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Miami Heat: Building South Beach's Best All-Time Starting Lineup

John FrielAnalyst IOctober 7, 2016

Miami Heat: Building South Beach's Best All-Time Starting Lineup

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    After countless hours of research, I have come to the conclusion that the Miami Heat's all-time starting lineup has the capability to defeat any NBA's team all-time starting five.

    For a team that's only been around since 1988, the front office has made quite a few good things happen, especially that little championship from June and the one the team took home in 2006.

    There are legends—past and present— at each position. These players are some of the most electric and dynamic scorers, as well as the fiercest and most ambitious defenders, in NBA history.

    Those who have donned the Miami Heat uniform have worn it proudly, bringing in many seasons of success and plenty of hope for the future.

    Heat fans have been on quite the ride since the Miami Arena first opened with a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the first of 17 consecutive defeats for the Heat.

    Since that time, the Heat organization has done everything in its power to give the Miami fanbase the best product possible. The result has been a resounding success—the team has been relevant for nearly every season of its existence.

    To think that even more success could be coming the Heat's way in the near future makes the team that much more impressive. It's uncommon to find franchises as young as the Heat with so many All-Stars and years of success, but it's come about because of the wise moves made by the front office.

    We take a look at these incredible moves by examining the all-time Miami Heat starting lineup.

Point Guard: Tim Hardaway

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    Because of the Chicago Bulls' domination of the Eastern Conference during the 1990s, you only rarely hear about the teams that competed against them.

    You'll hear of the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, but hardly anything about the Miami Heat, despite the fact that the team was a legitimate title contender during the late '90s.

    The Heat won four consecutive Atlantic Division titles, won a franchise record 61 games in 1997 and had four seasons of 50-plus wins in five years.

    It was no coincidence that Tim Hardaway, as well as Alonzo Mourning, happened to join the team a few months before its historic 61-win season.

    Coming over in a trade midway through the 1995-96 season that also brought in Chris Gatling and sent Bimbo Coles and Kevin Willis to Golden State, Hardaway made an immediate impression on the Heat, averaging 20.3 points, 8.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game.

    He also converted 2.5 three-pointers per game in his first full season. He would help lead the team to its first Eastern Conference Finals appearance, before bowing out to a Bulls team that had won 69 games.

    Hardaway finished fourth in the MVP voting, made it to the All-Star game and was a part of his first and only All-NBA first team.

    The Heat fanbase was enraptured with Hardaway's leadership skills as a point guard but also admired his dynamic and electric style of play.

    Famous for his 'UTEP Two-Step,' Hardaway was a crossover machine who left defenders in the dust. He turned out to be the perfect complement to Mourning, who would constantly receive feeds for easy buckets because of Hardaway's penetration in the lane.

    Hardaway would play with the Heat until 2001. He made two All-Star teams, one All-NBA first team, two All-NBA second teams and would finish in the top 10 in MVP voting twice with the Heat.

    For Heat fans wanting some nostalgia, here he is utterly destroying the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade

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    I would be burned at the stake if I didn't place Dwyane Wade in the starting shooting guard position for the all-time Miami Heat squad.

    Seriously, Dwyane is the reason why basketball is even relevant in Miami. It has little to do with the formation of the 'Big Three.'

    Before then, the Miami Heat were the Dwyane Wade show. The Miami community loved coming out and supporting the humble guard from Marquette. The blood, sweat and tears Wade has given to the city is unmatched by any player that has worn a Heat uniform.

    Following the days of Hardaway and Mourning, the Heat were wallowing in mediocrity. They missed the postseason the two previous seasons and were swept in the first round the year before that.

    Following a 25-win season, however, Miami was gifted the fifth pick. Pat Riley wisely chose Dwyane Wade, despite having a keen eye for center Chris Kaman.

    Although he was surrounded by veterans like Brian Grant and Eddie Jones, as well  other young phenoms Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, Wade took over come postseason time.

    He led the Heat to the second round for the first time in four years. Two years later, he would win a title alongside Shaquille O'Neal with an NBA Finals victory over the Dallas Mavericks. In the series, Wade averaged a gutsy 36 points per game and earned Finals MVP.

    Unfortunately, Wade dealt with injuries that cut the next two seasons short. However, he returned for his best individual season yet in the 2008-09 campaign.

    During that year, Wade won the scoring title after averaging 30.1 points, scored a career-high 50 points against Orlando and lead the Heat back to the postseason after missing it the year before.

    He finished third in MVP voting.

    Since then, Dwyane has brought along the services of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and he can now thank them for aiding him to a second championship.

    Although Wade didn't win Finals MVP, he delivered time after time in the playoffs. He did all this despite dealing with chronic knee trouble throughout the postseason.

    In nine years with Miami, Wade has been on eight All-Star teams, one All-NBA first team, three All-NBA second teams, two All-NBA third teams and two NBA All-Defensive second teams, as well as being in the top five in MVP voting twice.

Small Forward: LeBron James

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    It may have only been two seasons, but LeBron James has done more than Grant Long, Glen Rice, Dan Majerle, Antoine Walker, James Posey and every other small forward that's ever been in a Miami Heat uniform combined.

    Putting it lightly, the fans of Miami are blessed to be able to watch an All-Star team that is led by the league's best player and potentially one of the best to ever play the game.

    Even with the constant scrutiny and criticism during his early days with the Heat, it has been a delight watching LeBron do what he does best on a nightly basis.

    In two seasons, James has already led the Heat to two NBA Finals appearances. Of course, James won his first title this past season against the Oklahoma City Thunder and appropriately took home the Finals MVP.

    On top of that, he also took home a third league MVP after finishing third in the voting the previous season. The 2011-12 season was a redemption year for James. He responded by making it his best season yet.

    Naturally, that is saying a lot.

    Although his averages across the board were typical—27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game—James displayed a far more advanced all-around game, including excellent back-to-the-basket skills.

    With his ability to hit the fadeaway out of the post, use his body to get near the rim and pass out of double teams, James became an even more effective one-man wrecking crew.

    The season was a testament to James' work ethic. He came out of the mess that was the 2011 NBA Finals and completely reinvented and polished a skill set that had already won him two MVPs and catapulted him to the position of the league's best player.

    It showed just how committed James is when it comes to winning. He continued to make the adjustments needed to better complement his fairly new teammates and came out of it a much better player as a result.

Power Forward: Alonzo Mourning

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    Yes, Alonzo Mourning was naturally a center. However, if you think back to those glorious days with Shaquille O'Neal, you'll know that Pat Riley enjoyed throwing out the twin-towers lineup which featured Mourning at the 4 and O'Neal at the 5.

    As much as we all love Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem, the Shaq and 'Zo duo would be a force to be reckoned with in any era.

    Mourning is the heart and soul of the Heat. He brought a fiery passion to every game and left everything on the floor for the sake of bringing his team a victory.

    Mourning's ambition remains second to none—it even led the 6'10" behemoth to come back to the league despite being diagnosed with a rare kidney disease only a few years earlier.

    Before then, however, Mourning was arguably the league's top center and was a shutdown defender in the post. Mourning won two Defensive Player of the Year awards and twice led the league in blocks per game.

    'Zo' joined the team following a fallout with Larry Johnson and the Charlotte Hornets, coming to Miami in a trade that sent away former Heat franchise player Glen Rice.

    The deal seemed to work to perfection, as Mourning led the Heat to the postseason in his first season with the club.

    Things really started to pick up once Tim Hardaway joined the squad midway through the 1995-96 season, helping to create one of the most feared inside-outside duos in league history.

    Although Mourning and Hardaway dominated, they did not get past the conference finals, and Mourning was forced to retire in 2002 due to a kidney disease that nearly cost him his life.

    He returned to the hardwood with New Jersey in 2003, but signed on with the Heat in March 2005.

    Despite being 35-years-old during the Heat's championship season, Mourning played as well as anyone his age could— averaging an absurd 4.8 blocks per 36 minutes. His worth truly showed in the NBA Finals, where he recorded a staggering six blocks in the Heat's Game 6 victory over Dallas.

    Mourning played until 2008 before succumbing to a knee injury that ended his career.

    Alonzo played 11 seasons with the Heat and is still very much involved with the team today. In his time with the squad, he made six All-Star teams, one All-NBA first team, one All-NBA second team and two All-Defensive first teams.

    He narrowly missed becoming the first Heat player to win MVP when he finished second to Karl Malone in the MVP voting in 1999.

Center: Shaquille O'Neal

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    He may have left in an unkind manner, but Shaquille O'Neal is still respected throughout the Miami Heat organization because of what he did for the team in the short time he was there.

    O'Neal essentially brought relevance to Miami. Although it was Dwyane Wade who ended up leading the way during the Heat's title run, O'Neal was the reason why the team was in position to win two consecutive NBA Finals (2005 could have been the Heat's year as well if not for Wade dealing with a rib injury he suffered in Game 5 against Detroit).

    Because as much as we celebrate Wade, he would not have received all the open looks and penetration without O'Neal constantly attracting the attention of the defense.

    Even if O'Neal began the downside of his career the year after winning a title with the Heat, he was still a force to be reckoned with and constantly made defenses wary of his imposing presence in the post.

    Shaq finished second in the MVP voting—mere percentage points behind Steve Nash—after averaging 22.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in his first year with the team.

    He also led the league in shooting percentage, a feat which he replicated in the following season as well.

    The teamwork he showcased with Dwyane Wade conjured memories of his time with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Wade, like Bryant, was a dynamic slasher who would feed his big man in the middle for easy scores through lane penetration.

    With the threat of a jumper or a drive by Wade and the omnipresent threat of O'Neal receiving the ball near the rim, it was no wonder why the Heat were among the league's top teams for the two years that both superstars were healthy.

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