When LeBron James opted to leave the Miami Heat in free agency to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, the Heat were left to rebuild. They had average players on the roster, and everyone expected the Heat to fall to the bottom of the conference like the Cavaliers did in 2010-11 after James departed.
Without James, Cleveland spent four straight years in the lottery, and it looked as though Miami was headed in that same direction after missing the playoffs the year after James departed. The Heat’s President Pat Riley was able to resurrect his team, as they climbed to the third seed of the Eastern Conference in 2016, but he made a few fatal errors in the process.
Since 2014, Riley has drafted just three players that are currently in the rotation. With the 10th pick in the 2015 Draft, Riley opted to take Justise Winslow, missing out on players such as Devin Booker and Myles Turner. Winslow is still developing but will look for a bigger contract in 2019. In the same draft, Riley found Josh Richardson in the second round, who has proven to be a solid “three-and-D” player.
In the 2017 Draft, Riley selected Bam Adebayo, who put up 7 points and 5 rebounds in his rookie campaign. These three make up the Heat’s young core, and while all could turn out to be solid starters on NBA teams, none look to have All Star potential. The Heat do not have any young players that can carry their franchise in the future.
The Heat are simply a mediocre team. Riley has given average players huge contracts, which have proven to be a detriment to his team. Tyler Johnson is making an astounding $19 million dollars over the next two years, James Johnson is owed $30 million dollars over the next 2 years, and Dion Waiters, who is always struggling with injuries, is owed $23 million over the next two years. Since 2015, Riley has swung and missed at bigger free agents like Gordon Hayward, Kevin Durant, and LaMarcus Aldridge and has resorted to giving big contracts to bench players.
The Heat have the fourth highest payroll in the league yet have next to no All-Star level talent. The teams ahead of them on the salary scale (Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City) and behind (Washington, New Orleans) have All-Stars on their team that are soaking up some of the salary.
The closest elite talent the Miami Heat have is Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Dragic, who was selected to the All-Star Game made the East team because of injuries to other players; he is 32 years old. He is owed $18 million in 2018-19, and has an opt-out. The Heat should have considered trading him to a contending team for a pick in this year’s draft, but they have not looked to trade him yet.
Hassan Whiteside destroyed his trade value in the playoffs last season, averaging 5 points and 6 rebounds in 15 minutes per game against the Philadelphia 76ers. He has told the Heat front office that he is extremely unhappy and even pouted throughout the series against the 76ers because of his lack of playing time. Instead of using the time he was given to produce his full effort, he decided to sulk. The Heat need to trade him but cannot, as Pat Riley and his front office decided to sign Whiteside to a max deal, leaving them unable to move him.
Riley has given the Heat no flexibility to make trades or acquire talent through free agency. They have very few assets and cannot trade for any superstars.
The Heat have no real identity. They are not a rebuilding team, as they have no cap space or draft picks other than their own. They are not developing any young players that could turn into stars, and they are nowhere close to contending for a championship.
The Miami Heat front office was able to keep their team afloat after LeBron’s departure, but now, with no money to sign free agents and no assets to trade, they are trapped. They won’t be good enough to have a real shot at the Larry O’ Brien trophy, but won’t be bad enough to get a high lottery pick.
The Heat are stuck at the one level that no NBA team wants to be: Mediocrity.