Just one year after a disastrous, injury-filled, 15-67 season, the Miami Heat bounced back and returned to the postseason. In just one year, they transformed from the worst team in the league to emerge as the fifth seed in the East and push the Atlanta Hawks to seven games in their first round match up.
There turnaround was anything but smooth, as their roster, head coach, and team character was retooled after finishing with the league’s worst record in the 2007-2008 season.
Almost as soon as the 2007-08 season ended, changes started happening. Pat Riley stepped down as head coach and promoted Erik Spoelstra as his successor. Then there was the NBA Draft, in which the Heat owned the second overall pick. They took Michael Beasley with the pick and selected Mario Chalmers with their second round pick. And just like that, the Miami Heat went from one of the older teams in the league into one of the youngest. They had a supporting cast of two rookies, one sophomore in Daequan Cook, and other young players such as Chris Quinn.
With a new coach, new rookies, and a healthy Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat were on their way to a rebound season.
With their new roster in place, the Heat started out slow, playing very inconsistent, which is typical of a young team that featured two rookies in their opening night starting lineup (Chalmers and Beasley). The Heat’s first 25 games was an array of inconsistency, with win then loss, win then loss, as they started out the season 13-12. While their record was nothing spectacular, it was still a far cry from the prior season’s 7-18 start.
As the season progressed, Miami started to come together and play with a higher level of consistency. They reeled off some impressive wins over top teams such as the Lakers, Cavaliers, Magic, and Spurs.
Dwyane Wade led a young core of players in a remarkable turnaround year for the All-Star guard. After a season plagued by injuries, Wade bounced back strong and showed the critics that he could still play. By the All-Star break in February, Wade was the NBA’s leading scorer and led his Miami Heat to a notable 28-24 record.
With the Heat sitting strong in the East’s fifth spot and looking to move into the coveted fourth spot, Pat Riley made headlines with a blockbuster deal just before All-Star Weekend. Riley traded Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal and small forward Jamario Moon. The hope was that O’Neal would establish some type of post presence and help balance Miami’s ball movement and play.
While O’Neal certainly had some great moments and helped the Heat into the postseason, he never really emerged as the player the Heat expected him to be. He had trouble becoming the Heat’s offensive inside presence and had a major issue with rebounding. A career average of 7.6 rebounds per game fell to 5.4 rebounds with the Heat. But, Jermaine was an excellent shooter and an outstanding defensive presence. He was a great shot blocker for the Heat as they stepped up their defense in the post, which was primarily because of O’Neal’s presence.
During the All-Star weekend, Miami was represented by Wade, Beasley, and Cook. Beasley participated in the rookie-sophomore game, in which he led the rookies with 29 points. Cook kept up his hot three-point shooting by winning the three-point contest, becoming the third player in Heat history to win the award. But, All-Star weekend saw all eyes on Wade, as his MVP-hype was the talk of the weekend and his recognition for an MVP candidate increased.
By March, Wade catapulted himself into the MVP talks with his fantastic play. People were starting to notice Wade was not only proficient on the offensive end, but on the defensive side as well. He became the only player in NBA history that is 6'4" or shorter to block 100 shots in a season. Wade also became the only player in the league to amass at least 100 blocks and 100 steals in a season.
But Wade’s statement for his MVP campaign came in a game late in February against the New York Knicks. Wade exploded for 46 points, with 24 of them coming in the fourth quarter. He also put up 10 assists, eight rebounds, four blocks, and four steals to solidify himself as a top three MVP candidate along with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
The final two months of the season saw the Heat finish with inconsistency, as they went a mediocre 15-15 after the midseason acquisition for JO and Moon. The Heat spent the final two months of the season battling out the 4th seed with the Atlanta Hawks. In the end, the Hawks would capture the fourth seed with the Heat clinching the 5th seed and finishing the year with a respectable 43-39 record.
Miami would take on the Atlanta Hawks in a first round matchup that saw plenty of surprises. With the Heat back in the playoffs, Miami was full of excitement with the team’s playoff theme called “Back in Black.”
Although this was a highly anticipated series, it was a series that was void of drama and full of blowouts. The Heat would push the Hawks to seven games, but every game in the series was decided by 10 or more points and most games were decided by halftime. Although the Heat lost the series, they still won three games and Heat fans were excited to see them back in the playoffs after their one year absence.
With the 2008-2009 campaign over, it’s time to reflect on the Miami Heat’s season. The Heat had a great and unexpected turnaround year. They revamped their roster and benefited from all the changes as they pushed themselves back into the playoffs and provided hope for the future.
While the Heat getting back to the playoffs was a major story of Miami’s season, the amazing play of Dwyane Wade is what really emerged as the top story in South Beach this year. Wade unquestionably played the best year of basketball in his career, taking the NBA scoring crown with 30.2 PPG and propelled himself into MVP talks.
In the end, Wade finished third in MVP voting, but no one will forget the year he had. It was a year filled of accolades and highlight reels for the six-year veteran nicknamed “Flash.” Wade became the Miami Heat's all-time leading scorer, surpassing franchise legend Alonzo Mourning. He was also a two-time Eastern Conference Player of the Month, a three-time Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and finished third in voting for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Wade capped off his brilliant year by becoming the only player in league history to post at least 2,000 points, 500 assists, 150 steals, and 100 blocks during a single season. Simply put, Dwyane Wade was "Amazing" this year.
While Wade made all the headlines, other Heat players had strong years. Beasley had solid rookie campaign, making the All-Rookie first team and was the Heat’ second leading scorer. Point guard Mario Chalmers made the All-Rookie second team and was third in the league in steals. Also, Head Coach Erik Spoelstra had a great rookie year of coaching, guiding Miami back to the postseason and finishing seventh in Coach of the Year voting.
With the year over now, the Miami Heat will focus in on the offseason. Miami had two second round draft picks, the 43rd and 60th overall picks. With the 43rd pick, they selected Marcus Thornton, who they immediately traded to New Orleans for a pair of second-rounders—one in 2010 and one in 2012. Then they traded for the draft rights of guard Patrick Beverley. He is a 6'1" point guard that played at Arkansas his junior year, before playing in Ukraine for one year.
Miami then drafted Robert Dozier with the final pick in the draft. Dozier is a 6'9" forward from Memphis. Both Beverley and Dozier aren't expected to be big contributors, but there's hope Beverely can make the rotation after some impressive work outs.
As for free agents, both Jamario Moon and Joel Anthony are restricted free agents, which the Heat made qualifying offers to. But, the speculation in Miami is that they might make a push for Chris Bosh. With Bosh stating his intentions of testing out the free agent waters in 2010, the Raptors are considering trading their superstar in order to get something for him.
Miami has been considered a top target for Bosh. The Heat have trading chips in Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley, but Miami is reluctant to let go of Beasley.
If Bosh doesn’t land in Miami this offseason, the Heat will still have a great opportunity to sign the big man come 2010. As for next year, the Heat will still be led by their co-captains Wade and Haslem and have a great young core of Beasley, Chalmers, and Cook. In addition, Jermaine O’Neal will look to step up and become more of a factor in Miami’s offense.
Other notable offseason highlights include long time Miami hero Alonzo Mourning officially announcing his retirement from the NBA. Miami honored the long time franchise son by retiring his number 33. Mourning recently returned to Miami as the team hired him to work with the team in a player development role that also will allow him to serve as a mentor both on and off the court.
All in all, the Miami Heat had a very successful year that witnessed a lot of great moments for the franchise. But the 2008-2009 Miami Heat season can be described as where Dwyane Wade happened.