Last Season: 48-34, 3rd Seed in East
Off-Season Gains: SG Dion Waiters (free agent), PF Derrick Williams (free agent), SG Wayne Ellington (free agent), PF James Johnson (free agent), SF Luke Babbitt (trade), PF Willie Reed (free agent)
Off-Season Losses: SG Dwyane Wade (free agent/Chicago), PF Chris Bosh (blood clots), SF Luol Deng (free agent/Lakers), C A'mare Stoudemire (retired), Gerald Green (free agent/Boston)
Off-Season Stock: If you have to ask, it's already too late.
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Let's get something straight right away. I'm never going to like the Heat. I'm never going to hope for the best for them. Beat the Spurs in the Finals --especially the way 2013 went down-- and you're going to be on my poop list forever, that's just the way it is, okay? And it's not like I was ambivalent toward them before that June. I've always found their organization to off-putting. Did you know their official team name isn't even Miami Heat? It's Miami HEAT, in all-caps. It's a registered copyright and everything. (Well nuts to that, he said from behind his laptop, I'm going to keep writing Heat.)
That being said, I wouldn't wish what happened this off-season on any team's fans, not even the Heat fans who left Game 6 early. It's just a shame business and egos got in between Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley. No matter what LeBron James did in his four transcendent seasons there, Wade is without a doubt Miami's all-time signature player. He should've played his whole career there, the way Tim Duncan did with the Spurs, Kobe Bryant did with the Lakers and Dirk Nowitzki will with the Mavericks. It sucks for everyone involved that he has to play out the golden years of his career with the Bulls.
And then there's the Chris Bosh situation, which is downright tragic. He's got a contract, he wants to play, and he just can't, due to reoccurring blood clots. Riley admitted in an interview that he doesn't anticipate Bosh ever playing for Miami again, and the team will likely release the 11-time All-Star (!!!) in February for CBA reasons to open up cap room. Bosh, in turn, seems to be in denial. He penned a letter to Heat fans thanking them for their support and well wishes but declared he intends to keep playing in the NBA. Frankly, I can't ever see that happening, even if it's for the veteran's minimum and he signs every liability waiver any lawyer can dream of. As Miami media icon Dan Le Batard has pointed out on his national radio show numerous times, there's just no way any team will risk the prospect of Bosh collapsing and dying while wearing their uniform and being associated with that forever, the way we think of Hank Gathers and Loyola Marymount University. (Did you know Gathers' final game was against the University of Portland? He fainted a few feet away from a young guard by the name of Erik Spoelstra.)
It's a shame. By all accounts Bosh is one of the best dudes in the league. And even if he wasn't, even if he was a well-documented jerk and some fringe player, no one deserves being stripped of what they love to do because their body betrays them. It's simply stunning that the big three are all gone from Miami, just six years after they were formed. I would hope that puts it into perspective for Spurs fans how lucky we've been.
As for the players who'll actually play for Miami, the cupboard isn't exactly bare, but there isn't a whole lot to excite you, either. Hassan Whiteside signed for the max --an alarming proposition-- and while he may be the likeliest candidate to produce a triple-double of any big-man in the league, there doesn't seem to be much evidence that he actually makes his team better. He still carelessly tries to challenge every shot, and is a black hole on offense. Whiteside has had problems staying healthy and he's older than you think he is, two years Kawhi Leonard's senior in fact. Now that the team leaders are gone in Wade and Bosh, and he's got the monster contract in hand, you wonder if he'll have any internal governor at all on or off the floor, or if he'll just be one huge raging... id run amuck. He's going to want the ball --a lot-- and there doesn't seem to be many reasons left to not give it to him.
Goran Dragic has been mostly a disappointment in his one-and-a-half-seasons in Miami, and he's lost a step since his Phoenix heyday. Finishing inside continues to be the biggest strength of his game, but he didn't drive as often last year and his three-point shooting has fallen off a cliff with the Heat. Dragic had to play off the ball a bunch with Wade dominating it, so he'll at least get to be a full-time point guard again this season. His counting stats will probably improve, but I doubt his efficiency numbers do.
Justise Winslow had a fine rookie year for a 19-year-old. His defense is several miles ahead of his offense at this point, to the degree that Spoelstra benched him for part of the playoffs. They desperately need him to take a dramatic leap forward in year two. He's got to shade closer to the Leonard end of the spectrum than someone like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It's unclear who'll be their their starting four. They played a lot of small-ball last season, but most of their good wings are gone, so it could be newcomer Derrick Williams, who was a decent scorer and abysmal defender for the Knicks last season. New York basically broke even while he sat, and was outscored by 7.5 points-per-100 possessions while he played, but there's no denying that the Heat need guys who can put the ball in the basket. Meanwhile their two-guard will likely be Josh Richardson, last year's second-rounder. Winslow got most of the press, but Richardson was the Cinderella story of their draft class and shot 46 percent from downtown. Unfortunately, he suffered a partially torn MCL during an early-September workout and he may not be ready to go when the season starts.
Miami has a serious case of what I like to call "Eastern Conference Bench." At point guard you've got Tyler Johnson, a young guy who showed promise early on but got hurt and was nevertheless rewarded with a huge contract in the offseason. Also, we've got old friend Beno Udrih to rain down mid-range jumpers and ring up bar tabs at LIV. At the two they signed Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington, on purpose. The former is Nick Young with slightly better P.R. and the latter will be joining his seventh team for reasons that I can't fathom. There are countless guys in the D-League and abroad who can provide what he does, and for cheaper. At the three they've signed Luke Babbitt (who doesn't seem like the type of player who can stay in Spoelstra's good graces for long) and James Johnson, an explosive leaper who somehow cannot translate that skill into rebounds. And then your bigs are Josh McBob, a huge free-agent misfire by Riley two years ago, and Udonis Haslem, who simply can't bring himself to retire and join the front office already. Your backup center battle will be between Willie Reed, another former Net, and something called "Stefan Jankovich."
In sum, not everything that has befallen the Heat is their fault. And Riley has worked miracles to get them out of untenable situations before. But for the foreseeable future they're going to be quite bad, joining Atlanta and Charlotte as Eastern playoff teams who'll be on the outside looking in this time around. I wouldn't be surprised if they go full tank mode by January.