There’s really no such thing as a simple summer for Dwyane Wade

Sounds like a simple summer for Dwyane Wade. At least that’s the way Pat Riley is framing the necessary recommitment of the Miami Heat to its star player, and vice versa.

“We’ll sit down and we’ll talk about that with Dwyane,” said Riley, who doesn’t do much for his negotiating position by proclaiming last season as Wade’s best overall performance since prior to the Big Three era.

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade looks on after his team lost in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto, Sunday, May 15, 2016. The Raptors won 116-89. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
TORONTO – Dwyane Wade looks on after the Miami Heat lost in Game 7 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals against the Raptors on May 15, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

“He wants to win, I think, as much as he wants to do anything. Compensation to a player is not just a way to get paid and to live your life. Compensation to a player is about recognition and respect and place. We know where he belongs…He’s a lifer. What he’s done in this city over the last 13 years is irreplaceable and so we’re going to do the right thing. There’s no doubt.”

Wade, who flirted with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, is in a similarly agreeable mood.

“I don’t want to be on the market at all,” Wade said two days after the Heat’s season ended with a Game 7 loss to Toronto in the Eastern Conference semifinals. “I’m not curious at all. I want to get to it [with the Heat]. I want to be able to sign my deal and move on and not have to deal with any rumors, any free agency, any this, any that. This is where I want to end my career. So we’ll figure it out.”

Oh, what a relief it is to hear such words. Fans in Cleveland can’t count on that kind of assurance from LeBron James. Same for Oklahoma City fans in their relationship with Kevin Durant. It’s a tradeoff, though.

The Cavaliers and the Thunder are in the middle of what could be a championship run for either team. These are the best of times for those franchises, the most hopeful, and it’s because they have dynamic players that everyone else wants and, potentially, somebody else might get.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone would try to steal Wade from the Heat this summer or any summer. He’s 34. Doesn’t mean that Dwyane no longer is capable of scoring 20 points per game, but Allen Iverson played his final NBA season at 34. So did Bob Cousy. Jerry West and Clyde Drexler finished up at 35.

A flashy guard can go longer, but they don’t grow stronger. So the legacy talk begins to slip into conversation, and into Wade’s mind. The three titles. The NBA Finals MVP award. The Hall of Fame leadership and the spectacular ability to close out a game with a series of bruising drives and acrobatic finishes.

It’s a lot, but one day there will be no more, so Riley promises what he can. A friendly sitdown at Dwyane’s convenience, a ton of respect, a fat contract to reseal one great player to one franchise that never would have been as great without him.

You know what else will be in there, right? A tease.

Take a little less than you might like in another one-year deal. Give us a chance to talk to Durant, and not just about next season. Give all the possibilities room to breathe. It’s about more than money for a guy like you, Dwyane. It’s about full recognition and respect, which means somehow getting back to the NBA Finals, if not now then soon.

[Blame New Orleans for the escalation in Super Bowl hosting requirements]

[Missing out on LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t hurt Heat because of Whiteside]

[An entertaining look back to when the Braves trained in West Palm Beach]

“I think we’re close, I really do,” Riley said during his season wrap-up media session. “We took a step forward. It’s one of the best locker rooms we’ve ever had. The guys really respect each other. I’m very optimistic. Why wouldn’t I be optimistic?

“Plus we’ve got the flexibility this year and next year, and that’s what I’m looking at.”

This year and next year. Just down the road, that’s where this dream is always going, and that’s where it was going even in the years where Wade and the Heat were coming off championship parades.

For that reason it’s never really a simple summer for a guy like him. He’ll be glad to get his Heat contract. He’ll be sad that it’s the only big one put in front of him. He’ll be wishing that Chris Bosh was Chris Bosh again, and that Dwyane Wade was Flash.

Can’t have it all, but he does have a place. It’s right next to Pat Riley, the man who deals out Micky Arison’s millions but sees to it that every now and then Wade still gets to play boss.

 

 

 

Missing out on LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t hurt Heat thanks to Whiteside’s development

 

Last year at this time Pat Riley was trying to get a meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Miami Heat didn’t have the salary-cap space to sign 6-foot-11 all-star but eventually they did talk about possibly playing for less or maybe signing a shorter deal elsewhere that would make Aldridge available in 2016.

Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) battles for the ball against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during first half NBA basketball playoff action in Toronto, Thursday, May 5, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
TORONTO – Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) battles for the ball against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during nba playoff actioN ON May 5, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

None of that came close to happening. Aldridge signed a four-year contract with San Antonio.

Then came Hassan Whiteside, developing on the fly in Miami. He’s raw. He’s unpredictable. He’s not yet capable of reliably scoring 20 points per game.

So what?

If the Heat can keep Whiteside from signing with another team, they’ll have a free-agent thunderbolt of a player who is the equal of Aldridge in many categories and the best of anybody at blocking shots. What’s more, Whiteside is only beginning to tap his potential.

Here are the numbers from this season.

Aldridge, during the regular season, shot 51 percent, averaged 8.5 rebounds and scored 18.0 points per game.

Starting 31 fewer games, Whiteside made 60 percent of his shots with per-game averages of 11.8 rebounds and 14.2 points.

The biggest difference was blocks. Hassan led the NBA with 269. That’s a mind-blowing average of 3.7 per game. Aldridge wasn’t even in the top 20 at 1.1 and he’s averaged just one block throughout his long career.

Now let’s look at the playoffs, which is as fair a measure as any since both Aldridge and Whiteside started 10 postseason games.

Whiteside wins field-goal percentage, 68 percent to 52.

Whiteside wins rebounds, 10.9 per game to 8.3.

Whiteside doubles him up on blocks, 2.8 to 1.4.

Aldridge wins points per game, 21.9 to 12.0, and free-throw percentage, 89 to 59.

Is Aldridge a smoother scorer with safer to have in the lineup late in close games? Undoubtedly. He’s been in the league for a decade.

[Kyle Lowry’s Game 3 breakout is where Heat lost control of series]

[Winslow and Richardson bring Heat rare boost from NBA draft]

[QB Doughy well worth a seventh-round pick for Dolphins]

Whiteside will get better at all of that, but even if it’s only a little, remember the savage efficiency of all those lob passes Dwyane Wade sent his way for slam dunks late in the season? That’s a preview worth savoring.

For the moment, defense is Whiteside’s game. Listen to Riley, however, and you know why it matters on both ends of the court.

“It isn’t just an offensive game,” Riley said Wednesday. “You talk about up-tempo basketball, you go back and find our best offensive games and we probably held teams to 38 or 39 or 40 percent shooting. We were getting blocked shots, deflections, turning the ball over. Your offense is only as good as what you do on the defensive end.

“You want to explode out of there, then you better make some stops. You better rebound the ball. That’s why Hassan is so important to us. He’ll block shots. He’ll rebound the ball. He’ll change 10 other shots. He’ll scare the hell out of four or five other people coming into the paint. He’s got some intangibles that, simply, you just cannot find.”

Not even if you go to San Antonio, the team that won the 2015 bidding war for Aldridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson bring Heat rare boost from NBA draft

(After the Miami Heat’s playoff run comes to an end, there will be an NBA draft. Usually that doesn’t mean much compared to the free-agency frenzy that comes each summer, but 2015 was an exception. Below is my instant-reaction column from last June, the night Pat Riley took Justise Winslow in the first round.

Didn’t know at the time that Josh Richardson would be coming, too, in the second round. Both have been great as rookies, comprising perhaps the best Heat draft class since Rony Seikaly, Kevin Edwards and Grant Long in the inaugural season of 1988. You could make a case, too, for 1989 with Glen Rice and Sherman Douglas, or 2003 with Dwyane Wade and who cares, but the point is the same.

 Winslow and Richardson are invaluable in the playoffs as rookies and no team could hope for a better draft return than that.)

 

By Dave George

Palm Beach Post columnist

June 26, 2015

   So LeBron ditched the Miami Heat, but there’s Justise after all.
Not a bad way to pick up the pieces of last summer’s disappointment for Pat Riley. Justise Winslow, Miami’s lucky charm all the way down at No. 10 overall in Thursday’s NBA draft, has done as much as any player could to prove his right-away NBA readiness.

Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) drives against the Charlotte Hornets during  Game 7 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Miami.  (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow drives against the Charlotte Hornets during Game 7 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Well, there was a time when a big body could do more, back when LeBron James and other monsters stepped right into the league from high school.
Failing that, and bound by new rules, Winslow did the next best thing. He played one season of college ball, played it at Duke, where Coach K lures everybody John Calipari can’t, and won a national championship on the dead run out the door to NBA millions.
This doesn’t make him LeBron. A body-armor suit and a jet pack couldn’t do that. For Miami to get a guy this talented, however, and without trading anything away, this is so much better than it could have been after a season outside the playoffs and wrapped in surgical gauze.
Winslow is a 6-foot-7 wingman ready to take flight as a pro.
He’ll need work, like all No. 10 picks do. Heck, Minnesota has the last three No. 1 overall picks in Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and now Karl-Anthony Towns, and I’m still not sure the Timberwolves will make the playoffs next season.
With Winslow, however, the Heat are plugging holes before they even open. Nobody knows if Luol Deng, the starting small forward, will sign up for more heavy lifting in Miami. Either way, coach Erik Spoelstra has an athletic kid who will be starting sooner or later and can come off the bench to grab rebounds and shoot 3-pointers until it happens.
Smooth-shooting Devin Booker of Kentucky would have been good, too, since Dwyane Wade’s negotiations for a Heat return come without guarantee. Miami needs a backup there as well.
Can’t have everything, though, even if you’re Calipari. Four of the draft’s top 13 picks played for him at Kentucky, so he has to reload, poor guy.
We’re more concerned around here with getting the Heat back up to speed. Chris Bosh coming back healthy will be huge. Hassan Whiteside putting more polish on his rim-rattling game would be strong, too. Bring back Wade, who surely smiled at Thursday’s prime pickup, and Miami’s almost got it made.
The need for more high-percentage scoring from the perimeter remains to be addressed, if not in the second round then sometime. To me, Riley probably has spent as much time and energy on this draft as he’s going to spend. He’ll start chasing veteran free agents now, for that’s still the quickest way out of the lowly lottery crowd.
Let the Knicks and Magic take those crazy Euro steps on draft night. It’s time to get down to work with players who have been in a brawl or two, either in the pros or in March Madness.
One of the reasons Winslow was expected to go so much higher, maybe even top-five, is that his game actually picked up against better competition. He averaged 14.3 points for Duke in the NCAA Tournament, a bucket more per game than in the regular season, and didn’t mind swinging a few elbows under the boards to supplement that scoring punch.
Go to the Final Four for clues of what he will become. In the national semifinals against Michigan State, an outfit that has to be tough just to make it out of Tom Izzo’s practice gym alive, Winslow got 19 points and nine rebounds. That topped Duke teammate Jahlil Okafor, Thursday’s No. 3 overall pick, in both categories.
Also, Duke had three players on the Final Four all-tournament team. Winslow was one of them. Okafor wasn’t.
Of course, it’s all about development now. That job falls to Spo and his staff.
Riley’s already done his, and without breaking a sweat.

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.

Zo’s story taught Pat Riley all he needs to know about waiting on answers with Chris Bosh

 

The news on Chris Bosh’s recurrence of blood clots is shocking. He needs to wrestle with life issues first and everything else, including basketball, somewhere down the line.

The Miami Heat, of course, are a basketball team, so that establishes their priority of going on, playing games, building long-term personnel and payroll strategies, with the assumption that Bosh won’t be a significant part of it anymore.

Miami Heat vice president, player programs Alonzo Mourning, center, presents guard Dwyane Wade, left, and forward Chris Bosh right, jerseys for the NBA All-Star Game, before the start of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Miami Heat vice president, player programs Alonzo Mourning, center, presents guard Dwyane Wade, left, and forward Chris Bosh right, jerseys for the NBA All-Star Game, before the start of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

This all falls at the trade deadline, which winds the clock even faster. This team wasn’t going to win an NBA championship this season, however, even if Bosh played every game at a career-best level. It’s a stretch to think that any new, reshuffled lineup would get very far in the playoffs with or without Bosh returning at less than his polished best.

Better just to play out the season for whatever it is worth rather than dangling Justise Winslow or Goran Dragic or even Hassan Whiteside as trade bait for a half-season of veteran help.

Give Pat Riley time to sweep away all the broken pieces of his offseason free-agency plan. Give him the chance to come up with another plan for another year or two in the future, plus the chance to decide if he even wants to try again.

Riley’s got experience, after all, in dealing with an unpredictable health threat striking a cornerstone Heat player. It happened to Alonzo Mourning in 2000, when he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.

[Dolphins thought they had their very own Von Miller when they drafted Dion Jordan]

[Honda Classic gets Fowler and Matsuyama fresh off emotional playoff duel]

[If Shaq gets his Heat jersey retired, why not cornerstones like Rice and Seikaly?]

In August of that year Riley made some big changes, collecting Eddie Jones, Anthony Mason and Brian Grant for what he hoped would be a run at the Heat’s first Eastern Conference title. Then a couple of weeks before the season opener Zo made his announcement. Everyone rallied around the great star, hoping Zo would get help on his mysterious health issues and return.

Well, he did, in late March, starting three games and playing in 13 for a 50-win Miami team that climbed all the way to No. 3 in the East’s playoff seedings. Then came a first-round playoff loss to the Charlotte Hornets, and a three-game sweep, no less.

The next season was much better for Zo, almost making you think that he had willed his body back into line. In 74 starts he averaged 15.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, earning one last trip to the All-Star Game. The team, unfortunately, was starting to fall apart. Riley traded away Tim Hardaway, whose skills were diminishing at 34, before the season even began. By the spring everything had become drudgery, with Riley missing the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Of course, you know how well the story ended for Zo, with his glorious return to the Heat following a kidney transplant and with the NBA championship ring he won as Shaquille O’Neal’s backup in 2006. What can’t be forgotten now, though, and what won’t be forgotten by Riley in dealing with Bosh’s situation, is the way the whole franchise waited on him and hoped for a miracle when the kidney issue first arose.

Mourning missed the entire 2002-03 season, left the team when his contract was not renewed and went through a fruitless experiment with the New Jersey Nets before his body finally demanded a reboot with the transplant.

Zo is as tough physically and as stubborn mentally as any athlete who ever has played a professional sport. The Heat believed in him so much that they banked on his recovery longer than logic and medical science suggested was realistic. Zo couldn’t be counted upon any more, no matter how much he and the team wanted it to be otherwise.

Bosh can’t change his stars either. He will be paid, and paid well, by a franchise that doesn’t want to see him go but must accept that he also can’t be counted upon any more for any appreciable length of time.

Shocking to say, sad to think, but there it is. Best wishes now to Bosh, a big man in every way and enough of a believer in Riley that he re-signed with the Heat after LeBron James bolted.

If it turns out he comes back to the team later this season or beyond, I say hallelujah to that, but it won’t ever be the same. It can’t be.

Like Zo was at the time of his mysterious ailment, Bosh has no more real say in delivering on his promises.

 

If a short-timer like Shaq gets his Heat jersey retired, why not cornerstones like Rice and Seikaly?

 

 

If the Miami Heat are retiring Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey, as announced on Tuesday, you know what that means.

One day they’ll be raising LeBron James’ No. 6 to the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena, too. Whether that becomes a warm and fuzzy moment for anybody really doesn’t matter. It has to happen, because Pat Riley is determined to give all-time credit to Miami’s all-time talents. It is a strength of his that puts the game above the gossip.

CHICAGO - MAY 4: Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Miami Heat shoots against the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2006 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 4, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2006 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHICAGO – Shaquille O’Neal of the Miami Heat shoots against the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2006 NBA Playoffs at Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Now I’m not convinced that Shaq deserves so warm a hug from a franchise that he slimed pretty liberally on his way out the door in 2008.

He only spent 3 ½ seasons in Miami and played for three more teams after that while skidding to the end of his career. Commitment to the Heat’s brand of basketball was never the commitment for Shaq that it was for, say, Alonzo Mourning. Shaq’s commitment has always been to Shaq, the supersized persona, the great entertainer, the brilliant manager of so many marketable assets.

It all starts, however, with Shaq’s transformative impact on the game. He was a load physically and a bull mentally, commanding as much respect in the lane as anyone since Wilt Chamberlain has. In 2006, at the age of 33, Shaq still had enough to average 18.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the long playoff run that earned Miami its first NBA title. Dwyane Wade was the reason the Heat finished the job but they wouldn’t have gotten within realistic range of a championship without Shaq.

Wade’s jersey will eventually be retired, though they really ought to hang about three of his up there, one in white, another in red and another in black. That would reflect his multiplied importance to this organization, and the three NBA titles he has won with the Heat.

Chris Bosh will be honored somewhere down the road, too, just like Zo and Tim Hardaway before him.

Is Shaq still really a part of that royal family? Doesn’t seem to matter to Heat ownership. Michael Jordan’s number is retired at AmericanAirlines and he’s related to this franchise by NBA bloodlines alone.

More than worrying about Shaq, though, it would be nice to pay more attention to Glen Rice and Rony Seikaly, two Heat greats who might be getting higher priorities if they had played for Riley.

Rice averaged 19.3 points per game during his six Miami seasons. That’s No. 4 in franchise history, right behind LeBron, Dwyane and Shaq. What’s more, Rice drove the Heat into the playoffs for the first time, back when he carried a far greater load than any of the Big Three did individually during Miami’s later championship run.

Seikaly, meanwhile, holds a special place in franchise history because he was there from the start. Miami took the Syracuse center in the first round of the Heat’s inaugural draft in 1988 and received in return six seasons of overachievement.

Seikaly averaged a double-double during his time in Miami – 15.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. Nobody, not even Shaq, averaged as many rebounds in a Heat uniform. Seikaly blocked a ton of shots, too, coming in third in franchise history behind Zo and Shaq at 1.4 per game.

Now maybe I’m too liberal with my view of which numbers should be retired, but no more so than Riley is in honoring Shaq.

Maybe we’ll be in agreement one day in retiring Udonis Haslem’s number. It’s not always about stats when it comes to identifying a franchise’s most valued members. Udonis is the soul of the Heat, a gritty force from Miami, of Miami and for Miami.

Shaq, he was just a traveling star, and LeBron a manipulator of rosters and of minds. Both came to Miami to get what they wanted, championship rings, and both left when it was convenient to them.

Here’s hoping Dwyane Wade can recapture the fun and the finish of his rookie season

What do you want for Dwyane Wade this season, understanding that there aren’t many seasons left?

Oh, sure, a fourth NBA title would work just fine for the franchise’s most enduring star, but that’s not happening. Pretty tough figuring out how to get one win right now, much less a string of playoff series wins, even in the relatively weak East.

What, then, is realistic to hope for right now, in his 12th season in the league and in his 34th year on the planet?

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 19: Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade #3 talk during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at American Airlines Arena on January 19, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice: (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat and Dwyane  talk during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at American Airlines Arena on January 19, 2016. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

I’m looking back at Dwyane’s rookie season, all the way back in 2003-04. It makes a pretty nice bookend for a discussion like this and in a few ways it kind of looks familiar.

Miami was bumping along at the season’s midpoint with no real reason to think a division title was coming and no guarantee of making the playoffs at all. It felt like a transition period, even with some pretty talented players on the team, just as it is today.

There was no 10-time all-star like Chris Bosh, but 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom was a pretty smooth operator for a guy in his fifth pro season. Odom averaged 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game that year. (Bosh scores a little more, rebounds a little less and brings the bonus of good three-point shooting).

Eddie Jones was a veteran guard who made a ton of three-balls for Miami, third-most in the league, during Wade’s rookie season. There was no defensive monster in the middle like Hassan Whiteside, but that 2003-04 Heat team had a scrappy rookie named Udonis Haslem, who put up numbers like rookie Justise Winslow does now. Brian Grant played good defense and grabbed rebounds, too, in the basic manner of Luol Deng today.

Then there was Wade. He had none of the polish as a rookie but so much raw energy and such a head for the game. The numbers aren’t as different as you might think.

As a rookie he averaged 16.2 points per game, shot 47 percent from the field and contributed 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

Jump ahead to this season and Wade is averaging around 18 points per game. His shooting percentage isn’t any better than it was in that debut season and his assists are pretty much the same. The steals are down just a bit.

Anyway, with Pat Riley looking on from the office and leaving the coaching to Stan Van Gundy, Miami finished 42-40 in Wade’s rookie season. That was good for a No. 4 playoff seed in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.

Next came a seven-game win over the New Orleans Hornets in the opening round, with Wade hitting a 10-foot runner with 1.3 seconds remaining to make his first career playoff game a winner.

Then there was a match with top-seeded Indiana in the conference semifinals. That didn’t go so well. The Pacers won it in six. Still, Wade led the Heat in scoring in the series with 21 points per game and kept it interesting.

It was enough to get Riley busy again, trading away Odom and Grant and Caron Butler to get Shaquille O’Neal and start ramping up for a title run. Who knows what Riley might be working on this offseason to reel in a big free agent as a supplement for Bosh and Wade?

[Something to remember about concussions, from an ex-NFL player who has trouble remembering]

[It’s not true that Joe Philbin never called plays during his Packer days]

[Mark Richt wasn’t that far behind another of Nick Saban’s championship teams]

So that’s my most optimistic picture of what could happen for Wade this year, a mid-range playoff seed, a first-round series win and a rumble of an effort in the Eastern semifinals that ultimately falls short.

Not entirely realistic, perhaps, the way Miami is playing and the way the roster has been shredded of late. Wade’s shoulder problems are a part of that. Get some guys back from injuries and it can get better, though how much better than 42-40 is just a guess.

If you see a deeper run in the playoffs, it’s probably just a little of that Dwyane Wade love bubbling up. He’s done so much for the Heat. To think of it slowing down or even stopping is more than most of us are in the mood to do.

Miami Heat training camp only a month away and it sure doesn’t feel like 37-45 anymore

The Miami Heat are coming off a 37-45 season and it feels pretty darn good.

That’s not the sort of sentiment normally tied to a record like that, but training camp is just a month away (Sept. 26) and it’s time to start ramping up the expectations for the vision of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside finally all running the court at once, plus A’mare Stoudemire and top draft pick Justise Winslow ready to come rumbling in off the bench.

That doesn’t sound or feel like a 37-45 team. That feels like the playoffs.

Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Heat center Chris Bosh on 2014 media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Just to show the difference, psychologically and emotionally, think back to the last Heat team with a similar record.

Miami went 36-46 in the 2001-02 season. Eddie Jones led the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game but he was 30 and looking back on his former all-star years. Alonzo Mourning, one of the toughest players in Heat history, was still a top-five shotblocker and averaging 15.7 points per game but Zo’s days as a Heat regular were coming to a close. He missed the following season because of kidney disease so urgent that it necessitated a transplant.

Pat Riley was coaching the team at the time and depending on veterans like Brian Grant, Rod Strickland and Kendall Gill to play great defense collectively. They did that, but Miami couldn’t find any offensive flow, finishing last in the NBA at 87.2 points per game.

There was little reason to be excited about the following season. Even with promising draft pick Caron Butler joining the team, the Heat bottomed out at 25-57 in 2002-03 and Riley soon stepped aside as coach to start building for a championship run from the front office. Couldn’t see Wade coming in the draft just yet. Couldn’t see much of anything.

[The wide, wide world of football is headed toward 400-pound players]

[Jim McElwain really rolled the dice by not signing at quarterback at UF]

[With Pat Riley, the Heat are never far from raising a banner]

The franchise’s current situation has nothing in common with that dismal outlook. Even though Miami missed the playoffs last year, breaking a six-season string that included two NBA titles, there’s no reason to expect it will happen again.

LeBron James and the Cavaliers are better than Miami. The Chicago Bulls might be. That’s about it in the Eastern Conference.

If something is still needed to whet your appetite, the Heat’s opening preseason game is Oct. 4 vs. Charlotte at AmericanAirlines Arena. Sure, that’s a Sunday, but the Dolphins are playing the Jets in London at 9:30 that morning so there’s no conflict with the 6 p.m. basketball start.

At times like this, it seems South Florida sports fans really can have it all.

With Pat Riley, the Miami Heat are never far from raising a banner

 

Miami Dolphins training camp is upon us, ushering in another August of obsession over a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since Tiger Woods was good enough to win a major and the Philadelphia Phillies were world champions.

Yeah, it’s been a while.

A proud Miami Heat President Pat Riley, (L), greets Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra, after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in game seven of the NBA Finals Thursday evening June 20, 2013, in Miami.(Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)
Miami Heat President Pat Riley, (L), greets Head Coach Erik Spoelstra after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in game seven of the 2013 NBA Finals.(Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)

Isn’t it nice to know, however, that the Miami Heat are never far from a run at the NBA Finals with Pat Riley in charge and Dwyane Wade still happy to be here?

Think of it. The Heat, with LeBron James and without, have been to the Eastern Conference finals six times in the last 11 years.

The San Antonio Spurs have been to the Western Conference finals six times, too, but nobody else in the league, and certainly no one in the East, has been as consistent.

Here’s the list of conference finals appearances since 2005, with the most recent appearance in parentheses.

 

San Antonio       6 (2014)

Miami                 6 (2014)

Detroit               4 (2008)

Cleveland           3 (2015)

Oklahoma City   3 (2014)

Boston                 3 (2012)

L.A. Lakers           3 (2010)

Phoenix               3 (2010)

Indiana                 2 (2014)

Dallas                   2 (2011)

Orlando               2 (2009)

Golden State       1 (2015)

Houston               1 (2015)

Atlanta                   1 (2015)

Memphis               1 (2013)

Chicago                   1 (2011)

Denver                   1 (2009)

Utah                         1 (2007)

 

It gets even better when you examine the dropoff Miami suffered once LeBron was gone compared to the pit that Cleveland fell into under the same conditions.

[Oh, and here’s another edge Steve Kerr had over David Blatt in NBA Finals]

[How could UM, FSU and Florida be left off a list top 100 college teams all-time?]

[If Ryan Tannehill is so lousy, Mike Wallace’s numbers should soar in Minnesota]

In the season after LeBron, Miami went 37-45, missing the playoffs but knowing that they might have gotten there with Chris Bosh available for more than the first half of the season. Knowing, too, that things are looking pretty good for next season with Wade and Bosh and Goran Dragic and Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside and newcomers Justise Winslow and Amar’e Stoudemore ready to go.

Cleveland, on the other hand, bottomed out at 19-63 the year after LeBron abandoned them for Miami. What’s more, in the four seasons after LeBron bolted, the Cavs never once reached the 37-45 mark that Miami hit last year.

Big Three isn’t the only kind of math that Riley understands. Because of that, when you say wait until next year with the Heat, there’s actual promise in the phrase.

In Cleveland, it’s always the ‘One’ or done.