Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Redemption, Part II


The dark days closed with Alonzo Mourning stepping away from the game because of his unfortunate kidney ailment. He missed the entire 2002-03 season. And with the departure of players like Tim Hardaway, PJ Brown and Jamal Mashburn, it seemed the Heat were in full blown re-building mode. A far cry from the seeming power house Riley had promised to deliver. The darkest days of the franchise seemed to be towards the end of a once great nucleus. The vast sense of unfinished business was overwhelming.

The biggest roster move, however, came when Riley himself stepped away from the sidelines. Placing his assistant, Stan Van Gundy, in charge of the head coaching duties, Riley decided to focus on being the team’s President and GM. The Heat, as we once knew it, was now a shell of its former self.

And so a new era dawned. In the 2002 NBA Draft, the Heat selected talented small forward, Caron Butler out of UConn, 10th overall. Butler brought a lot of promise to the team and it seemed as if the tides of fortune were beginning to shift. The following season, with the fifth pick, they selected a kid from Marquette University.

His name: Dwyane Wade.

Riley had watched Wade play on television during the NCAA Tournament and saw the talented wunderkind from Chicago single-handedly take out Riley’s beloved alma matter, Kentucky. Entering the Midwest Regional Final, Marquette was a major underdog against the top seeded Wild Cats. Yet Wade torched Kentucky with a triple double (29 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists), leading the way to an 83-69 shellacking of the Wild Cats and leading Marquette into the tournament’s Final Four.

A sour and upset Riley took notice of the kid that had just decimated his team. And he wanted him. After highly touted high school phenom LeBron James and NCAA Finals MVP Carmelo Anthony were selected ahead of him, the Heat drafted Wade with their fifth pick.

With Butler and Wade, the Heat was on the rebound. The team swept into the playoffs and managed to beat New Orleans in an exciting series but were eventually beaten in the conference semi-finals by a more experienced Pacers team. Still, with the explosive Wade and the talented Butler, the Heat had served notice. Miami was on its way back to being relevant again. It was the new era.

But this new era would soon be jarred with an historical trade between the Heat and Riley’s former team, the LA Lakers.

The trade sent away Caron Butler (and a host of others) but brought in the legendary big man, Shaquille O’Neal. In a move most experts agreed was a steal for the Heat, the three time Finals MVP was officially headed east to Miami.

On July 14, 2004, the deal was consummated. O’Neal was now a part of the Miami Heat.

After his falling out with the Lakers and his super star teammate Kobe Bryant, O’Neal asked for a trade. The Heat topped his short wish list of teams.

The reason? Dwyane Wade.


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