The Miami Heat has not exactly provided the encore to last season's improbable NBA Finals appearance fans were hoping for. Following a Cinderella run in 2020, Miami was expected to hit the ground running in 2021. So far, that hasn't been the case. The Heat is likely to enter March a sub-.500 team in desperate need of an identity.
The team's win on Saturday in an NBA Finals rematch against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers felt good, but even in that victory, it was clear Miami has some serious deficiencies that did not exist in October. The Heat just isn't the team it was last year and likely won't be any time soon. Things should get better, but they won't get that good again.
So what happened? Many, many things. Let's go through them together. The Heat let Jae Crowder get away. Offseason signings and decisions straight-up ruined the Heat's roster. The worst decision of them all was not being more creative in finding a way to keep Jae Crowder in Miami.
Crowder only signed for three years and $29 million in Phoenix. Miami could easily have given him at least $20 million of that this season alone if it bypassed signing Meyers Leonard for $10 million, Avery Bradley for $5.5 million, and Moe Harkless for $3.6 million.
Crowder turned down more from Dallas, saying being wanted and being a good fit were more important than money. One has to believe if Miami offered him $20 million for one season, he would have taken it, believing he could get much more than the difference over the next two seasons when he re-entered free agency. Moe Harkless exists only in your imagination. When the Heat let Jae Crowder walk in free agency, the signing of Moe Harkless felt like the team was trying to fill the void he left in the starting rotation. As of now, the only void Moe Harkless has filled is in the ice tub of the training room.
Harkless is averaging one point and one rebound a game. It's pretty clear this has gone wrong and his signing — as cheap as it was — has totally blown up in Pat Riley's face. Avery Bradley exists only in your imagination. Another offseason signing by the Miami Heat meant to fill the Jae Crowder void, another epic failure. Avery Bradley was supposed to be a vital piece of the Miami Heat this season. Instead, he's barely on the bench most games, having missed time with COVID and, now, various lower-body injuries.
Bradley has played in ten games for the Heat this season and barely scratched the surface of what the team figured he'd bring to the team. He's another bet that hasn't paid off. Tyler Herro and the sophomore slump. The problem with Tyler Herro's 2020-21 season isn't so much that it's been bad — he's averaging over 16 points per game — but that it's been inconsistent in a variety of ways. Herro has been in and out of the lineup thanks to a variety of injuries and COVID-related issues. He began the season as a starter but was soon benched when it became apparent the Heat was better with Goran Dragic starting at point guard. It's just been up and down.
One hopes the All-Star break provided Herro some time to rest, relax, and bring the same energy and play-making ability he did during his rookie season. Without him on the court, the Heat simply isn't the same. Goran Dragic hasn't played basketball. Goran Dragic has played in just 17 games this season, missing almost half of the year. Dragic had just moved into the starting role when he sustained an ankle injury, and only started in six games.
With Kendrick Nunn playing exceptionally well of late, it's unlikely Goran will come off the bench, but what matters is that Goran ends games, not that he starts them. The Heat badly misses his stabilizing impact. Duncan Robinson can't hide anymore. Let's call it like it is: For most of last season, other teams just didn't give a shit about where Duncan Robinson was on the court. He was just a guy. He was shooting well, but the Heat's rivals had Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo to worry about.
Well, the fact that Robinson had one of the greatest all-time three-point-shooting seasons has changed a thing or two. Life isn't as easy for Robinson this season, and it's showed in his performances thus far. The defense is on high alert, and without Duncan scoring as consistently as he did last season, the Heat is a less-lethal team. Contrary to popular belief, the Heat is a much different team, rosterwise. It seems like everyone describes the Heat as a franchise that's running back last year's team, when nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, roughly half of the roster is different from the one that dominated in the bubble last season.
Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Avery Bradley, Moe Harkless, Precious Achiuwa, and KZ Okpala were not a part of last year's team. OK, Vincent and Okpala were technically on the team, but they played a combined next-to-nothing last season, and all in garbage time. This season, those six players have been a large part of the team. The Miami Heat is tired, man. Can you blame the Miami Heat for being physically and mentally exhausted after having an offseason that lasted only a few weeks? Some teams, like the Atlanta Hawks, had eight months off. It's not surprising that the Heat looks like a physically drained team at the top and a mentally fatigued team that just can't get up for games this season.
Purely out of greed, the NBA decided to start a new season during a spike in COVID cases. Teams that kept last season going for the NBA — like the Heat — are the ones paying the price. The Miami Heat was made for the bubble.What's the biggest thing that's changed? The environment. The Miami Heat was a team destined for greatness the minute the NBA bubble came to fruition. No team in the NBA is better built for an atmosphere that demands basketball being the only focus. Outside of that setting, the Heat has had to recalibrate its identity on the fly.
The Heat likely won't top its performances last season. That's OK. But it's a much better team than it has shown thus far. And no team will want to see Miami in the playoffs this year.
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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.