Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's team: Miami Heat
2018-19 Record: 39-43, did not qualify for the playoffs
Key additions: Jimmy Butler (free agent), Tyler Herro (Draft), Meyers Leonard (trade)
Key departures: Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade
The lowdown: The state of mediocrity in the wake of the Big Three era continued for a fourth straight season as Miami once again showcased a brand of basketball that was neither rich nor ruinous, stellar nor embarrassing. The Heat simply stayed locked in the middle, and the only ripple of interest was generated by the season-long sayonara for Wade, one of the most beloved players in team history.
Whenever the action in the games wasn’t dramatic, the attention drifted toward the final buzzer, when Wade swapped jerseys with a chosen opposing player. Wade’s send-off season was rather decent on the court as he showed the level of spring and zest that wasn’t always apparent in the preceding years. He averaged 15 points per game and was often the Heat’s first option when games were on the line. Otherwise, the core of the Heat was none too spectacular.
Miami had no All-Stars other than Wade (who, along with Dirk Nowitzki, was an honorary choice by the commissioner) and lacked an intriguing young talent on the rise. Richardson had moments and led the club in scoring (16.6 ppg). Because of injury, Goran Dragic was limited to 36 games and Dion Waiters to 44, and their absences likely weighed down the Heat’s ability to rise in the standings. The other players on the roster commanding high salaries -- Whiteside, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk -- delivered so-so results. In an ideal situation, those players would be the supporting cast for a superstar. In the end, the Heat flirted with a playoff spot yet came up short in a conference that lacked strength beyond the top five teams.
Summer summary: Team president Pat Riley has spent his five-decade career surrounded by stars. When he wasn’t playing next to them (Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor) or coaching them (Wade, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal) he was busy finding them as an executive (LeBron James, Chris Bosh). In short, Riley cannot go very long or far without one.
And so the long-time Heat president made it a mission this summer to find a replacement for Wade, the last remaining piece of a club that won a pair of championships this decade, and that journey led to him to Butler.
Butler wasn’t the only twinkle in Riley’s eyes as he tried to get Russell Westbrook from Oklahoma City in a trade and inquired about Kyrie Irving in free agency. When those nibbles went nowhere, Riley and the Heat settled, to use a word, on a player whose talent is obvious yet hasn’t reached the promised land in his career.
That’s the summation regarding Butler. He’s one of the league’s better two-way players, someone who takes equal pride in accepting tough defensive assignments and also demanding the ball on offense. He’s hard-working, takes care of his body and is rather durable given his workload and minutes. Over the last five seasons, Butler has averaged 21 points, five rebounds and four assists, proof of his all-around impact.
Yet Butler has never really been in the leading-man role he now has with the Heat. Nor has he reached The Finals. Therefore, on the basis of those credentials, Butler doesn’t necessary qualify as an A-list star.
Miami and Riley weren’t being picky about that. They needed a centerpiece and the feeling was mutual with Butler, who only seriously considered signing with the Heat this summer after his lone season with the Sixers. Unlike Kawhi Leonard or LeBron, however, Butler wasn’t successful in getting a co-star to join him in Miami.
Not that Riley didn’t try. He was in the mix for Westbrook once OKC decided to part with the former Kia MVP. But Riley wasn’t willing to sacrifice the Heat’s future for Westbrook, at least not enough to compete with the Rockets’ successful offer.
The Heat are high on Herro, the No. 13 pick who is a shooter with range that looked impressive in Summer League. If Herro starts quickly this season, he could make one of the Heat’s veterans -- such as Waiters -- expendable.
By participating in the four-team trade that brought Butler to Miami, the Heat were able to finally dump Whiteside and his bloated contract. Whiteside was a disappointment almost from the moment he received an extension that averaged $24 million a season. He and that contract quickly became outdated. Whiteside is a non-flexible low-post center in a league that spreads the floor, and he’s a complex personality to boot.
In the deal, the Heat sacrificed Richardson, a team favorite, and added Leonard, who’s the exact opposite of Whiteside. Leonard brings reliable 3-point shooting (45% last season) and is coachable, meaning he won’t bristle if coach Erik Spoelstra benches him in fourth quarters (as he often did to Whiteside).
Leonard’s time in Portland was solid yet unspectacular, but he ended his time there with a bang (30 points, 12 rebounds in a Game 4 series-ending loss in the Western Conference finals).
The summer was successful if only because Riley got his man, someone who’s not a superstar yet clearly a solid player who instantly becomes the Heat’s lead singer. Miami is now banking on a healthy return from Waiters and Dragic, and that might be enough to put the Heat back among the playoff eight.
Coming next: Sacramento Kings
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