Better said by President Pat Riley, the Miami Heat enter the 2020 offseason looking for more whales ‘if we can find them.’
Whales are what Riley refers to Jimmy Butler as, resembling the five-time All-Star’s relationship with the Heat as something ‘great for us to have as somebody that other players can look at and say, ‘Well, I want to be somewhere like that, where I feel that way about the team and feel that way about the city.’
Riley, who many thought was on the verge of retirement years ago, made the message clear during his exit interview last week.
He wants to win.
Whether it’s running it back with an identical squad, making short tweaks, or making a gamble for a superstar player, Riley and his brilliant front office are in store for a hectic offseason.
That being said, there are questions they must answer before becoming aggressive in regards to making changes.
Here are 10 of them:
1.) Who is and isn’t on the block?
It’s obvious that in order to make a push for a difference maker, Miami will have to give something valuable up. And while their 20th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft will likely come handy, so will the likes of a young gem in their organization.
According to the Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman, the clubs only untouchables are Jimmy Butler (for obvious reasons), Bam Adebayo and Udonis Haslem. That leaves the door open for rookie guard Tyler Herro, whose thriller performance during the postseason has helped surge his value to any team. Duncan Robinson also remains available, an obvious key piece to any team desperate for a shooting touch.
Others include Kendrick Nunn, who despite a poor run in the bubble, still has a bright side ahead of him.
That uncertainty will undeniably need to be agreed upon before putting an offer on the table that could ruin the young core Miami has successfully built.
2.) Are Dragic and Crowder top priorities?
There’s no questioning the value that veterans Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder added throughout the Heat’s postseason spurt, which featured them just two wins away from being crowned NBA champions. However, as Miami’s young players’ progress and Dragic and Crowder regress, it’s worth mentioning if the club is willing to offer a contract to both guys.
Dragic, 34, and Crowder, 30, are both expected to be targeted by Miami on a one-year contract, with a potential team option involved. The truth is, the Heat won’t hurt their chances at making a run at a loaded 2021 free agency – headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo – by resigning the two.
Still, it’s likely that both sides remain firm on staying. Things could change, however, all depending on what route the Heat choose to pursue entering an unusual NBA Draft and free agency.
3.) Who’s replacing Assistant Coach Dan Craig?
It was confirmed Monday afternoon that four-year Heat assistant coach Dan Craig has accepted a coaching job for the Los Angeles Clippers. Per the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, Craig’s decision comes solely for a better salary and opportunity to one day become a head coach.
Now, Miami will have to either choose to promote one of their coaches or hire someone available to sign. As of now, it’s uncertain, but if the Heat were to place someone in their coaching staff to the assistant role, it would either be Chris Quinn, Octavio De La Grana, Anthony Carter or Rob Fodor.
Once again, it’s unknown. Only time will tell.
4.) How reluctant are the Heat on extending Bam Adebayo?
As stated by Riley in his exit interview: “We value Bam Adebayo. He’s an All-Star, he’s young and he’s great. We’re gonna do what’s in his best interest. We have to, that’s our approach.”
“We love Bam, he’s a cornerstone to our franchise and it’s in our best interest to do the right thing by him.”
Whether or not Miami lives to that promise will be up in the air. Although they obviously have him planned as part of their future, his certainty with the team will be answered once a contract is finalized.
Because of Miami’s push to free cap space for a max free agent come 2021, the likelihood that it becomes a smooth process is unlikely.
Bam Adebayo, 23, is now eligible for a max contract, an option he’s likely to mandate this offseason. After all, he’s making just $5 million until 2021, and if an unpredicted injury were to happen, it would shatter his chance to pick up a substantially different check. As for Miami, they would be projected to have around $27-$31 million in cap space, potentially not enough to target an Antetokpunmpo-type player.
“We know we have a decision to make, Bam has a decision to make, and we do with him,” Riley said. “It’s gonna be a little dicey for us because we want that flexibility.”
“We have to take care of our own as much as we can but we can’t give up that flexibility.”
Riley and the Heat could ultimately force Adebayo to hold on, considering that he’ll be a restricted free agent in 2021 and the Heat will have a chance to match other teams’ offers. Still, it’ll be surprising if Miami would want to create another Dwyane Wade-like money issue, one that led to his departure from the club in 2016.
At the end of the day, Adebayo and his squad led the Heat to the Finals, and if he and Dragic were healthy, could have forced a change in the end result. What’s to say he won’t be unhappy with the ceiling Miami is putting on his potential to lead the franchise?
Here are three words the Heat could use during the process: Pay the man.
5.) Is Tyler Herro the Heat’s point guard of the future?
Dealing with injuries during their seven “seeding” games at the bubble, Herro was rewarded an opportunity to play point guard.
He played well, especially in his 25 point, 8 rebound, 10 assists outing against the Phoenix Suns. Although he struggled being the primary ball-handler at first, he quickly adjusted and become more of a threat for opposing teams.
Forget about Dragic’s pending contract. The chances he doesn’t return are slim to none. Rather, focus on how long he’ll be in the league. When will the transition from Dragic to Tyler occur? Could it be as soon as next season?
Herro is the future of this team, and it’s only a matter of time until they gift him the keys to running the club, similar to the Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tua Tagovailoa situation for the Miami Dolphins.
6.) What rookies are in the eyes of the Heat?
Holding the 20th pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Heat will have the chance to use the pick for trade value or keep it in hopes for another star rookie.
Let’s just say they keep it…
Who’s in mind for them?
Reported as of Sunday by the Miami Herald, the Heat conducted a workout with Arizona big-man Zeke Nnaji.
Out of Arizona, Nnaji was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, averaging an impressive 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds a night. His 57.0 percent shooting and 76.0 percent conversion at the free-throw stripe really stand out, considering that he’s a 6-foot-11, 228 pound center with a 7-foot-1 wingspan.
Nnaji inked 14 double-doubles, solidifying his case as one of the most impressive freshmen in the country.
Along with the former Wildcat, Miami is rumored to be in communication with Kentucky prospect Tyrese Maxey, Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr., Maryland’s Jalen Smith and San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn, among others.
7.) What’s the plan with Derrick Jones Jr.?
Since arriving at the bubble, opinions may have changed on the need to bring back the 23-year-old forward.
Jones Jr. saw limited production throughout the Heat’s postseason stretch, especially in the Finals. Jones was on the court for just nine minutes against the Lakers, as his play style and defensive presence didn’t fit the scheme Miami was working with.
Now as an unrestricted free agent, there’ll likely be many suitors looking to open a roster spot for Jones. After all, his potential remains unknown, and he comes off the best season of his early career – 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists.
To be true, it’ll depend on the terms both sides feel like is fair. Miami is simply locked in on having that freedom in its cap space for 2021, and pursing Jones Jr. won’t get in the way of that. Still, their belief in him could be off the charts, potentially offering him a deal over Dragic or Crowder.
8.) Is pursuing a new center or keeping Meyers Leonard in the minds of the Heat?
From Marc Gasol, Christian Wood and Aaron Baynes, there’s a variety of options at the center position this upcoming free agency. The question is: who would make sense to add, and where do you put him on the floor?
Miami’s offensive scheme was all about spreading the floor in 2019-20. Having big-men in the wings was essential, which was why the triad of Adebayo, Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk worked out well. There could be room for improvement, however.
Leonard, 28, had his poorest performances with the Heat in the bubble, ultimately losing the starting spot he had for 49 consecutive games and even falling out of the rotation. His impact on the team came on the bench, transitioning to the vocal leader on the bench, vital to the Heat’s success.
Now that the seasons over, that leadership perspective might not cut it for Miami, who struggled many times in the season to receive assistance in the paint, besides Adebayo.
Considering that he never fully healed from an ankle injury he sustained in February, the club could be willing to hand him a one-year deal, with a chance to redeem the effectiveness he possessed early on in the season.
9.) How important is veteran leadership on the team?
Part of Miami’s famously known ‘Heat Culture’ includes having a grit and grind mentality that helps teams get out of the hump. Typically so, that usually comes from veteran players.
As of now, Miami has just Butler and Andre Iguodala as their only real experienced players under roster, with the exception of Udonis Haslem, who’ll be back with the franchise if he chooses not to retire.
Crowder, Dragic, Leonard and Solomon Hill, who together combine for an average of 10.25 years in the league, will be options Miami will have the option to have back. Plus, they could look to add even more.
Nonetheless, Miami could be determined on opening a new chapter with its young guys, featuring a guard duo of Herro and Nunn and a big-man group of Adebayo and Olynyk, who’s expected to accept his $13.1 million player option this offseason.
10.) What has to change in order to be back in the NBA Finals?
Eventually, teams get solved. In the case of the Heat, the 2-3 zone that deteriorated the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals didn’t succeed against a LeBron James-led Lakers team. Additionally, their offensive fire power wouldn’t function unless shots from beyond the arc were clicking.
Considering that Miami will likely have to meet James again in order to become champions, something needs to be changed.
Those changes won’t have to be substantial. Just a couple tweaks to rotations and scheming could potentially do the job. Yet again, that can only be determined when it happens.
Only time will tell.