The Miami Heat looked like a shell of themselves a few months following their gritty run to the 2020 NBA Finals, with the extended playoff run and the shortened offseason taking a toll on their roster.
Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, and Tyler Herro all played major roles for the Heat in their run to the finals and subsequently missed several games early in the ‘20-’21 regular season. Miami stumbled out of the gates and the team was seven games below .500 at 7-14 in early February.
They recovered nicely once their crucial pieces returned to the court and rode a career season from Butler to finish with a 40-32 record and the sixth seed. Come the playoffs though, they were met by the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks who were raring to avenge their loss to the Heat in the second round of the previous postseason. The Bucks swept them in convincing fashion and in the wake of the early exit, it was all but guaranteed that changes were on the way in Miami.
With their team opting to remain in “win-now” mode, evidenced by the $184 million four-year max contract that they signed their 31-year-old star Butler to a few weeks ago, they bolstered their roster for the coming season with the acquisitions of Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, and Markieff Morris.
The re-signing of Duncan Robinson to a five-year, $90 million deal was another key transaction for a squad that may find itself lacking elite shooting beyond him on their team come opening night.
Last season was Butler’s finest one to date behind an average of 21.5 points per game together with career highs in field goal percentage (49.7%), rebounds (6.9), assists (7.1), and steals (an NBA-best 2.1).
Meanwhile, Bam Adebayo increased his scoring norm for the third consecutive year to 18.7 and though his rebounding numbers fell from 10.2 to nine a game, he increased his assists to 5.4 a contest which was its highest level yet. However, it was clear that the Heat needed another playmaker to complement Butler and Adebayo throughout the season.
After a breakout postseason in 2020 that was highlighted by a 37-point outburst in the Eastern Conference Finals, Herro was expected to fill that role in his sophomore year in the league. They thrust him into the starting line-up to begin the season and he did not take the leap as expected, prompting a move back to the bench in favor of Kendrick Nunn who is now with the Los Angeles Lakers. He looked more comfortable in his return to a sixth-man role and finished on a positive note, ending the year with per game numbers of 15.1 points, five rebounds, and 3.4 assists.
The Heat still hope that Herro fulfills the potential that he gave the world a preview of in the NBA Bubble, but they do not have the patience to wait for that time to come, hence the trade with the Toronto Raptors for the 35-year-old Lowry.
Miami had to give up Dragic, who has been with the team since 2014, and Precious Achiuwa for the right to sign Lowry to a three-year contract that will pay him $90 million. The deal is currently under investigation by the NBA due to a possible violation of its tampering rules, though there is no indication that the possible penalty will include voiding the trade.
Though Dragic is still a lethal scorer, the Heat desired a true point guard, something they have not been able to give Butler since his arrival in 2019. Lowry fits perfectly in that role and will slide in as a secondary playmaker which will be especially handy come the playoffs.
The Villanova product is also a strong three-point shooter, hitting almost 40% on over seven attempts per game last year with the Raptors, which should allow him to space the floor while playing off-ball. On defense, containing opposing guards has been a challenge for them recently and the 15-year veteran fills that need. He utilizes his strong lower body and court smarts to match-up with bigger players despite standing at just 6’0 and he has a renowned penchant for drawing charges.
In Toronto’s run to the 2019 NBA Championship, Lowry thrived playing alongside Kawhi Leonard and it seems that Miami hopes that he can relive this role on their team with Butler who is a good friend of his off the court.
Lowry will not have to be the primary option with the Heat, lining up behind Butler and Adebayo in their pecking order, and this lighter load should only help him remain effective as he ages.
As recently as a few years ago, having point guards at Lowry’s advanced age playing an influential role for a contender was not in vogue until this past postseason. The 36-year-old Chris Paul injected his unique brand of leadership to the up-and-coming Phoenix Suns and it helped them turnaround from the ninth seed in 2020 to an appearance in last month’s NBA Finals. Paul’s run with the Suns invigorated the market for older point guards which drummed up the market’s interest for Lowry’s services.
The Heat also acquired another participant of last year’s Finals, PJ Tucker, who signed a two-year, $15 million contract that has a player option for the second year. Tucker played a vital role for the NBA Champion Bucks in his half season with the team and he will be tasked with doing much of the same in Miami.
He is expected to fill the role that Jae Crowder played in their NBA Finals appearance as a three-and-D forward, something that they sorely lacked this past season. Tucker is not on the same level as Crowder in terms of shooting and at times he seems reluctant to shoot, but he is at least a credible threat from the corners and will at least demand attention from opponents.
Markieff Morris, who was part of the Los Angeles team that beat the Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals, also joined them and should play a key role as a reserve big man with a decent outside shot and defensive capabilities.
All three of Miami’s acquisitions are in their 30s and their advanced age will be a concern for this team come the regular season. Robinson is 27 years old while Adebayo and Herro are still only 24 and 21, respectively, but the rest of their projected rotation is older than 30.
The return of 41-year-old veteran Udonis Haslem on another minimum deal after playing just a few seconds last season further hurts this team’s depth as he is not expected to set foot on the court. Haslem is a franchise icon who played in all three of their title winning teams, but the team may be better served with filling his slot with a younger player who can contribute.
The development of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, who were two-way players last season and now full-fledged members of the team, will be a pivotal point to monitor for Miami. If they can build off last season’s progress and contribute in their reserve roles, it should help alleviate concerns about this team’s age.
One wildcard for this team that can potentially tip the balance of the Eastern Conference is the oft-injured Victor Oladpio. He turned down much more lucrative contract extensions over the past two offseasons and had to settle for a minimum deal with the Heat after suffering a knee injury a few months ago.
Oladipo is an excellent two-way player and a two-time All-Star who is still only 29 years old. It is likely that he will not suit up on opening night, but if he can bounce back and play at even three-fourths of his level from a few years ago, the Heat will automatically join the ranks of the Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets in the top tier of the East.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding the finer details of this Miami team, but adding Lowry to their Butler-Adebayo tandem gives them a tough core with a high level of basketball IQ that should compete night in and night out.
Lowry, Tucker, and Morris have won NBA championships and the Heat are hoping that their new recruits can help Butler, Adebayo, and the rest of this team to win one of their own which would be banner number four for this relatively young yet already storied franchise.