If you're a Miami Heat fan, being "disappointed" is probably understating the sentiments you're currently feeling.
As multiple teams brace themselves for the humiliation that comes with a first round sweep, I can't help but think if Miami was in the postseason they would at least be putting up a fight. Watching while John Wall speeds past a shell of Kyle Lowry, and makes a fool of the Raptors, I think back to how close we were to being in this race. The Heat were better than the Bucks (sans Brandon Knight of course), and they were better than the Nets (I think sweeping them this year proves that). The Heat should be in the playoffs, but unfortunately my ranting in this post won't turn back time, so I've chosen to leave the negatives behind - at least for now.
Despite the incredible amount of woeful play during the season there were positives for the Heat as the season wound down. I'm going to take a look at the positives Miami encountered prior to them being ungracefully thrust out of the playoff race, as well as some based on what I've seen in the playoffs thus far.
Cliché right? Wrong. Early in the season Miami struggled with chemistry, still wary and nursing a LeBron hangover the Heat were still getting used to their new roles. Eventually the ball got rolling, then Dwyane Wade got injured, then Chris Bosh, then Josh McRoberts and eventually even Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside fell victim to bumps and bruises that impacted their play. With so many rotation changes, players coming in and out of the D-League, and major trade deadline acquisitions it was surprising that Miami was able to find chemistry at all, and though there were ongoing struggles when Miami had it the results were glorious. The early March wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Portland Trail Blazers make this evident.
Even the Miami Heat bench eventually grew comfortable with each other, delivering an inspiring comeback against the Wizards in the latter half of the season.
I guess what I'm trying to get at, is this team is just one piece away from making a run. That missing piece is of course Chris Bosh. I can't help but watch the Chicago Bulls re-discover its identity with the return of Derrick Rose, and not think that a similar occurrence might happen when Bosh gets back to the Heat especially with Goran Dragic (obviously, as long as he stays). Chemistry is very important to contending basketball teams (the 2013 Heat team, had amazing chemistry) and I believe that the Heat developed a lot down the line.
The Heat have a star-studded team, something that Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Toronto are severely lacking and most played very well as the season came to a close.
This season rejuvenated Wade's career. After spending the last four years struggling to escape LeBron James' enormous shadow, Wade thrived with the reigns of the Miami Heat in his hands once again. Still Wade did deal with injury issues, missing 20 games but proved the naysayers who wrote him off last June wrong as he averaged 21.5 points, 4.8 assists 3.5 boards per game. Though Wade was unable to will his team into the playoffs the way he once might have been able to do, he still gave his best effort averaging 22 points in his last six games after avoiding an injury scare against Cleveland. If the end of this season tells us anything, it's that Wade still has some fight left in him and is enjoying some much deserved rest.
While Bosh didn't play post All-Star break, his presence as a member of the team was certainly notable in the latter half of the season. Post-recovery Bosh could be seen as an enthusiastic member of the Heat bench, celebrating big buckets, and contributing to the locker room atmosphere. Also, with Mirza Teletovic having made a full recovery from his similar ailment, Bosh should be 100% come training camp and that will be fantastic for the Heat.
Like everybody else, I was ecstatic when Miami acquired Dragic at the trade deadline, however his struggles to transition into Miami's offensive system were very noticeable. Perhaps this had something with Dwyane Wade's ball dominant play style clashing with Dragic's own talents, however there were moments where Dragic looked like the perfect conductor of Miami's orchestra. I'd like to think Spoelstra will take the offseason to figure out the perfect offensive system for Wade and Dragic (as long as he re-signs of course) but whatever the case, whatever positives Dragic can bring to the club next season completely outweigh his slip-ups this season.
Whiteside has transitioned into a superstar. As he flourished mid-season, the Heat grew dependent on his wide array of skills and noticeably regressed in his absence and understandably so. Whiteside averaged 11.8 points, 10 boards and 2.6 blocks per game with Miami, and though he did have some some issues with his temper at various times he was largely dependable for the Heat. I can't help but wonder if Miami could have clinched a playoff birth had he not been injured in the season's final week (he definitely would have made a difference against the Pacers). Nevertheless, Whiteside's last showing was one of his greatest ( a 24-point outing against the Magic) and definitely sets the tone for his play next season.
While some may argue that Deng can't be considered a "star" anymore, I think his deal proves otherwise. Deng signed a two year $20 million dollar deal with Miami, to put that in perspective it's double Paul Pierce's two year deal in Washington. The Heat treat him like a star, their pursuit of him during free agency made that evident and while his play doesn't always warrant star status, there were games in which he absolutely outclassed opponents.
Deng's defensive prowess and ability to score difficult buckets make him critical for the Heat's success, and there's no doubt he will have a major role with the team once again, as long as he chooses not to opt out.
Tyler Johnson was a pleasant surprise for the Miami Heat. I was disappointed when he didn't make the final roster spot training camp (as I was impressed by his summer league outings), and was overjoyed when he found a place with the team later in the season. Johnson, had his moments as a member of the Heat specifically in his games against the Suns and Spurs, but fell victim to rotation changes in the final ten games. Johnson demonstrated solid basketball IQ accompanied with his athleticism while he was on the floor, and I hope Miami chooses to continue to develop him under the guidance of Dwyane Wade.
I voiced my respect for James Ennis' late season play recently, however I'll reiterate that I'm very impressed with how he figured things out. After spending most of the season struggling, the ultra-athletic forward really put things together averaging 9 points on 43% shooting in the month of April. I expect Ennis' role to grow next season, especially since Erik Spoelstra seems to have a profound respect for his late season play saying:
"James was able to play 62 games and be in and out of the rotation a couple of times but his strongest minutes and games were in the end. I would like to see him show resilience during the year and improve. Player development is not just about the next five and a half months, it's how you can improve during the course of the season and James showed the ability to do that."
Michael Beasley's career is very interesting and while it's surrounded by much negativity, Beasley managed to redeem himself in the eyes of many with his late season play. Of course there's no discounting Beasley's basketball talent, however I truly thought his NBA career was over at the end of last season. With that being said after maturing in China, a new Beasley took the floor with the Heat and he was quite successful, making better decisions and actually playing defense. In April, Beasley averaged 10.5 points on 47% shooting from the field, and 4 rebounds. I hope Beasley stays with the Heat, perhaps for selfish reasons as I'm glad his renaissance is happening with the team that drafted him.
Miami still has a long way to go in order to make a title run, however the pieces in place are overwhelmingly positive. With the right system to support these players it success could come sooner than you think.