The Miami Heat are ready to start fresh in a new direction. After riding high for nearly a decade, the Heat now have a roster primarily composed of young prospects. When Dwyane Wade was drafted back in 2003, he instantly became the franchise player and one of the most popular superstars in the NBA. His stellar performance in the 2006 playoffs led the Heat to their first championship in team history. 4 years later, the Heat were fortunate enough to add more superstars named LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The trio led the Heat to 4 consecutive Finals appearances including back to back championships in 2012 & 2013. Following the 2014 Finals loss, the Heat Roster slowly but surely disbanded.
It all started when LeBron James decided to return to his home town Cleveland Cavaliers. He also took sharpshooters Mike Miller and James Jones with him. However, President Pat Riley still believed that the Heat were capable of contending for the NBA Championship. Dwyane Wade signed a short term deal and the Heat were ready to build around Chris Bosh by rewarding him with a 5 year, $118 million contract. Luol Deng came aboard and Goran Dragic was acquired in a trade. Unfortunately, Chris Bosh missed the remainder of the 2014-2015 season due to a blood clot in his lungs and the Heat missed the playoffs. Talk about going from top to bottom. However, Bosh was set to return the following season and the Heat continued to ride with this core. Joe Johnson joined the team mid-way through the season and the Heat had a well balanced roster to challenge the rest of the Eastern Conference. Then more bad luck happened: Chris Bosh would again miss the second half of the season with blood clots in his leg. The Heat still made it to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals but were eliminated in 7 games to the Toronto Raptors.
With a lot of expiring contracts and pending free agents, Heat Management were set to have a busy and stressful off-season (especially financially). Luol Deng signed with the Lakers & Joe Johnson signed with the Jazz. Perhaps the saddest loss to Miami fans were the Heat’s refusal to pay fan favourite Dwyane Wade the money he desired. After all Wade had done for the Heat and city of Miami, he eventually signed with his home town Chicago Bulls on a 2 year, $50 million deal. Then to add insult to injury, Chris Bosh continued to experience medical setbacks with blood clotting and Pat Riley announced that the Heat would no longer be working toward his return.
It’s been just 3 years since the Heat raised the Larry O’Brien trophy and now only one player remains from that roster. Veteran Udonis Haslem re-signed with the Heat knowing he would be a mentor to the young team, particularly rising star Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside was drafted in the second round by the Sacramento Kings back in 2010. After primarily spending the first 4 seasons of his career playing in the D-League and overseas, Whiteside broke out with the Miami Heat. Last season he averaged an impressive 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks en route to making the All-NBA Defensive Second Team. The Heat are now ready to build around the young 7’0 center when they rewarded him with a 4 year, $98 million deal this past summer. *Side note* Prayers to Whiteside and his family after the recent passing of his grandmother. After being a role player on a team full of veterans, Whiteside will now have to step up as a leader on this team. From a basketball perspective, improving his offensive game will be the biggest focus. Like fellow defensive centers Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan, Whiteside’s offence is limited to the paint. His 65% free throw shooting will also have to improve, although, that was a massive improvement from his 50% free throw shooting the season prior.
The Miami heat finished their pre-season with a 4-4 record. Head Coach Erik Spoelstra utilized different combinations of line-ups particularly due to injuries and giving young players opportunities to showcase themselves. The question remains though, is this how Pat Riley plans on re-building the Miami Heat in the post-Big 3 era? While Whiteside is the building block to attract other key players to take their talents to South Beach, the Heat will also use their championship brand and warm city weather in attempts to lure superstars to Miami. The other option (which is often long and painful) would be to focus on developing young players and acquiring as many draft picks and/or prospects as possible. It will be interesting to see the Heat’s strategy moving forward but one thing remains clear: Hassan Whiteside is the focus. The Miami Heat will tip off their regular season on Wednesday, October 26th against their fellow Florida neighbour Orlando Magic.