Heat Have Yet To Recover from Free Agency Loss

MIAMI – Al Horford left Atlanta. Dwyane Wade left Miami. Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City.

All three stars, who are now locked into massive contracts with new franchises, spent the first nine or more seasons of their career with the teams that drafted them. Now they’re gone, and they have begun new journeys with new franchises.

This past offseason was the latest evidence that NBA stars are now more willing than ever to uproot their lives and take a leap of faith to move to a new city and to a new team.

“I guess it’s a change in the league right now,” Jae Crowder said Monday morning, ahead of Boston’s matchup with the Wade-less Heat. “Guys are willing to take on a different task and get outside their comfort zone a little bit.”

Brad Stevens can relate to what Horford, Wade and Durant went through during this past offseason. He took a similar leap just three summers prior, when he was recruited by the Celtics to become their head coach after spending his entire coaching career at Butler University.

“I’ve been in the situation where you have to leave someplace that’s been really good to you and that you called home and everything else, and that’s a tough decision to make,” the coach said.

But it’s a decision that he, and more particularly these NBA stars, had the right to make.

Stevens added, “I think that, with regard to the idea that free agency allows you to make that (decision), you have to respect each person’s decision.”

Crowder, who, as a veteran and starter in this league is a very well-placed source, does not anticipate this trend subsiding anytime soon.

“I think you’ll see a lot more of it in the years to come,” he said of stars changing colors.

With each star-traced move, the NBA sees a ripple-down effect. The balance of power shifts, and departed franchises are left empty handed.

Some franchises have dealt with losing their star better than others. Atlanta brought in Dwight Howard and is 10-7 on the season. Oklahoma City extended Russell Westbrook following substantial roster moves and is 10-8 on the season.

Miami, meanwhile, appears to be destined for the lottery.

The Heat are 5-11 on the season, which is tied for the fifth-worst record in the league. They are devoid of the high-level talent that singed the league for so long, such as Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James.

Miami awarded Hassan Whiteside with a max contract during the offseason, securing him as Batman to Goran Dragic’s Robin. Outside of that move, however, the team struck out on adding any other high-level talent.

The team signed free agents Dion Waiters and Derrick Williams, who have largely been reserves throughout their careers. In Miami, however, they have been thrust into starting roles, along with former second-round pick Josh Richardson, who is only in his second season in the league.

Boston’s players iterated time and time again Monday morning that they cannot take the Heat lightly. Miami has “great young talent,” according to Crowder, and former Heat member Gerald Green said that Erik Spoelstra’s teams will always play hard.

In reality, though, things are simply different nowadays in Miami. The Heat are no longer a feared franchise. They are no longer torching the league. They lost Wade to free agency, and they were unable to replace him.

While Boston, Chicago and Golden State reap the benefits of the respective free agent decisions by Horford, Wade and Durant, and while Atlanta and Oklahoma City continue to chug along, Miami is toward the bottom of the standings looking up.

But there is good news looming in the future for the Heat. Miami still has Pat Riley. Miami still has tradition. Miami still has a whole lot of sun. Miami still has beaches.

And, as Crowder stated Monday morning, NBA stars will continue to move on to new teams.

The Heat will undoubtedly be high on the list for future star free agents. In the meantime, however, the franchise is struggling through its first season without Wade since 2003.

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