The NBA’s Orlando Bubble restart, after a nearly five-month-long hiatus from the regular season, was executed to absolute perfection. While the atmosphere of the playoffs wasn’t quite as electric without fans present, the bubble provided viewers with some of the most pure, most entertaining, and most memorable basketball that we have seen in recent years.
There was no shortage of these moments for the Miami Heat and its fans. While nobody enjoys the taste of defeat, especially on a stage as grand as the NBA Finals, there is ultimately nothing for the Heat or their fans to hang their heads about at the end of the day. So as the NBA’s 74th year comes to an end, let’s dive into some of the biggest reasons for the Miami Heat to consider this season nothing short of a success.
Reason #1: Bam Adebayo is officially a star.
In the summer of 2019, a four-team deal involving the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Los Angeles Clippers brought Jimmy Butler and Meyers Leonard to Miami and sent Hassan Whiteside to Portland. This, in turn, finally gave Adebayo the starting center job as he entered his third year in the league. Those who didn’t closely follow the Heat didn’t think Adebayo was much more than a solid young player who provided a jolt of energy and athleticism off the bench as the backup center. However, the Heat organization and fans alike always knew that they had something special in Adebayo ever since his pre-draft workout in 2017.
However, even THEY didn’t expect the leap that Adebayo took in just his first year as a starter. He increased his averages in every major statistical category, putting up regular season numbers of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists with over a steal and a block per game. Jimmy Butler has said on numerous occasions this season that Adebayo is the “heart and soul of this team” and has even called him “the most important player on this team”.
While some may chalk it up to Butler just being a supportive teammate, the entire league took notice of Adebayo’s rise to stardom. In just his first year with the starting role, Adebayo earned his first NBA All-Star appearance, made 2nd Team All-Defense, finished second in Most Improved Player voting (there’s a strong argument to be made that he should have won), won the NBA All-Star Skills Challenge, and fell mere votes shy of making his first All-NBA team. He was Miami’s best player in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics and helped lead the Heat to the Finals, where no other top player in his draft class has gone.
He also has strong relationships with several other young stars in the league and will undoubtedly be instrumental in any upcoming free agency pitches to them. Equipped with the best coaching staff in the NBA and an unparalleled work ethic, Adebayo is ready to take over this team and even the sky isn’t the limit for him.
Reason #2: Miami’s Youth
Many critics were skeptical of how the Heat would fare in the playoffs due to their youth. In addition to the aforementioned Adebayo who was just a third-year player, Miami had essentially three rookies earning crucial rotation minutes in the playoffs. Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson (who was called up late in the 2018-19 season and played sparingly in 15 games), and Kendrick Nunn were thrown into heavy roles in their first playoff appearance in their very first full year in the league. The fact that the Heat felt comfortable in doing so should tell you all you need to know about confidence Miami has in these young players. Herro not only shined under the bright lights of the playoffs, but he actually improved. Throughout the regular season, Herro was only known as a sharpshooter and notorious for dripping with irrational confidence. However, he showcased his improved all-around offensive game and playmaking in the postseason on the biggest stage. He nearly single-handedly took over the pivotal Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals which gave Miami a 3-1 lead over the Celtics. He became the youngest player to ever start in the NBA Finals and broke the NBA’s all-time rookie playoff three-point record.
Nunn was the starting point guard for the majority of the regular season. He quickly surprised the league when he became the fastest rookie to reach 500 career points in Heat franchise history, and all as a player who went undrafted. He began racking up the Rookie of the Month awards, becoming the first undrafted player in NBA history to win multiple times. He ultimately finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and played a tremendous role in Miami’s regular season success.
Robinson, in what was essentially his first year in the league, had one of the greatest three-point shooting years of not only this shortened season, but of all-time. He broke the Miami Heat franchise record for three-pointers made in a season, broke the NBA record for three-pointers made in a season by an undrafted player, tied the Miami Heat franchise record for three-pointers made in a single game (10), and broke the NBA record for three-pointers made in a season by a first or second year player. He also hit 7 three pointers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, breaking the NBA record for three-pointers made in a Finals game by an undrafted player. His unexpected rise to being indisputably one of the NBA’s most lethal shooters was crucial for the Miami Heat offense this season, and there is no reason to assume Robinson will slow down.
Reason #3: Heat Culture is known throughout the league now.
Every team wants a winning culture, but there is no team in the NBA who defines the word “culture” like the Miami Heat. The best way to describe Heat Culture is simply to look at Pat Riley. He has defined the Heat Culture as their goal to be the “hardest working, best conditioned, most professional, most unselfish, toughest, meanest, most disliked team in the NBA”.
While the Heat have always been notorious for their culture and work ethic, they haven’t had the talent to maximize it in recent years. As soon as Miami was finally able to lure a max contract-level superstar, something they really hadn’t had since LeBron James’ departure in 2014, they quickly made their first trip to the Finals since then. Every sports show, analyst, fan, and most importantly, player, is now extremely well aware of Miami’s culture and their ability to bring the best out of you. The term “Heat Culture” no longer is just a fun moniker or a catchphrase; it’s a proven recipe to success that’s guaranteed to entice many other stars in the league as the years go on.
Reason #4: Jimmy Butler is home.
There’s absolutely no way to make a list of Miami’s greatest accomplishments this season without mentioning the player that changed the course of the franchise. Throughout Pat Riley’s years spearheading the Heat, there have been innumerable players that have exemplified the Heat Culture. From Tim Hardaway to Alonzo Mourning to Udonis Haslem to Dwyane Wade, the Heat have had no shortage of players who truly represented the values Miami lives by and have been given the task of carrying that torch.
However, the franchise has arguably never had a player who defines Heat Culture quite like Butler does. It was clear from his early Chicago Bulls days that Butler was a rugged defender who gave nothing less than 110% on the court. As he rose to stardom in Chicago and was eventually traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, it became increasingly obvious that his ambition and hunger was too much for most teams. His infamous practice with the Timberwolves in 2018, for example, made many negative headlines and earned Butler criticism for cussing out his teammates and beating the starting lineup in a scrimmage just to prove a point. The Heat, however, became convinced that Butler was their target. When they were finally able to acquire him via sign-and-trade in the summer of 2019 from the 76ers, the Heat had finally found the player they had been searching for since the Big 3 Era. And Butler finally found the team he had been searching for throughout his career.
Reason #5: The Miami Heat are way ahead of their timeline
What does it mean when people say the Heat are “ahead of schedule”? When the Heat recruited Butler and ultimately signed him to a 4 year/$142 million max contract in 2019, they sold him on the promise of delivering him a championship. The Heat’s cap space is deliberately scheduled to open up a max contract slot in the enormous free agency class of 2021. As we have seen on a plethora of occasions in recent years, star players become available via trade almost every season. The Heat have cap space, a beautiful city where players want to be, a superstar player already under contract, budding young stars, a winning culture, one of the most stable front offices in the league, a Hall of Fame president and a Hall of Fame-worthy coach. It is very likely that they will deliver on their promise to win a championship during their four-year timeline.
And with that being said, this group made the Finals in their very first year together.
While the Heat were ultimately unable to put the icing on the cake of this season with a championship, the loss just may turn out to be a good thing for them long-term. The Heat have undoubtedly caught the attention of every star player’s eyes at this point, and the loss in the Finals shows that the Heat are just one piece away from capturing their first title since 2013. With the offseason just around the corner and a historically loaded free agency class following in the next year, it isn’t a question of if the Heat will deliver Miami a championship, but when.