Heat are Victims of Heat Culture


The Miami Heat are a fascinating study of trying to win, when you don’t have the players. The #HeatCulture has become known in NBA circles as a testament to the Heat’s fitness, endurance and work ethic. From constantly testing players body fat percentage to turning G-League players into respectable NBA talent, but the culture that inspires and motivates seems to be the very thing that has failed them.

After beating the Bucks and Magic a few days ago, the Heat find themselves at 16-16 with a five-game winning streak. Miami is 7th in the league in payroll. Their best player in franchise history, Dwyane Wade, is set to retire at the end of the season. Their highest paid player, Hassan Whiteside, has been benched for his poor play, bad behavior, and being ineffective in small ball lineups.

Miami is 7th in the league in payroll. The roster is filled with overpaid contracts for role players and almost none come off the books until 2020. Problem is, no one on the roster is currently at an all-NBA level. Their belief in their culture has lead them to this point.


The Heat’s path to here could fill a novel if not several. A quick summary:

  • Summer 2014
    • LeBron James announced his departure
  • February 2015
    • Heat acquire Goran Dragic for players and two first round draft picks (2017, 2021)
  • 2015 Post all-star break
    • Chris Bosh sidelined with blood clots
  • Summer 2016
    • Hassan Whiteside gets four-year, max contract
    • Heat match Tyler Johnson’s loaded offer-sheet from Nets
    • Dwyane Wade leaves for Chicago
    • Heat ink Dion Waiters to one-year deal
  • 2016-17 season
    • Bosh sits out entirety of season, NBA determines he has career-ending blood clots
  • Summer 2017
    • Waiters signs four-year contract with known ankle injury
    • Heat sign Kelly Olynyk to four-year deal
  • 2017-18 season
    • Heat re-acquire Wade from Cavs, signs for the minimum ensuing summer
  • 2018-19 season
    • Heat botch trade for Jimmy Butler

Their desire to remain relevant and contenders has led them to overpay their own talent. Feeling desperate to keep their own, Whiteside was offered a max contract with Wade’s departure. In 2016-17, Miami finished the second half 31-10, missing the playoffs via tiebreaker.

Waiters’ ankle required surgery the following season– and he hasn’t played since. They chose to match Brooklyn’s offer sheet of four years, $50 million to Tyler Johnson, (which includes a 15% trade kicker). Kelly Olynyk was brought in to help with big man depth, but this guaranteed they would be in the tax. Lastly, they botched a potential trade for Jimmy Butler after reportedly requesting additional assets from Minnesota.


Miami’s record is symptom of injuries, a below average roster, and a great organization. Their most valuable asset might actually be head coach Erik Spoelstra. The salary is over the luxury tax and next year it will increase by several million even with a few contracts coming off the books. This means the Heat will be in the repeater tax. Wade and Udonis Haslem are on veteran minimums and will retire following this season. Their only expiring contracts are restricted free agent Rodney McGruder and 31-year-old Wayne Ellington.

Ultimately, Miami needs to make a decision. Will they further mortgage the future for a win now mentality, or if they will blow it up to avoid the tax and get a better draft pick? Problem is, there is very little they can do to improve their roster given the current salary situation. Several players would require a draft pick to offload. The Heat have their 1st round picks the next two years but no 2nd round draft picks for the next three. Their best hope is for a disgruntled superstar like Jimmy Butler to come around again.

The Heat also struggle with the idea of tanking. It goes against #HeatCulture and organizational DNA. On top of this, you have an aging President in Pat Riley. The Godfather has been mentioned in retirement more and more as the years go on. They seem to have successors in place, but it’s doubtful he’ll want to walk away and leave a struggling team as his final move.


Miami is stuck in no man’s land. As currently constructed, the sixth seed is the best case scenario– but they’ll most likely be fighting for the eighth seed and if they get it, they’ll bow out in the first round. The Heat value championships, however, and won’t be satisfied with early exits.

If Miami wants another championship, they need to make big moves and forgo the future. They could attempt to offload contracts with this year’s first round pick and go after big talent other teams want to part ways with. They won’t have enough money to sign anyone in the offseason unless they clear some cap. Here are a few trades scenarios Miami could explore:

1. Send Goran Dragic, Rodney McGruder, and the right to swap 2019, 2020 picks to Washington for John Wall

This actually does the opposite of clear cap space. In fact, it may only be possible if John Wall waives the trade kicker. Wall seems to want to leave Washington, however, and Miami might be a spot Wall would love. The night life might be a dangerous combination with Wall’s off-court lifestyle, but Wall would definitely be an improvement over Dragic. Wall’s contract, however, will be problematic down the line.

2. Send Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk to Washington for Bradley Beal, Ian Mahinmi and Markieff Morris

Bradley Beal gives the Heat close to an all-NBA talent, but trades away a valuable asset in Josh Richardson. This trade also gets the Heat out of Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk‘s contracts. Ian Mahinmi has a low-value contract, but is cheaper than Johnson. The following season, Mahinmi can be used as a trade asset with an expiring contract. Washington would include Morris to avoid the luxury tax. Miami can flip his expiring contract closer to the deadline if they wish. The Wizards may not be ready to blow it up and the Heat may have to add a pick swap or a future pick, but Miami doesn’t have many future assets to hand out.

3. Send Tyler Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and lottery protected pick to Sacramento for Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos and Ben McLemore

Miami can rid two bad contracts here. The Kings are one of the few teams with ample cap space and they seem to be going for a playoff push. Sacramento would gain two solid role players to help end their 12-season playoff drought. This deal most likely makes the Heat a lottery team and would still have their pick this year.

Heat Culture is the refusal to fail

Heat Culture is still helping them find ways to win while dealing with injuries. This seems to be detrimental in their goal of winning a championship, however. Five of their next six games are vs. below .500 teams and look like they could really start to solidify a playoff spot this year. But what they can accomplish in the playoffs seems bleak. Unless Pat Riley can make magic happen, the Heat may have to tank to be contenders down the road.

About Kevyn Drago

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