CHICAGO – The pattern has become somewhat familiar and somewhat concerning: The Miami Heat, searching for size to back up Bam Adebayo in the middle, scour the dollar store for a bargain, only to ultimately instead turn to a power forward as the reserve center of choice.
It happened with Dewayne Dedmon. It happened with Cody Zeller. Now it looks like it is happening with the latest buy-low, hope-high big man added at the veteran’s minimum.
Even though it looked otherwise at the outset with Thomas Bryant.
Saturday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center marked the third time in five games Bryant was not utilized by coach Erik Spoelstra. In the other two there only was a brief, single second-period stint before sitting out the second half.
Instead, Kevin Love, a career power forward who mostly has played alongside centers over his 16-season career, has emerged as the choice in reserve of Adebayo.
For Bryant, 26, it again has required a pause for patience.
“For me, it’s just always staying engaged, always trying to talk, be communicative, and just lock in to whatever we’re doing, whether I’m in the rotation or not,” Bryant said, with the Heat again facing the Bulls on Monday night, in the second game of a five-game trip that continues Wednesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. “And then, I’ve been here before. It’s nothing new to me.
“So for me, it’s always maintaining and keeping in shape as much as I can, whether it’s pre-practice, after practice, before practice, always getting some work in, to make sure I just always stay in game shape as much as possible and be a sponge whenever I am out there, whether it’s just listening, communicating, or just being a cheerleader for my teammates.”
While there were early offensive flashes after joining the Heat, twice scoring in double figures over his first six appearances, the defense was a struggle, often late on the type of rotations that require precision in the Heat’s system.
“It’s been a difference, because you’re playing with guys that have just known the system so much, and you being a new guy here, you just try to learn as quickly as possible as you can,” said the 2017 second-round pick out of Indiana. “And of course there’s going to be mess ups here and there. But I just give it up to my teammates, because whenever I mess up, they’re always there with me, to just tell me just move on to the next play. And out of nowhere, I’ll make a great play, and they’ll be like, ‘Hey, there you go.’ And I’m like, ‘Hey, you’re right.’
“It’s a great collective unit. I’m not going to lie. I’m very happy with the guys that we have and just being around these guys just makes it that much easier, because everybody’s striving for the same thing.”
Love, by contrast, had the advantage of having finished last season with the Heat, working in Spoelstra’s defensive system over the two-month playoff run to the NBA Finals.
“It’s just different than the last two places he was in,” Spoelstra said of Bryant and how the Heat run their defense. “And that’s fair. So you have to kind of retrain habits, and calls, and different responsibilities. That’s normal when players change teams.
“It’s probably even more dramatic for bigs, fives. That’s probably a little bit more of an adjustment just because there’s pick-and-rolls and so many different variations of that in the league.”
Last season ended with Bryant as a spectator for the Nuggets during their championship run, with career forward Jeff Green taking Denver minutes at backup center. Now there is more of the same in the first season of the two-year minimum-scale deal he signed in July that includes a player option for next season.
“I’ve grown from it a lot,” Bryant said of falling from rotations. “Of course there’s things that remind you of certain things, but you grow from it and you learn from it, as well. For me, it’s a period of time of just growing and learning.
“For me, I’m still the newbie here. These guys have been together for three, four years, and have known each other. So for me, it’s finding the chemistry.”