Miami Heat: Three summer goals for the 2018-19 season

Miami Heat President Pat Riley (Charles Trainor III/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
Miami Heat President Pat Riley (Charles Trainor III/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Miami Heat are saddled with some off-season homework.

Without a pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat are working with a deal of uncertainty. Finding an undrafted gem of a player is a wildcard, and picking up an All-Star free agent looks less probable, given Miami’s salary cap chokehold.

This off-season then, Miami needs to find a few safe investments. Without improvement, Miami is barely a playoff team, though that doesn’t fall completely on their lack of a superstar. Beyond finding their next talent, the Heat need a summer roadmap for success.

The Charity Stripe

In high school gyms across the nation, there are student-athletes spending practices at the free throw line. Used as some combination of punishment for late-game flubs and a chance to reduce the number of wind sprints, coaches have insisted that free throws should be a guaranteed pair of buckets.

For Miami, that’s not the case.

This season, the Heat ranked 22nd in free throw percentage and was one of seven teams to average fewer than 20 attempts per game. In the playoffs, their shooting looked even worse, completely locking the Heat out of Game 4. Though the Heat still average the most attempts per game among playoff teams, their abysmal 67.8 percent from the line effectively ordered the team an UberXL from Philadelphia to South Beach.

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Miami’s elite training staff has to be aware of their free throw woes, but the struggle runs deeper than simply making more shots. Goran Dragic, Miami’s lead free throw attempter, topped out at 3.6 per game this season, versus 5.2 per game in 2016-17.

The same can be said of Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson and Tyler Johnson, who lost their ability to earn foul calls. The Heat lead the league in clutch endings last season, with a league-high 53 games within five points under five minutes remaining. Though a slow start in third quarters is also to blame, getting and making more free throws can generate easy offense during scoring droughts.

Third Quarter Deathbed

Speaking of Miami’s dastardly thirds, the period following halftime is another cause for concern. Head coach Erik Spoelstra never hit his stride in finding the magic group to lead Miami out of the break, and the win column suffered because of it.

Miami’s most played lineup in the third consisted of Dragic, Whiteside, both Johnsons and Josh Richardson, but it managed a minus-7.4 net rating in 77 minutes together. Worse, two of the Heat’s three next most played third quarter lineups, posted negative net ratings as well.

Fixing the Heat’s second halves are easier said than done. Whiteside was Miami’s second best third quarter scorer (4.2 points per quarter), but his paltry 54 games limited his success. Miami shot only marginally worse in the third (43.9 percent) compared to the other three innings, but the outcome was incredibly noticeable.

As Miami’s roster gets a year older, hopefully experience wins out and terrible thirds become a thing of the past. With any luck, the return of Dion Waiters will quell Miami’s offensive emptiness. His trigger-happy ways could become the instant offense that wakes Miami out of the half.

Stow Yer Harpoons, Lads

It’s whale hunting season in South Beach, and team president Pat Riley is wearing his deepest pair of waders. Miami’s front office has committed to finding the best pieces to make the Heat competitive again, whether that includes the current core or not.

"”Show me the right name, and I could be all-in on everything,” Riley told ”You know me. But it’s got to be the right name … that doesn’t happen very often. Our core guys, we would like to keep together, there’s no doubt. We would like to keep them together and we’d like to add something to it, but that’s going to be a challenge.”"

Whether that new piece is a elder statesman Carmelo Anthony or Andrew Wiggins is up for interpretation, but Miami might do well not to jump into something prematurely.

As it stands, the Heat are breathing down the salary cap’s back without a roster good for the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. Barring any growth spurts among current core, the Heat aren’t equipped with the salary schedule that attracts free agents in the modern NBA.

Dragic, Johnson and Whiteside are all receiving major payouts, but aren’t inspiring confidence in drawing talent to the AmericanAirlines Arena. Additionally, much of Miami’s core is on the books through 2020.

Even if a major name like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins gave the Heat a chance this off-season, the lack of expiring deals means Miami has to impress their Summer 2018 catch, otherwise back offshore they go.

The summer of 2010 was a success because Miami had a firm plan to which they committed. The ties between Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh certainly helped, but the front office knew where to trim the fat to create a super team.

Next: Targeting Andrew Wiggins does not abandon Miami Heat philosophy

Recreating Miami in the image of a contender will take a metric ton of finagling, but jumping on a shiny new free agent could do more harm than good.