Part of the drama of the NBA playoffs is the unspoken part of the NBA playoffs. It is about the names that loom in advance of the ensuing start of free agency, of how what you are witnessing at the moment may be subject to dramatic change in mere weeks.
For the Heat, that was the case during last season’s playoffs, when, for all Erik Spoelstra’s team was accomplishing, there remained the what’s-next question with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Eventually, Antetokounmpo re-upped with the Bucks and thoughts of an eventual Heat upgrade turned elsewhere.
Now the hot name linked to the Heat during the postseason is the same name that was linked to the Heat at the March 25 NBA trading deadline: Toronto Raptors franchise mainstay Kyle Lowry.
Yes, there also has been chatter of Kawhi Leonard potentially coming into play in free agency if the Los Angeles Clippers endure another playoff flop. But for all of the consternation of Leonard commuting from his San Diego-area home to Los Angeles, the drive to South Florida is considerably longer.
So, for now, it is the possibility of a Lowry upgrade that looms.
With the revelation from Jimmy Butler that Lowry is godfather of his daughter, there certainly is connective tissue.
And, more importantly, there is enough potential Heat salary-cap space to either outright sign Lowry in free agency, or at least mount enough of a threat to draw the Raptors into conversation about a sign-and-trade.
On the face of it, it seemingly would come off as little more than subbing in one 35-year-old point guard, in Lowry, for another, with the Heat then unlikely to retain Goran Dragic.
Typically, teams don’t gravitate toward 35-year-old anythings in free agency. But after a season when Chris Paul was dominant at 36, Stephen Curry played at MVP level at 33, Mike Conley Jr. re-emerged at 33, Derrick Rose thrived at 32 and Russell Westbrook proved rejuvenated at 32, who’s to say what’s old anymore when it comes to 30-something point guards?
As it is, Lowry admitted at his season-ending media session that even he doesn’t know what will come next.
“Everyone’s gonna have their own opinion,” he said. “And it’s a good story for people to write and to have fun with. But we’ll see what happens. No one knows what the future holds. No one knows what comes with the next day. We all just have to live it every day and every moment. And that’s important, to just take it day by day and minute by minute, hour by hour, and live our lives like that.
“But it’s a cool story to write for people. I just hope they make me look really cool.”
The Heat assuredly could do far worse than a player coming off a trying, dislocated season who averaged 17.2 points, a year after averaging 19.4, while shooting .396 on 3-pointers.
At the trading deadline, as the clock ticked toward the zero hour, all eyes were on his hometown Philadelphia 76ers and then the Heat when it came to potential Lowry relocation. Heat President Pat Riley refused to blink when it came to Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson, or at least that’s what he said during his media session after the expiration of the deadline.
Instead, Riley took a lower-cost risk on Victor Oladipo. And had Oladipo panned out, had there been more than an encouraging four-game sample size before season-ending quadriceps surgery, revisiting Lowry might have remained moot.
But with Butler holding the option to opt out of his Heat contract after next season, and with Butler also with the option to extend this offseason, uniting Lowry and Butler could forge a short-term blueprint, as the Heat work through the growth of Bam Adebayo and the team’s younger components.
No, not as sexy as what was fantasized with Giannis. Not as enticing as the longshot possibility of Kawhi.
But it’s out there, in the ether that permeates the playoffs if for no other reason than by how quickly free agency follows the postseason.
With Butler assuredly on call to recruit.
“I want more championships. That’s always been the goal,” Lowry said, having shared in one with the Raptors in 2019. “Yeah, the money comes with that and you’ll get paid, but championships are a big key into why I play this game.”
Lowry isn’t part of this NBA postseason, won’t show up on your Miami Heat scorecard over these coming weeks. And, no, the Heat are not out there attempting to prove themselves to Kyle Lowry.
But he will loom and remain linked, because that’s how, to the consternation of coaches and front offices, this works in the period between the end of the regular season and the start of free agency.
The NBA has long ago moved on from living in the moment. As Heat offseason free-agency chases have shown over the past decade-plus, it’s also about considering the next moment.
Because that moment will arrive soon enough.