Burning Questions: Do the Heat regret not trading for Damian Lillard?

Oct 26, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts after scoring during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 26, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts after scoring during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Welcome back to Burning Questions, the mailbag with hot questions and even hotter answers. As always, thanks to everyone who sent in questions. You can make submissions for future mailbags on X @wcgoldberg or email them to wcgoldberg@gmail.com. Let’s jump in!

In this week’s mailbag: Do the Miami Heat regret not trading for Damian Lillard, other solutions at point guard and does Jaime Jaquez Jr. have to play?

Is everyone hearing that collective grown out of the Miami-Dade area? Damian Lillard erupted for 39 points, including the game-clinching 3-pointer from 30 feet out, to lead the Bucks to a statement win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’s totally understandable if Heat fans watched imaging what could have been and what Lillard could have meant to a Heat offense that scored a meager 108.4 points per 100 possessions against a Detroit Pistons team that won 17 games last season. This, on the heels of Kyle Lowry scoring zero points in his season debut, only adds to the pain.

As I wrote Thursday, I think he has to.

Here was Miami’s rotation in Wednesday’s opener without Josh Richardson and Haywood Highsmith.

PG: Kyle Lowry / Dru Smith
SG: Tyler Herro / Caleb Martin
SF: Jimmy Butler / Duncan Robinson
PF: Kevin Love / Jaime Jaquez Jr.
C: Bam Adebayo / Thomas Bryant

Richardson and Highsmith will be part of the rotation. It’s easy to swap Smith’s minutes with Richardson. That part is figured out. But what about Highsmith? Whose minutes does he take? It won’t be Caleb Martin. Duncan Robinson’s shooting is too important. The only answer might be Jaquez. The problem is that Jaquez’s playmaking already seems to be a vital part to that second unit that includes Herro, Martin, Robinson and Bryant.

As impressive as Highsmith was in the preseason, he’s not a Make Stuff Happen guy the same way Jaquez is, who can play-make out of the post and cut into the teeth of the defense. Jaquez will keep getting opportunities, but it’s also possible this was a flash in the pan against a young Pistons team. He’s also on a minutes restriction in the wake of a preseason groin injury. Think of this as a cautious yellow light flashing in front of all your Jaquez excitement (although it’s so hard not to be all in).

There are some tough decisions ahead for the Heat. Richardson and Highsmith are both out for Friday night’s game in Boston, so they won’t have to make those decisions now. But they’re coming. Everyone, including the starters, will have to earn their job.

I love this question. Hypotheticals are my jam! Alright, so let’s think… Spoelstra’s most successful team was the Big 3 with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh surrounded by shooting and defense. Spo helped revolutionize the game by inverting the floor with Bosh spacing and LeBron and D-Wade getting to the hoop. His defense was a whirring chaos machine made up of strong hedges against the pick-and-roll, rotations on the backside and super-athletes jumping passing lanes. That was the 2011-2014 version of “modern basketball.” Building on that, we can assume Spoelstra will want guys who have length, ball skills and that dog in ’em.

It only feels right to have a current member of the Heat on this hypothetical dream team. I’m going with Bam Adebayo over Jimmy Butler. To best describe Spoelstra’s defensive philosophy is to watch Bam play defense. Covers ground, communicates, always in the right place, blows up opponents’ actions before they even start. He’s a coach’s dream. He’s my starting center.

Building a dream team around Bam provides a lot of leeway defensively but it also requires that the other four starters can shoot.

(This, by the way, is the biggest issue in building around Adebayo and Butler. Neither is a floor spacer, so the other three players on the court basically have to be. This is why Lowry not shooting a 3-pointer in the opening game is such a problem, and why Lillard was such a perfect fit. But I digress.)

Let’s round out the frontcourt with a power forward who can rebound and space the floor. Filtering out players who are at least 6-foot-10 and averaged at least four 3-point attempts and six rebounds last season, we get the following list of potential Bam partners:

Lauri Markkanen
Karl-Anthony Towns
Kristaps Porzingis
Jabari Smith Jr.
Kevin Durant
Brook Lopez
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Nikola Vucevic
Myles Turner

Hey, if we’re talking dream team for one season, give me Kevin Durant! But that’s no fun — it’s too easy to go with the first-ballot HOFers. I could also just say Steph Curry and Lillard and move on. Let’s build something with a longer shelf life. I’m going with Lauri Markkanen.

That was probably the hardest part. To fill out the rest of the starting lineup, I want a No. 1 and No. 2 scorer (so that Bam can focus on what he does best, which is everything else beyond scoring) and another top-flight wing defender.

I’m between Tyrese Haliburton, Devin Booker and Anthony Edwards as my lead ball-handler.

Give me Desmond Bane, a world-class defender and 40% 3-point shooter with a grind mentality, at shooting guard.

I like Mikal Bridges on the wing.

Throw Haliburton in for my sixth man so I can play small with Haliburton, Booker, Bane, Bridges and Bam for a balanced 3-and-D lineup to close games.

That’s a starting lineup of:

G: Devin Booker
G: Desmond Bane
F: Mikal Bridges
F: Lauri Markkanen
C: Bam Adebayo
6M: Tyrese Haliburton

The Heat need someone willing to shoot and on a contract that won’t limit their financial flexibility going forward. My shortlist could look something like this:

  • Spencer Dinwiddie (one year, $20 million remaining; took nearly six 3-point attempts per game last season)
  • Monte Morris (one year, $9.8 million remaining; 39.5% on 3s last season)
  • Cole Anthony (one year, $5.5 million remaining; 36.4% on 3s last season)

Next. Instant reactions to Heat's opening night win. dark