Miami Heat

What has been the one constant for the Heat this season? An ever-changing rotation

Josh Richardson speaks after helping Heat close out Bulls

Josh Richardson speaks after helping the Heat close out the Bulls with 12 points in the fourth quarter.
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Josh Richardson speaks after helping the Heat close out the Bulls with 12 points in the fourth quarter.

It’s been an eventful start to the season for the Heat.

Through the first 18 games, Miami (7-11) has used eight different starting lineups. Some of that’s because coach Erik Spoelstra is still working to find the right combinations, but injury issues have also forced him to switch things up.

Nine Heat players have already combined to miss 59 games due to injury or personal reasons.

The one thing that’s actually remained constant with the Heat to start the season is that nothing is constant. Miami’s rotation continues to change from game to game, with Spoelstra trying to make the most of the team’s depth and versatility.

Without a perennial All-Star on the roster, some view the Heat’s depth as a strength and others view it as roster redundancy that doesn’t allow for fixed roles in a set rotation.

“It’s a strength,” said guard Wayne Ellington, with the Heat set to close a two-game trip Sunday in Toronto against the Raptors. “But at the same time, you got to be professional, you got to be ready. Whatever happens, whatever decision coach makes, he makes. You got to respect it, you got to continue to grind.”

Look around the roster and there’s multiple players competing for minutes at virtually every spot.

At guard, Miami has seven rotation-level players when everybody is healthy (Goran Dragic, Ellington, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade and Dion Waiters). Then Richardson and McGruder can slide over and play some small forward with Derrick Jones Jr. and Justise Winslow. The power rotation is also crowded, with Bam Adebayo, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside trying to make the most of their minutes.

Ellington is one of two Heat players who has received a surprise DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) this season. He was kept on the bench for three games after he returned from an ankle injury.

Olynyk is the other, as he didn’t play in Tuesday’s home loss to the Nets despite being available. It marked his first DNP-CD since signing with the Heat in the summer of 2017.

“Top to bottom, you can play any number of 15 to 17 guys, whatever it is,” Olynyk said. “So, it’s really tough and I don’t envy coach Spo’s position because it’s not an easy one — trying to figure out rotations and the best fit and the best combinations. There’s only 48 minutes at every position, so it’s not easy. There’s going to be times where guys are hurt or banged up. But if everybody is healthy, there’s going to be guys who are left out.

The players also have some challenges to deal with on a team like this.

“There are challenges just because you have so many guys that can be effective,” Richardson said. “On a night you might be having a tough night, you have to be mature enough to be able to cheer for your teammate, who can go out there and pick up the slack for you instead of being upset that it’s not you out there.

“You never know any given night. You might be out there with the guy cookin’, you might be guy cookin’, or you might be on the bench having to root for that guy. But you have to be man enough to be able to play any of those roles.”

There has been at least two Heat players out with injuries in every game so far, which has made some of Spoelstra’s decisions easier. But what’s going to happen when/if the Heat is completely healthy?

Heat president Pat Riley has a suggestion for Spoelstra.

“When we get all 14 healthy, he’s got an issue,” Riley said to the media at a community event earlier this month. “He’s going to get down on his knees and pray to the players and say, ‘Please, just understand you’ll get your time somewhere.’”

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