2021 NBA Offseason: Pat Riley Tells Mentally Exhausted Miami Heat To Get Some Rest
Rest becomes priority for mentally-exhausted Heat squad
What comes next for the Miami Heat after a shocking and embarrassing early exit in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs? Will they be able to offer a bargain deal to bring back star shooting guard Victor Oladipo? Are they willing to offer a max contract extension to Jimmy Butler, who is now 32 years of age? Will they be able to bring back both Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, both of whom are entering restricted free agency?
As for Heat team president Pat Riley, the answer is simple: Get some well-deserved rest for a significant amount of time and come back refreshed and re-energized. Prior to this current season, the Heat were coming off a very exhausting grind in the Orlando bubble, when they made it to the 2020 NBA Finals and pushed LeBron James and the eventual champions Los Angeles Lakers to six games in that tough series.
As per the Associated Press, Riley pointed out that everyone, from the players to the staff and to coaches, are all mentally worn out. It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to come up with a season unlike any other. The daily testing and all the safety and health protocols that each player and staff member have to go through were rigorous, to say the least.
So for Riley, he has seen enough exhaustion. After a non-traditional NBA season and a disappointing exit in the first round of the playoffs, he could not help but emphasize the importance of getting some rest and just some time away from the game, not just for him or the coaches or staff, but also for each player.
“We've been at this for a while, so where we're headed first is rest. Our players, our staff, the people that have been here every day, every single day, they're mentally worn out more so than physically. And I think they just need to rest for a couple of weeks, a month. Anybody who's involved in the NBA family or industry, this is a challenging year from the standpoint of how you used to do your job versus how you have to do it now. But, in anything in life, as I've said, it doesn't make any difference what happens to you -- it's how you deal with it and adapt, and everybody had to adapt.
It's going to be back -- I hope -- to normal somewhat next year when the season starts. Everybody's got more than enough time off to recharge the batteries. And then when we come back, I'm sure there's going be some COVID protocols still, but they won't be as is draconian as they were. We'll see what they are, but I think we're on to bigger and better things. Have a good summer. There'll be a lot of news coming along the way, but again, just a last shoutout to our fans and to everybody is that we'll be back."
The Heat finished the regular season with a record of 40 wins against 32 defeats, which secured their 6th spot in the Eastern Conference. Even with all the injuries and the individual struggles that they had to go through this season, it was their performance on the defensive end of the floor that eventually saved from being a mediocre non-playoff team in the East.
They were ranked 5th in the league in holding their opponents’ points per game (108.0 points), 9th in the league in total steals per game (7.9 steals), 6th in the league in opponents’ field goal percentage (45%), and 1st in the league in limiting their opponents’ two-point field goals made per contest (24.8).
But it was on the offensive end of the floor that the Heat really struggled as a team. They were only 25th in the league in total points per game (108.1 points), and 19th in the league in three-point shooting percentage (35%). It seemed like the Heat never clicked on that end of the floor, and that weakness haunted them during their playoff match-up against a defensive-oriented Milwaukee Bucks squad.
Against the Bucks, it seemed like the Heat just ran out of options on offense. Dan Devine of The Ringer took note of how the Bucks’ bevy of lengthy and exceptional defenders closed in on Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat’s two top stars. With both Butler and Adebayo contained and limited, the Heat’s other offensive players failed to step up.
For starters, sophomore shooting guard Tyler Herro only produced a measly stat line of 9.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists, including a lowly set of shooting percentages of a 31% overall clip from the field, and a 31% clip from the three-point line. This comes after he put up an impressive stat line of 16.0 points, 5.1 boards and 3.7 assists during his first go-around in the playoffs as a rookie in the bubble last year.
Devine praised Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s adjustment of putting Giannis Antetokounmpo as the primary defender on Butler. Devine noted that this was not the case last year when Budenholzer held back in giving Giannis the task of individually defending Butler so as to put the 6-foot-11 combo forward in a position to help in the weakside, which is something that the Bucks’ strategized in doing to maintain their topnotch defense in the past couple of NBA seasons.
Last postseason, Mike Budenholzer put just about everybody but Giannis on Butler, preferring to keep the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year in the help-side role from which he keyed his team’s no. 1-ranked defense; it didn’t work, and when Miami ousted Milwaukee in five games, Bud got raked over the coals for not putting his best defender on the opponent’s best scorer. Well, lesson (at long last) learned: Giannis has taken the primary assignment on Jimmy in both games, has already spent more time defending him in this series than he did in all of last year’s, and has held up awfully well, holding Butler to 2-for-7 shooting with three turnovers and one blocked shot attempt in their matchups.
As was the case at times when Anthony Davis checked him in the Finals, Butler has had a hard time finding daylight against a defender as massive and mobile as Antetokounmpo. Giannis’s quickness allows him to duck under screens and recover to meet Butler on the other side before he can put the pedal to the metal; his length allows him to contest shots others couldn’t, to deflect balls others wouldn’t be able to reach, and to lurk as an ever-present threat even if Butler can get a step on him off the bounce. Giannis has been the tip of the spear in a total team effort to take away Butler’s driving angles and playmaking opportunities.
So where will the Heat get the much-needed help for Butler and Adebayo next season? Will they try to bring back the core of this team and improve from the inside or possibly bring in a fresh environment by creating a new-look supporting cast next season?
The Heat has some major decisions to make, and that starts with the choice to decline the team options on the current contracts of veterans Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala. Dragic, who is now 35 years of age, averaged a decent stat line of 13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 0.7 steals this season. He was able to improve his scoring in the playoffs to 16.0 points per game, but it is also true that his performance is already declining.
The Heat will also deal similarly with Iguodala’s current contract. He also has a team option coming up next season, and the Heat might be inclined to declining that option. Iguodala is now 37 years of age, and his declining athleticism does not match his high defensive instincts anymore. He only logged in 17.8 minutes per game in the playoff series against the Bucks, an indicator that his value and impact on both ends of the floor have really gone down.
As per Anthony Chiang of Miami Herald, Riley said that he is not worrying too much about the core of this team. He said that he and the Heat front office know what to do moving forward, and that they have enough flexibility to have the means to accomplish those goals. Riley also talked about the possibility and pressure of potentially offering Butler a max contract extension this summer.
“Regardless of what has happened during the regular season or during the playoffs, it doesn’t really make any difference of how, or what, it went down, it’s how you deal with it. It’s how you come back from it and how you adapt. And so I have a pretty good idea, and I think we all do, about where we’re headed and what we have. We know what we have to do. We know the position that we’re in. We know that we have the flexibility that we need to go in a lot of different directions, and either stay the same, either add to the mix. We know what we have to do, and we’ll do it. The market will probably determine a lot of that, as we move forward. But I like the nucleus of our team. We’re not going to have a max slot, but we’re going to have a lot of room if we want to use that. But there’s so many other ways that you improve your team. Obviously, we like our core. There are trades that you can make. There’s sign-and-trades, there’s free agency, we have room, exceptions. Whichever way you want to go, if you want to be a cap team or a room team, will direct us in that manner.
Somewhere along the line, you know when you have great players, All-NBA players, All-Defensive players, you know, players like Jimmy, that are high level, very impactful players for you that you’re going to have to pay them what their market value is,” Riley said when asked about the possibility of a Butler extension. “We haven’t really discussed that internally yet. But I know that’s something that has been out there, in the media, but it has not been discussed. And I’m sure that when the time comes, we’ll have a good conversation with Jimmy about that.”
What’s next for the development of Adebayo?
Bam Adebayo turned in an even more improved stat line this season, but why is it that he still receives a lot of criticisms in his game? Adebayo, who is now in his fourth year in the league, put up a tremendous all-around stat line of 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game this season.
That is indeed a huge improvement from his production last year when he notched his first career All-Star appearance. However, he was shut down in the playoffs as he scored only 15.5 points per game, on a 45% overall clip from the field. Adebayo struggled against the defense of Bucks starting center Brook Lopez, and he was noticeably very hesitant with his movements, which was a similar tendency he displayed during that Finals match-up against the Lakers last year.
So what comes next for the development of Adebayo? He is only 23 years of age, and he has not even reached the peak of his career. There are still tons of room for improvement, and that could start by being more aggressive in looking for his shots, especially with the Heat’s other players struggling on offense.
Dragic already hinted out in this Bucks series that Adebayo has to be more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor. May it be through developing a mid-range shot or being more creative in his shots inside the paint, Dragic pointed out that Adebayo has the qualities to score in a variety of ways, as per Manny Navarro of The Athletic.
Still, Miami’s playoff run could come to an end quickly if its two best players continue to combine to make only eight of their 37 shot attempts. Adebayo, who has improved as a midrange shooter, was tentative at times Saturday and admitted he didn’t even bother to look at the basket in overtime. He finished 4 of 15 from the field and was 1 of 5 at the rim, scoring only nine points on a day he did a lot of other good things with rebounding (12), assists (5) and steals (3).
“I feel like he needs to be more aggressive. I’m not saying to take that midrange shot. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and be more physical and try to challenge them at the rim. I know (Brook) Lopez is big, but Bam has that quality; he can score many ways against him. We’re gonna have to watch the film and see how we’re gonna attack them in the next game. Hopefully, we’re gonna make some changes.”
Aside from the names mentioned above, the Heat front office also has to deal with the impending unrestricted free agency of Victor Oladipo. Oladipo, who they acquired via a mid-season trade deal with the Houston Rockets, is currently recovering from a surgery on a major injury he suffered.