Wade era over; What's next for the Miami Heat?

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MIAMI – Dwyane Wade took us on an unforgettable ride this season.  His last dance was filled with great moments and memories that reminded us of why he’s the greatest player in Heat history.  

But now, Wade’s career is over, and we have to stare at a post-Wade reality in Miami that’s tough to accept.

Outside of D-Wade’s magical ride, it was an overall forgettable Heat season without a playoff berth.

That’s the way this franchise is judged.  Making the playoffs isn’t an achievement, it’s the standard.  When the Heat don’t make the playoffs for a 2nd time in three seasons, it’s a major disappointment.  There is no other way to feel when it comes to the “Heat culture.”

That culture is based on family, hard work, dedication and loyalty, but above all, it’s based on winning.

So what happened and what happens next?

We know the main problem, and it’s not a new issue.  The Heat don’t have a superstar, and in a league filled with them, that’s something the Miami front office has been trying to fix since the ‘Big 3 era’ ended.

Pat Riley knows this.  He’s tried to fill the void by pursuing every star available, but Miami just isn’t in a good financial situation to be a real player in free agency this offseason.

Riley admitted as much to fans during the season.  The financial focus for the Heat is clearing space for 2020 and eventually 2021.  

The real focus now is how Riley handles the roster in between then.

This season may have been disappointing, but anyone who screams that Miami is some mess of a team with no upside is clearly not paying attention.

The good news of this season was the development of key young players.  Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr. all took significant steps forward.  They are part of the core, and it’s a strong core.

Again, they need a superstar, but we all know that, so there’s no point continuing to hammer home the obvious.

In the meantime, the Heat’s focus should be to allow this group to grow.  We saw Erik Spoelstra start to turn more to the young players as the season progressed.  That was a huge step.  Justise, J-Rich and Bam need to be in the starting lineup.  Period.  They got moved there, as a trio, late in the season, and that should now be permanent.

As for Jones Jr., his rapid development should make him a core 6th man and heavy minutes player.  

Where does that leave the veterans?  That’s a big question for Riley and the front office this offseason.  The Heat’s president told everyone last offseason that Miami had a log jam of too many similar-type players.  It wasn’t until late in the season that Riley started to change that by moving Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington and then eventually releasing Rodney McGruder.

That leaves older and more established players like Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk fighting for roles.  Spoelstra did a solid job down the stretch keeping those players in specific roles, but I’m not sure any of them will like being kept in those positions for next season.

Miami will likely have to keep looking for suitors in trades for any of those players, though it will be challenging.  Dragic and Whiteside entering next season as expiring contracts could help, and both of them have player options for next season.  I expect both would stay in their current deals, but that’s to be determined.

I think all those players have value on the court, if they remain, but they’ll have to take on more secondary roles.

Spoelstra was put in a tough spot all season long by having to juggle so many players without having a true go-to star.  That’s not to make excuses for Spo.  He was far from perfect, but I’ve said many times that if you give a coach more choices, he’s likely to make more mistakes.  No coach in the league has more nightly rotation decisions than Spo.

Let’s be honest, without Wade, this team would have been lost all season.  Wade bailed them out in plenty of big moments. 

Now it’s on the young guys to get it done, and there’s something exciting about that potential, especially with a lottery pick ahead to also be part of the core.

That doesn’t help with the fundamental issue of star power.  There is no easy answer for that.

Barring Riley pulling off a magic trick this offseason, which is always possible given his track record, Miami needs to ride the young guys for now.

I can’t speak for all Heat fans, but I’m perfectly fine with turning the keys over to Justise to lead this team.  Give J-Rich more moments in big spots.  Let Bam continue to grow into a double-double machine and player you run offense through.  Let Jones Jr. keep refining his all around game.  Finally, make sure the player you draft becomes a quick fixture in the rotation and learns from experience.

The one mistake the Heat can’t make next season is relying too much on the older guys in the hopes of getting a 42-44 win season and sneaking into the playoffs.  Let’s see the young guys do that.  I think they have the talent to.  At least I would love to find out.

If anything, by the time Miami does land that next star, the core has valuable experience in big moments.

Maybe none of this matters because Riley does somehow find that superstar, but that’s easier said than done.

For now, I’m ready to roll with the youth movement.  Let the new era of Heat basketball begin.

The one thing we can all be certain of for next season is that Dwyane Wade isn’t walking through those doors again to save the day.

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