After Donovan Mitchell's decision, it's time for the Miami Heat to pivot

What, exactly, is the Heat's plan here?
Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Two
Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Two / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

Donovan Mitchell agreed on a contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, taking what might have been the Miami Heat’s top prize off the market.

Mitchell will sign a three-year, $150.3 million maximum contract that includes a player option for the 2027-28 season, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It had long been assumed that Mitchell was at the top of the Heat’s wish list should he decline to make a long-term commitment to the Cavaliers and become available in a trade.

With Mitchell off the board, the Heat need to pivot. Miami’s business this offseason has consisted of re-signing Kevin Love to a two-year contract, signing its own draft picks and undrafted free agents and bringing back guard Dru Smith on a two-way contract. Underwhelming stuff, especially when measured against big moves made by the Heat’s Eastern Conference rivals.

The Philadelphia 76ers signed Paul George and helpful rotation players like Eric Gordon, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andre Drummond. 

The New York Knicks traded for Mikal Bridges. 

The Orlando Magic added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Cavaliers, with Mitchell signed, are positioned now to shake up their roster.

The Heat could argue that they already handled their most pressing piece of business: Coming to a resolution with Jimmy Butler.

Butler had reportedly entered the summer with hopes of signing a maximum contract extension – something Pat Riley didn’t want to entertain – but did a 180 on that position before the opening of free agency. Butler will reportedly not seek an extension and play out this season, then decide whether to pick up his player option next season.

But asking Butler, who will be 35 in September, to lead a Heat team without improvements is an unrealistic request. The East goes through the Boston Celtics, and to a lesser degree the 76ers and Knicks. To contend for a championship, the Heat need to break through a ceiling of teams in the Northeast that are much better than the Heat on paper.

With Mitchell off the board, could the Heat pivot to other available players? The Utah Jazz are reportedly listening to offers for Lauri Markkanen. The Portland Trail Blazers could make Jerami Grant available. The Chicago Bulls are trying to give Zach LaVine away. (I’d be surprised if the Heat went down this road.)

Do either of those players move the needle for the Heat? Do they even have the assets, with just two tradeable future firsts, to pull off a trade?

It could make more sense for the Heat to focus on future flexibility, but that would require the kind of calculated step back this front office has been reluctant to accept.

After striking out on Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Mitchell over the last three years, it’s becoming clear that the Heat can’t rely on a star forcing his way to Miami the way Butler did in 2019.

In a league where general managers are increasingly creative and under a CBA that makes timelines especially important, Miami’s strategy is no longer viable. It’s time to reconsider everything, including long-established practices.

If the Heat can’t land a star this season, then they should accomplish something. 

They risk alienating a fanbase that has passionately supported them for years and trusted Riley and the Heat brass to pull rabbits out of hats. But there has been no such magic maneuvering since Covid, and we’re heading into Year 6 of this core – an eternity in the NBA.

The front office might write off a lateral move – a trade for anything less than a star – as nothing more than rearranging the furniture. 

Well, sometimes a space could use new feng shui. 

If the Heat need to shed salary to accumulate more assets – a calculated step back – then do that. This fanbase is smart and will understand. It seems to be the front office that is stubbornly holding onto some Heat Culture ideal.

Even the Lakers (the Lakers!) have pivoted from whale-chasing to building a sensible roster around its two stars. They didn’t get Klay Thompson, but Lakers fans at least know they tried.

While the Thompson chase was going on (he eventually signed with the Dallas Mavericks) and the Cavaliers were negotiating a contract with Mitchell, the Heat were emailing press releases about signing draft picks and two-way players.

More than getting creative, the Heat need to make tough decisions. Rather than rely on the easy thing – a star player forcing his way to Miami – they need to do the hard thing. Look ahead, play chess, get creative.

The Celtics wouldn’t be the defending champs if they didn’t trade away franchise icons in 2013 to land the picks that became Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Or, to use a more recent example, trade Marcus Smart in a controversial deal that landed them Kristaps Porzingis (and the draft pick they later used to trade for Jrue Holiday).

Last season, the Knicks traded well-liked youngsters RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley to acquire players who better fit the roster.

The Western Conference champion Mavericks bought low on the controversial Kyrie Irving a year ago, trusting their organizational culture to get the most out of the All-Star talent.

The 76ers, sensing the need for change, cleared the books and positioned themselves to be a player in free agency this summer. Then landed George.

In some ways, the Heat are helped by the fact that Mitchell and Butler made their decisions relatively early in the offseason. There are still three months until the season begins, plenty can happen. 

But the Heat need to take action rather than wait for something to fall in their lap. A step back, a step forward, a lateral move, whatever. Shake it up like a Magic 8 Ball and try for some new luck.