The Miami Heat lost their chance to acquire Damian Lillard this summer, who openly expressed his desire to be traded to South Beach. Instead, the seven-time all-star ended up in Milwaukee to play for the Heat rival Bucks team.
Missing out on Lillard is a tough blow for the Heat, who spent their whole summer focusing on Dame. Nevertheless, Miami is still prepared to contend this season.
There are several questions that will need to be answered before the season starts this month, especially with the departure of last year’s starters Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. Missing out on Lillard means they can’t solve some of those problems, but it also means the team avoids introducing new issues. Here are two issues that were avoided by not trading for Lillard.
Clear Go-to Guy
“Dame Time” is famous for being one of the best clutch players in the NBA. He has one of the longest highlight reels of regular-season and playoff buzzer-beaters. His ability to shoot 40 feet from the basket adds to his ability to finish games by shooting anywhere from the court.
Miami already has a closer in Jimmy Butler. He finished second in the Clutch Player of the Year voting, then added to that by going on tremendous fourth-quarter scoring runs in playoff games.
If the Heat had Dame and Butler, Coach Spoelstra would have needed to make a choice on who would be taking the last shot for games. While this might be a good problem to have, it could lead to some complications if egos were not able to be put aside.
One solution could have been the following: if you need three, go to Lillard. If you need two, go to Jimmy. Fortunately, Spoelstra can gameplan around Butler closing games for Miami. That strategy worked well last season, winning four out of six playoff games decided by five points or less.
Clear Best Player
In the playoffs, Butler is arguably a top-five player in the league. In the regular season, he is still spectacular, but not as impressive. He has helped lead the Miami Heat to four consecutive playoff appearances in four seasons, including two trips to the NBA Finals and three Eastern Conference finals trips.
Lillard averaged 32.2 points per game last season, albeit on a team with a losing record. Throughout his career, he was able to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to success despite having little support on the roster. At their peak, the Trail Blazers reached the Western Conference finals, where they were eliminated by the Curry-led Golden State Warriors.
Butler and Lillard are both top-15 players in the NBA. Although they do different things, they have similar skill levels. Either player could be the best player on a championship-level team.
It would be difficult to decide who is better between Butler and Lillard. Miami has had a history of this uncertainty being a problem for them. When LeBron James first joined the Miami Heat, it was still Dwyane Wade’s team. That team didn’t win a championship until Wade had a conversation with James in which he asked James to take the reins.
Once again, it would be more of a luxury to have two superstars on one team, but looking on the bright side, it benefits the Miami Heat to know that they don’t have to think about who the alpha on the team is. Butler has asserted himself as the leader of this Heat team, and he will do his best to lead the Heat to the Finals again this season. With the Lillard trade strengthening Eastern Conference rivals, the road may be tougher than ever.