Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving full of loved ones, lots of turkey, and enough cranberry sauce to swim in. And when the Miami Heat roll into the United Center Friday night, the treats keep coming in the form of shiny new toy and old-friend, Jimmy G. But---- oh, wait, nevermind.
As was rumored all throughout the preseason and early part of the regular-season slate, once Jimmy Butler announced his request to be traded away from the Minnesota TimberBulls, the Heat logjammed themselves into the conversation, even when they weren’t on his original (supposed) list of desired destinations.
However, as is the case with just about any “whale” (Pat Riley term) that comes available, the Heat are usually a player in the pursuit of such stars. That is the precedent that the Summer of 2010 set. That may just be a Lebron Effect though, as the Heat have swung and missed on similar pursuits since. Kevin Durant met with the Heat and then slithered his way to the Dubs. Gordon Hayward gave Miami serious consideration but couldn’t resist the allure of reuniting with his college coach.
And while Butler wasn’t a free agent, the lack of agreement on a deal also marked a troubling trend on Biscayne Blvd.: Miami overvaluing middling talent. James Johnson, Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, even Hassan Whiteside... the Heat broke the bank to construct this roster because a 30-11 second half a few years ago convinced them they could contend in a weak East with a squad made up of journeymen role players in a league where stars win championships. Thus this version of the Miami Heat may have reached their peak last season as a 44-win team and now are crashing head-on into the reality of the current NBA: an NBA roster without a clear-cut star isn’t getting very far. Jimmy Butler may not a world-beater, but he is a star player, and parlaying some of the mid-tier talent on your roster into a star player is the name of the game. So Jimmy Butler is now on the 76ers and this is the Heat team the Bulls welcome into town.
Miami has lost three straight and currently sit at 6-11. That’s only one more win than our beloved Bulls, for those keeping track at home. They haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of opponents either, without a Milwaukee or Toronto or Golden State or Memphis to be found on the schedule thus far. They have losses to the Hawks, Hornets, Wizards, Kings, Magic, and most recently the Nets to their credit. So far it is poor shooting and carelessness with the ball costing the Heat games. They’re connecting on 43.5 percent of their shots, good enough for third from the bottom of the league. At a 16.1 TOV% they are fourth-worst.
Actually, you know who they are? They are the Chicago Bulls with better defense, which isn’t saying much. The only difference in the current states of these two franchises is their trajectory. The Bulls are in the midst of a rebuild that may last us the remainder of our natural lives, but it’s a rebuild nonetheless, complete with young players with potential who are (hopefully) trending upward in their career path. Meanwhile, the Heat are chock-full of players on fat contracts and whom we already know what they are.
Former second-round pick Josh Richardson has clearly been Miami’s best player so far, averaging a career-high 20 points a game, including shooting nearly 43 percent from distance and playing good defense. He is a lanky athlete who would’ve been an ideal partner to Butler, yet rumors have it he was a piece the Heat were unwilling to part with considering whatever potential package was on the table when the Heat and Wolves were near a deal. I only rehash this point because it was a lot of hot air that dominated the conversation down in the Magic City for seemingly over a month. At least Richardson is on a decent deal and thus a valuable player.
However, the rest of the Heat’s players feel like contractual albatrosses. Dion Waiters has played in 76 out of a possible 181 games in a Heat uniform, and he doesn’t look to be ready to return from ankle surgery any time soon, nor is he expected to be some source of salvation. Hassan Whiteside is back in the good graces of coach Erik Spoelstra and staying in his lane, currently second in the league in rebounds and the leader in blocks. As long as Whiteside acknowledges that his biggest impact is in those areas (though he’s still guilty of block-chasing to the detriment of sound team defense) and doesn’t try to be Wilt Chamberlain on offense, his nearly 14 points a game are a welcome contribution.
Goran Dragic is another key contributor who made the All-Star Game last season as an injury replacement, yet he has been in and out of the lineup so far while only shooting 41.6 percent from the field and a paltry 32.3 percent from deep (Dragic is out tonight). Former lottery pick Justise Winslow signed an extension just before the start of the season, and while he brings a lot of intangibles and stout defense, in his fourth season he still hasn’t proven that his shot can be trusted with a 35 percent shooting accuracy. Yet, while never shooting over 43 percent from the field, the Heat still inked him to a deal paying $13mil a season for three years.
All in all, the Heat find themselves simply treading water for at least this season and possibly even next, unless they can land a star via trade. John Wall and Bradley Beal are newly available, and the Heat will always be aggressive in pursuing this caliber of player. Only time will tell.
Coming off a bumslaying performance Wednesday night against Phoenix, this game looks like it’s ripe for the taking for the Bulls, facing a team currently reeling while it struggles to find it’s footing. Depending on which side of the tank you’re on (if one even exists in earnest this season), a win may be a blessing or a setback. Personally, I had enough of shameless tanking last season. At least attempting to honestly win games is so much better for a team’s culture that I’d prefer seeing developing players. If losing occurs organically, so be it.
One strength for the Heat is they are a top-10 team in connecting from beyond the arc. The Bulls, currently at 19th in 3P% allowed, need to run the Heat off the 3-point line and force them into turnovers. And while the Bulls might not do well defending the perimeter, the Heat are worse.
So bombs away for the Bulls, and hopefully Zach Lavine stays aggressive going to the rim and either get Whiteside in foul trouble or make him overcommit so Zach can find avenues to dish to other players filling in the voids left in the Heat’s defense. As was noted in the preview of the game against the Suns, the Bulls do well against fellow bottom-feeders, and the Miami Heat are certainly playing like it right now. Take advantage and grab a precious W while you can, because we all know they are more and more looking few and far between in this second year of the Bulls rebuild.
The action tips off at 7 p.m. CT on WGN.