In 2014, LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland, undoing an era that produced two championships. For the Cavaliers this day marked the end of four years of irrelevance, for the Heat it was expected to mean the opposite. With Bosh gone because of severe health issues and Wade playing in Chicago, this year’s Heat have nothing in common with LeBron’s team. In Dallas, things didn’t look much better ahead of this season. An aging Dirk and a bunch of role players aren’t typically enough to play for a playoff spot. Hit by a disastrous free-agent policy the Mavs seemed poised to vie for the last spot in the West after years of contention. Two teams that were written off. Both are back in the battle for the eight seed.
All from scratch
It’s been two years since LeBron is gone and few franchises have changed as much as Miami. In those two years the core of the team that went to the NBA finals four consecutive times fell apart at a fast pace: Ray Allen retired, so did Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers went to Memphis, Norris Cole to the Pelicans. And after they lost to the Raptors in the second round of last year’s postseason, Wade finally left the city he had the keys to. Without almost any viable star, outside of Hasan Whiteside, the Heat went into rebuild mode. The season started off accordingly, with only 11 wins against 30 loses of which many came by double digits. But from Jan. 17th to Feb. 10th Miami went on a run of 13 without losing. A group of players have breathed new life into the franchise: Dragić and Whiteside are playing solid seasons as the team’s cornerstones. James Johnson, a marginal player for many year, has turned out to be a good fit and many rotation guys have upped their game. Dion Waters, for example, is in the midst of the best year of his career with 15.7p 4.3a and 38.5 % from three.
Out of the blue
Over to Dallas, a team coming off a near sweep against the Thunder in the first round. Looking back, the championship in 2011 was to be the peak of a franchise that has since been in steep decline. Injuries plagued Dirk for some time now and he was clearly coming towards the end of a Hall of Fame career. As time is running out, the Mavericks tried to surround their aging superstar with veterans via free agency. A strategy that has failed, most prominently last summer when the Clippers managed to talk DeAndre Jordan into breaking his oral commitment to the team. Pair that with an atrocious experiment around Rajon Rondo and you got a franchise with a totally depleted roster and few assets. They began the year on a 3 and 15 run. But somehow Dallas has found a new core out of this mess: Undrafted rookie Yogi Ferrell has earned himself a permanent deal with a mouth-watering 12 points and 5 assist from the bench and Seth Curry has turned his sluggish career around within a couple of weeks.
On different paths
Now, in March 2017, both teams look nothing like the squads that bothered the first half of the season. Both stand decent chances to make it into the playoffs, ahead of teams with high hopes like Portland or the Knicks. Only time will tell if their new cores have a future beyond this season, but, for the moment, two teams deemed a failure have impressively flipped the script. In the age of questionable max contracts and super teams, the sight of two franchises piecing together a playoff contender out of relatively little is absolutely refreshing.