As Miami Heat guard Wayne Ellington took to the floor for his team against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, he must have felt a wave of relief.
The 31-year-old three-point specialist attempted a three right away and missed quite badly. But he must have been happy to be involved despite his late involvement in the game.
Ellington hadn't played since December 23, not because he was injured, but because coach Erik Spoelstra simply couldn't find the minutes for him - such has become the Heat's depth as of late.
Heat’s Wayne Ellington facing the mental challenge of DNP-CD— The Athletic (@TheAthleticMIA) January 16, 2019
"It’s been really hard. I’ve felt all different types of emotions: hurt, anger, all the way down the line."@ShandelRich has the interesting story: https://t.co/z7g2C10pEX pic.twitter.com/a7igYKRTLs
“It’s been really hard,” Ellington told The Athletic after finishing with nine points in eight minutes as the Heat slumped to a 124-86 blowout in the first match of their four-game road trip.
“I’ve felt all different types of emotions: hurt, anger, all the way down the line. Upset. All that kind of stuff. I’m a warrior, though. I’m going to keep on fighting, keep battling. That’s what I do.
“You can keep on saying (it’s a long season), but, shit, we’re halfway through. The season is halfway done. I don’t look at it like that. It’s a long season, but I live in the moment.”
Ellington isn't the first Heat player to have issues with playing time this season. Dion Waiters was not very happy with his minutes against Milwaukee on Tuesday night either. But his reaction was way more caustic.
Rising star Justise Winslow has had similar moments during his three-and-a-half seasons with the Heat.
“It’s tough when you’re not playing because the coach believes that somebody else is flat-out better than you,” the 22-year-old said. “It sucks, but it’s also motivating. It inspires you to get in the gym a lot more. The emotional aspect of it is the hardest part. It’s easy to continue to work. The hardest part is the mental part, just believing in yourself and knowing that you belong in the league even when you’re not playing.”
Spoelstra has been apologetic with his players all season because of how tough it has been to hand everyone a fair minute share. He recently claimed that not being able to find minutes for Ellington made him "sick to his stomach".
“I talk to the guys (after),” the coach revealed. “I have great empathy for the guys who are not playing the minutes that they would like or deserve in many cases. I have great empathy for Wayne. I don’t have a great answer for it, other than we’ve found some things that have been good. It’s not an indictment on anybody. I can’t play everybody.”
Despite his frustrations, Ellington has never been one to complain to the coach.
“There’s times to do that, but you never want to be that guy who is running into the coach’s office when things aren’t going right,” he says. “That’s not my mindset. My mindset is just continue to work, continue to grind and get better and do whatever is necessary.”
By the way, Wayne Ellington had the best 3-point shooting season in the history of the Heat.— Five Reasons Sports Network (@5ReasonsSports) January 16, 2019
He re-signed at a good rate because he wanted to be here.
He has done all the right things.
He doesn’t play.
Not a peep.
What This Means
While Heat players have been frustrated with playing time for most of the season, they will all admit that Miami's biggest asset is their depth.
Spoelstra has no superstars at his disposal - even Dwyane Wade can't be considered that anymore - but what he has is a group of hungry, talented, hard workers who are desperate to keep the team's culture alive.
Unfortunately, Miami's biggest strength is becoming their biggest frustration. And Spoelstra will hope that he can keep the team's core together past the end of this season, or even past the trade deadline next month.