Mistakes happen. We sleep in a little too late or we forget to do a project. But for us, mistakes are simply, just that – mistakes. For the thirty NBA teams, mistakes cost them, potentially, tens of millions of dollars, a playoff appearance, or even a championship. They have been riddled throughout history. It can be draft picks (Blazer fans know what this is like), it can be free agency (can I get an amen from Knicks fans?), or it can be virtually anything else (in the case of the Kings, EVERYTHING ELSE). Thus, we present the worst mistakes from each NBA team over the past ten years.
The Miami Heat’s Biggest Mistake in the Past Ten Years
The Miami Heat’s team president, Pat Riley, does not often make mistakes. In fact, he’s widely considered to be one of the best front office decision-makers across the NBA. But as Hannah Montana once said, “nobody’s perfect”, and Riley is no exception.
Riley’s selection of Michael Beasley with the second overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft wasn’t good, but it was the expected move for any team in that position, and at that the time, it was entirely reasonable. While many people criticized Riley for some things he said in a press conference that may have been the final straw leading to LeBron James’ departure from the team in 2014, that wasn’t Riley’s biggest mistake. Neither was Miami’s decision to give Dwyane Wade another lowball contract offer this summer, causing him to feel disrespected and ultimately pushing him out the door.
While burning those bridges certainly hurt Riley’s reputation in the eyes of players and agents; those weren’t the biggest mistakes that the Heat front office made. The Miami Heat’s biggest mistake of the past decade was their failure to surround a Big Three of James, Wade, and Chris Bosh with talented young players and draft picks during the four years in which James played for Miami.
This is essentially a series of little moves that added up to one huge blunder. No one single transaction can be pointed out as Miami’s problem. Instead, let’s look at the role players the Heat acquired and kept on their roster from the 2010-11 season through 2013-14. These are the four years during the Lebron James era.
In the first season with James, Miami’s supporting cast included players such as Mike Bibby, Carlos Arroyo, Erick Dampier, and Eddie House. While it was reasonable to reserve spots for James Jones, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Udonis Haslem, and Juwan Howard, as those players were known for their positive locker room presences, the first four turned out to be almost completely useless to the team. These veterans were largely ineffective for the Heat. They simply took up roster spots without making positive contributions on the court. Even for the “locker room guys”, one or two of those players is enough; it’s unnecessary to have four of them taking up spots that could be put to better use.
The Heat did a better job this time, letting go of several of the washed up players, while adding veterans such as Shane Battier, who could still contribute. However, they also signed Ronny Turiaf and Eddy Curry, two completely over-the-hill veterans who did virtually nothing for the team. If anything, one can argue that Curry was a danger to the locker room. He had previously caused countless problems for the New York Knicks. The Heat won the title this season mostly because of James’ monstrous playoff performance, Erik Spoelstra’s improved coaching, and better team chemistry as a whole. It wasn’t because of depth. The Heat still had far too many players on their bench who weren’t productive on the court.
This time around, Miami signed Ray Allen and Chris Andersen – fantastic additions who played key roles in the Heat’s second straight championship run. While Riley deserves a ton of credit for those acquisitions, one still must consider that the Heat were seconds away from losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. They would’ve lost if the Spurs hadn’t made a critical mistake of their own. So what could they have done to ensure an easier way to repeat? Miami certainly should have dumped Joel Anthony, who was no longer effective, and not signed Rashard Lewis, who hadn’t been valuable in years.
This season’s roster was littered with “mistakes”. With Haslem and Jones still taking up roster spots for chemistry purposes, Riley elected to sign more useless veterans. The Heat kept Anthony and Lewis on the roster, while adding Roger Mason, Tony Douglas, Greg Oden, and Michael Beasley, the former Heat draft pick. Mason and Douglas weren’t NBA-caliber players at that point. They had just a couple decent years in the league prior to their Heat tenure. Oden and Beasley were high picks who never found their way in the league. Oden because of injuries, Beasley because of attitude problems. The Heat should’ve stayed away from all four of these players; especially Beasley, who was known for his potential to be a locker room cancer.
The Spark that Caused James to Leave
As Bill Simmons, the former editor-in-chief of ESPN’s Grantland, wrote after James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it didn’t really matter whether or not James always planned to return to Cleveland. The Heat still could’ve delayed the move and kept James for the rest of his prime. As Simmons points out, James clearly looked frustrated with his teammates as the 2014 Finals wound down; with Miami getting crushed by the Spurs. He was unhappy because his supporting cast was as weak as it had been in Cleveland. Why was it so bad?
It was because the Heat were filled with cast-offs and old, past-their-prime veterans. Even Allen, Battier, and Andersen were basically washed up by 2014, when they were all age 35 or older. With multiple players still on the roster solely for their locker room presence, Riley’s failure to acquire better role players was unacceptable. Wade’s rapid decline, combined with the Heat’s lack of depth, made Miami weak and forced a giant burden upon James. The 2014 Finals were the best indicator of that. Until that point, the Heat simply hadn’t had enough competition to expose their glaring flaws. The lack of help for James was the ultimate reason for his departure.
The Alternative Options
Rather than continuously surround James with declining veterans, Miami needed to take risks on young, energetic players. These players could work hard and be effective on defense, at the very least. In a best-case scenario, the Heat could find some gems and use them as role players in their playoff runs.
How to find Youth
Where would Miami find these young players? All over the place, really. Using some of the roster spots that were used on ineffective old players, the Heat could’ve looked for youth. They could’ve scouted the D-League during the season, and the Summer League during the off-season. Those leagues have produced potential rotation players such as Jonathan Simmons and Jordan McRae, both of whom now play for title contenders. The leagues are there precisely to give these young men opportunities to help out NBA teams. It is an option that Riley never really explored.
Another option for Miami would’ve been to search for those types of players in the NBA Draft. While it’s not easy to find good players while drafting so late, the Heat hardly even tried. The traded away all of their picks in 2011 and 2013. Their second round picks from 2010, Dexter Pittman and Jarvis Varnado, stuck around with the team for a couple years but never made a real impact on the court. The only pick Miami made that really worked out was Norris Cole, but even he was only a fringe rotation player who’s now scrapping to survive in the league. The Heat never made any noise on draft day. They stood pat with a roster that had gaping holes in its bench units; even if it could still contend for a title every year with James.
Giving More Opportunities to Young Players
While Miami did look to get younger with players such as Pittman, Varnado, Terrel Harris, Josh Harrellson, and DeAndre Liggins, these players never amounted to anything. Spoelstra deserves some of the blame here. He never used the regular season to experiment with his lineups. He could have given the young guys a real chance to show what they could do. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who every NBA coach should strive to emulate, has been doing this for years. He allowed players like Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph in the past, and currently Kyle Anderson and the aforementioned Jonathan Simmons, to grow and develop during the season so that they’d be ready to contribute in the playoffs. Spoelstra should’ve taken a page out of Pop’s book, but he didn’t, and it cost the Heat.
Everyone knows the rest of the story. James returned to Cleveland and began his quest to win a championship there, leaving the Heat a mess. Bosh suffered blood clots during each of the following two seasons. These would endanger his life and force the Heat to keep him off the floor. Miami missed the playoffs in the 2014-15 season. They bounced back for 48 wins behind a rejuvenated Wade, newly-acquired point guard Goran Dragic, and other new players.
The irony, of course, is that as soon as James left, the Heat did what might’ve been enough to keep him, had they made it happen earlier. They took a chance on Hassan Whiteside, an unproven D-League player who had been cut by several teams. Miami ended up finding a stud at center. Whiteside went on to lead the league in blocks while playing on a minimum contract; before re-signing to a massive new deal.
They drafted Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson in 2015, both of whom were steals at their draft positions and became key contributors in the playoffs. Miami also picked up 24-year-old Tyler Johnson from the Summer League and D-League, eventually re-signing him to a hefty long-term contract this summer. Even though the loss of Wade stings, Heat fans can take comfort in the fact that Winslow, Richardson, and Johnson will now have larger roles and a chance to develop their game more next season.
Heat fans now have to ponder what could’ve been. If they had only found players like Whiteside, Winslow, Richardson, and Johnson a few years earlier, James almost surely would’ve stayed. Maybe the Heat still would’ve lost to San Antonio in 2014, but they could’ve made the series more competitive. They could’ve given James hope that the future was bright. And perhaps they could’ve convinced James that Miami’s newfound depth would help to preserve his body and extend his prime.
But alas, life doesn’t work that way. Everyone makes mistakes. The Heat’s error happened to drive the best basketball player since Michael Jordan, not far removed from the peak of his powers, to leave their team.
Be sure to stick with us for the next few weeks. The Last Word on Sports basketball department will analyze the biggest mistake of every NBA franchise in the past ten years.