When the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat take the court tomorrow night in Philly, much more than a first-round playoff series is at stake. The Heat's goal will be to bring the series back to Miami for a Game 6, while the Sixers are looking to complete a gentlemen's sweep of the Heat, wrap up the series at home 4-1, and get a chance to recover from what has been a taxing series for both teams.
For the long-term, though, the first four games of this series have already proven one thing: The Heat's roster is fatally flawed and in need of some serious revamping if Miami is to compete for an NBA title anytime soon. Even a few tweaks here and there won't make the Heat, as currently constructed, anything but what it has proven to be the past couple of seasons: a glorified .500 team, give or take a couple of games either way.
The time for major change is now, or else this kind of early playoff exit will be the best Heat fans can expect. Like it or not, this roster has much less talent than many teams in the East. The team's famed culture will never be enough without the players to go with it.
Sure, this Heat team has been a pleasure to watch. They fight hard, leave it all on the court, and, for the most part, play a kind of game fans can comfortably label "Miami Heat basketball." Each player has his merit in a vacuum, but as the Philadelphia series has shown, too much is missing. With little cap relief on the way and few assets at its disposal to make a big change, the Heat cannot compete in 2019 and onward without a total teardown.
How will Miami compete moving forward with Hassan Whiteside, who has barely been playable this season, making as much as the Pelicans' Anthony Davis? How does the Heat get better with Tyler Johnson making nearly as much as Kyrie Irving in 2019? Can the Heat keep together a roster full of role players making $11 million to $12 million a season while other teams continue to add younger, cheaper talent to their already better rosters?
Think about this for a moment: Miami is locked into this current roster, one that found its ceiling at sixth place in the East in large part thanks to the miracle homecoming of Dwyane Wade, for at least the next two seasons. Meanwhile, this will be the worst roster that a trio of teams in the East — Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto — will field over the next few seasons. Boston and Philly both have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal to better themselves this offseason.
The Sixers can add a max-contract player and a lottery pick to their roster while losing almost nothing if J.J. Redick returns on a fairer, longer contract. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid aren't going anywhere. The Heat haven't had an answer for them, so how will they miraculously find one in 2019 or 2020?
Boston will get Gordon Hayward and Irving back next season to play on a roster that has already taken those stars' absence as an opportunity to prove it's just fine without them. Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum look like legit stars in their own right. The Celtics also have a bucketful of first-round picks as well as past first-round picks they have stashed in Europe on the come-up.
The Raptors will be a problem for some time as currently assembled and will only get better as their stars enter their prime and more players are added to complement them. They aren't going away.
Cleveland will always be Cleveland as long as LeBron James is there. If he re-signs this summer, you can bet the Cavs will improve by adding another star.
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SHOW ME HOW
Hell, Milwaukee is a damn problem moving forward thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who might have more upside than any other single player in the conference. Let's be real.
How will Miami counter all of those improving teams in the East? Where are the means to leapfrog them? What can the Heat realistically get back in a trade for Whiteside? Will it take adding
For everyone who says the Heat has roster flexibility coming in two seasons, that's an eternity in the NBA. You get left behind. Philadelphia and Boston could be juggernauts by then while Miami is replacing an aging Goran Dragic and attempting on the fly to lure whoever is available that summer. Looking ahead to two seasons from now is a losing proposition. Pat Riley will be 75 by then. Will he really have the time or patience to start over from scratch?
This offseason is the time for the Heat to blow it all up and start over. Keep the parts that make sense and go after the sort of players, young or old, who can rise to the level of the up-and-coming rosters in the East. The going will only get harder for the Heat moving forward, so they better figure out how to stay ahead of the curve or they'll be left behind. Wade can't bail them out forever.