To even get in this position, the NBA’s most unyielding
organizational machine almost somehow, some-f***ing-how, did it
Down 98-85 with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the
Eastern Conference Finals, where his team hadn’t led once, this
sh** should’ve been over.
But, then again, it was about 48 hours removed from Jimmy
Butler’s remix of LeBron James’ famous Game 6 in Boston performance
as the Heat trailed 3-2 a decade ago in the 2012 East Finals.
Again, LeBron? After you couldn’t get it done with the
Cleveland Cavaliers, after you didn’t want to post-up JJ Barea in
the 2011 Finals, you’re crumbling again?
That's what people may have thought prior to James exploding for
45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists on 19-of-26 shooting on the
road with Miami's backs against the wall.
With the Celtics as 10-plus-point favorites in sportsbooks and
the media ready to coronate Boston (as some of them would
shamelessly do every year if they could), Butler outdid James,
willing his way to 47 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists, shooting
55.2% from the field, going 4-of-8 from three and making all of his
11 free throw attempts.
Most thought even getting to this point would be impossible. And
yet, here they were — this organization — defying the
Trailing by 13 points with 3:30 left to go in Game 7, this sh**
should’ve been over. But Kyle Lowry makes a prayer of a mid-range
jumper with 3:22 left and Max Strus dunks a putback after a Victor
Oladipo miss with 2:40 to go. Then, off a Lowry steal on Grant
Williams below the opposing basket, Oladipo finishes in transition
and cuts the deficit to 98-91 as 1:23 remained on the game
There’s no way. There’s just no f***ing way. But a mere
20 seconds later, Lowry lays it up against Williams. It’s an 8-0
run. With about 50 seconds left, Jaylen Brown elbows Bam Adebayo in
the mouth on a drive; it's an offensive foul. Five seconds later,
Strus buries a three — fading away, heavily contested — and now,
And then, it comes down to Butler’s decision. To this point, he
has 35 points and 9 rebounds on almost 60% shooting. He’s averaged
about 26-7-3 despite playing like sh**, by his standards, from
Games 3-5 while battling the knee injury he was still enduring.
With 18.3 seconds left, after pushing up the floor, he faces Al
Horford and, with enough space, goes for the kill shot to put the
Heat up one finally. He brought you here. He can do what he
Butler missed. It fell short, and the Celtics mercifully hung on
for the victory in the face of an all-time collapse, but the Heat
were one shot from a second NBA Finals appearance in the
Butler era, which is now entering its fourth season.
The Heat don’t just have a 16-Game Player, they have one of
the best playoff performers in the league. If you disagree, how
many times does he have to f****ng show you? Right knee
inflammation be damned — he was arguably the best two-way playoff
player standing up until Sunday night. But to drag, claw and will
his team to that moment was something few saw capable prior to it,
even as he showed us in the 2020 playoffs what was possible.
But still, questions linger. Turning 33 years old in September,
how much of this Butler can you count on? Soon to be 25
years old, is Adebayo ready to take his much-needed next step
offensively with consistency? How much does Lowry have left in the
tank at 36?
And even at just 22 years old, which he reminded us of yesterday, is
Tyler Herro the one who gets squeezed? Because he’s extension
eligible now after underperforming in the playoffs, having
far and away the team’s worst postseason On/Off Court rating
(-22.7) even before his groin injury in the conference finals.
As Ethan Skolnick usually says on 5 On The
Floor, quoting Pat Riley, “The playoffs tell,” and what the
playoffs told the Heat are a few things.
This Miami team has two glaring needs: Length and shot
Regarding length: Adebayo is still your center, and although the
Heat reached an NBA Finals with Jae Crowder as the 4 beside him and
were one shot from PJ Tucker doing the same, they should be in the
market for a big who can do two key things: Stretch the floor and
protect the paint.
If the Heat are going to switch everything (and
Adebayo will switch more than anyone in the league), you need a
back line of defense when teams like the Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks
and Philadelphia 76ers try to size up and attack the interior.
Additionally, Tucker turned 37 during the playoffs and has a player
option worth $7.35 million, which he could decline for one, last
multiyear deal if he wishes. Either way, the Heat would prefer to
retain him, but he shouldn’t carry the load he did all 2021-22
season next campaign.
Here’s the Heat’s salary cap table going forward via
As frustrating as Adebayo’s lack of aggression can be for some,
it’s important to note that without his defense, they don’t even
beat the Sixers, let alone push the Celtics to seven games. We’re
getting to the point where people are saying, “Oh, I understand his
defense, whatever, but...” Like, no, fam. No. This is arguably,
pound-for-pound, the best and most versatile defender on the
planet. God forgive him for giving you world-class defense,
including more switches than anyone else on earth, and not dropping
27 points a night. If he did, he’d probably be worn down and
injury-prone by his late 20s. As a contender, Bam should be your
third option offensively, as he was this year, nearing 20-10 per
night in the regular season and occasionally exploding in the
playoffs. (That, he should do more, no doubt.)
The true question: Is Herro good enough to round out that top
three with Butler and Adebayo? Unlike Adebayo, Herro isn't
providing much if he isn't scoring. Do you work around them to
improve the committee? Or do changes need to be made at the
If it’s the former, the Heat will need to get creative and trust
that Herro’s development will meet Butler’s timeline in a playoff
setting — not just for 82 games — as Herro finishes the last of his
rookie-scale deal. If it’s the latter, Tyler's the one that goes.
You’d be moving the good player for the great player. Even if you
think Herro tops out at Devin Booker-level in three years, that
doesn’t make him a can’t miss developmental story if the
Heat are trying to win now. They can’t afford not to have
Herro get there as soon as possible; it isn’t fair, but it’s part
of the business and the crossroad the Heat find themselves at.
Butler is 33. Lowry is 36. Tucker is 37. Erik Spoelstra, who
might have more than just "head coach" in his future, is 51. And
most importantly, Pat Riley is 77.
(Besides, name all the players that were traded from the Heat
and improved considerably? I’ll wait...)
The players you should most expect to see back, as of now, are
Butler, Adebayo, Lowry, Strus and Gabe Vincent — the latter two
will make $1.8 million each next season and made significant
strides in 2021-22 as rotational pieces. Tucker should be more
likely back than not, but there’s no certainty there. Spoelstra
made it sound as if Oladipo will be
back. However, Oladipo will be a free agent this summer, so
that’s to be determined, as is the status of pending free agent Caleb Martin, who
wants to stay.
Duncan Robinson and Dewayne Dedmon — both of whom lost rotation
spots in the playoffs — most certainly will have new homes next
Robinson’s will have to be via trade, and although his value has
tanked compared to where it stood 12 months ago, no NBA deal is
unmovable. The question is whether or not he’ll be packaged with
Herro as part of a blockbuster deal that further cements the Heat’s
contendership, or if Robinson's mainly a standalone in a deal,
perhaps packaged with someone like Omer Yurtseven (who’ll get over
$1.7 million next season and showed flashes throughout the season
of a rotational piece).
We’ll get deeper into the weeds as the draft and free agency
actually approaches. What I’ll end on is this: If it’s Robinson
alone and/or Robinson and Yurtseven, people have thrown names out
there like Christian Wood and Marcus Morris. For me, if I built
someone in a lab who I’d want to play next to Bam on the interior,
he’d be able to shoot threes and protect the paint, as outlined
earlier. He’d be around 7-foot tall since Adebayo is about
6-foot-10, maybe, with a distinct wingspan. He’d... basically be Mo
Bamba, so if I had a Heat wish list, that’d be the first place I
look if it were possible.
The Orlando Magic have the first overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, and given that they’ll likely end up
with Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero next to Wendell
Carter Jr., a sign-and-trade to move Bamba makes the most sense —
especially if it’s for shooting and a backup big man with upside to
play behind the oft-injured Carter.
That is, unless, you could convince Danny Ainge, Dwyane Wade and
the Utah Jazz to send you Donovan Mitchell for a package in the
neighborhood of Herro, Robinson, Yurtseven, and multiple
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