Thomas Bryant’s journey back to Heat relevance offers hope for something more

MIAMI — The opportunity was there. Then it was gone.

So when the pendulum swung back in Thomas Bryant’s direction, he decided relentless pursuit was the only option.

No, this might not have gone according to plan, when no less than Pat Riley, on the eve of the season, identified the center acquired in free agency as the answer to the Miami Heat’s power deficit.

The impact has not been that. Mostly, it remains a case of Bam Adebayo or bust.

But as a complementary piece, Bryant, the seventh-year veteran, has provided tangible value over the past month as Kevin Love battled back from the heel bruise that only now has him again in position to contribute.

For Bryant, it has been a case of redemption, but only after reflection, of accepting whatever rotation scraps Heat coach Erik Spoelstra could offer.

“It’s been a journey,” Bryant said of these first five months as a member of the Heat. “For me, I just try to be as available for as many minutes as are out there.

“I just try to be as much available to my guys out there, no matter what the situation is for Coach, for my teammates, just to try to gain some confidence and get some wins out there.”

At the start of the season, when Love was cast as the starting power forward, the role was clear — take the minutes at center when Adebayo was off the court. But as the season progressed, the defensive reads were not as instinctive as it was with those more familiar with the system.

That’s when the playing time disappeared, coinciding with Love’s move into the reserve role at center. After appearing in 10 of the first 11 games, Bryant was held out of 18 of the next 28. For a player who holds a player option with the Heat for next season, the concerns were real.

“It was a little difficult,” Bryant said, “because, you know, you want to get into the rhythm, you want to be out there. But a lot of it is just being level headed and trying to maintain a pure focus.

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“I know it’s tough out there, but you just have to try to maintain that focus and just take the day head on, just conquer each day, day by day.”

So he did.

And then when Love went down, Bryant was back, including playing double-digit minutes in 8 of 10 games going into Tuesday night’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors at Kaseya Center.

A few timely shots. More than a few rebounds. Fouls spent when needed.

Nothing fancy, but basically what is expected from a third-string center, most significantly to show the ability to move up to No. 2 when needed, even start when Adebayo was out for the victory last week in Cleveland.

Now with Love back in the mix, there is a better sense from Bryant of what is needed and a better sense from the staff of what is possible if something beyond Adebayo or Love is required in the middle.

“Sure there were doubts,” Bryant said with a slight laugh. “Of course. Being human and everything, of course there’s going to be doubts, even when you can’t see the finish line of how it’s going to turn out.

“But you have to keep believing in yourself and your teammates and just believe that everything is going to turn around for the better.”

And if the playing time completely evaporates? Well, there still will be those 3-point shooting contests on the practice court between himself, Adebayo and neophyte reserve center Orlando Robinson.

“Me, Bam and Orlando have shooting contests all the time,” Bryant said. “I’ll let them tell you who wins them all the time.”

Well, Spoelstra said the winner has been Adebayo.

Unless, of course, he’s getting some bad information.

“Bam don’t win,” Bryant said, smile widening. “I’ll tell you that. I’m not going to say nothing, but they know who wins, they know. Bam and Orlando know who wins and it ain’t them two.”