For Miami HEAT center Willie Reed, there is something about the city of Orlando that seems to bring nothing but good luck for him. Looking at a couple of milestones that have happened for Reed while in Orlando, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the big man enjoys coming back as a visitor.
While walking down Church Street in downtown Orlando, Reed still remembers the exact restaurant he was in when he got arguably the most important phone call of his professional career.
Reed was eating at a hamburger shop with his fiancé and one-year-old son when he received a call that the Brooklyn Nets were interested in signing him. The ironic part about when he received that call from the Nets was that he was playing for the HEAT’s Summer League team that summer.
He signed a one-year, partially-guaranteed contract with the Nets less than an hour later and was in uniform for the Nets’ next Summer League game two days later. Reed recorded 10 points, 10 rebounds and one block for the Nets in his first game with the team.
“Orlando has been good to me as far as a place for me to showcase my talents and be able to excel,” Reed told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity God has put me in, to be able to have teams that want me and for the Miami HEAT organization to want to have me here. They speak highly of me, they think that I can be a really good player so I just want to maximize that potential and give them everything I have for giving me this opportunity.”
After finally getting an opportunity with an NBA team, Reed’s luck took a turn for the worse as he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb during his Nets’ preseason debut. The injury would sideline Reed until the beginning of December when he eventually made his NBA debut.
As Reed looks back on last season, his thumb injury would end up preventing him from playing in the Nets’ regular season opener. After going undrafted out of Saint Louis in 2011, Reed spent some time with the Sacramento Kings but was waived shortly after.
Over the course of the next four years, Reed would play for a few different teams in the D-League and even had a brief stint overseas. He made a name for himself in the D-League after averaging 15.3 points, 12 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 145 career D-League games.
Fast forward to his second season in the NBA and he was finally able to play in a season opener. Reed made his HEAT debut last night, recording 10 points, six rebounds and one block in 17 minutes off of the bench in place of Hassan Whiteside. He was quick to point out that he also took a charge, which is just as good as a blocked shot.
After Whiteside picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, Reed entered the game. He quickly made his presence known upon checking in after scoring four points and pulling down a rebound in just a couple of minutes.
“It’s special,” Reed said of finally playing in an opening game. “It’s definitely special. I finally got that opportunity [to play in the NBA] last year, and now going into this season being confident, being healthy going into the year, I think that’s the key. This season opener is going to be one that I remember for a long time to come. But this is just one game and we’re going to try to build from this and try to become the team that we want to become come April and May.”
The HEAT underwent a lot of change over this summer as they lost several key players like Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire among others. In addition, Chris Bosh will likely not return to the organization due to his health issues.
During free agency, the HEAT made Whiteside a priority to retain. On the first day of free agency, Whiteside announced that he’d be re-signing with the HEAT. The team viewed his abilities on the defensive end of the floor as something to build around and made sure he’d be staying – offering him a four-year, $98 million deal.
In order to maintain some stability on defense when Whiteside is off of the court, the team liked the idea of signing Reed. The two players have similar styles of play, as both can defend well and alter shots near the basket. Whiteside’s shot-blocking ability has been on display during his time with the HEAT and Reed was an All-Defensive First Team member in the D-League.
“Willie might be our most improved player since the first day of training camp,” HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s really made strides. He’s dedicated his approach every day to work to get better. He’s been really consistent with that work and I think you’ve seen improvement; [we’ve] really tried to simplify his game. He’s bought into that role and he gives us an element of another center that’s very similar to Hassan. What you saw tonight was 48 minutes of that kind of center basketball.”
Reed’s playing time with the Nets last season was sporadic. His thumb injury kept him out of the lineup for over the first month of the season and he wouldn’t see consistent play for the rest of the season. When he did play, he performed well. His per-48 stats offered a glimpse into what he could provide when given the opportunity: 20.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.
Although he was with the Nets, the HEAT still kept an eye on him. When free agency came, the decision to join the HEAT was an easy one to make for Reed. He received interest from several teams in free agency, including the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves among others.
“It’s always comforting knowing that someone wants you, that means you’re doing something right,” Reed said. “It just means that all of the hard work that I’ve put in, they recognize it and they believe that they could help train and build me to be something else. I come in open-minded every day and ready to learn, listen and just take what they give me and from there just try to excel.”
Ask Reed what his stat line looked like from his first regular season NBA game on December 4 with the Nets and he’ll recite it exactly: eight points, four rebounds and a block in 10 minutes of work.
As Reed pointed out, his debut on opening night for the HEAT will be something that he remembers for a long time. Ask him a year from now what his stat line looked like and he’ll likely remember it verbatim.
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