Miami Sports Franchises: Miami Heat
March 15, 2011 Leave a comment
Championships: 1 (2006)
Rivals: New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics
The franchise everybody in South Beach and across the nation can’t stop talking about. So, let’s examine how we got to this point:
The Heat were founded in 1988, and became the first NBA franchise for the state of Florida. In their inaugural season, the Heat set a then-NBA record by dropping their first 17 contests. Though the team drafted future star guard Glen Rice out of Michigan in their second season, they didn’t see improvement until Kevin Loughery took over in 1991.
Loughery drafted Michigan State guard Steve Smith in the first round of the ’91 draft, and, coupled with Rice, the Heat finished 38-44 and earned their first post season playoff appearance. When the team traded for former Pistons forward John Salley, there was hope that the Heat were building a winner. However, Salley flopped, and the Heat struggled in 1992-93.
The following year, the Heat claimed their first winning season, finishing 42-40 and capturing the eight seed, but eventually losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. There was still hope in Miami, as guard Steve Smith earned a selection onto the Dream Team, part 2, for the 1996 Olympic Games. But, the team would try to revamp their roster, and traded away the likes of Smith, Ronny Seikaly and Grant Long. 1995 saw an ownership shift, as Carnival Cruise Line owner Ted Arison bought the club and placed his son, Mickey, in charge of the day-to-day operations. Mickey Arison fired Loughery and replaced him with Alvin Gentry in an effort to save the 1995 season, but the team finished 32-50.
Looking to make a splash and keep the team in Miami, Arison brought in Pat Riley, who won titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and guided the strong early 90’s New York Knicks teams, to be the head coach. Within hours of getting the job, Riley traded Heat star Glen Rice to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for center Alonzo Mourning. Along with the additions of Tim Hardaway, Walt Williams and Chris Gatling, Riley guided the Heat to a winning record, but fell to Jordan’s Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.
By 1996, the Heat had a whole new look. Riley continued to build around Hardaway and Mourning by bringing in Jamal Mashburn, P.J. Brown, Dan Majerle and Voshon Leonard. The Heat would finish with a record of 61-21, capturing their first division crown in franchise history. The team beat the Knicks in an ugly first round series that saw Knicks guard Charlie Ward and Heat forward P.J. Brown get into an altercation, leading to multiple suspensions, but eventually lost again to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in round two.
The following year, the Heat would again meet the Knicks in the first round, and a budding rivalry was again reborn when Alonzo Mourning and Knicks forward Larry Johnson cames to blows, highlighted by Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy clutching to Mourning’s leg at the bottom of the scrum. This time, it was the Knicks victorious in the first round, again sending the Heat home early from post-season play.
In the strike-shortened 1998-99 season, the Heat claimed the East’s best record, and lined up with the Knicks in the first round for a third consecutive season. Coming down to a decisive game five, Knicks star guard Allan Houston his a runner as time expired to knock off the heavily-favored Heat. The next season, the Heat opened up a new, bigger American Airlines Arena that housed 20,000+ fans, but found their season thwarted again by the Knicks in the playoffs.
Trying to add more star power to their team, the Heat went hard after guard Tracy McGrady, who elected to sign with in-state rival Orlando Magic instead. Instead, the Heat traded P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn in a package to the Charlotte Hornets for forward Anthony Mason, and guards Eddie Jones and Ricky Davis. However, in 2000-01, Mourning missed significant playing time, though Mason filled in nicely. When Mourning returned, he didn’t play nearly as well as the team expected, and once again, the Heat were eliminated early in the playoffs.
With Mourning battling cancer and the Heat losing their core from the 90’s, Pat Riley missed the playoffs for two consecutive season for the first time in his long coaching career. In 2002, the team realized the need to rebuild, and selected UConn forward Caron Butler in the first round. The Heat would finish 2002-03 with a record of 25-57, and Pat Riley stepped down as head coach.
In the offseason leading up to 2003, Alonzo Mourning’s massive contract expired, and, coupled with other players coming off the books, the Heat were finally able to make significant moves in free agency. The team signed forward Lamar Odom to team with Caron Butler, and drafted versitale guard Dwayne Wade fifth overall out of Marquette. Riley, who stayed on as team president, also named Stan Van Gundy, brother of Jeff, to be head coach. The Heat went onto return to the playoffs for the first time in two years under Van Gundy, but lost to the Pacers in the Conference Semifinals.
In the offseason, the Heat made arguably their biggest trade in franchise history. The team sent Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant to the Los Angeles Lakers for megastar center Shaquielle O’Neal, who asked for and received a trade out of L.A. to remove himself from Kobe Bryant. The Heat marched out to a 59-23 record as O’Neal partnered with rising star Dwayne Wade. The Heat advanced to the Conference Finals that year, the furthest they had ever in the playoffs, but lost Wade to an injury after game five in Detroit, and fell in seven games to the Pistons.
After the season, the Heat acquired former All-Star Antoine Walker, along with Jason Williams and James Posey, in a massive five-team, 13-player trade, while signing aging point guard Gary Payton to fill out the roster with Wade and O’Neal. In December of the ’05-’06 season, Pat Riley surprised everybody when he came back to coach the team after Stan Van Gundy left for personal reasons. After a slow start, the team managed to finish 52-30, and the team advanced to their first NBA Finals. There, they met Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Behind a Jordan-esque performance from Dwayne Wade, the Heat managed to steal the series from the Mavericks.
The following year, injuries began to eat away at O’Neal and the veterans on the Heat roster. Even Dwayne Wade missed significant time due to injury in the 2006-07 season. The Heat managed to finish 44-38, but were bounced quickly once they reached the playoffs, unable to defend their crown. The team took an even bigger stumble the following season, thanks largely to questionable moves to bring in point guard Smush Parker, and bring back swingman Ricky Davis. The Heat finished 15-67 that year, and eventually traded away Shaq to the Phoenix Suns for Shawn Marion and Maurice Banks
Having the second pick in the 2008 draft, the team selected Kansas State forward Michael Beasley, who dominated in his lone year in college. The Heat were hoping that Wade mixed with the youth of Beasley would guide them back towards the top of the Eastern Conference. The team also traded away the two players they had received from Phoenix for Shaq, Marion and Banks, for Jermaine O’Neal to shore up the low-post presence. Coupled those moves with the strong play from rookie point guard Mario Chalmers, the Heat were able to reach the playoffs, finishing 43-39.
The Heat improved on that record the following year, finishing with 47 wins, but fell again to the Boston Celtics. Entering the 2010 off-season, the Heat’s star player, Wade, was ready to hit free agency, and the notion around the league was he wanted to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls. However, we all know what happened from there, which we will cover extensively tomorrow.