How Miami Heat’s 2020 NBA Finals run gives Detroit Pistons rebuild a blueprint

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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Regardless of how the 2020 NBA Finals play out, this season will be a massive success for the Miami Heat.

Last summer’s sign-and-trade for a star in Jimmy Butler, along with a breakout season from Bam Adebayo and surprising performances from a number of role players, has allowed them to surpass preseason expectations and become the lowest-seeded Finals team since the New York Knicks qualified as an eighth seed in 1999 — a strike-shortened season.

The Detroit Pistons have taken note. In broad strokes, the Heat have accomplished many of the things Pistons brass has preached this offseason as the organization prepares for a roster retooling. Miami didn’t have to tank and bottom out to reach the Finals. They nailed their draft picks, made smart offseason signings and used their G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, to aid player development. 

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In the six seasons since LeBron James departed the franchise in 2014, they’ve never won fewer than 37 games or picked higher than 10th overall. Miami’s strategy illustrates that a quick retool could be in the cards for Detroit — especially if their young players develop rapidly. 

“We’re not really rebuilding here in Detroit,” head coach Dwane Casey said in September. “I think our basketball fans deserve a lot. We like to use the word ‘retooling,’ ‘restoring’ as much as ‘rebuilding.’ It doesn’t have to take a long time because if our young guys are making the progress we expect them to make, it shouldn’t be a long-term restoring.”

[Pistons bubble workouts over but work isn’t. Here is what’s next ]

During group workouts, Casey told his young players the Heat have the identity the Pistons want to establish. Outside of Butler, much of their core consists of homegrown talent.

  • Bam Adebayo, who was named an All-Star and to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team for the first time in his career this season, was the 14th pick of the 2017 draft. Some draft analysts considered the pick to be a reach, as he was widely considered a late-first round, or early second-round talent. 
  • The Heat’s pair of rookies, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, have been prominent role players all season. Herro, in particular, has been a key contributor during Miami’s playoff run. He was the 13th pick of the 2019 draft; Nunn signed with the Heat at the end of the 2018-19 season after going undrafted in 2018 out of Oakland University and spending a season in the G League. 
  • Michigan alumnus Duncan Robinson, who emerged as one of the league’s best shooters this season, went undrafted in 2018 and then signed a two-way contract with the Heat. He spent most of his rookie year with the Skyforce, then started 68 games for the Heat in 2019-20, plus every postseason game.

Miami has had success in the trade market. They flipped their 2015 lottery pick, Justise Winslow, to the Grizzlies in February for three players who have fortified their playoff depth — Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill. Meyers Leonard, who arrived in the four-team trade that delivered Butler, started 49 games during the regular season. And Josh Richardson, who they drafted 40th overall in 2015, was sent to the Sixers last summer to complete the Butler trade. 

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The Pistons have their own star in Blake Griffin and a core of young players they hope can develop as well as Miami’s players have. Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and others will have a significant role in dictating the future success of the franchise. 

Detroit’s in-market bubble, which ended Friday, gave Casey a better idea of where the Pistons are, and how far they have to go to create something resembling the Heat. 

“They don’t have a roster full of (stars),” Casey said. “They have Jimmy Butler and Bam has become one, Tyler Herro is becoming one, but again, starting out, they didn’t start out that way. That’s the identity we have to have as we go forward and build around Derrick (Rose) and Blake with hard-playing, hard-charging guys who really understand their role and be the superstar and MVP within their role. And that’s what this week is about, is finding those guys to be in that niche and accept their role, buy into their role, embrace it … that’s what we’re establishing here.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletterThe Free Press has started a digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content

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