Appreciating Josh Richardson in the Aftermath of Landing Jimmy Butler

Commentary

Over the past few years, “mediocre” has been the word most commonly used to describe the Miami Heat. The organization has been devoid of cap space, assets, and star power in the wake of LeBron James’ departure in 2014.

It hasn’t been very fun. As the prideful memories of the Big 3’s dominance grew dimmer, Heat fans began to lose their trademark cockiness. Doubts about Miami Heat president Pat Riley’s ability to manage the team crept into the conversation for possibly the first time in his tenure. The fans who continued to seek entertainment in these middling Miami squads found it in “#TheKids.”

Any joy in being a Heat fan these past few years largely came out of watching Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, and Bam Adebayo develop individually and as a trio. Miami didn’t have star power, relevance, or the requisite tools for title contention, but they did have a growing group of personable, young players who continually impressed the many people who dared underestimate them.

This may not be the dream of sports fans. It certainly isn’t as dazzling or satisfying as late June lobs from Wade to James, but it helped make the team’s perennial playoffness a bit more palatable for those who stuck around.

https://twitter.com/miaheatbeat/status/1145901656657281024?s=20

Now, as anyone reading this is already undoubtedly aware, Miami is stepping into a new era. With the acquisition of former Philadelphia 76ers guard and four-time NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler, Pat Riley finally has his superstar and will look to transform the team even further in the hopes of launching the organization back into the conversation.

This moment — this acquisition — is what fans from Boynton Beach to Biscayne Bay have been waiting for since the Big 3 broke up nearly five years ago. As faith dwindled, Pat Riley gave the team the shot in the arm it needed to regain some relevance.

Heat fans are understandably elated, and I expect to see plenty of Jimmy Butler Vice jerseys in arenas around the country, but something in the aftermath of the acquisition undermined the pure excitement of the moment. Amidst all the celebration, many Heat fans mourned the departure of a fan favorite.

On a night that should have been dominated by lighthearted boastfulness, Twitter was filled with solemn appreciation for Josh Richardson’s Heat tenure. 

That’s the odd thing about change; the bittersweet nature of trades. Even in improvement, in an overwhelmingly successful transaction, there is loss; there is a person being displaced. Jimmy Butler cost the Heat Josh Richardson. From a basketball perspective, it’s tough to argue with. Butler gives Miami the shot creation and star power they need while Richardson provides Philly with valuable spacing and defense.

Still, the immediate reaction to the trade by Heat fans was consumed as much by melancholy commemoration for J-Rich than by excitement for Butler. The notoriously trade-ravenous fanbase took the time to wish Richardson well before taking to the streets with their pots and pans. 

https://twitter.com/AIR305/status/1146186630329438218?s=20

This reaction to Josh’s departure says more about him than I ever could. He holds a unique place in the hearts of Heat fans. It wasn’t just his lockdown defense, his smooth jumper, or his highlight-reel athleticism. He’s funny, friendly, and genuine.

https://twitter.com/miaheatbeat/status/1044949340597497856?s=20

Anyone who interacted with him, whether as a fan or as a member of the media, came away with only positive things to say.

At a time when getting excited about the Miami Heat wasn’t easy, Josh and the Kids gave people something to care about. And maybe more than Bam or Winslow, Richardson inspired pride in a Heat organization that had a difficult time inspiring anything more than disappointment.

He was the second-round pick that defied the odds by growing into a reliable outside threat with valuable defensive versatility. His play did more than simply excite fans about his potential, it set an example and offered a new vision for the future of the franchise.

If Miami could find hidden gems in the draft, maybe they could work their way back up the ladder despite their horrid cap situation. Speculation about what #TheKids could become fueled passion for an otherwise dull team. In the absence of starpower, Miami had to sell loyalty and family and potential to fill seats.

Richardson and #TheKids allowed this marketing campaign to seem marginally less phony. The three youngsters were promising and seemed to love the team, as well as each other. They embraced Miami during a period where plenty were lukewarm about their presence.

NBA fans obsess over the next transaction, putting random names in trade machines and playing with cap numbers ad nauseum. Heat fans are no different. During these dark years, fans jumped on any trade rumor, eager for the big move that would bring Miami back to greatness.

In the meantime, Richardson and #TheKids provided fans with some fun as they waited. #TheKids offered an alternative to this impatient, ravenous hunger for transactions. They allowed some to imagine a bright future that could sprout gradually and gracefully out of the present instead of a future that came as a result of a sudden, destructive, miraculous move by Riley.

The transaction-obsessed fans finally got their wish in Butler, and Miami’s record will probably be better for it, but the sadness some felt in losing Richardson is worth acknowledging.

Even in times of mediocrity, there are moments and people worth appreciating. The joy and fandom can stretch beyond wins and losses.

Hold onto your nostalgia for Josh Richardson. Keep it as a reminder that, while longing for a better future, there is plenty of pleasure to be found in the present.

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