Pat Riley may have to start rethinking his free agency strategy.
Since LeBron James abruptly left the Miami Heat two summers ago to join the Cleveland Cavaliers, a new trend has been birthed among his NBA counterparts: Star players are returning to their hometown teams more often than ever in the hopes of achieving the same fairy tale champagne-soaked ending. What do you get the man that has everything in life? Apparently if you're an NBA player, the answer is a championship parade down the same streets he grew up on.
For Dwyane Wade (Chicago Bulls), Dwight Howard (Atlanta Hawks), Joakim Noah (New York Knicks), and Jeff Teague (Indiana Pacers), going home is the in thing to do right now. Even years before Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook is to become available in free agency, it was been reported that his first choice would be his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. Years before Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Golden State Warriors this off-season, he had hinted that his hometown Washington Wizards would be in the mix when it came time to make a decision (they weren't).
This obvious trend has us wondering: What NBA players call Miami home? The answer isn't what Heat fans are hoping to hear.
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Among active NBA players, the ones who were born in Miami or call the city home are the Heat's Udonis Haslem, the Cavaliers' James Jones, Vince Carter, ex-Hurricanes guard Shane Larkin, Pistons guard Brandon Knight, journeyman point guard Steve Blake, and Houston Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza. That's pretty much it, at least as far as we know. Plenty of NBA stars may migrate to Miami in the off-season, but as far as having a sentimental childhood attachment to the city, it's just not that common. The farther you travel north, the more you find players who went to high school in Florida or who went to the University of Florida, but to find a true local kid that has had much success in the NBA is surprisingly rare.
Unsurprisingly, the Dolphins would have a better time if this hometown-return trend hit the NFL. The list of active players who might return to South Florida to live out their childhood dreams includes Teddy Bridgewater, Antonio Brown, Asante Samuel, Antrel Rolle, Roscoe Parrish, Chris Myers, Lamar Miller, Andre Johnson, and many more. The list of past NFL players from Miami could fill out an entire wing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The discrepancy between the number of talented football and basketball players in Florida has always been substantial, though it's worth noting that one football player moving to his hometown team obviously doesn't have the same impact as one elite basketball player joining a team in a sport with just five active players per side.
With so many athletes in South Florida, we have to ask the question: Why aren't there more NBA players from around here? There are three times as many NFL players as NBA players, so the odds for everyone in that sense are small, but both recently and in the past, there has clearly been a shortage of NBA talent from the tri-county area.
For now, Heat fans will have to settle for enjoying another season of Udonis Haslem, which is one hell of a consolation prize.