Which Eastern Conference finals team are you taking in the long run?
There is no debate that the Celtics and Heat have bright futures ahead of them. But which team would you rather have for the next decade? The Crossover staff picks which Eastern Conference finals team they want for the long run.
Predicting NBA futures seems easier than it is … we see a collection of young talent and assume it will grow together, or see a lack of it and forget that one signing or lottery win can help transform a team. At the end of the 2018-19 season, New Orleans’s future did not look so great, but it sure does now. Still, we can only judge based on what we see: talent on hand, management, coaching, future salary-cap space. Both franchises are extremely well-run and have top coaches who should be there a long time. I give the edge to Boston here because Jayson Tatum is 22 and Jaylen Brown is 24, and Marcus Smart is 26. Miami has a lot of young talent too—Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson—but I like the Boston trio better. (Heat star Jimmy Butler is 31.) Brown has already signed an extension. Tatum should get a max offer, and as long as he signs it, I like Boston’s future the most.
Tough call. On paper, it’s Boston, with a pair of budding stars under 25 (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown), a defensive stopper (Marcus Smart) in the same age range, a prime All-Star (Kemba Walker) and a cache of draft picks to play with. The Heat have young talent (Bam Adebyo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn) too, but in a star driven league, Tatum’s upside is higher than anyone on the Heat roster, Jimmy Butler included. But Miami has something else: Flexibility, specifically in the summer of 2021, when they project to be able to dangle a max contract in front of, say, Giannis Antetokounmpo, instantly turning a very good team into a great one. So my answer is Boston, with an asterisk, just in case Pat Riley has another free agent coup in his Armani pocket next summer.
The answer to this question depends how far forward you want to look when you define “future,” but I think Miami’s roster as constituted is better designed for sustainable success. This is partially because I’m still unsure about the long-term fate of the Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown pairing—those two have obviously found a way to make it work, but they’re both ball-stopping scorers by nature, and it’s not a perfect fit. I love Kemba Walker’s game as much as anyone, but he’s another ball-needy scorer. The Heat seem to know exactly who they are up and down the roster, and I lean Miami here because of how much I value Bam Adebayo, particularly on the defensive end, moving forward. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro are nice pieces, and Jimmy Butler is still only 31. If we’re talking next few years, I’ll take the Heat.
It’s a testament to the Heat’s rapid rise that this is even a conversation considering where the two franchises stood just a season ago. Miami was without Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson in 2018-19, and Bam Adebayo was nowhere near the player he is now. The Heat now have one of the most impressive young cores in basketball, and perhaps more importantly, cap space after 2020-21. Few franchises are better equipped for the Giannis Sweepstakes.
But I’ll still take the relative certainty in Boston over the potential in Miami. Jayson Tatum is the most valuable asset for either franchise, and he could very well win an MVP in the 2020s. Jaylen Brown is proving to be well worth his extension. Kemba Walker should be better in his second season in Boston. Shedding Gordon Hayward’s contract after 2020-21 should also add flexibility, and the Celtics could maneuver their way into contender status for a big-name asset of their own. Miami could very well make the 2020 Finals. I’ll still take the Celtics in the next decade by the thinnest of margins.
Granted, this comes with a giant caveat. If Giannis and AD decide they want to take their respective talents to South Beach, then, yeah, Miami will have a future so bright we’ll have to wear welder’s masks. But going by what each team has right now, you’ve got to give the edge to Boston. Miami has loads of talent in Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and the rest. But the C’s can match that with a veritable host of players who haven’t hit their mid-20s yet. What Boston has that sets the team apart is assets. The Celtics have three first rounders this year (plus three second rounders) and all of their picks going forward—on top of all of the kids on hand. Both teams will need tinkering—not just adding players, but potentially offloading deals as well. The Celtics have more pieces to play with, not to mention a strong history of effective deal-making.
When it comes down to the core of young talent, Boston has the edge over Miami. Yes, the Heat have four players under 25 years old who averaged over 10 points per game in 2019-20, but Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have shown quick growth, leadership and high ceilings. It will be fun to see Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro continue to develop in Miami, but the Celtics have proven they can succeed with their young talent at the helm in the immediate future. Meanwhile, the Heat will likely need more time for its young core to mesh and become go-to options beyond the reliance on Jimmy Butler.
One of the ugly truths of this year’s Eastern Conference finals might be that this could be the best chance that either the Heat or Celtics have to win a championship in the near future. The Bucks, led by two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, will be another favorite in the East and the 76ers, with a new coach and a potentially re-tooled roster, should improve too. Don’t forget that the Nets will also have Kyrie Irving back next season and oh by the way, Kevin Durant will be making his Brooklyn debut as well.
Of this year’s Eastern Conference finals teams, I think Boston has a better chance of remaining in the top group. Jayson Tatum still appears to be improving and he has the highest likelihood of any player in this series of elevating into the top-tier of players in the league. He’ll also presumably sign his long-term deal with the C’s while Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker are all already inked to lengthy contracts. Miami has Jimmy Butler locked up and will presumably keep Bam Adebayo, but they have more roster questions long-term. Goran Dragic is a free agent this offseason and Duncan Robinson will likely cost more than the around $1.5 million he’s currently paid when he enters restricted free agency after the 2020-21 campaign. Part of the beauty of the Heat this year is also their veteran depth, but players like Jae Crowder, Meyers Leonard, Solomon Hill and Derrick Jones Jr. are all free agents this offseason. Such questions also make me lean toward Boston long-term.
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