Miami Heat fans that stayed up to watch the disappointment in Oakland Jan. 10 may feel that Pat Riley should have re-signed Dorell Wright in 2010. The Heat’s 2004 first-round pick had 20 points and 11 rebounds against his former team, making six 3-pointers, including one to tie the game with 31 seconds left in regulation. In a game against the Heat last year, Wright had 30 points.
Wright combines the deadeye 3-point shooting and athleticism that no one on the Heat possess, and some may wonder why Riley gave Mike Miller a longer, more expensive deal than the one Wright received two years ago. Although hindsight shows that the former high school star has blossomed into a nice player, Wright simply didn’t deserve another contract with the Heat after multiple failed chances to break through.
Coming off a surprising season that included a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2003-04, Riley looked to add another piece to the nucleus of Dwyane Wade, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and Eddie Jones. Riley decided to draft a long, athletic prospect in Wright. Perhaps the 18-year-old would have received more playing time had the Heat kept that core, but Riley traded for Shaquille O’Neal weeks after the 2004 NBA Draft. Wade moved over to his more natural position of shooting guard, and Jones moved to the small forward. Wright would spend his first two NBA seasons sitting on the bench as the Heat contended for championships.
The 6-foot-9 Los Angeles native had his first chance during the 2006-07 season. Antoine Walker and James Posey came in out of shape, and Wright played in 66 games that year. Unfortunately, he didn’t play particularly well. He had the athleticism, but didn’t seem to fit in the Heat offense largely because he didn’t have a jump shot. Although he had some good moments defensively and on the boards, he would also miss defensive assignments and look confused on that side of the court quite frequently. Jason Kapono received playing time to largely replace the overweight Antoine Walker simply because he had a valuable skill on a team with Wade and O’Neal.
The Heat team for the 2007-08 season went downward quickly, but Wright still hadn’t developed a specialty. Then-rookie Daequan Cook had a strong point to his game – shooting. But nobody really knew what Wright’s biggest strength was with four years of NBA experience. Wright didn’t deserve another contract coming off his rookie deal, but the Heat re-signed him in the summer of 2008. Perhaps he came back due to his friendship with Wade. The knee injury that caused Wright to sit out much of the 07-08 season would end up forcing him to miss nearly the entire 2008-09 season. And so, it became another wasted year for Wright.
Wright finally had a good season in 2009-10, playing a mostly injury-free year as the backup small forward to Quentin Richardson. Coming off of an injury, Wright had developed a jump shot that extended to the 3-point line. Wright made 61 3-pointers that year; he made 12 his first five seasons. Wright even put the tools of his athleticism together and played some nice defense (not on this play, though).
He was just 24 years old when he entered free agency in 2010. The Heat signed LeBron James, which meant Wright wouldn’t receive the minutes or shot attempts in Miami that he has received with the Warriors. Riley had a lot of dead weight at the end of the bench last year, but he was right to look for veterans instead of young players who had shown signs of immaturity. It’s easy to say that Wright has played far better than Miller since the 2010-11 season, but in the summer of 2010 many thought the swap of Wright for Miller was an upgrade. After only one good season out of six, I was done with the Wright experiment and the Heat front office apparently agreed.