It’s the annual time of year where people get instantly overly fixated on whether or not things will work well before they even happen. For example, the day before NBA free agency began, reports surfaced about Kyle Lowry being signed and traded from the Toronto Raptors to the Miami Heat as soon as if not shortly after Monday’s 6 p.m. start time. Amid jokes about tampering, many already suggested that “psh, oh, that’s not going to be enough to compete with the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.” We can’t even let rosters fill out more beginning the following day without the inherent reflex of unleashing short-term opinion of a long-term expedition.
You know, it makes you wonder: Do people who comment on this stuff so rapidly even try in their own lives? Do they apply for jobs but are cool with being passed over by someone with a connection despite that someone not working hard or having a resume as good? Do they turn off NBA 2K after the opponent starts the game on a 13-2 run and claim that it’s bullshit? Or do they instead play MyPlayer and quit the Rec Center after missing their first three shots, leaving the rest of us to play with a computer on our team?!?
Do they not ever try?
After landing Lowry for a reported three years and $90 million, Duncan Robinson was retained for five years and $90 million, the most expensive contract for an undrafted player in NBA history. Jimmy Butler is also expecting to sign a four-year max extension worth over $180 million that will begin in the 2022-23 season. PJ Tucker was agreed to for two years and $15 million, which required most of the mid-level exception. Former two-way contracted players Gabe Vincent and Max Strus were retained on two-year, $3.5 million each. And helpful late-season addition Dewayne Dedmon will reportedly return to fortify Miami’s bench and interior. Tyler Herro and KZ Okpala remain on their roster, Udonis Haslem most likely will come back, while Kendrick Nunn and Victor Oladipo are testing their respective free-agent markets.
People are too focused on predicting what will happen ahead of time: The point is to find out. The Heat routinely manage to design creative pathways en route to relevance, competitiveness, and sometimes, championships. Some will say it’s because of location and income tax, which historically hasn’t helped the Dolphins or Marlins or Florida Panthers or Orlando Magic or several teams down in Texas now has it?
But since Pat Riley got to Miami in 1995, the Heat have made 20 playoff appearances in 26 years, reaching six NBA Finals between 2006 and 2020, including the 2006, 2012, and 2013 NBA Championships. The Heat with Riley have always been a destination because of, among other things, their aptitude for constantly competing. Location alone doesn’t explain player development, where they’ve been among the best in their entire run from the Dwyane Wade to t Bam Adebayo, or even Voshon Lenardto Duncan Robinson.
The contracts are lofty, sure. Butler will be 32 in September and will now be signed through age 36. Lowry is 35 and will be 37 going on 38 in the last year of his deal. And Tucker turned 36 three months ago. But what needs to be realized is that Riley is 76 years old. Heat governor Micky Arison is 72. Andy Elisburg’s been there from day one. This is their last chance, too.
Butler gets the four-year extension but only two of those matter. For Lowry, two good years are what you’re paying for. It’s the same as those 10-year baseball contracts that never quite fully work and aren’t truly intended to. You’re paying for the entire deal, but you’re really paying for the first five or seven years, and you’ll figure out the rest when you get there. It’s the price of competing in this climate, instead of being scared with your money and winding up 12th in the Eastern Conference acting like you’re “rebuilding” every season. There’s a reason you’ll see the same teams in the lottery often, the same ones who are stable and near the top of the conference, and the same ones often finding themselves in between. As far as the team itself, we’ll see when fully constructed, but the key will be Robinson and Adebayo, whose max extension kicks in starting this season, performing up to their contracts, if not beyond that, along with finding unknown gems, which they’ve had a propensity to do throughout their history.
The point of reference for this contrast has many examples — but let’s use LeBron James because it’s quite simple. When he left for Miami in 2010, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell apart, going from a league-best 61-21 to a near league-worst 19-63. They finally won more than 24 games in the fourth year without James, Kyrie Irving’s fourth season, but they finished 33-49. Then, when James returned, the Cavs jumped to 53 wins and returned to the NBA Finals. That 2013-14 season was his last with the Heat, where the team went 54-28 and went to the Finals. In year one, without him in 2014-15, the Heat only dropped to 37-45 — imagine how much better they would’ve been had Chris Bosh not developed the unforeseen blood clot issues that ended his season right as they acquired Goran Dragic. The next year they won 48 games, reaching a Game 7 in Round 2 of the playoffs despite, again, Bosh’s season being shortened due to blood clots, which effectively forced him into retirement. Had Bosh not been unexpectedly sidelined, who knows? By the way, the Cavs won 53, 57, 51, and 50 games (with four finals trips and a title) in James’ second-stint and have won 19, 19, and 22 since he left. (They should be kinda fun this year, though.)
And with Butler, every team he’s gone to has gotten better, and every team he’s left has gotten worse: Full stop.
The Chicago Bulls had their Derrick Rose-Joakim Noah-Tom Thibodeau window extended because of his development into an All-Defense, All-Star, All-NBA, Most Improved Player award-winning swingman. They still haven’t made the playoffs, or even won more than 31 games, since he was traded in 2017. Minnesota landing him in that deal led to their first playoff berth in 14 years and their only one in franchise history without Kevin Garnett. The T-Wolves were 36-26 when he got hurt, were 44-35 when he got back, and they won all three games to take the eighth and final playoff spot behind his 31 points in his third game back from a meniscus tear. And, in Miami, they missed the playoffs, used Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside, and a first-round pick to get him in a four-team sign-and-trade two summers ago, and made the 2020 NBA Finals. He’s a guy worth betting on, and like it or not, skeptical or not, Riley is fearlessly quadrupling down, on Butler, on Lowry, on Adebayo, on himself, and on the organization. They always have and always will.