Ira Winderman: Playoffs also a personnel referendum for Heat

When Erik Spoelstra addresses the Miami Heat’s possibilities, he often talks about his menu.

In a salary-cap world, the problem is that not everyone gets to eat.

Which is why the impending postseason might be the most significant one in years in terms of the next course to be served by the team’s front office.

No, it’s not quite on the same plane as the 2014 offseason, when despite denials to the contrary, a victory in that year’s NBA Finals almost assuredly would have had LeBron James returning to the team, drastically altering what instead transpired over the past eight seasons.

But the 2022 postseason is as much precursor to the Heat’s next iteration as it is a takeoff to anticipated playoff success.

Two factors in particular will weigh heavy:

— The productivity by Tyler Herro under the brightest lights, likely at a time when he already will have been crowned as winner of the 2022 NBA Sixth Man Award.

— And what next for Victor Oladipo, with the Heat retaining his Bird Rights for what could be a return to the salary stratosphere this offseason, if he can stay on the court on a consistent basis?

It well could prove to be a case of either/or, with Oladipo not only returning to the free-agent market, but with Herro eligible before the start of next season for a rookie-scale extension similar to the five-year, $163 million extension granted to Bam Adebayo before the 2020-21 season.

Based on a salaries of Jimmy Butler ($37.million next season), Adebayo ($30.4 million) and Kyle Lowry ($28.3 million), there likely will have to be a limit on the largesse. Yes, a Herro extension would not kick in until 2023-24, but the cash outlay would create the most top heavy of payrolls.

Herro’s bite at the apple also comes with the Heat conveniently positioned to create a package able to fetch trade targets at the top end of the salary scale.

To their credit, the Heat, and General Manager Andy Elisburg, have been particularly savvy over the years in creating salary slots that initially raise question but ultimately create payoffs.

For example, when Meyers Leonard was put back on the Heat books for the 2020-21 season, his $9.4 million salary raised eyebrows. Instead, it was utilized in a trade for Trevor Ariza.

And when Goran Dragic was given a two-year contract that paid $19.4 million this season, the long view provided the Heat with the needed salary match for the August sign-and-trade acquisition of Lowry.

Which brings us to the five-year, $90 million contract signed in August by Duncan Robinson, which led to ample side glances.

But what that agreement did was provide the Heat with a tradeable $16.9 million salary for the 2022 offseason. A payout that when paired with the $5.7 million Herro is due for 2022-23 provides the Heat with not only $22.6 million in combined salary, but the spending power for a player earning in the $28 million range.

Yes, Herro is trending toward a career as the next big perimeter thing for the Heat, arguably with Adebayo as part of the franchise’s bridge to the future.

But, all the while, the clock is ticking on Lowry, who turned 36 in March, and Butler, who turns 33 in September. And yes, Pat Riley did turn 77 this past week.

With breakout moments with Oladipo during the postseason, if that is possible, the Heat could at least have a stand-in for Herro. And with Max Strus under contract at the NBA minimum next season, there is a Robinson fill-in waiting in the wings.

Of course, if Herro replicates his 2020 postseason, then much would become moot, particularly if it comes in a deep playoff run.

Otherwise, there is the math of Herro + Robinson + one more small salary piece (Omer Yurtseven?) = Bradley Beal ($33.7 million if acquired before the end of this cap year). Or perhaps some similar packaging should Donovan Mitchell actually shake free.

So, yes, the 2022 NBA playoffs stand not only to define the 2022 Miami Heat, but also stand to open a window to what comes next.

The flexibility is there, as are trade chips cultivated to potentially match the splashes with Butler in the 2020 offseason and Lowry last summer.


OUTSIDE VIEWS: Having coached Udonis Haslem at the University of Florida, Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan offered his perspective on Wednesday night’s timeout dustup between Haslem and Butler. “He has no problem confronting anything that he feels may be getting in the way of winning or the team doing the very best it can,” Donovan said of Haslem “For the public, when they see guys going at it like that it’s, ‘OK, they don’t like each other.’ That’s the furthest thing from the truth. That’s just how it is when you have highly competitive guys.” Arriving to FTX Arena one game after the dustup, veteran Knicks forward Taj Gibson said, “That’s normal when it comes to championship-style basketball. You’re going to have little outbreaks. Not everybody’s going to have a cool head all season. That’s just a test of camaraderie.’ Or, as former Heat guard Dragic said, “That’s normal. I was here for seven years. This is how we operated here.”

A LOOK BACK: For all the Heat scouting staff has accomplished, and there has been plenty, from the draft picks in recent years of Adebayo and Herro, to the mining of undrafted talent such as Robinson, Gabe Vincent and Strus, the 2020 draft stands somewhat as an outlier. Even with Heat No. 20 pick Precious Achiuwa beginning to come into his own with the Raptors, the Heat’s draft slot still comes off as one that got away. Consider that at No. 21, the Philadelphia 76ers walked away with Tyrese Maxey, who schooled the Heat with his 28 points in Monday’s victory. And then consider that at No. 30, the Memphis Grizzlies landed Desmond Bane, who this past week put up a combined 77 points in three victories that helped clinch a playoff berth. Considering Achiuwa was a lynchpin to the acquisition of Lowry, the selection seemingly met the Heat’s needs. But it also was an example of how talent can be found later in the first round, with the Heat projected to select toward the end of the 2022 opening round.

CASE FOR BAM: ESPN provided some compelling numbers when it comes to Adebayo’s case of consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. Per the website’s breakdown on contenders for the award, “According to Second Spectrum, he has switched 11.9 times per game when defending on-ball screens, by far the most in the NBA this season and on pace to be the most in a season since player tracking began in 2013-14. … When his perimeter assignments try to shoot over him, they fail most of the time. He’s defending 4.6 3s a game, and his matchups are shooting just 29.2% from 3, the second-lowest mark among centers. His matchups are shooting 6.5% worse than their overall average from 3 when being defended by Adebayo, which is the highest differential among all centers.”

THE HEAT EXAMPLE: In noting his team’s unexpected success, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love recently cited the Heat’s example. “I look at a team like a Phoenix, that’s incredibly well respected, they all play for each other, really share the ball, share the wealth,” Love said, “and genuinely want that next guy to do extremely well and when it happens, celebrate them. We’ve been able to do that here. I think Miami does the same thing. There’s teams in this league that really have each other’s back through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through wins and losses they really stick together.”


15. Heat division titles since capturing their first in 1997. Over that span, the next closest teams are the San Antonio Spurs with 13 division titles, the Lakers with 10 and the Oklahoma City Thunder/ Seattle SuperSonics with eight.