The Shadow Heat are well aware of the unique group that preceded them, the secret society of players stashed away by Pat Riley and the team’s developmental staff during the months when all other eyes are on the stars of the NBA playoffs.
So before the Heat regulars have taken the court for pregame warmups these past six weeks, and after those players exit shootaround, the Shadow Heat take their turns.
It is a little trick that Riley, Andy Elisburg, Adam Simon and the mainstays of the Heat front office have mastered for years, adding players late in a season with an eye toward potential summer-league breakouts.
The predecessors include the likes of Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Omer Yurtseven, all quietly turning behind-the-scenes work in May and June into summer-league career takeoff points.
This time around, prospects such as Mychal Mulder, Javonte Smart and Haywood Highsmith have been tagging along, soon to get their own spotlight in July summer leagues in San Francisco and Las Vegas.
Robinson, for example, was converted to a standard contract the final week of the 2018-19 season, under team control from the first day of that offseason.
For Nunn, it was being brought aboard the final day of the 2018-19 season, and then thriving in the summer of 2019.
And last season it was Yurtseven being signed the final week of the regular season and taking ownership of the NBA’s 2021 summer leagues.
“It’s all about them showing how to be ready and get ready,” said Yurtseven, who last season traveled with the Heat during the playoffs, just as Highsmith, Smart and Mulder have this season, with the latter two ineligible to play due to their two-way contracts.
Said Robinson, “I think that gives you invaluable experience, any time you can be a part of a playoff run. For sure it will help those guys.”
With Highsmith (Philadelphia 76ers), Smart (Milwaukee Bucks) and Mulder (Golden State Warriors, Orlando) all with previous NBA experience, these past few weeks have further fine tuned skill sets the Heat hope can mesh with the core already in place.
All are under contract to the team for next season.
“It helps a lot, just seeing how the guys prepare for the playoffs each and every day,” Smart said of the postseason run. “I’m with these guys every day. I talk to them every day. I’m out working every day, working on things that I need to learn and I’m continuing to learn.
“Even though we have days off, it’s not days off for me. The coaches are really buying into getting us better, developing us, so we can become the pros that we want to be.”
For some Heat players given such late-season deals, the process has ended at summer league, as was the case with Yante Mate in 2019.
So Mulder appreciates all of this work is merely prep work for when the Heat play their initial summer games at the Warriors’ arena and then move on to the leaguewide summer league on the UNLV campus.
“It’s a great time for us to get better,” Mulder said. “Individually it makes us so much better leading into the summer. Really excited to have a good summer and continue to improve.”
Having been there, done that, both Robinson and Yurtseven appreciate the dedication, with Yurtseven also joining some of the drills with the neophytes, uncertain whether he, too, will participate in summer league.
Even though the Heat’s playoff run last year was limited to their four-game opening-round sweep at the hands of the Bucks, Yurtseven called the experience as indispensable as he believes this extended run has been for the latest hopefuls.
“I think it’s great to see the guys taking in all the details. Because regular season, I don’t think we dive into details as much,” he said.
“Whenever you see the star guys be that into whatever detail, whatever personnel, it is, I think that was the big takeaway for me. And I think that’s kind of what they’re seeing.”
Having lived such prep work, Robinson said these weeks should prove invaluable.
“They just prepare you for summer league,” Robinson said. “They prepare you to lead. They prepare you to be a staple of what they do in summer league.”