Meet the 2017 Miami Heat, which is almost exactly like the 2016 Miami Heat! Pat Riley and the team brass liked last year's overachieving squad so much they decided to run it back again, but this time with a few different ingredients.
Think of this year's Heat squad as a new dish you order at Pei Wei: surprisingly good the first time but with fewer carrots and more chicken the next time. You hope you'll get more of what you were digging around for the first time and less of the filler you won't miss the next time.
This year, the Heat has fewer carrots and more chicken. We hope. That's what Riley ordered anyway.
So what's new and what's old? With the Heat's regular season one week away from kicking off against the Magic in Orlando, it's time to meet the squad.
I've been teaching English in a remote part of Cambodia all summer. What's new with the Heat?
Very little is new, but holy crap did you miss a lot! So, basically, the Miami Heat signed everyone on the Miami Heat. All of them. Riley re-signed the ones you really wanted him to sign if you loved last year's squad, at least. Returning on long-term deals are Josh Richardson, James Johnson, and Dion Waiters. Wayne Ellington and Udonis Haslem are also back. The guys not returning are Willie Reed, Luke Babbitt, and Josh McRoberts.
They finally got someone to take Josh McRoberts?
Well, sort of: It cost the Heat. Miami sent McRoberts and its 2023 second-round draft pick and cash considerations to Dallas in return for second-year center A.J. Hammons.
No Dwyane Wade?
No Dwyane Wade.
Reasons. Wade wants to return to Miami one day, apparently — but only when he's done playing pro basketball. For now, we'll have to suffer through seeing D-Wade in a Cavs jersey chasing another title with LeBron.
OK. Whatever. So who are the new faces?
Of note, ex-Celtics pest Kelly Olynyk and the Heat's first-round pick and Dwight Howard lookalike Edrice "Bam" Adebayo are new to the fold. Both have the ability to play key roles this season. Olynyk could play an especially key role because he has hit 37 percent from three-point range during his career and is the sort of stretch big that McRoberts was supposed to be for the Heat. Olynyk should pair well with Whiteside and the Heat's assortment of guard-forwards. Adebayo is a freak-of-nature center out of Kentucky whom Riley compares to NBA legends Shawn Kemp and Kevin Garnett. If that doesn't get you intrigued about Adebayo's potential, nothing will.
As of today, who are the most likely starting five for the Heat?
Coach Erik Spoelstra is bound to experiment with this versatile, position-less bunch of pieces, but as of now, it seems to break down thusly: Whiteside, Waiters, Justise Winslow, Olynyk, Goran Dragic. Of those five, Winslow would be the likeliest to be moved to the bench. Richardson has had an incredible preseason, Rodney McGruder is a defensive beast who continues to get better, and Johnson is an all-around stud. Any of them could start any given night, especially if Winslow doesn't figure out how to shoot the basketball.
What are the experts predicting the Heat to do this season?
Ah, yes, the so-called experts. We love their opinions — unless they're mean. Then we don't love them. The only prediction about Miami Heat wins that matters is Las Vegas' prediction because Vegas knows all. Almost every book in Vegas has the Heat hovering around 43 wins, which would be a two-win improvement on last season, when Miami just missed the playoffs. That seems like a fair prediction in light of the fact that the Heat is an incredibly hard team to figure out, having started last season a terrible 11-30 and ending it on a ridiculous 30-11 tear.
Nobody knows, but Vegas probably knows.
C'mon, 43 wins? Heat fans don't get out of bed for anything fewer than 50 wins. What can the Heat do to get to 50?
They'll need to play better than the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors, two teams on a similar level. That isn't as bad as it sounds. Basically, the Heat needs to be the team it was the second half of last season — and nothing like the team it was the first half.
Chances are Miami will be closer to that good half of last season because the players on this roster are familiar with one another. They're also just a better team this season. Winslow is back. Olynyk is a nice piece. At the very least, Adebayo is an improvement over McRoberts and Reed. The Heat should be better in 2017 — but 50 wins would still be good for only a third seed in the playoffs. That seems to be the Heat's ceiling.
So if 50 wins and the third seed is the Heat's ceiling, what is the floor?
Remember the part about the Heat being 11-30 to start last season? That's the floor. One injury to Whiteside or Dragic and this team suddenly looks very average. The Heat is like the Miami Dolphins have been for years: middle of the pack unless shit happens. If shit happens, it all goes to hell. If Waiters gets a high-ankle sprain and Whiteside breaks a foot, last season's 41-41 would look like heaven.
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The Heat has a higher floor than it had last season, but the team certainly doesn't have room for many bad things to happen along the way.
Is there one player who can lift the Heat to places no one is predicting?
You know the ceiling for almost everyone on this team. Dragic is who he is. Whiteside will do what he does, but he's a great center in a perimeter-dominated
Through Tuesday, Johnson has averaged 27.3 points and 7.3 rebounds on 53 percent field-goal shooting and 50 percent three-point shooting this preseason (per 36 minutes). Those are the sorts of numbers that can take a team from ordinary to ten-game win streaks. The Heat has a lot of room for improvement, but no one has more untapped potential than Tyler Johnson.
Sounds good. What is your official prediction?
Vegas says 43-39. Let's be optimists and say 48-34.