Cote: Miami Heat must change. Butler cannot be your best player if goal is another NBA title | Opinion

The Miami Heat as we know it expired Wednesday night in Boston, and did so without doubt, emphatically yet quietly even amid the howling cacophony of Celtics fans. Could the Jimmy Butler era have closed with him in street clothes? It would be a fitting end to a calamitous season that seems to beg change.

Miami’s 4-1 elimination in the first round of the NBA playoffs came in a 118-84 rout-loss at Boston to a Celtics team that will vie for a league championship as the Heat try to figure how far they are from contending again and how to bridge that gulf.

First, to be generous and kind: The season ended in valiant futility for Miami, if there can be such a thing.. That it ended in the playoffs at all is a credit to coach Erik Spoelstra, who because of injuries had to use 38 different starting lineups this season and yet somehow had a winning season.

Appreciated this from Spoelstra, postgame:: “We’re not going to put this on the fact that we had some injuries. Let’s not take anything away from Boston. They’ve been the best team in basketball all season long.”

At the very end, though, the deeply talented Celtics were able to dominate the Heat without injured center Kristaps Porzingis, while the Heat could not even pretend to compete without Butler. Boston was 21-4 without Porzingis this season. Boston is that great. But it will likely need him back from his calf injury to win it all.

The clinching first-round game Wednesday was no contest. No playoff game should be so lopsided. Spoelstra’s roster was threadbare. It was embarrassing.

Miami made 3-of-29 3-point shots. Only blindfolded would those numbers be decent. I mean, 3-for-29 -- that’s blindfolded and wearing catcher’s mitts. Tyler Herro was especially awful Wednesday. Other than Bam Adebayo, the Heat not only did not rise to the occasion, they cowered from it.

I loved this quote from Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, afterward, on the Heat: ”I thought they missed a lot of shots.”

Spoelstra said after the first quarter, down 18 points, “Our mental toughness has to be a lot better.”

Leaning into intangibles again. Into Heat Culture.

You didn’t need more “mental toughness,” Erik. You needed healthier, better players And more of them.

Boston made 16 3’s, by the way. And out-rebounded Miami, 56-29. And Heat Culture wept.

Boston’s Brad Stevens was named NBA executive of the year Wednesday and the timing was right. Stevens the past few years has plainly out-geniused Miami president Pat Riley in terms of roster improvement and title hunting.

These are bitter rivals. Miami had won four of the past five playoff meetings between the franchises, with the underdog Heat eliminating Boston last year in the Eastern Conference finals. But the Celtics exacted their revenge Wednesday and in this series and did it with slap-you-in-the-face dominance.

Miami needs a major change, a major addition. They loked to have it this past offseason, when star Damian Lillard background-lobbied and publicly begged for a trade to Miami but the Heat failed to make it happen, a major blow with repercussions just seen.

The Heat now is at risk of losing its grip in the South Florida sports market. This became a basketball town for a while with the LeBron James/Big 3 era. But that’s 10 years past.

Now the Dolphins are exciting and getting really good. The Panthers might win the Stanley Cup. Lionel Messi is in town.

The Heat are in a fight now, at home and in their sport.

Boston was getting appreciably better entering this season, adding Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. And Miami was regressing. Stagnant at best.

The worst thing Miami can do today is rationalize and convince itself that, if healthy, it can “run it back” and compete.

I said last week on the Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz that Miami had to “blow up” this roster.

That needs explaining.

That doesn’t mean panic-and-trade-everybody. Riley loathes the word “rebuild,” isn’t about to embrace that now at age 79, and should not.

To me blow it up means this: Understand that if your best player continues to be a soon-to-be 35-year-old and now injury-prone Jimmy Butler, you will not compete now or soon for an NBA championship as this league evolves with a new wave of great young players.

Blow it up, to me, means open-mindedness, and, frankly, Adebayo is the closest to untouchable Miami has on this roster in terms of trades moving forward.

Cannot know yet who Miami might be able to add -- Donovan Mitchell, 27, and a 26.6. scorer for Cleveland this year, is the subject of popular speculation. June’s NBA Draft could also bring a prize with Miami’s 15th pick. Purdue 7-4 center Zach Edey to pair with Adebayo, perhaps?

Heat made a really promising pick last year in rookie Jaime Jacquez Jr. A second straight big hit in the draft would go a long way.

The larger point is, it’s time to acknowledge with actions that Butler can no longer be your best player if your aim remains a fourth franchise championship and first since 2013.

I don’t mean this as disrespect to Butler. His five years here have been a success. Three conferences finals and two NBA Finals appearances are an outstanding accomplishment. There is an argument to be made that, after reaching the Finals just last season, maybe there is cause to “run it back” with essentially the same team.

I’d sooner see last season as an outlier. Two straight seasons fighting through play-in purgatory better represent how far Miami as fallen in the East as Boston reigns and the Knicks are finally good and there’s still the 76ers and Bucks and even the Cavaliers, Magic and Pacers are still playing.

Is Butler worth a restructured two-year extension that would make him a top-eight NBA player in salary? Is max-money better funneled to Adebayo? Or earmarked for an incoming younger star in free agency or by trade?

I know this. It’s time for Butler to not be Miami’s best player. It’s time for Pat Riley to win an offseason again. Time to add a new star. Now whales available? Wer’ll take a frisky, hungry porpoise.

Because how this season ended Wednesday, with the Heat unable to even compete, is a bitter enough snapshot to sit heavy on the mind, and be a call to action.