1995-96: Riley, HEAT Return to Playoffs
The 1995 offseason was a busy time for the HEAT, who made two major acquistions that changed the entire complexion of the team. On September 2, the HEAT hired Pat Riley as the team's president and head coach. Riley, architect of the "Showtime" Lakers of the 1980s and four 50-win New York Knicks teams in the early 90s, brought 13 years of coaching experience in which his teams had never failed to make the playoffs.
On Nov. 3, on the eve of the regular season, Riley engineered a blockbuster deal that sent Glen Rice, Matt Geiger and Khalid Reeves to Charlotte in exchange for Pete Myers, LeRon Ellis and All-Star Center Alonzo Mourning. Riley, who built the Lakers around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Knicks around Patrick Ewing, now had another franchise center around which to build.
Riley wasn't through. On February 22, just before the trading deadline, Riley made three more deals, acquiring Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatling, Walt Williams, Tyrone Corbin and Tony Smith. By the team the regluar season ended, only Keith Askins remained from the previous year's team. Despite using 22 players over the course of the season, Riley guided the HEAT to a 42-40 record, equalling the best in team history.
Leading the way was Mourning, who became the first HEAT player to score 50 points in a game (3/29/96) and finished the season as the first Miami player to lead the league in scoring (23.2 ppg) and rebounding (10.4 rpg). Hardaway, rekindled after a trade from the Warriors, finished the season 8th in the NBA in assists.
Miami's reward for a winning season was a first-round matchup with the 72-10 Chicago Bulls, who made quick work of the HEAT in a three-game sweep. Several players were free agents at the end of the season, meaning that once again, the HEAT franchise would take on a whole new look in the offseason.