Justise Winslow says his confidence is ‘definitely on the rise’
The Heat’s 2018 included the return of Dwyane Wade and a playoff trip that ended in the first round. Miami hopes 2019 will be even better.
Here are 10 New Year’s resolutions for the Heat (17-18) …
Get healthy and remain healthy: It has been a season full of injuries and unexpected absences. Through the first 35 games, 12 Heat players have already combined to miss 110 games due to injury, illness, or personal reasons. That’s a lot. And considering the Heat’s starting backcourt of Goran Dragic (who has missed 21 games and is out until at least the February All-Star break after right knee surgery) and Dion Waiters (has not played since undergoing left ankle surgery in January 2018) has accounted for 56 of those games, injuries have really forced the Heat to adapt to its available roster.
Focus on the development of the young core: Winning is still priority No. 1 for the Heat. But the development of its young core — 21-year-old Bam Adebayo, 22-year-old Justise Winslow, and 25-year-old Josh Richardson — should also be among Miami’s top priorities this year. All three look to be on team-friendly deals that could keep them with the organization for a while unless a trade opportunity arises. Adebayo has showed some signs of improvement this season, but there has yet to be a long stretch of dominance from the big man. Just flashes. He’s averaging 7.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. Winslow’s play has been encouraging, as he’s entering 2019 coming off the best month of his NBA career. Richardson, who is averaging a team-high 18.4 points on 40.5 percent shooting, has accepted the many challenges that come with being a leading man and has already been through some of the ups and downs associated with that. When all three of them have been on the court together this season, the Heat has outscored opponents by 24 points in 195 minutes.
What will 2019 bring for this core three? The Heat is waiting to find out.
Welcome back, Waiters: This hasn’t happened yet, but it looks to be coming very soon (maybe as soon as Wednesday’s road game against the Cavaliers). The Heat guard is on the verge of making his return after a year-long absence due to surgery on his left ankle. Waiters returned to practice and was cleared for full-contact work two weeks ago, and he was sent to the G League last week for two “training camp-like practices.” Now, he says he’s prepared to return to game action.
“I’m ready,” said Waiters, who has not played in a game since the Heat’s win over the Mavericks on Dec. 22, 2017. “The next step for me is walking into the locker room and seeing that No. 11 back. That’s it.”
Play defense at an elite level: It seems like this is one of the Heat’s New Year’s resolutions every year. But especially this one because this Heat team really relies on its defense to win games. This season, Miami is 11-1 when holding its opponents to less than 100 points and 6-17 when allowing 100 or more points. While the 100-point threshold is arbitrary, it’s clearly one that has been a real demarcation between wins and losses. The Heat’s goal is to finish with a top-five defense, and it’s currently ranked eighth in that category.
Cut down on turnovers: Just like quality defense is a key part of the Heat’s winning formula, so is a low amount of turnovers. When the Heat plays sloppy, it rarely wins. The Heat was 4-9 last season when committing 18 or more turnovers, and is 3-7 when doing so this season. During its 9-5 month of December, Miami averaged just 13.6 turnovers per game. That’s the range that coach Erik Spoelstra would like to see continue.
Send Dwyane Wade off the right way: This is it. Wade’s last NBA game will come this year, as he announced that 2018-19 would mark his final season. Whenever Wade plays his final game — at the end of the regular season or in the playoffs — it’s going to be one of those all-time special moments in South Florida sports history. For now, Wade, who turns 37 on Jan. 17, is still an important piece of the Heat’s formula. He’s averaging 14.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.9 assists in 25.5 minutes off the bench in his 16th NBA season.
“I love any extra day, moment, week, month that I get to spend with Dwyane in a uniform,” Spoelstra said this season. “There will be enough time down the road where he’ll have whatever role he wants in our organization. But right now, I’m really enjoying this.”
Continue growing, Justise: It was an up-and-down 2018 for Winslow. It started with inconsistent play, included an encouraging showing in the Heat’s first-round playoff series against the 76ers, and a three-year, $39 million extension with the Heat, and ended with the best month of his NBA career. He averaged 14.8 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from three-point range, 5.6 rebounds, and four assists in 13 December games. More importantly, he has flourished as the Heat’s point guard with Dragic out. It’s easy to forget Winslow is just 22 years old since this is already his fourth NBA season, but there’s still plenty of upside to his game.
Avoid paying a luxury tax: In order to avoid paying the luxury tax for this season’s roster, a trade has to be made. With the Heat already about $6.3 million above the luxury-tax threshold, its tax bill stands at about $9.7 million in addition to normal player salaries. Miami has until the end of the regular season to make moves to reduce the tax burden or get completely below the line to avoid paying the penalty. That means Miami could make a salary-shedding deal before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
Make the most of the draft: After going through the 2018 NBA Draft without a pick, the Heat has a first-round selection in 2019. Unless Miami trades it away, a first-round pick represents one of the only realistic ways for it to upgrade a roster that’s already well above the projected $109 million salary cap and also above the projected $132 million luxury-tax threshold for next season. Whether it’s in the lottery or not, the Heat has a chance to draft a first-round talent this year. The Heat’s past two first-round selections — Adebayo in 2017 and Winslow in 2015 — have turned into building blocks for the organization.
Acquire an All-Star: With a bunch of good players on the roster, the Heat has been in search of adding a perennial All-Star into the mix. Miami is already over the salary cap for next season, so adding that type of player through free agency in 2019 seems unlikely unless it can somehow shed a ton of salary. So if the Heat is going to add a star this year, it’s probably going to have to be through a trade. Miami tried for Jimmy Butler, but those trade talks with Minnesota faltered. Butler ended up in Philadelphia. Who will be the next disgruntled star to ask for a trade? The Heat is waiting to find out.