The Miami Heat made a giant splash in the 2020 playoffs. As the East’s modest fifth seed, they eased past the first round by sweeping the Indiana Pacers, scored a major upset in the second round by eliminating the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks in five games, outplayed the talented Boston Celtics in the conference finals, and then took two games from the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals before bowing out.
As such, it’s only right that they go big in the off-season and acquire more talent, including someone from top-tier. Houston Rockets superstar James Harden is among the names on the trading block, so with all the assets and momentum, the Heat understandably took their chance. It was intriguing and all, and may have gained some traction for a bit, but the Heat front office eventually backed out.
It raised some eyebrows, but it was the right decision. Here are some reasons why:
Great player, terrible fit
Let’s get it out of the way: James Harden is a great player, easily one of the best scorers in who-knows-how-many years. He’s a perennial MVP candidate for a reason.
Then again, improving the roster is not as simple as going after a great player. Not every superstar MVP can fit with any team, even if he can drop 30-plus points per game and will be filling an open spot, which is exactly the case in this scenario. Also, we have to realize that Harden doesn’t put up such numbers solely on skill. It’s also because the Rockets’ system has been specially tweaked to fit his preferences, namely putting him in countless isolation plays.
The Heat are the complete opposite of Harden’s style. He needs the ball to be effective, and is dreadful moving without it. In Miami, no one asks for a possession-freezing ISO situation several times a game. They try to get everyone involved, and would always go with the hot hand. It’s evident why six different Heat players scored 20 or more points on more than 12 occasions last season.
Beyond the Heat’s team-oriented basketball is an organization-wide approach that’s deeply rooted on professionalism – the ‘Heat culture,’ as it’s always referred to.
The Heat culture is virtually a military system. It’s rightfully fair, but you can bet that it’s firm, tough, honest, and demanding, quite far from what Harden has grown accustomed to in Houston – “Whatever James wants” as described in a recent article. He will go from controlling the start time of practices and how long will they stay in a city, to being on-time and having to log his body fat rate before practice.
While Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler is going on 5 AM workouts in the middle of the off-season, James Harden is partying at strip clubs and skipping practices. That is sure to cause a lot of issues in the locker room.
Also, unlike Houston, Miami’s front office will not cater to every request on player movements. They will not trade All-Star point guards on back-to-back seasons just because Harden felt like it.
You might be thinking “Well, what about Shaquille O’Neal? He worked out fine in Miami!”
That’s true, except he’s not what Harden is now. When Shaq was acquired from the Lakers in 2004, he was already a proven winner, a three-time NBA champion. James is nowhere near that. He has reached the finals once in his career, and he was there as the third man behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
31 isn’t old, but it’s getting there
Harden is 31 years old and will be turning 32 at the end of the season. It’s approaching ‘dog years,’ certainly not an encouraging age. That’s on top of hoping he can adjust to the system without losing his mind.
Also, the rumoured trade package will have to include Miami’s sensational sophomore Tyler Herro and last season’s surprise revelation, Duncan Robinson, only two of the finest sharpshooting tandems in the league. Herro, in particular, is hard to give up right now. He showed a ton of promise in the 2020 playoffs, and given that he’ll only 21 this January, who knows what’s his ceiling going to be?
Further, the way the Heat performed in the 2019-20 campaign, where they basically turned into a raw version of the dynastic 2010s Golden State Warriors, one would be insane to break it up right away. Simply put: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.