LAS VEGAS – A lot has changed in the NBA in the last 10 days with several big-name players changing teams and many more still out there looking for deals.
“I think it’s open,” Heat forward Josh Richardson said. “The last decade basically it’s been LeBron out of the East every year. I feel like everybody feels they kind of have a clean slate to go ahead and attack this year with more of an open chance.”
And that means the Heat. Richardson and Kelly Olynyk are among the several players in Las Vegas to attend summer league games and check in on Tuesday’s players association meetings.
Richardson was asked what surprised him most about free agency and it wasn’t James’ decision to leave his old team rather one player’s decision to stay with his old team.
“The biggest thing that surprised me, probably (Paul George) staying in Oklahoma City,” he said. “I thought he was leaving.”
Olynyk agrees the conference is more open but he warns a lot of teams are hunting to replace the Cavaliers in the Finals. Cleveland has come out of the East four consecutive years, a streak that matches Miami’s from 2011-2014 when James played for the Heat.
“It definitely opens up a little bit, but there’s still a lot of great teams,” Olynyk said. “It’s only one player gone.”
Could one of those be the Miami Heat? The Heat have been quiet during free agency, which was not unexpected. Miami entered $18 million over the salary cap and Pat Riley knew if he were going to make any moves it would have to be through trades and, so far, none have materialized.
Still, the Heat, including Richardson and Olynyk, believe Miami has enough within to improve from its 44-win 2017-18 season, which had them No. 6 in the East. Miami then lost to Philadelphia in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think we’re still a playoff team in the East, definitely,” Olynyk said. “We have a way to go. But if we keep building on last year and hopefully improve. … take our shot at it.”
Richardson took that one step further.
“Yeah, definitely,” Richardson said. “We felt like that last year. With No. 23 out of there it’s a little tough but I think we’re contenders.”