LeBron James and Chris Bosh waited impatiently to join Dwyane Wade to form their potential Miami Heat dynasty in 2011. Pat Riley skipped signing James and Bosh as free agents, but instead went via the sign-and-trade venue to bring Miami’s its two NBA Championships in four seasons with the trio. The trading mechanism remains a comfortable one for him.
Previously he traded for All-Star Shaquille O’Neal to mentor an up-and-coming draft pick in Wade. Later Riley traded for a former Third-Team All-NBA player, Goran Dragic, to form a lesser talented Big 3 with Bosh and Wade. Injuries sabotaged that attempt.
In the current roster Riley had more success in spotting under-appreciated and under-paid free agents and hopefully molding them into All-Stars. From past experience he stays with resigning his own players to max contracts, rather than acquiring ones from other teams.
Riley is a visionary, who spots latent talents who can be molded into championship-caliber players. Two All-Stars took different paths to their NBA glory. The first translated his innate athletic ability from one sport to another, while the second overcame initial adversity to reach super-stardom. Both needed an early vision, which wasn’t immediately apparent at the start, at least not to the level they eventually reached.
People see Bill Russell today as a grey-bearded old man who belonged to another NBA era. Little do they know that vintage footage reveals he used his Olympian talents, as a sprinter and high-jumper, to reach new heights in the NBA. In addition to his legendary defensive abilities, he could literally jump over defenders for baskets, or drive from the sideline for a vicious dunk, a la Kevin Durant.
Stephen Curry was an injury-prone shooter early in his career and only made the All-Star team in his fifth season. Critics said he would turn out to become a Grant Hill, version 2.0. Matter-of-fact Curry played only 23 games in his third season. Maybe that was a good thing, as Pablo S. Toree points out,
A Steph Curry who has never injured his ankles would be less preferable than the Steph Curry we actually have today.
Much as the Heat insist their players shape up when coming to Miami, Curry had to transform his body, out of sheer necessity, just to stay in the NBA.
“At first, a willowy Curry could deadlift a pitiable 200 to 225 pounds....By Curry's second year in the program, his dead lifts could touch 400 pounds -- more than twice his bodyweight and second most on the Warriors behind 6-foot-11, 265-pound center Festus Ezeli.”
"So we decided to bet on a couple of things," Myers explains. "We bet on who he is as a human being. We bet on his ability. We bet on the fact that he was the type of player who'd do everything within his power to come back and be smart and be diligent."
The key to Curry's longevity, this time around, was putting less strain on the his weakest part of his body: the ankles.
“Curry, Lyles believed, was already among the best in the world at changing direction. But the guard overwhelmingly relied on his ankles for speed and quickness.”
“Those body parts appeared to be basketball's take on the mythical wings of Icarus: melting, as if made of wax, from overuse and ambition. But what if Curry could add another way to fly?”
“Shiftiness is an ankle strategy," Lyles explains, "but power comes from the hips. We wanted to teach Steph how to load his hips to help unload his ankles."
The Golden State Warriors have the smartest training staff in the Western Conference, which allowed them to break the single-season record of 72 wins in the NBA in 2016. Now the Heat are using the same training and development approach to sign low-cost free agents, such as Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and create homegrown All-Stars in Miami.
What Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra are looking for in prospects are supremely talented individuals, whose flaws can be fixed. Indeed those very flaws often act as personal motivators to achieve greatness. That’s a best case scenario.
Some injuries may be too serious to overcome, such as what happened with Greg Oden and Danny Granger. Or Father Time may exact its irreversible toll at end of a career. Only time will tell which prospects survive the grueling journey.
Sports Illustrated wrote the Miami Heat are only one player away from becoming legitimate NBA contenders, at least in the Eastern Conference.
“A more likely outcome is that they try to bring back Waiters and/or Johnson on reasonable deals while making a run at a high-level free agent like Hayward or Griffin. If either of them takes their talents to South Beach, the Heat become a clear-cut playoff team and possibly a first-round host in the playoffs.”
Who is that single player? Instead of a max-contract free agent, that one person may be an in-house Miami young gun, such as Waiters (25 years old), T. Johnson (25), Josh Richardson (23), Justise Winslow (21), ready to break out at an All-NBA level. Or a diamond in the rough waiting to be mined in this month’s draft, such as the speedy Justin Patton, Justin Jackson, or risky Harry Giles. The biggest unknown remains in discovering which prospect can match Curry’s singled-minded obsession to reach, not just the top-5 level, but a Hall of Fame one?
Or Pat Riley just might unleash another an blockbuster trade package for Heat fans.