Ira Winderman: Heat have a Tyler Herro problem, and it’s not Tyler Herro

Ira Winderman: Heat have a Tyler Herro problem, and it’s not Tyler Herro

The Miami Heat have a Tyler Herro problem. And yet that doesn’t mean that Tyler Herro is the problem.

One of the elements that long has separated Erik Spoelstra from his coaching peers has been the ability to position talent for ultimate success.

Since the start of Herro’s NBA career, Spoelstra had done just that, including starting undrafted Kendrick Nunn over Herro months after Herro arrived as a face of franchise renewal with his selection as the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NBA draft.

No one at the time considered Nunn the better prospect, and, in fact, when it came time for the Heat to determine Nunn’s long-term impact, the Heat pulled their qualifying offer in the 2021 offseason and allowed Nunn to depart to the Los Angeles Lakers for nothing in return.

Ultimately, Herro thrived as a reserve to the degree that he emerged as last season’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year, at a time when it already was clear that Herro was among the Heat’s five best players.

Such is what Spoelstra does, masterfully manipulating what Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg provide and making it all work for the greater good, including securing the all-important buy-in from the player himself.

Or, in reflection, such is what Spoelstra did.

Because when a franchise in an offseason agrees to a four-year, $130 million extension with a player, the coaching calculus can change.

Whether implied or insisted upon, players guaranteed $120 million over such a stretch (the final $10 million of Herro’s deal is mostly unlikely bonuses) tend to be viewed by those signing such checks as leading men.

As in starters.

And when reflecting on where it has gone sideways this season with a roster largely intact from the one that stood within one win of last season’s NBA Finals, Herro as a starter is, pardon the pun, the starting point, Friday night’s 29 points in the loss to the New York Knicks notwithstanding.

The Heat’s 3-point shooting, as has been well chronicled, has been abysmal this season, a staggering drop from last season’s league-leading pace.

By moving Herro into the starting lineup, the Heat, for the first time in years, has not featured a designated 3-point specialist in the first five, be it Duncan Robinson or Max Strus.

In recent years, including two of the past three seasons when the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, the quintessential start to a Heat game was a Strus or Robinson 3-pointer, a basket that often set a tone, as well as realigned the opposing defense.

Then there is the bench that Herro vacated to emerge in his starting role.

Last season, with Herro on his way to the sixth-man award, the Heat bench ranked 13th in the 30-team league in offensive rating and seventh in net rating. This season, the Heat bench went into the weekend last in offensive rating and 27th in net rating.

As sixth man, Herro in effect has proven irreplaceable.

Granted, part of that is the dropoff from the likes of Strus, Robinson, Gabe Vincent and, in particular, Victor Oladipo, who had been viewed as Herro’s successor as streak-scoring reserve.

Then there is Herro as a starter, which hardly has been a failure, and has allowed Herro to warm into a series of game-winning moments.

But the shift to starter coincided with the effort to cast Bam Adebayo as a featured scorer. The result there was, when ambulatory, Kyle Lowry becoming more deferential than at any point in his career, and Jimmy Butler often waiting for Spoelstra to cycle through the rotation before getting into his own offense.

Again, through no fault of Herro’s, with the Heat’s preferred starting lineup of Herro, Lowry, Butler, Adebayo and Caleb Martin still a net positive this season.

Yet the Butterfly Effect — the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system — has through the aforementioned influences become the Tyler Herro Effect this season, ironically with Herro with an ankle tattoo of a butterfly.

In the Miami Heat ecosystem, Herro very much has the potential to be the right player at the right time going forward, even at the right price, as his extension kicks in next season with a $27 million salary.

But the question again could remain finding his right place.

IN THE LANE

GONE AGAIN: The latest twist in the KZ Okpala story ultimately again was a familiar twist. At the 2019 draft, the Heat saw such potential in the forward out of Stanford that they traded three second-round picks to the Indiana Pacers to secure his rights. Three years later, with a minimal payoff, the Heat dumped Okpala to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a means of clearing luxury-tax space to sign Caleb Martin to a standard contract. Then, at the start of this season, Okpala was cast as a defensive stopper and rotation player for the emerging Sacramento Kings, having thrived under Kings coach Mike Brown when both worked in Nigeria’s Olympic program. From there, Okpala first lost his rotation role to emerging Kings rookie Keegan Murray and then was waived a week ago after being slowed by knee problems that had him sidelined. Somewhat remarkably, Okpala is only 23, out of the league at a point the Heat still owe 2025 and ‘26 second-round picks from his July 2019 acquisition.

EITHER/OR: In an ironic twist, with the Heat clearing luxury-tax space for the addition of Kevin Love by trading Dewayne Dedmon, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers said during this past week’s visit to Miami-Dade Arena that Love had stood as one of his team’s buyout targets, with the 76ers instead signing Dedmon. Love had confirmed that the 76ers had been one of his finalists. “We tried to get him, too,” Rivers said. “I know it was us and Miami, probably one other team. He’s just a solid player. More importantly, if it hadn’t worked here, if he hadn’t played well, you still want him in the locker room.” As for Dedmon, who was unavailable for the 76ers’ two games this past week against the Heat due to knee soreness, Spoelstra said: “He’s a pro. We really enjoyed our time with Dewayne. He was really important for us when we first signed him and then last year when he was healthy. He just gave us great minutes that fit who we are. He’s tough, he’s physical. He has a great defensive voice. He can really communicate well.” Spoelstra added, “You can see why they signed him, it gives them another guy with a presence in the paint and size. But he’s an enjoyable guy. He’s a really funny guy behind the scenes. Most people don’t really get to see that side of him. But we did.”

TALE FROM ROAD: Even with his team’s Wednesday night victory in Miami, Rivers was not pleased with NBA scheduling that had his team playing on the road the following night for a 6:30 p.m. start against the Dallas Mavericks, calling the scheduling “absurd.” The 76ers are in the midst of a month of 12 of 15 on the road. “Everyone goes through this,” Rivers told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s not just us.”

FITTING IN: It’s been so so far, so good for former Heat center Meyers Leonard as he moves into his second and final 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. “Just to bring his size and physicality,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, “I think it’s an area that maybe the roster, it’s one of the things it doesn’t have. And he fills that need, and still has the ability to make threes and spread the court. He just has a lot of basketball characteristics that fit us. The human [side] has been great. He’s fit in quickly with the locker room.”

NUMBER

23. Years since the Heat suffered as lopsided a home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers as they did with Wednesday’s 119-96 defeat. It was the Heat’s largest home loss to the 76ers since they fell 126-102 on Dec. 21, 1990, on a night the Heat started a lineup of Rony Seikaly, Grant Long, Billy Thompson, Glen Rice and Sherman Douglas, a night that Charles Barkley scored 25 for Philadelphia.

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