5-on-5: Tanking, Miami’s Future and Hassan Whiteside’s Effort

Insight6 years ago14 min readMiami Heat Beat Staff

We are a few months into the season. Our expert staff at Miami Heat Beat is here to tell you how to think! Exciting right? We’re borrowing on ESPN’s 5-on-5 idea where we take five of our staff writers (against their will) and ask them all the same questions to hear their differentiating opinions (hot takes) on what’s going on with the HEAT. So without further adieu, let’s get started.

1. Are the HEAT actually tanking?

Giancarlo Navas: I think it’s a mix of being overly cautious and not really caring about losing games because there is a reward for it. The minor injuries open the door to sit guys, but I am sure those players want to play. So Miami is in this weird situation where it looks like its tanking, but I don’t see how players would be okay with not playing when they are on one-year deals. It’s weird

Harrison Cytryn: Can I call what the HEAT are doing “passive-aggressive tanking?” It’s not like the guys on the court aren’t trying; they’re just not that good. They’re running Spo’s offense with tons of looks at the rim and corner threes, but the talent just isn’t there. The “tanking” part could come in with the injuries. I saw Justise get hurt at the Bulls game and it didn’t seem like a multi-week injury. He even played through it. And leaving guys home on three-game road trips seems odd when the players want to be with the team (i.e. Josh Richardson). There’s a lot of season left, so we’ll see if the HEAT’s approach changes in the next few weeks.

Jack Alfonso: I don’t think Miami is officially tanking … yet. A shallow roster along with key injuries have held an already limited team back so far this season. Unfortunately, I don’t see things improving much for Miami in the near future. They’ll hopefully get Justise Winslow and other core players back in the coming month or so, but even a full strength HEAT team isn’t good enough to overcome the hole they dug themselves with their poor start. They have the talent and coaching to potentially go on a good run but ultimately I think Miami will be playing the lottery this summer.

Leif: Tanking, as I understand it, is a team’s intent to do less than everything it can to win. It is a concerted effort over several months (and perhaps several seasons) by a team to deliberately not be as good as it could be. While the HEAT may be acting with extra caution and patience with injuries to key players, (they did that during the Big Three era too by the way). In my opinion, they are not playing the actual games with intentions of losing. 

Alex Toledo: I don’t believe the HEAT are tanking. The sheer effort they’re playing with every time doesn’t exactly look like a team being encouraged to lose, and their [insert point differential here] (-3.9 adjusted for pace) shows it. I do think the front office isn’t too upset about losing a few games. They know they can’t seriously contend even when healthy, so they’re taking their time with bringing players back from injury. Getting a top 10 pick in another draft touted to be deep in legitimate talent isn’t the worst case scenario, and the HEAT front office is more self-aware than we give them credit to be.

2. Would it really be that bad if they were trying to tank?

Giancarlo Navas: In the macro no. They aren’t good enough this year and this draft is allegedly good. Won’t catch me dead watching college sewage ball. Where was I? Oh. but yeah, being the Hawks is the worst thing in basketball. Always pretty good but never good enough. The trick is not being the Sixers. My relationship with tanking is weird because the HEAT aren’t losers and I don’t want them to adopt a culture of losing to get better, but in small doses, they need to and by the way, have done. They are flexible and will do anything to get better. Can’t ask for more out of a sports team.

Harrison Cytryn: Hmm … yes and no. You never want to actively tank. The HEAT did that during that 15-win season when they shut everyone down and ended up with Michael Beasley. You never want to risk a serious injury, but if the young guys can play, they should. This is a season of growth and improvement, but if the HEAT take an approach that is too cautious, this may become a lost season.

Jack Alfonso: If Pat Riley and the Miami HEAT do eventually decide to embrace the tank, I don’t think it would be a terrible decision. It’s always a risk but this upcoming NBA draft class looks impressive so far and tanking could help Miami add another great prospect to their budding young core. The draft is never a sure thing but trading some veteran players for some younger prospects and picks could help Miami build for the future while allowing them to secure a higher lottery pick.

Leif: My view of “tanking” has always been that for one season, it is sometimes necessary to “bottom out” in order to rebuild properly. At some time, in any season such as this one, if the team appears to be sliding to the bottom of the standings, the incentive to secure the best odds of drafting at the top of a very strong draft outweighs the negative impact that a couple months (keyword: MONTHS) of losing might bring. Again, this is within the scope of one season. Not five. This context helps to ensure you are not destroying team culture. Also, the team is playing very hard. They are fighting each game for every loose ball, playing defense and hustling. They aren’t playing to lose.

Alex Toledo: Logically, it definitely wouldn’t be bad. The HEAT could absolutely use another talented young (and cheap) piece. Their ceiling with the team as currently constructed isn’t very exciting, so of course, it makes sense. It kind of defeats a lot of the purpose of watching games live, though, particularly if guys from the young core are out. So that’s kind of wack.

3. If the draft doesn’t go well for the HEAT, are you done with Riley?

Giancarlo Navas: What? Haha. His body of work is pretty great and the draft is kinda a crap shoot. I think the biggest thing against Riley is how generationally disconnected he is from the players he is trying to recruit. But, he has shown us that he is still a brilliant basketball mind. Don’t forget that he changed roster construction philosophies to make the Big Three HEAT> He is still sharp but is likely setting up for Spo and Co. to take over. Dude is old man, he has lived.

Harrison Cytryn: I’ll never be done with Riley. Miami basketball isn’t nearly as successful if Pat never comes here from the Knicks. But the fans would totally turn on him if this upcoming draft pick doesn’t work out. It’s not completely his fault, but you can’t have LeBron and Wade leave within a 2 year period and not expect a backlash if your backup plan ends up a dud. The HEAT’s scouting has been excellent since LeBron left, so I’d expect the HEAT to hit on their pick in June, and Riley will slowly hand the reigns over to Spo in the next few years.

Jack Alfonso: The draft is always a gamble so it would be hard to blame Pat Riley for not finding a star with their pick. However, he is aging and retirement has to be on the mind of Riley who has nothing left to prove. In the coming years, I expect to see a slow shift of power from Pat Riley toward Erik Spoelstra and the Miami HEAT organization. His legacy will live on through the stable organization that will be set up for success even in his eventual absence.

Leif: It is inevitable that Spo, Andy Elisburg and others are going to continue to transition to elevated roles in decision making. I think it is very healthy for the franchise to have a stable, clear succession plan in place as Riley prepares for retirement. This 2017 draft pick will be made with a strong influence of many people within the organization. There is a big difference between being in favor of Riley empowering Spo and others and wishing for Riley to simply “go away”.

Alex Toledo: I mean, if whoever the HEAT front office pick doesn’t work out, Riley might be done with Riley. It would be undoubtedly  “YUGE” if the HEAT landed a top-tier prospect, especially since further opportunities of that are so scarce. I trust the front office to do their jobs, though, yeah. And no, I wouldn’t be done with Riley for not nailing the pick. Also, Riley isn’t actually dictator of decision and draft picks are all just educated guesses anyway, TBH.

4. Will we see a completely different team around March?

Giancarlo Navas: People speculate a Goran trade that I just don’t see happening. If anything that would be the biggest change. There isn’t a lot on the trade market that wouldn’t be a lateral move and Miami doesn’t have assets to make something significant happen unless they give up the good players they have. So I am gonna go no here.

Harrison Cytryn: Oh yeah! Riley is going to tear this team apart like Honey Boo Boo would attack a Christmas ham. If he can get any kind of value for McBob, James Johnson, or Willie Reed, he probably pulls the trigger. And Pat will dangle Dragić, Ellington, TJ (would need his consent for any trade), and probably even Whiteside before the February trade deadline. After buyout season on March 1st, it’s very possible you won’t recognize your favorite basketball team.

Jack Alfonso: For better or for worse, I expect this team to undergo a lot of change by the time March approaches. Whether the team pulls off an unlikely turnaround or Pat Riley makes a significant trade, I think we see a dramatic change in the way the Miami HEAT team plays and looks. Miami has a lot of flexibility this season and their rocky start may pressure an already aggressive Pat Riley to pursue an exciting trade to inspire the imaginations of the fanbase. It would be surprising if a blockbuster trade were to occur, but you can never count out Pat Riley when it comes to making moves.

Leif: I don’t think so. I think other than a trade of Goran Dragic, and/or a small trade of one of the expiring contracts on the roster that could possibly help a contender in the short term, the team will ride it out with the players they have. Of course, it only takes a whale.

Alex Toledo: I don’t think this team will be too different in March, but that’s because Goran getting dealt this season has felt somewhat inevitable ever since the summer. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team itself was significantly worse without him. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this team got healthy soon and strung a good run of games together, resulting in the dealings for fringe roster improvements in order to get back into the Playoffs.

5. What would make this season “successful?”

Giancarlo Navas: If Miami can shed that awful Tyler Johnson contract.

Harrison Cytryn: It really wouldn’t take much for me to deem this season successful. I knew this year would be a rough one, and with all the injuries, it’s only becoming worse. But I’d look for a few things over the next few months:

A) Justise improves his jumper a bit and becomes a better playmaker
B) J-Rich regains his three-point stroke from the second half of last season
C) TJ becomes a good sixth man that can really handle the ball and initiate the offense
D) Hassan becomes a force on offense, while still defending the rim at an elite level. For me, it’s all about his effort.

If these four things happen, I’d deem this season a success.

Jack Alfonso: I think success for Miami could simply mean developing their young talent and building for the future. It doesn’t sound exciting or flashy but rushing the team’s rebuilding process could end up in disaster. Patience is probably going to be required in order to lay the best foundation for the future of the franchise as they transition into a new era.

Leif: This season’s success should be predicated on the development of Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Rodney McGruder. It should be measured by the growth of those young players, along with the continued emergence of Hassan Whiteside. This season is about gaining as much clarity as possible on what exactly you have from a talent and roster construction standpoint.

Alex Toledo: This season becomes absolutely successful if Hassan, Justise, Richardson and Tyler continue taking strides in their games. The HEAT are banking on their immediate development in two ways, it seems like: because of the known scarcity of draft picks and because the talented young core is supposed to help attract free agents to come to Miami. Ideally, we watch them struggle and subsequently overcome their enhanced roles.

Bonus: Has Hassan’s lack of effort annoyed you over the past few games?

Giancarlo Navas: I hate effort talk. But his seems disconnected at times. I get it but I don’t excuse it. He has a heavier load and he probably gets tired, he is frustrated because the team stinks and I am sure he doesn’t want to get hurt. The thing that actually drives me crazy is how lazy he rolls on a pick-and-roll. Like, dude, THAT SHOULD BE THE ONLY THING YOU WANNA HUSTLE FOR!

Harrison Cytryn: I know Whiteside has been asked to do a lot for this team, and it’s not an easy task. But if you’re not given 100% every night, you can sit on the bench. That is basically what Spo told him to do against the Cavs. Hopefully, it’ll light a fire under his a**. I don’t care much about the counting stats, I just want to see Hassan hustling and boxing out anytime he’s on the court. Hopefully, we’ll see improvement from that aspect of his game.

Jack Alfonso: No. The NBA season in 82 games long and effort fluctuates with every player over the course of the regular season. Playing on an undertalented and injury riddled team also can’t be great for morale. Hassan’s game has shown consistent all-around improvement since joining the Heat, and he has proven his ability to be an extremely effective NBA player. Erik Spoelstra is a great coach who knows how to get the most out of his players, and challenging Whiteside to improve is part of his job. I think it’s fair to point out his occasionally inconsistent effort, while also keeping a level head about a talented player who is continuing to learn the NBA game.

Leif: Dog bleep.

Alex Toledo: Hassan’s lack of effort is magnified because of his newfound status as best player on the team, because he makes pouty faces and because he’s a ginormous person. What I’m trying to say is it’s a bit overstated, because I’d bet a lot of it is fatigue. Also, how much can you blame him, really? He’ll get through this just fine (AND MAKE THE ALL-STAR TEAM, OF COURSE).

Want more Miami Heat Beat commentary and insight? Follow our writers and guest columnists on Twitter:

Alex Toledo (@TropicalBlanket), Giancarlo Navas (@gnavas103), Jack Alfonso (@alfonsohoops), Harrison Cytryn (@HotTakeHarry) & Leif (@Lefty_Leif).