Miami Heat: The Best Players in Franchise History

Giancarlo Ferrari-KingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2013

Miami Heat: The Best Players in Franchise History

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    Miami is a fast-paced town. It's a city that shines brighter than most.

    From the ultra-cool neon lights that illuminate the downtown area to the white sandy beaches, living in Miami just has a different vibe.

    Fast cars, high fashion and great basketball is what Miami is all about. Yes, I said it. Great basketball.

    What was once just another expansion franchise that joined the league in 1988 has become a mecca for hoops.

    Over the years, the Miami Heat have boasted some of the league's best talent.

    Let's find out who the top ten players are in Miami Heat history.

     

    All stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mention: Jamal Mashburn

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    Jamal Mashburn, aka Monster Mash, was always considered to be a dynamic scorer throughout his 12-year NBA career.

    The University of Kentucky legend landed in Miami at the start of the 1996-97 season. Riddled by injuries, Mashburn still managed to produce when he was on the court during his time in South Beach.

    Mashburn's best year in Miami took place during the 1999-2000 season. That year Mashburn averaged 17.5 points and five rebounds per game.

    The reason Jamal Mashburn lands on this list as an honorable mention is that he just never fully got off the ground. Nagging injuries kept his production down (the most games he ever played during a single season in Miami was 72), even though he was a part of some great Miami Heat teams.

Eddie Jones

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    When Eddie Jones was traded to the Miami Heat in 2000, most fans didn't really know what to expect.

    Jones, a prolific scorer and leader, became an integral part of the Miami Heat's playoff run that first season.

    Averaging 17.4 points per game and logging 2,282 quality minutes, Jones filled a void left behind by Heat superstar Alonzo Mourning.

    When the Heat made the playoffs that year, it became clear to fans that the trade for Eddie Jones was going to work out just fine.

    In his five-year tenure with Miami (he was later brought back when Dwayne Wade fell victim to a shoulder injury in 2007), Jones averaged just under 17 points per game and a shot a .427 field-goal percentage.

    Helping guide Miami to the playoffs in three of the five seasons he wore the Heat uniform proved that Eddie Jones was a model of consistency in an ever-changing organization.

Grant Long

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    Grant Long is one of the forgotten Miami Heat greats.

    Being one of only 107 players to play 1,000 NBA games over the course of his career, what Grant Long provided for Miami during his tenure was so much more than just solid play.

    Long also provided a young Heat franchise with a ton of experience and veteran leadership from the moment he stepped on the court.

    The 6'8" forward averaged 11.6 points per game and seven rebounds over the course of his first six years in Miami.

    But don't let his stats fool you. Long belongs on this list.

    One of the original members of the Heat franchise, Grant Long will be remembered for his durability, rugged style of play and his commitment to hard work.

Steve Smith

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    The Miami Heat used the fifth overall pick in the 1991 NBA draft to select Steve Smith.

    Smith, a 6'5" scoring 2-guard out of Michigan State, was one of the most decorated players in school history.

    When Miami took Smith in the first round, they were looking for a consistent scorer and all-around balanced player to help lead their young franchise.

    And that's exactly what they got.

    In his four seasons with the Heat, Smith averaged 16 points per game (those scoring numbers rose every year he was on the roster) and 4.7 assists, and he helped lead Miami to their first playoff berth in franchise history.

    After four seasons in Miami, the improving guard was traded away to the Atlanta Hawks for the veteran Kevin Willis.

    During his time in Miami, Smith became a valuable asset to a young franchise and established himself as a solid NBA player.

Chris Bosh

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    In just under three seasons, Chris Bosh has become an integral part of the Miami Heat's success.

    Bosh, who teamed up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in 2010 to form the Big Three, was ridiculed for being part of this so-called NBA super team.

    While he may be overshadowed by the brilliance of James and Wade at times, Bosh has always produced at a high level ever since he inked his deal to play in South Beach.

    Since joining the Heat, Bosh is averaging 18 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and has proven to be a fixture down low for the high-flying Heat.

    While his production has slightly dipped from his days in Toronto, it isn't because of a decline in his play. It's because Bosh has been thrust into a different role playing alongside guys like James and Wade.

    Outside of his ability to change the course of a basketball game and become a playmaker on the floor, Chris Bosh lands on this list because he helped lead the Heat to the NBA title last year and played in it the year before.

    Hate them or love them, the Miami Heat are one of the best teams we have seen in NBA history. And Chris Bosh is a big reason for that success.

    If he can stay healthy and keep playing at a high level for the Heat, there's a good chance Bosh climbs into the top five on the all-time best player list in Miami Heat history.

Tim Hardaway

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    When Tim Hardaway was traded to the Miami Heat from Golden State in 1995, everything changed for the franchise.

    Pairing Hardaway alongside a dominant big man named Alonzo Mourning morphed Miami into a serious title contender.

    Hardaway was a dynamic, scoring point guard who could attack the hoop, shoot a jump shot and set his teammates up for the score.

    He was a handful for defenders to try to bottle up and a nightmare for coaches to game-plan against.

    During his best season with the Heat (1996-97), Hardaway played 81 games, averaging 20.3 PPG and 8.9 assists. At the time, the MVP candidate guard helped guide Miami to its best record in franchise history.

    Over his long career, Hardaway reached 5,000 points and 2,500 assists faster than anyone outside of Oscar Robertson.

    A Miami Heat legend, Tim Hardaway had his No. 10 jersey retired on October 28, 2009.

Glen Rice

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    Glen Rice was the first true superstar to ever play for the Miami Heat.

    The 6'7" forward out of of the University of Michigan could make it rain whenever he graced the hardwood.

    Rice was a smooth scorer with incredible touch from the outside.

    When the Miami Heat took Rice fourth overall in 1989, they were looking for an impact player who could unload points at any given moment.

    A pure shooter in every sense of the word, Rice became the first Heat player in franchise history to average 20 points per game.

    During the 1991-92, season Glen Rice averaged 22.3 points per game, and with his prolific scoring ability, the young star helped lead Miami to their first-ever playoff berth.

    A durable player, Rice also landed on the list of guys who played 1,000 NBA games over his long career.

    But what makes Glen Rice one of the best players in Miami Heat history is that he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets for another Miami Heat great, Alonzo Mourning.

    Without Glen Rice, the Heat never would have acquired Alonzo Mourning.

Shaquille O'Neal

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    On July 14, 2004, Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat.

    The blockbuster deal that sent shock waves through the NBA was a game-changer for the Heat franchise.

    Before there was the Big Three, there was Shaq and D-Wade.

    The NBA's most dominant big man landed in South Beach with a promise. A promise that while he was in a Heat uniform, the franchise would win their first-ever NBA title.

    In his first season with Miami, O'Neal played outstanding. In 73 games O'Neal averaged 22.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

    Shaq also led the NBA in field-goal percentage, shooting .601 percent from the floor.

    In one of the closest MVP votes in league history, O'Neal narrowly lost to Steve Nash, but did manage to lead his team to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the defending champion Detroit Pistons.

    The following season, O"Neal and the Miami Heat finally reached the promise land.

    Even in the face of injury and limited minutes, Shaq and company managed to upset the Dallas Mavericks and win the franchise's first NBA title.

    The reason O'Neal ranks so high on this list is because he, alongside Dwyane Wade, was a huge factor in turning Miami into a serious NBA powerhouse.

    Before Shaq arrived in South Beach, Miami was always on the cusp of greatness. After Shaq left, they became a true basketball town.

Alonzo Mourning

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    When Alonzo Mourning was traded to the Miami Heat (via Charlotte), I don't think anyone knew exactly what they were getting.

    'Zo was a disgruntled, super-talented big man who wanted out of the Hornets organization bad.

    When the Heat swapped a no-drama, proven player like Glen Rice for Mourning, some Heat fans were concerned.

    Now, looking back, those concerns are nothing more than a distant memory.

    Mourning was not only one of the greatest big men to ever play the game, but he is also arguably the greatest player in Miami Heat history.

    He was powerful, shifty and always had incredible touch around the hoop. He could box out and rebound with the best of them, and his shot-blocking ability was second to none.

    I think it's fair to say Alonzo Mourning was a unique big man with an elite skill set.

    Over the course of his first tenure in Miami (1995-2002), he was responsible for turning an expansion franchise into a hardworking, quality basketball program.

    With 'Zo serving as the anchor, the Heat won big games and battled hard night in and night out.

    Had it not been for Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls, Mourning could have had more than his fair share of rings (he got one in 2006 after he rejoined the team and played off the bench).

    A seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Alonzo Mourning had his legendary No. 33 jersey retired on March 30, 2009.

Dwyane Wade

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    Dwyane Wade is one bad... shut yo' mouth!

    The fifth pick overall in the 2003 draft became the savior for the Miami Heat franchise.

    A prolific scorer and elite defender, Wade quickly established himself as one of the premier players in the league.

    In 2004, after Shaquille O'Neal landed in Miami, D-Wade began his climb to greatness.

    In the first round of the 2004-05 playoffs, Wade averaged a staggering 26.3 points, 8.8 assists and six rebounds per game. 

    After sweeping the New Jersey Nets, Wade continued his dominance in the following round, averaging 31 points, seven rebounds and eight assists per game.

    Even though the Heat fell short of winning the 'ship that season, Wade would continue his growth and help bring home the franchise's first title the following year.

    In 2010, Wade was a huge part in piecing together the Big Three. With LeBron James and Chris Bosh by his side, Wade hoisted that championship trophy once again last season.

    Over the course of his 10 seasons with the Heat, Wade leads the franchise in pretty much every statistical category.

    Whether it's points, steals, assists or minutes played, D-Wade is at the top of the list.

    One of the greatest players in league history will go down as the best draft pick in franchise history.

LeBron James

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    LeBron James is the greatest player to ever step foot in Miami.

    While he may not lead the Heat in every statistical category like Dwyane Wade, or be as beloved as Alonzo Mourning, James is a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

    I can't stress it enough. We've never seen a player like James in the history of this league.

    He is the perfect storm of power, speed, vision and talent, and he could be the most gifted athlete in the history of sports.

    Whether you hate King James or love him, there's no doubting his ability and presence on the hardwood.

    Since joining the Miami Heat in 2010, James has won an NBA title and an MVP Award  (he's on his way to a second MVP), and he has grown into the best basketball player on the planet.

    Creating a dynasty was the ultimate goal when the Big Three joined forces back in 2010. And if this season is any indication of how good they are, well, the league is in serious trouble.

    We may never see a talent again like LeBron James in NBA history. And for that reason alone, he has to be considered the greatest player to ever lace up his shoes for the Miami Heat.