When last seen, the Heat were … exhausting themselves against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers in a memorable Finals run that saw Miami knock off Indiana, Milwaukee and Boston on their march through the playoffs. The Jimmy Butler experience paid off immediately after he joined the Heat and he was the sparked a special season for coach Erik Spoelstra. Bam Adebayo coming into his own as an All-Star aided the cause, as did the pop rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro delivered (as well as the sharpshooting of Duncan Robinson provided). Veteran point guard Goran Dragic’s resurgence in the restart elevated Miami, as did the contributions of veteran trade-deadline additions Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. Everything came together at the perfect time to highlight the “Heat culture” that team president Pat Riley has cultivated for decades. Miami came up short against the Lakers as it battled injuries to Dragic and Adebayo. Now comes the encore: with the element of surprise replaced by increased expectations.
What’s new? Adebayo has a new max contact. Dragic, spurred by playful threats of bodily harm from his bromance partner Butler, re-signed as well. In fact, 12 of the players from The Finals team return, with key free-agent additions Avery Bradley and Maurice Harkless (and rookie Precious Achiuwa) coming on board, too. Former Heat star, All-Star and NBA champion Caron Butler joined the coaching staff in an underrated culture fit. All of the new additions fit the mold Riley relishes on his roster and staff: hard hat-type guys with a relentless work ethic and the physical and mental toughness to compete at all times. With an understanding of what will be expected in focus in the locker room, the Heat shouldn’t have to deal with any growing pains.
What’s missing: While the desire for an extended offseason might have been high in most places, Spoelstra didn’t mince his words when addressing Miami’s quick turnaround. “It’s a quicker turnaround for those kind of teams, but if you consistently go to The Finals … but that’s the price of chasing something great.” Spoelstra knows what it takes to win championships. He also knows that the moment presents itself and could vanish in an instant, so there’s no sense in holding anything back. The balance of seasoned vets and up-and-coming young talent puts the Heat in a unique position to compete now without compromising its future. They have everything needed to stay in the mix at the top of the East standings for the foreseeable future.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
Jimmy Butler |19.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6.0 apg
Elevated his game to superstar level in The Finals while dueling with LeBron James.
Goran Dragic | 16.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.1 apg
Veteran point guard was Heat playoff MVP prior to injury suffered in Game 1 of The Finals.
Bam Adebayo | 15.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 5.1 apg
All-Star big man has only scratched the surface of the all-around game that fuels Miami’s attack.
Duncan Robinson | 13.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.4 apg
The ultimate floor-spacer whose lack of confidence defensively has to improve.
Maurice Harkless | 5.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.1. apg
Versatile forward is a defensive ace who can stick shots from the perimeter.
Tyler Herro | 13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.2 apg
Shooting star showed out in the bubble and will be hard to keep off the floor in sophomore season.
Avery Bradley | 8.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 apg
Two-time All-Defensive team selection brings versatility and an underrated offensive skill set.
Kendrick Nunn | 15.3 pts, 2.7 reb, 3.3 ast
Kia Rookie Of the Year runner up could be a Kia Sixth Man candidate this season.
Andre Iguodala | 4.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.4 apg
Former Finals MVP and All-Star still has enough in the tank to be an impact player.
Miami Heat, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The Heat learned more about themselves in the bubble than perhaps any other team. They bought into Butler’s tough talk and saw their new star live up to it as well. The abbreviated offseason makes it easy for the Heat to pick up where they left off in the bubble, earning league-wide respect for their Finals showing. Spoelstra is criminally underrated, a championship coach whose name rarely gets tossed around in conversations about the NBA’s best coaches. That narrative, and others, will fuel the culture cocoon Riley has created. With all of the pieces they have in place now, the spot at the top of the Eastern Conference mountain there for Miami’s taking.
Predicted finish: 46-26.
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