The thought was simple and straightforward.
“I would like to start,” Tyler Herro said in the wake of the Miami Heat’s season ending with their loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. “I think it’s my fourth year, so hopefully I’ve earned it, and we’ll see what happens.”
And, yes, next season will be the fourth for the guard selected out of Kentucky in the 2019 first round.
Until now, playing Herro off the bench has created a comfort zone for Erik Spoelstra’s handling of the Heat roster.
Through three seasons, Herro has started only 33 of his 175 regular-season appearances, five of his 40 playoff appearances.
That has allowed Spoelstra to feature a 3-point specialist in his starting lineup, position Herro defensively against opposing reserves, and balance his rotation.
But at some point, even with all the Heat Culture mantra about sacrifice, a player also earns the right to spread his wings.
In this case, the butterfly effect could be significant.
Based on the current Heat mix, if Herro starts, it would . . .
– Move Max Strus to the second unit.
– Which therefore would make it even more difficult to create playing time for Dunson Robinson, as Robinson enters a season when he will earn $16.9 million.
– All but eliminate the possibility of Victor Oladipo gaining an NBA starting role with the Heat, which likely stands as his next goal amid his arduous rehabilitation process from May 2021 quadriceps surgery.
– And, unless Oladipo nonetheless stays or a similar replacement is added, remove a shot creator from a reserve rotation that could otherwise feature Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin and perhaps Omer Yurtseven, none of whom are off-the-dribble threats.
Then again, if Herro gets an extension that is projected to fall into the Jaylen Brown range, it would be difficult not to shift an eventual $25 million player into the starting lineup.
For the Heat, a slow play could provide the simplest answer.
Kyle Lowry has two seasons remaining on the three-year, $85 million contract he signed last August. So with patience, Herro could slot into the first team when Lowry, 36, reaches his contract expiration.
But that would require asking for two more years of patience for the 2022 NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
In recent seasons, winners of the award have remained cast in such roles. Jordan Clarkson, the 2021 winner, started only one game this past season. Montrezl Harrell, the 2020 winner, has started only four since. And perennial winners Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams have remained career reserves.
So there is a history of leaving well enough alone.
Which raises the questions of: Is that good enough for the Heat with Herro? And is that good enough with Herro?
As a reserve, Herro led the Heat in minutes this past season, finished a close second to Jimmy Butler in scoring average (21.4 to 20.7). His 1,122 shots were 293 more than anyone else on the roster.
It’s not as if Herro was treated as an afterthought while cast as sixth man.
So perhaps the argument becomes that simple for Spoelstra.
Ain’t broke. Don’t fix. And fire away.
But Herro has been about making a splash since suiting up for that 2019 NBA draft.
Appearances seem to matter plenty.
In the wake of an uneven postseason compounded by a groin strain, Herro noted, “I think people forget that I just turned 22 and it’s still only my third playoffs.”
So perhaps while asking for patience, he can remain patient.
Then the Heat get to start Bam Adebayo, P.J. Tucker (if he opts in or returns in free agency), Butler, Lowry and the best available shooter.
For Adebayo, the wait to start was a two-season delay behind Hassan Whiteside.
For Butler, there also was a two-season apprenticeship as a reserve, in his case with the Chicago Bulls.
For Lowry, it wasn’t until after four seasons that he became a starter with the Houston Rockets.
But as the Heat have shown with some who have started ahead of Herro, from Kendrick Nunn to Robinson to Strus, it’s not solely about putting your best five front and center.
To Spoelstra what matters is get better, be better.
“It might not happen exactly on the timeline that a player or a team may want it,” Spoelstra said of Herro’s ascension to the next level. “But eventually, you just can’t contain that kind of skill.”
IN THE LANE
THE MAX FACTOR: For all of his chiding of the Heat during the playoffs, including correctly predicting the Celtics would win the Eastern Conference finals, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green said the piling on about Max Strus’ shooting struggles was over the top, considering all Strus had contributed while playing for the league minimum of $1.7 million. “I feel bad for guys like Max Strus, who has done an incredible job of solidifying himself as an NBA player,” Green said on his podcast. “He may not quite be a starter on a conference-final team [in terms of pedigree], and then get judged by that? But let’s not forget this guy makes what, $2 million or something like that a year? Like, people want to judge him in comparison with the guys who are making thirty or forty million dollars. Like that guy, what he has done in his career is absolutely incredible. And I think some of the judgment that is being cast on him, due to their roster, I think is a bit unfair. And I wanted to throw that out there, because I see the slander about Max Strus.”
FIX IS IN: No less than comedian and podcaster Bill Burr, the Boston-area native and fervent Boston sports fan, questioned some of the whistles during Heat-Celtics. Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC, which is also carrying the NBA Finals, Burr offered his theory. “I also think the NBA is sort of low-key rigged,” he said. “Why does that surprise any NBA fan? I don’t know how many times you can watch a game: A team goes up by 20, right? And then all of a sudden, ticky-tack foul, ticky-tack foul, they’re in the penalty, the other team is going to the line. Their job is to get it down to about five to seven at halftime. And then an ESPN talking head then comes on and goes, ‘I’ll tell you right now, I’m really concerned about that team that used to be up 20 and is now only up by five.’ ” He continued, “First half of the third quarter is for the players, and then the referees assess what they need to do and make it come down to the final two minutes.” Of the Celtics advancing, Burr quipped, “We fit the script this year.”
HIS SCHEDULE: Like Heat forward Udonis Haslem, former Heat forward Andre Iguodala said any decision on retirement will come on his schedule. Iguodala, 38, is back with the Warriors and back in the NBA Finals after spending a season and a half with the Heat. “We’ll wait until we see how it ends. It can go either way with wins or losses,” Iguodala, who left the Heat in August in free agency, told NBA.com. “I know my answer. But I don’t want to put it out in the world. I don’t want to get in trouble.” Of Iguodala’s impact this season, Warriors coach Steve Kerr quipped, ”He does it in a way only Andre can, with humor and sarcasm and cryptic messaging.”
ANOTHER CHANCE: Perhaps it was the influence of Heat icon Dwyane Wade as a member of the Utah Jazz ownership group, but among the 18 free agents the Jazz brought in this past week for tryouts were former Heat guard Tyler Johnson and former Heat forward Chris Silva. Johnson, 30, last played in the NBA on a 10-day contract with the San Antonio Spurs in January, amid their COVID outbreak. Silva, 25, last was in the NBA on his Heat emergency 10-day contracts in January, amid their COVID personnel shortages. Silva finished the season in the G League with the Minnesota Timberwolves affiliate.
DOUBLE DUTY: Already named the Sacramento Kings’ next coach, Mike Brown first is finishing off the playoffs as a Warriors assistant. Heat guard Gabe Vincent, who was coached by Brown on Nigeria’s Olympic team last summer, is a fan of the Kings’ move. “Absolutely,” said Vincent, who started his pro career with Sacramento’s G League affiliate. “I know that’s something that he wanted to do and was working towards. So I’m happy for him getting an opportunity there, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
10. Consecutive playoff series the Heat had won when up 2-1. That streak ended after taking a 2-1 lead against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals and falling 4-3. The last time the Heat had lost a series in such a situation was the 2011 NBA Finals against Dallas, which they lost 4-2.