What Comes Next? Looking to the Next Era of Miami Heat Basketball

Commentary

Last week, the Miami Heat announced the re-signing of team captain Udonis Haslem on a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal to return for his 16th NBA season. One open roster spot remains, and everyone awaits Dwyane Wade’s decision. As Haslem is approaching 40 years old and Wade is openly contemplating retirement, it is likely that the upcoming season is the last we’ll see of the legendary Heat duo.

Many have also been wondering how much longer Pat Riley will continue to run Miami’s front office. Some have even questioned whether the modern NBA has passed Riley by, such as The Ringer’s Haley O’Shaughnessy Others simply wonder what he has left to accomplish after a career leading some of the greatest teams in NBA history.

Between Haslem, Wade, and Riley, Miami looks to lose three figures that have been foundational in establishing the Heat as the highly-successful, widely-respected franchise they are today. Many great players have made their mark in Miami from Shaquille O’Neal to Alonzo Mourning to Mario Chalmers to LeBron James. However, no one better epitomizes the history and culture of the Heat than the trio of Riley, Wade, and Haslem.

With their departures slowly approaching, a question creeps into the mind of every Heat fan:

“What comes next?”

It’s one of the few yet significant downsides of great leadership. Their departure often leaves an unfillable void. Miami sports fans should be more than familiar with this. The Dolphins have yet to return to prominence since the days of Don Shula and Dan Marino. The Hurricanes are still looking to recapture the greatness they enjoyed thanks to the leadership of guys like Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, and Nevin Shapiro. The Marlins have lost anyone who ever brought them success and remain at the bottom of the baseball world. The departure of great leaders is a time of uncertainty and anxiety. If handled poorly, it could quickly drop a franchise from success and respectability to the abyss of irrelevance.

So who will take the baton from Pat, Dwyane, and Udonis? Who will lead Miami into the future, avoiding the steep and prolonged declines experienced by other franchises?

Luckily, there are a few names that should inspire some confidence.

If there is a figure Heat fans can look at to ease their anxiety, it’s Erik Spoelstra. Coach Spo has been a part of the Heat franchise as long as Pat Riley (both joined the organization in 1995), and he shouldn’t have a problem taking on a bigger role going forward. He’s one of the league’s most-respected coaches and has elevated rosters both star-studded and mediocre. It is questionable whether Spoelstra could handle the role of head coach and president of basketball operations.

I would argue that no coach should attempt that combination. It’s a job that good coaches like Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy, and Tom Thibodeau have failed in. When Riley eventually exits, Spoelstra may not be able to take his job, but with his coaching ability and potentially more input on personnel decisions, Miami should take comfort in Spo’s continued presence.

Behind many of Riley’s acquisitions has been general manager Andy Elisburg. Elisburg has been with the Heat since the franchise’s inception and doesn’t seem to be leaving any time soon.

“Anything that goes on in this building, Andy is in the know, and he’s basically running everything behind the scenes,” Spoelstra told the Miami Herald last year.

Andy has been lauded as a cap wizard, able to find money where there seemingly is none. Can he take over for Riley, leading sales pitches to free agents and negotiating blockbuster trades? Maybe not. However, between he and Spoelstra, whoever does replace Pat as president will have a lot of help.

So Spoelstra and Elisburg have extensive experience within the Heat organization and should help the transition to a new president of basketball operations. However, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison still needs to hire the right guy. That’s where former Heat forward Shane Battier comes in. Battier has experience with the Heat as a two-time NBA champion and executive.

He recently pulled his name from consideration for a lead front office job with the Detroit Pistons, deciding to continue in his role as Miami’s director of basketball development and analytics. In a column for the Miami Herald, Barry Jackson said that Battier “could assume a more prominent role in a post-Pat Riley era with Miami”.

Can Battier sufficiently replace Riley? No. No one can. What Battier can do is set Miami on a new course, fully embracing the league’s shift toward analytics and growing with the help of Elisburg and Spoelstra. Only 39 years old, Battier has the charisma and intelligence to become the face of the Miami Heat front office for years to come.

Replacing Udonis and Dwyane may prove to be difficult, if not impossible. In today’s NBA, players like Haslem and Wade who come to epitomize a franchise may not exist and finding a player to match the on-court greatness of Dwyane Wade simply won’t happen.

For now, the future of Miami’s roster looks to be Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson, and Justise Winslow. While none of them should be expected to match the contributions of Wade and Haslem, they all have the potential to play key roles in forging a new era of Miami Heat basketball.

Winslow possesses elite defensive talent, impressive playmaking ability, and has a great mentor in Wade. Richardson is a lockdown wing defender and a reliable sharpshooter. Adebayo may be the player to truly lead Miami into the new era. His athleticism and versatility at the center position gives him more star potential than anyone on the Heat roster. If he continues to build on his impressive rookie season, the sky’s the limit. Beyond the young trio, Miami will have to craft its future roster through the draft.

It’s impossible to know what the future holds for the Miami Heat. The departure of Riley, Wade, and Haslem is inevitable, but the timing is indefinite. For now, it looks as if Miami has set a solid foundation for the next era, but no one will truly be able to understand how much the great trio will be missed until they finally leave.

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