Heat's fatal roster flaw, not bad luck, to blame for 3-1 hole to Celtics

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Four
Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Four / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

It would be easy to blame injuries for the Miami Heat’s current 3-1 hole to the Boston Celtics, but that would miss the forest for the trees. 

The Heat are not missing Jimmy Butler because of bad luck, they are missing Butler because of structural problems with the roster. These problems have existed for a while, and they need to be fixed when this season does eventually end, which could happen as soon as Game 5 on Wednesday night.

This is now two years in a row that the Heat have had to make the playoffs by way of the play-in tournament. Swim with the sharks long enough, and you’re gonna get bit. That’s what happened when Kelly Oubre Jr. fell on Butler’s knee during the first play-in game. 

Had the Heat taken care of business and earned a guaranteed playoff berth, they would have been off that week instead of pump-faking under a basket at the Wells Fargo Center.

But escaping the play-in was difficult for a team dealing with the fifth-most games lost to injury and 35 different starting lineups. Again, it could be tempting to write this off as a bad break. But consider that the Heat dealt with injuries last season, too. And the season before that, and before that, and before that. Is that bad luck, or is that a pattern?

Everything the Heat do is hard. That’s cool for Heat Culture and court designs, but it’s bad for a grueling, five-month regular season. 

The Heat are one of the smallest teams in the NBA. They are also one of the oldest. They don’t have a single dominant regular-season scorer to grease the wheels on offense, which means they have to work through the shot clock, set hard screens and make hard drives to score. And what does all of that hard work get you? A bottom-10 offense for the second straight season. 

This is true in this Celtics series when the Heat have eclipsed 100 points just once and failed to crack 90 in the last two games.

It’s not only because Butler is hurt. It’s not like 22 was lighting up the scoreboards in the regular season. Here’s a shocking stat: The Heat didn’t have a single player in the top 40 of scoring in the league this season. What’s more, neither of their top scorers, Tyler Herro (44th at 20.8 points per game) and Butler (46th at 20.8) played more than 60 games.

Maybe Butler could have summoned “Playoff Jimmy” for the postseason, but that ability won’t last forever. Butler will be 35 next season. There will be a point when he digs deep for “Playoff Jimmy” and comes up empty. There could be another time, like this season, when he doesn’t even get the chance.

The Heat need a top scorer, not just to raise their ceiling in the playoffs but to eat up innings in the regular season.

Don’t take my word for it. The Heat’s front office has said as much through their actions. Attempts to trade for Donovan Mitchell, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard didn’t bear fruit, but they did signal an understanding of the roster’s fatal flaw.

So where do the Heat turn now? Could they circle back to Durant, as one Western Conference executive speculated? “There are a few teams that should come up,” the executive told Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney about Durant landing spots. “The Heat would be a favorite.” Mitchell certainly makes sense and fits Bam Adebayo’s timeline.

Whatever the Heat do, running it back is not an option. To chalk up a lost season to injury would be to ignore the roster's inherent limitations and the ticking clock on Butler’s window.

Being the hardest-working team is a cool badge of honor, but a badge of honor isn’t a ring.