Dwayne Wade


MIAMI (AP) — If there was any reason for solace in the Miami Heat locker room after the final game of the season in Philadelphia, it was this: how to improve They knew they lost to a better team.

The Heat were good. They weren’t great. Hence, the challenge of the offseason is clear: The Heat have to not only find ways to improve, but will have to find some creative ways to make it happen. They don’t have a pile of salary-cap space to play with, they don’t have any picks in this year’s draft and they know that fellow Eastern Conference clubs like the 76ers — who needed five games to oust Miami from the playoffs — might only get better.

“We gave everything we have,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We have to be OK with that.” And with that, there is Question No. 1 of the offseason: Does Wade have any more to give?

Wade is considering retirement, a decision that could affect some of the personnel decisions the Heat will make this summer, plus could also have an impact on whether Udonis Haslem returns to Miami for a 16th season.

Haslem barely plays and insists that he still can help on the floor, but the Heat want him back to help provide locker-room leadership that teammates and coaches insist is necessary. The Heat dealt with injuries and inconsistency all season, yet still got back to the playoffs and won the Southeast Division. Miami believes it has a core that can be better next season, and it’s clear that a total rebuild isn’t in the cards for Pat Riley and the Heat front office.

Also clear, though, is this: If a fourth title banner is coming to Miami anytime soon, some changes are going to be needed. Philadelphia was better than Miami at virtually every position in their first-round matchup, and that’s what will resonate in Heat land this summer.

“When it ends in this league, whenever it ends, whether you’re in the playoffs or not in the playoffs or you get knocked out in later rounds, it never ends well,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But it doesn’t take away from the experiences we had for six months with this team.”

Here’s five non-Wade-related topics to ponder going into the Heat offseason: WHITESIDE DILEMMA C Hassan Whiteside wants a bigger role, and it may be time for a trade.

Moving him will not be easy, since Whiteside is owed about $25.5 million for next season and has a $27 million player option for 2019-20. There are selling points — he’s one of eight players in NBA history to be both a rebounding champion and a blocked-shot champion. But there are also injury and attitude questions, and those will hinder any trade talks Miami has.

INJURY WOES G Tyler Johnson, whose salary soars from $6 million this season to $19 million next season, likely needs surgery to repair his left thumb. He got hurt in the opening seconds of Game 3 against Philadelphia, but stayed in the series.

Josh Richardson (shoulder) and Goran Dragic (knee) were also ailing in the playoffs, and G-F Rodney McGruder — a key part of Miami’s plan for the season — missed most of the year with a stress fracture in his leg. Plus, it’s unclear if G Dion Waiters (ankle surgery) will be ready for camp after getting shut down midway through this season.

ELLINGTON WATCH Free-agent-to-be Wayne Ellington wants to stay and the Heat want the same, especially after he set the franchise record with 227 3-pointers this season.

Problem is, how can they pay him? The Heat have $111 million earmarked for only seven players — Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Waiters and Josh Richardson. They’ll find some wiggle room, of course, but Ellington is likely to get big offers from other clubs as well.

MAKE OR MISS It’s part of the Heat culture that defense must be the priority, and this season was no different. The Heat gave up the fourth fewest points in the NBA, with opponents averaging 102.9 per game. But the Heat offense could apparently use a boost. Miami was 15th this season in 2point percentage, 16th in 3-point percentage and 22nd in free throw percentage.

DEFEND HOME If the Heat are going to be better next season, they’ve got to be better at home. Including playoffs, Miami was 26-17 at American Airlines Arena this season — that .605 winning percentage just 19th-best out of the franchise’s 30 years of play.