Miami Heat: Five burning questions entering the offseason

MIAMI — The Miami Heat, from the coaches to the players, would have given anything for a chance to prove in the playoffs their historic second half wasn’t a fluke.

Although the Heat did their part Wednesday, defeating the Washington Wizards, 110-102,  at the AmericanAirlines Arena in the season-finale, Miami was eliminated from playoff contention when the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls both won, holding onto the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds. Miami finished 41-41, climbing back to .500 by going 30-11 in the second half of the season.

The focus now will shift to the future and, like every offseason, the Heat will have plenty of questions to answer.

Here are our top five.

Should the Heat bring back Dion Waiters and James Johnson?: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Heat handle this situation this summer. Both Waiters and Johnson thrived in Miami’s system, but their career seasons could work against the Heat. Waiters just completed the first season of his two-year deal with the Heat, which includes a $3 million player option for next season. He will almost certainly decline that option this upcoming summer with big contract offers expected to come his way in free agency. Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent this summer after playing for the Heat on a one-year deal worth $4 million. Waiters and Johnson outperformed their contracts, so expect both to get big pay raises. The question is, will Miami be the team that gives them that pay raise? Or will the Heat let them walk? Or might Miami only bring back one of the two? The Heat expect to have about $38 million in cap space when it clears Chris Bosh’s contract off their salary cap, and Waiters and Willie Reed opt out of their contracts as expected. Bringing back Waiters and Johnson could cost the Heat around $30 million combined, which would eat up most of Miami’s spending money this offseason. This is going to be a tough call for Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg.

Could the draft bring any help?: The Heat will be slotted 14th in the draft lottery, meaning they will have a 1.8 percent chance of moving into the top three (worst among the lottery teams) including a 0.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, 0.6 percent chance of getting the second pick and 0.7 percent chance of securing the third pick. The closest the Heat have picked to 14th in their history was 1990 when they took Dave Jamerson with the 15th pick. Jamerson never played a game with Miami. The Heat have had two picks at No. 12, taking Harold Miner in 1992 and Khalid Reeves in 1994 and they had the 19th pick in 2004, selecting Dorell Wright. Figuring Miami picks 14th, players who could be on the Heat’s radar include Gonzaga freshman forward Zach Collins, North Carolina junior forward Justin Jackson, Duke freshman forward Harry Giles and Wake Forest sophomore forward John Collins.

How will the Heat attack free agency?: Miami is expected to have about $38 million in cap space if it declines the $6 million team option on Wayne Ellington, a nice chunk that could net Riley his desired “whale.” But Riley has options. Does he allocate some of that money on his own free agents like Johnson and Waiters? Does he pursue two or three players who will not command the max like Denver’s Danilo Gallinari, Toronto’s Serge Ibaka and – wait for it – Dwyane Wade? Does he still covet the whale and throw a majority of the money at Utah’s Gordon Hayward or, if he’s available, the Clippers’ Blake Griffin. Riley also could trade cap space for an established star like Carmelo Anthony. And there is an old-fashioned trade. Can Riley convince the Bulls to part with Jimmy Butler or the Pacers to part with Paul George?

When will the Heat officially part ways with Chris Bosh?: It’s been over a year since Chris Bosh last played in an NBA game. Blood clot issues have kept Bosh out of action since Feb. 9, 2016. But the 11-time All-Star spent the entire season on the Heat’s 15-man roster despite being away from the team since failing a physical just before training camp in September. In addition, Bosh’s $23.7 million salary for this season counted as part of Miami’s salary cap. The Heat listed Bosh as inactive on game nights without a reason for his absence. So when will Miami apply for salary-cap relief from Bosh’s contract and officially part ways with him? The Heat have been eligible to do so since Feb. 9, but they haven’t started the process yet. Why? The Heat were only going to make this move in the middle of the season if they needed Bosh’s roster spot to add a player. Now that the season is over, the Heat will almost definitely apply for Bosh’s contract to be removed from their salary cap before the start of free agency in July. Bosh is set to be paid $52.1 million over the next two seasons with his current contract expiring after the 2018-19 season. He’s guaranteed to be paid the full amount of his current contract whether it counts toward Miami’s salary cap or not.

How do the Heat view their young pieces entering the offseason?: It’s been a productive season for Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson. And Josh Richardson was able to salvage his second NBA season late in the year. But injuries ruined Justise Winslow’s second NBA season. The 21-year-old entered the season as Miami’s starting small forward with those around the team wondering if he would take the next step. But Winslow was never able to get on track. When Winslow did play this season, he struggled offensively. He averaged 10.9 points on 35.6 shooting from the field and 20 percent shooting from 3-point range, and 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 18 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury and missing the entirety of Miami’s 30-11 run over the second half of the season. Now the question is, will Winslow return next season as a better offensive player? We know he’s an above average defender, but his offensive game is still the big question mark.

[The suspense ended early for the Miami Heat – A quarter-by-quarter log of the night that ended with a bittersweet win]

[Hassan Whiteside to become first Miami Heat player to lead league in rebounding]

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