The NBA off-season is less "off" and more a whole different full season as teams frantically try to keep up with the Joneses during a down time that begins just days after the finals. This week, free agency opened and teams began signing the players they think could put them over the hump. The movement during an NBA off-season is unparalleled in sports, with some teams choosing to change their entire roster, ripping up the blueprint and formulating a new one.
In the Miami Heat's 25-year history, the team has made some of the biggest moves the NBA has ever seen. From 1988 to 2013, the Heat has become one of the top franchises in the league and one of only six to ever win three championships. Shrewd off-season moves are one big reason why. While we all point and laugh at Houston's Dwight Howard maneuvers, let's revisit the Heat's five greatest summertime moments.
5. Heat acquires Alonzo Mourning and trades away Glen Rice.
At the time the biggest trade in franchise history, the acquisition of Alonzo Mourning felt like the first time the Miami Heat joined the big boys. Until 1996, Miami had always scraped and clawed its way to victory, using energy and grit to win games. Though letting go of Glen Rice, the most successful player to put on a Heat jersey at the time, was difficult, you felt like the move finally took the Heat to a place where it would no longer be looked upon as the underdog at all times. The pairing of Mourning and Tim Hardaway would soon elevate the franchise to levels it could have never imagined when the team formed a decade earlier.
The move to acquire Mourning has continued to pay off long after his playing career as he is a major presence in the front office. His involvement with the team is just another example that points to the overall family approach the team preaches. Even though his mid-'90s teams never got over the hump, Mourning now owns three NBA championship rings with the Miami Heat logo on them.
4. Miami Acquires Shaquille O'Neal.
Caaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnn youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu diggggggggg itttttttttttttt!!??
Coming off a promising Dwyane Wade rookie season, one in which a young and athletic Heat team advanced to the second round of the playoffs, Miami was feeling pretty good about its future -- and then decided to completely change it. In one of the biggest moves in NBA history, on July 14, 2004, Miami traded Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Briant Grant, and a first-round pick (Jordan Farmar) to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaquille O'Neal. The move instantly catapulted the Heat from cute young upstart to title contender, and contend for a title it did.
In his first year with the team, Shaq averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds, narrowly losing the MVP vote to Steve Nash. The team itself would come one game short of the finals in his first year, losing in Game 7 of the East finals to Detroit, a game many believe the Heat would have won had Dwyane Wade been healthy. The next season, the Heat would get over the hump with Shaquille and defeat the Dallas Mavericks for the franchise's first NBA championship.
Yeah, the move paid off.
3. Miami picks Dwyane Wade fifth overall in the 2003 NBA Draft.
The story is terrifying. With the fifth pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, Pat Riley was enamored with the size and ability of Chris Kaman. The draft was top-heavy and, to this day, one of the most stacked, but Miami was just outside the point where the top players were available. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, and Darko Milicic came off the board, leaving Kaman, Wade, and a few other intriguing players left for the taking. Thankfully, Pat Riley was talked out of taking Kaman and went with Wade after being told by his scouts that Wade had the highest ceiling of the group. And the rest is history.
In the ten-plus years with the Heat, D-Wade has won three NBA championships, made nine All-Star teams, snagged the 2009 scoring title, taken the 2006 NBA Finals MVP award, become the franchise's all-time leading scorer, and become an Olympic champion. Take away all those things, and a case can be made that the Heat really screwed up by not taking Kaman.
Besides all those accolades, Wade is the main reason Heat fans have the current team they are enjoying. No factor was as large in acquiring the Big Three as Dwyane Wade's relationship with Bosh and LeBron. He is why Shaq wanted Miami to be the team he was traded to, and he is the reason lots of No. 6 jerseys are walking around Miami today. Beyond all of those things, he's also the perfect representative for and face of the Miami Heat franchise. He's a first-class player who has been at the front of a first-class organization since the day Miami signed him in 2003, making that day arguably the most important day in the history of the Miami Heat.
2. YES. WE. DID.
It will NEVER work out! In the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat executed the plan of all plans. Three years later, they have gone to three straight NBA Finals, won the last two, and made Miami the peak of the basketball universe. The trio has taken the franchise to an elite level, not only currently but also historically speaking in terms of the NBA. The "Us Against the World" mentality has brought the city together during the season and made for must-see sports on a nightly basis. The current run rivals the '70s Dolphins as the greatest a South Florida team has ever been. The franchise's greatest player paired with the league's greatest player teamed with a perennial All-Star in Chris Bosh has proven to be a huge success.
1. The Riley Era begins.
In 1995, the New York Knicks suspected the Miami Heat of tampering after Pat Riley resigned and took a position with the team. Miami would send New York a first-round pick and 1 million dollar-bill tissues to help smooth things over. The Knicks would use the first-round pick on Walter McCarty. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHHAHAHAHAAHA!
Besides the three championships and terrific success on the court, Pat Riley has brought class and respect to an organization that was just trying to find its way in 1995. It's pretty amazing that we sit here in 2013 and Pat is still here, no less coming off back-to-back titles, but it's a reality. Nearing two decades with the organization, Riley will one day go down as the greatest South Florida sports figure of all time. So yeah, thanks, Knicks.
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It could be argued you could dig even deeper here and say Mickey Arison becoming majority owner of the Heat was the top move ever, but that is debatable. Is Robert Kraft a genius, or did he luck out finding Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck when no one else wanted them? Arison knew he needed a respected face for the franchise, and Pat Riley was it, although one has a hard time imagining nearly 20 years later the move would still be writing "shit yes" checks.
The day Pat Riley decided to join the Miami Heat will forever go down as the greatest off-season move in the history of the franchise -- and maybe the greatest move in the history of South Florida sports.