Top 5 Offseason Moves for Miami Heat After Playoff Elimination

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 30, 2021

Top 5 Offseason Moves for Miami Heat After Playoff Elimination

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    The 2021 NBA offseason has arrived ahead of schedule for the Miami Heat.

    Last season, they pushed through three rounds of the playoffs before falling in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. This time around, they were swept from the opening round by the Milwaukee Bucks, a team they handled with surprising ease in the 2020 conference semis.

    The sudden change of outcome and perhaps organizational trajectory sets up the franchise for a fascinating summer.

    The Heat have enough built-in excuses—issues with injuries, COVID-19 absences and the bubble hangover—to brush off this playoff flop as an unfortunate ending but nothing more meaningful than that. Or, they could take this as a sign that substantial change is needed going forward, and they might use their unique position as a contender with cap space to embark on another whale hunt.

    Only president Pat Riley and his staff know what approach they will apply, but this five-step guide could get them to a successful offseason.

1. Get a Whale

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Heat are always up for a whale hunt, and while they're often in the discussion for top talents, they really need to land one this summer to capitalize on 31-year-old Jimmy Butler's championship window.

    No one needs to relay this information to Riley. Last season, when his team coming off a Finals trip, the decision-maker said, "If there's a next thing that presents itself that can really take us to another level talent-wise, I'm open to it," per The Athletic's Manny Navarro.

    Miami needs an impact addition, and it might have the resources to get one. The Heat could open roughly $28 million in cap space, and they still have enough young talent to perhaps trade their way to a disgruntled star.

    This offense, which sank from seventh to 18th in efficiency, is begging for a big-time upgrade. The Heat should aim as high as humanly possible, hoping to bring in a player who could share offensive control with Butler or even move the swingman into a super-sidekick role.

    Where can Miami find that type of talent? Great question, and one that isn't clearly answered. But there are obvious places to look, starting with Kawhi Leonard, who has a "pretty damn good" relationship with Butler according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and might be open to a scenery change if the Los Angeles Clippers are prematurely ousted from the playoffs.

    Bradley Beal still makes all kinds of sense for this roster—and, to be fair, most others—should the Washington Wizards decide they are ready to rebuild. Kyle Lowry leads the next tier and might be the most obtainable since he was reportedly open to a deadline deal to Miami "because of his close friendship with Jimmy Butler," per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

    Opportunities for a substantial upgrade are out there. The Heat could have trouble rejoining the championship race without one.

2. Re-Sign Duncan Robinson

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Bam Adebayo has seven made threes in 287 career games. Butler has averaged just 0.5 threes per game on 24.4 percent shooting since joining the Heat in 2019.

    With these two leading the offense, Miami has zero margin for error with floor spacing. That's what should compel the Heat to pay anything within reason to bring Duncan Robinson back from restricted free agency.

    His off-ball movement and otherworldly shooting touch are vital elements of this attack, which fared 4.3 points better per 100 possessions with him than without. Only an elite marksman could prevent this offense from collapsing in on itself, and that's exactly what Robinson has become. He has the third-most threes since the start of last season (520) and the 10th-best splash rate among the 202 players with 100-plus makes during this stretch (42.7 percent).

    Miami was this season's most efficient offense shooting off screens and eighth-most efficient on dribble handoffs. Robinson's fingerprints are all over those marks. He helps to hold the floor open for Butler and Adebayo to attack, and he weaponizes their passing.

    The Heat need Robinson for this offense to work. They must remember that at the negotiating table, because his next contract could go colossally high. NBA officials think Robinson could fetch a deal that nets him "anywhere between $15 million and $20 million annually," per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

    For an offense led by two non-shooters, this is money well spent.

3. Finally Fix the Frontcourt

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The Heat didn't ignore their frontcourt last offseason, but if they could get a mulligan, they would surely give it more attention.

    Then, they opted against major moves and settled on drafting Precious Achiuwa, signing Maurice Harkless and re-signing Meyers Leonard to join Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk up front. Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. were both allowed to walk in free agency.

    Jump ahead to this postseason, and Achiuwa wasn't in the rotation while Harkless, Leonard and Olynyk were no longer on the roster. Adebayo, April signing Dewayne Dedmon and no-cost trade deadline pickup Trevor Ariza were left to wage a losing war with Milwaukee's big, bruising frontcourt.

    It didn't have to be this way. As Barry Jackson relayed, the Heat inquired about Marcus Morris Sr. and expressed some interest in Bobby Portis. Clearly, they should have done more and must do more now.

    They need to double dip (at least) up front to find a new starting 4 and a backup 5. This roster won't approach championship level without addressing both spots.

4. Add Some Athleticism and Youth

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    Mike Stobe/Associated Press

    Last season, the Heat appeared as a team on the rise with loads of possibilities in front of them. They could still be that now, but the future isn't as blindingly bright as it was back then.

    Miami turned older, slower and less dynamic in a hurry. Some young players exited and others failed to develop. Those who left the roster or the rotation were swapped out for veterans who had been around the block a time or 20.

    Entering Saturday's Game 4 loss, six of the Heat's top 10 players in total playoff minutes were on the wrong side of the 30. Two of the exceptions are now restricted free agents (Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn). Another was Tyler Herro, who had sky-high expectations following his breakout in the bubble and fell short on every front.

    There's more youth on the end of the bench, but there's also a reason those players aren't seeing the floor. Precious Achiuwa is an undersized (6'8"), non-spacing big. KZ Okpala hasn't cracked the rotation in two seasons nor shown evidence suggesting he ever will.

    Miami needs to add something to its long-term foundation this summer. The Heat previously traded out of this draft, but they should poke around for ways to get back in it. If that fails, they should at least scout the heck out of this class and be ready to pounce on another undrafted diamond in the rough.

5. Let Market Determine Kendrick Nunn's Future

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Kendrick Nunn is interesting.

    He was an All-Rookie first-teamer last season, and he elevated every level of his shooting slash this year (from 43.9/35.0/85.0 to 48.5/38.1/93.3). He was one of 27 players to average 14 points, 2.5 assists and two three-pointers in each campaign.

    He was also flawed enough to hover in and out of head coach Erik Spoelstra's circle of trust. Sometimes, Nunn was a starter. Other times, he wasn't in the rotation. The problem is he's built like a point guard (6'2", 190 lbs) but doesn't have the requisite playmaking chops, so he functions as an undersized scoring guard instead.

    He has a lot of talent for being an NBA sophomore. He also has some major question marks for a 25-year-old (26 in August). You could talk yourself into him being a late bloomer with upside, or you might be convinced he is who he is.

    That won't make him easy to price in restricted free agency, which doesn't make it easy to recommend how Miami handles the process. The Heat shouldn't be opposed to a reunion, but they should also have a walk-away price. The Athletic's John Hollinger reported Nunn's next contract could be "in the $15 million a year range," which seems steep for his skill set. But if he lands below that (or if Miami thinks he's worth it), then it's worth bringing him back.

    Even if the Heat are leaning one way or the other, they should let the market decide what happens next.


    All stats courtesy of and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.