The Miami Heat, after agreeing to an extension with Josh Richardson worth $42M over 4 years, are fully locked in to their 2016-17 roster. A roster that won 41 games with a +0.8 opponent adjusted margin of victory. Was that really a good idea?
The Pros of The Heat Strategy
First off, I always root for guys to get paid, so this is a huge pro for me. I would rather every guy in the league gets overpaid because that money just goes to owners if it does not go to players. Never root for the owner to save money.
Now, let’s look at the Miami Heat’s key free agency moves to get an idea of where they are headed.
Josh Richardson? He is a really solid player and could absolutely be the 5th starter on a good team. I have a player projection model which I use each year to accurately predict NBA win totals and player impact. Using this tool, my model gives Richardson an 88.7% chance of equaling or exceeding his extension’s value. This is a really great, team friendly deal. Richardson is a good player and absolutely worth his contract.
James Johnson is coming off a career year last year. By my model, he was worth approximately 7.2 wins over a replacement level player in 2016-17. That total is nearly double his second best season (3.7 wins in 2014-15). His $60 million deal over 4 years is a lot, but my system gives him a 71.9% chance of meeting or exceeding his contracts value. Johnson may have just had his best season last year, but he has been a really solid contributor his entire career. Finally getting in great shape may have allowed him to breakout, but some have talked about Johnson like he was a complete scrub before last season. The data simply does not support that idea.
This brings us to Dion “Kobe Wade” Waiters. A.K.A. The GOAT. Waiters also had arguably the best season of his career, with per 36 minute averages of 19.0 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.0 rebounds. I will not tell you what my model thinks of Waiters’ chances of being worth his contract because it is disrespectful to such a great personality. No matter what anyone thinks of Dion’s actual on-court impact, he is well worth his deal alone for his off-court personality. Let us only hope we get a string of Waiters’ game winners. Long live the true King of South Beach!
The New Guys
Kelly Olynyk was The Miami Heat’s big free agent acquisition after striking out on Gordon Hayward. Olynyk is a good player, do not get me wrong. He is not super consistent offensively, but he has a legit 3PT shot that opposing teams have to respect, shooting 36.8% for his career. That being said, my model gives him just a 28.6% chance of living up to his contract.
The Heat’s first round pick, Bam Adebayo, was not a beloved player by my draft model. Going into the draft, he ranked as the 32nd best player. He has a lot of holes in his game, namely rebounding and knowing where to be on defense, but he really showed out in Summer League and improved his projection to the 18th best rookie. He has crazy athleticism, but is undersized for the center position and probably will struggle to even earn minutes.
The Cons of The Heat Strategy
Almost all of their moves this summer were good in a vacuum. Take any one of those guys and put them on a contending team and it is a really solid addition. The issue is the Miami Heat made all of these moves without a clear star to build around. Hassan Whiteside, as good as he may be at times, is not a star player. Goran Dragic, as fun as he is, is not a star player. Tyler Johnson literally threw up when he learned how much the Miami Heat wanted to pay him.
The Heat are a team made up of guys who can be anywhere from the 3rd to 8th best players on a contender. I will never bet against Pat Riley to get meetings with big free agents, but Gordon Hayward spurning him demonstrates the need for improvement outside of what is reasonable to expect.
Miami will still be Miami, it is a great free agent draw, but it is tough to count on reputation as the driving factor to get players.
The other issue is that the Heat are now an above-the-cap team and will be for the next few years. They are now limited in flexibility and their ability to sign big free agents.
This is an issue similar to what the Trail Blazers have been experiencing. It is really hard to improve as a low-end playoff team. Never bet against the Heat, but blindly giving them the benefit of the doubt can be an equal mistake.
Is It Worth It?
The one thing I am yet to mention in favor of The Heat’s strategy: the Warriors still exist. This may seem like an odd pro, but what if The Miami Heat’s strategy is simply to have a fun team and wait out the Warriors? No one else should expect to win a tittle for the next 2-3 seasons. For Eastern Conference teams, it is even worse. No one else will even be favored to get out of the East while LeBron is still king.
The argument here is why try to be a perfect team right now? Is there anything wrong with, instead, simply being a fun team that will compete for the playoffs every year?
I have come around on the Miami Heat’s process. I do not love what they are doing, but this is an unprecedented environment with such an historically dominant team. Throw all the fun guys out there with a great coach and see what happens.
Let The Miami Heat be fun, they will worry about winning a championship when it is reasonable to do so. Let us just all enjoy the great Dion Waiters doing the greatest Dion Waiters of things.