Erik Spoelstra never coached the Miami Heat without Dwyane Wade by his side until now. This time around he can can mold the team completely in his own image, without the constraints of conforming to the unique styles of future Hall-of-Famers.
Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow performed in Wade’s large shadow. Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook cast Dion Waiters into a permanent role of playing second fiddle to their dominating skills. Carmelo Anthony eclipsed the talents of Derrick Williams.
Miami Heat’s playing field has been leveled out with equal chances for any of its player to go beyond what anybody experienced from them previously. After overcoming the initial shock that none of the Big 3’s founding members are in training camp this week, the players realize they have the chance to seize the long-term opportunities for them to grab.
The excitement of being empowered to mold their own destiny and realize their championship aspirations, has replaced the former complacency of each season being an extension of the previous one, i.e. the Heat were Wade’s team.
Miami fans forget Pat Riley’s involvement with superstars began before Wade entered the scene. Little known fact is Riley was drafted by both NBA and NFL teams (the Dallas Cowboys as a wide receiver). Once in the NBA he won a championship alongside Jerry West. As a coach he fielded teams with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Patrick Ewing, John Starks. Later on Riley had Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Wade, Ray Allen, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh working for him.
Such a diverse and intimate knowledge of elite players gives him a keen sense of which traits drive people to reach championship levels. Over his 50 years in the game, roster changes weren’t anything new to Riley, but expected to happen. He molded this team with that philosophy in mind. Anything is possible when a player wants it badly enough.
Where this team finishes on April 12, 2017 remains unknown because can injuries can wreck any team’s chances, including the Heat and the other teams. Also the implications of new CBA and the status of Bosh could effect what happens during the season. One thing is certain, the players have taken ownership and pride in this team as being theirs alone.
An interesting question is which one or more of them will make All-NBA Team after the season ends. Since the All-Star game is a popularity contest for aging veterans, a better gauge will be their final numbers after all is said and done.
The commitment of the guys to make the team their own, could lead the Heat to far exceed pre-season expectations by April. Motivated by the often harsh criticism that they are a second-rate squad, the players will carry a chip on their shoulder for the entire season to prove they are winners, who nobody gives them credit for being.
The removal of roadblocks and need to conform to the limited options of the previous playbooks from the past could unleash the team’s possibilities, much like Josh Richardson flourished when given a chance. We’ll see who steps up the most when called upon, and silence the critics once and for all.