The All-Star Break is over, and we can finally get back to the real games! The Sixers have a pivotal stretch upcoming, and that starts with their second game of the season against the Miami Heat, who they ousted in the first round of the playoffs last year, decisively winning the best-of-seven series in five games.
But things look a bit different for Miami now, so I talked with Christian Hernandez of Miami Heat Beat to learn more about how this team differs from last year, plus more.
Question #1: During the 2018 Draft, the Sixers traded fan favorite Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith and the enigmatic 2021 Miami Heat first-round pick. They went on to flip that pick to the LA Clippers to help land Tobias Harris. So, you would have a better guess than anyone who follows the Sixers — where do you expect the Heat to be in 2021, and how valuable do you consider that unprotected first-rounder to be?
The Heat are stuck in cap hell through 2020. They’re capped out paying a lot of players that aren’t bringing in value. Being locked into a team with no All-Star for three years is how the Heat have become forgotten for the first time in 10 years.
However, summer 2021 is a long way away and as of now that summer would clear everyone on the Heat’s books that isn’t Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, or Bam Adebayo. Will the Heat be contenders? That’s unlikely. However, it’s hard to ignore this stat: the Miami Heat have won less than 33 games twice in the 23 years since Pat Riley joined the organization. I wouldn’t bank on that pick to be a franchise changer.
Question #2: Given their lack of young talent aside from a few promising players, their difficult-to-navigate financial standing and their inability to contend for a championship, it would theoretically make sense for the Heat to blow up the roster as much as they can, start from scratch and build a new nucleus of youth and upside. Everyone knows Pat Riley likely wouldn’t be open to such a teardown, but are there any Heat fans who are clamoring for the team to bottom out?
There is definitely a large segment of Heat fans online that has been calling for the organization to make forward-thinking moves, but then you remember that while Pat Riley is running the show the organization will be about winning and winning now ahead of stashing picks and praying for lottery balls. It’s just not the Heat way. It’s a company line they believe in and market loudly (see: #HeatCulture). They’ve become a powerhouse in developing undrafted and overlooked prospects through their G-League affiliate which further strengthens their ability to avoid being terrible. I know for a fact some Heat fans liked The Process and think it’s a valid approach to team-building, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting to see if anything like Hinkie’s Plan ever hits Biscayne Boulevard.
Question #3: Josh Richardson is a player I personally have always had a lot of interest in. A second round steal, be quickly became one of the league’s more valuable role players, now on a bargain of a contract. But this year he made a massive leap on the offensive end as he smoothly handled a significant bump up in his usage. Is this current iteration of Richardson the best there will be, or does he have more room for improvement?
Richardson may have just entered his athletic prime at age 25, but he’s just starting to scratch the surface of his potential as a 1-2 scoring threat for an NBA offense. He’s been thrown into the fire this season and has had his natural ups and downs because of it, but he’s starting to reach a new plateau with his offensive game. Justise Winslow may be getting a lot of talk lately with his switch to point guard, but Richardson is actually tied with Winslow in assists (211) at the ASB, while Josh has gotten those on 16 fewer turnovers. Couple that with his above average shooting and established defensive prowess, and I think Richardson’s best years are still ahead of him.
Thank you to Christian for taking the time to answer our questions!