From slowly rebuilding towards being a contender again, the Miami Heat went through a weird offseason, leaving them in something of a tilt: Building around Hassan Whiteside? Crossing fingers for Dion Waiters to grow up? Or simply delaying the inevitable, and heading towards a rebuild?
Four names hover above the events of this offseason: Pat Riley, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, and Whiteside. Durant was the team’s primary target. Whiteside is who they signed on a max deal the moment they realized they’re not on the Durant shortlist, and Wade is akin to the scorned son, leaving the Heat after 13 seasons, joining his hometown team of the Chicago Bulls. He wanted big money, which the Heat were unwilling to give him, and so he moved on. Riley was in charge of this messy summer.
For a moment, it looked like the Heat would be going into a full rebuild, with maybe Whiteside in the middle of it. Everyone wants to play for a winning team, but Whiteside went from being a D-League player to a full-time max contract player in less than two years. Besides him, there’s Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh if he’s healthy (probably not), Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. Oh, and the fascinating case of Dion Waiters.
Waiters, at this point, seems like a less talented Ricky Davis. He was kicked out of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, after rescinding their qualifying offer, pretty much showed him they have no plans of keeping him. He ended up taking less money from the Heat than he would have gotten from the Thunder had he just signed a qualifying offer. He’s in a position to reestablish himself as a player who has a good influence on the team, and is worth the kind of money he feels he missed out on.
And so this is what the Heat are taking into next season. Erik Spoelstra goes from coaching LeBron James, Wade and Bosh, along with guys like Ray Allen and Shane Battier, to Waiters all of a sudden being a key figure on his team. Dragic thought he was joining the Heat to play for a contender. He suddenly finds himself being almost worse off than he was in Phoenix, a team he basically ruined by forcing their hand and trading him.
This is how quickly things change in the NBA, and how difficult it is to recover from a player like James leaving. The Heat positioned themselves for two years in order to sign Durant, like other teams. But they didn’t offer an enticing enough package. And so Riley messing up the situation with James two years ago leads him to mess up his situation with Wade this summer, although in terms of finances, maybe the Heat were better off letting him go. But going back to the LeBron thing, the Cavaliers failed at rebuilding, until James simply decided to go back.
The Heat are two seasons or more away from being a serious force in the East again, no matter what their former player in Ohio does. Riley put himself in a position he’s been in before, but at some point, he might get tired of trying to build himself a champion again, especially when his last attempt at keeping one together, and building one from the wreckage didn’t go so well.