Ira Winderman: Now is when the Heat need the better half from Butler, Adebayo, Herro

MIAMI — For all the speculation about potential machinations for the Miami Heat that never came to fruition at Thursday’s NBA trading deadline, the answers to an upgrade continue to lie within– as has been the case the entire season, both before and after the Jan. 23 trade for Terry Rozier, as well as before and after Erik Spoelstra’s latest lineup shuffle and rotation overhaul.

As it has been since the start of the season, it comes down to Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.

That is where the prime investment has been made; that is where 50 percent more is required.

With Butler, it is about an all-the-time commitment, something Butler, especially now at 34, seemingly has been reluctant to offer.

With Adebayo, it is about playing as much in attack mode on offense as he has from day one on defense.

With Herro, it is about as much of a buy-in to team as to self.

And that’s the thing, without any further outside move, without anything dramatic on the buyout market, the answers are present, and presently are needed.

That again could become stark reality with the Boston Celtics’ visit for Sunday’s nationally televised game at Kaseya Center.

The last time the Celtics were in town, the Heat were humiliated 143-110 on national television. The Celtics, as a result of Thursday’s trading deadline, now are arguably even better.

The point being that while the No. 8 seed was a path to the NBA Finals for the Heat last season, it is a seed desperately to be avoided amid the Celtics’ dominance at No. 1. Against any other team in the East, with Spoelstra activated in playoff mode, there is at least a puncher’s chance.

Which means, with 30 games to play in the regular season, it is imperative that the Heat also get the other half of the equation each from Butler, Adebayo and Herro.

With Butler, it has long been a delicate dance, preserving the energy to better enable Playoff Jimmy. It is a time-tested Heat path to success. And it could have been a road best taken this season.

But the 28-24 record at the moment demands something more, because even last season’s seventh-place finish could prove difficult to match.

These past few games have shown when fully engaged what Butler means to this team, the season-best six consecutive games with 20 or more points, followed by Wednesday night’s 17-11-11 triple-double against the Spurs.

A bit more of that and the path remains open for at least a No. 6 seed and none of the messiness of the play-in round.

And that means, yes, playing both ends of the upcoming back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday in Milwaukee and Philadelphia (with the eight-day All-Star break to follow).

With Adebayo, it is about recapturing the pugnacity of the aggressive offensive start to the season, when the shots came closer to or even at the rim, when the foul line provided refuge for both himself and his team, allowing time for the defense to be set.

Earlier in the season, there were eight games of 10 or more free throws from Adebayo, including one of 20. Over the last eight games, there have been seven with four or fewer, three with none.

The defense remains unrelenting, and while it is difficult to do it as unrelentingly on both ends, to whom is potentially given a max extension in the offseason, much is required.

As for Herro, arguably no Heat player has been asked as often to contort to the whims of the team.

The latest mandate, which received a bit of verbal pushback, has been to play more as spot-up shooter, either attack directly to the rim or otherwise launch mostly (if not solely) from three.

Then there has been the recent rotation change, which also led to airing of Herro doubts, creating different stretches of playing time, including extended breaks.

It is an approach that Spoelstra has deemed best for the Heat; it is one that Herro need embrace, if only because this is a time when firm footing is needed, stability essential for this 30-game sprint.

Unlike the Knicks, 76ers and other East playoff rivals, the Heat did not shake it up at the trading deadline.

They didn’t have to.

The first 52 games have shown the questions at hand.

The answers rest within.


INSIDE STORY: To Heat center Bam Adebayo, San Antonio Spurs No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama has lived up to the hype – as long as that hype doesn’t cast the 7-foot-4 big man as a center. “He’s going to be great in his league,” Adebayo said after Wednesday’s victory over the Spurs at Kaseya Center. “He has the right coach around him. He has the right mindset and he wants to win. You can see it in the way he plays. He passes the ball. He does the little things. I mean, he’s 7-4 doing things like that. I think he’ll be great in this league.” But, Adebayo added, “To me, honestly, I don’t think he’s a center. I think he’s more of a power forward. They just play him at center. I’ve been in those shoes before.”

RECEPTION LINE: The victory over the Spurs ended with a Heat reception line for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who worked with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra at USA Basketball, who coached Adebayo to Olympic gold and who coached Heat guard Josh Richardson and Heat assistant Chris Quinn when they played for the Spurs. “I’ve said before, I’ve admired him for a long time,” Spoelstra said. “And it’s really just a show of respect for him, and I actually don’t want to take too much of his time now, because I know all the guys that are waiting behind me. It’s Quinny, it’s Bam, it’s J-Rich and then everybody else respects him so much.”

PRAISE OFFERED: For his part, before that Wednesday night game, Popovich praised the Heat’s acquisition of Terry Rozier. “He’s a seasoned pro. He’s a known scorer. He can score in a lot of different ways,” Popovich said. “He plays with passion. He can really heat up and add to the tool box Spo can use. That experience and that skill is going to help them.”

WINNING GAME: While the Cleveland Cavaliers stood as the lone team at the top of the Eastern Conference not to make a trade at Thursday’s deadline, their view was they already were at a net gain by signing Max Strus away from the Heat last summer. “Everybody looks at him as just a shooter, but he does so much for us, his mindset, (and) his effort,” guard Donovan Mitchell told this week. “His defensive effort has been something that’s really shocked me.” Mitchell added, “He’s a winner. Just trying to find ways to impact the game and make winning plays, and that’s what he brings for us.” Strus has two games remaining against the Heat this season, March 20 in Cleveland and then March 24 at Kaseya Center. Cavaliers-Heat also looms as a potential first-round playoff matchup.

AND ANOTHER ONE: Can’t yet say that former Heat forward James Johnson has nine lives, but with the Indiana Pacers this season, the 36-year-old veteran already has had four. The odd man out at times amid the Pacers’ flurry of transactions this season, Johnson after the trading deadline signed a rest-of-the-season deal with Indiana after the Pacers waived just-acquired guard Cory Joseph. For Johnson, that means he already has signed a pair of standard deals and a pair of 10-day contracts with the Pacers this season. Johnson has played just 24 minutes in five appearances for Indiana, essentially the Pacers’ version of what Udonis Haslem had been in recent seasons for the Heat.

BACK AGAIN: Amid this unexpectedly uneven ride with the Milwaukee Bucks, Damian Lillard will match up Tuesday against the Heat, the team he initially expressed as his desired relocation venue from Portland last summer. In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Lillard said he has moved beyond that discussion even if some others haven’t. “I don’t have to fight against it,” he said. “Because I’ve been around long enough to know that’s the conversation. It’s never gonna stop.”


5. Consecutive seasons the Heat now have won the season series from the in-state rival Orlando Magic, matching the longest such run over the 35 years the teams have been playing. By winning Tuesday night to close the series up 3-1 this season, the Heat matched a similar run vs. the Magic from 1997-98 to 2001-02.