Dwyane Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans

Group hug, everybody.

Short of winning another NBA title, Thursday’s wholly unexpected trade bringing Dwyane Wade back to Miami is the greatest emotional touchstone this franchise could strike for its fans.

Think of all you get here.

  • The most decorated player in Heat history, seemingly lost forever in the foul tide of free agency, is returning to AmericanAirlines Arena for what certainly will be the last stop of his NBA career.
  • Wade no longer is a teammate of LeBron James, a temporary arrangement that unsettled stomachs around here much worse than the side of D-Wade in a Chicago uniform.
  • The wall that existed between Wade and Heat godfather Pat Riley has been torn down and a beautiful garden of memories can grow again where it once stood.

That’s a whole lot of payoff for one deal involving a 36-year-old guard who started just three games for Cleveland this year, but Wade has never been about the numbers alone.

Heat president Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade. (Miami Herald file photo)

He’s a symbol of so many good things for Miami, and that predates The Big Three phenomenon.

What happens now for the Heat of 2018 is less glorious. With Wade they will find a way into the playoffs and find their way out pretty quickly. It would have been the same, to be honest, without him.

How much fun will it be, however, to break out those old No. 3 jerseys from the back of the closet, the ones with mustard stains from that concession-stand hot dog wolfed down before Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, the night that Wade scored 42 points to start Miami toward its first title, as well as tear stains from July of 2016, when he signed with the Bulls feeling unappreciated by Riley?

The only thing left to hope for is a first-round playoff pairing with Cleveland.

Dwyane and LeBron are still best buddies. In fact, they both reportedly were consulted on Thursday’s trade, a chance to get Wade the kind of playing time that was being denied him while a Cav. Maybe there’s even a chance to like LeBron a little bit again if that’s true, but only after the hoped-for opportunity to boo him and cheer Wade at equally ridiculous decibel levels in the crucible of the postseason.

As for Erik Spoelstra, the former assistant coach who worked directly with Wade on his jump shooting skills when both were kids, this is the end of wondering who will take the last shot in Miami’s close games. Wade does that. For good or for bad, and remember that this season Wade is nearly 90 points shy of his career-best .545 shooting percentage, closing is what he was born to do.

What is the best that could come of this?

Well, in Wade’s rookie season he led a 42-40 Heat team to the second round of the playoffs, and that team had one fewer All-Star than this one does in Goran Dragic.

I’m not counting on anything like that, nor is it logical to expect that anyone in Cleveland is feeling particularly wounded by Wade’s departure. The Cavs will go on without him, and they’ll be better equipped to win a title following Thursday trades that did not involve Wade at all.

For now, let’s just say that the best thing that could come out of this reunion has already happened, and in an instant. It’s the burst of enthusiasm it already has sent through Miami’s fan base, and the sheer joy that will come with seeing Wade back in the Heat lineup Friday night at the arena.

It’s the perfect salve for sore attitudes during a five-game losing streak, and the ultimate answer to why anyone should be investing additional energy in a team that is not constructed to do much damage this spring. For the alternative emotion, imagine if the addition of Luke Babbitt had been Thursday’s only Heat transaction.

Getting Tim Hardaway at the trade deadline in 1996 was a bigger deal for Riley, but this transaction is a better one for the overall psyche of the franchise.

Miami-Wade County has its mayor back, and now, finally, he is unanimously proclaimed as mayor-for-life.

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/06/dwyane-wades-top-five-miami-heat-highlights/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/15181/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/dwyane-wade-by-the-numbers/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/dwyane-wade-miami-heat-not-the-only-messy-breakup-in-south-florida-sports-history/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/16/pat-riley-says-dwyane-wade-exit-was-his-fault/

 

[Where was Derek Jeter 25 years ago when his Marlins franchise was born?]

[There was a time, gulp, when the Heat played in the Western Conference]

[Please, NFL, takes us back to the days when a catch was a catch]

 

Look to Spo’s history as a player for the toughness that helped turn season around

From 11-30 to the NBA playoffs is an incredible journey that the Miami Heat still haven’t completed, but the question is the same no matter how this turns out.

How does a coach keep grinding the way Erik Spoelstra always does, whether his team seems bound for a world championship or the draft lottery?

MIAMI – Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra watches during the second half of a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 19. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

That’s one heck of a range when it comes to expectations and achievement and personal satisfaction, and it’s one that didn’t always hold Pat Riley’s attention quite as well during his coaching days.

Riley, of course, was a brilliant athlete in high school, good enough to have Adolph Rupp chasing him at Kentucky and brawny enough to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys coming out of college. All he ever knew was winning when he got to the NBA, and he can’t stand to be away from it for long.

Spoelstra was just the opposite, scrapping for everything he got as a point guard who weighed just 98 pounds as a high school freshman. There’s an old USA Today story that tells of Spo taking 30,000 jump shots from three-point range one summer in order to stretch and improve his skills.

Yeah, that’s the kind of doggedness that comes in handy later when you’re 11-30.

Eventually Spoelstra earned a Div. I scholarship offer, but it wasn’t from UCLA or North Carolina. Instead he played at the small college in his Oregon hometown, the University of Portland.

Must have played pretty well, too, because he was named the Freshman of the Year in the West Coast Conference. Loyola-Marymount owned that league at the time, averaging 110 points per game, and Gonzaga, a No. 1 seed in the ongoing NCAA tournament, owns it today.

Problem is, the Portland Pilots weren’t very good overall. They started 0-13 in Spo’s first season there and wound up 2-26. It’s a real challenge not to quit on a team like that.

Stick with it, though, and 11-30 somewhere way down the line doesn’t rattle you as much as it might others.

Spo kept pounding away, starting 97 games in four years, which ranks ninth on Portland’s all-time list. He learned how to create scoring opportunities for teammates, ranking fifth on the school’s career list for assists, and how to make the most of his own chances, ranking fourth all-time at Portland with a free-throw percentage of .824.

That’s a lot of serious stat mileage for a player whose individual career numbers – 9.2 points, 4.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds – don’t exactly knock you out. Spo pushed every possible hot button, though, even though the Pilots never won more than 11 games during his four-year college career.

Is that the kind of guy you want coaching your team in the midst of an 11-30 nightmare? Well, sure, especially if he also has found great success, as in back-to-back NBA titles with the Big Three.

[Only 3 Gator teams ever made it to Sweet 16 more easily than this one]

[Most get in free for inaugural NCAA hoops title game in 1939]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

There’s something here for everyone on the Heat roster, a coach who understands the psychological torture of losing, a coach who remembers what it’s like to be overlooked, and a coach who will accept only the highest standards no matter what anybody else thinks or says about his team.

What the team has achieved and what it continues to chase make more sense in this context. It tells you that the Heat couldn’t be in better hands.

It’s true now. It was true at 11-30.

 

Key to Heat’s rebuilding season will be handling teams like the Kings

“We should play like that every game,” Goran Dragic said Sunday after the Miami Heat pushed hard in a 106-99 loss to regal San Antonio.

If they do, they will win all the games that they should win and surprise a few of the elite teams along the way.

Miami Heat's Goran Dragic tends to Hassan Whiteside after a leg injury in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016 at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic tends to Hassan Whiteside after leg cramps struck the center against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

Tonight’s home game with Sacramento qualifies as one that Miami needs to get in order to keep on pace with any kind of distant postseason fantasy. The Kings missed the playoffs last year at 33-49 and have a 14-game losing streak at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Won’t be easy, though, for Heat big man Hassan Whiteside or anyone else.

Last Thursday Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins had 37 points and 16 rebounds in a 102-94 loss to the Spurs.

Whiteside also was great against the Spurs on Sunday, matching a career-high of 27 points and adding his usual 15 rebounds, but the Spurs rested LaMarcus Aldridge that night. Cousins didn’t get that break when he played San Antonio.

Maybe the best way to do this is to carve up the schedule into pieces.

Miami plays seven playoff teams from last year in the month of November and seven that didn’t qualify. An 8-6 record against that group would be great. To get only five or six wins, on the other hand, would be pretty discouraging since coach Erik Spoelstra is going all out for victories this time of year. The better teams can afford to put it into overdrive later.

[Is FSU over USF the best college football win in our state so far?]

[Unless you’re smarter than me, predicting Dolphins is a coin flip this year]

[Tough recognizing America the last time Indians or Cubs won World Series]

Consider this pregame quote from Sunday when Spo was told that Gregg Popovich would be resting Aldridge and Danny Green against the Heat. Long-term maintenance only.

“Well, we won’t be resting tonight,” said Spo, who got 39 minutes out of Justise Winslow and 35 from Whiteside. ”We know well enough that they can have guys out and it really does not matter.”

File this away, meanwhile, under encouraging signs for the 1-2 Heat.

Dragic scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, really asserting his leadership. That hasn’t been the case in the past against the Spurs. His career average against San Antonio was only 9.0 points coming into this game.

Also, Winslow just missed his career high for points. He scored 18 against the Spurs, two short of the 20 he scored as a rookie against Denver last March.

“That is about as many calories as you can burn in a 39-minute game,” said Spo, “because you’re going up against an MVP-caliber player (Kawhi Leonard). You have to defend and get through all the screens, and on the other end he is required to make a lot of plays.

“He has great maturity for a young player.”

Want a better playoff winning percentage than Erik Spoelstra? Better hire Phil Jackson

Erik Spoelstra is 45 and looks younger. I mean, going to four consecutive NBA Finals should make a man as gray as four years in the Oval Office but Spo still has a jet-black head of hair and appears ready to take part in any drill if the Miami Heat ever run short of practice players.

Some of this stuff masks what he has become, which is one of the league’s long-timers.

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC – APRIL 29: Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference first-round series. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Among active coaches only gruff Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs for 20 seasons, has been running the same team for a longer period of time. Spo is tied for second with Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, each of them at eight seasons and counting in their current jobs.

As the Heat and Toronto Raptors prepare to open an Eastern Conference semifinal series, it seems a good time to congratulate Pat Riley, again, for making such a good choice for his successor in Miami.

Sure, Spo was handed the Big Three on a platter. Sure, he could have won more than two NBA titles with them. Sure, there are reasons to downplay any coach’s contributions to any grand achievement.

Bottom line, though, Spo has kept the team together through all kinds of divisive moments, including LeBron’s departure and Chris Bosh’s medical issues. Now there’s even a flap about Bosh wanting to get back into uniform while the organization continues to wrestle with what is smart and what is safe and what is potentially actionable.

No matter. The Heat keep on winning, as they did in the seven-game series with Charlotte just completed, and Spo keeps on figuring ways to keep them viable as Eastern Conference championship contenders.

Get this. Spo already has more postseason wins (67) than Riley did as Miami coach. What’s more, he’s got more playoff wins than Riley and Stan Van Gundy and Kevin Loughery combined (55) when they were coaching the Heat.

[First-ever NFL draft pick in 1936 chose foam-rubber sales job instead]

[An entertaining look back at Braves’ 35 years training in West Palm]

[10 years after first Heat title team, Wade and Haslem still driving hard]

The longer view is where it really gets interesting.

In all of NBA history, there is only one coach with a higher career winning percentage in the playoffs than Spo. His name is Phil Jackson.

Here’s the list, with the qualifier that these are coaches who worked at least 50 postseason games.

Coach               Playoff wins     Playoff losses   Pct.

Phil Jackson              229                   104                 .688

Erik Spoelstra             67                     39                 .632

John Kundla                60                     35                 .632

Billy Cunningham      66                     39                 .629

Gregg Popovich         157                     95                 .623

Larry Costello              37                     23                 .617

Larry Bird                     32                     20                 .615

Pat Riley                     171                   111                .606

Chuck Daly                  75                     51                 .595

Red Auerbach             99                     69                 .589

 

Never heard of John Kundla? He coached the Minneapolis Lakers and George Mikan in pro basketball’s formative years in a time so different that Kundla decided not to move with the franchise to Los Angeles. He stayed in Minneapolis to coach the University of Minnesota instead.

Spo fits somewhere in between those ancient legends and more recent ring-collectors like Jackson and Riley and Pop. Let’s see where he’ll be in another dozen years, though. If he’s still in Miami and if Riley can lure another major free agent or two along the way, Spo might yet climb near the top of every list.

For today, though, he’s a pretty good man to match up against Toronto’s Dwyane Casey, who is learning fast in his fifth season as an NBA coach but has a career playoff winning percentage of .389.

 

 

 

Ten years after 1st Heat title team, Wade and Haslem deserve their own nickname

 

The Big Three, a championship concept, came and went in Miami.

The Trusted Two, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, remain.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) drives past Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris (13) with the help of teammate Udonis Haslem, left, in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
MIAMI – Dwyane Wade drives past Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris with the help of Heat teammate Udonis Haslem on April 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

This is the 10th anniversary season of the Heat’s original NBA title team. Dwyane and Udonis were there.

Young and tough and fearless, they helped to lift the franchise to the top of the league, the place where Pat Riley had been trying to get the Heat throughout a decade of wheeling and dealing and coaching and cajoling.

Old and tough and fearless, Dwyane and Udonis are back at it again, working to remind a fresh set of teammates what it will take to get past Charlotte in the first round, and trying to remind them that every night won’t be as easy as that Game 1 blowout on Sunday.

It would pay to listen to anything these guys have to say, and to mimic any kind of postseason mood they present. You can be certain that coach Erik Spoelstra does.

In 2006, Spo was 35, an assistant, a rapid climber in hopes of running his own team one day. He couldn’t have known that Riley soon would step away from coaching, or that LeBron James would be coming his way, or that 10 years could whistle past as quickly as these have.

Looking back, however, at that original Heat championship roster, the signs are all there, and they are fading fast.

Other than Wade and Haslem, the 2006 Heat player who stayed the longest in the league was Jason Kapono. He logged all of two minutes across that entire postseason and played his last NBA season in 2012 with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Shaquille O’Neal, a new Hall of Famer, made it to 2011 and played with three teams after Miami.

Alonzo Mourning and Antoine Walker finished up in 2008, which was one season longer than Gary Payton.

[NFL draft is rarely enough to instantly transform a team like Miami]

[Most Heat teams with fewer than 50 wins have dead-ended in first round]

[Dolphins got A.J. Duhe with 13th pick and are feeling lucky again]

To many Heat fans in their 20’s, kids who grew up on the Big Three era, it might not be easy to remember that breakthrough 2006 Miami team at all. Why, even Justise Winslow, the 20-year-old rookie who played 27 minutes in his first NBA playoff game Sunday night, is probably pretty fuzzy on the details.

It happened, though, and it’s still happening for The Trusted Two, Wade as a starter and Haslem as a whatever-you-need-whenever-you-need-it.

Consequently, I’ll always appreciate their contributions just a little bit more, and the same goes for Stan Van Gundy, who started out coaching that 2006 Miami team before Riley stepped in and took over.

Stan is still grinding away in the NBA playoffs as coach of the Detroit Pistons. He’ll make LeBron and the Cavs work and in their opening-round series and it figures he’ll still be coaching for somebody somewhere another 10 years from now.

One last thought for the Heat marketing department. With all those White Hot 2016 playoff banners and T-shirts, might it be possible to slip in a few 10th-anniversary Heat championship references? Those guys were the first, and no major achievement ever means more than the first.