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The Miami Heat have had a tough start to the season, going just 11-14 this year, and many fans were already calling for them to tank, especially before they won four of their last five.
But Tyler Johnson, at least, thinks that’s ridiculous.
“It’s f–king dumb,” he told Shandel Richardson of The Athletic. “If you really think that as a fan, I don’t think you’re a true fan.”
“Why would you ever not want to put your best product out there? We were a playoff team (last year). People jump ship at the first sign of trouble. In today’s society, that’s like built in. Any time something is too hard, you just don’t do it anymore. You just quit. I think that’s what’s so satisfying about the direction of this team. Every season is different. We had to go through a lot of stuff early. We don’t make excuses about it, but you see that we’re trending in the right direction.”
There’s certainly no quit in Miami. On Saturday, a short-handed Heat squad without Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Hassan Whiteside nonetheless blew out the very solid Los Angeles Clippers, 121-98.
“Coaching in this league, you want to have a group like this,” head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When they show up for shoot-around, you know that the more guys who are not playing, that guys look forward to the challenge instead of making excuses and get on to the next game.”
The Heat have little reason to tank at this point. Despite their slow start, they sit just a half-game out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference behind the Orlando Magic (12-14) and just one game back of the Charlotte Hornets (12-13).
Were the Heat to fall out of the postseason picture, however, the calls for tanking may be more justified. The Heat remain in something of a purgatory at the moment—they don’t have any superstars to build around, but they also don’t have the cap space to attract a big name like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson or Kemba Walker in free agency this summer.
As they stand, the Heat are good enough to compete for a playoff berth, but they don’t have the talent to hang with the Eastern Conference elite. That was fairly obvious in last season’s playoffs, when the Philadelphia 76ers dismissed them in five games in the opening round.
If the Heat are going to add superstars, however, they’ll either need to package draft picks and current players in a trade or eventually go the tanking route, rebuilding through the draft.
No, the Heat don’t need to tank this season. But at some point, team president Pat Riley and the front office will need to pick a direction for the team. If winning titles remains the priority, the roster as currently constructed isn’t going to cut it.
Just don’t mention tanking to any of the team’s current players.
“I’ve never considered tanking,” veteran big man Udonis Haslem said. “That’s never been in my vocabulary. I don’t even know how to tank. I’ve got a fish tank at home. That’s the only tank I know about. That’s not in my DNA. I’ve got to be able to sleep at night.”