Any season preview for this iteration of the Miami Heat seems like an exercise in both futility and redundancy. The regular season has provided very little basis for what might happen during the playoffs in recent years. After leading the Eastern Conference two seasons ago, Miami was largely viewed as a team that overachieved and was talented enough, yet still managed a trip to the Conference Finals. After struggling through most of last season and barely escaping the play-in tournament, they became a playoff juggernaut on their way to the NBA Finals for the second time in four seasons.

There’s still plenty to look out for during the next 82 games, even if it doesn’t necessarily define how far this team can go. At the center of everything is Jimmy Butler, who once again showed the capacity to raise his game to truly elite levels during the postseason. But, just as there have been for several years, there are concerns about when (if?) age will catch up to Butler, if he can stave off nagging injury and just how motivated he will be at age 34 to play the majority of the season. Bam Adebayo, once again an All-Star, seems motivated to continue building on last year’s success. Tyler Herro, rumored to be in trade talks during the offseason, has a lot to prove to quiet those who questioned his value to the team, given their playoff success without him. And there’s also the annual event of seeing which unheralded player will overachieve in Miami’s development system.

What’s New?

Not nearly enough changed for Miami this offseason, given their pursuit of Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday. All three players landed elsewhere and the Heat ran out of time and options to upgrade their roster with a proven superstar. They also lost Gabe Vincent and Max Strus in free agency, two occasional starters that had occasional big moments during Miami’s extended run to the Finals. Pat Riley and the Heat front office countered that loss by adding swingman Josh Richardson, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Heat, and center Thomas Bryant.

Richardson spent most of his first stint miscast in various positions and roles and that versatility will serve him well at this point in his career. He can start or be a reserve as a guard or wing, and he’ll bring much-needed shooting (a career 36.5 percent from 3-point range) and rangy defense along the perimeter.

Bryant has already gotten rave reviews and could be Miami’s best backup center since…well, Adebayo. Bryant has the size and scoring touch that was missing from Miami’s Finals run. There are concerns about his defensive awareness and speed but the Heat should be able to mask most of those.


Rookie Jaime Jaquez, Jr. looks ready for the NBA, even if he may not have a particular skill in which he excels. He has a relentless motor, however, and will probably be a fan favorite if given a chance to play off the bench. There is also Miami’s annual group of players at the end of the roster that could break out and challenge for playing time. Haywood Highsmith looks poised to take a leap, as does Jamal Cain. And Cole Swider and Orlando Robinson both had their moments during the offseason. While that certainly won’t appease fans that had hoped to add a star, Miami’s ability to get the most of “fringe” players has made them a contender over the past four seasons.

What’s Coming?

For the first time in a long time, it doesn’t really seem like there’s a move waiting to happen for Miami. Sure, there’ll be superstars that become unexpectedly available but if the pursuit of Lillard revealed anything, it was that Miami lacks either the players or draft assets that would entice any other team to give up a star player. There’s also the possibility of trading Kyle Lowry during the middle of the season. Lowry is after playing off the bench for part of last season. How productive he can be at age 37 is a mystery but some see his greatest value as an expiring contract that could net the team the upgrade they couldn’t make this summer.

Nikola Jovic, who showed flashes during Serbia’s FIBA World Cup run, also is an exciting prospect to watch out for. A skilled ball hander and passer at 6-foot-10, he dealt with injuries and transitioning to the NBA as a rookie. And while his shooting and defense are still inconsistent, there might not be a player currently on Miami’s roster with more potential than Jovic.

Team MVP: It’s Butler, who has shown the ability to raise his game to historic levels in the playoffs and is very much in his prime, despite growing concerns about his age and durability. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a younger player carry the team throughout the regular season, leaving Butler to do what he does best in the postseason.

Best Value: Caleb Martin might have been Miami’s best player during the Eastern Conference Finals, breaking the Celtics with his shooting and timely defense. He’s also been a versatile option for Erik Spoelstra, who has used Martin in a number of different roles. Martin started 49 games for Miami last year as a 6-foot-5 power forward, although that probably won’t be the case this season. Martin is also set to enter free agency next summer and will, like Vincent and Strus, probably seek a more lucrative deal outside of Miami.

X-Factor: The whole team has been unpredictable for years, making this difficult to narrow it down to any one player. But there’s a good case to be made that it’s Kevin Love, re-signed this offseason after being bought out from his contract by the Cleveland Cavaliers in February. Love, at age 35, is projected to be a starter, and will be expected to stretch the floor to give Adebayo and Butler room to work in the paint. If he provides that shooting at a high level, and if he rebounds well enough to make up for his lack of mobility on defense, Miami could look to challenge for homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

Best-Case Scenario

Adebayo’s offense reaches the consistency that Heat fans have clamored for. Herro emerges as an All-Star level player. Role players from Lowry to Jaquez excel and provide the depth that allows Spoelstra to tinker with his rotation in a way that no one else can. That combined boost allows Butler to cruise to the playoffs, where he’s able to flip the switch once again and, healthy for a full extended run, he leads the franchise to its fourth championship.

Worst-Case Scenario

It’s difficult to envision a worse-case than the last regular season, when Miami’s anemic offense was difficult to watch, several players missed time due to injury, and the Heat were lucky to scrape their way into the postseason. But eliminating the best teams in the East while challenging the Nuggets for a chance at the title erased whatever acrimony had built up over 82 games. But what if there’s no postseason light at the end of the regular-season tunnel? What if Lowry and Love succumb to age, while young players like Jaquez and Jovic fail to impress? As regarding this team’s chances at a title, Miami’ is “at the abyss” and there’s no telling how dark and deep it could potentially be.