Making it clear that his annual offseason rankings "are not a predicted order of finish for next season," Aldridge placed the Heat 30th, dead last, in his weekly column Monday at NBA.com.
"It's an opinion," Aldridge wrote of his overall ratings, "that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so."
According to Aldridge's rankings, the bottom of his order lined up as:
No. 26. New Orleans Pelicans
No. 27. Minnesota Timberwolves
No. 28. Charlotte Hornets
No. 29. Cleveland Cavaliers
No. 30. Miami Heat
So, yes, Aldridge ranks the Heat below the team that lost LeBron James in free agency to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his analysis, Aldridge noted that the Heat neither lost nor gained any players in the offseason (although undrafted free agents Malik Newman, Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten have been signed, with Jordan Mickey signing to play in Russia). He also noted the Heat retained Wayne Ellington and Derrick Jones Jr. in free agency.
In the piece, Aldridge identified forward Josh Richardson as the Heat's "Key Man," noting this coming season being the start of Richardson's four-year, $42 million extension.
In explaining his placement of the Heat at the bottom of his rankings, he wrote:
"No, Heat people: I don’t hate your team. But when you have no Draft picks, and you have no cap space, and thus you literally could do nothing in the offseason, and basically did nothing in the offseason, and your biggest, most newsy event was whether your 36-year-old future Hall of Fame guard will come back for one more season or play over in China … well, what am I supposed to do with that information? Rank you first?
"The question is, how much better is your team now than it was at the end of last season? It’s essentially the same team; other than the likes of Richardson (see above) or Justise Winslow, it’s not like there’s a great step up expected from Hassan Whiteside or Goran Dragic, is there? The Heat is not any better than last season. It isn’t any worse. It just … is. So, 30."
Heat President Pat Riley said last month that to criticize the Heat's lack of offseason movement is to miss out on the bigger picture.
"Even though there has been a lot of activity on our part with having discussions around the league, we have a roster that's a playoff roster," he said, with the Heat coming off a 44-38 season and No. 6 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. "This year is pivotal for these guys when they come back to try to dispel the notion and the perception out there is that we are who a lot of people think we are.
"To me, that's a great challenge on the part of the team and the coaching staff. We are going to be a very competitive team. I do hope with the continuity and the belief we have with this roster, that we will be better."
Riley added, "You always want to improve the team in certain ways, but also you want to stay the course. I can remember a lot of the teams I coached, whether it was the Lakers or New York or even my earlier years in Miami, once we built a team, you build on that foundation and the most important thing that can happen with that team organically is you improve."
For daily Heat mailbag go to sun-sentinel.com/askira