The HEAT’s Worst Case Scenario Is A Blessing In Disguise

Commentary5 years ago10 min readAlf, Heat Twitter President

“Worst case scenario…”

I saw it so many times on Twitter Tuesday night that I decided to check if the phrase was trending in Miami. Instead, I found a bunch of tweets about a romper for men with accompanying visuals that shook me to my very core.

“Worst case scenario…”

It wasn’t disturbing men’s fashion that my Twitter timeline was discussing, it was the results of the NBA Draft Lottery that found the HEAT stuck, predictably, in the 14th slot.

This was the “worst case scenario.”

I, personally, was chastised by those disappointed with the HEAT’s fortunes on Tuesday night. The Twitter mob dug up my old tweets where I bemoaned the existence of HEAT fans who dared to root for losses. “See?!?” they cried. “All those wins were for NOTHING! We should’ve tanked!” They mocked me and others for ignorantly rooting for wins over lottery odds.

I’m not going to argue the virtues of competing over tanking. That time has passed. I’m also not going to point out how astoundingly stupid it is to think that the way any fan roots for their team affects the outcome.

I’m not going to point out how ridiculously dumb it is to root for losses when the whole point of watching sports is to see your team victorious in competition. I’m not going to bring up how only a moron would sit through a game hoping that in the end, the team you grew up cheering for heads into the locker room brokenhearted.

I’m not going to do it. Instead, I’m going to focus on how this season and Tuesday night’s outcome is anything but a worst case scenario.

How what the HEAT players and coaching staff accomplished over the second half has done wonders for the franchise and actually sets up the future nicely. How by not tanking and playing the season out till its bitter end has shed away some of the shadows cast on the franchise over the last few summers.

I feel like I can run for days, Wayne Ellington told The Miami Herald’s Manny Navarro during the season. I feel like my longevity and stamina is by the best it’s been in a long time.

Ellington is one of a handful of Miami players that have touted the HEAT’s conditioning program and culture throughout the season. We’ve all seen the before and after pictures like the ones Dion Waiters posted on Instagram highlighting the amazing physical transformation players have undergone upon signing with Miami.

On the left is a photo of Dion Waiters when he signed with the Miami HEAT this past offseason. On the right is a photo of Waiters at the end of this season. (Photo from Dion Waiters’ Instagram)

More importantly than what the HEAT’s program has done for players like Waiters, Ellington and James Johnson, is what these quotes have done to the HEAT’s image around the league. The accolades being doled out by Miami’s summer signees is a call to players across the NBA.

“Do you want to revive your career?”

“Do you want to shed some of the negativity that has followed you from team to team?”

“Do you want to be in the best shape you’ve ever been in and set yourself up for a nice payday?”

If the answer is yes, then sign a one or two-year deal with Miami. Take less than you probably could’ve had elsewhere, but gamble on yourself and it’ll pay off in the long run. Just ask guys like Luol Deng and Joe Johnson, who after short stints in Miami came away with some unlikely pay days.

The gamble is already paying off for Waiters and Johnson, who are both expected to receive significant raises this offseason. How much will those raises be? That’s mostly up to them. But from the sounds of things early on, a patented Miami HEAT discount may be in the cards for both.

I’m home. That’s how I feel. I feel really passionate about this place . . . Money has nothing to do with that. Basketball, I love the game and I love it here, said Johnson on the likelihood of re-signing with Miami this offseason.

After three summers of bickering with superstars, subtweets and Instagram pot shots, it looked like the days of Pat Riley “getting ‘em all, discounted” were over. It didn’t help that they showed up to a meeting with Kevin Durant sans Dwyane Wade and that Chris Bosh was feuding with the franchise over his return from a second blood clot scare. The ugly ending to the Big 3 era had cast a pall over the franchise leading into the 2016-17 regular season.

Old man Pat had lost his touch was the prevailing notion. And looking at the events of the last few years, it was hard to argue. Even the ragtag group he put together after losing Wade in a half-hearted bidding war with the Chicago Bulls seemed more like desperation than the machinations of the NBA’s godfather. And as the season wore on, it started to become more and more evident that the once slicked-back luster of Riley’s aura was giving way to the gray-haired mane of a career in its twilight.

Then a funny thing happened. Derrick Williams was waived and picked up by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Seems like an insignificant bump on a season-long roller coaster, but it was actually an important milestone on a road to redemption.

Everything [Riley] told me was the truth. I don’t think we have enough of that around here [in the NBA], Williams told reporters in Miami during a Cleveland Cavaliers visit to his former team’s arena.

Williams also called Riley a “man of his word” on Twitter shortly after being waived.

All of this was unsolicited, mind you. Williams had no incentive at the time to be anything but hurt that his opportunity with the HEAT had come to an end. Instead, he went out of his way to praise the man that so many had come to doubt. This seemed like the first time in a long time that Riley had gotten some good publicity and it wouldn’t be the last time this season.

I knew right away Pat was a real guy because he wasn’t even asking me about basketball. He was asking me about life, wrote Waiters in an emotional piece in The Players Tribune chronicling his life and highlighting this past season with Miami.

Waiters waxed poetic about the HEAT culture and what it takes to make it as a Miami HEAT player.

Again, unsolicited, a current or former HEAT player was in full view of the rest of the league praising the man and the franchise that had come under so much scrutiny in recent years. Time after time, from a late season Sports Illustrated Q&A with Johnson, to the exit interviews with players like Ellington, players praised Riley and his honesty. A very stark contrast to the accusations being thrown around in the Summer of 2016.

Once again, the idea of taking a discount to play for Miami and Riley was a topic of discussion. The idea of sacrifice that was once at the forefront of all things HEAT-related seemed like an antiquated notion just a few months ago, now suddenly had new life.

But even as Riley enjoyed a mini-renaissance, there was not a more important development this season than the emergence of Coach Erik Spoelstra.

It’s not all about coaching basketball, Johnson told Sports Illustrated in March. It’s not all about wins and losses to him. It’s about, can he change someone’s life in a positive way on and off the court? And the things that he does makes you want to be a better leader. His whole thing this year was, act like a champion before you’re a champion. And hearing things like that from a guy with all his experience gives you chills.

It’s strange to say that this season was a coming out party for a man with two NBA titles (three as an assistant) under his belt, but that’s exactly what 2016-17 was for Spoelstra. Maybe a coming-out-of-the-shadows-of-the-Big-3 party is more appropriate.

Many of us down here in Miami have known for years that Spo is a brilliant coach. But even here, the calls for his job came loud and often. The #FireSpo crowd would show up in mouth-breathing hordes after every tough loss and questionable decision.

But the HEAT’s mid-season push did two remarkable things: it quieted the local yahoos who want him gone and increased the chorus of writers, coaches and analysts around the country singing Spo’s praises. Without the crutch of superstars like Wade, Bosh and Lebron James, Spo’s true talent seemed to shine through. The same innovation and creativity that drove him to put Shane Battier at the power forward position in the 2012 Finals was on full display as Johnson played minutes at center while standing only 6-foot-8.

Finally, the nation was coming to realize what so many of us had already recognized: Spoelstra is one of the best 3 coaches in the NBA. The value that a top flight coach brings to an organization is immeasurable. It was reported that the shining star of the Durant meeting in the Summer of 2016 was Spoelstra, who was said to have blown away Durant with his knowledge of the game and his ideas on how to maximize his potential. Durant could even be heard on a podcast with Bill Simmons during the season touting Spoelstra as “one of the best coaches for the last six years” in the league.

Going forward, and as NBA stars become more cognizant of their brand and legacy, what better asset to have in a free agent meeting than a coach who was already proven he has the ability to improve a player’s image and stature by optimizing his time on the floor?

Would Spoelstra have been recognized by the NBA Coach’s association as co-coach of the year (along with Houston’s Mike D’Antoni) without the 30-11 finish that brought the HEAT within a tiebreaker of the playoffs? Doubtful. So any notion that the HEAT’s wins and playoff push were meaningless is silly.

In a league prone to tanking and where rest takes precedence over winning, what the HEAT accomplished this year is worthy of praise and admiration. Fans need to stop looking at a franchise’s assets not only in terms of draft picks and expiring contracts but in the value of standing and reputation.

The 2016-17 HEAT not only turned around a season on the brink but an organization on the verge, as well. Two decades of HEAT culture had taken a public pounding and seemed almost on the edge of collapse until it was saved by a 13-game winning streak led by a group of journeymen who believed in something bigger than ping pong balls and draft picks.

So if this is the worst case scenario—this fun, fulfilling, immensely important season—I’ll take it.

Could be worse. We could be the Sixers.