Regardless of what happened this season, this summer could be time for the Miami Heat to launch a rebuild.
Based on all the roadblocks the Miami Heat have faced during the 2015-16 NBA season, it is not hard to proclaim their season as anything but a success after coming one game short of the Eastern Conference Finals.
While Dwyane Wade played in a five-year high 74 games this regular season, it was his teammates this year that struggled with the injury bug. The most serious, of course, being Chris Bosh and his continued battle with his blood clots. Without Bosh, the Heat were able to clinch the No. 3 seed in the East. And despite losing Hassan Whiteside to a right MCL injury early in the Toronto Raptors series, the Heat were one of the final eight teams standing this season.
But the Eastern Conference Finals is where Miami’s problem awaits. LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers have looked damn near unbeatable and those Cavaliers are not going anywhere anytime soon. They have LeBron still in the peak of his career, Kevin Love locked into a contract at just 27 years old, and Kyrie Irving peaking at the right time at 24 years old. They have a core that will rule the East for years to come.
While the Heat do have the youth they sorely lacked during the Big Three Era, their foundation is still built around an aging core. Wade, who has looked fantastic this playoffs, will be entering his 14th season at 35 years old. Goran Dragic has had a roller coaster season and will cost the Heat nearly $16 million going on 31.
Then you have Bosh who, with serious health concerns, hasn’t been able to play the second half of back-to-back seasons. At 32, he’ll be earning over $22 million next season, with those blood clot issues clouding his NBA future. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, does not think Bosh will play another NBA game.
So, with the Cavaliers firmly planted atop the East, what’s the best course of action for the Heat beyond this post-season?
How about a soft rebuild?
No, we aren’t talking about a major overhaul ala the Philadelphia 76ers. Rather a soft one that keeps the Heat’s young core together while ridding of some veterans to re-open Miami’s cap situation for years down the road.
How they do it
The Heat have done well to inject some youth into this roster the past couple of years. In Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, and Briante Weber, the Heat have a young core that they can build on.
First they have to re-sign Whiteside, no matter the cost. Give him the max if that’s what it takes. Whiteside, along with Winslow, have the talent to become complete two-way players Miami can build around. Whiteside is on the verge of becoming a dominant big man and Winslow—who has the vision to be a playmaker and ability to barrel to the rim–is already a great defender with offensive potential yet to be tapped.
Then there’s the Dragic question. The Dragon is better in a run-and-gun offense, something the Heat did effectively the second half of the season, but came crashing down in the playoffs when the contested, low-percentage shots they took stopped going down for them.
The fit between him and Wade has been awkward from the beginning, and I’ve yet to see enough evidence this can work. Certainly, Dragic hasn’t quite lived up to the mega deal he signed last summer. The Heat need to see if they can unload Dragic this off-season for a first round pick. If the Heat can do that, they’ll create a ton of cap room and add a much-needed draft pick to aid in the rebuild process.
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Of course the Heat need to let Wade, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, know of their rebuilding intentions. If he’s on board, go ahead and bring him back to mentor the young players. If he’s not, wish him well and #LetWadeWalk.
If the team does let Wade walk, a player like Kent Bazemore would be a good fit to replace him. Wade has never developed a three-point shot that would aid his game as he ages, especially as a fit for the next few years alongside Whiteside.
Wade’s three-point shooting in the playoffs was likely a fluke rather than something that is going to be sustainable. (Keep in mind that, this past season, Wade posted a career low true shooting percentage while maintaining his usual sky-high usage rating.)
The Heat would then need to decide the best course of action with Bosh. Many in the Miami front office are wrestling with the thought Bosh may never play again, and the team can’t make any decisions on his future until this situation is rectified. If Bosh doesn’t play until February of 2017, his contract could come off the books due to a medical retirement, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
With Whiteside re-signed, Dragic traded and Wade understanding his mentor role, Miami should let Johnson and Deng walk via free agency. While both were useful players for the Heat, Miami needs to focus on developing its younger players that play the same position. The more time the Heat spend grooming these players to star alongside Whiteside and Winslow, the more likely this core can work longterm.
With these players developing, Whiteside to build around and some draft picks in the arsenal, the Heat could begin building a home-grown roster that could become a threat like another home-grown roster over in Oakland, California. The Cavaliers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so may as well plan for a few years down the road. More youth is the key, not more over-the-hill veterans.
Why is this the best course of action?
If we’ve learned anything from this last season, it’s that this current Heat team is full of savvy veterans who can get the job done at times, but the puzzle pieces don’t fit together. It was one big name taking the reins after another, taking turns to play the “hero” in hero ball, rather than represent the pace-and-space kind of team that Erik Spoelstra led to four NBA Finals appearances.
With a team built around Whiteside and Winslow, the Heat can transform into a modern four-out basketball team. With enough space for Whiteside to dominate down low, Miami’s guards will also have enough air space to get him the ball in pick-and-rolls (something the team sorely lacked in the playoffs).
Wade’s presence will always invite slowed down, half-court play, but it’s not as if NBA greats haven’t found second homes in the past. Michael Jordan played for the Warriors. More recently, Paul Pierce was traded from the Boston Celtics in a move that ushered in a new, young core currently beloved by their fans and poised to only get better.
As currently constructed, the Heat aren’t in position to compete with the Cavaliers and Warriors of the NBA. This is a team whose ceiling seems to be an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. We know that the Heat dream big, and that Pat Riley wants to win rings. Rather than try to fast track the process, the Heat would be wise to take inventory and prepare for a new era of Heat basketball.