Homegrown Heat: Why This Season Is An Acid Test of Heat Culture’s Credence

Commentary3 years ago5 min readChris Smith

Despite a disappointing loss on opening night in Orlando, Chris Smith sees plenty of reasons to be excited about this homegrown Miami Heat roster. 

It may be somewhat of a happy accident, but the Miami Heat 2018-19 roster is a product of what we’ve affectionately come to know as ‘Heat Culture.’

Of the 16 eligible players on the roster, the Heat directly drafted four. Four were picked-up as undrafted free agents, and three others were developed within Miami’s farm system.

Only Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, and Wayne Ellington had enjoyed substantive NBA game time before arriving on Biscayne Blvd. Even the latter trio were reclamation projects facing an uncertain future in the league before undergoing career resurgences with varying degrees of success in Miami.

So, yes, the Miami Heat starts the season with a predominantly homegrown roster. After years of enduring “built not bought” jibes from fans of rivals like San Antonio, this Heat roster is, ironically, as “built” from within as any in the NBA right now.

It’s fair to say this wasn’t by design. In many cases, it’s the result of front office contract decisions and fruitless pursuits of top stars. However, it still presents a unique opportunity for the organization and an intriguing prospect for fans.

More Than a Sound Bite

In many ways, it’s an acid test for the notion that Heat Culture – that oft-repeated credence of “hardest-working, best conditioned, most professional…” – is more than just a sound bite. This year we’ll truly see if “The Miami Heat Way” can produce a team that’s much greater than the sum of its parts.

Already, there are signs it could be. Pre-season, as fickle as it often is, has offered plenty of reasons to believe. Whiteside appears to be healthy and hungry. The shackles are off and Josh Richardson looks set to fully express himself offensively. Bam, it seems, can be absolutely anything he wants to be at this stage. McGruder proved more of a two-way threat with 14.6 points per game, and Justise? Well, as my colleagues on The Heat Beat podcast are fond of saying… Justise Better.

We’re seeing continued, rapidly broadening skill-sets for multiple players; pushing through perceived ceilings. That doesn’t just happen. It’s elite coaching, it’s organizational excellence, and it’s the players themselves fully buying in. It’s Heat Culture.

Nobody is saying this roster assembly was a conscious decision; neither is this the end for that “win now” mentality the organization is famous for. It’s not as if Pat Riley has hung up his rod and reel, even if he was less ready to chum the waters with Miami’s young talent this time around.

Even this summer, Miami reportedly shopped the contracts of at least two players diligently developed within the system: Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson. Most fans I talk to would have heralded those moves a success.

One, or perhaps even both, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow were offered to Minnesota in the pursuit of Jimmy Butler. That potential trade could yet see Richardson depart, while Winslow’s recent contract extension makes his departure less likely at this stage.

Wade’s return is due to his desire to have #OneLastDance and accept a relative pittance in salary (Kobe got 10-times as much for his send-off), rather than any aggressive moves on Miami’s part to bring him back.

Exceeding Expectations

Look, would any of us chosen this exact roster to open the season? Probably not. Most fans would have snapped-up any of those recent marquee targets and wished the young core well in their future endeavors.

The guys we have may never be the All-Stars needed to catapult Miami into championship contention once again. The roster is unbalanced and the Heat simply don’t have the shooting it needs for anything higher than the East’s No. 5 seed. But now that the season is here, I’m relishing watching this team.

These are unmistakably “our” guys, developed right here. In that respect, I (@ByChrisSmith), probably identify with this team as much as any since I’ve been following the Miami Heat.

To me, there’s something to be said for not casting aside the hard work bringing these players along and enabling other teams to reap the benefits of a Richardson, or a Winslow, or an Adebayo in their prime years. There’s something to be said for refusing to mortgage the future yet again while remaining competitive. That’s something I can really get on board with.

None of this is a very “Miami” thing to do, of course. I was surprised at how many Heat fans flippantly said, “Trade J-Rich, this is what he was developed for!” Maybe I’m getting too idealistic and sentimental in my old age, but that felt cold. I understand it; it’s logical. But is someone like Josh Richardson really that expendable on an emotional level?

Soon after I moved to South Florida from England in 2010, long-time Sun-Sentinel sports columnist David Hyde told me this was “an event town.” That Miami teams needed a star to excite the locals. With all due respect to Dwyane Wade, this team has no current stars, but I couldn’t be more excited to get behind the Homegrown Heat this year.

It won’t end with the Larry O’Brien trophy, but after last night, notwithstanding, I still expect this team to outperform expectations. I’m confident when the season is over, the NBA will truly know what Heat Culture is all about.