ASK IRA: Has regression of supporting cast been the ultimate Heat setback?

Q: Ira, I think that the worst thing that happened to this team was missing the NBA Finals last year by one missed Jimmy Butler three-point shot. That became our mantra, and our front office became complacent, deciding to run it back with the same group, hoping that everyone would improve. The problem is almost no one other than Jimmy Butler and maybe Bam Adebayo, for half the year, improved, while most of the Eastern Conference made personnel changes to get better, – Greg, Jacksonville.

A: Correct. Hindsight sort of makes that clear at the moment. Ultimately, the supporting cast regressed significantly. I’m not sure how that could have been anticipated. The upshot is that then required Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro to be great. That is a high bar to set for a single player, let alone a trio.

Q: Is playing for the Miami Heat one of the easiest jobs in professional sports? One can be as lackadaisical and mediocre as one wants while collecting millions. There’s no accountability and no one gets called out for bad performances. Losses to teams that others easily beat are just met with a shoulder shrug and a yawn. Easy peasy, yes? – Jimmy, Palm Beach Garden.

A: There are many ways to call for accountability. Erik Spoelstra is not one to call out players publicly. That doesn’t mean things aren’t said behind the scenes. But these also are different times. Once the money is paid – with just about all NBA contracts guaranteed – the motivation has to work in different ways. So, yes, you are correct, that even if you don’t care or offer less than complete effort, the paycheck doesn’t change. What it means, more than anything, is signing the right players. The Heat seemingly have taken missteps in that direction of late.

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Q: Lose to Dallas on Saturday and it’s over. – Eddy.

A: No, there actually still will be four remaining regular-season games left. At this point, it’s almost as if the Heat are playing defense, to hold the No. 7 seed, and therefore get one or two home play-in games to try to make the playoffs. To that end, perhaps even more significant than the game Saturday against the Mavericks are the games over the final week against the Pistons, Wizards and Magic. Win those, and there likely still is at least No. 7.