Ever since they lost in the 2023 NBA Finals to the Denver Nuggets, the Miami Heat seemed destined to make a big move during the offseason. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are two proven All-Stars, but it seems like Miami has been missing that third key weapon in recent years.
Could Tyler Herro be that third guy for this team? Would the Heat's depth ultimately step up and fill this role? These are two unanswered questions that ultimately led to their defeat in the championship series.
Miami has now lost two of the last four NBA Finals, which is why all eyes were on this organization to pull off a blockbuster trade, especially when Damian Lillard requested a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Lillard going to the Heat seemed like a forgone conclusion from the very moment he wanted out of Portland. South Beach, after all, was always his preferred destination. Initial negotiations during NBA Summer League action went nowhere, in large part due to Lillard's public preference to play for Miami deflating the trade market. Shortly after, commissioner Adam Silver and the league decided to get involved in the matter, warning the Blazers star and his agent for their firm stance on only wanting to play for the Heat.
Based on a memo sent out by the league, Lillard and his agent Aaron Goodwin of Goodwin Sports Management were told to stop publicly stating that he would only play for Miami if he was to be traded. The league made it clear that strict discipline would be handed down if further disruptions in the trade process took place.
From this point at the end of July through the month of August, the Blazers and Heat did not hold any real trade conversations with one another. Still, Lillard found himself on Portland's roster with training camp getting dangerously close. General manager Joe Cronin and the Trail Blazers front office had no intentions of bringing Lillard back for the 2023-24 season after his initial trade request, which is why conversations around the league began to pick up near the end of September.
The Heat, with whom the Blazers seemed to have no intentions of negotiating, were not willing to give up every single trade asset they owned. This is why Lillard is now set to embark on a championship journey with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Pat Riley always seems to get what he wants as the leading voice in Miami's front office, but the organization struck out in its attempts to land Lillard. In fact, the Heat did not add any superstar talent in the offseason and now have some major holes to fill on their roster.
Always seeming to be in the championship hunt, Miami and Erik Spoelstra have their work cut out for them entering training camp and the 2023-24 season, especially if they are to once again be a real threat in the Eastern Conference.
Heat offseason additions and departures
Additions: G Josh Richardson (free agency – NOP), C Thomas Bryant (free agency – DEN), G/F Jaime Jaquez Jr. (draft)
Departures: G Gabe Vincent (free agency – LAL), G/F Max Strus (free agency – CLE), G Victor Oladipo (trade – OKC), C Cody Zeller (free agency – NOP), C Omer Yurtseven (free agency – UTA), F/C Udonis Haslem (retired)
The Heat were sort of caught up in a waiting game once free agency began, forced to maintain a little bit of cap flexibility given Lillard's trade request. As a result, they were forced to let both Gabe Vincent and Max Strus walk in free agency.
This organization has been notorious for building its roster with diamonds in the rough. Vincent and Strus were two undrafted players who earned opportunities with Miami and made the most of them, each proving to be instrumental parts of this past season's Eastern Conference championship squad.
Starting with Vincent, he entered unrestricted free agency as one of the better guards available. Whereas players like Kyrie Irving and Fred VanVleet had high asking prices in the range of max contract value, Vincent was viewed as gettable for numerous organizations looking to utilize their mid-level exception on an impactful talent.
After receiving interest from the Bucks, Heat, Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves, the Los Angeles Lakers reached out to Vincent with a proposal, league sources told ClutchPoints. They used almost all of their non-taxpayer mid-level exception to sign Vincent, giving him more money than Miami was willing to offer.
For Strus, it always seemed like he was the Miami contributor most likely to be on the move simply because of the demand for shooters with size across the league. Like Vincent, Strus earned himself a nice, new four-year contract worth upwards of $63 million. The Heat ended up doing a sign-and-trade involving the sharpshooter, sending Strus to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a 2026 second-round pick.
Losing both players definitely hurts the Heat for a couple of reasons. Not only were Vincent and Strus two great perimeter weapons on offense, but they helped form the identity of this team. For years, Spoelstra and his staff have done an excellent job of building up players they believed in. To have two of them walk out the door with no clear-cut replacements was definitely a tough pill for this franchise to swallow.
Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Omer Yurtseven also departed South Beach this offseason, and Udonis Haslem finally called it quits and retired after an illustrious 20-year career with the Heat. A Miami icon, Haslem will be having his jersey retired by the organization and may eventually wind up transitioning into a front office role.
The Heat were pressed to make moves in free agency and add talent with very little cap space, settling for additions on the minimum market. Thomas Bryant, who had some big performances with the Lakers last year, came over from the Nuggets, and veteran combo guard Josh Richardson decided to make a return to Miami.
Bryant will provide the Heat with some much-needed depth behind Adebayo in the frontcourt, while Richardson will look to provide stability in the backcourt as an experienced player who can make a difference with or without the ball in his hands. Kevin Love and Orlando Robinson also agreed to smaller contracts in order to return to Miami, giving the team even more depth at the power forward and center positions.
The Heat's final addition of the offseason, at least ahead of training camp, was Jaime Jaquez Jr., their first-round pick from this summer's draft. Jaquez is a 6'6″ swingman who can really fill multiple positions for this team. He can rebound, score off the dribble and even be a shooting threat from the perimeter. This is why Jaquez has a chance to crack the rotation right away during his rookie year in Miami.
Who will replace Gabe Vincent, Max Strus?
We know what to expect from Butler, other than his hairstyle on Media Day, and there really shouldn't be questions revolving around the production of Herro and Adebayo. All three players are steady offensive contributors, while and both Butler and Adebayo are All-Defense caliber players.
However, there are questions to be had revolving around the Heat's bench and what their lineups will look like now that Vincent and Strus are gone. They accounted for over 17 percent of the team's total scoring output from a season ago, which may not seem like that much, but that's a large chunk of offensive production to try and replace over the course of a couple months.
This puts pressure on new arrival Josh Richardson, as well as veteran point guard Kyle Lowry.
When the Heat signed Lowry ahead of the 2021-22 season, they anticipated him being that elusive third star next to Butler and Adebayo. That has not been the case for the former Raptors All-Star, especially after he was moved to the bench and played in only 55 games last season.
The 2023-24 season is a big year for Lowry and even though he is 37 years old now, he is going to be the X-factor for the Heat. If he can show up and give them two-way production as a secondary talent either in or out of the starting lineup, Miami will have no problem making it back to the playoffs. Should his production continue to dip, though, the Heat will be in danger of missing the playoffs in what looks to be a super competitive Eastern Conference.
Caleb Martin and Nikola Jovic are two other secondary talents who will see their roles increase heading into training camp and the new year. Starting in a career-high 49 games for the Heat last season, Martin is prepared to contend for a starting spot entering training camp, especially after some massive, breakout performances in the postseason.
Jovic spent the summer working on his game and even had the opportunity to play for the Serbian national team in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. There, the young forward averaged 10.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game while shooting 42.3 percent from three-point range. Still just 20 years old, Jovic has a very high upside that the Heat could look to tap into this year.
No matter who is set to see their minutes increase, Miami is going to face some offensive struggles early on. Replacing Vincent and Strus will be an ongoing process, and the Heat could very well wind up being a team that looks to add firepower ahead of the trade deadline in February.
2023-24 season outlook
Unlike the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, two teams at the top of the NBA Power Rankings in the East who made big additions this offseason, the Heat ended up shooting themselves in the foot by waiting around for Lillard.
They did not ultimately land a superstar, Vincent left for the Lakers and Strus left for the Cavs. It's still hard to predict what Miami will look like offensively. The good news for Heat fans is that Spoelstra is one of the greatest coaches in league history and he will have his team in a position to be one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Given the success they've had finding talent in players not on other team's radars, it is also believable that a new name will emerge in South Beach. Aside from Jovic, who is an obvious choice to have a breakout year, Orlando Robinson could really turn out to be a valuable backup big man.
While he did not play much this past year, Robinson ended up being one of the best performers at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. There, he averaged 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting about 48.8 percent from the floor in four total games. A young 7-footer who could turn into a factor on both ends of the floor, Robinson may just be the versatile big man this team has been searching for behind Adebayo.
Regardless of who does and does not emerge as a factor for the Heat, this is still a team that is going to be tough to defeat in a seven-game series. They have found success as the 1-seed and most recently, they've found success in the East as the 8-seed. This is a dangerous organization to run into late in the year, which is why we can never count the Heat out in the championship picture.