This was clearly the greatest season in the history of the Miami Heat
franchise. In their fourth playoff appearance, the Heat finally won their
first series, and made it all the way to the Eastern finals. Say what you
will about Maximum Leader Pat Riley's personality, tactics, ego or coaching
style, but the man does get results. He rebuilt this team from the ground
up, making daring trades, being aggressive in the free agent market, and
turning washed-up NBA players into All-Stars.
When the season started, few thought that the Heat would be the
Atlantic champs. Most people had already conceded the title to the revamped
Knicks, the rebuilt Bullets, or perhaps the Penny-led Magic. And certainly,
there was reason to believe this would be a tough year for the Heat, after
they lost Juwan Howard to the Bullets after a well-publicized salary cap
snafu with the league. With money already committed to keeping Tim Hardaway
(after guys like Chris Childs and Gary Payton said no thanks), bringing
in PJ Brown, and retaining Alonzo Mourning, they had almost nothing to spend
on any other free agents. Fate intervened here, with the Heat signing
Isaac Austin (whom Riley had told to slim down) and Dan Majerle (who wanted
to go back to Phoenix, but they didn't have any money for him).
The Heat busted out with a great record, establishing a few trends that
would be true all season. They would play great defense, all the time.
Tim Hardaway would bust teams with his penetrations and clutch shooting.
Mourning would be a great defender down low. And the team would be tough on
the road. Their cause was aided by the rest of the Atlantic starting out
slow. The Knicks didn't know how to play together yet, and were missing the
toughness that Derek Harper and Anthony Mason brought; John Starks was still
trying to deal with being a sixth man. The Bullets were a mess, with a lot
of talent but no idea how to play as a unit; Webber and Howard were proving
to be ballhogs. The Magic were dealt a number of unfortunate injuries,
including to Hardaway and Grant.
But soon, the Heat had problems of their own. Majerle was injured,
as was Kurt Thomas. The Heat were suddenly missing a decent small forward,
as Brown moved over to PF, and Voshon Lenard was suddenly the starting guard.
Riley triggered yet another bold trade: Sasha Danilovic, Kurt Thomas and
Martin Muursepp for underachieving-but-talented Jamal Mashburn. As Thomas
has had injury problems for a long time, Danilovic has just quit the NBA,
and Muursepp is completely unproven, this proved to be a very shrewd move
The Heat had another crisis, as lynchpin Alonzo Mourning went down.
In came Ike Austin, performing quite credibly, as Hardaway and Lenard kept
the Heat above water. Still, the Knicks had gelled by this point and even
took the Atlantic lead. But not for long. The Heat got tough down the
stretch, and won the Atlantic, despite New York beating Miami 3 out of 4 times.
The Knicks seemed particularly dismissive of Miami's chances in the playoffs,
vowing to "kick y'alls asses" if they met down the line.
But some funny things happened to this group. Voshon Lenard took
advantage of his time to become a very effective player. He hit a number of
game winning shots, kept other teams honest with his shooting, and got some
Most Improved Player votes. Of course, the winner of that award was Ike
Austin, who went from playing in a Turkish league (not prison) last year
to the Eastern Conference finals. He used his size, rebounding ability,
shot-blocking ability, and touch around the basket to become an effective
sub for Mourning and PJ Brown. Hardaway started burning up the league as
he became comfortable with Riley's coaching and his teammates. Majerle added
some toughness to the team, as he started driving to the basket more,
reminiscient of his "Thunder Dan" days in Phoenix. And the team weathered
The playoffs showed that the Heat still had a lot to learn, however.
After obliterating Orlando in the first two games of that series, Penny
Hardaway nearly single-handedly won that series for Orlando. The Heat looked
genuinely unnerved in those last three games, until Tim Hardaway bailed them
out in game five with some ridiculous, clutch shots.
The Knicks series had some obviously controversy, with the mass
suspensions of players for games 5 and 6. Still, the Heat rallied to win
game 5 (with a full Knicks team) in blowout fashion, and won game 6 on pure
guts alone, with Starks and Johnson going full-out against the Heat. Shutting
up the arrogant Knicks was extremely satisfying.
Of course, the Heat then ran into their playoff nemesis Chicago, who
eliminated them for the third time from the playoffs. The Heat had their
chances to win in Chicago, and simply didn't know how to finish Chicago.
A lot of the blame goes to Mourning, who was outplayed and outpsyched by
Chicago's big men at various times.
This year, the Heat have very few significant free agents, Voshon
Lenard being the most notable. As far as needs, the Heat don't have any
glaring needs (for once), although they could use depth almost everywhere.
In particular, Tim Hardaway could use a backup with more quickness; another
big man is needed for extra rebounding; and most especially, they need another
big guard who can shoot. If Lenard moves on, this becomes a big need.
Fortunately, this is a good draft for off-guards, and there are a number of
decent candidates available with the #26 pick.
Player Pos Contract Notable Stats/Accomplishments
------ --- -------- ---------------------------------------------
Tim Hardaway PG Signed 20.3 ppg, 695-230 a:to, 151 stl, 81 gms,
34% 3fg, 203 3fg; All-Star, All-NBA
John Crotty PG FA 4.8 ppg, 102 ast, 48 gm
Gary Grant PG FA
Voshon Lenard SG FA 12.3 ppg, 41% 3fg, 183 3FG, 81%ft, 161 ast
Dan Majerle SG Signed 10.8 ppg, 36 gm, 34% 3fg, 162 rbd, 116 ast,
Keith Askins SF/SG Signed 4.9 ppg, 40% 3FG, 78 gm, 271 rb, 53 stl
Jamal Mashburn SF Signed 13.4 ppg, 32 gm, 179 rbd, 111 ast, 33% 3fg
Willie Anderson SF FA
Mark Strickland SF FA?
PJ Brown PF Signed 9.5 ppg, 80 gm, 670 rbd, 98 blk,
2nd team All-Defensive, Citizenship Award
Ed Pinckney PF FA
Isaac Austin C/PF Signed 9.7 ppg, 478 rbd, 82 gm, 43 blk,
Most Improved Player
Alonzo Mourning C Signed 19.8 ppg, 656 rbd, 66 games, 53% fg, 189 blk,
64% FT; All-Star
Season: Heat: 45.3 fg%, 36.4% 3FG, 71.9% FT, 3359 rbd, 1735:1306 a:to, 94.8 ppg
opp: 43.2% fg, 36.2% 3fg, 73.1% ft, 3320 rbd, 1512:1324 a:to, 89.3 ppg
Overall: Mourning went out and had a fine season after some doubts were
raised after his poor showing in last year's playoffs. But the Heat are
still somewhat undersized at this position, with Mourning and Austin
both at around 6-9 or 6-10. However, this year's center crop is woefully
thin, and the FA crop isn't much better (unless the Heat want to acquire
Dwayne Schintzius). The Heat will stand pat here.
Alonzo Mourning had a very solid season, with numbers and leadership
good enough to land him an All-Star appearance. Better still, his abrasive
personality has started to smooth out a bit. He's getting better with the
media and the fans, and I think part of this has to be because Riley trusts
him so implicitly. That three pointer he hit against the Knicks in game 6
of the series was one of the biggest moments in his career, and the Heat's
history. Bottom line, he was awarded a big contract and then did his best
to play up to it. There are, however, still some concerns. He had problems
throughout the playoffs, particularly when it came to scoring. He had
some difficulty dealing with Patrick Ewing, although he overcame this in
games 5 and 7. Mourning is certainly an All-Star, but I'm not sure he's quite
up to the task of being a playoff superstar. He will have many chances to
prove me wrong, however.
Isaac Austin had a great all-around season. He had some huge defensive
plays against the Knicks, and was aggressive at all times. Riley made him
lose wait, and it paid off in a big way. Not only is he valuable as a team
member, but as trade bait, he is quite a prize, with his experience as a
starter, his maturity, and his reasonable contract.
Overall: A relatively weak position for the Heat, especially in terms of
scoring. Rumor has it that the Heat have put in a bid for Shawn Kemp. Still
and all, PJ Brown did a great job on a team that traded away its only other PF.
There are some decent free agents out there at this slot; don't be surprised
if the Heat pick up a Xavier McDaniel, or another experienced power player
who can score (Brian Williams, perhaps?)
PJ Brown was the "other" free agent signee, right after they picked up
Howard. He had quietly put up some nice numbers in New Jersey, and was
originally slated to play the SF slot for the Heat. As it turns out,
he was switched to PF. He was the Heat's dirty work player, playing good
defense, getting tough boards, and just generally showing hustle. Some
fans thought that he didn't do enough out there (especially score), but
his willingness to get physical endeared him to Riley.
Ed Pinckney was brought in as a big veteran body, and he didn't get into
too many games. He's a free agent, and whether or not he returns depends
on who's out there in the market. No great loss if he leaves, no great gain
if he stays.
Overall: A former trouble spot for the Heat, but bringing on Jamal Mashburn
may solve this problem for quite some time. He brought scoring and some
slashing ability, and even picked up his defense. Being in a Riley training
camp may make him even better next year.
Jamal Mashburn had a lot of doubters when he came to Miami. Some doubted
his ability to play defense. Others thought he was a headcase or troublemaker.
All indications so far are positive, however. The Heat are suddenly a very
attractive franchise to play for, both because of Miami's weather and night
life, and the presence of Riley. With his absolute control, players learn
to adapt quickly or else. Mash took awhile to adjust, particularly on the
offensive end, but he had some big games. I think he'll mean more to the
team next year.
Keith Askins has been around the franchise longer than anyone else. He
didn't get as much playing time this year as he has in the past, but he
get into most of the games. He still plays great defense and can still pop
the three, making him a handy role player to keep around.
Willie Anderson was another late signee, coming in to give the Heat a
little more offensive pop and experience. He played extensively during the
playoffs, with mixed results. If he can be resigned at a good price, then
he should be kept on; otherwise, get a younger player in there.
Mark Strickland was a rookie project player who didn't see much time.
Riley rarely goes beyond ten players, and so usually keeps a couple of
guys who are just happy to be there and work as his last two.
Overall: A potential disaster spot turned into a strength; so much so that
the Heat were able to trade Sasha Danilovic away. Even the loss of Dan Majerle
didn't hurt them much, as the remarkable Lenard just kept firing. Still,
Lenard might leave, Majerle's old, and the Heat need some more scoring off
Voshon Lenard came into the league as a big question mark. He originally
came out of school a year early, got drafted in the late second round,
and went back to Minnesota. When he came into the league, he impressed no
one. He hooked up with the Heat last year, and was impressive in some
limited action. Last year I said of him, "I think he'd make a fine, low-cost
backup SG once again", and he proved to be much better than that. Still,
there are concerns. He would disappear in a number of games, proving that
he has a ways to go before he becomes consistent. He is a bit small, although
he can create his own shot and is a good defender. I think the Heat could
probably re-sign him at a reasonable cost, and I think they should, to
keep team continuity.
Dan Majerle was having trouble finding a job in the offseason, after
he parted ways with Cleveland. He wanted to go back to Phoenix, but they
didn't have any decent money. He finally took a contract with the Heat,
and although he was injured in a number of games, he really proved his
worth in the playoffs. He hit a number of crucial threes in the Knicks
series, and played great defense. You know that Riley wanted him for his
playoff experience, and this is what he delivered. He also proved to be
a great team player, and seemed to have a calming effect on some of the
team's hotter heads. Great pickup by Riley.
Overall: Hard to complain about Tim Hardaway, whose sheer guts carried
this team. The Heat need a more athletic backup, though; Tyus Edney comes to
mind as someone who would come at a low price.
Tim Hardaway followed up last year's good performance with an out-of-his-
mind performance this year. He seemed as quick as ever, his passes were
still sharp, and his signature, top-of-the-key three point bomb killed off
many a team this year. Still, his low shooting percentage raised some
eyebrows, especially in the playoffs. Not mine, though. Someone has to
take the shots, and some of the younger Heat got scared in crunch time.
Timmy thrived in it, killing the Magic by himself and playing well against
New York. Chicago wisely concentrated on shutting him down, and it helped
them win the series. The only question about Tim is how many years he has
left. He only missed one game this year, but if his health falters that
could greatly hurt the franchise. This is a question for the future, because
I think he has at least three more top years ahead of him.
John Crotty did a decent job as Tim's caddy, hustling all the time and
playing good defense in the Orlando series. Still, his lack of speed is a
liability, and he's not the most creative passer in the world. If there's
a decent point guard in the draft, the Heat might take one, although there's
also a chance that they'll try and sign someone this summer.
Gary Grant was injured most of the year, but he fit the Riley mold of
an experienced backup. If he can be signed at the right price, he may well
1. Like I've said above, depth and more athleticism, especially at center
2. Stability. It looks like Riley's almost set with a long-term lineup.
Don't expect any big shakeups over the summer, unless Riley feels like he
can really rook somebody over in a trade. Shawn Kemp would be an intriguing
addition, another legit superstar who can score and rebound down low.
The Heat would probably have to give up Brown or Austin, Majerle or Lenard,
and Mashburn. It would hurt depth, but a fire sale on Shawn Kemp doesn't
come around too often, especially with his reasonable contract.
Who I wanted:
I want a big (6-4 at least, 6-6 is better) guard who can create his own
shot, slash to the basket, and play defense, and who can hit the three
accurately. Here's the pool of available talent:
1. James Cotton. Good NBA body (size and strength), great scorer, pretty
good shooter. I like his overall potential to fit into Miami's system.
2. Maurice Taylor. Undersized but talented power forward may be a tweener
in the pros, and is a career underachiever. However, if he's still
available this far down, I have to take him, if nothing else than for
future trade bait.
3. Charles o'Bannon. I like his size, I like his athleticism, and he's a
better 3-point shooter than I thought. If he can learn to dribble and
create his own shot, he has the potential to be great.
Considered but unavailable:
1. Anthony Parker. My top choice of those whom I thought might be available.
2. Olivier Saint-Jean. Surprisingly good shooting and great hops.
3. Reggie Freeman. Takes a lot of shots, but makes some of them. But Texas
guards always flop in the NBA, anyway (anyone remember Lance Blanks, Travis
Mays, Joey Wright, Terrence Rencher or BJ Tyler?)
4. Andre Woolridge. Intriguing point-gunner.
5. Ed Gray. Big-time scorer, though small.
Other Moves/What I Expect the Team to Do:
1. The Heat have an offer on the table for Kemp, as I mentioned, and they'd
have to give up some players to do it. But getting Kemp for players
like Mashburn, Majerle & Brown would be a steal, especially if Kemp can
cope with Riley. Another interesting rumor I've heard is that Ewing
apparently has said if the Knicks don't give him a big contract, he'll
bolt NY and go play for Riley. THAT would certainly be interesting, with
Zo switching to PF. A nice combo of inside muscle and outside shooting.
I wouldn't bet the rent on either of these deals, though. I don't know
where Miami would come up with the money for Ewing, unless they made
a trade to free up some cap room. Riley won't make any deals unless the
outcome is clearly in Miami's favor; the Rice/Mourning trade was the
exception, although Rice stepped up his game greatly when he left the Heat.
2. As for the draft pick, frankly, it doesn't matter too much. Riley doesn't
play rookies much, and a #26 pick probably won't set the world on fire
to begin with. Note that the Heat also have a high second round pick--
will Riley try and take a big project player?