Dirk Nowitzki pounded the ball twice to his right, pirouetting and falling back into his signature fadeaway jump shot. Swish. Erik Spoelstra pushed his chair aside and stomped onto the court. Timeout. Chaos emanated when the Heat started the season 9-6 and down 10 points to the Mavericks. Spoelstra balled his hands into a fist and blew a fuse. As he encroached the playing field, Lebron, who watched the ball fall through the net, darted to the bench, apathetic to the obstruction of his coach. Lebron’s left shoulder physically thrust into Spoelstra’s right shoulder. Simultaneously, their divergent personalities collided figuratively. It was practically inevitable. The rookie coach was irked by the constant stifling of his leadership. After all, the team had concocted an invincible squad, The Heatles, so pushback was not bargained for.
That was 8 years ago.
Change has occurred since then. Lebron returned back to his hometown and delivered the championship he pledged, only to ditch at his next window of opportunity. Adversely, the Heat’s roster once built of superpowers deteriorated to journeymen and projects. Alas, Spoelstra became the explicit captain of the ship. Now, it is understandable to ponder which direction the team’s boat sails.
For all intents and purposes, Spoelstra’s Heat is headed in a captivating direction. The location is not a popular one. For outstanding teams, ones that are tanking, making the playoffs is a quandary. For the former video coordinator, reaching the playoffs is a prerogative, gifted to those who put themselves in grueling situations. Spoelstra turns a blind eye to trendy tanking tactics. His glass half full approach was especially exuded in an exit interview, “We’re one of the 16 teams to experience it,” Erik noted. The Heat coach then added substance,“We’re thinking about the next level and what steps do we need to take.” With Lebron in the West, now is the best time for the Heat to grab the estranged torch.
Currently, the Heat does not have the makings of a championship team. After all, it only takes one glance at the inventory of mediocre products who were overvalued, and thus overpaid, in recent offseason spending sprees, to cognize the inevitability of roster fluctuation.
Hassan Whiteside became increasingly discouraged by the muzzle he felt the team’s playing style has posed. He yearns to shoot 3’s. Dion Waiters regressed in every category after getting a healthy payday. His inefficient shots early in the shot clock limit his ceiling to a Jamal Crawford-role. Kelly Olynyk is restricted by his peripheral play. The former Gonzaga star’s slow lateral movement inhibits his ability to switch screens. Tyler Johnson, while eliciting a Slumdog Millionaire story, is impactful as a bucket of water on a forest fire. The Heat decided to match his 4 years $44 million offer sheet, unambiguous to slight subsequent free agency nuances. The overhaul of James Johnson from plodding power forward to puttylike point-forward is a denotation of tireless work ethic. However, he is not worth his $17 million price tag.
And that’s the connotation that dips the disposition of Miami’s roster into boiling hot water. Albeit, there are a few bright spots.
Josh Richardson has germinated from athletic aberration to authentic defensive player of the year candidate. Justise Winslow is a young prospect to keep an eye on, and while he has not proven worthy of Boston’s boatload of future draft picks, he can play both ways. Rodney Mcgruder is not a knockdown shooter but fills in the scantron bubbles messily in every alternative category. Goran Dragic has ridden a Steve Nash-like career revival in becoming Miami’s prized possession, personifying a quantum jump. Bam Adebayo has taken on an Avante-Garde role in summer league, abnormally bringing up the ball. While he certainly will not be a floor general with Dragic on the floor, he could be an intriguing incongruity as a pick and roll ball handler. Otherwise, it is almost a guarantee he seizes the natural center position from the disgruntled Whiteside.
If Spoelstra is the captain of the ship, Pat Riley owns the ship. In every practical sense, Pat Riley oversees a tight ship. His chalice is filled with the liquidation of a championship rings’ glittery gold and crystalline diamonds. For a coach that inveigled Chris Bosh and Lebron James to team up with Dwayne Wade and the functions of a 47 win roster, Riley is intent on a renaissance. The former Laker coach hair slicked back and 5 rings lodged onto his spiny fingers, the crux is a ring on his other hand. Erik Spoelstra is aware of his overseer’s pedigree, yet not curtailed by the integrity of tremendous expectation. “The expectations on us never discourage us, they only energize us and empower us.” Spoelstra energized, like the Energizer Bunny, is hopped up on his boss’ roster developments sub rosa.
“Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra” by Doug Benc is licensed under Getty Images
For the most part, the Heat had their hands tied in this Summer’s free agency. They had about $1.83 million to spend on a bench player, along with a $5.5 million mid-level exception. Many thought they would spend the exception on Wayne Ellington, who sunk the 6th most threes in the NBA. They declined to extend an offer his way, leaving Carmelo, who Sam Presti bought out after he accepted his $27.9 million player option, as a legitimate option.
For all the Heat’s squandered signings, they still have a sufficient chance to redeem themselves. While their chances of snagging a ball-stopper like Carmelo Anthony slowly intensifies, they may covet minutes to developing pieces. After all, they do not want to make the same mistake they have made in previous free agency periods. Going down the Carmelo path is convoluted and one that naturally adheres to a negligent destiny. For all his talent, Melo stops the ball at any given point in the shot clock, his eyes dead set on one thing, the rim. Or perhaps the back of the rim.
Melo was one of only 5 players to shoot more than 14 attempts a game and score 17 points or less. He was one of only 7 players to fire at least 6 three’s a game and shoot below 36% (league average). He averaged 1.3 assists per game, which places him in a category alongside T.J. Warren, for 6’8’’ players to average less than 1.5 assists whilst still playing 32 minutes per game. All these statistics are courtesy of the Hardwood Paroxysm Twitter, which they found on the Basketball-Reference website. Surmising, Carmelo is not just a ball-stopper, he is a historical ball-hog. He may not mesh with the young players and could even influence them to venture outside the team-oriented culture the Miami Heat genuinely promote.
Keep in mind, the Heat have an abundance of role players they could flaunt to entice prospective players.
The 2018-2019 free agency class is made up of franchise centerpieces, Jimmy Butler, and Demarcus Cousins. The latter two seem to be on their way out. Butler is getting sick and tired of taking the backseat in Minnesota and Cousins signed for Nick Young money so he could ring chase for a year.
Of course, Riley could lay the foundation for next year’s free agency class.
As of right now, they are $1.830 million away from the luxury tax line next Summer. To add space, they first have to rid of deplorable contracts off the books. Hassan Whiteside, who was unplayable in the playoffs, may have to be paired with a future first-round pick. Dion Waiters will also have to be paired with a first-rounder unless he has a breakout season. Considering his volatile play, anything is in the realm of possibility. Contending teams could look at James Johnson and Goran Dragic as impactful playoff players. There should be takers for Tyler Johnson. He could be a solid 6th man for teams looking for a microwave-like scorer. Notwithstanding, Justise Winslow’s rookie contract is expiring next Summer as well and barring any major setbacks, looks to command $15-20 million long-term in an expanded market.
The Heat could try to disassemble the Warriors core. Plausibly, Riley would pitch a centerpiece role to Klay Thompson. Realistically, Klay Thompson is ground zero for a rejuvenation of superstars in Miami. How could Miami wrestle him away from Oakland? Thompson has not embraced a centerpiece role since his days in Pullman, Washington. He would also theoretically pitch his background in handling stardom, having coached Earvin Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Patrick Ewing, and managed Lebron, Bosh, and Wade. Entailing, credibility could crack the code this time next year. The luxury tax is not on Golden State’s side either, they could be paying upwards of $50 million in tariffs if they choose to retain their marksman.
If the Heat does not dent the Warriors’ armor next year, they could try again in the ensuing year. The absence of the constant looming shadow of Stephen Curry’s greatness could be especially sufficient to wrestle away Durant. Recently, he squabbled with a fan over an Instagram post that stated Durant was an “elite two-way player but don’t elevate a team like Lebron or Steph.” Always trying to bring detractors to naught, Durant could decide his next chapter is controlling his own team outright.
Spoelstra’s eyebrows raised a notch, “no questions about KO?” He wondered aloud to the media. He spoke of Kelly’s benevolence off the court and his augmentation as a player. “I think he has that kind of upside, still at 26, he can still make another big jump this Summer,” he told intrigued reporters.
Miami’s over-reliance on their current roster could be their shortcoming. They have a profusion of role players, but not a franchise player to build around. But who knows, evil mastermind Pat Riley, who resembles a typical villain, could capture a superhero in free agency. When push comes to shove, Riley once persuaded Wade to take a backseat to Lebron and Bosh to transform into a stretch-4. In the end, the next monumental change could be Hassan Whiteside jacking up contested three’s.
One thing’s for sure, change is constant in Miami.