Heat chatter, with camp opening next Tuesday:
What’s realistic to expect this season? Some feedback:
▪ ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins: “This is going to be a 45-win season. The only two teams in the Eastern Conference that are going to win over 48 games are the Nets and the Bucks.
“They have a lot of competition; Chicago got better; you have the Knicks, the Hawks, the Celtics. I still have [the Heat as] a top-five team in the Eastern Conference. I’m never going against those goons from Dade County. If they win 45 games, that’s still a hell of a season.”
▪ ESPN’s Richard Jefferson puts the Heat third in the East: “Miami doesn’t need to make a trade. You would look at this team as constructed, I don’t know if they could beat both [Brooklyn and Milwaukee], but they definitely could upset one.”
Jefferson said one advantage the Heat has, compared with the other teams chasing Brooklyn and Milwaukee, is “every other team needs to do something” as far as making another trade “versus the three teams constructed as is. It’s the Nets, it’s the Bucks and then I think Miami is right there.”
▪ A Western Conference scout said “If [Victor] Oladipo gets back to being half the Oladipo he was, not necessarily an All-Star but being effective scoring and defending, that team is a little scary.
“To me, it’s Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Heat fifth, with New York and Boston in the mix for the fifth spot. But I would lean toward the Heat fifth ahead of New York and Boston. The Knicks are concerned about Kemba Walker’s leg.”
Oladipo hopes to return to games by early January, if not slightly sooner, but it also wouldn’t be surprising if we don’t see him in a game until after the All-Star break.
▪ A veteran Eastern Conference scout: “I put them fourth or fifth in the East. Their depth worries me, especially at point guard. Right now, Max Strus is their ninth guy [until Oladipo returns from a knee injury]. Kendrick Nunn is a loss, and they’ll really feel that if they have any injuries.
“What they have more than any team is competitiveness and toughness and machoness and defense. And Kyle Lowry takes them to another level. He can pass and shoot and take charges.
“He can play on or off the ball. He’s a very good shooter. Has leadership, toughness, good foul shooter and versatile because he can play both spots. He’s going to get you 17 a game, is above average from three [point range]. How much longer he can play at this level is the question.
“Power forward is a weak spot. [P.J.] Tucker held his own in the playoffs, and his game is not predicated on athleticism. He’s a defensive guy, and you hope that part of his game holds up.
“They could have done better than Markeiff Morris; he’s very average. What’s interesting is Morris is a lot better as a starter than off the bench.”
▪ After the scout mentioned the Morris bench/starting dynamic, I looked up the metrics and was stunned.
In 27 starts for the Lakers last season, Morris shot 46.6 percent and 37.2 percent on three-pointers compared with 30.3 percent and 22.7 percent in 34 games as a backup. His points and rebounds per 36 minutes were much better as a starter.
In his career, he has shot 36 percent on threes as a starter (solid) compared with 31.3 as a reserve (poor).
So based on his history, a strong case could be made to start Morris ahead of Tucker, though I would be mildly surprised if the Heat did that.
▪ One interesting dynamic with this roster — at least before Oladipo returns — is that there isn’t a big difference in quality between the potential ninth man in the rotation (Strus) and one of the players on a two-way deal (Caleb Martin).
The Heat can use Martin and Kansas rookie Marcus Garrett for as many as 50 games, and you can expect to see Martin a lot, especially if there’s an injury to a rotation player.
Though Martin is considered a good defender, players he defended shot 47.9 percent against him in 50 games last season, worse (defensively) than the 45.2 percent those players shot overall.
▪ We got our hands on the Heat’s offseason contracts, and one thing Miami offered as a perk to multiple players was up front payments.
For example, Lowry’s contract allows him to request/receive $21.25 million of his $26.98 million salary before the Oct. 23 season opener, as opposed to getting paid in large increments over the course of the next year.
Before Jimmy Butler’s extension kicks in to start the 2023-24 season, he can ask the Heat before opening night in October 2023 to give him, up front, $36.6 million of his $146.4 million extension.
The second year of Tucker’s two-year, $14.3 million contract is a player option; the second year of the Gabe Vincent, Strus and Omer Yurtseven contracts are team options.
Oladipo’s contract is a straight one-year, $2.3 million deal with no second-year option. Morris’ contract is a straight one-year, $2.6 million deal with no second year option.
Robinson’s five-year, $90 deal has an unusual clause: The fifth and final season of the deal is a player option for $19.8 million. But only half of that fifth year salary is guaranteed.
Hypothetically, say Robinson’s play declines dramatically and he’s awful in Year 4 of the contract. (Not that anyone expects that.)
If that happens, Robinson assuredly would exercise his $19.8 million fifth-year player option. But the Heat then — if it chose — could release him and pay him only $9.88 million and stretch his cap hit, as long as it is done two days before the signing moratorium ends in early July.
That’s unlikely to happen, but it’s notable that Miami included that in the contract.