For former Miami Heat wingman Dorell Wright, the ending of last season brought fear of the unknown. His contract was up, and his future in Miami was about as predictable as a toddler’s first step.
After being drafted out of South Kent Prep in the 2004 NBA draft, Wright spent his first four seasons flashing the talents that made him a first-round draft pick. But for the most part, he was mainly known as a player that couldn’t stay healthy long enough to develop properly.
It should be noted that Wright is not injury prone. He sat his first two seasons because the Heat were competing for NBA championships. He became a rotation player in his third year and got injured in his fourth season. That injury lingered to the point where he could not play his fifth season. And lastly, he had a breakout season last year, his sixth season in Miami.
When his rookie contract ended after the 2007-2008 season, his fourth in Miami, the Heat inked him to a two-year deal even though he was coming off a season where he only played 44 games, 34 of which were starts. He would repay their faith in him by only suiting up for six games, mainly due to his injury sustained the season prior.
Wright Finally Gets Healthy
Entering last season, Wright was fully aware that it was a make or break season. At 23 years of age, he wasn’t really in trouble of being ousted from the league. However, a less than stellar season would have meant a partially guaranteed contract of one or two seasons.
So to prepare for the season that would shape his professional livelihood, Wright sought out the opinion of his superstar teammate and godfather of his son, Dwyane Wade. The two had been close since Wright was drafted by the Heat. With so many older players on the Heat, the then youngsters were naturally drawn to one another.
After the Heat were eliminated by the Hawks in the first round of the 2008-2009 season, they made the decision to go with a player development camp as opposed to competing in the NBA summer league. Wade made it clear to Wright that he needed to be there and he needed to work.
Wright would shed as much as 15 pounds off his then 235 pound frame. As he dropped the pounds and became lighter, the stress on his surgically repaired knee was lessened. The results would be dramatic as the coaching staff raved about how fluid he looked during the summer. He had regained most of his explosion and agility.
Wright was often sited as being upbeat and eager to partake in the Heat’s pending training camp.
Finally a Stroke of Luck
When the Heat entered training camp last season, they were eager to see the development of their young players, none more than Wright. With a glaring hole at their small forward position, the team had high hopes that Wright would reclaim the starting position he had earned just two seasons prior.
However, an early ankle injury and swelling in his surgically repaired knee slowed Wright and basically left the battle for the starting small forward spot between Michael Beasley and Quentin Richardson.
Rather than bury himself in self pity, Wright decided to push on and fight through his injuries. In doing so, he kept himself relevant in the eyes of the Heat’s coaching staff.
After spotty minutes during the Heat’s first 10 games, Wright would become a permanent fixture in the Heat’s rotation, mainly because of an injury to Daequan Cook. Never the less, Wright would take hold of his opportunity and run with it.
He would become the Heat’s primary perimeter reserve, a role he wouldn’t relinquish.
Wright would go on to have his most productive season of his six-year career. In doing so, he had hoped that he would remain in Miami. But with LeBron James deciding to take his talents to Miami, Wright was forced to either wait for a Heat offer or seek interest else where.
Riley Screwed Up Big
The Heat never offered Wright an extension during the season, even though he had clearly displayed he was back on schedule in his development. Riley went on to cite that the team wanted to have as much cap available to provide maximum flexibility during the 2010 free agency.
In hindsight that made sense, but the fact that they never expressed an interest in keeping Wright doesn’t. Shortly after signing with the Warriors, Wright commented on how Riley never expressed interest in him to return and that he would’ve signed for less money to remain in Miami.
It makes one wonder if there was something more personal about the whole situation. After all, the Heat had diligently worked at developing Wright for six long years. Maybe it was his DUI arrest or the nude pictures of him being exposed on the Internet.
So Miami didn’t offer and Wright didn’t wait. End of story, or is it?
Wright was coming off a season in which he connected on 46 percent of his field goals and 39 percent of his three-point attempts. He had already shown his capabilities as a playmaker and rebounder. And he would only be 24 years of age at the start of this season.
Yet still the Heat favored Mike Miller, a 30-year-old coming off a injury plagued season in which he played 54 games. Currently, Miller is out till January and maybe longer depending on his rehab. One can’t help but notice the irony.
The thing about Miller is that he was coming off a season in which he shot 50 percent from the floor and 48 percent from the three-point line. The thing about those numbers is that they came as a starter. His numbers as a reserve differ, and actually mimic those of Wright's from a PER 36 stand point.
The last time Miller was asked to come off a bench was the 2008-2009 season in which he shot 48 percent from the floor and 38 percent from beyond the arc.
Proving Spoeltra Wrong
Currently, Wright is playing at a level that probably only he himself could have dreamed he’d reached. Surely Pat Riley isn’t losing any sleep over his decision to not resign Wright, but he can’t help but wonder what’s happening with Wright in Golden State.
After a three game losing stint in late December/late January and Quentin Richardson having his fifth scoreless game in 24 games, questions arose about whether Wright should be starting. Head coach Erik Spoelstra would respond by saying that though Wright was having a good season, he had a ways to go before he was ready to be a starter.
From the looks of things now, Spoelstra owes Wright an apology, as well as the Miami fan base.
Through four games Wright is averaging 20.5 points per game, shooting 51 percent from the field and a blistering 55 percent from the three point line. Wright has scored 15, 24, 18 and 25 points for a Golden State club that is 3-1 on the season.
But what has to sting the most is the four three pointers that he’s averaging per game. That’s currently tops in the league. He’s also the Warriors leader in blocks, second in steals and third in rebounds.
What’s more impressive is the fact that he’s averaging nearly 21 points on a team that has a 30 per game scorer in Monta Ellis. Surely Dwyane Wade could have used that kind of assistance last season. Too bad his coach didn’t have the foresight of first year head coach Keith Smart and look past what he perceived as deficiencies while simply allowing Wright to grow. The Heat would be a whole lot more talented and deeper today.
Instead, like the careers of Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley, Spoelstra has been proven wrong in his handling of the Heat’s young talent. At least Wright doesn’t have to deal with feeling under-appreciated.
Wright Has a Bright Future Ahead
It remains to be known if Wright will continue to play at his current level. But the scary thing for Warrior opponents is the fact that he’s only 24 years of age and still has plenty of room for improvement.
He’s already becoming a fan favorite in Golden State and has firmly established himself as the team’s third best player as he continues to outplay All-Star forward David Lee.
He has already exhibited his resilience while with the Heat, and now he’s beaming with confidence and acceptance. Those are tremendous qualities to have, especially for a player finally growing into what many believed he could be.
And to think, for nearly $2 million less than the injured Mike Miller, the Heat could have been benefiting from this amazing rebirth of Dorell Wright.
Talk about a tale of irony.