Justise Winslow

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Three questions the Miami Heat must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 41-41, missed playoffs

I know what you did last summer: The Heat solidified a competitive roster by re-signing James Johnson and Dion Waiters, signing Kelly Olynyk and extending Josh Richardson to long-term deals. Miami also drafted Bam Adebayo.

THREE QUESTIONS THE HEAT MUST ANSWER:

1) Are the Heat more a team that went 41-41 or finished 31-10 last season? Miami started 10-31 last year, better than only the Nets. The Heat then went 31-10 in the second half, behind only the Warriors.

So, which team is it?

Miami returns its eight most-used players, so they’ll have a chance to build on their chemistry, which clearly improved as the season progressed. They bought into Erik Spoelstra’s system and developed confidence in it and themselves.

But the larger sample tends to prove more reliable.

The Heat aren’t suddenly a 62-win team over a full season, but they probably believe a 41-41 baseline inaccurately discounts their progress. For a team with so much stability, it’s tough to tell where Miami stands entering the season.

2) Where does Justise Winslow fit? Winslow missed the Heat’s final 48 games last season, i.e., all of their turnaround. Miami’s late-season game plan was built around Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters taking turns attacking the rim while the other spotted up beyond the arc along with a couple other sweet-shooting forwards.

Winslow, with his suspect jumper, can’t play in that system without completely undermining the spacing and floor balance.

Sure, Winslow adds tenacious defense. He can be active offensively, getting out in transition. But his shooting is not only a problem, it’s a direct threat to the game plan the Heat grew comfortable in.

Maybe Spoelstra can find a rotation that positions Winslow to succeed. He’s not a bad player. But how many minutes will be available for him? And what does Miami do offensively during them?

3) Where does Miami find internal growth? Dion Waiters and James Johnson got into shape, had career seasons in contract years then signed lucrative long-term contracts. Kelly Olynyk is also coming off a contract year that netted a large lengthy contract. Goran Dragic and Johnson are on the wrong side of 30. Hassan Whiteside is already 28.

This doesn’t look like a team with a ton of untapped potential, not ideal for a franchise that has gotten a taste of championship contention but now looks locked into early-round playoff exits.

Still, the Heat’s “program,” as they like to call it, has a remarkable track record of developing players.

Justise Winslow could make a difference with or without a jumper – but especially with a jumper. Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder have come along nicely – and maybe even have more leaps in them. Bam Adebayo certainly offers enticing upside.

Heck, maybe Waiters, Johnson and Olynyk remain hungry. Dragic could stave off aging another couple years. Whiteside is still inexperienced given his years outside the league, so maybe he has more room to grow than the typical player his age.

The Heat won’t have cap space for the foreseeable future, and they already traded a couple future first-round picks. They’re probably too good to draft a blue-chip prospect anytime soon, anyway. This is their team. It’s at least fine.

Do Miami’s current players have the capacity to turn it into something more?

Olynyk makes a big splash in end-of-camp Heat scrimmage

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BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Habits are something Miami coach Erik Spoelstra talks about often with his club, that word becoming as much of his everyday vernacular as probably any other.

Kelly Olynyk has noticed. He’s also noticed that habits can be tough to break.

High on the to-do list for the Heat during this training camp that ended with a scrimmage Saturday was this: Getting Olynyk, the former Boston Celtics forward who signed a four-year deal with Miami this summer, as involved as possible with a core that largely returned intact from last season. It’s a process, though both Spoelstra and Olynyk said afterward they like the way things are heading.

“When you’ve been in this league for four, five years, whatever it is, and where you were you’ve done it one way the whole time, that’s kind of ingrained in your mind,” Olynyk said. “And over four, five years those actions become habits and those habits become routines and rituals. Now when you flip the script and you’re getting into a game or a scrimmage, your body automatically drives toward those habits rather than what you’re quote-unquote supposed to do.”

Old habits indeed die hard. When Heat guard Josh Richardson went down the lane in the third quarter of the scrimmage, Olynyk – who was a bit of a pest, to put it nicely, in past games against Miami – sprang into action and defended the paint with his usual vigor.

Richardson got a bloody nose for his efforts.

“He can foul someone else now,” Richardson said.

Richardson could at least laugh about it afterward, and after a scrimmage where Olynyk’s inside game, outside game, passing ability and defensive aggression were all on display at various times, Spoelstra seemed quite content.

“To be fair, we’re getting to know him,” Spoelstra said of the noticeably slimmed-down Olynyk. “We want to be open to his skillset. We want to challenge ourselves to be able to utilize that versatility in as many dynamic ways as possible, but do it at a healthy rate.”

Miami is bringing back its top nine scorers in terms of points-per-game from a season ago, plus has Justise Winslow returning from shoulder surgery and is finding ways to get Olynyk and rookie Bam Adebayo in the mix as well.

That’s a lot of candidates, and not enough jobs. It’s tough to envision Spoelstra ever going past 10 players in his normal rotation, 11 at the most. But Olynyk was able to show his new teammates right away that he could be a big help for a team that went 30-11 in the second half of last season.

“Kelly just fit right in because of so many things he can do,” Heat guard Dion Waiters said. “He’s a guy who can stretch the floor, he can post up, he can pass the ball out of the post, he can do a lot of different things.”

Those are the habits the Heat want.

“There’s still a progression,” Olynyk said. “I’m still getting used to things.”

 

With no other good options, Heat keep competitive core intact

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Midnight nears for the Heat.

Tyler Johnson‘s salary will more triple (to $19,245,370) next summer. Miami owes the Suns two future first-round picks – one top-seven protected in 2018 and unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021.

Unable to roll over cap space and rebuild, the Heat at least locked in a respectable roster before turning into a pumpkin.

James Johnson (four years, $60 million), Dion Waiters (four years, $52 million) and Kelly Olynyk (four years, $51 million) were expensive. Even keeping Wayne Ellington ($6.27 million) required paying the Mavericks $5.1 million to take Josh McRoberts.

Those long-term deals all come with significant risk.

It just might not be wise to get a couple contract-year players into the best shape of their careers then reward them with multi-year deals. Waiters’ attitude concerns didn’t disappear overnight, and remaining motivated might not be enough for Johnson, who’s already on the wrong side of 30.

Will Olynyk Olynyk thrive at power forward? He creates the most matchup problems at center, but Miami has Hassan Whiteside and No. 14 pick Bam Adebayo there.

Adebayo provides nice upside, and Justise Winslow returning from injury will keep the Heat from becoming too stale. They also hope their 31-10 finish (after a 10-31 start) last year forebodes a stronger full season.

Miami doesn’t look like an Eastern Conference power – not now, not later. LeBron James‘ Cavaliers are still favored, with Boston trying to prove a thorn in their sides. The Wizards are the potential bridge team with the Celtics, 76ers and even Bucks on the come up.

The Heat’s window to crack through is narrow, their chances higher of falling out of the playoffs completely the next few years. But even if they peak as a mid-tier playoff team, that’s OK.

It was understated how perilous their position was entering the summer, the picks owed to Phoenix and Johnson’s raise posing major complications. Miami didn’t land a whale like Gordon Hayward, but considering the circumstances, this outcome isn’t half bad.

Offseason grade: C+

Dion Waiters on Kyrie Irving-Heat trade possibility: ‘Just know there’s an alpha male over there too in myself’

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers, apparently to escape LeBron James‘ shadow.

Though a trade with the Heat appears unlikely, they made Irving’s list of preferred destinations. They have a replacement point guard (Goran Dragic) and several wings (Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder and Okaro White) who could help Cleveland.

Miami also has Dion Waiters, Irving’s former Cavs teammate and sometimes-nemesis.

What would Waiters think of Irving getting traded to Miami?

Waiters in an interview with HipHopSince1987 (hat tip: Ryne Nelson of Slam):

It would help. I’m not against that. Just know there’s an alpha male over there too in myself.

I think that’s my biggest thing with everybody. Just, “Oh he got irrational confidence.” Man, I tell everybody, if I can make it from here, I can make it from anywhere. My mom got shot. My dad got shot. C’mon bro. There ain’t nothing that I haven’t seen. Why not? I need that confidence to get through. Every day, I need that confidence to get by. Every day. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with ball. It’s who I am. It was instilled in me, man.

But you know, there’s an alpha male over there already. If you come there, we can boogie together.

First of all, there’s introspection from Waiters I haven’t always heard from him. It’s hard to be irrationally confident if you can take a step back and logically evaluate your own confidence.

Waiters also denied a rift with Irving (which both players always have and was never believable) and said he’s unsurprised by Irving’s trade request. It wouldn’t surprise me if Waiters resents how he was always the villain in the dynamic between himself and Irving when they both share similar mentalities. Nobody would have been surprised by Waiters wanting to leave a winning LeBron-led team to lead his own team. Irving’s trade request shocked the masses.

Of course, perception isn’t the only difference between Waiters and Irving. Irving is way better, which is why most expected Waiters to get in line behind Irving.

There’d be the same expectation in Miami, which seems miserable for everyone involved – even if Waiters says he’s ready to boogie.

Heat: We didn’t offer Cavaliers trade for Kyrie Irving

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The Heat were among the six (or more) teams that have submitted a trade offer to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Fake news, says Miami.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Teams rarely go on the record to correct reports like this. Why did Miami do it here? It might have something to do with Pat Riley’s feelings toward LeBron James.

Other incentives are more clear. The Cavs want to showcase interest they’re receiving in Irving. The Heat want to protect their players from handling trade rumors.

Whether the Heat submitted a formal offer barely matters, anyway. They could’ve offered Goran Dragic straight up for Kyrie Irving. Cleveland wouldn’t have accepted that, anyway. Nobody has published specifics of any Irving offers, so it’s unclear any are viable.

Miami is willing to deal Dragic and Justise Winslow for Irving, per the same report from Wojnarowski. Again, whether the Heat offered that pair for Irving or just acknowledged that they would is splitting hairs. That shouldn’t be enough for the Cavs.

Bottom line: The Heat probably won’t trade for Irving. Whether they made an offer, planned to make an offer or just discussed parameters so far is a fight over imaging. It’s nearly irrelevant to whether the teams eventually complete a trade for Irving.