Miami Heat

As LeBron James returns to Miami as member of Lakers, Heat’s philosophy hasn’t changed

Pat Riley speaks about why he believes Heat can improve this season

Heat president Pat Riley speaks about the current roster and why he believes the team can be better this season.
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Heat president Pat Riley speaks about the current roster and why he believes the team can be better this season.

The Heat doesn’t believe in tanking for a high draft pick. Not now and not when LeBron James left.

“We appreciate that because after LeBron left, everybody would probably just lose and get a pick or something like that,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “But like we always say, no excuses. We always want to be competitive and we always go with who we got, and just try to make them better as players.”

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As James prepares to play his first game in Miami on Sunday as a member of the Lakers , the Heat is still working to climb its way up the NBA ladder in its fifth season since he bolted in the summer of 2014. Miami has posted a 170-158 regular-season record over the past four seasons after losing the four-time NBA MVP, and it’s started this season at 6-9.

“The goal every year is to try to put yourself in a position to make the playoffs and then compete for a championship,” Heat team captain Udonis Haslem said. “There’s never been a lesser goal no matter what the roster has been like, no matter what the personnel has been like, no matter what injuries we’ve had, who’s left, who came. The goal every year remains the same.”

In theory, that organizational philosophy sounds simple — try to win as many games as possible every season. But there’s a difference between preaching that philosophy and actually putting it into practice.

After making it to the NBA Finals in each of the past four seasons with James, the Cavaliers own the league’s worst record at 2-12 this year. In fact, the last time Cleveland posted a winning record without James on its roster was all the way back in the 1997-98 season.

For the Heat, it’s finished with a losing record once in the past four seasons since James left and came within one game of the Eastern Conference finals in 2016. But the Heat has also won just one playoff series since James’ departure.

“Right after we lose the best player in the game, we come back and make the playoffs and we’re still competitive,” Haslem said. “That definitely says a lot about the guys that stayed, it says a lot about the guys upstairs that brought the guys in to make sure we were competitive again.”

Goran Dragic also credits the Heat’s front office for keeping the team competitive despite losing Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and James all in a two-year window from 2014-16. Wade is now back with Miami.

“We have a steady front office,” Dragic said. “Those guys, they know what they’re doing and they’ve been in this business for a long time. Some other teams when something is not going right, they change the coach quickly or change some people in the front office. Maybe they don’t have that continuity.”

Miami has the same team president (Pat Riley), general manager (Andy Elisburg) and head coach (Erik Spoelstra) that it did when James was last on the roster.

But just two Heat players remain from the Big Three era that James was a part of, Wade and Haslem. And Wade is not expected to play Sunday as he continues to care for his newborn daughter in Los Angeles.

“Always love. Always happy to see Bron, man. Hopefully he has the opportunity to play,” Haslem said, with James having to play the front-end of a back-to-back set Saturday in Orlando before Sunday’s game in Miami. “But if he doesn’t, it won’t change the relationship and how I feel about us. Hopefully if they get in early enough, we get a chance to get together and maybe grab a bite and chop it up a little bit.”

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