Mailbag: Does Not Making the Playoffs Hurt the Miami Heat in Free Agency?


Can the Miami Heat win 50 games next season? Does not making the playoffs hurt their chances to sign Gordon Hayward? What about a Carmelo Anthony trade?

Apr 12, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts during the second half against the Washington Wizards at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 110-102. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts during the second half against the Washington Wizards at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 110-102. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

You can send future mailbag questions to Thanks to those of you who have sent questions. In addition to answering them on the podcast with my co-host David Ramil, I’ll answer them in this weekly column. Let’s do it.

What a season. There are so many factors that Pat Riley and the organization will have to work through this summer. Do you think this team (if all return with a healthy Winslow, Waiters and a first round draft pick) is a top-four team in the East? I know we had the 13-game win streak which sort of skewed the second of of the season record, but I don’t know why this team couldn’t get to 50 wins next season if healthy. Thoughts? – Jordan Maley

Erik Spoelstra during exit interviews said this group could compete for a championship. Now, maybe that’s some head coaching ra ra he’s feeding, or maybe that’s a signal to Rilesburg that he wants them to re-sign dudes like James Johnson and Dion Waiters (more on this later), but if Spo says it I’m inclined to believe it.

But this time I don’t.

But 50 wins? Yeah, I can buy that.

Let’s ignore the 13-game win streak. Ignore the 60-win pace to end the season. Ignore all the feelings you have about this team. Let’s look at this objectively.

Goran Dragic had an All-Star type season (but didn’t make it because the East is loaded with point guards, and white European basketball players have an uphill battle to climb when it comes to public perception). Hassan Whiteside leads the league in rebounds, and while he’s admittedly frustrating to watch he’s still deserving of finishing in the top-five for Defensive Player of the Year.

Even if James Johnson reverts back to the mean and doesn’t shoot 34% from three next season and Dion Waiters isn’t a crunch-time assassin, a healthier roster will more than make up for that. Think of it this way: Waiters played in 46 games this season. Would you take 80% of whatever Waiters was this season, for 76 games? Yeah, me too.

Add that to natural development by Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder, plus getting a Redemption Mode Justise Winslow back for more than 18 games, and a late lottery pick? That team should be good enough to sniff 50 wins.

Will they win 50? I don’t know, that’s a tough benchmark to hit. The Heat won 54 games in the final year of the Big Three.

The top seeded Celtics won just 53 games this season. The Cavs won 51. But it was a down year in an Eastern Conference that beat up on each other all season like middle schoolers slap fighting in the hall way while the upperclassmen of the Western Conference rolled their eyes and kept on walking to class.

Don’t focus so much on the wins. This team can make the playoff. Maybe it’s 45 wins. Maybe it’s 55 wins. It doesn’t matter. To answer the other part of your question, Jordan, I’d say they can be a top-five team in the East.

I feel like us not making the playoffs definitely put a dent in our chances of landing a whale like Gordon Hayward this offseason, so do we focus on keeping and improving our current core? Or being aggressive and trading up in the draft? Or will Riley continue his pursuit of the big whale this offseason? – Jean

Heat fans should not only be rooting for the Jazz to lose to the Clippers in the first round, but for the Clippers to beat them by playing fast. Utah is one of the slowest paced teams in the NBA, and that’s just not as fun as playing fast. I don’t know how much Ricky Bobby Gordon Hayward has in him, but most perimeter players just want to go fast.

The Heat don’t have an elite recruiter like Dwyane Wade anymore, but you know who also didn’t have an elite recruiter? The Celtics. Yet they still managed to sign Al Horford, one of the best free agents available last summer. They had Brad Stevens, a fun, up-tempo system, and promise.

The Heat have Spoelstra, CULTURE, and a system that makes guys better. And they play in the East. If the Jazz lose in the first round and Hayward concludes that if he can’t beat the perennially disappointing Clippers, then he has no chance against the Rockets, Spurs and Warriors, then a move to the Eastern Conference might be in order.

At that point, it could be between the Heat and the Celtics. That’s why Heat fans should also root for the no. 1 seed Celtics to lose to the no. 8 seed Bulls. (Not that Heat fans needed a reason to root against the Bulls.)

Who wins in a playoff series between the 2015-2016 Miami Heat and the 2016-2017 Miami Heat? Assuming both teams are healthy… No Bosh for either… 2015-2016 is post-Joe Johnson acquisition… 2016-2017 Heat are playing like they were in the second half of the year – Bryan Young

Impossible hypotheticals. You know me well, Bryan.

First, a refresher of both rotations:

2015-16 Heat:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: Joe Johnson
PF: Luol Deng
C: Hassan Whiteside
Key reserves: Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyler Johnson

2016-17 Heat:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: Rodney McGruder
PF: Luke Babbitt
C: Hassan Whiteside
Key reserves: Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Willie Reed, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington

The easiest way to do this is to compare position to position, and tally them up that way until we know who has the edge. Let’s start with point guard and center to get the same player comps out of the way.

2015-16 Dragic: 14.1 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.8 RPG, 32.8 MPG, 48%-31%-73%
2016-17 Dragic: 20.3 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.8 APG, 33.8 MPG, 48%-41%-79%

Advantage: 2016-17 Dragic. Not even close.

2015-16 Whiteside: 14.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 0.4 APG, 3.7 BLK, 60.6% shooting, 3.4 Defensive Box Plus/Minus
2016-17 Whiteside: 17.0 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 0.7 APG, 2.1 BLK, 55.7% shooting, 1.5 Defensive Box Plus/Minus

Advantage: 2016-17 Whiteside. The efficiency stats and defensive stats are better for 2015-16 Whiteside, but 2016-17 Whiteside’s points and rebounding averages are higher. Plus, those defensive stats don’t show the whole story. The eye test shows he’s better defensively this season, and defensive stats are not good. His dip in efficiency can be credited to taking on a bigger scoring load and not having Wade to throw him oops.

Alright, now on to shooting guard. As fun as Dion Waiters was this season, and as much as he fits better with Dragic, he’s still not Dwyane Wade. Waiters can have moments, like he did against the Warriors, but Wade can control entire series, like he did in Round 1 against the Hornets. I love me some Waiters Island, but I’m not about to disrespect what Wade did last season. Advantage: Wade.

OK, small forward. Rodney McGruder was a great story this season, but imagine if the 2016-17 Heat had Joe Johnson in that spot. Those awful stretches of not being able to score might not be as long if the Heat could go to Iso Joe. On the other hand, Johnson slowed down the ball, while McGruder kept it moving. McGruder was underrated offensively. He could hit a spot-up three pointer (though not at the rate of Johnson) and was decisive with his decisions. You couldn’t run an offense through him like you could Johnson, but Miami’s problem last season was that they may have had too many go-to guys and not enough complementary pieces. Also, Spoelstra never raved about Johnson’s ability to make “winning plays” like he does McGruder. Still, I can’t say McGruder is a better player than Joe Johnson and keep my writing credentials. I think that’s in the rule book. Advantage: Joe Johnson.

Power forward. Luke Babbitt vs Luol Deng. Advantage: Deng.

Alright, so now we’re on to the reserves. Easy stuff first. The 2016-17 version of Tyler Johnson scored five more points per game than 2015-16 Tyler Johnson and was able to run the offense. Then there is the upgrade from Gerald Green to Wayne Ellington.

I also appreciate what Amar’e Stoudemire was able to do last season in spot minutes late in the year, but I’ll take Willie Reed’s full-season body of work.

I actually like Josh Richardson’s rookie season more than his sophomore season. We know how hot he was from three-point range in the second half, and this last season was derailed by injuries.

Finally, we have James Johnson vs rookie Justise Winslow. I loved Winslow’s rookie season, especially what he was able to do defensively against guys like LeBron, Paul George, James Harden and others. But what James Johnson was able to do on offense, while also guarding guys 70-75% as well as rookie Winslow, gives him the advantage. Bench advantage: 2016-17 Heat.

So the final tally is 3-3.

Wait! I forgot coaching! 2015-16 Spoelstra vs 2016-17 Spoelstra. Let’s take a look at the credentials:

2015-16 Spo: 48 wins, no. 3 seed in the playoffs, lost in seven games in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Re-invented the team on the fly after Bosh went out by moving Deng to the 4, encouraged a faster pace and, legend has it, turned Josh Richardson into Steph Curry overnight.

2016-17 Spo: 41 wins, didn’t make the playoffs. Took a team that went 11-30, tightened a few screws, and led them to a 30-11 record in the second half. Got Coach of the Year attention from national media. Missed Bosh for the entire season. Replaced Deng and Wade with fringe NBA players James Johnson and Waiters and actually made people think they were better fits for the team.

Advantage: 2016-17 Spo. He just had a way of getting the very most out of his players. The 2015-16 Heat succeeded mostly on sheer talent, but one could argue they should have been better given their parts. The 2016-17 Spo overachieved with his roster. He turned a ham and cheese Lunchable in the most fire Cuban sandwich you’ve ever had.

Winner: The 2016-17 Miami Heat.

Is it bad to want Pat Riley to run this back? Just stretch McRoberts and waive Bosh and just keep this same core? – Billy Kuhn

The Heat may not even have to stretch McRoberts. According to my math, the Heat should have $36 million in space after waiving Bosh and renouncing Udonis Haslem’s cap hold. If James Johnson and Waiters are serious about sitting down with Riley together to figure this out, I bet Miami could get them both for a cool $25 million combined next season.

The Heat probably won’t be able to re-sign Willie Reed, who will be in demand this summer and should sign something like a four-year, $52 million deal (no inside info). But they can replace him with Keith Benson from their D-League affiliate the Sioux Falls Skyforce and just keep it rolling.

Do you think Pat Riley would be able to convince either Dion Waiters or James Johnson to take on a smaller contract? What would your pitch to them be if you were Riley? – Anonymous emailer.

Yes, in that meeting I just mentioned.

My pitch to Waiters: No All-NBA players that you have to play in between. We’ll get you into the best condition of your career. Spiritual successor to your hero Dwyane Wade. The last two minutes are yours. Take less money, but you’ll be happier.

My pitch to James Johnson: You wouldn’t be in the NBA if it weren’t for us. Stay with the training staff that got you into the best shape of your life. You’re our Draymond Green. Take less money here, and we’ll extend your career by two–to-three seasons.

Dec 6, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) controls the ball over Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder (17) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. The New York Knicks defeat the Miami Heat 114-103. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) controls the ball over Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder (17) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. The New York Knicks defeat the Miami Heat 114-103. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

All this Melo talk has got me thinking. What if the Heat offered them Winslow and Tyler Johnson with McBob? That would intrigue me a little. However, instead of an overpaid Tyler Johnson, we get stuck with an overpaid Carmelo Anthony at a much higher price. I still think we’d be better off without trading for Melo’s bad contract and going a separate direction. I’m not even sure if he’d fit with Dragic, Waiters, and James Johnson. He’d have to act as a complementary piece to co-exist and, wow, that’s an expensive complementary piece when you already pay Dragic and Whiteside a lot of money who aren’t capable of being a first or second option on a championship team. – Taylor Monk

If Riley called up Phil Jackson and offered Justise Winslow and the no. 14 pick (the Heat would have to choose for the Knicks, then make the trade), Jackson accepts it in a heart beat. The problem is Jackson getting Melo to waive his no-trade clause (and 15% trade kicker). If he doesn’t do both of those things, no deal.

Would Melo want to come to Miami enough to do that? After his friend Dwyane Wade’s rocky exit? After LeBron left? I don’t know. Jackson would have to make him really, really miserable, and the Clippers would have to pass on him (because I think Melo picks L.A. over Miami).

But for the sake of fake trades, let’s figure this out. The Knicks will have $22.5 million if they renounce all their cap holds. The Heat should have about $36 million. That’s enough for Miami to absorb Melo’s entire deal and for the Knicks to take contracts back. However, that only leaves $16 million left in cap room after stretching McRoberts and renouncing Haslem before re-signing Johnson and Waiters. That’s a problem.

Next: Dear Heat: An open letter about the 2016-17 season

I have a solution. Hear me out. The best way to get Melo is by acquiring his Bird Rights, so that the Heat could sign Waiters and Johnson, then go over the cap to absorb Melo’s contract. They would have to match Melo’s $26 million contract, and just Winslow, Tyler Johnson and McRoberts wouldn’t be enough. So how about Chris Bosh, Winslow and Miami’s first round pick? Why would the Knicks take Bosh? To get rid of Anthony, and with Anthony in the driver’s seat, it could be the only way Jackson can get rid of him. Which he’s clearly desperate to do.

It’s a crazy idea, but if anyone is willing to do it, it’s probably the Knicks.