MIAMI — 2016 wasn’t the best year for the Heat.
It brought more blood clot issues for Chris Bosh, the departure of Dwyane Wade and a 10-24 start to the 2016-17 season.
But on the first day of 2017, there’s hope that this year will be better for the organization. Here are five New Year’s resolutions for the Heat …
1. Get healthy: It’s been a season full of injuries for the Heat. How bad has it been? 13 Heat players (including Chris Bosh) have already combined to miss 134 games due to injuries over the first 34 games of the season. Hassan Whiteside and Udonis Haslem are the only Heat players who have not missed a game due to an injury. And the injuries continue into the new year. Goran Dragic is dealing with lingering back soreness, Whiteside’s status is in question after he was poked in the right eye during Friday’s loss to the Celtics, Dion Waiters is still recovering from a Pectineus tear in his right groin area, Josh McRoberts is out indefinitely with with a stress fracture in his left foot, and Chris Bosh is away from the team as he deals with ongoing blood clot issues.
The Heat hope 2017 brings less injuries.
2. Resolve the Chris Bosh situation: The Chris Bosh front has been quite for a few months. But it’s going to pick up again soon. The Heat are eligible to apply for salary-cap relief from Bosh’s contract starting on Feb. 9 — the one-year anniversary of the last game Bosh played. Miami could wait until after March 1 to release Bosh so he’s not eligible to play in the playoffs with another team. This benefits the Heat because if he were to play 25 total games this season for another team/teams — in the regular season and playoffs — then his cap hit would go back on Miami’s books. If the Heat wait until after March 1, they would prevent Bosh from reaching that number this season. That would mean the Heat would be able to use Bosh’s cap space, if granted by the NBA, during free agency this upcoming summer without the danger of it being taken back. If the Heat are able to get Bosh’s contract off the books, Miami would gain an extra $25.3 million in cap space this summer.
Heat president Pat Riley said in September that Bosh’s career with Miami “probably is over” after he failed a team physical before the season. Bosh was hopeful he would be cleared to play basketball in time for the start of training camp. For now, Bosh still counts toward the Heat’s 15-man roster, but he has not been with the team this season. Miami lists the 11-time All-Star as inactive on game nights without a reason for his absence.
3. Make free throws: This doesn’t seem that hard. But when you’re the worst free-throw shooting team in the NBA, it’s not as easy as it seems. The Heat rank dead last in the NBA with a team free-throw percentage of 66 percent. At this pace, this season’s Heat team will finish as the worst free-throw shooting team in franchise history. The 2004-05 Heat currently hold that title, as they made 67.2 percent of their free throws that season. Wayne Ellington (80 percent) is the best free-throw shooter on the team at the moment. Eight Heat players are currently shooting under 70 percent from the line. But the one who really brings down Miami’s free-throw percentage is Hassan Whiteside. The 7-footer is taking a team-high 5.1 free throws per game and is shooting just 54 percent from the line. For a team that’s losing by 3.3 points per game this season, missing free throws at this rate really hurts.
4. Focus on young core: Through all of the losing that’s happened this season, all eyes are on the Heat’s young core of 20-year-old Justise Winslow, 23-year-old Josh Richardson, 24-year-old Tyler Johnson and 27-year-old Hassan Whiteside. With a bunch of players on short-term contracts on the current roster, these four are expected to be part of Miami’s long-term plans. This season and year is about evaluating and developing this core. So far, it’s been an up and down season for each of them. Winslow has shown signs of potential, but his shooting is still a concern with a 35.4 shooting percentage this season. Richardson got off to a slow start due to various injuries, but he’s back on track averaging 20.3 points on 53.2 percent shooting over the past three games. Johnson has had some cold stretches this season, but he’s had a solid season overall as the Heat’s sixth man with 13.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Whiteside has been dominant at times with 24 double-doubles this season. The Heat’s $98 million center is averaging 17.3 points, 14.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. But his effort and energy has been questionable at times, even drawing Erik Spoelstra to call out Whiteside after a loss to the Cavaliers in December.
What will 2017 bring for this core four? The Heat are waiting to find out.
5. Win the offseason: This is an important summer for the Heat. Miami could have about $40 million in cap space if it is able to clear Chris Bosh’s contract off its salary cap, and Dion Waiters and Willie Reed opt out of their contracts as expected with more money likely available in free agency. That money could be used to sign a max player or lure a few quality free agents to Miami. Some of the top names expected to be part of the 2017 free agent class include Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Gordon Hayward.
And it looks like this offseason could also include a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Miami is currently tied for the third-worst record in the NBA. That doesn’t seem like a good thing right now, but it could end up working out for the Heat with a loaded draft class. Some of the top prospects to keep an eye on include Kansas’ Josh Jackson, N.C. State’s Dennis Smith, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, and Duke’s Jayson Tatum.
This is shaping up to be one of the most important offseasons in Heat history. If Miami wants a quick rebuild, it will have to make the right decisions this summer.