The Miami Heat had one clear intention heading into 2023-24 training camp: Acquire Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers. They seemed on track toward achieving that goal all summer, with Lillard adamant he only wanted to play in South Beach.
But Miami ultimately failed to acquire the seven-time All-Star, who was sent to the rival Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday in a stunning blockbuster trade. Even worse, the Heat let Gabe Vincent and Max Strus walk in free agency while playing the waiting game with Lillard, leaving them absent any strong replacements in the backcourt once the dust finally settled on his future.
There is also the possibility that Tyler Herro has been affected by months of trade rumors, but he's still on Miami's roster as of now. Furthermore, Jrue Holiday is a fantastic piece who the Heat could pursue from Portland, vaulting them back toward the top of the Eastern Conference alongside the new-look Bucks and Boston Celtics.
Similar to the start of last season, there are a plethora of burning questions for Miami as 2023-24 approaches. Let's go over the biggest ones facing the Heat as training camp dawns.
3. Is the Lowry-Herro backcourt good enough to compete for a championship?
With several of their competitors bolstering their roster in the offseason, the pressure is on the Heat to have an incredible backcourt that can duke it out with the rest. When Vincent and Strus were struggling last year, it was more difficult for the Heat to manufacture points, especially from long distance. With the current structure of Miami's roster, it seems that Kyle Lowry will be the starting point guard for coach Erik Spoelstra.
At 37 years of age, Lowry is past his prime, but he will need to orchestrate the offense with the lack of depth at that position. On the other hand, Herro missed the majority of the playoffs last season, but he will be expected to carry the scoring load alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. There will be a myriad of doubts and eyeballs on the Heat's backcourt, but it remains to be seen if a group led by Herro and Lowry is good enough to help Butler and Adebayo compete for a title.
2. How will the Heat's depth survive the 82-game grind?
No team in basketball has had more success cultivating anonymous in-house talent than the Heat. With the departures of Vincent, Strus, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Udonis Haslem, Miami may need to rely on that ability more than ever this season just to field a worthwhile bench. Youngsters like Orlando Robinson, Haywood Highsmith and Jamal Cain could all be thrust into regular roles over the 82-game grind. Rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. and 20-year-old Nikola Jovic are virtually guaranteed to play meaningful minutes.
Spoelstra always finds a way to maximize the talent on his roster. However, with so much of the rotation in flux, he's never dealt with the type of challenge that faces him in 2023-24. Butler, Herro and Lowry have incurred serious injuries in the past that cost them to miss a substantial amount of games, too. If a couple of Miami's largely unknown young players don't pop, a lack of proven depth could sink the team's hopes this season.
1. Is it just Jrue Holiday or bust?
Holiday's future will have a sizable impact on the title race this season. Not only is every team that made calls on Lillard likely interested in trading for Holiday, but his positional versatility, defensive prowess and expiring contract makes the 33-year-old attractive to many more teams across the league, too. It also won't take a king's ransom to get him out of Portland.
It's safe to assume the Blazers will want young assets and draft capital in return for Holiday, both of which the Heat possess. Adding Holiday would put Miami in prime position to compete for an NBA Finals spot once again. But if he goes elsewhere, like to Boston? The Heat would feel just as bad a sting as they did watching Lillard head to Milwaukee, but with no other currently available stars to chase.