Breakup or Make-Up: The Safe and Extreme Fixes for The Miami Heat

We’re still on our NBA journey. The playoffs have begun, and sixteen teams vie for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Fifteen teams will join the other 14 non-playoff teams as those who did not win the championship. If a team did not win the title, then that means adjustments must be made in order to best position themselves to win next year. Here at TSFJ, we are going to present ways each franchise can fix themselves. We will have a safe way and an extreme way to do this. Sometimes, relationships just need repair. Other times, a breakup in some form is necessary. We continue with the second team eliminated from the postseason, the Miami Heat.

Record: 44-38, 6th seed, Eastern Conference
Head Coach: Eric Spoelstra
Playoff Result: Lost 1st Round, 4-1, to (Processed by) the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Miami Heat is a team that has had a drastic identity shift in the past four years.  After four years of housing the most visible and mentioned basketball team, Miami has returned to a place where basketball is nearly an afterthought. The game’s biggest star was there, and then returned to his home state team. The Heat’s most important player in the history of the franchise was exiled and forced to play for his own home state team. With no real star power, president Pat Riley and the Heat front office were forced to actually attempt to build a team that required the development of its core players.

Sure, bringing in point guard Goran Dragic gives the team some stability and credibility, but the rest of the team is full of players who are not among the most known.

I won’t ask you to try to name three Heat players, because I’m sure you can. However, I ask that if you begin to rattle off players on the roster, you wonder if that player puts any fear in opposing teams with their basketball ability. I make the distinction of ‘basketball ability’ because James Johnson is on that team, and he might as well be a character in Street Fighter because of his martial arts skills. Anyway, the reason Miami lost to the Sixers in the playoffs is because they lacked the talent. Despite coach Spoelstra’s playoff experience, that didn’t help the team contend with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

The series was competitive, though Miami only won once in five games. But that lone victory required Dwyane Wade to play better than he is normally capable at this point in his career. See, even their franchise legend, the demigod who brought his earthly NBA home to playoff respectability for a dozen years, is now just a guy in the rotation. He’s required to fill a role lesser than his lore tells. In short, this is a time where the Miami Heat need players better than Dwayne Wade, and the team already has players better than this iteration of Dwyane Wade.

This brings me to Miami’s center, Hassan Whiteside. A self-made player, Whiteside has shown great flashes of All-Star ability. He did not show that in this series. He was awful, even excluding how well Embiid played once he returned from a fractured orbital bone. If Embiid looked something like Batman, Whiteside was the Scarecrow, hoping fear of an imagined image would hide how ineffective and close to invisible he was in the series.

So, how do the Miami Heat fix it and become bigger contenders next year?

The Safe Fix
Make-up Song: Anita Baker – “Giving You The Best That I’ve Got”

Hassan Whiteside is still young enough to be believed in. At soon-to-be 29, and two years into a four-year max contract, he still has more than enough time and ability to perform in a way that suggests he deserves that kind of money. Pat Riley believed in Whiteside enough to sign him to that max deal, and in an NBA where skilled big men are at a premium, Whiteside still has some value.

But he has to maximize his ability. I understand how difficult it is to play when frustrated, but I do not recall many big men who were denied the ball if they were demonstrative about and actively pursuing touches. A player of his caliber should be much better offensively, even as he is outstanding as a rebounder and interior defender.

Though Miami is an attractive city, it has been hard to bring in big name free agents. This has resulted in paying for solid, but second and third-tier role players. Miami needs a star, and Whiteside still could be that. He has to find a way to be even better as a player, then be a true cornerstone piece of the franchise. It’s time for him to grow his game and his mental fortitude even more than what it took for him to go from YMCA pickup basketball to NBA player we believe is better than he’s showed.

The Extreme Fix
The Breakup Song: Jeff Buckley – “Forget Her”

Because talented big men are still rare, Whiteside would demand a nice exchange in a trade. Maybe he’s shown his best ability already, and there is little to no desire for him to improve, at least in Miami. With enough young talent, and a quality rookie in Bam Adebayo, moving Whiteside could free up enough salary cap space to be able to sign another superstar to a max deal.

The young players are also expenditures, in part. Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson have proven the contracts they were signed to were valid, but maybe they can be moved for a veteran in his prime to pair with Dragic and Whiteside. The Heat lack an explosive scorer, and Dwyane Wade no longer can be that on a consistent basis. Maybe a bit of turnover will provide that boost to get Miami back to the Finals.

I don’t have the perfect formula to change the Heat from first round loss to champion in one year, but something must change. Happy NBA, folks.

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