When asked last week about the difficulties of making four straight NBA Finals, current Cavs guard and former Heat star Dwyane Wade compared the end of the “Big Three” era in Miami to being in a “bad marriage.” It turns out he wasn’t the only member of those Heat teams who felt that way.
In a Q&A session with Sports Illustrated’s Rohan Nadkarni, former Heat guard Ray Allen criticized the approach taken by the front office and coaching staff during the 2013-14 season, which ended with a lopsided 4-1 series loss to the Spurs in the Finals. Allen, who joined the team ahead of the 2012-13 championship season, felt the workload placed on the team following three consecutive Finals trips and back-to-back titles was incredibly taxing, particularly for the veterans on the roster, and there was a failure to allow Heat players to adequately recover.
“Most of the guys, having gone to so many Finals, me being an older player, having played a lot of basketball the last five, six years, organizationally and coaching-wise they didn’t adjust,” Allen said. “We had the oldest team in the NBA, and on top of that, we had such a bad schedule. Every holiday we were away from home. Every situation we were in we were fighting to just stay above board, trying to figure out how to sleep or rest our bodies. We wore down, we were tired, and we were definitely tired at the end. We still were good, and we still made it to the Finals.
“With a team as old as we were, and with as much basketball as we’d played, we were still doing a million appearances, we still were having all the practices, and doing all the things that typically wear you down by the end of the year. Just being on your feet so much. The team didn’t learn how to manage our bodies better. When your players have played in June the last three or four years, by this time you have to figure out how get people off their feet. We don’t need to have a practice. We don’t need to have a shootaround. We just have to be mental. From those aspects, you wear yourself down long term.”
It didn’t take long for those comments to reach Erik Spoelstra, who took over as Heat head coach for Pat Riley in 2008 and pushed the team to four straight Eastern Conference titles from 2010-14 behind the “Big Three” of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Spoelstra decided it was best not to lament the sudden end of what many assumed would be a dynasty, but rather celebrate Allen’s game-tying 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
“I love Ray. I walk by his picture every day and tap it, of just an acknowledgment of how special that time was and how it’s one of the iconic, all-time iconic shots in NBA history,” Spoelstra said (via Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel). “So I love him. If we didn’t win three in a row, I think we should be open to criticism. It’s tough, it’s tough to win in this league multiple years, going four years in a row. I tip my hat off to teams that have been able to win three in a row. But I love Ray.”
Rumors circulated for the next couple years following the 2013-14 season about Allen joining another team in free agency with James heading back to Cleveland and Miami looking to get younger. But it turned out that was Allen’s final year as a player. Allen couldn’t find the ideal situation for his personal and professional life, so he’s still living in Miami, and apparently he doesn’t hold too much of a grudge based on a recent run-in with Spoelstra.
“I actually bumped into him about six, I don’t know, weeks ago. I was walking my dog across an intersection in Coconut Grove,” Spoelstra said. “He didn’t run me over. He had an opportunity to. I appreciated that. But he looks great. . . . I will forever be grateful to Ray.”
Hindsight is always 20/20 in these situations, but if nothing else, the championship banners at American Airlines Arena will hang forever. Allen and Spoelstra can at least agree on that part.