If you have watched a minute of the postseason this year, then you will know the Miami Heat are the team that have overachieved massively. A Play-In Tournament loss to the Atlanta Hawks feels like a distant dream at this point.
Their come-from-behind win over the Chicago Bulls was only a prelude to a stunning first-round upset of the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat culture is apparently a real thing and it shows up when it matters most no matter the Heat’s record.
Jimmy Butler is of course the motor here, one who has them humming along to what looks set to be an incredible Eastern Conference finals berth after Saturday’s game three win over the New York Knicks.
But in Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, the Heat also boast a starting backcourt of undrafted players. Yet more proof, not that it was needed, that few if any do business in the league better than the Heat.
And so the Orlando Magic have to be thinking about poaching from their rivals to the south to make their team better as they think about what to do with their ample cap space and desire to push into the playoffs next year.
Gabe Vincent has plenty of intrigue for many teams, but the soon to be unrestricted free agent in Max Strus is a player the Orlando Magic simply have to pursue this summer.
It all just makes too much sense really. As things currently stand, the 2-guard position is the one starting spot on the Magic’s roster that is up for grabs.
Strus would slide into that position so well, playing next to a high IQ point guard in Markelle Fultz, two budding stars in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, and a center in Wendell Carter who would protect him in the same way Bam Adebayo currently does for the Heat.
Strus is undersized, yet he does not feel like a massive liability whenever he is on the court. To his credit he works hard, but Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra deserves a ton of credit for devising schemes that hide Max Strus well against elite opponents.
Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley has a long way to go to be mentioned in the same sentence as Erik Spoelstra. But entering his third year at the helm next season, there is no doubt the defensive end of the floor is the part of the game that has come easiest to him as a coach.
So much so that during the regular season the Magic ranked as high as fourth in the league in the month of February in defensive rating. And after an awful 5-20 start finished the season 18th (113.7) in this category overall and sixth in the league after Dec. 7.
With that area taken care of, Strus could focus on the sole reason the Magic would be going after him. His ability to take and make difficult shots, most notably from 3-point range.
His Game 3 performance against the Knicks, when he had 19 points, not only came in the natural flow of the game. They were also second only to Butler’s 28 for the Heat.
Strus has been a shooting dynamo for the Heat, torching the Magic on several occasions in head-to-head matchups. He averaged 11.5 points per game on 35.0-percent shooting from deep this year after averaging 10.6 points per game on 41.0-percent shooting from deep in his breakout 2022 season.
Games like Saturday’s Game 3 are not unusual. He steps up in big moments.
Cast your mind back to last month, and in a do-or-die game against the Bulls to make the Playoffs proper, Strus had a ridiculous 31 points, was 7 for 12 from deep, and finished the game with a team high +27.
It prompted Butler to utter the following when speaking to media after the game;
"“For me, honestly, speaking, I think Max made himself a lot of money tonight. The work that he puts in, it shows, it really does. He tries on every single possession. He tries to do the right things on offense, tries to do the right coverage on defense. We love him for that. We want to continue to be successful.”"
Obviously the Heat would love to keep Strus beyond this season, and as Butler has rightly pointed out no matter where he goes next, he is going to get a serious upgrade on the less than $2 million he made this season.
What the Magic can offer him is the chance to remain in Florida, a place he is familiar with and which has favorable income tax laws. They can also promise him a starting role on a group that is only going to get better.
The Heat are the better team right now, that is not even up for debate. They also retool better than just about any other organization in the NBA today.
But Butler will be 34-years-old by the time next season starts, and the window they have forced open this season will not remain so for much longer. Strus himself is already 27, which puts him on a timeline much more in line with the Magic.
The Magic also have the cap space to go out and get him this summer at a reasonable price, perhaps even using the non-taxpayer midlevel exception on him if they operate over the cap once again next season.
Strus will have plenty of other options, but how many other franchises out there would be willing to pledge some of their cap space on Strus? Rebuilding teams don’t need him right now, and for true contenders he probably isn’t the guy who gets you over the top.
The Magic exist in that sweet spot where they are going for the Play-In at a minimum next season, and could desperately do with his shooting and willingness to step up and take shots that many others won’t.
We have seen him do it for the Heat frequently this postseason, and is absolutely the type of offensive weapon, who will not cost what the likes of Fred VanVleet would, that the Magic should be serious about adding to their rapidly improving roster.