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Runnin' Fives: Miami Heat

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A Daily Babble Production

Picking All-Time Lineups for Each of the Association's 30 Franchises*

The short-short version: Hardaway-Wade-Rice-Brown-Mourning

mia.gifIt's a banner day here at Runnin' Fives base camp as we head to South Beach to complete our trip through the NBA's 1988 expansion that began two weeks ago with the Hornets.  In the Miami Heat, we find the NBA's currently youngest franchise to take home a championship, and we also find not one but our first two players to make appearances atop the depth charts of multiple franchises.  They won 15 games both in their first and most recent seasons, but in between, the Heat put together six seasons of at least 50 wins, 12 playoff appearances and, of course, that championship run in 2006.  Let's run fives with the Miami Heat:

Point guard: Tim Hardaway - All politically incorrect insensitivity and television-throwing tantrums aside (the latter was with the Nuggets long after his days in Miami were over), the master of the killer crossover still remains the Heat's top floor general of all time.  As The Peninsula is Mightier's Greg Broome tells us, "Hardaway...took over a good Heat team in the mid-'90s and made it into a perennial and legitimate contender."

Hardaway came over from Golden State in the middle of the 1995-96 season and immediately took over the starter's job, leading the Heat to 17 wins in his 28 games and a playoff birth at 42-40.  In each of Hardaway's five full seasons after that, the team won more than 60 percent of its games, going to the playoffs each year.  He put up 17.3 points and 7.8 assists per game while in Miami, ranking him fourth and second respectively in team history in those categories.  He made two All-Star games and was an All-NBA first or second teamer three times with the Heat.

SportsAgentBlog's Darren Heitner and former Crazy from the Heat writer Alden Gonzalez support Greg's vote of Hardaway as well.  No arguments on this end.

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Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade - He has missed 95 games in his first five seasons, and he isn't a great three-point shooter.  The negatives end there.

This guy has been astoundingly good virtually since the moment he entered the league.  His acrobatic moves around the basket - changing hands in the air, windmill lay-ups, high-elevation dunks; you name it, he can do it - are simply dazzling, and it doesn't hurt that he can shoot the ball from mid-range, too.  Wade can finish after absorbing contact, and when fully healthy, he gets to the line with ease.

He's an unselfish player who possesses great passing vision and throws the lob as well as nearly anyone in the league.  The hard-working Wade is truly a combo guard in the best way possible, and the Heat have shown no hesitance about running their offense through him.

The numbers and accolades are awe-inspiring.  In five seasons, Wade has made four All-Star appearances and made one of the top three All-NBA teams four times as well.  He has averaged 23.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists for his career.  In the postseason, he has stepped that production up to 25.3-5.3-6.0.  And of course, in the 2006 postseason, Wade put his team on his back in carrying it to four straight wins and a championship after falling into an 0-2 hole against the Mavericks in the 2006 Finals.  In the four wins, Wade put up totals of 42, 36, 43 and 36 points.  He shot better than 50 percent from the field in three of those games, and in the one he didn't, all he did was go 21-for-25 from the foul line.  There wasn't much suspense when it came time to select the 2006 Finals MVP.

Greg rolls it all together in one tidy but potent assessment: "Considering his championship ring, Olympic gold medal and NBA Finals MVP Award, Wade is already the most accomplished player in franchise history."  Darren and Alden concur.  Barring major health issues down the road - and perhaps even with health issues - the man they call Flash should retire as the greatest member of the Miami Heat.

Honorable mention: Eddie Jones - This guy just seems to insist on playing solid basketball wherever he goes.  In six seasons in Miami, Jones put up 16 points, 4.5 boards and 3 assists per game while providing excellent intensity at the defensive end as well.  Smart player, hard worker, good teammate, consistent contributor.  Greg agrees on the honorable mention, and Alden throws Eddie a vote as sixth man as well.

Small Forward: Glen Rice - Our first man to make two Runnin' Fives squads, the man who also moonlights as our small forward for the Hornets got his start with a Miami team still in relative infancy.  He consistently used that high-release jump shot to do his best to keep the Heat in games, averaging 20 points or better in three of his six seasons in town and finishing his Heat tenure with 19.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game to go with three seasons of at least 55 percent true shooting.

As Greg writes, "Rice is one of the two or three most prolific scorers in team history, and provided some truly special moments for Heat fans."  Indeed, Rice sits at third in team history in points per game.  He was a workhorse scorer for this team, and he gets the nod from Darren and Alden as well.

Power Forward: P.J. Brown - Though he may be best remembered in some circles as the guy who flipped Charlie Ward into the stands to set off the memorable Knicks-Heat melee in Game 5 of the 1997 semis that led to several Knicks suspensions enabling the Heat to rally back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series, Brown's tenure in Miami was of far more substance than that one incident.

Brown averaged 9.9 points and 7.9 boards per game in his four seasons in Miami, but it was his status as a classic glue guy that makes him so important to this unit.  He busted it night in and night out for this team and gave the Heat a mean streak and an added level of toughness each time he stepped onto the court.  Brown played an efficient, team-based offensive game and provided an important defensive presence at the other end, and he earned two second team All-Defense selections to show for it while in South Beach.  

It's no coincidence that Brown was the team's power forward through four of the team's winningest seasons (.744, .671, .660, .634).  He did all the dirty work and little things that strengthen a team, and he did them well throughout his time with the Heat.

Honorable mention: Grant Long - Long was actually more statistically productive than Brown, going for 11.6 points and 7.0 boards per game in seven seasons with the team.  However, he didn't add quite the same attitude or defensive prowess that Brown did, and that Brown was a crucial part of a winner gives him an edge over Long.

That being said, Greg maintains that it's a close call here, possibly even in Long's favor: "The other forward spot is tricky. I'd love to slide Mourning to this spot and make room for Shaq: They lined up that way a couple of times, so it's not completely fabricated, but it still feels like cheating.  Barring that, you've got a group of beloved, hard-working power forwards who endeared themselves to fans but look out of place on an all-time starting five. It's a toss-up between P.J. Brown, Udonis Haslem and Grant Long, and maybe even Brian Grant. All made valuable contributions, but each had his limitations. If I had to pick, I'd go with Long. Is it too soon to nominate Michael Beasley?"

Yes, perhaps a tad quick for the Kansas State stud, and as for the bigger men, I'm with Greg.  Neither 'Zo nor Shaq has actually spent enough time at the four to allow for a pick here.  But speaking of the men in the pivot...

Center: Alonzo Mourning - It's easily the toughest call on this squad, but Mourning simply means too much to this Heat franchise to be omitted. 

Though he has averaged a respectable 16 points and 8 rebounds per game over the whole of his 11-year Heat career, it's worth remembering that 'Zo's second stint with the team has come entirely as a reserve while recovering from a career-threatening kidney ailment and a variety of other injuries.  Mourning was an absolute monster in his prime, putting up two seasons of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds and three others in which he came quite close to those marks.  He has led the league in shot-blocking twice, made All-Star four times and won Defensive Player of the Year twice as a member of the Heat.  He's also the franchise leader in games and minutes played, offensive and defensive rebounds, points, blocks and blocks per game.  

This is a guy who has meant a ton to this team and this city.  He has poured his heart into the Heat for as long as he has been in town, be it as a star in his first tenure with the team and a high-energy, shot-blocking defensive presence off the bench in his second go-around.  He was instrumental in getting the Heat to the playoffs from 1997 through 2001, and he even averaged 21.6 points and 10 boards per game in the 2000 playoffs.   When healthy, he was an offensive force both from inside and occasionally out, and he was a terror on the boards and defensively.  Statistically speaking, his best seasons with the team were just about as good as Shaquille O'Neal's best seasons in Miami.  Mourning has the longer tenure in town by leaps and bounds, and he never had the opportunity to play with a player of Dwyane Wade's caliber during his stardom.

As Greg says, "Mourning gets the call over Shaquille O'Neal for the overall body of work, his dedication to the city and the team and of course his inspiring tale of perseverance. Ask almost any Heat fan which player they would choose to represent the franchise, and Zo is the choice."  Done and done.  'Zo gets the nod.

Honorable mention: Shaquille O'Neal - An integral piece in bringing the Heat their first and only title to date, the Big Aristotle nearly stole the top spot despite having been in Miami for three and a half seasons and experiencing a marked decline after his first two campaigns in town.  He did put up 22.9 points and 10.4 boards his first season in town and 20.0 points and 9.2 boards when the Heat won the title the following year.  His arrival in South Beach made the team an instant title contender, and his impact always went beyond the numbers.

He can't get the nod though, because as Greg tells us, "He was here so briefly and left to abruptly that it's hard to compare his legacy to Mourning's," but that comes with the reminder that "Shaq is a reasonably close second for delivering the title he promised."

Second honorable mention: Rony Seikaly - The numbers aren't legendary, but the guy battled consistently in giving the team better than 15 points and 10 rebounds on a nightly basis during his six seasons in town, and as Greg notes, Seikaly was there right from the beginning: "Seikaly deserves an honorable mention here as the team's first star."  Fair enough.

So there you have it, folks.  Our first franchise with a championship also features two stars from the Hornets to go with the master of the crossover, Flash and the man who sacked former college quarterback Charlie Ward on a basketball court.  This leaves us wondering which 'Zo-and-Rice-led all-time team is better: the Heat or Hornets?  And could either beat Shaq's Magic?  That is, of course, for you to decide.

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As always, much thanks to our contributors to the program today.  We got a huge helping hand from The Peninsula Is Mightier's Greg Broome, and we really appreciate his insight.  Congratulations to Greg as well for moving his site over to the SB Nation platform, effective today.  SB really does a phenomenal job with their blog communities, and we're looking forward to seeing Greg's site grow in the times to come.  Definitely worth a check when you get a chance.  Thanks also to SportsAgentBlog's Darren Heitner and former Crazy from the Heat writer Alden Gonzalez for submitting their lists as well.

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*The official explanation for newcomers to our Runnin' Fives series:

Welcome to the latest edition of the CelticsBlog NBA page's newest feature, Runnin' Fives.  Over the course of the next few months, we'll be picking a five-man all-time team for each of the Association's thirty currently active franchises.  The rules are simple: The goal is to put together the best possible standard five-man line-up (two guards, two forwards, one center, with some room for finagling if need be) for each team based on the performance of the players while with said team.  For instance, it's hard to imagine Michael Jordan making the Washington squad or Karl Malone or Gary Payton challenging for spots in Los Angeles (or Mark Blount making any team, anywhere).  We'll be progressing from youngest franchise to oldest at the rate of one to two teams per week, pursuant to the workings of the NBA's news cycle and availability of sources as we'll be checking in with bloggers, beat writers, fans and anybody else we can get a hold of for insight on their teams.  And of course, we're alwayslooking for your input, and we invite all readers to submit their own line-ups, honorable mentions, dishonorable mentions and everything in between in the comments section below.  We eagerly look forward to hearing from you!

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Previously on Runnin' Fives:

Charlotte Bobcats

Toronto Raptors

Memphis Grizzlies

Minnesota Timberwolves 

Orlando Magic 

New Orleans Hornets