One could say the Miami Heat is insane.
But only if you believe the true definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The Heat made the decision to bring back almost the same exact roster that posted a 44-38 record last season and finished as the Eastern Conference’s sixth-place team before a quick first-round exit from the playoffs.
That’s why outside expectations aren’t far off from what the Heat accomplished last season. Bovada, an online sports book, placed the over-under betting line for the Heat’s regular-season win total at 43 games.
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Yet, the Heat expects more entering Wednesday’s opener against the Magic in Orlando, which marks the start of Dwyane Wade’s final NBA season. More than just a quick trip to the playoffs, like last season’s 4-1 first-round series loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I think the thing Spo talked about a lot because there are a lot of guys returning, he talked about last year a lot,” Wade said of coach Erik Spoelstra’s speech to the team at the start of training camp. “Some of the things we could have done better as a team in the playoffs. A lot of it is from the shoulders up more so than the physical part of the game. He talked about Game 3, the 12-point lead. He talked about Game 4, having the lead. We had opportunities and a lot of it was lost shoulders up.”
The Heat’s hope is those painful experiences will prove to be valuable lessons.
“We believe in continuity,” Spoelstra said, with 14 players returning from last season’s roster. “We believe there’s a lot of different ways to build teams. The bottom line is there’s one team that’s figured it out. Golden State has figured it out. They have the template right now. Everybody else is just trying to figure it out.
“We think that we have a unique group, a special group if we’re fully healthy. We have some depth and some talent that we like. That’s the only thing that matters. We think we’re better and have an opportunity to be better than last year. We don’t really care what anybody else thinks about it. There’s a lot to be excited about this group and certainly we think because of our commitment to our development program and some health, we think we can get to another level.”
With the Jimmy Butler trade rumors quiet for now, the Heat believes internal improvement and a healthier roster will lead to superior results.
The internal improvement begins with young players like Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo, but also applies to undrafted projects like Derrick Jones Jr. and Rodney McGruder.
Richardson worked on becoming a more aggressive offensive player this offseason, while Winslow focused on becoming a better finisher around the basket and Adebayo focused on expanding his offensive game.
Jones and McGruder were both fixtures in the Heat’s facility this summer working on their games. Jones displayed growth as a summer league standout and McGruder opened eyes with his improved offensive skills during the preseason.
“It’s pretty simple. If they’re described as good [players], let’s make them great,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the commitment we make with our player development. But also, how can you make players great? And that’s buying into a collective whole and you go further and faster together. You can do special things in this league. … We like our good to great players and our opportunity to be good to great as a team.”
But improved health could end up as the biggest tangible difference from last season’s team.
Hassan Whiteside missed 28 games becuase of multiple injuries, Dion Waiters played in just 30 games before his season was cut short by ankle surgery, McGruder missed the first 60 games of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia, and James Johnson played through various injures (including a sports hernia that required surgery in May) last season.
“I think we have the pieces,” center Kelly Olynyk said. “We never had Dion, really. We didn’t have a healthy Hassan for a lot of the year. We have Derrick Jones, who now has been in our system for a while. And now we have even Dwyane Wade from the start of the year rather than the last month and a half. That’s going to be huge.”
The Heat isn’t off to a strong start on the injury front, though, with Waiters and Johnson ruled out for Wednesday’s opener as they continue to recover from their respective surgeries. In addition, Wayne Ellington (sore left ankle) and Winslow (hamstring tightness) are doubtful.
“You can’t control that,” point guard Goran Dragic said of injuries. “The season is so long and you can’t predict what’s going to happen in those games. But of course, I’m hoping we stay healthy. When you’re healthier, you can produce more, you can play better. Definitely in the past we had a lot of injuries, so hopefully this year is going to be different.”
Call them insane, but the Heat believes this season will be different.
“I feel more comfortable with this roster than I have in previous years, when we’ve had new teams,” Spoelstra said. “I feel comfortable with the guys. I’ve seen a lot of different rotations through training camp, but I’ve also seen it last year. No, I’m not uneasy about it.”