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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?

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.