There’s a well-documented story about how Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra in 2015 made Josh Richardson make 70 of 100 3-pointers during a voluntary practice session. Richardson was a rookie, selected 40th overall, and to that point had been struggling to find a role in Miami’s rotation.
Then one afternoon on a “get-what-you-need” day in which players can use the facility for extra practice, weight lifting or body work on a voluntary basis, Richardson was going through a shooting drill when Spoelstra walked in to observe. Not much later, Spoelstra started demanding more of Richardson. More shots, more intensity, more attention to detail. He barked out to Richardson that he needed to make 70 of 100 3-pointers. When Richardson made 57, Spoelstra demanded he do sprints up and down the practice court. What began as a casual off-day routine transformed into a sweat-soaked, shooting bootcamp. After, Richardson blossomed into a core part of the Heat’s post-Big 3 team and has since carved out a long NBA career.
Richardson, who decided to return to Miami as a free agent last week, credits Spoelstra, that shooting session and the Heat’s commitment detail for the approach that has helped him stick in an unforgiving league for eight seasons, despite playing for six different teams.
“I remember that like it was yesterday,” Richardson said of the shooting session. “I’ve been doing that drill for a long time and I’ll keep doing it while I’m here now. Spo did a lot of things that stuck with me throughout my career, how to approach the game.”
It was a “warm” phone call with Spoelstra last Friday that convinced Richardson to turn down more lucrative offers elsewhere and return to the Heat. The conversation with his former coach “was enough to kind of sway things.”
After stints in Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, San Antonio and New Orleans, Richardson signed a two-year, $6 million contract that includes a second-year player option. At 29, he’s a career 36.5% 3-point shooter, versatile defender and capable ball-handler.
“I don’t think I’m that much different,” Richardson said when asked how his game has changed. “I’ll have a different role. Bam [Adebayo] and Jimmy [Butler] and those guys that are the alphas. I don’t have a problem figuring out where I fit and where I can best help the team win games.”
Richardson’s first stint in Miami ended in 2019, when the Heat traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers in the deal for Butler. In the four years since the trade, Richardson has failed to complete two full seasons with any team. The 76ers traded him after one season to the Mavericks, who traded him a year later to the Celtics. He played 44 games in Boston before getting dealt to the Spurs. The Spurs traded him in February to the Pelicans, where he played just 23 games before entering free agency.
Throughout his NBA journey, Richardson saw firsthand how different organizations operate and returns with renewed appreciation for the Heat’s way of doing things.
“Everyone is on the same page here,” Richardson said. “Just the way the game is approached. It’s hard to compare the intensity that’s shown here and all the attention to small details. It’s getting back to doing things how I was used to.”
There’s little doubt that Richardson, who kept his South Florida home, is seeking stability. But his player option after this season will also give him an opportunity to reenter free agency and earn a bigger contract if he’s able to out-perform his 2023-24 salary. Richardson’s decision is a bet on himself, and the possibility of taking another leap during a second stint with the Heat.
“Sometimes you have got to sacrifice certain things,” Richardson said. “After weighing the options, I thought that it would be in my best interests and everyone involved to come back and give it another go.”
The Heat reached out to Richardson shortly after it was clear Gabe Vincent and Max Strus would be departing in free agency. Vincent signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Lakers. Strus agreed to terms on a four-year, $63 million with the Cavaliers. Within hours of the start of free agency, the Heat had lost the starting backcourt from their NBA Finals run.
Richardson gives the Heat a reliable option at the guard position and may even start, depending on how the rest of Miami’s offseason plays out. Not only did Richardson need the Heat, but the Heat needed Richardson.
“The timing,” Richardson said, “worked out for everybody.”