ESPN could see the Miami Heat as a Play-In Team in 2022-23

If you paid attention, you might’ve noticed that the Miami Heat were one of the more inactive organizations, at least amongst the top contenders, leaguewide this offseason — despite being heaved into nearly every trade rumor imaginable for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Donovan Mitchell.

They lost P.J. Tucker to the Philadelphia 76ers, but re-signed Victor Oladipo, Caleb Martin and Dewayne Dedmon all to team-friendly contracts plus drafted Nikola Jovic with the No. 27 pick and re-vamped their two-way contractual situation.

While the Heat — coming off an Eastern Conference-best 53-29 season, finishing one game (and perhaps one shot) from their second NBA Title berth in three seasons — not everyone believes they’re title contenders, which is more than fair. And while he has them in the East’s top-6 this year, NBA general manager and current ESPN NBA Analyst Bobby Marks, who predicted the Heat make the NBA Finals last year, could see them as a play-in team in 2022-23.

“I have the Heat in the top-6 this year, but I think you could make the argument as them being in the play-in,” Marks said in a Youtube video earlier this week. “And it pains me to say it, living down here in South Florida. (The) big picture: Year two of Kyle Lowry — 36-years-old, 13th in total minutes among active players — we saw him in the playoffs, and certainly battled injuries, did not play well at all, defensive liability. Do we see a bit of a redemption of Kyle Lowry in Miami in year two?

“What about the loss of P.J Tucker, who plays power forward? Are we going to see a heavy dose of Caleb Martin and Jimmy Butler (at the 4)? That’s a concern … Duncan Robinson, perhaps, maybe. The big question that I will hover over this roster during training camp is the Tyler Herro extension — we saw four (years) for $107 (million) for R.J. Barrett. Is that going to be the same number?” he added.

In all fairness, the Heat were the only top-8 seed from the Eastern Conference a year ago that didn’t add established NBA talent externally. That said, some — such as the Sixers, Atlanta Hawks or Boston Celtics — added more than, say, the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls. But the closest thing Miami added was Jovic, Darius Days/Marcus Garrett, a fully healthy Victor Oladipo and Jimmy Butler’s dreads-that-are-really-just-extensions. That’s it.

Miami does have a considerable gap to close at the starting 4 spot, as a result of Tucker leaving. The expectation was that it was going to be filled heading into the season. Until it wasn’t — now it has a combination of Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, Haywood Highsmith or Omer Yurtseven to choose from, among others. It could still acquire 2019-20 Heat legend Jae Crowder, whose divorce with the Phoenix Suns could lead him to being on a contending team as the season approaches.

“And the other thing is the resources to explore the trade market — (Miami is) $162,000 below the tax, can trade a 2023, 2027 and 2029 (first round pick), the expiring contracts of Herro, [Max Strus] and [Gabe Vincent], and then the $75 million owed to Duncan Robinson.”

I recently wrote a column questioning if Miami was being viewed as the so-called “Dangerous Loomers” that ESPN famously dubbed them in January, when they were towards the top of the East. They might be, by some.

But as I previously mentioned, perhaps the most dangerous thing in sports is labeling the Heat as underdogs. That’s when they thrive; that’s when they scratch and claw; they salivate for being counted out. Miami has a very talented roster with the proverbial “dawg in him” aurora. Anything can happen in an 82-game season, so I wouldn’t necessarily count them out, yet.

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