MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — The Miami Heat are not an easy team to make predictions on this year.
The season is looming and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra still doesn’t know which lineup will start games, or more importantly which grouping will be out there to finish off close games.
These sound like big problems.
Turns out, Spoelstra sees these as good things. The rotation decisions that he and his staff will have to make won’t be easy, which is a testament to Miami’s depth. And that depth — with virtually every key contributor from last year back — is why the Heat believe they not only should return to the playoffs but also contend in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s part of the strength of the roster, there’s a lot of guys with multi-skillsets and versatility,” Spoelstra said. “We want to explore all of them … there’s a lot of directions where this could go.”
Some of the starter picks are easy: Goran Dragic will be the point guard, Dion Waiters is the shooting guard and Hassan Whiteside is the center. Everything else is guesswork — James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington, Okaro White and rookie Bam Adebayo all figure to somehow be in the rotation.
But that’s 12 guys, and there’s no way the Heat will regularly have a 12-man rotation. Hence, the good problem and tough decisions that await Spoelstra.
“We have so many weapons. You can go so many ways,” Richardson said. “Spo is doing a great job of just putting us in different positions and giving guys different opportunities. It’s hard to ask for a better coach than that.”
Miami had a most peculiar season a year ago: 11-30 in the first half, 30-11 in the second half. The Heat took a shot over the summer at landing Gordon Hayward and when he picked Boston the focus in Miami then went to keeping its core from last season together.
After committing $112 million over the next four seasons to Waiters and James Johnson, tossing in another $50 million to land Olynyk and then signing Richardson to a $42 million extension that kicks in next season, it’s easy to see that Miami likes this group.
“The sky’s the limit,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “You have to go for it.”
Here’s some other things to know about the Heat season:
ELITE COMPANY: Heat center Hassan Whiteside won the NBA’s blocked-shot title two seasons ago, and was the rebounding champion last season. He’s the eighth big man to lead the league in both categories at least once, joining Hall of Famers Bill Walton, David Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, plus Ben Wallace and Dwight Howard.
DION AND DRAGON: Many things factored into Miami’s second-half surge last season, and the symmetry that formed between starting guards Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic was certainly toward the top of that list. The Heat were 21-3 in the final 24 games in which both Waiters and Dragic played last season, around the time they dubbed themselves “7-Eleven” in a nod to their jersey numbers.
FROM DISTANCE: Almost everyone loves the 3-pointer now, Miami included, and it’s easy to see how valuable it was to the Heat last season. Miami went 27-10 when it made at least 11 3-pointers last season, and 14-31 when it didn’t. Wayne Ellington led Miami with 149 3-pointers last season, most of those off the bench, and the Heat want to get him even more looks this season.
SCHEDULE MATTERS: Miami plays six of its first seven games at home, and the Heat will get to see how they stack up early against expected-to-contend teams like San Antonio, Boston and Minnesota — all of whom visit in a six-day span from Oct. 25-30. Miami’s four games against nearby rival Orlando all come before the All-Star break, and 15 of the 24 Heat games after the break are at home.
MARCH 27: Mark it down. Cleveland at Heat, the Cavaliers’ only appearance in Miami this season. LeBron James has sat out three of Cleveland’s six appearances in Miami since he left the Heat to return to the Cavaliers — though it’s probably a safe bet that, if they’re both healthy, he and new Cavs guard Dwyane Wade will be on the floor together for this matchup.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)