A lot can change in a year. Last year, the Miami Heat's season came to an end when they were defeated in six games by the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. They hadn't won the whole thing, but they were the reigning Eastern Conference champions, and given the fact that they were a relatively young team, there was a lot of optimism about their potential moving forward.
Now, fast forward to the end of this season, and the entire vibe around the Heat is markedly different. The Heat were swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks after finishing as the sixth seed in the East, and as a team that looked like it had reached its ceiling as currently constructed, they entered this offseason with more questions – and a lot less optimism – than they did last year.
Given the way they went out, we can probably expect an eventful – and important -- offseason in Miami, as the team is always aiming to improve under the stewardship of Pat Riley. It's safe to say that a first-round exit this season isn't exactly what Riley had in mind, so it will be extremely interesting to see how the team decides to move forward. With that said, here's a look at three major questions facing the franchise over the offseason.
- Should the Heat sign Jimmy Butler to a major extension?
As they're currently constructed, Jimmy Butler is the best player on the Heat. He's an elite two-way player with a knack for hitting clutch shots, who has been named an All-Star five times. But, for as good as Butler has been over the course of his career, he's still yet to answer the question of whether he can be the best player on a championship team. Last year's Heat team came close, and Butler was excellent in the bubble, but the entire Heat team seemingly overperformed, and they were ultimately unable to get the job done. Prior to that, Butler had never advanced past the second round. In the first round this season, he didn't look like a top option. Over four games against the Bucks, Butler averaged 14.5 points per game on 29 percent shooting from the floor, despite saying that he was "stupidly locked in" prior to the start of the series.
Moving forward, the Heat need to decide just how valuable Butler is to their team, especially since he is reportedly likely to seek a four-year, max extension from Miami this offseason. The fact that Miami was prepared to go all out in pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo before he signed an extension with Milwaukee last offseason should tell you that the organization at least isn't completely sold on the idea of Butler continuing to be the alpha dog, but that doesn't mean that they won't want to lock him up long term given how solid he's been since signing in South Beach. However, signing a player of Butler's age (31) and ilk (an elite player, but one who has never been one of the ten best players in the league at any given time) is a risk that will severely limit Miami's financial flexibility moving forward, as CBS Sports' Sam Quinn pointed out:
Of course, it should be noted that Butler will turn 32 before next season starts. His injury history is long even if he's never suffered any single major incident. This deal would lock Butler up through his age-36 season at an exorbitant price, and the Heat typically prefer to maintain flexibility. This sort of commitment would put them in danger a few years down the line, when Butler begins to decline. He hardly ever shoots 3-pointers, which should make it harder for him to contribute when his athleticism wanes.
Star players don't grow on trees. Plus, once you have an All-Star-caliber player on your team, it's often easier to entice another to join. So for those reasons, it's likely that the Heat will indeed sign Butler to a major extension over the offseason, even though the move won't be without its fair share of risk.
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2. Will Miami match offers for Duncan Robinson in free agency?
Shooting has never been more important than it is in the NBA today, and in turn, elite shooters are more valuable -- and in-demand -- than ever. Enter: Duncan Robinson. Just three years into his NBA career, Robinson has already established himself as an elite-level sniper in the league, and a player that opposing defenses can ill afford to leave open beyond the arc. Robinson reached the mark of 500-career made 3-pointers faster than any other player in NBA history, and he's still improving as an all-around player.
Given his skill set, and how crucial floor spacing is in the NBA today, Robinson projects to be a hot commodity when he becomes a restricted free agent over the offseason. Being a restricted free agent means that the Heat will have an opportunity to match any outside offers that Robinson receives from other teams, but will they? Robinson could reportedly get a deal close to $20 million a year in restricted free agency. Will Miami want to pay that much for an ancillary player? If the salary cap wasn't an issue, the answer would be a resounding yes. However, given Miami's continued interest in big game hunting, their desire to tie up a lot of money in Robinson moving forward isn't a given.
3. Can Bam Adebayo grow his game on the offensive end?
Bam Adebayo was one of the breakout players in the NBA last season. His playing time increased dramatically, as did his stats. He was named to his first All-Star team, and he was also named to the NBA's All-Defensive Second Team for the first time. He had another solid season in 2020-21, as his scoring averaged increased again, as did his shooting percentage. However, against the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, his lack of ability on the offensive end was exposed. After shooting 57 percent from the floor during the regular season, Adebayo shot just 45 percent in four games against Milwaukee, as Bucks center Brook Lopez consistently played off of him and dared him to shoot. Like this:
And like this:
It proved to be an extremely effective strategy, as Adebayo clearly wasn't completely comfortable taking such shots, and in turn, he was never really able to get into a rhythm on the offensive end over the course of the series. As such, he wasn't a viable, go-to offensive option. Typically, you see the scoring average of star players go up in the playoffs due to more minutes and higher usage rates. But, Adebayo scored 3.2 fewer points per game in the playoffs than he did during the regular season. That's not great.
Even when Adebayo was able to establish solid post position against Milwaukee in the first round, he showed a lack of reliable post moves. In short, Adebayo has no shortage of things to work on over the offseason, and his improvement will be central to Miami's success, or lack thereof, moving forward given the fact that the team just signed him to a huge, five-year extension. He needs to become a guy that they can consistently go to on offense, and he just didn't look like that guy against Milwaukee.
If Adebayo can continue to grow his game on the offensive end, which is very possible, likely even, given the fact that he's still just 23 years old, then the Heat should be in solid shape. If not though, Miami could come to regret that contract, especially since it could ultimately prevent them from adding other top-tier players.