This summer was one of the most volatile and exciting reshuffles in recent NBA history, with teams making blockbuster deals to acquire an extra superstar and others using free agency as a means to improve.
The Miami Heat were one of the teams willing to shake things up, dealing a number of pieces away in order to create cap space to execute a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler. Pat Riley and co. traded away the likes of Hassan Whiteside (to Portland) and Josh Richardson (to Philly for Butler) while waiving Ryan Anderson.
While the Heat got aggressive in landing a star who desperately wanted to come to South Beach, they have limited options in what they can do for the rest of free agency (this was a reality in Russell Westbrook negotiations and also in Chris Paul discussions) and will likely enter the season with the current roster.
In other words, Butler is the only major addition for a team that missed the playoffs in the East last season. The Toronto Raptors are the only playoff team in the East that got notably worse–due to the loss of Kawhi Leonard–but even the Raptors should remain stingy should they elect not to trade expiring contracts like Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry.
The Miami Heat still have an uphill climb. Here are three questions for the Heat after free agency.
3. When will they trade Goran Dragic?
Now, it is not necessarily a negative that the Heat still have the ability to trade Dragic. After all, an expiring contract can be incredibly valuable in professional sports, especially at the trade deadline. That said, the Heat should look for suitors.
Dragic is 33 years old and will be entering his 12th year in the league. He has shown some proficiency as a scoring point guard who can also make plays for his teammates and shoot from beyond the arc.
At the same time, he is coming off the first major setback of his career, as he missed 46 games due to injury. Even when he was healthy, he started in just 22 of his 36 appearances, and his scoring total was the lowest it has been since the 2011-12 season.
Simultaneously, head coach Erik Spoelstra likes to run Justise Winslow as a point forward, and Tyler Herro could become another ball handler after a good showing in Summer League. Do they really need Dragic on this current roster?
There is no question that Dragic could still help a number of teams in the league. He is still likely to have some value, and the Heat should capitalize on that value while it is still there.
2. How will the frontcourt hold up?
Spoelstra is going to have some decisions to make prior to the start of the regular season, namely what to do with his frontcourt.
Bam Adebayo will almost certainly be the starting center after Whiteside’s departure, something that should encourage heat fans. Adebayo is a tremendous defender and shot blocker, and his rotations are quite advanced for a young player. He has room to grow offensively but has begun to develop a bit of a mid-range game, which should benefit him moving forward.
There is not as much certainty at the 4. If Spoelstra elects to go smaller, he can start James Johnson, who can spread the floor a bit but is also a wild card, especially on the defensive end. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard are the other options, though Leonard was in more of a bench role with the Trail Blazers while Olynyk was actually part of the initial deal that would have also sent Dragic to Dallas.
Miami initially acquired Maurice Harkless from the Blazers–and he may have been the perfect defender and rebounder to slot in at the 4–but he had to be dealt to the Clippers to make more room for Butler.
In short, the Heat are likely to need a team rebounding effort depending on how they space the floor, and Spoelstra will have to determine what lineups work best together.
1. How good is Jimmy Butler?
Butler is regarded as a two-way star in the NBA, but just how good is he really? He has not been the unquestioned alpha dog for any team since his final season with the Chicago Bulls, when Chicago went 41-41 for a second straight season and barely even made the playoffs.
With a new era under way in Miami, how will Butler carry himself as the leader of this Heat team? He is a veteran going on 30 years old, so has he matured enough to pull some of the young guys along with him? The answer to that question seemed to be a resounding no in Minnesota, even though the Timberwolves did end their playoff drought, but Butler will have the opportunity to turn over a new leaf.
After struggling to identify his role with the Sixers, Butler will be the star in South Beach. Whether or not he is good enough to help lead the Heat to the playoffs remains to be seen.