After their failing attempt to land Damian Lillard, the Miami Heat will need to reevaluate their whole approach.
I think it’s fair to say that the Heat is the club most directly affected by the three-way trade that sent Damian Lillard to the Bucks.
When Lillard demanded a trade in July, he favored a move to the Miami Heat. While one of their main competitors made a substantial improvement this summer, the Heat, who unexpectedly entered the Finals as the eighth seed in June, are left trying to rebuild a squad that witnessed significant losses.
There are many levels of meaning here. After Miami’s failed purchase attempt, several fans and media outlets are celebrating in style. I mean, it’s not like it wasn’t coming. There was some arrogance coming out of South Florida this summer, with Heat supporters and reporters saying the team had all the cards in the Damian Lillard negotiation. Some others questioned why the organization would make such a huge offer for Dame if there were going to be no market for him. Meanwhile, many from outside Miami questioned whether or not the Heat had a competitive offer to begin with.
Whoever listens to The Crossover podcast (subscribe!) knows where I stand on this: the Heat were gambling with their future by attempting to get Lillard cheaply, and the Trail Blazers had no incentive to make a hasty choice. Portland did hold off, and Miami paid the price.
There’s only a little matter of whether or not the Heat really behaved with the arrogance that’s being attributed to them. The Athletic reports that the club offered the Blazers up to three first-round selections, second-year player Nikola Jovi, pick swaps, and a number of second-round choices. If that’s the case, Miami’s offer is far more appealing than the alternatives. The Blazers did not want a much better deal than what the Heat allegedly offered, even if Portland trades Jrue Holiday for multiple firsts. You may argue about the worth of future selections, but that is just speculation.
Even if Miami offered three-firsts and everything else, Portland apparently still didn’t want to send Lillard there. If the Heat make a move for Deandre Ayton, the Blazers would likely still be allowed to sign him as well. The Ayton component of this is also off-limits. How often do dynasties that select “franchise centers” deal them away for a glaring positional downgrade when they go all-in on winning the NBA Finals?
After the public position taken by Lillard and his representatives, Portland was under no duty to work in good faith with the Heat. It’s also not clear how serious Miami was about making that offer; according to various sources, the clubs seldom spoke after July. Unless the bidding battle for Holiday gets significantly out of hand, the Heat’s offer was virtually the same as the current return, but it doesn’t matter if the Blazers are set on not appeasing Lillard.
With Lillard out of the picture, though, the Heat have an obligation to Jimmy Butler to strengthen their roster. Adding Lillard alongside Butler and Bam Adebayo would have been a dream scenario, but even little steps forward would have helped the Cavaliers get to the Finals. To what extent the Bucks improve remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Celtics may really be in a worse position. The Sixers’ number two is seen partying with others who have made the statement that “Daryl Morey is a liar” on their placards. The Cavaliers and the Knicks, however, aren’t exactly powerhouses. Miami isn’t in the lead among these teams right now, but there’s no reason to worry.
In reference to Butler once again, Miami has improved greatly this year. Thanks to Butler’s exploits in the postseason, the organization won’t have to invest much in new equipment. Even though the Heat have had trouble adding players, Butler has helped them go far in the playoffs. It’s a risky tactic, to put it mildly, and it seems completely untenable. The Heat can’t stay up without scoring. They haven’t done anything to put themselves in a position to win the title.
Are they going to compete? Sure, of course, they will do it. Herro’s return, after missing all but half of one playoff game, helps make up for the absence of Max Strus. To replace Gabe Vincent, Josh Richardson is not the worst option. The help of Jovi, Jaime Jaquez Jr., and Haywood Highsmith is required immediately.
Even if those things work out, it’s still a huge leap to say the Heat are better than the Finals team. You can’t become worse and yet hope to triumph. To build the squad around Butler that he deserves, even if it involves Riley picking up the phone to re-engage with Portland on Holiday, is necessary.
The Heat: Doomed to Perish? Do you think Riley was unsuccessful? Not yet; I’m not ready to commit to it. Butler is a big reason why people will give Miami a chance now. But the Heat, if they are serious about getting over the hump, need to begin to work on their backup plan right now.