Handful of NBA veterans won’t consider Heat in free agency because team practices too much
The Miami Heat had one of the most impressive comeback stories in NBA history this season, going from a decadent 11-30 start to an eye-popping 30-11 in the second half, missing the playoffs only by a tiebreaker rule to the Chicago Bulls.
A team that was believed to be destined to tank after the departures of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to a heart condition, the Heat instead flourished into one of the most feared teams in the Eastern Conference, grinding their way to the end of the season with an admirable relentlessness.
But it wasn’t luck, or fate, or even a mid-season trade that got them there, but rather an institutionally unequivocal belief in player fitness, as president Pat Riley promised many of his players to turn them into “world-class athletes.”
“We’re going to get you in world-class shape,” Riley told a then newly-signed Dion Waiters, as he recalled in a piece for The Players’ Tribune. “Not good shape. Not great shape. World-class shape. Give us a season, and you’ll see.”
Riley runs his team old school, making them not just athletic freaks, but fined-tuned machines that can run, jump, and outwork the opposition from end-to-end.
Waiters can attest to it first-hand, after being prompted to pose for a before-and-after photo session to track his weight and body-fat percentage loss throughout the season.
“After one week, my body [was] shot,” Waiters recalled, according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype. “I was damn near throwing up in trash cans like in the movies.”
Miami is comprised of many small-name athletes that soon have surged into stardom, but they were first assembled because the Heat staff believed they would have what it takes to undergo a grueling season where they run every practice, have specific meals provided for them, and even a weigh-in to monitor their physical performance every week.
“Miami is a world-class organization,” an anonymous agent said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of teams, but they’re one of the best. They know what they’re doing, they’re organized, and it translates to the court. When it comes to the guys they’ve discovered and developed, you have to credit everyone from the front office to the coaches to the scouts to the strength-and-conditioning staff to the player-development staff (which has a lot of former players) to their D-League affiliate (which they utilize really well). Their success is due to a combination of things. They’re very structured and organized, and they expect the best from their guys. The ones who really put in the time and work can see the difference.”
But the Heat way isn’t everybody’s way, especially for tenured veterans looking for a last few stops in the league before calling it a career. There are no easy salaries in the organization — either you grind your way through the season and contribute in practice, or you’ll find your contracts in pieces sooner than you can count your blessings.
“This culture is real,” said forward James Johnson. “We have the kind of practices where you can’t go out and hang out all night and think you’re going to be able to come to practice and really go hard because I’ll call you out, everybody on this team will call you out. We won’t leave it to the coaches to call you out. We take care of that ourselves.”
Riley has run this ship with an iron fist, despite not being on the sidelines, with players recounting the time Dwyane Wade once showed up to training camp at 230 pounds, claiming he had bulked up, to which the longtime coach replied “No, you’re fat.”
“Who would have the balls to tell Wade that, other than Riley?!” a former player recounted. “This was when D-Wade was Flash!”
“There are benefits of ‘the culture’ and how they get people to buy in, including insane levels of fitness,” a second source confirming the story added. “The accountability is important too. Most organizations don’t have that and it shows. The Heat weed out the people who won’t commit. And you can really see the difference when people buy in; it can save a career. Pat’s culture can be very effective. But, at the same time, when the group is self-motivated and has veterans, they don’t need that.”
“When you have guys who already get it, Pat is sort of like a helicopter parent you can’t wait to escape from. You start being annoyed by every little thing. [It’s true] that every player is treated the same. Everyone has to wear the same socks. Nobody has WiFi on airplanes. They don’t alter anything, even for superstars. For some guys, especially veterans, they’d rather make less or go somewhere else if it means having a better experience.”