Miami Heat rated with major gain in Future Power Rankings

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From left, Miami Heat players Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Justise Winslow look from the bench against Toronto Raptors at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on January 2, 2020. - DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS

MIAMI — The Miami Heat not only have exceeded expectations this season, they also have changed the franchise’s long-term perception.

Rated in the middle of the 30-team NBA in September in ESPN’s Future Power Rankings, at No. 15, the Heat have jumped to No. 8 in the latest breakdown that includes input from former Brooklyn Nets executive Bobby Marks. The rankings are an estimation of a team’s prospects for success over the next three seasons.

Viewed on the eve of the season as a team with a singular star in Jimmy Butler, but with a limited long-term outlook due to so many untested prospects, the Heat changed that narrative from the outset on the way to what stood as a 41-24 record at the NBA’s March 11 shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Not only have undrafted contributors Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn emerged as starters, but the team’s two most recent first-round picks, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, have exceeded draft-night expectations, providing four young players for Heat president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg to build with.

That has the Heat, according to the revised long-term-outlook rankings, now behind only, in order, the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Toronto Raptors. It also has the Heat ahead of such perceived elite teams as the Denver Nuggets (No. 11), Philadelphia 76ers (No. 12) and New Orleans Pelicans (No. 13).

That the Heat would rank so high in such a forward-thinking exercise is all the more impressive considering the Heat’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick already has been dealt (as part of the 2015 Goran Dragic trade), as has their 2023 first-round selection that is protected through No. 14 (as part of the maneuvering to add Butler). In addition, each of the Heat’s second-round picks through 2026 have been dealt, many in luxury-tax related moves.

The loss of those picks is reflected in ESPN’s projection for the next three seasons, with an NBA rank of 25th when it comes to draft assets.

The Heat’s highest ranking classification in the latest forward-thinking projections is No. 5 for “market” (citing the lure of South Florida, including no state income tax), No. 6 for “money” (with the Heat anticipated to have enough salary-cap space for a max-level free agent during the 2021 offseason, depending on the hit from the current shutdown), No. 7 for “management” (led by Riley, Elisburg, along with the Arison ownership) and a tie for No. 12 for “players” (with the Heat’s youthful core including Adebayo, Herro, Robinson, Nunn, as well as prospects KZ Okpala and Chris Silva, plus the possibility of retaining Derrick Jones Jr. in free agency).

ESPN’s previous set of rankings, in September, had the Heat rated No. 6 in market, tied for No. 10 in money (when the contracts of since-dealt James Johnson and Dion Waiters still were on the books), tied for No. 15 in management, No. 17 in players (before coach Erik Spoelstra turned to so many of his younger prospects) and No. 23 in draft assets.

The Heat’s three-year outlook was summarized in the latest rankings by ESPN analyst Kevin Pelton, who wrote:

“Coming off a 2018-19 season that ended in the lottery, Miami is well-positioned to compete both now and in the future. The Heat stood fourth in the East when play stopped, having seen Bam Adebayo develop into an All-Star and G League discoveries Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson become solid starters in support of new centerpiece Jimmy Butler.

“Still, with Miami (our fifth-ranked market) as a draw, the Heat are keeping a close eye on the books for the 2021 offseason. Then, the Heat should have max-level cap room to add another star while retaining Butler, Adebayo, Nunn, Robinson and rookie Tyler Herro as key depth pieces. Miami president Pat Riley has successfully recruited the NBA’s biggest stars before, and he’s got the chance to build another title contender ahead of considering retirement.”

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©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)