Elvis sang about Burning Love. The Heat made it a reality.
After clearing waivers, Kevin Love found a new landing spot in Miami, followed by 10-year veteran Cody Zeller. The outfit desperately needed aid for the last 23 games on the calendar. Through the first three-quarters of the campaign, marksmen have lost their outside touch, and the group is the third worst of 30 teams in long-range efficiency. The backup center spot has been a problem too.
A season removed from being the runner-up to the sixth man of the year crown, Love’s playing time lessened after his comeback from a hairline fracture in the thumb of his shooting hand. He was inaccurate and a minus defender in man-to-man or zone coverage. The Cavaliers also had less use for him, with the focus of the frontcourt aimed at the development of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.
With a pen stroke, the last remnant of the 2016 championship team for the Land was gone.
Perhaps the Cleveland op was too swift to pass the executioner’s sword on his contract. Any player with street cred would be frustrated with a lack of minutes. But injuries happen, and someone stashed on the bench could be the right counter for a matchup or scheme.
The Heat wanted/needed another option at power forward. Caleb Martin is a serviceable player at that spot, but he’s a natural wing. Not that positions matter to coach Erik Spoelstra, but Love’s signing allows Martin to strengthen the second unit while staying in the instructor’s trusted eight.
Love is still a decent rebounder, plus an effective passer, but he doesn’t move well laterally on defense. At worst, he can call out screens and instructions from the backline of the zone. Open shots on the perimeter will be there on the other end for him as a result of Jimmy Butler’s dribble penetration and the extra attention on Bam Adebayo in the paint. Yet, where he could give the Heat an immediate jolt is with his hit-ahead dimes.
Miami is 28th in pace of 30 teams. One of Love’s signature plays in Minnesota and Cleveland was recovering a defensive rebound and outletting the rock to a cutter past midcourt with a defender on his back hip. In lineups with him and Kyle Lowry, Miami will have two weapons capable of executing that pass.
Love’s last game as a Cavalier came on Jan. 24, only logging 12 minutes and an assist in a two-point loss in New York. Clearly, he wasn’t himself. Distinguished sharpshooters don’t forget how to shoot from one season to the next. The near month he’s been off the court should have provided additional time for him to rediscover his range and for his thumb to feel better.
In the worst-case scenario, if Love is completely fried on offense, which is doubtable, it doesn’t hurt the Heat. He was a buyout signee. The only thing wasted in that event is time.
The Heat choosing to fill the hole at the backup five spot with Zeller signifies the front office wasn’t as worried about the point guard rotation, first reported by Five Reasons huncho Ethan Skolnick.
In the moments Adebayo sat, the Heatles would deploy Dewayne Dedmon (gone via trade) and Orlando Robinson. The highlight of D-Mac’s season was tossing a massage gun onto the floor. His favor among team supporters would likely be higher if he had sent the tool as a gift to Deshaun Watson in Cleveland on his way out instead.
Robinson is too raw and a weak defender against pick and roll as well. The Heat should not convert his two-way contract into a regular deal so that he can play in the postseason because he is not ready.
Zeller hasn’t logged a minute since Jan. 10, 2022. He is at least a nice insurance policy as a backup big man if Ömer Yurtseven doesn’t get his legs under him when he makes his season debut.
The starting point guard, Lowry, has been absent since Feb. 2, but there is optimism he could return before the month concludes.
Gabe Vincent has played well as the lead guard, recording 15.9 points per game, and making 43.9% of his field goals in his starts. Victor Oladipo is expected to be a solid contributor after missing the last seven games for the Heat, although he was reasonably close to suiting up for the All-Star break.
If the Heat hit on both new players, it may have temporarily solved its weaknesses around Adebayo, Butler and Tyler Herro.