The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers took most of the headlines in the offseason after making some splashy moves, but the Miami Heat have quietly put together a roster capable of contending for the 2022 NBA title.
In Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat have two cornerstones that are fewer than 12 months removed from guiding the team to the 2020 NBA Finals. Add the savvy free-agent signings of Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris, and the Heat are poised to vault back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
"For me, it's only championships or bust," Lowry said on CJ McCollum's 'Pull Up' podcast.
"Going to Miami, that was a situation where I feel like this is what they want to do. I have a close friend, Jimmy Butler, there and I feel like Miami, that's what they want to do."
"It's about winning championships. If you aren't playing for championships, what are you playing for? And that's the only thought process that went into my free agency, is where do I go to become a champion?"
The road to making it to the NBA Finals goes through the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, while the Nets have assembled one of the most talented rosters in the league. Behind those two heavyweights, the Heat have a real shot at earning home-court advantage in the playoffs, which is exactly what this roster is built for.
Miami has been given the 10th best odds to win the title, sandwiched in between the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks, but when you take a deeper dive into their roster, Pat Riley has assembled a rugged defensive squad that will give most teams problems on any given night.
Lowry, Tucker and Morris headline Miami's offseason moves. Not only do they fit the profile of the Heat culture, but they also immediately bring with them the veteran experience required in the postseason.
All three veterans have won championships in the past three seasons, with Lowry giving them one of the best two-way floor generals as well as another late-game closing option that isn't afraid to take big shots down the stretch.
The 35-year-old is an elite pick-and-roll operator and in tandem with Adebayo, will be able to generate a lot of scoring opportunities while taking some of the offensive burden off Butler's hands. In previous seasons, the Heat have become too reliant on Butler doing everything - in addition to Lowry's scoring making a difference, his ability to guard opposing point guards will free Butler to saddle the opposing team's best wing player.
When the postseason arrives, the Heat can roll out an eight-man rotation of Lowry, Butler, Morris, Tucker, Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, Victor Oladipo and Tyler Herro - that on paper can match up with the best squads in the NBA.
Entering this season, Herro will be the first name off the bench for the Heat, and while he didn't light it up last season following his bubble breakout, the 21-year-old still put together a solid season in 2020-21.
His numbers improved across the board, with his field goal percentage increasing from 43 to 44 percent, his rebounding going up from 4.1 to 5.0 and his assists climbing to 3.4 per game from 2.2 as a rookie. His 3-point shooting slightly dipped from 39 to 36 percent on a similar volume of attempts, but he was able to lift his scoring average from 13.5 to 15.1 points per game.
With an increased spotlight in his second season, the former Kentucky guard admitted he wasn't enjoying his basketball as much last season, but enters training camp with a renewed focus.
"I just feel good," Herro said to the Associated Press . "I feel like I have a reason now. Not that I didn't before, but now I have another reason to be motivated every single day when I walk into the arena. I have to be the best I can every single day because I have a daughter now. And I'm in a very good spot right now."
"Last year, it was all mental," Herro said. "I didn't enjoy coming into work every day."
Alongside Lowry, Butler and Robinson, Herro won't be the primary focus of opposing defences and should find a lot more open shots coming his way, especially playing alongside a seasoned playmaker in Lowry.
A big question mark on the Heat's roster is Victor Oladipo. Which version of the former All-Star will they be getting in 2021-22?
Oladipo was limited to just four games for the Heat last season before being ruled out for the remainder of the year with a right quadriceps injury. Signing a one-year minimum deal, this season will be a prove-it year for the 29-year-old, who will be desperate to show he can still play at an elite level and earn a big payday next offseason while competing on a championship roster.
Adebayo's next steps
Fresh off winning a gold medal with Team USA at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, expect a big season from Adebayo, who has reportedly added 15 pounds of muscle to his already imposing 6-foot-9 frame, coming in around 260 pounds ahead of training camp.
"I got in the weight room," Adebayo told the Miami Herald. "Just because last year, I couldn't lift as much as I could because I had my shoulder injury from the Finals. So I was thinner up top than I should've been.
"That comes with recovery. Since we had such a short offseason and went straight into last season, I could only do so much. But this offseason, I've really been in the weight room and made a conscious effort to get my body back to where it was."
The 24-year-old has Defensive Player of the Year potential and is already one of the most versatile defensive players in the league, with his ability to guard one through five allowing the Heat to switch everything.
If Adebayo continues on his current trajectory alongside Butler and their new additions, don't be surprised if Miami is making noise in June.
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