What does next season’s rotation look like?

What does the Miami Heat’s rotation next season look like? Why would the Cavs want Justise Winslow for Kyrie Irving? Is Tyler Johnson’s contract a problem?

Luke Babbitt signing with the Atlanta Hawks isn’t a huge loss for the Miami Heat. After all, they could have re-signed him if they wanted to. But his moving on is a good representation of how last season’s team will be different than next season’s.

Babbitt started 55 games for the Heat last season, and now his position in the starting lineup is up for grabs. Babbitt is a fine basketball player, but the Heat last season were very much thrown together at the last minute. After a full season of experimenting, eventually stumbling upon a formula that just might work, Pat Riley went out this offseason and solidified a core for Spoelstra to work with.

On the weekly Locked On Heat mailbag, we take a look at what the rotation might look like next season, Justise Winslow’s potential and Tyler Johnson future. You can listen to the podcast here, and read the short answers to your questions below.

Jordan Maley asks, “What do you guys expect the rotation to look like this season? (There are still questions about who would be starting at the 3 and 4) And most importantly, who would you expect the 5 on the floor in crunch time to close out a game?”

I could tell you what I would like to see, but that would be different than what I expect.

Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside are entrenched as starters. The question is about the remaining forward spots. Rodney McGruder and Babbitt started at the 3 and the 4 spots respectively last season, but that was mainly out of necessity. The Heat should be able to upgrade McGruder’s position, and Babbitt is no longer with the team.

I suspect that Justise Winslow will get an early run at the starting small forward position. The Heat are two years removed from taking him with the 10th overall pick, and his sophomore campaign was cut short by a shoulder surgery after just 18 games. Miami needs to get another look at him. He’s also the most talented of their options at that position.

The starting power forward spot is tougher for figure out, but I’d say James Johnson. (This could change tomorrow. I go back and forth.) When Johnson started toward the end of last season, he played even better than he did off the bench. Remember when Golden State debated about starting Draymond Green, or continuing to leave his effort and play-making skills as the basis of their second unit? Starting one of their best players unlocked a dynasty in Oakland. I’m not saying starting Johnson could do the same for Miami, but he’s undoubtedly one of the team’s best players.

(And, for the record, what I’d like to see is Dragic, Waiters, Josh Richardson, Johnson and Whiteside, with Winslow taking over the James Johnson bench role next season and Olynyk playing as a super sub.)

Bryan Young asks “Not that I wouldn’t trade Winslow for Kyrie Irving, but I can’t see why the Cavs would want him. I feel like Winslow would be an awful fit on that Cavs team. A non-big that can’t shoot, can’t finish at the rim, and needs the ball in his hands to be effective seems like the opposite of the type of player you’d want to surround LeBron with. If Cleveland just wanted another defender, couldn’t they just go out and get Tony Allen who right now is probably a better defender than Winslow? I think Josh Richardson would be a much better fit. Spot up shooter. Long guard that could bother Klay, Steph, and maybe KD. And he also has long-term upside.”

I think people forget just how good Winslow is. Go back and watch games from his rookie season, and you’ll see a versatile forward who found a way to blend in to a team that included Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng and Whiteside.

Winslow is an elite defender who can guard five positions (Tony Allen is a great defender, but he can only guard 1-3.) and is strong with the ball in his hands. He can finish, distribute, jump and rebound. The only thing he doesn’t do well is shoot, and could you imagine the open looks he’d get playing next to LeBron James?

I’d argue he’s a great fit for the Cavaliers. Someone who can defend the opponent’s best player, thereby freeing up LeBron to make up for Irving’s absence on offense.

Taylor Monk asks “Why does Heat Twitter care so much what Tyler Johnson makes? I believe Pat Riley doesn’t mind being over the cap and having salary filling players so that next summer he can maybe attempt a sign-and-trade with big-time free agents.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much Tyler Johnson makes. Yes, he’ll be the second-highest paid player on the Heat next season. No, he’s not worth $19 million a year. But it doesn’t make a difference.

Even if the Heat were to somehow dump his contract without taking money back (nearly impossible, especially when you consider the lack of draft picks Miami has to attach to him), they still wouldn’t have enough space to sign a max-level free agent. With his current contract–and even if the Heat were to sign Josh Richardson to an extension–the Heat won’t be in the luxury tax. Tyler Johnson’s contract is what it is, and the Heat are structured (for better or worse) so that regardless of what they do with him it won’t make much of a difference.

Now, the Heat could still flip deals like Waiters, Olynyk or James Johnson and get on the road for cap space. At that point, trying to find a taker for Tyler Johnson’s contract could become a more urgent matter.

Keep this in mind though: Micky Arison had to sign off on that deal–some reports indicate he even demanded it. If he wasn’t comfortable paying Tyler Johnson $50 million over four years, he wouldn’t have done it.


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