Has good enough become good enough for the Miami Heat?
Because for all of the franchise’s championship lineage, an overwhelming portion of the current roster has been raised in a cycle of mediocrity, where .500 essentially has stood as a touchstone.
In 2014-15, when Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson arrived, there was a 37-45 finish.
In 2015-16, the season Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson were added to the mix, there was a 48-34 record.
In 2016-17, the first season with the franchise for Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder, it was 41-41 and no playoffs.
Now, midseason 2018-19 has the Heat at 21-20.
That makes it an overall 191-178 record since the start of the post-LeBron James rebuild.
And a single playoff-series win, one that came before seven members of the current mix arrived.
“That’s the one thing that I’ve been trying to get these guys to understand,” guard Dwyane Wade said at this midpoint, “is, ‘We could be good. You guys can be better than we’ve been the last few years.’ It’s a mentality and a swagger knowing that you can.”
Yet to this point, the high-water mark this season has been one game above .500, a place where they again stand after Saturday’s 112-108 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at AmericanAirlines Arena, a game that hung in the balance until the final seconds, as did a winning record at midseason.
At the start of the season, Josh Richardson stepped forward as a leading man.
Lately, it has been Justise Winslow in that role.
Along the way, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside have had their moments.
And then there is Wade, who somewhat surprisingly stands third in scoring on the roster as he approaches Thursday’s 37th birthday.
Unlike everyone else on the roster besides Udonis Haslem, Wade has experienced the highest level of NBA success, the franchise’s 2006, ’12 and ’13 NBA championships. He knows what winning looks like. And he appreciates that this roster could have a look closer to that than this ambling .500 pathway.
“I think sometimes you have to have a little swagger and a little confidence to know how good you are,” he said. “And I think the thing is, I don’t think this team understands how good we can be. Even though we’re not marquee players on our roster like other teams, get a lot of All-Star votes, and have those kind of guys, we have a great system, we have a great team, we have great individual players that play well in the system and it could be a lot better than where we are.
“But I think it’s a belief system more so than the talent and the feeling of being mediocre.”
Believe as they may, the results for most on this roster have been pedestrian, 21-20 at the halfway mark the latest reality check.
“The last couple of years obviously we haven’t gotten to where we want to go,” Haslem said. “But the goal remains the same. We set championship goals. We still practice at a championship level. We still have a championship mindset. We’ve got to continue to push. We’ve got to continue to try to get over that hump.”
The message from coach Erik Spoelstra in the days leading to this 41-game midpoint had been one of expecting more. This is not the team of two years ago, where it took a full season just to get to that 41-41, when process was stressed over results. This is a roster built with an expected growth curve.
“Each season is different,” Spoelstra said, “and we know what we’re striving for every single year as an organization. And in the 24 years we’ve been together, we’ve been to the Finals five times. That means there’s a bunch of other times we haven’t and they could be labeled a bunch of different things.”
The label these past four seasons has been average. It is why, along the way, there have been the bids for Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler and other leading men.
But now, a month from the NBA trading deadline, the question remains who from within will take the take the lead … and whether there will be a strong enough following.
“I’m just pushing and grinding to get this team to a different level,” Spoelstra said.
The reality is that even at 21-20 the Heat may have topped out their standings potential, sixth place the likely ultimate high ground, considering the quality of the Eastern Conference upper tier with the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers.
Yet even if the Heat ultimately settle in at No. 6, the same seed they closed a year ago, Spoelstra said the vision will be of a record superior to that of this moment.
“I’ve seen times where it looks like we can get to a different level that this entire organization wants to,” he said. “And other times, we are what our record says we are.”
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