Heat enter camp believing they can contend, and Herro remains in the Miami mix

MIAMI – Tyler Herro spent the summer getting up before 5 a.m. most days, going to a nearby high school gym for workouts and wondering where he was going to play this season.

He’s still in Miami.

After a summer where the Heat were hoping to land Damian Lillard — Portland chose to trade the seven-time All-Star to Milwaukee instead — the reigning Eastern Conference champions reported for training camp on Monday with a familiar refrain in mind. They believe they can contend for a title, and now the real work starts.

“You just want to come into camp having a team that you know is going to be one of those teams competing for the title, and we have one of those teams right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I like our group. There’s a lot to like about this group. And I understand the fandom and the buzz and everything — everybody wants change after every single year. You don’t know if those changes will lead to anything on those other teams. But we like our group.”

The Heat have been to the Eastern Conference finals in three of the last four years, went to the NBA Finals in 2020 (losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble) and last season (losing to Denver), and bring back much of the core from the team that found its best stride in the playoff run last spring.

And they have been widely criticized for not landing Lillard, even though it was Portland’s decision to send him to Milwaukee. Not everyone in the NBA, however, is ready to write the Heat off, even after the team lost playoff starters Gabe Vincent and Max Strus in free agency.

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“Don’t overlook Miami,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday.

The Heat aren’t overlooking Herro either, even though this summer’s events may have had him thinking otherwise.

Herro is a past Sixth Man of the Year who has had plenty of clutch moments in his first four Heat seasons, and now is about to start cashing in on a deal that will pay him $120 million over the next four seasons. But he’s also been prominent in trade rumors twice – first when Miami was reported to be interested in acquiring Kevin Durant (who went to Phoenix) and now when Lillard made it known he wanted to be with the Heat.

It was reasonable to think that, if Miami and Portland were going to strike a deal, Herro would be one of the many assets that the Heat would have to send elsewhere.

“This one felt a little more real than any of the other trade rumors in in the past,” Herro said. “But it’s part of the business and at this point in my career I’m really just wanting to play wherever I’m wanted, whether that’s here or somewhere else, I don’t care. … I don’t think I’m not wanted here. A great player was on the market at the time and whatever happened happened.”

He’s not bitter about it, even trying to poke fun at the situation on social media in recent days by responding to a post saying he remains in Miami by adding “until next summer.”

Herro missed Miami’s playoff run last season, breaking his right hand in Game 1 of Round 1 against the Bucks. He didn’t play again, and the Heat went to the title round anyway.

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“It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks: He definitely could have helped and made a difference,” Spoelstra said.

Herro has averaged 20 points in each of the last two seasons, is averaging 17.7 points per game for his career, has seen his assist numbers rise every year and connected on 93% of his foul shots a year ago. There’s a lot there to like about his game.

Heat forward Jimmy Butler, who broke the Media Day internet with his new look Monday, said he liked how Herro dealt with the summer filled with noise.

“He handled it accordingly,” Butler said. “What else can you say? What else can you do? He put his head down and worked out like he always does, knowing that he can only control what he can control. So, he’s here. He’s going to make the most of that and he can come in, do his job, be a pro, go out there, score some baskets, win some games and knowing he’s on our team. I’m good with it.”

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