Riley Washed, Culture Dweebs and the Anatomy of Team Building

Commentary5 years ago6 min readGiancarlo Navas

27th. That is where the Cleveland Cavaliers rank in Net Rating through eight games this season. They have been objectively one of the worst teams in the sport and unlike years past the optimism that they will figure it out is less than it’s ever been.

Orlando, Indiana and a hobbled Boston sit a top the eastern conference and while it’s still early — this is exactly why the Heat always try and compete. This is why they go after Gordan Hayward even though it felt like it wouldn’t be enough to topple Cleveland. They want to be in the conversation. It’s been their style since Pat Riley fled New York for Miami. Keep it close and if there is an opportunity throw all you have at it.

There is however a divide between the fan base, some believe that it’s futile to try and build a half ass contender because Cleveland and Golden State are so dominant. Others believe and worship “Heat culture” and feel that it trumps all. And others believe Pat Riley has lost his touch, that he is #washed and isn’t fit to manage the Heat.

Heat fans are segregated into cliques that align with what their idea of optimal team building is: Culture Dweebs, TankSZN, ResultzPlaya and #RileyWashed. And while they each have merit, the conversation is out to the extremes. The entire discourse around this franchise post-LeBron has swirled in this purgatory. Pat Riley is not blameless, however there is a lot of revision on what actually happened following LeBron’s blindside.

He left a team that went to the finals to a team that was unproven. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Tristian Thompson and Dion Waiters hadn’t done any winning in their careers. None had seen a winning season and LeBron left behind Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and parts that made the NBA Finals in a weak east. The Warriors in their current destructive incantation didn’t exist yet and it was reasonable to believe that Miami would be a very good team that season.

Henry Thomas, the agent for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, put the organization in a second bind by leveraging Bosh’s contract over them at the expense of paying Wade, when it had been reported the organization wanted to pay them both the same. The Heat struggled early to the surprise of many. Around mid season Hassan Whiteside emerged as an unlikely savior. Bosh and he had to learn to play together and Riley packaged Heat Lifer Danny Granger, spare parts and some first round picks to acquire an All-Star caliber point guard in Goran Dragic.

Then, Bosh’s health problems started to emerge. The rebuild Riley envisioned and rather quickly pulled off was sabotaged by blood clots and the frailty of the human body. Miami was a three seed in 2016 and lost Hassan to injury in the second round. No Bosh, no Hassan and Miami fell on the road to the Raptors in game 7. The Dragic, Wade, Deng, Bosh and Hassan lineup only got to play 339 minutes through 28 games. Not even half a season to gel and figure things out.

After that run Wade left and the franchise has been heavy on the culture propaganda. Trying to rebuild a brand damaged by Wade, losing and blood clots. #TankSZN was out in full force last season while the 30-11 finish happened last season. Arguing this winning isn’t helping the franchise long term. That they are a .500 team with no assets and hopes to compete. When Kyrie Irving was on the market Miami didn’t have the assets to acquire him. First round picks were hard to come by since 2010 as sign and trades for LeBron and Bosh cost them four and Dragic cost them another two.

Miami was bare with assets because they tried to win and it’s fair to be critical of moving them for Dragic, but it is also important to contextualize what was happening at the time. They felt they had a chance. They put what they had in and did all they could to win, only to be derailed by the cruelty of injury. Last offseason Riley felt confident in a 30-11 finish went after the best free agent available, feeling Spo could maximize an already great player and vault them into conference contention.

With Cleveland looking as vulnerable as they have looked since LeBron went back it’s not unreasonable to think that Miami would be one of the conferences top teams now with Hayward and perhaps a few better free agent role players.

Riley gave questionable contracts to Tyler Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson while also maxing out Whiteside who is with his faults. Miami doesn’t have much in the way of assets outside of Hassan and Josh Richardson. They have had to creatively, and effectively, use the D-league to find rotation players. Josh McRoberts was an apocalyptic disaster and the team has been good enough to be competitive but not good enough to get a high pick to draft a franchise changing talent.

This is all true and it’s fair and right to question some of the decision-making, it’s also unfair to not apply perspective to how this team got to where it is. It’s unclear what the plan is moving forward other than reset in four years when most of the contracts on this team expire. It’s also that plans didn’t work post-LeBron, but don’t be a #ResultzPlaya.