Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson gone but not forgotten by Heat amid NBA Finals

To reach this point, the Miami Heat’s first visit to the NBA Finals since 2014, required both growth and change.

So seeds were planted, but not everything bloomed, or at least not on Pat Riley’s and the franchise’s timetable.

So no Josh Richardson against the Los Angeles Lakers in the best-of-seven championship series. Or Justise Winslow. Or Tyler Johnson. Or Rodney McGruder.

That is the flip side of attempting to do it organically. Patience can wear thin along the way.

For coach Erik Spoelstra, it is one of the most difficult parts of the process.

“The guys that aren’t here were big contributors to building a year like this,” he said during a private moment to the Sun Sentinel. “And we hope that we helped them, as well.”

While others have come and gone in the interim, contributors such as Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Josh McRoberts, Amar’e Stoudemire and Wayne Ellington, their NBA stories began elsewhere.

But those born into the Heat’s culture seemingly were part of an end game, Winslow drafted by the Heat in the first round in 2015, Richardson in the second, with Johnson and McGruder developed in the Heat’s G League system.

“Not everybody can start and finish their careers here,” Spoelstra said. “There’s a business to this. But we want to have a positive impact on any players coming through here.

“When they leave our doors, hopefully they became better for it: Better basketball players. Learn how to become better parts of a functioning team. Learning how to see a bigger picture. Learning how to become more professional, a better leader. All of these things.”

Johnson and McGruder were jettisoned during the 2018-19 season, when the luxury tax got in the way. Richardson was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers in the July 2019 machinations that delivered Jimmy Butler. Winslow was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in February as part of a package for Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill.

For each, it was a matter of timing, unable to see it through as other Heat development projects such as Duncan Robinson and Derrick Jones Jr. now have.

But Spoelstra said it was the work the Heat put into the players who have moved on that benefited both those players and the Heat.

“Hopefully, we can help them with their journeys, and then, you know, if that happens, they’re helping us as well,” he said of the team’s return on those investments.

During typical times, it would not be unusual for former Heat players to return to AmericanAirlines Arena to offer support during the playoffs. But amid the new coronavirus pandemic, these are not typical times. Spectators for the games at Disney’s Wide World of Sports are limited to a small group of family and friends.

But Spoelstra said there remains a sense of having done right by those players, even as others took their place on the journey to these Finals.

“I think that’s a big part of our purpose as a staff, is investing in players and getting groups to commit to a team and to a concept of things bigger than just themselves,” he said. “And everybody that has come through our doors, we give them everything we have. We’ve developed some amazing relationships.”


©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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