MIAMI – Disappointing.
That’s the best word to describe the 2020-21 version of the Miami Heat.
Fresh off an incredible NBA Finals run during the peak of the pandemic doldrums, the Heat ran back a similar team to try and do it again. It didn’t work. Miami was never able to rekindle that chemistry and magic. The fun seemed to be gone and the consistency never came.
Jimmy Butler said it best late in the season when he stated, “We’re actually really consistently inconsistent.” That could the motto for this version of the Heat.
What went wrong?
Before we get to the roster issues, let’s get one thing out of the way. The short offseason definitely impacted the Heat. That’s not an excuse. It’s also not the main reason this team got swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
The Heat started the season slowly at 7-14. Covid issues and significant missed time from Butler certainly didn’t help. Miami was playing catchup from the start and never got in rhythm. By the end of the season the entire team seemed to have tired legs and little emotion. It’s almost like the excitement of that run had sucked all the energy out of them.
It’s okay to say that and not sound like you’re making an excuse for the failure that came playoff time.
That doesn’t mean players, coaches and the front office weren’t to blame. For much of the season the Heat seemed too casual. They played and talked like a team that felt like they could instantly turn on a switch to get back to championship form. They would follow an impressive win with an absolute dud and didn’t appear concerned throughout those moments.
There was never a sense of urgency, and by the end, this almost seemed like a team ready for the offseason. That’s not characteristic of a Miami Heat team.
A letdown following a great season isn’t uncommon, but this team appeared to be coasting through much of the season. If we learned anything about this roster is that they just weren’t good enough to coast.
That’s the emotional side of some of the struggles this season, but now let’s get to the basketball side. This unfortunately was the real issue for Miami.
When Butler played, the Heat were a top four team in the Eastern Conference, but it became evident that Miami counted on Butler too much to save them. Nowhere was that more evident than the Milwaukee playoff series. Butler had an awful series and the Heat were embarrassed by the Bucks.
Bam Adebayo took a step forward this season, but he still lacked the aggression needed to really make that next leap into super-stardom. That sounds crazy to say about a player who is so impactful on offense and defense. He can guard anyone on the floor. Bam’s next step is to take that aggression from defense to offense.
The Heat count on Bam to facilitate so much of their offense, but half the time it seems to be Bam just standing with the ball at the top of the key and not even looking at the basket. That has to change. Bam has developed a nice mid-range jumper, and we already know he can finish strong at the basket. What good is having him take up half of the shot clock not even looking at the rim?
Part of that is coaching, but part of that is also Adebayo recognizing he is ready for that role of the aggressor on offense.
Heat fans who are down on Bam really need to take a step back. The nonsense talk about him not being a max-player or star player are ridiculous. He is every bit of that and still growing. I wish that growth would have come in this postseason, but it’s something for him to focus on during this offseason. He will get even more confident in his jumper and develop more post moves.
Butler and Bam are the centerpieces. That’s not the Heat’s issue moving forward.
The issue is who comes along on the roster?
Duncan Robinson is still an elite shooter, but this season proved that when teams focus on taking him away, it really changes the Heat offense. When Duncan would light it up, this offense played like an upper-tier offense, but more often than not he wasn’t able to shake free and have the huge games we saw in the bubble run.
The financial decision ahead for the Heat on the future of Robinson is an enormous one. I don’t have that answer. I still feel Robinson is a vital piece on this team.
Tyler Herro regressed this season. Between injuries and poor shooting, Tyler never looked comfortable. That said, a sophomore slump, especially given how incredible his rookie season playoff run was isn’t shocking. Herro is still an extremely talented offensive player. An offseason of health and work will hopefully be the recipe to see the 21-year-old get back into form.
Can Herro be a star player? That’s probably an unfair expectation given some of the limitations to his game, but it’s also unfair to characterize this as the real version of Herro. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle of what we saw in the bubble and what we saw this season. That’s a quality player or trade asset to have.
The rest of the Heat roster has so many question marks, and I’m not envious of the decisions ahead for Miami’s front office.
Goran Dragic is still a good veteran and leader to have on the roster, but the Heat tried to manage his minutes and usage with the idea to get a playmaker come the postseason. Like so much with the Heat’s plan, it didn’t work. Dragic can give you spurts within games and in key moments to be a valuable player to have on the roster. To count on him anymore than that probably isn’t the wisest of ideas.
Dragic is a warrior. He has become a Heat lifer for all he’s done, but if he’s back next season it can’t be in a primary role, in my opinion.
Kendrick Nunn quietly made a nice jump in his production as the season went on, but the financial decisions for the Heat on Nunn will be a significant part of the conversation about his future. I’m not sure he has one in Miami given the payday he can likely get. I’m a big fan of Nunn. He’s worked hard to earn his spot as a productive offensive player in the NBA, and he will be rewarded for it now with a nice contract.
Outside of Udonis Haslem coming back if he wants to, not much else is guaranteed on the Heat roster. KZ Okpala, Preciuous Achiuwa, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus are young players who will need to work hard this summer to try and find a consistent role on next year’s team.
Veterans like Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon ended up providing some help for Miami, in particular Dedmon, but whether either will be part of next season’s plan really depends on what direction the Heat front office takes this offseason. The same goes for Andre Iguodala. He provided solid leadership and sporadic production over his season-plus in Miami.
The Victor Oladipo trade didn’t work out because of another injury to the talented guard. Could a financially friendly “show me” deal be something the Heat and Oladipo consider? That’s also something to be determined this offseason. I wouldn’t count on much more than that from him.
The front office went into the season trying to run it back and then plug any holes as the year went on. They weren’t able to get close on a move for James Harden or Jrue Holiday because of lack of assets and instead the teams chasing team last season ran right by them.
Pat Riley and company will enter the offseason knowing this again: Butler and Bam need help.
Erik Spoelstra never seemed to press the right buttons to get his team playing consistent basketball. Much of that really was about the roster.
On paper, Miami needs another scorer, more size and another point guard. That’s a lot to try and fix and without many easily attainable options.
Like any offseason, the Heat will be attached to any potential star player who could become available. I’m sure Kawhi Leonard will be a popular name in the rumor mill.
Either way, the Heat will enter the offseason in the bizarre spot of being less than a year removed from an NBA finals appearance but coming off an embarrassing sweep in the playoffs.
Riley has some tough decisions ahead, and he can’t be happy with what his team did this season nor how his decisions turned out.
Disappointing. That’s how the Heat and their fans should classify this season.
What a difference six months make.