For Miami Heat fans this 2022-23 season has been a bummer. Our beloved basketball team has gone from the top seed in the East, one missed shot from making the Finals last year, to fighting for their playoff lives.
There are plenty of reasons for this. The Heat last year were the best three point shooting team in the league, this year they are among the worst. They let their starting power forward PJ Tucker walk away for nothing. They then didn’t get anyone to replace his position until midway through the season when they hired Kevin Love. Then there’s starting point guard Kyle Lowry who never seemed to return since taking personal time off in the middle of the past season.
Whatever the excuse, it’s not looking like the Heat will be having one of those extended postseason runs, their fans have grown accustomed to. But just because they’re not championship contenders, doesn’t mean we should stop watching the games. Because the next month or so will probably be the last chance to see this iteration of the Heat take the floor together.
The Miami Heat are more stable than most sports organizations.
Erik Spoelstra has been the coach for fifteen straight seasons now. But under Pat Riley, four seasons seems to be the longest he keeps a core or players together. In 2000 after four seasons of keeping the same team, Riley traded PJ Brown and Jamal Mashburn for Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason. Three and a half seasons into his Heat tenure Shaq was shipped off to Phoenix. And most famously after four years of the Big 3 era, LeBron flaked out on the Heat heading home to Ohio.
We’ve had four seasons now of Erik Spoelstra coaching Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson. Team history says this will be the last.
Duncan Robinson has already been confined to the bench, barely playing any more. Jimmy Butler is turning 34 in September. Herro and Bam even at their young ages, seem to have peaked to their full potential. Barring some unlikely playoff upsets Riley will probably do what his fans are begging for and make some drastic changes.
Which makes me a little sad because this has been one of my favorite Heat teams.
Flashback to Autumn of 2020.
Covid was full steam ahead. You hadn’t seen your friends in months. There was nothing to do and nowhere to go. Then all of a sudden the NBA decided to resume their broken 2020 season in a bubble in Orlando without any fans at the games. The Heat were the fifth seed and people figured they overachieved even to get that far. Then the playoffs began and they looked like world beaters.
Jimmy Butler did one of the best Michael Jordan imitations I’d ever seen. Bam Adebayo played relentless defense, making one of the most clutch blocks in NBA history. Herro was making shots no rookie should be brave enough to take, much less make. And even Duncan Robinson was shooting lights out (I didn’t forget Goran Dragic or Jae Crowder’s great play, but they’ve sadly long been gone).
The Heat beat the heavily favorited Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. If it wasn’t for some unfortunate injuries to Bam and Dragic, in my heart of hearts I think they would have upset the Lakers in the Finals as well. Even without taking home the trophy, that Heat team with their hustle and grit was the most successful underdog in Miami sports history.
And then after a down 2021 the Heat did it again last season.
By 2022 COVID was still an issue and there were points in that season, where half the Heat team was not allowed to play due to safety protocols. But with minor league players like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Omer Yurtseven, Caleb Martin, and Kyle Guy stepping up, the Heat were able to grab the top seed. They beat up on the Hawks and Sixers in the playoffs. They made it all the way to game seven of the eastern conference finals and would have been in the Finals if the refs didn’t take away a three point shot Max Strus made because they incorrectly decided his foot was out of bounds.
But that’s a loser’s lament. And this team was anything but losers.
They played hard and won games they had no business being in. They spoiled us with unexpected victories. Maybe they can do it one more time?
Either way Heat fans should appreciate these guys while they’re still ours to root for.