The Miami Heat are Back

Jack Meyer, Online Editor-in-Chief

Prior to this year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, many analysts and fans alike predicted that the Milwaukee Bucks would cruise through the Eastern Conference and make their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974. The Bucks held the best record in the entire NBA and touted a stacked roster led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP. However, the Bucks encountered a road bump in the second round and ended up exiting earlier than expected at the hands of a team that some experts believed would not even make the playoffs this season: the Miami Heat. Over the span of the 2019-20 season, Miami went from being a fringe playoff team to making their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since the days of LeBron James and the “Big Three.” 

After Dwyane Wade stepped off the court for the final time last season, Heat fans sensed that the team would soon enter a new chapter in the franchise’s rich history. Many experts foresaw a rebuild in Miami’s future, with young pieces like big man Bam Adebayo and swingmen Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. 

However, it soon became clear that Miami had other plans, as the team acquired four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, giving up Richardson in the process. While some questioned Butler’s signing as contradictory to the direction the team previously appeared to be heading towards, the union between Butler and Miami had been in the making for a long time. 

When Butler demanded a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves early in the 2018-19 season, he listed the Heat as one of his preferred landing spots. The organization’s emphasis on culture and hard work fit perfectly with Butler’s gritty play style and dedicated work ethic. However, Butler was traded to the 76ers instead, allowing the Heat to land Butler the following offseason instead for a much lower cost. 

On his previous teams, Butler was criticized for being a “bad teammate” and many accused him of pushing his teammates over the edge, especially in Minnesota. However, Butler’s tough love approach made him a perfect fit in Miami, where he immediately hit it off with his teammates especially Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Adebayo, all of whom have played key roles in the Heat’s success this season. 

Dragic played as a starter for the majority of his time in a Heat uniform prior to this season, but he recently became the Heat’s sixth man following the emergence of Rookie of the Year Finalist Kendrick Nunn. Rather than resisting this role, Dragic embraced it, taking on a veteran leadership role to help groom the team’s young players. 

Dragic soon got his moment in the limelight, as his 22.8 points per game against the Indiana Pacers helped the Heat easily sweep them in the first round. Dragic’s leadership, flexibility and chemistry with Butler made him a key asset to this Heat roster, and may have helped secure his legacy as a Miami Heat legend. 

While Nunn received most of the accolades this past season, Herro has been the one to come through for the Heat in several big moments this year. With his dynamic three-point shooting and fearless mindset, Herro stepped up in several close games for the Heat and has hit multiple go-ahead baskets over the course of the season, making him a fan favorite for Miami as the season progressed. 

The playoffs have not been an exception for Herro, as his clutch shooting during the second round nearly sent Milwaukee packing early in game four and proved to be the finishing blow for the Bucks in game five. Herro has already passed his lofty expectations despite being the 13th pick of the 2019 draft, and looks to grow even further in the coming years. 

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises this season for Miami was the explosive growth of Adebayo. After serving primarily as Hassan Whiteside’s backup for the first two years of his career, Adebayo became a permanent starter after the Heat shipped Whiteside to Portland. It soon became clear why Adebayo had won the starting job, as he became one of the best big men in the league, forming a dynamic duo along Butler. 

Both Butler and Adebayo made the 2020 All-Star game, and Adebayo ended up as the runner up for this season’s Most Improved Player, losing out to fellow first time All-Star and Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram. However, the award snub likely will not keep Adebayo down, as his three double-doubles and lockdown defense against Antetokounmpo in the series against Milwaukee proved to be instrumental in Miami’s victory. 

The Heat have received contributions across the entire roster as well. Sophomore swingman Duncan Robinson quickly established himself as one of the league’s best three-point shooters, while Derrick Jones Jr. entertained Miami fans the entire season with his high-flying dunks. Nunn also took home multiple Rookie of the Month awards and formed one of the league’s most intimidating young backcourts alongside Herro. 

Additionally, mid-season acquisitions Jae Crowder and Andre Igoudala have monumentally helped the Heat in the playoffs as well, with the former adding his own sweet three-point touch and the latter contributing with loads of playoff experience and tough defense. With big men Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk filling out the Heat’s rotation throughout the season, Miami proved itself to be a force that many did not see coming until it was too late. Now Miami’s goal is to do something that barely anyone would have predicted they were capable of at the start of this season: win a championship.