Pat Riley and the Miami Heat earned a “D” grade from ESPN for their 2017 offseason and at first glance the lowly grade felt shocking for a team that won a title four years ago. It could have been worse. It isn’t an “F”. But then again, it is not that far off from epic failure so the grade seems somewhat harsh. No, the Heat did not bring in Gordon Hayward, the free agent everyone wanted and so it was a Pat Riley fail according to Riley’s brilliant standards. The best he could do was to re-sign Dion Waiters and James Johnson. There were no epic trades like Chris Paul or Paul George or Jimmy Butler. For the most part, Riley kept everything in tact. Those who were here last year are here this year and so where does that leave the Heat?
To be frank about it, the best thing about the Heat summer was getting Chris Bosh off the books. Bosh was dragging the cap down and inhibiting Riles from doing what he wanted to do. There is that bit of fresh air but as far as talent, the Heat don’t have an elite scorer even as they have an elite rebounder and shot blocker in Hassan Whiteside.
Grading off-season moves is a comparative game. You are compared to how you drastically improved over the year that just ended and you are graded in relation to what other teams have done in that same time period. It is just one summer and yet it feels as if Riles has been shut out for a while. Ever since Wade left, the Heat are just ordinary.
The Heat are expected to make the playoffs but the lower end which means they are in NBA hell. Not good enough to contend. Not bad enough for a talented top-5 pick. It is the hamster on the wheel disease. You spin around and around and don’t make much progress.
Since LeBron James abruptly left the Heat, it hasn’t been pretty. The Heat were in the lottery and then they lost in the first round and then were in the lottery again. There hasn’t been much progress in three years which points to how important Hayward was to the Heat.
What the Heat will tell you in a saving face moment is that they want a chance to win with this team. Waiters was injured. They liked their chemistry. The Heat were awful until Erik Spoelstra re-imagined the team. Yet, the new offense is one in which non-scorer Justise Winslow has no place. Maybe that is why Riley is willing to give up Justise in a Kyrie Irving deal. (The idea that Dan Gilbert would make any deal with the Heat after Riley emasculated him with LeBron James thievery is ludicrous.)
Spoelstra is excited to have year two with this group and the readjusted offense which will be less about learning and more about bonding together, remaining connecting and improving upon weaknesses.
“We’re going to aim high”, Spoelstra said. But then so is everyone else in the league. But what Spoelstra has in his back pocket that other coaches don’t have are two titles. No, he doesn’t have an elite scorer. But Spoelstra added, “we love our group. We love the fact that we were able to bring the majority of the team back together and add some guys that we think can help.”
The Heat’s struggles last year were defensive rebounding. After Whiteside, there’s not much explosiveness and skill to go and get the ball and to make matters worse- not to be grim about it- but they don’t have rebounding guards. The Heat don’t move the ball and were 22nd in assists. They don’t have beat off the dribble players that finish through contact and get to the line. Their great defense keeps them in games but at the end of the day, elite players win games. The Heat are treading water.
When was the last time you said that about a Pat Riley team?