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What’s the Plan, Miami Heat?

What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. This week we’re examining the Miami Heat, a team at the crossroad of “contend or bottom out.”

The Miami Heat looked pretty dangerous at points this year. For a brief moment, they had a starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside at the height of his “Whoah! That guy came out of nowhere” stage. Since then, Bosh’s season was cut short due to blood clots on his lung, Whiteside missed some games and the Heat fell out of the playoffs to finish 10th in the Eastern Conference and with the 10th-worst record in the league.

The Heat were actually lucky to fall where they did, because they currently owe their first-round pick to the Sixers if it falls outside the top 10. As long as the Heat don’t get jumped by one of the four teams behind them in the lottery, they’ll keep that pick. If they’d won just one more game, they’d have been tied with Utah and Indiana for the 10th spot in the lottery and been at a much higher risk of losing their pick. Since the Heat weren’t competing for a championship this year, they’re much better off keeping their draft pick and pushing their obligation to the Sixers another year, and hopefully as a non-lottery pick.

The Heat will have to make a decision this summer about whether or not to keep the team they have intact, or try to rebuild something new. Wade, Goran Dragic and Luol Deng all have player options, and could put a strain on Miami’s cap flexibility if they opt out and require large contracts to re-sign. Dragic has already said he’s opting out, but also that he’d like to stay in Miami if possible. The question is: does Miami think it can contend with its current roster?

With the way the East has looked lately, I think it makes sense for the Heat to try and compete in the short term. As I’ve said before, the Eastern Conference is a one-team race this year, but crazy things happen. If this Heat team were completely healthy and in the playoffs, I probably wouldn’t pick them to beat the Cavs, but I’d give them a better shot than most teams in the conference. Going into next year, the Heat could be one of the top three teams in the East.

They would need to catch a lot of lucky breaks, but I could see the Heat contending next year. Wade’s going to miss games, but if he can stay healthy for the playoffs, if Kevin Love moves on from Cleveland next year and if Whiteside can continue to play at the level he reached this year, the Heat could be a force in the East. The Heat owe the Sixers a first-round pick at some point anyway, so they might as well give it up next year as a non-lottery pick and try to win now.

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