind from their offense, but they haven’t had the most solid support behind them in the former department. Robinson, Herro and Nunn have all given Miami a layer they didn’t know they needed, but none of them are defensive stalwarts. That probably went into the decision-making process when they traded for Iguodala and Crowder.

Whether they did or didn’t, there’s no guarantee that those two are better options than Miami’s youthful crop of shooters. They definitely bring more versatility, IQ and toughness to the defensive end and they have a lot more playoff games under their belt, but how much Iggy has left in the tank is up in the air while Crowder is wildly inconsistent on the offensive end. The HEAT will have to do a lot of mixing and matching to do. Eight games might not be enough time to do it.

Finally, the last X-Factor is who Miami plays in the postseason. Playoffs always boil down to matchups. We’ve seen that year-to-year. The 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks were a good enough team to beat just about anybody… except for the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors, who exploited every single advantage in their favor. That series upset overshadowed that Dirk Nowitzki and Co. were every bit as good as every contender in the league. They were just given the worst hand possible. Matchups can turn the tide no matter what seed you are.

These eight regular-season games can definitely have huge implications in Miami’s fate when they enter the playoffs. Adebayo’s elite defense against just about any frontcourt player along with Butler’s ability to get buckets would make life hell for Philadelphia, who Miami beat 3-1 in the season series. At the same time, Miami’s lack of two-way players could definitely be run over by Boston, who won their season series 2-0. Miami’s collection of talent gives them the luxury of adaptability compared to most teams, but that may not matter if the matchups aren’t in their favor.

How the playoffs shape up can have an impact on the HEAT in the long-term. With the moves they’ve made, they’ll have cap flexibility to make a run at a star free agent. You know how we said they are one or two more elite players away from being at the top? Well, a particular Greek superstar will be on the market in two years. If all goes right, he may be the answer to their prayers.

The odds of Miami winning a title are a longshot this season, but seeing where the bar was set this season, that may not have been the upfront goal to begin with. The goal was to put Miami back on the map this season, and no matter what happens, that’s exactly what the HEAT did.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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