The Miami Heat have gone 125-126 over their last three seasons, barely missing the playoffs twice over that timespan. How have the Heat gotten into this mediocre state of affairs? Ever since LeBron James shocked the Heat by signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Pat Riley made a number of roster moves that seemed justifiable at the time, but look like major mistakes in hindsight.
July 11, 2014: Miami Heat re-sign Chris Bosh to a five-year, $118 million deal
After James left, Riley released a statement saying, in part, that the Heat have won three championships with him and competed for many others. “Micky, Erik and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again,” it ended.
Riley wanted to prove that he could rebuild the Heat again. He did it after Alonzo Mourning’s kidney disease and Shaquille O’Neal’s rapid decline. He signed Chris Bosh to a five-year, $118 million deal to be the franchise cornerstone. Dwyane Wade signed a two-year deal with Miami; the idea was to give the Heat flexibility to add a third star.
Feb. 20, 2015: Heat trade two first-round draft picks for Goran Dragic
That third star I mentioned earlier? Goran Dragic was supposed to be that guy. He was fresh off a Third-Team All-NBA selection. Wade even welcomed his new teammate on Twitter, calling Miami “a team and organization that doesn’t accept losing.”
But Bosh’s blood clots in his lungs appeared two days after the Heat traded for Dragic, dooming Riley’s plan. And to convince Phoenix to trade Dragic to Miami, Riley gave up two first-round draft picks — one the Heat gave up last year, and the next one in 2021. Draft picks can help a rebuilding team get an infusion of talent; imagine where the Heat would be without Bam Adebayo.
Dragic hasn’t been bad with the Heat; he earned an All-Star selection last year and motored the Heat to their 30-11 finish to the 2016-17 season. But the Heat traded for him to be the third star next to Bosh and Wade. That never materialized.
July 2016: Heat spend money on Hassan Whiteside, but not Dwyane Wade
Miami entered the 2016 off-season in a strange place. Chris Bosh had played his last NBA game, but the Heat finished a win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. Riley signed Hassan Whiteside in November 2014 as a former second-round pick who had played in the G League and in China. But he led the NBA in blocks in 2016 and averaged a double-double. Like Udonis Haslem, Voshon Leonard and Tyler Johnson before him, Riley had found a diamond in the rough.
The Dallas Mavericks met with Hassan Whiteside shortly after free agency began in 2016. Riley may not have thought Whiteside was a max player, but didn’t want to see Whiteside leave for free agency after LeBron James left two years prior. Riley offered Whiteside a four-year, $98 million contract, and he accepted.
Whiteside was 27 years old when he signed that contract. Wade was 34 when he left the Heat that summer, unhappy that Miami wouldn’t offer a third year on a contract offer. Wade may not have been worth a max contract at that age. (The Heat offering a three-year deal would have been a thank-you for Wade’s past pay-cuts.) But in hindsight, the Heat should have paid the older player and let the young one walk.
July 7, 2017: Heat sign James Johnson, Dion Waiters to four-year contracts
In addition to Dragic, James Johnson and Dion Waiters helped the Heat go 30-11. And Johnson had a great year 2016-17 year with Miami, playing in 76 games and emerging as a dynamic point forward. He played tough defense, moved the ball offensively and made an athletic play or two.
But Waiters played in just 46 games in 2016-17; he essentially got a four-year deal for a 25-game stretch of good basketball. During that stretch, Waiters averaged 18.4 points and shot 44.5 percent from downtown. Some good basketball, certainly, but not sustained over a time period to justify a four-year contract.
Waiters missed an entire calendar year of NBA basketball over the next two seasons and has never returned to that level of play. And although Johnson hasn’t suffered the injury woes Waiters has, he also hasn’t played up to that level since signing that four-year contract.
Of course, not all is lost for the Heat. They still have Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Josh Richardson. None of them may be All-Star caliber players, but they all can contribute as rotation players on a championship team.
But because of those bad moves, the Heat may be stuck with waiting for two years—after those contracts all come off the books—before returning to championship contention.