Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise -- from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today's team: Miami Heat
2016-17 Record: 41-41
Major additions: Bam Adebayo (draft), Kelly Olynyk (free agency).
Major subtractions: Josh McRoberts.
The lowdown: Was the glass half empty or half full? The Heat asked themselves this question regarding a flip-flop of a season and concluded that the finish was more believable than the start and therefore decided to go all-in on the status quo.
They chose to bring back the band, giving generous extensions to players whose careers were either sketchy or largely unproven prior to last season. Dion Waiters and James Johnson were the big beneficiaries to the tune of $107 million and, coupled with the addition of Olynyk, the Heat shelled out $152 million to players whose resumes scream role players. Those three made a combined $10 million last season.
That’s a high cost, and the three should thank Gordon Hayward, Miami’s No. 1 summer target, for signing in Boston and leaving all that money.
Did Miami put too much stock in the 30-11 finish? Evidently, Pat Riley was smitten enough to forgo a facelift. And as a result of Tyler Johnson’s mushrooming contract ($19 million this season), the Heat will carry a payroll of roughly $126 million next season and will be capped the next two seasons. Basically, they’re married to the current roster for the most part, at least until after 2019, despite not having a single All-Star among the bunch.
Both Waiters and Johnson were on one-year deals and seemingly had little leverage as late as February, but then the Heat finished strong and both played well in that stretch. With the salary bumps, Waiters went from $2.9 million to $11 million a season, Johnson from $4 million to potentially $15 million. It was a long road to financial respectability for both.
Waiters wasn’t wanted by the Cavs or OKC and his career was in the crossroads when he arrived in Miami. But he was fortunate; Miami needed a backcourt scorer after refusing to re-sign Dwyane Wade and Waiters stepped up, hitting big shots and being a go-to player as the season progressed. He averaged 16 points and shot nearly 40 percent from deep and more than anything proved reliable, something that eluded him in previous stops.
Johnson is a true rags to riches story, a journeyman player (four previous teams) who at age 30 dropped 40 pounds and rededicated himself to the game. He caught his stride in February with back-to-back 26-point games and finished well during the streak. He’s still not a great rebounder at 6-foot-9 (he averaged just 4.9) but evidently Riley believes Johnson is still on the upswing.
Again, both Waiters and Johnson could fall back on their previous track records and become rather ordinary again, but it’s a gamble the Heat were willing to take.
Olynyk, like Waiters and Johnson, was rather mild until springtime. In Olynyk’s case, he parlayed a solid few games in Boston’s playoff series with the Wizards into riches. Also, his spot on the Celtics’ roster was sacrificed to make room for Hayward. When he became available, the Heat jumped quickly and no other team was willing to beat Miami’s offer; the Heat feel Olynyk can help by being a stretch-four and even see minutes at center.
Again, like the others, Olynyk must prove himself over an entire season, and what’s weird is he isn’t a projected starter in Miami despite the contract. Miami is set at the bigs with Hassan Whiteside and Johnson, and to complicate matters further, Miami used its No. 1 pick on Adebayo, a bruiser with upside.
Adebayo had an encouraging summer league and could play his way into the rotation if he improves; his skills remain under construction but brings a high motor and seems willing to learn.
Given the overall mild quality of the Eastern Conference, and judging by how they finished, the Heat believe a playoff berth is well within reach; Miami hasn’t gone consecutive seasons missing the playoffs in 14 years.
There’s lots of hope that Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic will jell in the backcourt, and Whiteside will be in the All-Star mix, and Justise Winslow will return from an injury-ravaged 2016-17 and be a reliable player.
It’s a team that didn’t add any big names and will instead roll with the same crew that, arguably, played better than anyone except the Warriors down the stretch. Pat Riley’s basketball instincts are usually sharp and this strategy will put that to the test.
Coming Next: Portland Trail Blazers
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