Miami Heat Fans, This Team is For You


It’s 2013 and I’m sitting in my living room, watching the Heat and Spurs put on the most beautiful rendition of basketball that I’ve ever seen. The Heat, as we all know, won those Finals thanks in large part to Ray Allen’s series-saving three-pointer. Miami was executing on all cylinders–with crisp ball movement, quick close-outs and the right decisions–and it was the best varietal of the four years of The Heatles.

It’s 2014 and I’m sitting in front of my television. What a difference a year makes. The ball movement and fast steps are replaced with isolations for LeBron James and butt-fumbling by Mario Chalmers. The team has seemingly aged five years in the course of one offseason and 102 games. The Spurs, on the other hand, looked young as ever.

The Heat were an old Corvette broken down by too many miles and the Spurs were a well-oiled luxury sedan. Or a Tesla. LeBron couldn’t  do enough to save the Heat, and San Antonio dominated the series.

It was the beginning of the end of the Big Three Era. James went back to Cleveland in the summer and Pat Riley rebuilt the team on the fly.

But with every end comes a beginning, and so begins a transformation of the Heat, and the way Erik Spoelstra coaches it.

In a must-read article by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, Spoelstra describes what he learned from that series.

"They are just a basketball team again. But unlike so many organizations that implode when they lose a transformational figure—the Bulls with Michael Jordan, the Lakers with Shaquille O’Neal, the Cavs with James—the Heat have stuck together, all that dried blood serving as adhesive. Wade re-signed, Chris Bosh spurned a maximum contract offer from the Rockets, and free-agent small forward Luol Deng chose Miami over a bevy of suitors. “How do you plug the biggest hole ever?” Fizdale asks. “How do you fill that crater? If the Spurs showed us anything [in the Finals], you fill it with teamwork and strategy and system and culture.”Spoelstra ached over [James’] announcement on July 11, but by nightfall he was starting to reimagine the Heat offense—still heavy on pick-and-rolls but balanced by more Spursy cuts and handoffs. “They won’t be what they were,” says one NBA head coach, “but they could still be top three or four in the East.” Think of a conference semifinal with Cleveland."

The Heat will take a step back without James. There is no doubt about that. But despite losing the most amazing player in the game, what they won’t be is boring.

Buried under those memories of electric fast breaks, a 27-game win streak and trophies are memories of frustration over watching a team that so easily fell into lazy basketball. That’s not a knock of Spoelstra. It’s just something that naturally happens to a cast of All-Stars during an 82-game season. But that doesn’t change the frustration Heat fans felt when their team lost to underwhelming opponents, made lazy passes that turned into turnovers, relied on isolations instead of ball movement or neglected to play defense.

That’s about to change. Because the Heat can’t afford to do it anymore. This team can’t afford to assume it’ll be in the playoffs, or give zero sh**s over its playoff seed. They will need to get back to basics every game–finding the open shooter, closing out on defense, fighting for rebounds to gain extra possessions. Spoelstra will get back to coaching instead of spending so much time managing personalities and stepping in as the sacrificial lamb to the mainstream media.

For the casual fan that fell in love with The Heatles, this team won’t be for them. But they’ve already bought their Cleveland jerseys, so they aren’t sweating it. And, frankly, good riddance.

This team will be for the Heat fans that paid attention before the rest of the world did. For a team that belonged to the rest of the NBA for so long, it belongs to us again.

Follow @wcgoldbergFollow @FanSidedHEAT