The Miami Heat are aiming to return to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four seasons, but their weakened roster will need a surprise contribution from somewhere to do it.
The Heat were inches from a return to the NBA Finals last season, with Jimmy Butler's three agonisingly bouncing off the rim in the final moments of game seven.
After coming so close, it's little surprise they've kept faith with last season's core - especially given the lack of gettable stars on the market. Even with that continuity, potentially half their starting five remains undecided.
|What||NBA Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||October 18th 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||Sky Sports, NBA Pass, bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||BOS Celtics +700, GS Warriors +600, LA Clippers +700, MIL Bucks +650, BKN Nets +700|
The only new face in Miami so far is 27th pick Nikola Jovic, a promising 19-year-old forward who is likely to be no more than a prospect in the short term.
Meanwhile, PJ Tucker departed for a huge three-year deal in Philadelphia. Tucker was a defensive cornerstone for the Heat, alongside being a three-point threat from the corner.
He joined off the back of helping the Milwaukee Bucks to the 2021 title but he'll be 38 by next year's playoffs, so he was only ever a short-term fix.
The Heat still have a gap to fill at forward, with Jae Crowder, John Collins and Harrison Barnes all linked as options. That trio all bettered Tucker's average of 7.6 points per game, recording 9.4, 16.2 and 16.4 respectively.
If they can plug one of those into their defensive scheme with added scoring threat, the Heat will be contenders again.
Butler may have missed the chance to send the Heat to the Finals, but they only got that close thanks to his incredible performances.
'Jimmy Buckets' averaged a career-high 27.4 points per game in the playoffs, posting four 40-point games across 17 appearances.
His 47-point display in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals was the highlight of his run. He stepped up his game after averaging 21 points per night in the regular season, but can Butler translate his playoff form to the 2022/23 campaign?
At +4000 to win MVP this year, it's clear Butler isn't expected to really hit his stride until the 2023 postseason. However, with the Heat likely to regress defensively without Tucker, they're going to need their star to chip in a little more.
The Heat have backcourt issues which date back to their playoff run, when Duncan Robinson fell out of the rotation and Kyle Lowry missed almost half their games. The Heat went 4-6 in those games, with Lowry posting less than eight points per game.
They won seven of eight games in which Gabe Vincent started in his place, with the undrafted guard beating Lowry's average points in fewer minutes.
Meanwhile, Erik Spoelstra turned to Max Strus over Robinson, who was limited to just 11 minutes per night after posting 27 points in Game One of the first round.
With Victor Oladipo and Tyler Herro also pushing to start at shooting guard, Robinson is unlikely to get back in the picture anytime soon.
On one hand, Spoelstra has plenty of options but getting his starting five right looks like a challenge, with two - or possibly three - spots up for grabs.
The Heat start with some early tests, tipping off at home to the Chicago Bulls. Those two sides were vying for top spot in the East heading into the All-Star break earlier this year, so it will be a good guage of where they stand.
A four-game home stand starts off the season for the Heat, who host the Boston Celtics in a rematch of the Conference Finals.
Then it's a double header against the Toronto Raptors, before the Heat kick-off an early West Coast tour at the Portland Trail Blazers.
After coming so close to a second NBA Finals in three seasons, the Heat will be hungry for more. Given Butler's displays - and the massive contract handed to him - Miami will need to be in the title mix.
There could be a drop-off in the regular season for last season's top seeds in the East, especially if their power-forward hunt drags on towards the trade deadline. However, the Heat certainly seem underrated as +800 fifth-favourites to win the Eastern Conference.