The Cleveland Cavaliers have the best players in the Eastern Conference next season. Derrick Rose believes his New York Knicks are a super-team. Chicago Bulls possess formidable talent. Miami doesn't stand a chance, or so it seems.
The Heat have two valuable factors in their favor: time and an assistant coach who forged a championship-caliber squad with NBA-hopefuls in their early twenties. Time is on the Heat's side to develop championship skills, as other teams sleep on their past accomplishments.
Last-season's 73-win Warriors team was not built around top 5 draft pick players: Stephen Curry (7th in 2009), Klay Thompson (11th in 2011), and Draymond Green (35th in 2012). The Heat can look for solace in following a similar path, where desire trumps nonchalant attitude.
The starting five of Goran Dragic (45th in 2008), Tyler Johnson (undrafted in 2014), Josh Richardson (40th in 2015), Justise Winslow (10th in 2015), and Hassan Whiteside (33rd in 2010), wouldn't be considered contenders based on their draft statuses alone. In reality, other teams in the Eastern Conference have more talent than Miami.
Should Chris Bosh (4th in 2003) be medically cleared to play, a starting five of Dragic. Richardson, Winslow, Bosh, Whiteside would be unfair to the NBA, because the Cavs stand as their only equals in the East. T. Johnson, J. Johnson, Derrick Williams, Ellington, McRoberts, McGruder, Reed, Weber off the bench would give the Heat perhaps the deepest squad in the NBA. The sad, sad summer of Pat Riley would fade into a distant memory.
Coach Dan Craig is familiar using connecting flights on commercial flights, staying in regular hotels, playing games in sparsely-filled arenas, and dealing with constant line-up changes. He molded underpaid and hungry young players, whose major talent was the love of the game, into winners.
Can that no-nonsense winning mentality carry over to the group Erik Spoelstra has this year? Willie Reed cited what Spo did with Whiteside and Johnson as his reason to join the Heat. The only qualifications for a starting gig on the team this year, start and end with the effort each person brings to the court every game.
Wayne Ellington posted a video auditioning his talents for making his own shot like Dwyane Wade did. Instead of relying only on spot-up shooting, that talent may earn him minutes this season when the offense gets bogged down. Being able to pass out of double-teams to open teammates and having a decent defensive presence are the other talents that he needs to display on the court, so he isn't seen strictly as a one-dimensional player.
His previous teams won a combined 173 games and lost 385 in their regular seasons. The first priority for Ellington is replacing losing habits he developed over the years with them, by adapting the Heat's winning culture on this go-around. The competition between him and Rodney McGruder, on who is a better fit for the shooting guard spot, should be intense.
Another hidden gem lies in bringing Josh McRoberts back to his earlier aggressive roots. Lest we forget how McRoberts can finish at the basket with vigor, here are some of his vintage dunks (including 180-degree ones) from a prior season. His passive, pass-only attitude may not always be in the best interests of the team.
And this block against a taller and bigger Jonas Valanciunas highlights a defensive potential that's there, but needs more work to be able to defend at this high level consistently.
Dragic, Briante Weber, and other Heat distributors can rack up assists with the help of the team's multi-faceted finishers. If opponents back off to cover high-fliers at the basket, Dragic has the ability to finish at the rim himself or kick the ball out to Ellington, Luke Babbitt, Tyler Johnson, Richardson, etc. for 3-point buckets.
"It’s all about mental toughness to get the job done, no matter what it takes… Finding that mental edge is how you get it done. We can’t rely on sheer size and strength. We’ve got to out-work people, we’ve got to be more physical and just have a commitment to play bigger than we might be on the floor."
"It’s no easy task.You have to push yourself and find what it is that motivates you and hold on to it every single day. People thought I might not be back on this stage. But I tried to push myself and achieve what people thought I might not be able to achieve."
The Warriors succeeded not by simply working harder as individuals, but excelling as a team more anyone else during the regular season. In the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers claimed the throne by keeping their foot on the accelerator, while Golden State ran out of gas just before the finish line. They won 88 games last season, but failed, in three attempts, to win their 89th for a championship. Their historic season was ruined by losing its single most important game.
To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, time is on the Heat's side. They can set the bar for winning at high enough levels in the seasons to come, and make it impossible for others to reach their heights. Could the price could be so steep that teams will give up and drop by the wayside, because they do not want the prize badly enough?