Believe us, Miami Heat fans: We know it hurts. We feel your pain. It's totally understandable if you feel a little empty inside this week. It's not every offseason that a legend is unexpectedly plucked from your hometown team and replaced by ex-New Orleans Hornets star forward Luke Babbitt.
Not cool, Miami Heat. Luke Babbitt looks nothing like Dwyane Wade. We noticed.
But this is our reality now, love it or shove it. Wade used to have a commercial touting him as a tough guy who falls down seven times and stands up eight. So what will make Heat fans stand up next season? What will it take to make us feel better?
Here are a few story lines that should cheer fans up on the way to the American Airlines Arena.
1. The youth revolution will be televised.
Somehow, here we are. The Miami Heat — a team that as recently as 12 months ago had a reputation as a franchise that put little stock into the NBA Draft — has formulated a nice little core of talented players that are years away from their prime. Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson, and Justise Winslow lead that group, while Briante Weber and Willie Reed could next move into contributing roles. That's six players, or half of an active roster, all under the age of 27.
Throw in newly signed 25-year-old former second overall draft pick Derrick Williams, and you have yourself an extremely young Miami Heat team. At times that will be
2. Heat fans have a chance to smash the narratives about them again.
Heat fans have done just about all they can do over the course of the past six years. They've come out to all the games. They've bought the merchandise. They've
This next season will be the true test of Miami's Heat fandom. It's been supereasy to be a Heat fan for as long as many people can remember – so long, in fact, that Heat fans in college have barely tasted a losing season. And when they did, it was followed by something to reward them.
This season will test Heat fans. How will they show they love for the name on the front of the jersey, not the names on the back? It will be interesting to see how many show up for Game 47 to see Wayne Ellington shoot threes. By continuing to do what they've always done, Heat fans can come out looking amazing this season. That'll shut the haters up for good.
3. Hassan Whiteside gets a chance to be the franchise.
Not everyone may be thrilled with this narrative, but it's definitely a story line heading into next season. Heat fans will have an opportunity to see just how high Hassan Whiteside can rise in the NBA. He's no longer a pet project. Now he's the guy. Today's NBA doesn't exactly cater to the big man, but Whiteside gives the Heat a chance to zig when the rest of the NBA zags.
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At the very least, watching how Whiteside handles being the Heat's franchise player — especially if Bosh never plays again — will be enough to keep your eyeballs busy this season.
4. We get another year to fully appreciate Udonis Haslem.
Let's be honest here: We sort of got to a place where we took Dwyane Wade for granted — not only us, but the team as well, apparently. Udonis Haslem was by no means a sure thing to return this summer. He was as up in the air as Wade at one time. When Wade decided to sign with Chicago, the Heat suddenly had all of this extra money, so signing Haslem to help mold the young players became an obvious priority.
While reports have come out that this season isn't expected to be the last we see of Haslem in a Heat uniform, at this point we can't assume anything. We had no reason to believe Wade was leaving, and if the team was OK with him saying adios, it certainly is capable of letting Haslem go in the name of signing bigger names next summer. Udonis is the last player left from the Big Three era, and next season is a great time to cherish the fact that we still get to see him in a Heat uniform.
5. We can experience Pat Riley's final stand.
This has to be the last time Pat Riley, at 71 years old, wants to do this. Does Riley even have this tear-down-to-rebuild in him? We'll see. Riley somehow has us trusting him even after he told Wade to kick rocks. That's the sort of equity not many executives have banked not only in the NBA but across all sports.
Seeing what Riley has in store for this act of his amazing career will be the most interesting story line heading into next season. LeBron James and the new NBA have handed the Heat president some serious losses lately, but it wouldn't be advisable to shovel dirt on him. You have to believe Riley will stop at nothing to build a contender from the ashes, maybe stronger than he ever has. The NBA has laughed at him lately. They've said his time has passed.
We doubt it, and we are interested to see how his rebuild kicks off in the stage-setting 2016-17 season.