The Miami Heat have proven that they can succeed with a small lineup. In fact, last season they took home the Larry O'Brien trophy absent of a 7-footer on their roster.
But when Miami drafted Dexter Pittman out of the University of Texas, they were confident that the big man would help anchor their front court for the future, thus signing him to a 3-year deal out of the gate. Pittman was along for last season's championship run, however, made headlines instead for performing a vicious flagrant foul on Lance Stephenson, and not for putting up doubles-doubles like the Heat had imagined 2-years prior.
Miami signed Mickell Gladness, Jarvis Varnado and Josh Harrellson to help push Pittman in training camp. Pittman most certainly will get an opportunity to show that he belongs, but he is starting to skate on very thin ice in regard to securing a roster spot. The Heat owe Pittman just under a million dollars in the final year of his contract, a figure that they would likely buy out the remainder of, should they feel the big man isn't up to snuff entering the season as the backup center.
Entering this season, Pittman was supposed have already impressed head coach Erik Spoelstra and Miami's front office by putting in a solid performance during Summer League. Instead, Pittman turned in a mediocre effort at best, averaging 11.5 points and 4.3 rebound, but also a more telling 5.2 fouls per game.
Pittman's foul troubles continued in their first preseason game against Atlanta, as he quickly picked up three fouls in the contest and finished with four fouls and a -16 +/- rating. Needless to stay, despite coming into training camp in the best shape of his basketball life, Pittman is still leaving many to question his worth in South Beach.
Miami assigned Pittman to their D-League affiliate (Sioux Falls Skyforce) during his rookie season twice. Pittman amounted averages of 14.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks during his time in the D-League, and earned himself an All-Star nomination. His time in the D-League was considered a success, and can be looked upon as a prime example of what can happen when a young player is only in need of actual minutes to help improve his game and build confidence.
However, following his two successful stints in the D-League, Miami's patience has now grown thin as they wait for Pittman to develop his game to the level that they expect it to be. The problem with a player like Pittman, is that perhaps he needs more time in the D-League working on his fundamentals. Despite Miami's attempt to help Pittman early on in his career, a player such as himself could possibly benefit from more of a long-term D-League stint for the Heat. But in the fierce and competitive world that is the NBA, simply waiting on a project like Pittman is likely not what the Heat have in mind going forward.
It seems that Pittman's D-League well has run dry in Miami, so if he is to return to the D-League for added development it will likely be with another affiliate. Miami would like to think that Pittman's D-League days are done, and that this will be the year that he proves himself worthy of the backup center position for the returning NBA champions.