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Stagnant, stale or steeled? Heat enter camp with familiar look, new questions

No Eastern Conference team was better than the Miami Heat during the regular season in 2021-22. Only one Eastern Conference team was better in the playoffs, and that team enters this season on the shakiest ground, in light of the season-long suspension of Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka. And the defending-champion Golden State Warriors finished with the same regular-season record as the Heat.

And yet, as the Heat head into Monday’s media day at FTX Arena and then their training camp in the Bahamas, it’s as if they have become NBA afterthought.

Yet perhaps at a time like this, there is reason they should be.

Little is new. Of the 20 players in camp, 14 spent time with the Heat last season. Of the 16 expected to make the regular-season roster, only forward Nikola Jovic, the team’s first-round pick, and forward Darius Days, who is one a two-way contract, are new.

Still, it’s not as if all is answered, or the Heat are in position to pick up where they left off.

So, yes, questions.

1. With P.J. Tucker’s free-agency move to the Philadelphia 76ers, who is the starting power forward?

A: (Erik Spoelstra voice, “The starting what?”) With the Heat’s position-less approach, the greater question is how Spoelstra plans to sort out his rotation.

At the close of games, an argument could be made for Jimmy Butler at the four, if only to maximize the team’s depth on the wing, with the likes of Butler, Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Victor Oladipo and Max Strus.

As for the starting lineup, think more along the lines of when Luke Babbitt was the starter, playing nominal minutes at the outset of each half and then waving towels the rest of the way.

The Heat could open at power forward with Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith or perhaps a second big man.

What matters most is maximizing the minutes of Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Butler, Lowry and perhaps Oladipo.

2. So Tyler Herro will be elevated to critical core component and starter?

If he is on the Heat.

Until Herro is locked into an extension by the start of the regular season — if he is locked into an extension — the possibility of a trade remains. Once extended (if extended), he essentially cannot be dealt until next summer.

Beyond that, while Herro might merit a starting role, Spoelstra has shown a preference for a 3-point specialist in his lineups. That could mean Strus again as a starter of choice.

3. Will Kyle Lowry again be the little engine that could?

Lost in last season’s final analysis is that Lowry arrived as advertised over the first half of the season, before his absences due to a family matter and, then, playoff hamstring strain.

Based on Lowry’s social media of late, the concerns by Heat president Pat Riley about conditioning should be allayed when next seen in uniform.

4. Are the Heat in danger of wasting Jimmy Butler’s prime?

This has been tossed around on social media, with the Heat doing nothing to bolster the core this offseason. And, yes, Butler personally attempted to convince Tucker to stay.

But Spoelstra has consistently managed Butler’s minutes, lightened the load when the games don’t mean as much.

That is why Butler, 33, as starting power forward is such a longshot.

5. Will Bam Adebayo add additional scoring to his game?

This is another favorite from those who question the Heat.

The fact is that on a roster that features Butler, Lowry, Herro and Oladipo, there is no need to force the issue. And it’s not as if his drifting to the 3-point line will alter opponents’ defensive approaches.

6. Is there a danger, though, in assuming internal growth will cure all?

Absolutely. If the Heat truly thought Oladipo was all the way back, there would have been more than a two-year, $18 million contract. And if Oladipo truly believed he was all the way back, he would have insisted on more.

7. With so much focus on the wing, could the Heat go big after being punished on the boards in being knocked out of the playoffs the past two seasons by the Bucks and Celtics?

They could, but Spoelstra has shown little inclination in pairing Adebayo with a true big man since the pairings with Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard that ended midway through 2019-20.

Any minutes with Dewayne Dedmon or Omer Yurtseven alongside Adebayo would represent a significant Spoelstra shift.

8. Will there be camp competition?

Not for roster spots, with the Heat expected to open with 14 under standard contact and two on two-way deals, one below the league maximum, due to the team’s position against the luxury tax.

So that means Jamaree Bouya, Jamal Cain, Orlando Robinson and Dru Smith likely being targeted for time with the Heat G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

9. Will there be rotation competition?

Absolutely, including the third wing who will start alongside Lowry and Butler, as well the decision at starting power forward.

Plus, does Strus remain the shooter of choice, or could Duncan Robinson reclaim that role? Could Yurtseven push ahead of Dedmon in the power rotation? Plus, is it necessarily a given that in all situations Oladipo plays ahead of Gabe Vincent?

10. What about first-round pick Nikola Jovic?

With the win-now approach with a veteran roster, 19-year-olds wait their turn.


Source: Berkshire mont

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