Miami Heat – The Early Years

 

During the boom duration of the NBA of the 1980s the league sought to expand itself from 23 teams to 26 by the end of the decade. In Florida, a state devoid of any NBA franchises, groups from Orlando, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Miami all vied to land franchises.

The Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority ultimately endorsed a group led by NBA Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham and previous sports agent (and long-lasting good friend of Cunningham’s) Lewis Schaffel, who got their financial backing from Carnival Cruise Lines magnate Ted Arison, who would be the bulk shareholder of a possible franchise however postpone the everyday operations to minority investors Cunningham and Schaffel.

In April 1987, the NBA growth committee endorsed the quotes of the cities of Charlotte and Minneapolis. Nevertheless, the committee was divided in between granting the 3rd and final franchise to Miami or Orlando, causing representatives from both cities to toss barbs at the other. Lastly, it was decided that the NBA would expand by 4 groups, with the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat debuting for the 1988-89 season and the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic beginning for the 1989-90 season.

For their first head coach, Miami worked with Ron Rothstein, who was a longtime assistant coach under Chuck Daly in Detroit and who was credited with being one of the designers of Detroit’s stifling defense.

The Heat entered the NBA for the 1988-89 season with an ineffective very first year, with a lineup loaded with young players and journeymen. Among the gamers on the inaugural roster were first round picks Rony Seikaly and Kevin Edwards, fellow novices Grant Long and Sylvester Gray along with NBA vets Rory Sparrow, Jon Sundvold, Pat Cummings, Scott Hastings, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington and Billy Thompson.

The group started the season by losing its very first 17 video games, an NBA record. It did not help that the Heat were positioned in the Midwest Division of the Western Conference. This required them on the longest road trips in the NBA; their nearest divisional challenger was the Houston Rockets, over 900 miles from Miami. The group ultimately finished with a league-worst 15-67 win-loss record.

To help resolve Miami‘s league-low point production, the Heat selected Glen Rice from the University of Michigan in the preliminary of the 1989 NBA Draft, and Sherman Douglas of Syracuse University in the 2nd round. The group likewise relocated to the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference for the 1989-90 season, where they would remain for the next 15 years. However, the Heat continued to have a hard time and never won more than 2 successive video games, en route to an 18-64 record.

The 1989-90 season saw Miami awarded with the 3rd pick in general, just to parlay via 2 trades (initially with the Denver Nuggets and later with the Houston Rockets) into getting the 9th and 12th picks, with which they picked Willie Burton of the University of Minnesota and Alec Kessler of the University of Georgia. Both picks tumbled, as the Heat aimed to turn Burton, a college small forward, into a shooting guard without much success and Kessler was bogged by injury issues and was not physical adequate to be a quality NBA power forward.

While Rice, Seikaly and Douglas all showed improvement from the previous year, Miami still just went 24– 58 and remained in the Atlantic Division basement.

Rothstein would resign as head coach at the end of the season, but later would go back to the Heat prior to the 2004-05 season as an assistant coach, a role he still fulfills today.

In the wake of Rothstein’s resignation prior to the 1991-92 season, the Heat employed Kevin Loughery, who had 29 years of experience in the NBA both as a coach and a player, to be their brand-new head coach. For the 1991 NBA Draft, the team chosen Steve Smith from Michigan State, who offered a nimble guard to a more mature Heat team. With the help of novice Smith, Rony Seikaly, and a more knowledgeable Glen Rice, the Heat finished in 4th place in the Atlantic Division with a 38-44 record and made the playoffs for the very first time. Playing the league-best Chicago Bulls, the Heat were swept in three games. Steve Smith made the NBA All-Rookie group and Glen Rice ended up 10th in the NBA in scoring.

The 1992-93 NBA season included the additions of draft option Harold Miner of the University of Southern California in addition to trading a 1st round choice (which would become the # 10 overall choose the following season) for Detroit Pistons forward/center John Salley. While Salley’s addition was first met optimism because of the function that he used two champion Detroit Pistons teams, it emerged quickly that Salley was a quality role player for an excellent team, however not a quality player for an average team like Miami was at the time.

Salley would eventually have his playing time lessen, ultimately leading to his being taken by the Toronto Raptors in the 1995 expansion draft. As for the season itself, it began badly, with Smith missing out on time with a knee injury and Burton being lost for the majority of the year with a wrist injury. Upon Smith’s return, Miami published a winning record in February and March, however it was not enough to dig themselves from the 13-27 hole they began in. They completed 36-46 and would not return to the playoffs.

A healthier squad fared much better in 1993-94, publishing the franchise’s first-ever winning record at 42-40 and going back to the playoffs as the # 8 seed versus the Atlanta Hawks. After Miami had a 2-1 series lead, Atlanta rallied from the deficit to win the best-of-5 series.

After that season, Steve Smith would be picked as a member of the 2nd Dream Team, the collection of NBA All-Stars who were chosen to compete in the 1994 World Basketball Championships in Toronto as Team U.S.A. Dream Team II, likewise comprised of future Heat gamers Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dan Majerle and Tim Hardaway, would go on to win the competition.

In 1994-95, the group revamped their lineup, trading away Seikaly, Smith, and Grant Long. In return, the Heat acquired Kevin Willis and Billy Owens.

Also, at this time came a power shift in Heat’s front office. On February 13, 1995 Cunningham and Lew Schaffel were bought out by the Arison household of Carnival Cruise Lines fame, who to that moment had been silent partners in the everyday operations of the franchise up until the buyout. Micky Arison, kid of Carnival creator Ted Arison was named Managing General Partner.

He right away fired Loughery and replaced him with Alvin Gentry on an interim basis to attempt and shake up the 17-29 Heat. Gentry went 15-21 for the staying 36 video games of the season for a 32-50 record overall, 10 games off the previous year’s mark.


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