Commentary, Sports

How the Miami Heat young core stole the show

How about the Los Angeles Lakers this season? 

LeBron James and Anthony Davis teamed up this season to bring the Lakers to the NBA Finals after a decade-long playoff drought. Their chances of winning throughout the year were doubted, even being called at one point the second-best team in Los Angeles. 

With the title win this year, the Lakers are now tied for the most won championships in NBA history.

James is one step closer to reaching Michael Jordan status. Dwight Howard and Davis finally got their first rings, and Jeanie Buss became the first NBA female owner to win a championship. 

Shocking the basketball world this season making it to the finals, the Heat’s young core paved headway for future success. 

The Heat formulated something special brewing under the league’s nose for years. The seeds to their current success were first planted after the “Big Three” era of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James decided to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team he was drafted first overall by in 2003 out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

In 2015, the Heat acquired the first piece in a trade, point guard Goran Dragić, who would become the veteran leadership to the young Heat team. The front office stepped up, drafting center Bam Adebayo in 2017. Adebayo flew under the radar as a rookie, being outshone at the time by fellow rookies Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell. 

It took a few years for Adebayo to get to an all-star level, but it was worth the wait. He played a massive role for Miami this past season, averaging nearly 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He was considered the definition of a true “point center,” a big man who could battle in the paint and pass like a ball handler. 

Adebayo became something special, thanks to the Heat’s staff molding him into a super star at such a young age.

The Heat have a real knack for finding diamonds in the rough. Just one season after drafting Adebayo, they found another young talent waiting to blossom in Duncan Robinson. 

Robinson began his college basketball career at Williams College, a Division III school, then transferred to the University of Michigan, making a name for himself as a three-point specialist. 

After going undrafted in 2018, Robinson signed an NBA summer league contract with Miami that year, eventually earning him a two-way contract with the Heat and their G League affiliate. In 2019, Robinson secured his full-time spot on the Heat’s roster. 

But the Heat weren’t done finding young talent.

At the start of the 2019 season, the Heat picked up two more pieces to the puzzle: Tyler Herro, a rookie from Kentucky with the swagger to back up his scoring ability, and Kendrick Nunn, an undrafted prospect that made waves in the G League. 

The two young guards would go on to undertake big roles that season. Herro became a reliable scoring option in tense moments, and Nunn started as point guard during the regular season. 

Miami’s young core is already starting to make a noticeable impact in the league.

A championship-level team needs strong veteran leadership. That’s where Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala come in. 

When Jimmy Butler became the headline for a three-team sign-and-trade deal between the Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies and the Heat, many wondered why he chose to sign with a franchise that was stuck in limbo between not being able to advance past the first round of the postseason and being not bad enough to tank. 

From his previous seasons with Minnesota and Philadelphia, Butler gained a reputation of being difficult to work with. In reality, though, those team environments were just not built for a player like him.

The young stars in Minnesota couldn’t match his intensity and work ethic, and Philadelphia was just as soft. Even with his abilities, he was never considered to be the guy who could carry a team into the playoffs like LeBron James could. 

So what made Miami different for him?

He finally found the perfect fit. He found a team with a culture that welcomed his mentality rather than discouraging it. Miami has been all about hard work and playing like you have a chip on your shoulder. Butler has had something to prove ever since he entered the league, and Miami was the perfect place for him to do it. He had finally found a home, and he made it known that he was there to win. 

The Heat swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round, upset the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round and out-played the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals on their way to facing off against the Lakers. Unfortunately, injuries took a toll on the team from the start of the Finals. 

Adebayo strained his shoulder in Game 1 and didn’t play again until Game 5. Dragić tore a ligament in his foot in Game 1 and was out for the series. Butler gave it his all by fighting through an ankle roll in Game 1, playing 47 of the 48 minutes in Game 5. Miami fought with grit down to the wire but came up short in the end, landing two wins in the series. 

Now that the Heat have made it to the Finals in their post-Big Three era, they are only going to get better from here. With Butler as the alpha setting an example for his young teammates, the team will be hungry for more and ready to run it back next season. 

Butler even posted a picture of himself back in the gym on Instagram a day after the Heat’s Finals loss. And, if Jimmy is back in the gym, his teammates will be there as well. The Eastern Conference now has to worry about other teams than the Bucks, the Sixers or the Raptors. 

Whether the NBA is back in arenas or still in the Orlando bubble next season, the Heat will have one goal in mind: to win it all.

Jacob Powers, sports editor, contributed to this article.

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