As pen was put to paper and official announcements trickled in over the course of a relaxed Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, new and returning Miami HEAT players spoke to the media to discuss their free-agent decisions. The common thread across the board? It was just the right fit.
We’ll have plenty of time to dive into the how and why of this remade team’s prospects and projections. For now, here are the highlights from the two-day whirlwind of introductions and congratulations.
It won’t take long for Lowry, who took out a full-page ad in the Toronto Sun Friday thanking the city and its fans, to endear himself to a new fanbase with his prove-it sensibility.
“On paper it looks great,” Lowry said about his new team, “But you have to put the work in on the floor. I don’t ever try to say we can do this, we can do that. At the end of the day you have to go out there, lace ‘em up and do your job. Play defense, put the ball in the hole. It looks good, but you have to find a way to put it together. If you don’t find a way to put it together, it don’t mean jack.
It can look good. It can sound good. It can feel good. But you got to do it.”
Later, along those same lines, he commented about what the team’s identity – this is a roster full of defensive-minded veterans, with the shot creation and switchability that plays in the modern postseason – could be and should be.
“I know who we want to be. We got to do it. I could say it to you, but it don’t matter. We got to do it. I think people know who we’re going to be.”
It’s been well publicized how close the six-time All-Star is with Jimmy Butler – Lowry is the godfather to Butler’s daughter – and he took the time to explain exactly how their bond was formed.
“Just having that common interest and love of the game and how hard we work and how much we want to win, that was kind of the first thing for us being on the same page, ‘Like, Yo, this guy really wants to play hard.’ The competitive nature of trying to not let each other score, help our teams win, do whatever it takes to win. That is where our relationship started because there is a common interest in winning. That’s all we’re both about is winning.”
We’ll have more time and space to get into the basketball machinery another day, so consider this food for thought, but one low-hanging-fruit where Lowry could immediately help the HEAT find significant gains is in the clutch. Despite a spike into otherworldly efficiency during the Orlando Bubble, Miami has been in the Bottom 10 in clutch offense, including Rank 30 last year, over the past two regular seasons. Though he doesn’t have a ton of game-winners on his resumé, Lowry is in a group with Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving for scoring efficiency in the last five minutes of close games. Considering how dependent the HEAT have been on earning free-throws and creating open threes when defenses tighten up and the game grinds down in the half-court, Lowry’s ability to create for himself and others in the intermediate spaces on the floor could do quite a bit for boosting late-game fortunes.
Lowry’s impact in Miami isn’t going to be felt just on the court.
“For me it’s about going back to the neighborhoods and seeing the kids growing up like I grew up,” Lowry, who heads the Lowry Love Foundation with his wife, Ayahna, said. “[Kids] that might not have everything given to them on a silver spoon. I want to go in the community and neighborhoods of toughness and grittiness and see the kids of my skin color and help them. Because they have to work a little bit harder. I look forward to being able to give back and to help and to have a face like theirs in the community.”
What Pat Riley Said:
“Kyle Lowry is a great leader and an exceptional defender. As a point guard, he will bring important skills to run the offense, score the ball and defend with the very best.”
Butler, who just signed a long-term extension with the team, had been wanting to play with his friend for a long while. Now he finally gets to do so.
“Obviously excited and happy about it,” Butler said. “I’m talking to him about our friendship, our kids and all of that first, and then basketball always seems to find its way in there. Glad I got my guy here with me.
“It’s great to have a genuine friend that you can have the tough conversations with. I’m going to tell him the truth, he’s going to tell me the truth. And more than anything, he’s a Miami HEAT guy too.”
In acquiring Lowry, the HEAT had to give up talent of their own in Precious Achiuwa and another of Butler’s close friends, Goran Dragic. It “was one of the hardest Facetimes I had to do in a long time,” Butler said, adding this his friendship with Dragic will continue on beyond basketball. He even said, half-jokingly, that when they play each other he’s going to seek out Dragic on a switch.
Staying on that subject, the HEAT switched pick-and-rolls at the third-highest rate last season and have essentially been a switch-first defense ever since moving Jae Crowder into the starting lineup a little over a year ago. The team’s defense was quite good, even, ranking No. 10 on that side of the ball. Yet there were often lineups where in order to have enough offensive juice on the court the team couldn’t comfortably switch every position. In adding Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris to the group this should continue to be an extremely switch-heavy team, just one that could get into the Top 5 or even 3 in the league rankings.
“Elite, hopefully,” Butler said of the group’s potential on defense. “I think a lot of guys are really locked in on that side of the ball now. We better be able to really stop some guys and some teams from scoring. I look forward to that. Obviously we got some guys who can put the ball in the basket, we have never lacked on that. But now we have some guys that can stop the other team from putting the ball in the basket.”
What Pat Riley Said:
“Jimmy is the anchor and face of our franchise along with Bam and Kyle. With Jimmy, we get an All-NBA player, an All-NBA Defensive player, tough as nails and a complete player across the board. He’s very deserving of this contract as he continually puts himself at the top of the league at his position. Having him in the HEAT organization has been a great, great coup for us.”
Robinson was about to sign a life-changing contract. That much he knew. But when he entered one of the HEAT’s conference rooms Friday afternoon there was still one surprise left. In a move coordinated by his agent Jason Glushon, members of Robinson’s family were flown in to Miami and were waiting to celebrate with him as he signed his contract.
“I was pretty much speechless,” Robinson said. “There was a lot of smiles and a lot of hugs. Optically, for the masses this is a huge moment and it’s a culmination of a lot of work, but they’re a part of the small part of the population that has seen all of the journey and known me since I first fell in love with basketball and dedicated myself for this sport. To have them there for that moment was so special.”
In just three seasons, only two of them full runs, Robinson quickly established himself as one of the most prolific shooters in league history. Only Robinson, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have multiple seasons of 40 percent shooting on at least eight three-point attempts per game. There is nobody else.
Robinson acknowledged that while he has earned his way along an unusual path – Division III to Michigan, then undrafted to the G-League until finally joining the HEAT – he owes some of his success to his fit with the players around him. Only Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic have run more handoffs together than Robinson and Miami’s star big man, a combination that has produced 1.19 points per possession in nearly 600 handoffs.
“The fit in general was huge,” Robinson said. “[He] is obviously a huge part of that. Playing with a big that is as versatile as him. Also just unselfish. The fact that you have a 23-year old budding superstar in a postgame presser talking about how he needs to get the undrafted guy more looks, that’s just super uncommon. He facetimed me right when it kind of became official and congratulated me for sticking around and then also cracked a joke about how I owe him dinner and a few other things as well. We joke about that stuff but it’s true. It’s definitely not lost on me that the attention that he draws and the unselfishness that he plays with . . . I’m a beneficiary of that.”
As deadly as the handoffs have been, teams began to adjust in Robinson’s second full season, top-locking him with quicker and longer defenders so he couldn’t easily navigate on the perimeter, forcing him to pick the occasional spot to cut to the rim or create a shot off the dribble. While he acknowledged the need to expand his game during the season, Robinson’s immediate goals remain the same.
“Being a little more versatile and harder to guard. Being able to have a two-point shot that I feel comfortable getting to, the plan is that will come in a variety of forms – mid-range, floaters and at the rim. I’ve kind of always been able to finish high efficiency around the rim, but that’s been lower volume. The plan is to expand and be a little more aggressive.”
With the HEAT looking, on paper, like an elite defensive group replete with plenty of playmaking, Robinson’s presence on the court, both for his efficient shooting and the spacing he provides with the threat of that shooting, will be as important as ever.
What Pat Riley Said:
“Duncan is the epitome of everybody who’s ever had a dream about being a great NBA player. I have never been around a player who worked as hard, fastidiously working on what he needed to do in order to improve his game. Not just his shooting, but his overall game. Having Duncan back was very critical for us.”
No player has taken more corner threes over the past five seasons than Tucker – his 1,232 attempts are nearly 300 more than second-place – and only three teams have created more corner three opportunities per 100 possessions (Miami has generally played slower than average, so we’re pace adjusting) than the HEAT. As noted above, the HEAT switch a ton, and as noted below, they like a floor-spacer in that second frontcourt slot. And they tend to be very welcoming to veterans with championship experience.
Put it all together, and you’ve got yourself P.J. Tucker.
“Pretty much all of it,” Tucker said when asked how much of his decision to join the HEAT had to do with fit. “It just makes sense. When you’re a free agent and you’re looking for places to go, you look for fit, obviously coaching styles, team styles and what they do. This is tailor made for exactly what I do.
“This has been a long time coming.”
What Pat Riley Said:
“P.J. Tucker is the perfect addition to this team. He brings both shooting and most importantly, the ability to defend a lot of perimeter players. We love his versatility in order to put a defensive team on the court, where all five guys can defend, while also having enough shooting and scoring to win games.”
The HEAT very clearly have a type of player they like to put next to their star big man. From Jae Crowder to Trevor Ariza and now Tucker and Morris, they want long, switchable defenders who can space the floor and keep the middle open for the teams playmakers to do their thing. It’s not hard to see where Morris, who can do all those things and create a little offense himself in a pinch, can slide right into just about any lineup composition Erik Spoelstra chooses to use.
“These guys play the game the right way,” Morris said of the team’s playmakers. “This is like a Dream Team of playing with stars that play the right way all the time. We fit. I’ve known Kyle almost my whole life, I’ve tried to team up with him a couple times. Me and Tuck played a couple years in Phoenix, he’s one of my great friends. I’ve known Jimmy a long time.”
Skillset is one thing, attitude is another. You can be the longest, most agile defender in the world and it won’t translate to the court the same way if you don’t also carry a tough, gritty mindset with you. Those are the defensive players that last, and the ones that win. Miami has gone all in on that type of player, in a sense, and you can never have too many of them.
“That’s the approach, that’s what Miami brings anyway,” Morris said. “You can never have too many bulldogs, it just has to be controlled in the right manner. We don’t have bulldogs that’s barking a lot, we got bulldogs that’s biting.
“We’re going to be defensive-minded first. That’ll be our DNA.”
Morris, like Tucker, is also a recent champion, having won his first title with the Los Angeles Lakers when they beat the HEAT in the Orlando Bubble.
“They wouldn’t give up man,” Morris said of the HEAT. “We were very locked in and focused on winning a championship, but you could see the same thing in Miami. Their will to not give up is a thing that we all got in common."
What Pat Riley Said:
“Markieff Morris has been a player that we’ve followed closely for a number of years. He can play multiple positions, shoot the three, defend and post-up. To be able to add him to our nucleus was a big move. I want to thank Markieff for coming to Miami.”
There were 393 days separating Dedmon’s last game when the season was suspended in March of 2020 and his first game after signing with the HEAT last April, and he hit the ground running as fast as could possibly be expected – including a 15-minute double-double in his second appearance. Roughly seven points and five rebounds a night might not jump off the page to you, but over 13 minutes that’s pretty absurd production. Per 100 possessions, Dedmon posted 26.7 points and 20 rebounds on 70.8 percent shooting as he worked an efficient pick-and-roll game with Jimmy Butler. When those two were on the court together, in a mere 194 possessions, the HEAT outscored their opponents by 29.9 points per 100 possessions. That is . . . not bad.
“I definitely felt like the fit was good in the 16 games I was here. I felt like I had a lot more to show,” Dedmon said.
With the team’s starting lineup boosted by another playmaker in Lowry – “I like his game,” says Dedmon – and spread-four options in Tucker and Morris, the context around Dedmon has only improved. Even if he isn’t quite as break-history efficient as he was in his first stint, there’s no reason to project Dedmon as anything less than a rock-solid backup whenever Miami’s star big needs a rest.
“Every time he comes into the game, I tell him ‘Catch a breath, young fella.’”
What Pat Riley Said:
“We love Dewayne and his aggressive attitude at the center position. He’s a great screener, rebounder and can stretch the floor. He came in after missing most of the season and had a tremendous impact for us. His veteran presence and physicality are going to help anchor our defense and with a whole year under his belt, he will be even better.”