After a very eventful summer in the NBA the 2017-18 season will kick off with training camp media days being help on September 25 with teams that include the Miami Heat.
The Heat, coming off a season where it started with a 11-30 record only to flip that record in the second half and miss the playoffs by mere percentage points, hopes to build off that momentum as the teams its second season of the post-Dwyane Wade era.
How The Summer of 2017 Fared:
Miami team president Pat Riley started the summer with the selection of forward/center Bam Adebayo as the 14th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft on June 22, the Heat’s lone pick this year. Riley then set his sights of free agent forward Gordon Hayward. After it came evident that Hayward chose to sign with the Boston Celtics is one of the most bungled public relations mishaps in recent NBA memory, Riley decided to put the band back together. Miami quickly re-signed guard Dion Waiters and forward James Johnson, who had career years last season, to multi-year contracts.
The Heat was able to trade injured plagued forward Josh McRoberts to the Dallas Mavericks in a salary dump for A.J. Hammons, draft picks, and cash. Miami in a surprise also brought in free agent forward/center Kelly Olynyk with a multi-year contract. On September 18 the Heat locked in guard Josh Richardson to a four-year $42 million extension before he could become a restricted free agent in 2018.
Building Chemistry Among The Cornerstones:
Miami will have a confident duo of guard Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside coming into camp. Riley has stated that Dragic will be eased into camp after he led the Slovenian national team to its first EuroBasket gold medal this summer where he also won Most Valuable Player honors. Whiteside looks to have a chip on his shoulder after feeling snubbed of top defensive honors last season. Head coach Erik Spoelstra has been able to get better chemistry from both players in their first two seasons together and will continue to build on that in camp. The pace that Spoelstra wants the Heat to play complements Dragic and the defensive presence of Whiteside helps to get that pace going in transition. Both players will look to become one of the best 1-5 combos in the NBA this season.
Evaluating The Young Players:
Thanks to the team’s G-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Heat have developed a good young core of players. Richardson, Whiteside, guard Tyler Johnson, forward Okaro White, and guard/forward Rodney McGruder have all come through the G-League and became contributors almost instantly. With the starting small forward spot looking to be open it will be a three-way race between Richardson, McGruder, and a returning Justise Winslow.
Winslow will look to impress as injuries made him lose some of the luster that had Miami reject a hefty offer from the Celtics during the 2015 draft. While being a versatile defender already, he has not able to develop a consistent shot on offense. The Heat even saw their overall offense improve with Winslow off the floor. He will need to prove that not only is he ready be a starter but be one of the team’s best two-way players.
As for the rookie Abeyabo it will be a likely slow process. There was concern on draft night that his playing style may be too similar to that of Whiteside. Luckily a good showing in the Summer League and sessions with the Heat coaching staff have alleviated some concern. As with most Miami rookies he will likely see limited time in the pre-season as the rotations get more solidified.
Can Lightning Strike Twice Among Key Veterans?:
One of the keys that led Miami to its dramatic turnaround in the second half of last season was the play of veterans like Waiters, James Johnson, and guard Wayne Ellington. Waiters and Johnson had their best overall seasons both in terms of on court play and conditioning. Waiters showed a flair for the dramatic with two consecutive game winning shots against the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets that was a part of a 13-game winning streak. After inconsistent tenures with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder it would seem as Waiters may have found a home with the Heat. The question will be if he can now live up to the raised expectations worthy of the new contract he signed.
When it comes to Johnson the questions aren’t as much about performance as they are about his role. There is a good chance according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald that he will be Miami’s starting power forward. However with Olynyk now on board and with him and Tyler Johnson being the Heat’s main bench duo last season Spoelstra may choose to keep him there. There is argument for both positions. His passing ability and defensive toughness along with the minutes he spent with Whiteside on the floor have proven to be a tremendous asset when he starts. Those traits can also make him the anchor of the second unit as the primary ball handler. Either scenario will have Johnson be the main team enforcer, a role he will fully inherit from team captain Udonis Haslem once he retires.
Ellington showed last season to have will to play defense and stay on the floor that was thought to be lacking from him before. He will get minutes thanks to being a consistent perimeter threat but the amount will vary on how Spoelstra will tinker with lineups.
Players On The Bubble And The $4.3 Million Question:
As with nearly all NBA teams, the Heat have a group of players vying for the last two or three remaining roster spots. Hammons, White, guards Derrick Walton Jr, Matt Williams Jr and Larry Drew II along with forwards Erick McCree and Jordan Mickey are that group for Miami. White is a safe bet to land one of those spots as he showed to be a threat from the perimeter last season. Hammons has to shake off questions about his work ethic that have followed him from Dallas but will likely be favored for a spot to provide depth at the five.
The guards will likely be the main competitors for that last roster spot with the exception of Walton as he is on a two-way contract that limits the time he can be on an NBA roster. The Heat has been keen of developing a point guard for the future as Dragic is already 31 years and his playing style is not one for longevity.
That may all fly out the window with the report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojranowski on Sunday that Wade has agreed to a buyout of his $23.8 million contract with the Chicago Bulls. While he has stated that he would like to compete for a championship this season he did leave open the possibility of returning to Miami. The Heat can only offer Wade their $4.3 million mid-level exception but with the $15 million he will receive from Chicago as part of the buyout he will make close to $20 million this season if he chooses to come back. Miami have made it known that the interest is mutual but with Wade coming off the bench.