Heat Offseason Mailbag: What if Miami followed the Florida Panthers model?

Plus, who is next in the Miami Heat's development pipeline and can they move up or down in the NBA draft?
Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers
Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

Welcome to the Miami Heat offseason mailbag! Every week, I’ll jump on here and try my best to answer your questions and provide some explanations during what should be an eventful summer. Let’s do it.

As always, thanks to everyone who sent in questions on X. It’s also where you can send future mailbag questions.

I love this question for two reasons. (1.) I’ve actually been thinking the same thing during the Florida Panthers Stanley Cup run, and (2.) It's an absurd cross-sport comparison that gets the gears turning. Let’s go.

It was a shock when the Panthers traded Jonathan Huberdeau for Matthew Tkachuk in 2022. Huberdeau was a homegrown talent and the team’s best player. Tkachuk was three years younger and on the rise. The Panthers wanted to shake something up, and boy did they. It was all part of an organizational shift from a high-scoring outfit to a defensive, tough-minded team. 

The results speak for themselves: Two-straight Stanley Cup appearances. The Panthers are up 3-0 on the Edmonton Oilers at the time of this writing. 

So what does that look like for the Heat? First, it would require trading the face of the franchise for a younger player with a higher ceiling. Second, that trade should signal a stylistic shift needed to compete at the highest level.

It’s easy to assume that Miami’s Huberdeau is Jimmy Butler, but that might not be right. Butler is the face of the franchise, but he’s not a homegrown talent and he isn’t in his prime anymore. Plus, it wouldn’t necessarily be shocking if Miami were to trade him, given the tensions over his contract. Butler, in this example, is the Heat’s Sergei Bobrovsky – a proud, postseason hero who joined the Florida team later in his career. Here’s how ESPN described Bobrovsky in their annual top 100 NHL rankings:

“When you average out the play of ‘Regular-Season Bob’ (.901 save percentage, 3.07 goals-against average) with ‘Playoff Bob’ (.915, 2.78) you get a goaltender worthy of being in the top 100.”

Sound familiar?

So if Playoff Jimmy stays, then who is Miami’s Huberdeau? 

I hate to say it, but it’s Bam Adebayo. Homegrown talent? Check. In his prime? Check. Hit his ceiling? 90% there. Would it be shocking and heartbreaking to trade him? 100%. But that’s what the Panthers did.

Next, we need to identify a Tkachuk. 

Before getting traded to the Panthers, Tkachuk had made his first All-Star team as a 24-year-old playing for Calgary. He was on the rise and, as the sixth-overall pick in the 2016 draft, was just starting to scratch his ceiling. He was a free agent in 2022 and had no interest in re-signing with Calgary, and the Panthers acquired him in a sign-and-trade.

So we’re looking for an All-Star on the rise who is available because he doesn’t want to give his current team a long-term commitment, and acquiring him would signal a stylistic shift needed to win a championship.

The easy answer is Donovan Mitchell but, according to Yahoo’s Jake Fischer, people around the league believe Mitchell is going to sign an extension to stay in Cleveland.

“Everyone around the league believes that Donovan will be signing a shorter extension [with Cleveland] — something in the three-year range,” Fischer said on a podcast this week. “That way, when he gets back into free agency, he will have 10 years of service and be eligible for a higher percentage of the cap.”

Scratch Mitchell.

Scanning the current free agents and last year’s All-Star roster… What about Tyrese Maxey? What if Maxey, a free agent, came to the decision that he no longer wanted to play in Philadelphia, where he’ll always be the second banana next to Joel Embiid? In Miami, Maxey could lead the team in scoring and push the Heat’s offense into the top half of the league.

In this scenario, the Heat would need to salary dump Tyler Herro, Terry Rozier or Duncan Robinson to create enough cap space under the hard cap in order to perform a sign-and-trade. Then they offer Adebayo to the 76ers in exchange for Maxey. Adebayo and Embiid form the league’s most dominant frontcourt, and the Heat sign Maxey, who made his first All-Star team last season, to a maximum, long-term contract. The Heat then replace Adebayo with a floor-spacing center and re-sign Butler to a maximum extension.

Trading Adebayo would be painful for Heat fans, but it would also dramatically shake up how the Heat play and land them a potential top-10 scorer to lead the offense.

For the record, I’m not arguing that the Heat should do anything like this or that it’s even possible – I was just playing out the hypothetical presented in the question.

There’s not as much enthusiasm around Miami’s current crop of development projects as there was for guys like Caleb Martin, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson before them. 

A year ago, the Heat were high enough on Orlando Robinson that they let Omer Yurtseven walk in free agency and promoted him ahead of Jamal Cain to the standard roster. But it would seem the Heat have cooled on Robinson after an up-and-down season that saw him lose minutes to Kevin Love and Thomas Bryant. His contract is non-guaranteed but becomes fully locked in on July 15. The Heat need to make a decision on him before then.

This seems like a make-or-break summer for Cain. He’s been on a two-way contract for two seasons and failed to get promoted to the 15-man roster this season. The Heat like his tools, but he needs to show he’s ready for NBA minutes or he could end up looking for an opportunity elsewhere.

Cole Swider’s G League numbers were impressive: 23.6 points on 42.3% shooting from 3-point range. He could be looking at another year on a two-way unless he thinks there is a roster spot for him somewhere else.

There’s optimism around Alondes Williams. He averaged 18 points and 6.7 assists in 16 G League games last season and shot 46.2% overall. At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, the Heat hope he can develop into a plus defender.

None of these guys are ready for regular rotation minutes but at least a few of them should stick on two-ways or at the end of the roster while the Heat replenish the pipeline.

I’m not a LaVine guy. He’s an elite 3-point shooter but suffers from the same you’re-doing-too-much-itis that occasionally afflicts Tyler Herro. Neither LaVine nor Herro are plus defenders, even if LaVine has the frame to be better than he’s shown throughout his career. 

I am, however, a Caruso guy. He’s an elite point-of-attack defender who fights over screens and can guard multiple positions. He can also knock down open 3s and keep the ball pinging on offense.

But taking on the remaining three years, $138 million of LaVine’s contract is a steep price to pay for Caruso, who himself is going into a contract year and will need to be paid next summer.

Considering the money, I’d rather have Herro than LaVine. If LaVine is a better player, it’s not enough to warrant paying double the salary for a similar skill set. If there’s another way to get Caruso, I’m all ears, but this ain’t it.

Move up: Tyler Herro and no. 15 to Detroit for the fifth pick.

Move up: Duncan Robinson and no. 15 to Chicago for Nikola Vucevic and no. 11.

Move down: Nos. 15 and 43 to New York for nos. 24 and 25.

Move down: No. 15 to Toronto for no. 19 and a top-four protected 2026 first-round pick (via Indiana).

If nothing else changes, the Heat can’t justify going into next season with their current payroll, which would make them a second-apron team and limit how they can improve the roster. (Second-apron teams cannot aggregate salaries in trades, take more money back in a deal or use cap exceptions to acquire players.)

The Heat need to make a cost-cutting move that increases their financial flexibility and adds some draft capital to improve the team in the future.