Over the years, virtually all NBA franchises experience an ebb and flow when it comes to their talent level and postseason expectations. For most teams, building a championship contender involves painful years spent building up the roster through the draft. The Philadelphia 76ers are the perfect example, having spent the better part of the decade mired in “The Process.”
One notable exception to this seemingly inevitable cycle are the Miami Heat. After LeBron James left the franchise in 2014, many commentators expected to see the Heat struggle mightily. Instead, Miami managed to replenish its talent without tanking.
A devastating loss for the Miami Heat
For your average NBA team, losing a player as dominant and impactful as LeBron James is an outright catastrophe — especially when you don’t manage to get anything in return for him. That’s exactly what happened to the Heat in 2014, when James opted to take his game back to Cleveland as a free agent.
True, the Heat still had two stars left on their roster, in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Yet Wade was already past his prime and would depart for the Chicago Bulls just two years later.
Bosh, meanwhile, saw his career cut short by a life-threatening blood clot. Before they knew it, the Heat were left without any top-tier players at all. Years of tanking and failing to make the playoffs seemed an inevitable fact.
The culture of the Miami Heat
Yet the Heat, led by team president Pat Riley, simply refused to bow to the usual rebuilding process. Simply put, Riley didn’t want to ask his team to lose — even if that meant giving up the chance to compete for a top-three draft pick. Instead, the Heat focused on picking up undervalued free agents and fostering talented mid-range draft picks.
According to an article by Sports Illustrated, the key in both cases came down to one factor: Miami’s ironclad team culture. For most of the team’s era with Riley and coach Eric Spoelstra, the Heat have prided themselves on their no-nonsense approach to discipline and roster-building. The process isn’t always fun for players, with the team enforcing strict expectations in terms of training and conditioning.
For instance, the team requires players to undergo weight and body fat measurements every Monday. In order to keep their place on the roster, players are expected to keep their body fat below 10 percent.
While many players balk at the discipline it takes to meet such a goal, the results speak for themselves. As long as you are willing to put in the work, the Heat’s culture can pay huge dividends in terms of on-court productivity.
Identifying and fostering young talent
Another key part of the Heat’s culture involves identifying young players who have the mental and physical fortitude necessary to grow within their system. That involves top-level analysis on the part of Miami’s scouts, who have been able to identify promising talent that other teams overlook in the draft. Let’s consider three Heat players who have proven a vital part of this year’s postseason run: Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo.
Robinson went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft, but the Heat quickly signed him to a two-way contract after his stellar Summer League play. Now, in just his second year in the league, the Heat have shaped Robinson into one of the most lethal three-point shooters in the game. In the regular season, Robinson scored 13.5 points per game, while shooting a blistering 44.6% from behind the arc.
The Heat took Herro with the 13th pick of the 2019 Draft. In his rookie season, Herro has scored 13.5 points per game, while shooting 38.9% from three-point range. Despite all odds, the talented shooting guard has found the perfect home in Miami. Meanwhile, Adebayo — arguably the Heat’s best player — was another mid-first-round pick back in the 2017 NBA Draft.
In just three seasons, the Heat have developed Adebayo from a lockdown defender with serious offensive limitations to one of the best two-way players in the game. Adebayo put up 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game this season, and has been even more effective in the playoffs.
On any other team, his talents might never have developed to that level, but the Heat were able to recognize his potential and mold him into the superstar he is today. This attention to detail and total commitment has allowed the team to remain relevant without ever having to tank.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference