Did The Heat Make Themselves Title Contenders or Pretenders?
Expectations couldn’t have been higher after a surprise bubble run saw the fifth seeded Miami Heat reach a game six of the NBA Finals in the 2020 season. They followed that season up by limping into the 2021 playoffs as a six seed and got swept in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks, the eventual NBA Champions. .
In an attempt to return to the Finals in the 2022 playoffs the Miami Heat made a couple big free agency moves to elevate the team they had last season. The only question now is how much did they elevate their team? Sure they got better but will it be enough to get themselves past the Bucks, Nets, or 76ers. In today's article we’re going to answer that question and break down all the moves the Miami Heat made to become contenders or pretenders.
Before getting into the more detailed move analysis I want to mention some moves the Heat made that do not warrant a complete breakdown. Two-way players Max Strus and Gabe Vincent were both signed to two year deals worth around three million. Max Strus is a 6’5” forward who could provide shooting off the bench while Gabe Vincent is a 6’3” guard who struggled to shoot the ball last year but was excellent on the defensive end. The Heat also re-signed veteran big man Dwayne Dedmon on a one year deal worth two million. Dedmon is a good defender and capable shooter and will likely get a lot of run as the backup center next season.
Now let's look at the core players Miami brought back in their hopes to make another finals run.
First up we got the team leader and number one option Jimmy Butler. Butler received a four-year extension on his current contract worth $184 million. This extension will ensure that Butler is on the team through the 2025-26 NBA season and will be making $52 million that year at the age of thirty-six.
As far as Butler’s current on-court impact goes this deal is a no brainer. Butler is amazing on both sides of the ball being a menace of the defensive end with his combination of athleticism, defensive instincts, and tenacity making him a top five defender in the NBA. Offensively his only weakness is his three point shot shooting below 30% in his two seasons in Miami. Other than that he can do it all, Butler can attack off the dribble, score in the midrange or at the rim, set up teammates, and run the offense as he has grown into a great passer averaging seven assists last season.
The only fear when giving Butler the four-year extension is that by the end of it he’s not going to be the same caliber of player. This is a real possibility seeing that he will be thirty-six by the end of this contract and plays a very physical style that proves less effective as the miles add up. With that fear in mind I still would do this deal ten out of ten times, Butler is a top fifteen player right now and has shown in the past to be willing to force his way out of situations he deems as bad. Keeping Butler happy by throwing a bag at him is a good move for the Heat.
Another core player the Heat decided to resign from their NBA Finals run is sharp shooter Duncan Robinson. Robinson was signed to a five-year ninety million dollar deal that made him the highest paid undrafted rookie in NBA history after being signed as a two-way player just three seasons ago.
Robinson was paid because he does one thing extremely well, shoot the dang ball. Robinson has basically been the best three point shooter in the league over the past two seasons shooting forty-three percent on eight to nine threes a game. Only one player has a higher shooting percentage on similar volume and that player is Steph Curry, aka the best shooter of all time. At 6’7” Robinson is able to shoot over defenders and is great at shooting in motion whether that is off a curl, a baseline cut, or a designed floppy set he’s lights out from everywhere.
Where Robinson runs into some trouble is on the defensive end. He’s not a complete liability like some sharp shooters being more the size of a wing rather than a guard. Though teams have shown a willingness to attack him on that end because of his lack of strength and athleticism. Robinson gives effort on that end though and with more experience I think he could grow to be an average defender in time.
So while nearly $20 million a year for a shooter is a high asking price the Heat didn’t have much of a choice. If they want to compete for an NBA championship this season they’ll need the firepower Duncan Robinson can bring on the offensive end.
The final player the Heat brought back from last year's squad is former all-star Victor Oladipo. The Heat acquired Oladipo from the Rockets at the trade deadline last year, sending Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and a 2022 pick swap.
After just nine games with the Heat Oladipo injured his right quadriceps tendon and had season ending surgery to repair it. Coming off multiple lower body injuries the twenty-nine year old, who was considered a max player a few seasons ago, found little to no market for himself in this year's free agency. In an attempt to regain value throughout the league Oladipo signed a one year minimum deal with the Miami Heat.
This move is probably the biggest x-factor for the Heat next season. If Oladipo can return to anything close to his all-star level of play the Heat’s ceiling goes way up. A healthy Oladipo can provide the Heat with another two way athletic guard who can shoot threes and attack off the dribble. I imagine that Oladipo will at least start next season coming off the bench which will be perfect for him allowing him to play the sixth man role focusing on offensive playmaking and scoring in the second unit.
Even if Oladipo doesn’t return to his all-star level it is definitely worth a minimum contract to try it out. The only way I see this move hurting the Heat is if Oladipo struggles and becomes a strain on the team in the locker room and fitting in on court. Nonetheless I still believe this is a move every NBA team would’ve done.
Now let’s move on and talk about the players the Miami Heat brought in from free agency this season. First let’s talk about the two players who are not as notable of free agent acquisitions compared to the big signing we’ll discuss later.
The Heat brought in Lakers forward Markieff Morris on a one year two million dollar deal. Morris fits the tough and gritty identity of this Miami Heat squad and at 6’8” two-hundred and forty-five pounds Morris is a nice piece to allow for line up flexibility. After a horrendous offensive season with the Lakers last year I am a little low on what he can actually do to help your team but nonetheless he was cheap and can play defense.
The Heat also brought in newly appointed NBA champion PJ Tucker from the Milwaukee Bucks on a two year fifteen million dollar deal. While not crucial to the Bucks championship run Tucker was an immensely nice luxury to have on the defensive end. Tucker is still the same tenacious on ball defender that will shadow whoever you tell him to for forty-eight minutes. Tucker is still such a high level defender that you can ask him to guard the opposing team's best offensive player regardless of what position they are. During the playoffs Tucker was the primary defender on players like Kevin Durant all the way to Chris Paul.
The problem is offensively he has become a complete zero with his only contribution being a good offensive rebounder and a mediocre corner three point shooter. I still have faith that Tucker can help next season. I just don’t think he’s the Jae Crowder replacement Miami’s front office has been searching for.
And now let’s break down the final player and the biggest move made by the Miami Heat this offseason. The Heat agreed to a sign and trade to receive veteran guard Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors for Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa. Lowry and the Heat then agreed to a three year deal worth ninety million dollars.
Lowry’s on court fit with the Heat couldn’t be better. He adds both on and off ball shooting next to Bam and Butler, can be the initiator offensively or work off of the Heats other initiators, is a great leader and adds a championship pedigree to the locker room, and is a smart defender who can take charges and defend opposing guards well. Lowry also fits right in with the “Heat Culture,” that has been praised for getting the most out of hard-nosed players like Lowry.
What is concerning with the Lowry signing is his age. Lowry is thirty-five and will be thirty-eight by the end of his deal with the Heat. There’s a chance that Lowry is far from the thirty million per year player he is now by the end of this contract but I think that's a chance you had to take if you were Miami. The Heat are all in on making the finals next season with Bam and Butler on max deals and Robinson on a hefty deal himself. Lowry was the biggest free agent this offseason and plenty of teams would’ve done the same deal to bring him in. So even if you are kicking yourself in three years it's worth it for the chance of making another finals run in the next two seasons.
So with all these moves discussed do I think this Miami team is a contender or a pretender? If I could only pick one of the two I’d have to choose pretender. As of right now I have both the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks ahead of them as representatives for the East next year. I think the Heat and 76ers are at similar levels with each other just a notch below the two top teams but a notch above the lot of teams like the Celtics, Hawks, Bulls, and Knicks.
If you allow me to elaborate on my answer though I would say that while they are technically pretenders on paper we’ve seen the last two playoffs that things do not play out as we expect. Even though Miami aren’t the favorites out of the East next year they’ve at least positioned themselves closer to the top teams and separated themselves from the pack of teams behind them. And with injuries and the unexpected always being a possibility there's a chance we could be talking about another magical postseason run for Heat next season.