The Miami Heat went on a remarkable run during last year's bubbled NBA Playoffs and almost stole a championship. At that time it looked like a young core was in place to bring prolonged success to South Beach, what with Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson emerging as cold-blooded killers from 30 feet and in.
Defending the Eastern Conference crown has proven more difficult than expected as the Heat have stumbled around the .500 mark, falling a game below it last night after a frustrating loss to the Portland Trail Blazers sealed by a foolish foul in the final seconds.
It was the perfect microcosm of the Herro experience. After knocking down a logo-adjacent heat check to give Miami a late eight-point lead, the second-year guard went 1-for-5 on a handful of ill-advised shots.
Herro has been a shell of the breakout performer he was in the bubble. As a rookie he shot around 38 percent from deep during the regular season and playoffs. He dropped 37 points in Game 4 of the ECF against Boston and was arguably the Heat's third-best scoring option. This year he's three-point percentage is at 32.3 percent and his turnovers per game have increased from 1.6 to 2.2.
Likewise, Duncan Robinson was a lights-out 44.6 from deep last year and is at 38.7 this campaign. He's scoring fewer points in three more minutes per contest and has either stayed at the same level or taken a step back.
The duo will either snap back to form or the Heat will be left wondering if they missed their window to move the shooters for an MVP-caliber player like, say, James Harden. And if they shouldn't go back to the drawing board with a new strategy to rebuild a proud culture.
That strategy, as has been rumored for awhile, could include Kawhi Leonard. You know, should things go less than great yet again for the Los Angeles Clippers. Nick Wright was the latest to give voice to such an idea on this morning's First Things First. And quite honestly, we're sort of into it.
Leonard will be able to opt out in a few months. Miami has room for a max spot. There's a genuine affection between Kawhi and Jimmy Butler. Leonard has shown an affinity for blue-collar lunch-pail teams before.
Not only does this universe exist, it seems as likely to become our new home than one where the Clippers get it together and Paul George becomes an NBA champion. It's not as though Leonard needs to win a crown to stay in Los Angeles but at a certain point it will be time to cut bait and there are few places better to throw a new line in than sunny Florida.
The situation appears more attractive for both parties than it was last offseason and could only become more appealing should current fates persist. The brightest future could be a shared one for Kawhi and the Heat.