The Problem with Picking Apart the Heat Following their First Loss

News3 years ago5 min readJack Alfonso

Excerpt from a discarded draft:

After an utterly dominant 3-0 start to the season, the Heat look ready to conquer the world. Watch out, Clippers. Look out, Lakers. Sit down, Sixers. Hold onto your butts, Bucks. The Heat are back and better than ever. 

With how great this Heat squad has looked, the first question that hops to the front of everyone’s mind is “what do we do with Jimmy Butler?” You certainly can’t bring him back. One has to obey that time tested proverb “Don’t fix what ain’t broke”. There’s simply no fat to trim off this rotation, no room for any additions. How can you rationalize tweaking a team that is crushing their competition like Khaleesi over King’s Landing. 

I’m not trying to downplay what Butler brings to a team. He’s a star. That’s exactly why he can’t join the team. There’s currently a clear hierarchy– everyone knows their job on either end of the court. The ball flows freely on offense, unfailingly finding the open man on every possession. The defense? Suffocating, a steel trap, a dozen boa constrictors switching, squeezing, slithering between passing lanes. There’s no escaping it. Adding Butler tosses a wrench into a set of smoothly spinning gears. It doesn’t matter how nice the wrench is. It doesn’t matter how good the wrench is at defense, how efficient the wrench is on offense, or how many all-star games the wrench has made. The wrench will still ruin the machine. 

It won’t be hard to find a trade partner for Jimmy Butler. Miami should target guys like Shabazz Napier or James Ennis. Both players are humble, familiar with Heat Culture, and not good enough to make waves or demand a major role. As a bonus, either of these trades would allow Jimmy Butler to return to teams he’s familiar with. This act of goodwill maintains team stability without burning bridges with Butler. 

The Heat are back, baby. With a Big three of Nunn, Bam, and Justise, a dynasty is inevitable. I’m talking not one… not two… not three…  not four… not five… 

So the Heat lost. After an eye-opening 2-0 start, Miami fell to the undefeated Minnesota Timberwolves. The defeat felt more or less unavoidable. Early in the year, still short-handed, on the second half of a back to back, feeling themselves after a big win over the Bucks, the Heat losing last night couldn’t have been too surprising. 

There’s no one worth blaming. The team didn’t play quite as well as they’d been playing, but this was undeniably the same team that found success against Memphis and Milwaukee. Bam had another encouraging game on both ends, defending Karl Anthony Towns well while tallying a respectable 13 points and five assists. He shot poorly from the free throw line, but he did well overall.

Kendrick Nunn looked good again with 18 first half points, 25 overall. Maybe he slowed down late in the game, but that’s a nitpick for a rookie who’s exceeded expectations. Duncan Robinson dropped 21, Goran Dragic had a decent game, and Justise Winslow scored 11 points in the final quarter to end up with a pretty 20/8/6 line. The whole team played well. They could’ve done more (and they did against the Bucks), but nobody played far below a level that’s fair to expect from them. Miami was in the game up until the end when Andrew Wiggins scored 11 unanswered points to put it away. What can you do?

It’s not as if the game was free of flaws for Miami. Under separate circumstances it’d be worthwhile to pick apart their offensive and defensive shortcomings, but the team is in a unique position. The fact of the matter is that, for these first few matchups, Miami has been playing with house money.

Whatever they do, good or bad, comes with the caveat that there best player has yet to log a single minute. Nobody really expects a Butler-less Miami to be much more than mediocre, so the fact that they’ve looked as good as they have is a blessing. 

It may be interesting to sit down and analyze in-depth the various factors that held the Heat back (and there will be some people doing exactly that), but until Jimmy Butler steps on the court, it doesn’t feel like the season has fully begun. I could point out the team’s stretches of sub-par defense where Duncan Robinson, Meyers Leonard, and others offered little resistance to the Wolves offense.

I could talk about how hopeless the Heat offense looked in the last minutes of the game, how there was no go-to guy to take the lead for those final possessions. But don’t we all expect Butler to come in and remedy these issues?

It obviously wouldn’t be fair to count on him to eliminate every problem, but it’s reasonable to think he’ll improve their defense and late game offense significantly. The team won’t be perfect under Jimmy, but the supporting cast looks solid in his absence and it seems silly to seriously attempt to assess this team’s strengths and weaknesses until their leader takes the helm.  

So take your time, Jimmy. Enjoy fatherhood. The team is surviving without you. When you suit up the season can really start.