The Heat very clearly sets no less than stardom as the bar for new top draft pick Justise Winslow — and the player embraces the expectations. The team is talking about “no ceiling” on his potential, but Winslow speaks of having to look up in that direction to see what he believes he could become.
“There’s a lot of good players out there, but the great ones are the ones you remember,” he said Monday. “Those are the ones with the jerseys hanging up.”
The rafters of a basketball arena are where only a franchise’s legends and greats see their jerseys displayed, larger than life, and the first step to climbing that high is believing you can.
Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra think they won the lottery in getting Winslow with the 10th overall selection. Boston reportedly offered as many as four first-round draft picks to Charlotte to trade up to the ninth spot to draft Winslow, but — fortuitously for Miami — Hornets boss Michael Jordan was enamored with drafting Frank Kaminsky.
Thank you, Mr. Jordan, for being as awful as a club executive as you were great as a player. Charlotte opting for Kaminsky and leaving Winslow for Miami (“Falling to us in a very blessed way,” as Riley put it) was the best news this franchise has heard since LeBron James announced he was taking his talents to South Beach in 2010.
Riley called Winslow a player who is going to “raise the hair on the back of my neck.” Winslow does not demure from the buzz about him.
“I have high expectations,” said upon his formal introduction, “but they are all realistic.”
We are not hurrying Dwyane Wade to career past tense by saying the Heat has needed to discover the “next Dwyane Wade” for a long time, and that Winslow finally might be the answer. I am talking about the need to draft and develop a future star who can be a centerpiece and excite fans for years.
D-Wade was that in 2003. But since his arrival from Marquette and Winslow’s selection out of Duke, Miami has failed to home-grow its next real star. Some of that has been the curse of winning: low draft picks. Some of it has been Riley’s mistrust of youth and inexperience — the draft as an afterthought.
Miami’s best shot between Wade and Winslow at drafting a future star came with No.2 overall pick Michael Beasley in 2008, but he was cut by the Heat for good just this weekend, certifying his draft-bust status.
Beasley carried himself, on and off the court, as a guy less concerned with the game than the postgame party.
Riley learned from his mistake.
Winslow, though only 19, conveys maturity and a solid foundation evidenced by the fact his parents and siblings all attended Monday’s arena news conference. He also comes with the stamp and pedigree of coach Mike Krzyzewski and champion Duke.
“We call it ‘it’,” Riley said of Winslow’s qualities. “It can’t be defined. You don’t see it. It’s an intrinsic inner quality, a self-motivation and desire. That grit. That’s what’s compelling.”
Spoelstra described Winslow as being among “players who want to play for something more than themselves. This is a ‘me’ generation. He has ‘we’ qualities.”
Beyond the intangibles, the 6-6 Winslow is a swingman suited to playing shooting guard and small forward. He also is a stout defender said to be able to guard any position but center, although his current 220-pound frame guarding opposing power forwards might be a stretch.
(Spoelstra referred to his versatility as a “Swiss Army Knife” of possibilities.)
The ideal scenario for Miami would be for Wade — who opted out Monday as expected and is a free agent — to re-sign with the Heat and mentor Winslow to eventually replace him. Wade, 33, has never had a backup this gifted, a backup able to potentially spare him wear and tear and perhaps extend his career.
Riley struck gold with Winslow. Now he must spend a little of Micky Arison’s gold to keep Wade when negotiations commence Wednesday.
A rotation fronted by Wade, a healthy Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng and now Winslow — you can win with that. You can challenge for the top of the NBA Eastern Conference with that.
It is hard to criticize Riley, who has overseen, as coach or executive, a 10-year run in which Miami has won three NBA championships and been runner-up twice more.
If there was a valid criticism it was his inability to hit big in the draft since ’03, a shortcoming Winslow could finally solve. Scoring the occasional major veteran free agent is great, but so is a team getting younger and more athletic via the draft. Helps the company wallet, too.
As wistfully as one can be at 19, Winslow recalled Monday that exactly one year earlier was his first day of summer school at Duke, and that his mom was there taking pictures of Winslow and his three roommates.
“We were just baby-faced,” Winslow said, smiling. “No facial hair or anything.”
One year later, he was being welcomed to Miami in a way that left little doubt about the expectations that await him.
It sounded for all the world like the Heat was introducing its next big star.