Season in Review: What Does Summer Hold for the Heat in South Beach?
The expectations around the Association were somewhat varied for the Miami Heat heading into the 2015-2016 regular season. After missing the playoffs for the first time in six years during the 2014-2015 season, many thought they would be a fringe playoff team, while others hoped and prayed that they would exceed expectations and be a contending team in the East. I personally made a bold prediction that they would be no lower than the 3rd seed and, even though it took until the last night of the season for that prediction to hold up, it did indeed come true.
There are many key aspects that Heat fans and NBA fans all across the world can take away from this season, so let’s take a look at the highs and lows of a true rollercoaster-like season for the Miami Heat.
High: Rook One and Rook Two
The two biggest surprises of the season in Miami were unquestionably Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. Most impactful rookies are dominant for their lottery-bound squads, but not these two ‘rooks,’ who were taken 10th and 40th overall, respectively.
Winslow was deemed a potential future star through the draft process and was projected to be taken in the top five. He slipped to the 10th spot, where Pat Riley gladly snagged the high-profile prospect. Everyone who watched Winslow in college knew that he had all of the defensive tools to potentially make an All-NBA Defensive team at some point in his career. The question mark was always the 20-year-old’s offensive abilities, which he unfortunately did not put to rest this season.
However, most rookies (unless you’re Karl-Anthony Towns) don’t produce much on the offensive end. Winslow has all the time in the world to hone in on improving his offense, which I highly expect. The former Duke standout really does have all the tools to become the next Kawhi Leonard.
Josh Richardson, on the other hand, was a very low-profile rookie that flew way under the radar. The former Tennessee Volunteer was also highly praised for his defense and clearly had more offensive potential than his fellow rookie.
Richardson started off the season shuttling back and forth between Miami’s bench and the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Miami’s Development League team. After a plethora of injuries to Miami’s backcourt, Richardson finally had his opportunity to shine and certainly didn’t waste it.
Post All-Star break, he averaged 10.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.0 steals in just over 29.0 minutes per game. He also shot 50% from the field and a mind-blowing 53.3% from long range. Richardson never shot higher than 36% from the three-point line during his four years in college, so this meteoric rise was clearly unexpected.
His defensive prowess also shined extremely bright. Richardson usually took the tougher opposing guard which allowed Wade and Dragic to conserve energy and thrive more on offense.
When was the last time a pair of rookies, especially one taken in the second round, had a major impact on a team that was a win away from a conference finals berth? I can’t think of any off of the top of my head, and I’m sure I’d have to go back years to find an even somewhat similar situation. Expect both standout rookies (especially Winslow) to come back next season with a highly expanded offensive arsenal.
High and Low: Hassan Whiteside
You may be asking yourself why Hassan Whiteside’s season is considered a high and a low. I think the “high” is pretty obvious. Whiteside is now considered one of the most complete and dominant big men in the game after a long and arduous stint in the NBA Developmental League only two short seasons ago.
He averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, and shot 60.8% from the field in just over 29 minutes per game. Whiteside also finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year rankings, only behind Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green, two of the most versatile defenders the NBA has ever seen.
There’s no denying that Whiteside had an incredible season. Even though his season came to a devastating end during the second round of the playoffs, his dominance on both ends of the floor was seen throughout the entire year.
Finding Whiteside a few seasons ago was truly a diamond in the rough, but now the Heat has to pay the consequences for not signing him to a long-term deal when the opportunity presented itself. What I mean by this is that Whiteside is now an unrestricted free agent. He is going to demand a maximum contract and will rightfully receive it this offseason. The question now is, from who?
This summer is unlike any summer the NBA has ever seen before. A new television contract is set to kick in this year, which will raise the salary cap by over $20 million; a monumental and historic rise. Most teams across the league will have enough spending money to pursue at least one maximum contract, which is why this free agency will truly be a bidding war.
Miami has no advantage in re-signing Whiteside. He has made it clear that he wants to stay and compete in Miami, but the thrill of a bigger payday could lure the up-and-coming center to a different city. Pat Riley really needs to work his magic in order to convince Whiteside to stay in red and white.
Low: Chris Bosh
There are so many “what ifs” and questions to this luckless situation. What if Chris Bosh was actually healthy? Would Miami be playing Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals instead of Toronto? Will Bosh ever return to full form? Is he still an All-Star that can put this team on his back?
Unfortunately, none of these questions can be answered in the moment, but some of them can be answered with time.
There’s really no way of ever knowing what could have happened if Bosh were healthy for the playoffs this year. It would have been amazing to see Bosh play his former team in the postseason, and who knows if Toronto would’ve gotten the best of Miami if the 11-time All-Star was on the court. I personally do think they would be playing Cleveland right now, but I don’t think they would have had even the slightest chance to upset their dominant conference counterpart.
I’m really hoping Bosh can fully move past this string of unfortunate health (blood clots) that has concluded his past two seasons. No one ever deserves this, especially Bosh, who still played an integral role mentoring his teammates from the sideline.
Many players would have gone off on their own and not been a part of the team, but that’s not who Chris Bosh is. He knew that he had to make some type of impact for this team that didn’t involve him being on the court, which is why he took on the role of an assistant coach.
The potential future Hall of Famer has all of the reasons in the world to pursue another NBA title. He’s only 32 years old, has not had an injury history besides the recent blood clots, and hasn’t been a true part of the game he loves for almost two years. This is also the first time since his Toronto days in which he hasn’t had the best player in the world by his side. With a talented and desirable core playing around him, Bosh has every reason to suit up next season, assuming his health is no longer an issue.
I’m not sure if you can consider this season a true success for the Miami Heat, but it was definitely one wild ride. I don’t think the wildest Heat fanatic could have predicted how this season played out; losing Bosh for the year yet again, getting the number three seed, having two rookies make a substantial impact, and winning three elimination games in the playoffs before finally concluding the season. The players certainly did their job this season, so now it’s time for Pat Riley and the rest of the Heat front office to make an impactful splash during the offseason.