Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Heat Disbelief

As a loyal fan of Miami Heat basketball, I have seen nearly everything in the way of ineptitude. From the time they entered the league in 1988, the team has had a variety of ups-and-downs. It took nearly 20 games for Miami to secure its first win in its inaugural season. The image of head coach Ron Rothstein celebrating their maiden triumph stays with me today

I remember when it was an honor for the Heat to secure the 8th seed in the playoffs, with the knowledge that they would be swept in three by the mighty Bulls. After a modicum of success in the Pat Riley/Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway era, the Heat fell on hard times once again. Just before the arrival of Dwyane Wade in 2003, the Heat had finished 25-57. To illustrate how dismal times were, Travis Best, Malik Allen, and Anthony Carter all started a significant amount of games that season. Things looked so bleak that a few days prior to the season, Head Coach Pat Riley called an impromptu press conference and turned over the reigns to his protégée from hid days in New York – Stan Van Gundy.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Heat reached the pinnacle of the sport with their World Championship two years ago. Counted all but out, Dwyane Wade heroically led Miami from a 2-0 deficit to win four straight and win the title over the Dallas Mavericks.

Unfortunately, the highs didn’t last long. On opening night 2006, Miami was embarrassed on ring ceremony night and lost by 40 points to the Chicago Bulls. Ironically, the Bulls ended Miami’s repeat run by embarrassing them in four straight during the playoffs. I thought that was the absolute low point, and that Pat Riley would rebuild his aging team and make them a contender once again. Well, I could not have been more wrong.

Entering Tuesday’s games, the Heat are a NBA worst 9-44. To put that number in perspective, cellar-dwellers like Minnesota and Memphis have a better record. In the NBA’s Eastern Conference, showing up should be enough to beat the moribund squads that make up the “Leastern” Conference. It is entirely understandable that Miami would struggle against the Celtics and Pistons, but they are racking up embarrassing losses to the likes of the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks. Miami should have two losses to Atlanta, but were granted a temporary reprieve because of a scoring malfunction in their last contest.

It’s easy to pile on a team when they are losing, and most in South Florida are. However, there are several legitimate reasons to place blame on the Heat for their plight:

  • Dwyane Wade’s Injury: His shoulder is still a concern. It caused him to miss the start of the season, and it appears to still be a problem. While his performance has still been incredible, he is forced to carry the team single-handedly. Wade would be wise to call it quits, take some time to recover, and come back for the Beijing Olympics this summer

  • Jason Kapono and James Posey’s absence: In today’s NBA, finances are always at the forefront of most personnel decisions. Riley obviously thought that Kapono and Posey weren’t worth the money that Toronto and Boston respectively were offering these two players. Kapono was a large part of the Heat’s success last year, once he was placed in the starting lineup at small forward. Posey was a key shut-down defender, and contributed to the team’s tough defensive mentality. From watching 50 + games this season, that defensive intensity has evaporated.

  • Alonzo Mourning’s Injury: The career of legendary Center Alonzo Mourning likely ended last year at Atlanta’s Phillips Arena, where he suffered a severe knee injury. As the old country music song goes, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I was good once as I ever was.” That applied perfectly to ‘Zo. While not the all-star he was in his days in Charlotte and Miami (Pre-Kidney transplant), he was the best backup center in the game for the past two seasons. He was truly the heart and soul of this team, and that freak knee injury took away much of this team’s spirit.

  • Shaquille got old: There’s no nice way to say it. O’Neal was a burden with his $20 million a year salary. Dwayne Wade carried him to the championship two years ago. O’Neal was still a top-ten center in the league, but he never seemed to adjust to the change in officiating towards him. O’Neal, who once benefited from officials’ confusion about judging him, began to call offensive fouls early and often. In many games last year, Shaquille was hampered by early foul trouble. The Heat appears to have gotten a steal by dumping O’Neal’s salary onto Phoenix and getting Shaun Marion in return.

But in case you think I’m all negative, here are some reasons for optimism:

  • The NBA Draft Lottery: While the ping-pong balls have not always been kind to the teamwith the worst record Mami is likely to earn a top-four pick in June’s draft. The best-case scenario is that Miami could draft Kansas State juggernaut Michael Beasley, a mammoth power forward who is expected to declare for the draft following his freshman season. If that does not happen, Miami could fall back on USC’s O.J. Mayo. The thought of a Mayo/Wade backcourt should already have Heat fans drooling.

  • Shaun Marion: He’s been one of the underrated players in the league for years. He was disgruntled lately in Phoenix, upset at having to settle for third-tier status behind Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. But if he decides to stick around, he could be Dwayne Wade’s number two man. Marion is versatile, and can play both power forward and small forward. He could easily move to the #4 spot if the Heat decides to dangle Udonis Haslem as trade bait. In the worst case scenario, Marion opts out of his contract and clears up $15 million in salary cap space. Simply the dumping of O’Neal’s burdensome contract would be a net gain for the franchise.

  • Micky Arison and Pat Riley: While they do possess the worst record currently in the league, they have ownership which is committed to winning. Unlike Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers, Miami will do what it takes to rebuild this franchise. Riley appears to have a successor set up in young assistant coach Erik Spoelstra. There shouldn’t be a power-struggle when Riley finally decides to hang it up, which will likely be sooner rather than later.

    So for now, us loyal Heat fans will have to settle for watching second-stringers like Ricky Davis, Dorell Wright and Mark Blount masquerading as starting-level NBA players. Fortunately for us, I cannot see this continuing much longer. And in an Eastern Conference that consists of Boston, Detroit, and LeBron James, Miami could be back in contention in no time.


Post a Comment

<< Home