Remember when some pundits wondered whether the Heat’s messy breakup with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would hurt the organization in free agency in the future?
That’s no longer the slightest concern. Among the reasons:
• The organization has mended its relationship with Bosh in recent weeks, with direct contact between Bosh and the top of the organization, in advance of his impending release and removal of his salary from Miami’s cap.
What’s more, Wade has never bashed the Heat publicly and is open to considering a return at some point in his career, according to an associate.
• This season offered several compelling reasons why the Heat will remain attractive to players despite the dissolution of the Big Three: from the organization demonstrating it’s perhaps the best place in the NBA for players to salvage or jump-start their careers – as James Johnson and Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington and others showed - to the players’ effusive expression of appreciation for this coaching and training staff, to little things like Derrick Williams publicly thanking team president Pat Riley for being a man of his word and releasing him.
And let’s be clear: It was important all of those things - and the 30-11 second-half record – happened this season, amid the dissolution of the Big Three and any negative publicity and that accompanied it, particularly with Wade.
• And this also shouldn’t be glossed over: Erik Spoelstra and this coaching staff, as much as ever this season, have become another reason for players to want to come here – along with the other well-documented pluses: Pat Riley’s iconic status and father-figure mentorship of players; the high regard leaguewide for owner Micky Arison; the training staff, the weather and no state income tax.
That Spoelstra should be considered an incentive to play in Miami was made clear during conversations with multiple players in the final two months of the season.
When I asked James Johnson why he said this has been the most enjoyable experience of his career, he said: “Just the consistency you see from the coach. I've never had that before ever. When you have consistency like that, it makes it easier to play for him, it makes it easier to want to win for him and makes it easier to build trust level.
“When I say consistency, I [mean] it's doing the same thing, not giving you the same minutes every game, but consistently getting on you enough, praising you a little bit, holding me to my word. When you get a consistent coach you look up to like coach Spo, it makes things easier.”
Forward Okaro White offered this, unsolicited: “Coach Spo, he wants to give you confidence. If he sees you lagging a little bit of confidence, the thing with him is ‘take a deep breath, be you. It's fine when you be you.’ He has the trust in me that I will always give my best, always play hard. One of the games, I think it was Toronto, I was a little down on myself. He's like: 'Relax.' I said, 'I'm not helping the team.' He said 'every time you step on the court, you play your hardest. That's all we can ask for.’
“He brought me down and gave me a confidence boost. He's a great coach for so many things and I didn't understand until I was here and was able to see it.”
And Ellington, late in the season, offered this response to a question in which Spoelstra wasn’t even mentioned: “Coach Spo -- that's what keeps my engine going. He's been great since the beginning. From when I first stepped on the court, he looked at me and said, 'I want you to get up as many threes as you can.' You hear that and you're like, ‘Oh. All right.’ Let me find my spots where I can get them at, some good looks.’ I'm not going to go out and fire a bunch of bad shots….
“Teams emphasize winning but it's a little different here. It's the standard. It's the culture. It's the lifestyle. You've got winning organizations and you have losing organizations. This is a winning organization that breeds champions and competitors.”
If there’s any reason why a small percentage of players might not want to be here, Alex Kennedy – in this comprehensive recent piece for hoopshype.com, noted because of the team’s stringent conditioning, “agents named a handful of veteran players who specifically said they wouldn’t consider Miami in free agency because they heard the Heat practice more than other teams and expect guys to work extremely hard. Most of the players mentioned were in the twilight of their career, so they didn’t want to change their entire approach now.”
But as Spoelstra has said repeatedly: “We’re not for everybody.”
And what about any longterm consequences of how things ended with the Big Three? At this point, there shouldn’t be.
Bosh is ready to move on and is no longer angry with the Heat, an NBA-employed friend said. Whether there’s ever a reunion or not, Wade and the Heat will be fine, with everybody saying the right things in recent months.
Players know they get better here and given everything they need to be successful. And this staff earns high marks with players, publicly and privately, reinforcing why Miami remains an appealing destination.
Ultimately, so much about free agency comes down to money. But fallout over the Big Three affecting that? That’s no longer any concern.