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Written by – Danny Chacon

“I think it’s just the culture.” It’s a simple cliché that gets thrown around to describe the embodiment of the Miami Heat organization. It’s also a term Heat forward James Johnson used to describe what rejuvenated his NBA career.
Heading into the NBA season, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this Heat squad. They re-signed Hassan Whiteside to a max contract, matched the Brooklyn Nets offer sheet and re-signed Tyler Johnson, called up a couple players from the D-League, and signed a bunch of role players into one-year contracts, hoping to rectify their careers. Despite whatever moves the Heat make in the offseason, my mindset heading into every season is filled with such excitement and optimism. This season was a different feeling, knowing for the first time in 14 years, this Miami Heat roster would not feature a player with the name Dwyane Wade.

So for the most part, we know the backstory from this year’s Heat team. Early on, Miami dealt with injuries to key players, and were just never able to build any type of team chemistry. Before we knew it, the team’s start is 11-30, 2nd worst record at the time, just right behind the Brooklyn Nets. At that point, the last thing I’m thinking about is playoffs. I’m out here reading scouting reports, watching the most college basketball I’ve seen in years, and deciding who was a better fit for this team between Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk, and the list goes on. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the team gets healthy, and they turn on “the switch”. They perform the improbable, winning 13 games in row, including wins against the Rockets and the Warriors, leading to one of the best turnarounds in NBA history. This incredible turnaround concluded with a 30-11 record in the 2nd half of the season, finishing the season with a 41-41 record. Their 41 wins are the most for an NBA team after being down 19 games under .500. Miami is also the only team in NBA history to finish the season with a .500 record after being down 19 games under.

 

So what does all of this mean? How does a team with no All-stars, filled with role players who are in a contract year, suddenly flip the switch to play some of the best basketball in the NBA after looking like a certified lottery team? The answer’s simple: culture. I know it’s cliché as hell, but it’s what this organization believes in and what has lead to championship successes. Spoelstra and the Heat have always had the reputation of maximizing their players, it’s just no longer going unnoticed. I mean, ask LeBron. It’s no coincidence that the majority of their players are having career years this season: Whiteside’s maturity level has increasingly grown and he’s established himself as one of the elite centers in today’s game. Dragic is playing arguably the best basketball of his career. James Johnson, the Great Value LeBron James-ish forward, is a candidate for 6th Man of the Year and Most Improved Player. Dion Waiters was CLUTCH. Rodney McGruder may be on the All NBA Rookie Team. Wayne Ellington is shooting like prime Ray Allen. Luke Babbitt has been a solid stretch-four. Willie Reed has been phenomenal all year as the backup center, and the development of Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson has been unreal. Also, if you knew most of the names I just listed before the season started, you’re a liar. But that’s what the Miami culture does for you, man. Players buy in, they give everything they have, and they play for each other.

The “culture” mindset has been talked about since the Big-Three era, but in reality it has been established since Pat Riley has been apart of this organization. However, I don’t think the “culture” mentality has been more established than this season. Dragic has been quoted as describing this organization as a “family” atmosphere. Dion Waiters has stated that he may have found a home in Miami. Heck I don’t think there’s anyone on this Heat team who’s more bought into the culture than Dion and James Johnson. Whiteside even stated postgame that he wants to play with JJ for the rest of his life. It just gets to you. It starts from the top. Spo is consistently walking around saying “we have enough” and “next man up”… and it’s not just crazy talk. This is legitimately how they operate.

Miami loses 3 Hall of Famers in a span of 3 years, and THIS is the rebuilding year. A year where they set a franchise record in three’s made, and obtained the 3rd best record in the 2nd half of the season. I’ll take this as a rebuilding year every time. This team was counted out and expected to kick rocks the rest of the year, and still managed to show tremendous resiliency and perseverance. Although all of this did not lead to a playoff spot, you can’t help but be proud of this team. There have been many exciting Heat teams to witness throughout the years, including the Big-Three era, and this year’s team was one of my favorite teams to watch. I’ve experienced such pure joy watching this team work so hard to get to a point we all deemed impossible. It was a season where a bunch of afterthoughts became assets. They set the standard foundation, set a clear path, and opened a bright future. It’s a team where they started off as “… strangers; strangers became friends and friends became family.” Culture is defined as: that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc. So how does this equate to a brighter future? Well, players and especially agents understand the goals of Miami. The identity is well established. Any player who ever felt counted out or doubted, they take their talents to a top tier organization like Miami, play for Spo, and maximize their talent to an extent beyond their current situation. THIS team is more motivated than ever to get back out on the court and make their presence known. As long as that front office and coaching staff is still intact, Udonis Haslem is laying the foundation for these players, and everyone continues to live by the culture, also with Justise Winslow and assuming Dion Waiters comes back along with some slight upgrades, this team will be contenders in no time.

 

As of right now, the Heat are projected to get the 14th pick of this year’s NBA Draft. Hopefully the basketball gods reward Miami for their exceptional play with a higher draft pick. And as far as Riley’s “whale”, Dear Gordan Hayward, have you ever been to South Beach?

 

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Danny Chacon
When I'm not eating Chipotle or breaking ankles in these streets, I'm writing articles for Lemon City. I only spit alternative facts. Basketball is my bread and butter, but sports in general is in my DNA.

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