Miami Heat hope inertia can bring improvement in 2018-19

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The Miami Heat’s most significant offseason moves were to re-sign free agent Wayne Ellington and bring back Dwyane Wade for a farewell tour. Is enough in a weakened East?

The Miami Heat limped through an injury-filled season in 2017-18, but managed to finished 44-38 and get into the playoffs, where they were dispatched by the Philadelphia 76ers in five games.

The Heat played without Dion Waiters for 52 games, without Hassan Whiteside for 28 — although some of those absences were coach’s decisions — and got only 18 games from Rodney McGruder, an important projected piece of their rotation.

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What the Heat did get last season was a first All-Star appearance from 31-year-old Goran Dragic, who led the team in scoring and assists and some solid play from young veterans Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson.

Then there were veterans James Johnson and Wayne Ellington making surprisingly good contributions and the Heat brought back franchise icon Dwyane Wade at the trade deadline for some bench punch.

It’s easy to still think of Erik Spoelstra as a young coach, just because he looks forever youthful, but Spoelstra is the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA now.

Spoelstra will turn 48 on Nov. 1 and is entering his 11th season at the helm in Miami, where he is 484-320 and has had just one losing season — the 37-45 performance in 2014-15, the season after LeBron James left and one in which Chris Bosh‘s career went south due to blood clots.

The Heat didn’t do much this offseason. Their maneuvering in the summer of 2017, when they signed James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Richardson and Waiters to long-term deals, left them with no cap room and little flexibility.

The biggest question mark in Miami continues to be Whiteside, who could opt for free agency after this season, but likely won’t because the odds of him getting anywhere close to the $27.1 million on his player option for 2019-20 are somewhere less than absolute zero.

Whiteside re-signed with the Heat in July 2016 for four years and $98 million after a breakout campsign in which he led the NBA with 3.7 blocks per game and shot 60.6 percent from the floor.

Whiteside responded in 2016-17 by topping the league in rebounding (14.1 boards per game), but often appeared uninterested in the whole rim protected thing, with his blocks plummeting to 2.1 per game that season and 1.7 last year.

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  • His shooting percentage has fallen off on a similar curve, to 55.7 percent in 2016-17 and 54.0 percent last season. Team president Pat Riley would love to move Whiteside, but in the NBA circa 2018, there is not an active market for old-school big men with motivational issues.

    So Riley opted to stand pat (yes, I know), re-signing sharpshooting Ellington to a one-year, $6.27 million deal after the 30-year-old averaged a career-best 11.2 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting from the land of 3.

    Wade, meanwhile, took his time before deciding to return to Miami for one last go-around, signing a veteran’s minimum deal on Tuesday after averaging 12.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 22.2 minutes per game in 21 games after being re-acquired by the Heat in February.

    Wade provided some of the old magic in the playoffs, averaging 16.6 points in 25.4 minutes per game against the 76ers and showing the ability to still get to the foul line, where he had 26 attempts in five games.

    The Heat remain hopeful that former lottery pick Justise Winslow can figure something out on the offensive end, and he was better last season with his shooting, hitting 38 percent from 3-point range after putting up a woeful 25.8 percent mark in his first two seasons.

    A better Winslow and the return to health of Waiters and McGruder could be enough to push Miami forward a bit, or at the least tread water around the 44-win mark. That alone could be good enough to get back to the postseason if Cleveland has the nosedive many are expecting.

    But beyond that, the Heat appear to have assembled a team that is good enough to possibly win a game or two in the first round before heading home for the summer. When that’s the best-case scenario, all Miami can do is run out the clock on their current cap situation and look to the future.

    2017-18 Vitals

    44-38, sixth in Eastern Conference
    Lost to Philadelphia in first round, 4-1
    103.4 PPG (23rd), 102.9 OPPG (4th)
    106.8 Offensive Rating (22nd), 106.3 Defensive Rating (7th)

    Team Leaders (minimum 42 games/82 made 3-pointers)
    Scoring: Goran Dragic 17.3 PPG
    Rebounding: Hassan Whiteside 11.4 RPG
    Assists: Goran Dragic 4.8 APG
    Steals: Josh Richardson 1.5 SPG
    Blocks: Hassan Whiteside 1.7 BPG
    3-point shooting: Wayne Ellington 39.2 pct.

    Goran Dragic (All-Star Game)

    2018-19 Roster

    Bam Adebayo, C-F
    Goran Dragic, G
    Wayne Ellington, G
    Udonis Haslem, F-C
    James Johnson, F
    Tyler Johnson, G
    Derrick Jones Jr., F
    Marcus Lee, F
    Yante Maten, F (two-way)
    Rodney McGruder, G
    Malik Newman, G
    Kelly Olynyk, C-F
    John Richardson, G
    Duncan Robinson, G (two-way)
    Jarnell Stokes, F-C
    Dwyane Wade, G
    Dion Waiters, G
    Briante Weber, G
    Hassan Whiteside, C
    Justise Winslow, F

    Offseason Additions
    Duncan Robinson (undrafted free agent, two-way, July 10), Yante Maten (undrafted free agent, two-way, July 29), Malik Newman (street free agent, Aug. 6), Marcus Lee (undrafted free agent, Aug. 15), Briante Weber (street free agent, Aug. 21), Jarnell Stokes (street free agent, Aug. 27).

    Offseason Departures
    Luke Babbitt (free agent), Jordan Mickey (free agent, signed with Khimki in Russia).

    Also See

    Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 Primer: Scanning the East — Atlanta Hawks
    Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 Primer: Scanning the East — Orlando Magic
    Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 Primer: Scanning the East — Chicago Bulls
    Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 Primer: Scanning the East — New York Knicks
    Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 Primer: Scanning the East — Charlotte Hornets
    Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 Primer: Scanning the East — Detroit Pistons
    Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 Primer: Scanning the East — Washington Wizards
    Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 Primer: Scanning the East — Milwaukee Bucks

    Against the Brooklyn Nets

    Last season (home team in CAPS)
    Dec. 9: Heat 101, NETS 89 (at Mexico City)
    Dec. 29: Nets 111, HEAT 87
    Jan. 19: NETS 101, Heat 95

    This season
    Nov. 14: at Brooklyn
    Nov. 20: at Miami
    March 2: at Miami
    April 10: at Brooklyn

    Projected depth chart

    C: Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, Udonis Haslem, Marcus Lee
    PF: James Johnson, Jarnell Stokes
    SF: Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Derrick Jones Jr.
    SG: Dion Waiters, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, Malik Newman
    PG: Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Briante Weber


    One thing to watch for this season is the development of second-year big man Bam Adebayo. He averaged 6.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game last season, shooting .512/0-for-7/.721 and getting 19 starts in the middle.

    He was the last pick in the lottery in 2017, going 14th overall, but showed good size at 6-foot-10 and 243 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and with another year of development could ease the sting of the Whiteside contract a bit.

    His offensive game is raw to the point of being tartare, he took 62.4 percent of his shots in the restricted area and his success rate outside of that range was alarmingly bad — 32.9 percent from three to 10 feet, 32.1 percent in the mid-range, 21.4 percent on long 2s and nothing from deep.

    With much of the same cast of characters, the Heat won 48 games and got to the second round in 2015-16, but that was when Whiteside was dunking and swatting everything in sight … and playing for a contract.

    Whiteside and the Heat appear to be stuck with each other and if Spoelstra can figure out a way to motivate Whiteside to at least appear to give a damn, Miami has a chance — if healthy — to improve on that 44-win total from a season ago.

    Next. 10 best seasons in franchise history. dark

    If not, they’ll continue to simply tread water.

    Projected record: 44-38