Ira Winderman: Postseason could create another Heat star search (Summer of Lillard 2.0?)

Brace yourself, because it’s happening … again.

Just when you thought you were out — no longer to spend an offseason pining for star-level talent that ultimately falls beyond your grasp — the NBA offseason has a way of sucking (and suckering) you right back in, sometimes even with the same names.

So if it isn’t ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith bloviating about Damian Lillard not necessarily happy in Milwaukee (as if anyone who has been to Milwaukee in the winter couldn’t have seen that coming), it well could be Donovan Mitchell being left to lament another postseason failure in Cleveland.

As in the Heat reliving the Summer of Lillard, or another appearance at the summer Miami Pro League by Mitchell playing alongside Bam Adebayo to stir speculation about that potential partnership.

This summer also is different, with the rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement going into effect. So if there again is thought of a Heat gambit for something bigger and better, there also will be restrictions of the Heat being a First Apron team this offseason.

Without getting to deep into the weeds, what that essentially means is the Heat no longer will be allowed to take back more in salary in a trade than it can send out, and if contracts are aggregated in an outgoing package, then the Heat is moved to being a Second Apron team, and therefore becomes hard-capped for next season.

Putting the salary-cap machinations aside — because if there is a will by Heat general manager Andy Elisburg to make it work, there will be a way — instead focus on the moment.

As in this postseason moment at hand, when expectations that sour can leave star players or teams particularly dour.

And, yes, begin the relentless churn of the Heat rumor mill once again, even as the Heat play on against the Celtics, still living in the moment.

As in?

Damian Lillard: For all the non-stop losing that Lillard endured toward the end in Portland, it led to something even more tumultuous in Milwaukee, from an early-season coaching change to the reality that Giannis Antetokounmpo is not necessarily built to endure.

Now, with Antetokounmpo ailing, a quick Bucks demise could have Lillard again considering his previous wanderlust for South Florida.

No, Lillard is not in control of the situation, but he wasn’t last summer, and still got moved.

Donovan Mitchell: Although he still has another year on his contract, as well as a player option for 2025-26 with the Cavaliers, another playoff misstep by the Cavaliers could have Mitchell playing the trade card, and the Cavaliers sweating losing such an elite talent for nothing in return (sort of like LeBron James Squared).

The Cavaliers slumped badly at the end of the season, before maneuvering their way to what they viewed as a favorable first-round matchup against the Magic. Now, that becomes a series that could well determine Mitchell’s future in the wine and gold.

Joel Embiid: At a certain point, enough will be enough for Embiid, as his 76ers have cycled through coaches and continually fallen short in the playoffs.

His postseason of truth might be at hand, no longer to trust the Process, but rather create his own.

It worked out well for the Heat the last time a 76er forced his way out of Philly.

Julius Randle: What if the Knicks come to the realization that they are better without Randle, that every shot he attempts is one fewer attempt for emerging franchise cornerstone Jalen Brunson?

In absentia this postseason, Randle could eventually find himself superfluous.

No, not necessarily a Heat prototype. But he scores — and the Heat don’t.

Pascal Siakam: The midseason trade got Siakam out of Toronto ahead of his impending free agency, but what if Indiana in the playoffs becomes another good-but-not-quite-good-enough postseason destination?

There has been Heat interest before, but his free agency complicates matters.

Karl-Anthony Towns: With the NBA’s new payroll math making it difficult to feature three top-end pieces, did the Timberwolves late-season run in Towns’ absence open eyes to the two-man possibilities of Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert?

This, too, stands as a case where postseason success (or failure) could take a leading man to market.

LeBron James: Yes, one season remains on the contract, but no player controls the personnel narrative as much as LeBron.

His three career moves have come in free agency. If there is postseason failure, this one would have to be more nuanced.

Of course, no one has ever done passive-aggressive better.

Everyone on the Suns short of Devin Booker: Another round of Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal Heat rumors?

What goes around could yet again come around. Or the Suns’ big three could finally coalesce in the playoffs.

The Warriors as we once knew them: Typically 10th-place teams don’t stand pat, and now the Warriors already are done.

Their ouster in the play-in round has shown how tenuous this offseason could be with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

And there certainly will be plenty of summer face time between Erik Spoelstra and Steve Kerr, with Spoelstra an assistant on Kerr’s Olympic coaching staff.

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The Hawks’ either/or: Similarly, the postseason also already has created talk of dramatic shift with the Hawks, in their case with the Trae Young-Dejounte Murray that simply does not work.

While Young does not appear to be of Heat ilk, by nature of his game, the Heat were linked to Murray at the trade deadline and certainly could be again.

DeMar DeRozan: OK, the Bulls didn’t formally make the playoffs, with their season ended by the Heat in Friday night’s play-in. But no sooner was the game over then DeRozan was left to address his free agency.

Among his first thoughts was how the Heat showed a resolve that the Bulls lacked. And, yes, DeRozan has been linked to the Heat numerous times over the years.


AWARDS TIME: With the NBA on Sunday announcing the three finalists for each of the league’s major awards, the Heat likely will be limited to two – if any – nominees. The two categories in question are Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. The defensive award is of particular interest to the Heat’s Bam Adebayo, who by winning would therefore meet the qualifications for eligibility for a supermax extension this summer. The problem there is that not only is Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert the overwhelming favorite for the award, but the Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama, LakersAnthony Davis and Pelicans Herbert Jones also have strong cases for being finalists. As for Rookie of the Year, two of the finalists will be Wembanyama (the presumptive winner) and the Thunder’s Chet Holmgren. That likely will have the final finalist spot come down to either the Heat’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. or the Hornets’ Brandon Miller. Adebayo likely will make first-team All-Defense, but that is not included in the supermax criteria. Jaquez appears a certainty for first-team All-Rookie.

SCOUT TEAM: For those who dismiss in-game coaching, consider the 76ers’ final defensive stand Wednesday against the Heat, when forward Nicolas Batum blocked a potential game-tying 3-point attempt by Tyler Herro with 26.2 seconds to play. Turns out, Philadelphia’s scouting staff saw it coming. “They showed me that play, coaches showed that play in video, literally like a minute before,” Batum said, with the 76ers moving on to their first-round series against the Knicks. “We were expecting that play like for them to go around and catch it and go right, and straight-line wide open. That’s exactly the play they showed me a minute before. So I was expecting it.”

STILL STINGS: During the latest episode of his The Shop: Uninterrupted on HBO, LeBron James reflected on a moment during his tenure with the Heat and an award that got away. That was when James was voted Most Valuable Player in 2013, but finished second to Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol for Defensive Player of the Year, even though James made first-team All-Defense and Gasol second team (at the time, the media voted for the individual award, coaches for the team element). “I mean, that’s the only award that I don’t have in my house. It kind of stings,” James said. “I’ve talked about this before, like, it don’t make sense. It’s almost what (Jay-Z) just said about (Beyoncé). How could she have the most Grammys, but never won Album of the Year?”

HIS TIME: The lesson with Gabe Vincent for the Heat had been how the undrafted guard had a way of rising to the moment. While Vincent’s season with the Lakers was short-circuited by a knee issue, he appears to be finding his footing at just the right time, “Every possession he’s out there competing on defense,” teammate Austin Reaves said, according to the Orange County Register. “Just that heart that he plays with.” It is what the Lakers were seeking when they made their move in free agency. “He has this quiet toughness about himself,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Whatever you need him to do, he’s gonna do it. He’s gonna make sure he executes it and it starts with defense with him. The defense, diving on the floor, everything, he’s a hell of a competitor.”


780,928. Total number of chicken nuggets given away this season as part of the 76ers’ “Bricken for Chicken” promotion when a visiting player misses consecutive free throws in the second half, as the Heat’s Caleb Martin did in Wednesday night’s play-in loss at Wells Fargo Center. Fans get five nuggets the first time it happens in the second half, with that portion upped to eight if it happens twice in the same game and 12 if it happens three times. The 76ers host a web page tracking the promotion’s total.