The Five Most Intriguing Story Lines Heading Into Tonight's Miami Heat Season Opener

The Five Most Intriguing Story Lines Heading Into Tonight's Miami Heat Season Opener
Photo by George Martinez
Pumpkin-flavored everything is back, Publix is stocking up on turkeys, Christmas has overtaken an entire corner of Walmart... which can only mean: The Miami Heat is playing basketball again. Hallelujah! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

It's been a long six months since the Heat was bounced by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. Since then we've had roughly 500 Marlins games, a Miami Dolphins three-game winning streak, and a Miami Dolphins three-game losing streak.

Tonight, the Miami Heat kicks off its 2018-19 season with an actual, live, counts-in-the-standings NBA game in Orlando against the Magic. As the kids say online: We byke.

Between Dwyane Wade deciding really late in the offseason that he would indeed return for one more go-round and the Jimmy Butler trade rumors, it's been a weird offseason for the Heat. There are quite a few story lines heading into tonight's season opener. Here are a few:

Photo by George Martinez
1. The Dwyane Wade retirement tour. Ranking this season's priorities, Heat fans should all have the same wish at the top of their list: that Dwyane Wade will have a worthwhile and enjoyable last season in the NBA. Wade seems to be in good shape and judging by the preseason, he won't embarrass himself on the court. That's good, and it's what matters as Heat fans get one final chance to say goodbye to the greatest player in franchise history.

Wade staying healthy is the biggest issue. No one wants to see him miss 49 games in the middle of the season because his knees need a rest. Seeing Wade high-five teammates in designer clothes is not what anyone signed up for when D-Wade chose to return this year.

There isn't likely to be a storybook ending with Wade hoisting a championship trophy over his head after his last game, but there can be a boatload of memorable moments for both Wade and Heat fans to collect over the next six months.

2. The next episode of the Hassan Whiteside reality show. The Whiteside-Heat marriage could have its own show on E! If things go south this season before the trade deadline, you can expect a divorce. If it all works out, you could expect to see Whiteside in the NBA All-Star game. Both are equally probable.

Whiteside is on his last strike with the Heat. No more coach-player seminars or come-to-Jesus meetings. No more postgame outbursts or detrimental-to-the-team fines. This is it, and for Whiteside's sake, he better make it count.

The two need each other: Whiteside is Miami's highest-paid player and he represents their biggest advantage over other teams in the NBA when he's playing well. Few teams have a down-low center like Whiteside who can post a triple-double with blocks. He's an asset.

Whiteside needs the Heat's culture, one that found him, molded him, and made him the max-salary player he is today. A trade to a team like Sacramento or Detriot could be disastrous for Whiteside. Without the structure that comes with being a member of the Heat, Whiteside could blow a lot of future money and years in the NBA.

3. The mysterious case of Dion Waiters. Paying Dion Waiters was a baaaaaaad choice. You knew it, your Dad knew it, everyone knew that the $40-million-plus dedicated to Waiters, he of known ankle issues and unreliable attitudes, would eventually come back to haunt the Heat. Nobody knew it would be right away, though. Like, the minute pen hit paper, everyone but Waiters was filled with regret. Now the Heat is stuck trying to get even a smidge of value out of whatever Waiters is.

The Heat is openly trying to trade Waiters — a desperate attempt to undo a terrible decision. It's likely they'll have to eat the contract now and salvage what they can from Waiters once he's on the court. From the looks of media day, he's not in the best shape. How this contract plays out will have a lot to do with the Heat's future salary cap flexibility and on-the-court success.

4. The development of Justise Winslow. Justise Winslow just got paid to the tune of a new three-year, $39 million deal. He's by all accounts a large part of the Heat's future. What Heat fans want to see, however, is if the Winslow who completely balled out in the playoffs last season is the Winslow of the present.

If that Justise comes to play every night, the Miami Heat got itself a bargain and a building block for a future championship team. If Winslow brings more of what he's been most of his career — a nice defensive player off the bench who is also a liability on offense — then the Heat has locked itself into yet another terrible contract it'll regret.

All signs point to Winslow continuing to grow into a terrific player. This season will determine a lot as far as when Winslow will finally take the next step in his development.

5. Will Pat Riley ever pry Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves' cold, dead hands? What a weird couple of weeks it's been for Heat fans. You're superexcited to watch the team the Heat has put together back on the court, but you'd be even more excited if they blew it all up in a trade for Jimmy Butler and a ham sandwich.

Butler wants the Heat. The Heat wants Butler. So far, neither side is getting what it wants. Butler remains a member of the Timberwolves as the season kicks off, even as he's made it worldwide freaking clear he'd like the first plane, Uber, train, submarine, or bus the heck out of Minnesota on its way to the 305. Minnesota is playing hardball with the Heat and asking for a boatload, but the Timberwolves are losing leverage as the clock ticks down to Butler's free agency.

How the Butler-Heat situation plays out will shape the Heat's future for the next decade. The team will likely give up assets and dedicate money into the year 2022 and beyond. That's a lot of eggs in one basket with Butler, but he could be worth it.
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Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.