There’s no question the Heat, with the addition of Jimmy Butler, is more interesting and has its best in-his-prime player since the Big 3 era.
But is Miami unquestionably a playoff team?
That question has been posed to a handful of NBA people this summer, and the general thinking is probably, but not definitely.
I went through the exercise with a longtime NBA scout last week.
“I think Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston, Brooklyn and Indiana are clearly better than Miami, and Toronto is modestly better,” the scout said.
Toronto better even without Kawhi Leonard? Remember, the Raptors were 17-5 last season when he didn’t play.
And even though Victor Oladipo might not be back from injury until December or January, the scout believes what’s left of the Pacers (Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Miles Turner, Jeremy Lamb, Domantas Sabonis, etc.) is higher quality than what the Heat has, though that’s a belief that can be reasonably debated.
Then again, you could have made the case that the Heat — on paper — was comparable to Indiana the past two seasons and yet the Pacers won a combined 13 more games than Miami during the past two seasons.
So that’s six Eastern teams better than Miami, according to one scout’s opinion, though we’re not convinced about Indiana.
The scout said though the Knicks and Bulls will be better (and I wouldn’t discount the Hawks, either), the only other three teams he could see competing for the final two playoff spots are the Heat, Detroit and Orlando.
Last season, the Magic won 42, the Pistons won 41 and the Heat 39. The Heat added Butler and Tyler Herro and Meyers Leonard but lost three of its six most productive players (Dwyane Wade, Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside). Miami assumes better health for Goran Dragic, who missed 46 games.
The Magic added Al Farouk Aminu and lost nobody of great significance.
The Pistons seemingly improved by adding Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris and Tony Snell but lost underrated Ish Smith.
The scout said Orlando and Detroit are comparable in talent to Miami, but “Orlando still has no point guard and I don’t think they’re better than the Heat. I don’t see Orlando and Detroit both emerging past Miami” though he could see one of them doing that.
“I would bet on Miami being a playoff team, a lower seed,” the scout said. “If they get to six, it would be a modest surprise. But they could just as well be ninth.”
So the Heat doomsday scenario? Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Indiana, Toronto and Boston make it (which would surprise nobody) and then Orlando and Detroit beat out Miami for the seventh and eighth seeds.
A few others weigh in:
▪ ABC/ESPN co-lead analyst Mark Jackson: “Jimmy Butler obviously is a big-time player [in his prime], a big get for them, and it seems like they’re not finished. Extremely well coached with Erik Spoelstra, great leadership in coach [Pat] Riley. And they’re in the Eastern Conference. I fully expect them to be in the playoff mix and make the playoffs. They play hard, they defend, they compete at a high level. They’re in a good spot.”
▪ ESPN’s Amin Elhassan: “I think they’re a playoff team, but one of those where you won’t know you’re making the playoffs until there are two weeks left in the year.”
He said Miami would probably land seventh or eighth, with talent comparable to Detroit and Orlando. “Find another player who more exemplifies Heat culture more than Jimmy Butler,” he said.
If Miami had acquired Russell Westbrook, “they would fall around three to six, behind Milwaukee and Philadelphia.”
▪ Former NBA coach Sam Mitchell, now with NBA TV, said even though “Butler is one of the top two-way players in the league,” the Heat “has to add something” to be any more than a bottom playoff team at best.
A couple things from the Heat schedule: It’s unfortunate that Miami has a game (Jan. 19 at San Antonio) directly opposing one of the NFL conference championships at 3 p.m. Hate to need to choose between a Heat game and one of the three most significant NFL games of the season….
When the Super Bowl is in Miami, the Heat home games that week typically attract familiar faces, and prices rise on the secondary market. Conveniently, one of the Heat’s home games that week leading up to the Super Bowl is Tuesday against Boston, meaning several Patriots potentially playing in the Super Bowl could show up, barring a conflict. The other home game that week is the previous night, Monday, Jan. 27 against Orlando. Miami plays at Orlando the night before the Super Bowl, then hosts Philadelphia the night after the Super Bowl….
It’s unfortunate for the Marlins that their first two Saturday night home games (Phillies, Braves) conflict with Heat late-season home games (Suns, Celtics)....
You could make yourself a memorable day Nov. 3 by attending Dolphins-Jets at 1 p.m. at Hard Rock and Rockets-Heat at 6 p.m. at AA Arena _ rooting against a coach who was supposed to still be here (Adam Gase) and a player who was supposed to be here (Russell Westbrook)...
The Heat’s Nov. 23 night game at Chicago conflicts with UM’s football game against FIU at Marlins Park at 7 p.m…. Odd that both of Miami’s games in Charlotte are in the final two weeks of the season... Though the Heat got three TNT games, the third of those — the season finale against Toronto — could be replaced if either or both teams flop this season. For the first time in awhile, the Heat will end the season on the night before the NBA regular season ends for most teams.