For the Home Hapless Heat, A Cold Splash

Commentary3 years ago7 min readEthan Skolnick

MIAMI — He didn’t do it in Minnesota. Or Memphis, even after torching the Miami Heat’s Big Three while playing for the Grizzlies. He didn’t do it in Cleveland, which — if you’ve been to Cleveland — was quite understandable. Not in Dallas, nor Los Angeles, nor even in Brooklyn, though he was already 28, several seasons deep into his wandering NBA career.

But last summer, after two fine seasons in Miami — the second of which ranks as an all-time three-point shooting season in Heat history — Wayne Ellington finally did it. He bought. He purchased property. He and his wife and toddler child planted roots… and cribs. After all, though it was just a one-year contract with the Heat, this was among the most stable franchises in the sport. If any could figure out how to reduce a messy glut of small guards and find space for someone who helped create so much space on offense for others, it had to be Pat Riley’s Heat.

Except Riley didn’t. Not in the first 40-plus games. Not with so many silly contracts. Not until Ellington and Tyler Johnson were the guys who were gone, the man with the golden arm traded by the legendary executive who has seemingly lost his golden touch simply to save South Florida’s gold standard organization some luxury tax gold. And so here was Ellington on Saturday, returning as a Detroit Piston, beaming in the pre-game locker room about the prospect of knocking one of his seven former teams out of the East playoff picture.

“I know, I know,” Ellington said, through a laugh, prior to the Pistons’ 119-96 laugher against the hapless-at-home Heat. Head coach Erik Spoelstra expected them to “play a really good fourth quarter” following a decent end to the third, but Miami got scorched by the Springfield-bound quintet of Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard, Zaza Pachulia, Thon Maker, and Smith (that’s some crazy Ish).

“I know, I know, I know. Trust me, I know,” he said.

But what about that house?

“I did feel like I would be here,” Ellington said. “I truly did. But at the same time, man, it’s not bad to have a property in Miami.”

Until Miami falls into the ocean.

“Hopefully, it doesn’t happen this year,” he said, smiling again.

Global warming may not hit that quickly, not as quickly as reality has crashed into the basketball deniers, those who have continued to say this team has time to sort out its situation this season. And so, maybe the Heat’s 2018-19 season didn’t fall entirely into the ocean Saturday night.

But you can certainly see the seaweed from here.

“We’ve got to play better than this in every aspect of the game,” said Dwyane Wade, in a curt, annoyed post-game interview session, in stark contrast to his sanguine demeanor during his last weekend with actual stars in Charlotte. “I don’t have the answers. I’ve been saying it all year.”

Then, he said that a couple more times, his eyes already toward the training room, to end the media period early.

“Especially, at home,” Wade said. “We’ve played terrible at home.”

Terrible doesn’t quite capture it.

They’re 11-17 at AmericanAirlines Arena. For context, Adam Gase’s Miami Dolphins were 6-2 at Hard Rock Stadium last season. He got fired. Only the Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers are worse than the Heat in their own buildings, and those teams are doing it intentionally. The Heat are trying to win. We think, anyway. Sometimes, with some of the decisions, we aren’t so sure if some subtle stuff isn’t going on.

So this is not a good team.

That’s been obvious for a while, and while injuries have hurt (Goran Dragic finally, thankfully returned Saturday, just as Justise Winslow was sidelined with a knee injury), it’s not clear that having everyone healthy would have mattered. In fact, it probably would have made things worse; Spoelstra already has too many hands to feed, with no one truly worthy of being a primary option at this stage of their respective careers – either too grizzled or too green.

Wade has no answers because the front office had no answers, at least not yet. In time, they’ll trade off more contracts, they’ll get another crack at clearing the decks and using the sun and the banners as attractions, and since he seems to have no plans of going anywhere, Riley will take some more swings. But this? This season has been dreadful minus the Wade tributes, the Vice jerseys and Justise Better flashes.

Little else of note, unless you take pleasure watching Spoelstra, through minimal fault of his own, shuffle rotations, trying to find something that sticks. On Saturday, that meant playing undersized guards Dragic, Wade and Dion Waiters together, something that had never happened in preseason or the regular season. Or, after an injury to Rodney McGruder — who has shot 15 percent from three in his last dozen games — started the second half with Duncan Robinson at the two in a crucial contest. No, not the Spurs twin towers. A G-League project, albeit an interesting one.

So what’s left? Well, 24 more games of Wade, 13 at home, with his initial scorer’s table warmup peel stirring more hearts and memories than anything this team does on the court. And a playoff push, maybe, for whatever that’s worth.

The top of the East is formidable for a change, but the middle is as flabby as John Goodman’s. Take the best players from the teams positioned from 7th through 10th in the conference – currently the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit, Miami and Orlando Magic – and you couldn’t get a game off a healthy Golden State squad unless Kemba Walker or Blake Griffin went off. And yet, now, the Heat would lose the tiebreaker against all three of those teams based on head-to-head or conference record.

Again, simply not good.

And headed for only the fifth sub-.500 season of Riley’s remarkable 24-season tenure.

Many fans, pointing to the pointlessness of a postseason push, have called for the full tank for months, and they’ll feel validated if the Heat finish 9th or 10th in the East – similar to a 2016-17 season in which they were 11-30 at one point, rallied to within a tiebreaker of a playoff spot, and dropped far enough in the lottery to miss on Donovan Mitchell, among others. The Heat don’t like to do that (you know, that Culture thing), and so they were waiting, as at least four teams in the East committed to incompetence completely.

By now, it’s too late for a reasonable shot at at top four lottery spot – and the historical difference between the 9th and 15th picks is not that great if you can scout, which the Heat recently have shown they can. So I’ve made the case to attempt to make the playoffs for Wade, if nothing else. For one more moment before this season fades to black. Something to remember it by.

Something else, as if we need anything, to remember him by.

But after this forgettable evening, forget that was said.

We’ve seen Wade turn in one of the best performances in NBA history. We’ve seen him on the one of the best teams in NBA history.

What’s best now?

You can leave old friend Ellington’s house alone while sweeping this Heat season into the sea.

Ethan J. Skolnick, with 23 years of experience covering South Florida sports, is now the CEO of the Five Reasons Sports Network, and can be found at @EthanJSkolnick and @5ReasonsSports.