The Heat did its damnedest to run back the exact same squad that nearly turned a disastrous 11-30 first half of the 2016 season into a playoff run. This year's version of that team looks to be more like the team that balled out in January and a lot less like the team that stunk things up in November.
They'll be successful in their quest to recapture the second-half magic they found last season. Not only that, but they'll also shock the world and represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA finals this season. Why would we make such a bold prediction? Because we are Miami New Times, not Cleveland New Times. Also, there are some sound reasons to think this squad can shock LeBron James and the East:
1. Familiarity will allow the Heat to hit the ground running. Eleven players on this year's Heat roster were on last year's team. That's huge. While Boston and Cleveland are busy blowing up their teams that finished first and second in the East last season, the Heat spent the offseason plotting those teams' demises.
These are essentially the same players who went 30-11 after getting to know one another last season. It's the same squad that spent all off-season grilling together and running pick-up games at Tyler Johnson's house. It's the same squad that will play the first game of this season like it's the last game of the NBA finals. As Dion Waiters would say: "Bet on yourself; then double down." Teamwork makes the dream work. We're dreaming here, aren't we? Let us walk on sunshine.
2. The Cleveland Cavaliers' locker room is infected with the "Disease of Me." Five years ago, it wouldn't matter what signing Dwyane Wade would do to your locker room, because it would do amazeballs things to your team on the court. Winning cures all. Now, not so much. J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson have made it clear they are not happy about being the pieces that were shuffled to the bench to accommodate Wade and other new arrivals on the Cavs.
That tension is already a thing now, but just wait until the newly arrived Isaiah Thomas returns from injury and someone else needs to go to the bench; then the drama will really explode. Plus, unless Wade found the Fountain of Youth this offseason, there are sure to be days when Smith wonders how in hell he got demoted so James and Wade could rekindle their on-court friendship.
3. The Heat has a trio of young players ready to break out. Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, and Dion Waiters aren't household names yet, but after this season, they certainly could be. Though all three are almost considered NBA veterans at this point, they are all under 25.
People may scoff at the idea that any of these three could help the Heat challenge the Cavs or Celtics, but none of them will be expected to single-handedly take down either team. They are improving parts of a greater machine that definitely can do the job. The Heat is a team that is the sum of its parts. Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic are Miami's best players, but even they aren't expected to shoulder the whole load.
If Richardson and Johnson continue the level of play they have reached this preseason, the Heat's parts will equal a much better team than the one fans saw late last season.
4. Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo will do damage. Yes, really. These two aren't the kinds of acquisitions that lead Sportscenter, but both players could become huge contributors to an Eastern Conference championship team. Adebayo is built like Dwight Howard, but judging by his ball-handling in the preseason, we think he can also bring the ball up the court like a point guard. That's not normal. Once Bam gets accustomed to the NBA (he might even start the season in the D-League getting some minutes he wouldn't get early in his NBA career), he will be a problem.
Kelly Olynyk, on the other hand, will see the court right away, and he'll do things the Heat envisioned Josh McRoberts doing before his body failed him. Olynyk is the stretch-big with passing abilities that was missing from the Heat's roster last season. He's also the sort of guy who isn't afraid to do the dirty work.
Both of these players are pieces that fit perfectly into the Heat's plans in 2017 and beyond. Whether it's enough to beat Boston and Cleveland, we shall see.
5. If there is a coach who can make this team click, it's Erik Spoelstra. San Antonio's Greg Popovich is the only coach in the NBA with a longer tenure than Erik Spoelstra. The Heat's head coach has seen it all. Turning an 11-30 team into a .500 team in just a few months, with no real change in the players, might have been his best coaching job yet — and that's saying something.
The Heat has chosen to build a team of worthwhile parts that together, we hope, can overtake any top-heavy team in the East. That's the plan anyway. If there's anyone who can make that seemingly impossible task a reality, it's Spoelstra. He has already done more with less, that's for sure.