Miami Heat: should the team just go ahead and fire up the tank?

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 3: Dion Waiters
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 3: Dion Waiters /

Big time losses to the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors, as well as a bundle of injuries, might be a sign that the clock has struck tank for the Miami Heat. 

After a near 30-point loss at the hands of the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, even Miami Heat faithfuls are right to be nervous. Barely one year removed from the shot that came to define Dion Waiters in a win over the eventual 2017 champions, the Heat looked lost after the half in Sunday’s game, allowing the Warriors to shoot 56 percent from the floor.

As with any passionate fan base, questions about tanking arise after a particularly brutal loss. Heat fans, and Bleacher Report in particular, might be edging closer to losing hope in this season. But Heat Nation should pump its brakes before throwing the season away.


Miami knows how to play through injuries. When the Heat suited up last season for their fabled 30-11 second half of the season, they did so without forward Justise Winslow. Winslow, who was nursing a torn labrum in his right shoulder, was sidelined for much of the season, which forced Miami and its coaching staff to work around missing a tenacious defender. However, even without Winslow’s presence, and with periods of nagging injuries to Hassan Whiteside (lacerated hand) and Goran Dragic (back spasms), the Heat found a way to win without a superstar. And present a capable team, grounded in team-wide offensive and defensive contributions.

Injuries have continued to be the name of the game for Miami this season, but have not slowed the overall growth of a still superstar-less team. With Whiteside out with knee trouble and Okaro White and Rodney McGruder missing lengthy stretches of the season, the Heat are working through unforeseen lineup changes that would throw even the best teams for a loop.

Losing players to injury initially seems like reason enough to tank, but Miami is versed in succeeding through adversity. When Chris Bosh went down with blood clots in 2016, the Heat found a way to stay on course for the playoffs, despite losing his 19 points and seven rebounds per game. Sure, Miami doesn’t have Dwyane Wade to make up for its players’ absences, but as an organization, injuries are the last thing to set the team’s trajectory towards tanking.


Let’s face it, the Miami Heat have only tanked twice in their team history. The first time secured them Wade in the 2003 NBA draft, and the second time they picked up Michael Beasley in 2008. Even the horrendous 18-64 1989-90 season was more a function of being a second year expansion team, than an active tank effort. Despite Beasley having three separate stints in Miami, only Wade proved worth the tanking effort, leading the Heat to a championship just three years after being drafted.

After the Big Three era, Miami has shifted gears, opting away from trying to score big names early in the draft, in favor of finding pieces outside of the top 10 and from the G-League. Whiteside, McGruder and Wayne Ellington are treasures from the Heat’s dig through the G-League and overseas, while Josh Richardson and Winslow represent Miami’s mid to late draft projects.

By focusing on more mature players (Richardson spent four years in college while Whiteside had four years of playing experience before Miami), the Heat have fostered development around buying into head coach Erik Spoelstra and President Pat Riley’s system, without being burdened by a heavy focus on physical development. As an organization, Miami wants to win as much as possible season after season, and having to scrap seasons to invest in a swath of young prospects à la the Los Angeles Lakers of Philadelphia 76ers, postpones their goals.

Precedent aside, Miami also lacks a guaranteed path to their 2017 draft pick, further limiting the benefits of captaining a tank.

Should the Heat tank?

If you ask this question again in a year or two, after the James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dragic and Whiteside experiments have run their course, maybe the answer is different. For now, Miami’s best bet is forging ahead with the players they trust, even if that means an occasional blowout against one of the best teams in the league.

The Miami Heat have talent, best exemplified in an upset win over the NBA’s best Boston Celtics. They’ve also started better than they did last year through 23 games (11-12 this year versus 7-16 in 2016-17), when they managed a .500 record and just missed the eight seed.

Next: Turning up the Heat: Josh Richardson and lackluster defense

Things might not be pretty right now, but tanking in 2018 should be the last thing in the Heat’s line of sight.