Can the Miami Heat Afford Not To Trade For Lillard?

Insight4 months ago7 min readJohn Jablonka

So, the Miami Heat still don’t have Damian Lillard on their roster. It’s been over a month since he requested a trade and it’s still unknown when(or if) this is going to get done. All of this time, though, has people questioning whether the Heat should look elsewhere and would even be better off doing so — or at least, that the Heat don’t necessarily have the pressure to get Lillard because they don’t need him.

The answer to these questions would’ve been entirely different if this was over a month ago. It also would’ve been different had Lillard not specified that he wants Miami and Miami only. Those are the two factors that made me consider how much the Heat need Lillard now.

Let’s start in a scenario where the Heat go into the season with what they have now.

Can the Heat afford not to do anything?

After the finals, I didn’t think the Heat need Lillard specifically or a player of that caliber. I don’t think they were that far off that they needed another top 10-caliber talent. And I still believe that.

This team, if it has Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo as their two best players can compete with anyone. The only thing that those 2 need is a good supporting cast. But, of course, that does mean changes are needed. They can’t afford to not make any significant changes.

And I don’t count:

  • Signing Josh Richardson
  • Signing Thomas Bryant
  • Re-signing Kevin Love
  • Drafting Jaime Jaquez Jr
  • Internal development

These are not moves that put a team over the top, especially when none of those changes address the team’s biggest issues — issues that have been there every year in the Butler era.

The moves that should’ve been made are moves that would address:

  • Getting the second 3-level scorer alongside Jimmy Butler
  • Becoming less reliant on 3s
  • Switchable wings that can guard up
  • Fixing the non-Butler minutes

This is what has hurt the Heat the most and the reasons why they weren’t able to win and I honestly don’t see anything the Heat have done in the off-season so far to help that.

The first, third, and fifth points rest entirely on Tyler Herro’s growth and these are all the three most important points. There needs to be someone who can effectively get to the rim, get to the line, score on all 3-levels effectively, beat guys off the dribble, and be able to be a primary ball handler. Someone has to take that pressure off Butler in that way. We’ve seen exactly that with Goran Dragic in 2020. Having that guy does matter, especially when it would elevate others too.

Unless you think Herro is going to make an insane jump, then that’s a major hole that will still be there and will most likely be the reason they’ll lose.

To put some numbers on how insane the jump would be. Per BBall-Index, amongst players with 500+ minutes in on-ball roles, Herro is in the 19th percentile in rim shot creation and 16th in unassisted shots at the rim.

And this is just one aspect of his game that needs to improve to be in that role. Another aspect is his isolation scoring, which is also crucial if he needs to be the team’s second-best scorer. In that category, amongst the same type of players:

  • 35th percentile in isolation eFG%
  • 13th percentile in isolation impact
  • 0th percentile in isolation points per possession

So, is the jump to that even realistic?

Without that scorer, everything falls on Butler again and that hurts the team whether he’s on or off:

That’s worrying that in all but one playoff run, the offense has been quite worse without Butler. That, too, hasn’t been addressed. Take the season two years ago, where they shot almost 39% from 3 and still had a below-average offense. In the entire Butler era, the team is shooting better without him by a mere 0.9% and somehow is worse on offense by over four points.

And the Heat haven’t done anything to fix that.

Although the offense has been the biggest concern, I also have some question marks on defense, too, particularly in the playoffs.

Here’s the Heat’s defensive rating with both Butler and Adebayo on:

This has been one of the worst defenses with them together in both the regular season and the playoffs. That’s not to say it’s not good, the Heat are still one of the best defenses and can be elite when needed, but compared to what they had even last year, it’s a significant drop-off.

Part of that has been poor frontcourt depth. They need more switchable wings that can guard up and I don’t know how much faith I have in the current rotation.

All the moves that they made in this off-season, are really good moves but only if they were done after the main moves, especially once the offense and scoring is fixed.

I do like all of the additions. Richardson was a great signing and I think he will be highly impactful. The backup center position has been fixed in the regular season with improved Orlando Robinson and Bryant. Internal development to everyone else will also be there and help.

But these moves aren’t needle movers(and I also feel some of those moves are overexaggerated too) and with those moves alone, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they were in the same position as they were in this season. And let’s not forget that they were pretty bad over the season.

In 51 games that Butler, Adebayo, and Herro played in, the Heat had:

  • Minus 0.2 net rating in 2463 minutes
  • 114.1 offensive rating
  • 114.3 defensive rating

What they did in the playoffs changed absolutely nothing for me going forward. Right now, if the playoffs started with this exact team, the only way they can win is Butler be Michael Jordan and everyone else please shoot 45% from 3 unless you’re facing the New York Knicks.

But do they “need” Lillard?

So, to me, it’s clear that the Heat can’t go into the season without any moves. But they never needed a top-10 caliber guy. All of those issues could’ve been addressed with lesser moves.

I would’ve loved Zach LaVine or Bradley Beal. And if that wasn’t available, then maybe a package involving the Brooklyn Nets and their pieces.

I don’t think that the Heat are so far away from contending that they need some elite-level talent or a complete remake, it’s just the moves that they need aren’t exactly available. How many 3-level scorers that are capable of being a primary ball handler are there on the market?

They don’t have to be All-NBA talent. They don’t even have to be an All-Star. That’s why I don’t believe they need Lillard in general.


This lacks any other relevant context. At this point, who even is available? If the Heat go away from Lillard, what potential moves can they even make right now or at the deadline? Which All-Star caliber level player can be acquired?

Though, that also lacks more context. Will the Heat really go into the season with all these trade rumors hanging over everyone? That’s a lovely way to build chemistry. And what would happen if they aren’t able to find anything? Will they risk being back with everyone?

Fortunately for them, Lillard had made it clear that he wants to be in Miami. That helps the Heat significantly in this scenario, especially if they truly believe that they can get him soon. Because in this scenario, you definitely keep your doors open for just him. This a top-75 all-time player. This is one of the best offensive players. You drop everything else for him.

But if the Blazers continue to hold on to Lillard for other offers and this drags on, I do think the Heat would be in a tough position. They need changes. They don’t need Lillard-level changes but at this moment that’s the only change available.

Unless Pat Riley is a freaking magician and he can somehow whip out another trade that will give them a player of Dragic caliber plus some wings, I wouldn’t care that they didn’t get Lillard.