The Miami Heat Went From Missing the Playoffs to Bubble Bullies in Under a Year

The Miami Heat has become a title contender in under a year.
The Miami Heat has become a title contender in under a year. Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty
click to enlarge The Miami Heat has become a title contender in under a year. - PHOTO BY DOUGLAS P. DEFELICE/GETTY
The Miami Heat has become a title contender in under a year.
After a dominating five-game series win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Miami Heat is on its way to the Eastern Conference finals for the eighth time in franchise history. The Heat is in the midst of an NBA championship run that few saw coming this early on in its quasi-rebuild following the retirement of Dwyane Wade.

Competing for championships is synonymous with the Miami Heat organization, but to think the team would be just a few games from its sixth NBA finals appearance one year after missing the playoffs altogether is something no one predicted.

Here we are, though. The Heat has as good a chance as any team to win the title this season. Just eight more wins and another banner gets raised in American Airlines Arena.

How did the Heat retool its roster so quickly? Here are ten moves the Heat made (or didn't make) over the past year that put the team in a position to bring another parade down Biscayne Boulevard.
Dwyane Wade whispering in Jimmy Butler's ear. Dwyane Wade knew Jimmy Butler wanted to be a member of the Miami Heat even before Jimmy Butler knew Jimmy Butler wanted to be a member of the Miami Heat. Isn't that what good friends do — know each other better than they know themselves?

Even when he was still playing in Philadelphia, Wade was whispering sweet nothings into Butler's ear about how he was born to be a member of the Miami Heat. Wade wasn't wrong. And the rest is going down in history as possibly the greatest player/team fit to ever exist.
The deal that wasn't, part one. The Heat thought it traded Goran Dragic to the Dallas Mavericks earlier this summer. It didn't. Thank god, it didn't.

After Dallas pulled out of the deal, claiming ignorance of the fact that completely different players weren't being offered, Miami turned around and made other arrangements. Dragic has ruled the bubble, playing the way he did in his mid-20s.

Dragic was a perfect sixth man all season and is playing like an All-Star now. Best no trade ever.
The Hassan Whiteside trade. Trading Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trailblazers before the season began not only cleared up the salary cap, but it also rid the Heat of a piece of the team that didn't fit. Whiteside was everything the Heat as a franchise is not. He's more interested in numbers than in team wins, and he's lazy and silly in times that call for hard work and seriousness.

Getting Meyers Leonard back was a bonus. Whiteside leaving Miami and moving as far away in the United States as possible was one of the best things that happened to the Heat this season.
The Heat cut Rodney McGruder and signed Kendrick Nunn. Remember when the Heat cut McGruder with a handful of games left last season and fans accused the team of trying to pinch pennies? Well, it was, but the player the team picked up to replace McGruder ended up finishing runner-up in the Rookie of the Year race this season.

The Heat plucked Kendrick Nunn from the Golden State Warriors G League team for nothing, and he played like a lottery pick this year. He has struggled after the layoff but contracting COVID-19 is as good an excuse as any for that. Nunn was vital for the Heat this season.
Duncan Robinson is Larry Bird, only handsome. Duncan Robinson was not drafted. Duncan Robinson is now, quite possibly, the best pure shooter in the entire NBA. Those two sentences are undeniably true. Like with Kendrick Nunn, the Heat basically added a high lottery pick to the roster for the cost of absolutely nothing.

When a team adds a guy who shoots like Steph Curry to its roster for free, it tends to improve. It's a cool recipe. More teams should try it.
The Miami Heat stole Tyler Herro in the NBA Draft. If the NBA did a re-draft of this past year's draft, Tyler Herro would be a top-five pick — maybe top three, even. The Heat drafted Herro 13th overall, making him an absolute steal.

For those of you counting at home, Herro playing like a high lottery pick in his first season with the Heat makes three young players who were added to the roster who have legitimately equaled what it would have been like if the Heat had three of the top eight picks in the draft.

And they said Pat Riley can't draft and doesn't like young players. YOU THOUGHT.
The Heat turned a constantly injured Justise Winslow into two vital pieces of the current team. When the Heat traded Justise Winslow, many wondered if the return of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala was enough in exchange for a player who was supposed to be a big part of the team's future. As it turns out, the Heat got an absolute steal.

Without Jae Crowder's clutch shooting and solid defense, the Heat wouldn't be the team it is today. Without Andre Iguodala coming off the bench to lowdown the other team's best player, as he did with Giannis against the Bucks, the Heat wouldn't be thriving in the bubble.

Oh, and the deal helped the Heat shed bad contracts. Huge trade. Both for now and the future.
The deal that didn't happen, part two. Miami almost traded Winslow in a deal that would have brought back Danilo Gallinari. It didn't, and instead scored Crowder and Iguodala. At the time, many thought the Heat was settling for a lesser deal. In the end, the team lucked out.

Oklahoma wanted too much, so the Heat moved on. Again, a trade that wasn't made turned out for the best.
The Miami Heat is made for the NBA bubble. The NBA messed up and created the perfect cocoon for the Miami Heat to whup some ass. If there was ever a team that would thrive in an isolated area where no family or friends were allowed and only basketball existed, the Miami Heat would be that team.

Thanks to the coronavirus, the Miami Heat has the rest of the NBA right where it wants them. In Disney World. Getting their asses kicked. One team at a time.

Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic refused to have their families join them when they were allowed to. That's pretty much all you need to know about the Miami Heat mindset.
Heat culture. When in doubt, credit the Miami Heat culture for its success. Truth be told, that's the biggest factor that sets the team apart from other franchises in the NBA.

When the Heat got away from its identity over the last few years, it knew it. It fixed it. And here it is.

The Heat is back to challenging for NBA titles, whether the rest of the world believes it this time or not. Possibly the most normal part about the current state of the world is the Miami Heat is a handful of games away from an NBA championship. 
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Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.
Contact: Ryan Yousefi