Why This Miami Heat Season Has Been an Abject Failure
Commentary // 6 months ago
By: Nekias Duncan
The Miami Heat lost to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, and it couldn’t have been more fitting.
The game itself was an odd mix of entertainment and confusion. Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson set the tone early with flash plays on the defensive end. Dwyane Wade had — and I apologize in advance — a vintage second quarter, sprinkling in triples and H.O.R.S.E shots at the rim.
The Heat controlled the tempo for most of the night, grinding out possessions in an effort to keep the go-go Kings out of transition. Their gameplan — and some uncharacteristic misses from the Kings — had the Heat up by 17 with a little over four minutes left in the third quarter. A 2-0 start on the West Coast trip looked to be a real possibility.
Then, it all fell apart.
I don’t have to rehash everything. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that punted on sleep to watch that abomination of a 4th quarter. Our own Christian Hernandez chronicled the end of the game, where the Heat fell victim to a 19-2 run. The short summary is that the final frame was defined by questions.
Why was Whiteside taken out in favor of Bam Adebayo, who, outside of some defensive flashes, wasn’t all that good?
What purpose did Dion Waiters serve, and why were his touches being prioritized over Justise Winslow’s?
Why on earth would you call an ATO for a Wade three?
Where was Kelly Olynyk?
Taking a loss to a fringe playoff team on the road isn’t a bad thing in a vacuum. Blowing a game like this is almost inexcusable. But, again, it was incredibly fitting. It highlighted everything wrong with the organization right now.
The questionable decisions.
The lack of direction.
To be frank, last night — much like this season as a whole — was a Mike Tyson-esque slap to the face of this fanbase.
How about we start with another question: what exactly is the point of this season?
There was no realistic path to a Conference Finals appearance, much less a shot at a title. The Heat cautiously swung — and missed — on Jimmy Butler, but that’s fine. You can quibble about whether a Richardson-and-stuff for Butler swap was worth it, but we can all agree it wasn’t going to be the move that put Miami in serious contention for anything.
So, fine. Miami didn’t make The Move(s) to put them in the Eastern Conference title hunt. At the very least, that should’ve meant shifting gears to featuring the young guys, if not going with a full-blown tank job.
The latter obviously hasn’t happened, and the execution of the former has been inconsistent at best.
Richardson was given the keys at the beginning of the year, but to mixed results. He’s looked much better when having sets called for him, but that has been … scarce. Winslow fell upwards into his natural position, and it took approximately 37 injuries for that to happen. Adebayo hasn’t been given much of a leash to do … anything on offense. At least not consistently.
Of course, looming over all of this is Wade’s farewell tour. I’m certainly not here to crap on that in a vacuum. He’s easily the most important player, maybe even person, in franchise history. He objectively deserves to get his flowers.
But the dynamic is odd. His timeline doesn’t match the young core’s, nor does he make enough of an impact on a night-to-night basis to really move the win-now needle. Yet, he probably has the most leeway of anyone on the roster. Even understanding the “why” of it, it does nothing but add more confusion to a roster that doesn’t need more of it. That’s not to say this season is his fault, but his presence complicates things.
Erik Spoelstra has been tasked with trying to placate Wade, grooming the young guys, and throwing darts at the veteran board in hopes of making a playoff push. It should come as no surprise that Spo has done a less-than-optimal job at juggling all of this.
He absolutely deserves blame for some of the game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter decisions he makes. Taking out Whiteside and closing with Adebayo seemed to go in the face of logic. Playing Wade, Winslow, and Waiters together does all three of them a disservice, but especially Wade and Winslow. On a general level, how much can Spo be expected to accomplish with so many overlapping parts and agendas?
The answer: not much more than what has been done so far.
Spo has looked out of sorts, seemingly throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. The lack of continuity and clarity has leaked onto the court. The players can’t find a rhythm because they don’t know what they’re doing, or how long they have to get it right.
You can’t have a 30-11 run without guys knowing their roles — or even knowing if they’re going to get minutes.
You can’t honestly expect young guys to develop when they’re constantly looking over their shoulders.
There’s a fine line between accountability and handicapping players with a short or inconsistent leash. The fact that Adebayo has operated more like Zaza Pachuilia than Pascal Siakam this year is a prime example of that. Winslow fading into the background with Waiters’ return is another.
But just like there’s only so much Spo can do, there’s only so much the players can do under that sort of uncertainty. Ultimately, the up-and-down play and questionable coaching decisions are only symptoms of the larger issue.
Before you blame the players, before you blame Spo, you have to start with the front office.
They put this mess together. The summer of 2017 will go down as one of the worst in franchise history, if not the very worst. The long-term deals handed out have handicapped them in free agency, effectively took them out of the trade running for Kristaps Porzingis, and will likely do the same for Anthony Davis.
Not only has the lack of flexibility taken them out of the star chase, it’s actively hindering the current roster. Miami’s lone move at the trade deadline was to flip two of their three best shooters for a cheaper benchwarmer.
A tax move.
Because paying the luxury tax for a middling team is not a great idea.
That’s understandable on its own, but, again, it directly goes against what this season should be about. If it’s about the young guys, how does taking Tyler Johnson’s spacing and secondary playmaking benefit Winslow or Richardson? How does removing Wayne Ellington from the equation help Adebayo as a dribble-handoff threat?
If it’s about a playoff push, how does trading away two good shooters on a team that relies on threes to “only” be bad offensively help at all?
If it’s about making sure Wade looks good in his last year, how does taking away shooters help him attack the basket? The man has been turning water into wine in the pick-and-roll for his entire career, but asking him to do so with less-than-ideal spacing around him isn’t fair to him or anyone else on this roster.
Add in the Olynyk situation — it’s becoming pretty clear his contract incentives are affecting his playing time more than his actual play — and it becomes very freaking hard not to believe that penny-pinching has taken precedence over fielding a team that makes any sort of sense.
Is that what “Heat Culture” is now?
Because I thought the culture was about pushing guys to their limits. Working harder than everyone else. Accountability.
That ethos is what made the Heat so respected league-wide. That ethos (and Wade) is what helped this franchise land the greatest player since Michael Jordan, and arguably the most underrated big man in league history.
A lot of that goodwill is being stripped away the longer this mess continues. And the Heat, specifically the front office, have nobody to blame but themselves for it.