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Miami Heat

Rob Clough is really starting to get the hang of picking in the lottery after spending all those years out of the first round.  This year Rob selects:

T.J. Ford, PG, 5'10" Texas


80's nostalgia spread like wildfire in South Florida this past season, and even Pat Riley got caught up in the spirit of things. Of course, what the 80's meant to Heat basketball was unrelentingly awful play, little talent and desperately looking towards the future, because the present was too horrible to contemplate. Heck, I think "Vlad Stepania" means "Pat Cummings" in Romanian. The Heat finished with the fourth worst record in the league, and only managed that by beating Toronto (the third worst team) twice in the last week of the season. Being the worst might have given them a shot at LeBron James, or at the very least, Carmelo Anthony/Darko Milicic. But as bad as the Heat were, they couldn't match the startling ineptitude of Cleveland and Denver, and so they must make do with the fifth pick.

The Heat played hard as they always do and got more out of some CBA-level talents than one would expect, but they simply didn't have the firepower to compete against most teams. Losing Eddie Jones, Anthony Carter and Travis Best to injuries for significant periods of time simply assured losses against most teams. But the biggest loss was that of Alonzo Mourning, gone for the entire season due to his renal condition. Without their best scorer, defender and emotional leader, all of Riley's plans went out the window. Try some of these numbers on for size: the Heat scored 85.6 ppg, second worst in the league. They shot 41% from the field, also 2nd worst. From 3 point range, they hit 42%, 6th worst. Without Mourning, the Heat were 18th in rebounding and 23rd in blocked shots. Having no steady point guard, the Heat averaged 18.3 assists per game, dead last in the league.

There were some bright spots. Brian Grant was healthy and was solid but not spectacular in the post. When healthy, Eddie Jones could keep the Heat in a game with his scoring and defense. And of course, rookie Caron Butler proved to be the steal of the draft at #10. He came in ready to dominate and was able to score consistently every night. More surprisingly, he was up to Riley's standards on defense as well. There were other bright spots--the massive improvement of Malik Allen, the scoring of Rasaul Butler--but while the team had a steady supply of nice role players, what they were lacking was star power. I'm not sure that they're going to be able to find that with the 5th pick, but I do think that they can get significant help in some trouble spots.

Miami's season started poorly and stayed that way, with losses in 8 of their first 10 games. This occurred despite Jones and Grant putting up big numbers every night, and C. Butler hitting the ground running. Five of those losses were by 5 points or less as blowing late leads would become a hallmark of this club. In explicably, the Heat beat the Lakers, Kings and Suns in the early going, yet were blown out by the Clippers, Wizards and Sonics. After falling to 6-18, the Heat staged a rally and won 6 of their next 7, beating the Boston Celtics twice along the way. In the competitive (or as we would say in the old country, "pathetic") Eastern Conference, the Heat were actually back in business with a 12-19 record. Then Eddie Jones got hurt and the Heat dropped their next six games. It was time to start thinking about next season.

President-For-Life Pat Riley did not take losing well. After a certain point, when the playoffs became impossible, you could really see a look of despair on his face. His outbursts against the refs became more and more pathetic (even if they did have more than a grain of truth to them). It wasn't just the losing, it was being blown out game after game. The Heat reached the 100 point mark only 10 times, and it took overtime to get them there on four of those occasions. The best move Riley made all year was giving his young players as much burn as possible, to prepare them for possible better times ahead.

II. Team Roster/Contract Status:

Player/# Years Pos Signed Notable Stats/Accomplishments Through:

Alonzo Mourning/11   C	 FA	Injured Reserve
Vladimir Stepania/5  C   FA	5.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg (79 games)
Sean Marks/4	    C/F  FA	2.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg (23 games)
Brian Grant/8        PF	2005	10.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg (82 games)
Malik Allen/2	     PF  FA	9.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg (80 games)
Ken Johnson/R        PF	 FA	2 ppg, 2 rpg (16 games)
Caron Butler/R	     SF 2006    15.4 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.8 spg (78 games)
				All-Rookie Team
Rasual Butler/R	     SF	2004	7.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg (72 games)
Sean Lampley/R	     SF	 FA	4.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg (35 games)
LaPhonso Ellis/10    SF 2004	7.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg (66 games)
Mike James/2         SG	 FA	7.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.2 apg (78 games)
Eddie Jones/8        SG 2005	18.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.4 spg, 41% 3FG
				(47 games)
Eddie House/2        SG  FA	7.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, 30% 3FG (55 games)
Travis Best/7	     PG  FA     8.4 ppg, 2 rpg, 3.5 apg (72 games)
Anthony Carter/4     PG  FA*	4.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.7 apg, 5% 3FG (46 games)

III. Draft History: 

Caron Butler was the first Heat draft pick to get significant playing time since Kurt Thomas, and he is easily the best pick since Steve Smith...and perhaps Miami's best pick ever. With a little luck, perhaps Miami can unearth another great player without a pick that guarantees one of the can't miss prospects early in the first round. Rasaul Butler proved to be a pretty decent player himself.

* = Year with no first round pick

  • 2002: #10 Caron Butler, UConn #35 Rasaul Butler, LaSalle
  • 2001:* #49 Ken Johnson, Ohio State
  • 2000:* #37 Eddie House, Arizona State #52 Ernest Brown, Indian Hills CC
  • 1999: #25 Tim James, Miami #53 Rodney Buford, Creighton
  • 1998:* #51 Corey Brewer, Oklahoma
  • 1997: #26 Charles "Spider" Smith, New Mexico #31 Mark Sanford, Washington
  • 1996:* None (though they did receive the rights for #25 pick Martin Muursepp)
  • 1995: #10 Kurt Thomas, TCU #46 George Banks, UTEP
  • 1994: #12 Khalid Reeves, Arizona #40 Jeff Webster, Oklahoma
  • 1993:* #35 Ed Stokes, Arizona
  • 1992: #12 Harold Miner, Southern Cal #37 Isaiah Morris, Arkansas #42 Matt Geiger, Georgia Tech
  • 1991: #5 Steve Smith, Michigan State #29 George Ackles, UNLV
  • 1990: #9 Willie Burton, Minnesota #15 Dave Jamerson, Ohio #40 Bimbo Coles, Virginia Tech
  • 1989: #4 Glen Rice, Michigan #28 Sherman Douglas, Syracuse #45 Scott Haffner, Evansville
  • 1988: #9 Rony Seikaly, Syracuse #20 Kevin Edwards, DePaul #33 Grant Long, Eastern Michigan #35 Sylvester Gray, Memphis State #40 Orlando Graham, Auburn-Montgomery

IV. Positional Analysis


Overall: To quote Yeats, "the centre cannot hold." This was true for Miami in 2003 as the team felt Alonzo Mourning's absence every day. Starting in his place were a couple of young and overmatched players who nonetheless gave it their all. In the NBA, it simply wasn't enough, even in an age where dominant centers are rare. If Mourning doesn't come back, this obviously becomes a huge need position.

Vlad Stepania is a fine role player who would have made a great 8th or 9th man for the Heat, stepping in to relieve Mourning. Instead, he was pressed into playing a lot of minutes, over 20 a game. What we found out is that he's an awful scorer (43% for a big man is pretty weak) but a great rebounder and banger. He's a good man to keep around because of his effort and pricetag. Milik Allen started most of the year and had a pretty decent season, especially considering how little burn he's gotten in his career. He led the team with 78 blocks but also had trouble scoring (42% FG). Allen also could have been a better rebounder; 5.3 a game isn't bad but it certainly wasn't enough. Sean Marks was injured for most of the year and so didn't get much of a chance to prove himself.


Overall: Brian Grant bounced back after a season of injuries to post a solid campaign, though he has yet to prove himself as a go-to offensive player, something the Heat really crave in the post. Ken Johnson was a rookie who mostly saw pine time, leaving Allen or LaPhonso Ellis needing to play double-duty at times.

Brian Grant's original promise of becoming a star when he arrived in Miami has never been fulfilled, but he did manage to stay healthy and solid all season long. He was the team's best rebounder and one of the top five in the entire league. Grant is not a great scorer, especially when he doesn't have a great point guard making spectacular passes for easy finishes. He did at least shoot over 50% on the season. If Grant is surrounded by better players, I think it'll make his contributions more valuable. Ken Johnson played very little and had exactly as much an impact as you would think. LaPhonso Ellis continued to play out of position at PF and struggled, shooting under 40% and providing little support on the boards. Getting another solid post of any size would be very useful.


Overall: The Butlers were a major upgrade at this position over pretty much everyone the Heat have tried at wing in recent years. Caron was a legitimate rookie of the year candidate and probably would have gotten more consideration if Amare Stoudemire hadn't led his team to the playoffs and if Yao Ming hadn't been so celebrated just by making it to the NBA. Rasaul was a solid, steady scorer who made the most of his minutes. Sean Lampley mostly just came off the bench.

Caron Butler was declared by many to be the most NBA-ready of all the prospects last year, yet the infatuation with unproven, skinny foreign players (**cough**Nikoloz Tskitishvili**cough**) caused his stock to drop. Perhaps a somewhat troubled past didn't help matters any. Regardless, Caron was manna from heaven for the Heat at #10, a no-brainer of a pick. All he did was lead the team in minutes (36.6), steals (1.76), free throws attempted (309) and made (375). He turned the ball over a bit too much and could shoot better, but this kid produced night after night and only got better as the season progressed. Giving him another big man and point guard to work with will only make him better.

Rasaul Butler was the rare second round rookie who got a lot of playing time from Riley. Really, Riles didn't have much choice. He did a nice job as an inside/outside player, hitting 50 threes (only 29%, though) and blocking 43 shots. He definitely has a future in the league. Sean Lampley could be a big-time scorer one day, but he didn't really show it last season.


Overall: When healthy, Eddie Jones played incredible basketball in 2003. While not an elite two-guard in the league and only a solid athlete, his effort an intensity really drove the team. Eddie House had a real chance to step up, but he also had injury problems and didn't put up the kind of numbers I thought he was capable of. A swingman named Mike James surprised everyone by playing extremely well.

A healthy Eddie Jones probably would have been good for another 5 to 10 wins. While not at a Bryant/Pierce/McGrady level, he's turned himself into a decent shooter, a guy who can get to the line (230 times), a tough defender, a distributor and a team leader. Without him, the whole team just fell apart. He has just moved past his prime, which means his numbers will probably never improve. If they just plateau for a couple of years, the Heat will be in good shape at this spot.

As far as backups go, the Heat could use some help. Mike James played a lot at point but is really a 6-2 off guard. He wound up third on the team in assists and second in three point shooting (though 33% is nothing to brag about). House was a disappointment after getting a real chance to shine.


Overall: Miami replaced a retread who had a surprisingly solid year in Rod Strickland with another, slightly younger retread who was just OK in Travis Best. Best could score a little and dish a little, but he wasn't great at either. Backing him up were Mike James and Anthony Carter, who is one of the worst shooters in the NBA. The Heat have needs here.

Travis Best was an adequate point guard who preferred shooting to playmaking. He was a mediocre defender who also suffered from some injury problems. Overall, he wasn't nearly as impressive as Strickland. Anthony Carter is a good passer and defender who takes care of the ball reasonably well, but he is an offensive liability. He makes a decent backup but he will should never be the starter for this or any other NBA team. Mike James was a surprising spark who provided a lot of offense along with keeping his teammates happy. He definitely was one of the better values in the NBA.


I think the main reason Pat Riley is sticking around right now is to cleanse the bad taste the last couple of seasons have left. He's close to 60 years old and only has so many coaching years left, and at this point I don't think anyone would hand him a GM & coaching job ever again. So he'll stick it out in Miami at least until he's turned things around a bit. If he's patient and gets a few quality players in the draft and perhaps a shrewd trade here and there, the Heat aren't that far away from contending again, considering just how bad the East is.

Riley had an excellent draft but struck out in luring decent free agents to Miami, coming up with only Travis Best. It was nice to see guys who had been sitting at the end of the bench like Allen and James get some real playing time and flourish as a result. His willingness to go with youth was a big step for Riles, even though he had no other choices. The good news is that he doesn't have any huge contracts looming over him and the salary cap. Even players who signed for big deals like Grant and Jones are tradeable because both players have just two years left on their contracts. The Heat have at last reached a position of some flexibility, a chance to make an improvement sooner rather than later. How Riley ultimately handles this will determine his legacy in Miami.

Riley the coach was pretty much a nonentity during games. Many weren't competitive and he allowed his young players to make a lot of mistakes. During practice, it was clear that his players were getting better. Just not good enough, as I mentioned before. We'll see if he continues to tone down his draconian style with more young players next year than ever before.


The Heat desperately need help at point and in the post. The latter will be especially true if Mourning is healthy and they don't retain him. Miami could also use depth at off guard.

VII. My Selection:

TJ Ford, PG Texas

Like with Butler last year, I suspect Riley wants a player who can make an impact right away. He has always depended on intelligent, tough point guards to act as his representative on the floor, and the Heat have lacked that since Tim Hardaway left. In Ford, you have a player who is potentially the next Jason Kidd, though smaller. Ford is not a great shooter, though he did manage to improve his numbers somewhat as a sophomore. He went from a 15% three point shooter to a 26% mark, and raised his scoring from 10 to 15 points per game. But a team doesn't draft him because of his shooting, they draft him for what he can do with the ball. A blur on the court, he is equally adept at attacking the basket and finding the open man. Ford is a superb defender who loves contact. He is a difference-maker, pure and simple. Drafting Ford means that they won't have to worry about point guard for a long, long time.

VIII. Others Considered:

** Chris Bosh, Georgia Tech. I thought long and hard about Bosh, a player who could be a Garnett-like all-star one day. Ultimately, he's just a little too young and a little too skinny to be the impact player the Heat need right away. Given the right system and a good point guard, he could certainly flourish right away, but I don't see that happening in Miami. Still, his potential is so limitless that one shouldn't be surprised if this is the guy they picked.

** Chris Kaman, Central Michigan. Kaman displayed his talents for the nation to see in the NCAA tournament and required a regiment's worth of players to guard him. Ultimately, I passed on him because of questions about his athleticism, especially on the defensive end. He could be a great player, but he'll need to work very hard on getting stronger and quicker.

** Dwyane Wade, Marquette. I didn't really seriously consider Wade because the Heat already have capable scorers at his position, not to mention the fact that he's a little undersized. Still, I love his overal game.

IX. What The Heat Should Do:

Make a decision about Mourning. I would vote for signing him for a couple of years to a reasonable contract. While he could make more elsewhere, I know that he loves Miami, is loyal to Riley, and perhaps is ready to give back to the team after being out the last couple of years. If Mourning is gone, the Heat should make a move for a reasonably priced big man, like Michael Olawakandi. The Heat have the fourth pick of the second round, meaning that they could pick up a high-quality senior. They've worked out Jason Keep of San Diego, Brandin Knight of Pitt, high schooler James Lang, and Chris Thomas of Notre Dame for that spot. Riley will take a point guard with one pick and a big man with the other, and it will all depend on who's available.

The Heat still need more scoring off the bench, especially at off guard. Once again, there will be an array of reasonably priced players available. Two guys I talked about last year, Trenton Hassell of the Bulls and Raja Bell of the Mavs, are available. Hassell had a bad year but can be a great scorer in the right situation. Bell was simply terrific in the playoffs and will get a good contract with somebody. Why not with his hometown team? Slightly higher-priced players but still within range of the exceptions include Lucious Harris of the Nets and Jon Barry of Detroit. The Heat really need help from long range and both of these guys can stroke it. With the Larry Brown regime change in Detroit, Barry may no longer fit into the team's plans, and so he may be inclined to look elsewhere. Two more interesting free agents include Speedy Claxton of the Spurs and James Posey of the Rockets. The former makes a great backup and could be a good starter if everything else goes sour, while the latter would be a big frontcourt boost, especially in terms of scoring. I don't know if either would be willing to go to Miami.

As far as the free agents go, the Heat should re-sign Malik Allen, Mike James, and Vlad Stepania. Everyone else is expendable. That includes Best, Carter and House.

X. What The Heat Will Really Do:

There's a lot of mystery with the fifth pick. It's not so high that a team will definitely keep it, but high enough to have real trade value. There are all sorts of rumors about Riley trading down to get a Kirk Hinrich or Dwyane Wade. Another rumor involves a sign and trade with Mourning and Grant going to Portland for Damon Stoudamire, Rasheed Wallace and possibly Ruben Patterson. If there is no trade, it is almost a certainty that Riley will take either a post or a point guard with the pick. Another rumor I've heard is that Riley is actively pursuing Jermaine O'Neal, which would be an excellent pickup. Again, since both Grant and Jones have only two years left on their contract, both could easily fit into all sorts of deals. About the only guy Riley isn't going to part with at this point is Caron Butler. This is really Riley's last chance to really bring some new talent to his team while still having an opportunity to compete next year. We'll see how much savvy he has left.