For Miami Heat fans, times are tough.
Despite their first three-game winning streak of the season, the team appears stuck in neutral — a far cry from its NBA championship seasons in 2006, 2012 and 2013.
Heat president Pat Riley was unable to trade for star Jimmy Butler earlier this season; center Hassan Whiteside hasn’t lived up to his $98 million contract; and now, Goran Dragic, the team’s all-star guard last year, is sidelined with a knee injury for two months.
Saddled with a below .500 record, the Heat, who host the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night, have been in the lower portion of the mediocre Eastern Conference for most of this season, leaving fans to wonder if they can make the playoffs.
With little salary cap flexibility, no superstars to build around and the pending retirement of Dwyane Wade, the future looks bleak in South Beach.
Or does it?
“When you start talking about all-time great people at what they do, Pat Riley is in those conversations,” former NBA player Jalen Rose, now an analyst for ABC/ESPN, told The Post this week via phone from New York.
“The greatness of Pat Riley is he finds ways to blossom talent underneath him — he’s done that with (coach) Erik Spoelstra. Miami has shown an ability to reinvent their team, reinvent their roster, and give themselves a facelift.”
A former college star at Michigan and part of the Wolverines’ transcendent “Fab Five” recruiting class — which included Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard — Rose believes Miami can re-emerge as an NBA power, though it will likely take a major overhaul in talent.
“The 2019 free agent class is really deep, and if anybody has what it takes to woo and recruit players to South Beach, it’s those guys,” Rose said. “They have one of the best organizations, led by Pat Riley, and one of the best coaches in Erik Spoelstra.
“They don’t have a perennial all-star on their team right now. When Miami turns things around, their best player isn’t on the roster. They were hoping Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic would be those guys, but it hasn’t really worked out.”
Rose didn’t want to speculate which players Miami might pursue in free agency, although he said nothing would be a surprise, pointing to the organization’s past signings of Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Chris Bosh — all of whom won championships in South Beach.
“When you have a perennial all-star, you’re building around that person,” Rose said. “I think they’ll assess this year, based on who’s creating the most value, and then see who they can possibly trade and/or add in this deep free-agent class.
“In the East, the teams consistently making the playoffs have perennial all-stars. If you have a guy playing at an MVP level, like the ‘Greek Freak’ (Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo), you’re making the playoffs. If you’re Victor Oladipo and the Pacers, you’re making the playoffs.”
While Riley has drawn criticism for the Heat’s current payroll woes — most notably Whiteside’s four-year contract — Rose doesn’t solely blame the team’s longtime president.
“The organization can assess talent, develop talent and put guys in position to be successful,” Rose said. “But at some point, the player has to earn his keep. That’s the only reason salaries matter in the NBA. If this were baseball, the salaries wouldn’t matter.”
As for Riley’s future with the Heat, Rose said: “Until he’s able to turn over the roster and rebuild the team, I don’t think he’ll step down or step aside.”