Five Questions Entering Tonight's Miami Heat Season Opener

Ready or not, another Miami Heat season will kick off tonight when the Miami Heat travels to Orlando to face the Magic in the 2016-17 season opener. Tonight's game marks a new era for the Heat and its fans, one that, for the first time in a dozen years, will not include Dwyane Wade. Now the reigns will be handed over to a group of young players ready to prove they aren't a part of a rebuilding process — they're a part of a reloading. 

The changes will be startling at first, but if things fall right this season, the Heat might be a different kind of fun to watch. There won't be championship fun (and that's really fun), but fans might get to watch something special in the making. It's not ideal, but that's the reality Heat fans must embrace tonight. 

Here are a few things to watch in the season opener and throughout the first few months of this unique Miami Heat season. 

1. Can Hassan Whiteside become a leader? 

We already know Hassan Whiteside can fill a stat sheet, but can he grow into the leader of a team? The heat certainly need him to because it sorely lacks veteran leadership, and none is on the way. Whiteside will undoubtedly be the best player on the 2016-17 Miami Heat, and fans are accustomed to that player being a stable rock for others. That might not be the case this season for the first time in a long time. 

Udonis Haslem cannot be the leader of the Heat forever. It's amazing his run has lasted this long. Whiteside has an opportunity to flip the narrative surrounding his character this season and become one of those "Miami Heat guys" who goes down in history for more than made baskets. 

2. Who is Dion Waiters? 

This is not a question we thought we would be asking ourselves in Miami, but here we are. As they say, life comes at you fast. Waiters has the moves to fill Dwyane Wade's stats any given night, but no one expects him to do it every single game. The good version of Waiters will win the Heat many games this season, but the bad side of Waiters might lose them just as many. Think Mario Chalmers, but with more opportunities to screw up everything.

If Waiters can, like Whiteside, flip the narrative surrounding his character and style of play, the Heat could have the best bargain in the NBA. It won't take much for the team to get value back on his minimum deal. 

3. Is Justise Winslow ready to take the next step?

The Heat is asking a lot of a 20-year-old, but damn if this 20-year-old doesn't seem up to the challenges the team is throwing his way. Winslow has said all the right things entering his second NBA season. He's worked on his shot and wants the ball more now that Wade and Bosh are gone.

The biggest question entering this season is if Winslow's offensive game can catch up with his already stellar defensive game. If it can even come close, the Heat will have a man to whom it can pass Wade's franchise-star torch. If it can't, well, the team still has a great player. 

4. Is Goran Dragic ready to take over late in games? 

The worry with Goran Dragic this season isn't so much whether he will play well inside the Heat's new space-and-pace system; that's his thing. The hope, however, is that unlike in past years when the Heat had superstars like Wade, Goran will take the ball at the end of games and tell everyone to get out of the way. The Heat needs him to be that sort of player this season, and he should be capable of doing so. 

Dragic is the veteran in the Heat's starting lineup, and chances are he will be the eldest, most experienced player on the units that finish games. With the Heat undermanned talent-wise this season, the team truly needs Dragic to take control. 

5. What sort of season will Tyler Johnson have? 

The Heat paid up for Tyler Johnson this offseason. At first, his $50 million, four-year deal seemed shocking, but in the end, it made a lot of sense compared to what other stiffs around the NBA scored this offseason. The deal is also structured so that the big payouts don't come until years three and four of the contract. Johnson is a key cog in this year's team and should be the first man off the bench most of the time if not the most important member of the second unit. 

Gone are the days of Johnson being a cute story that fans cheer when he scores a basket or two. Johnson needs to be the Heat's Manu Ginobli this season. He needs to make plays, and so far this preseason, he has. If the Heat can get more playmaking out of Johnson, the team should fare much better than many observers have predicted. 


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