Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – November 27, 2010

The State of the Union:

How is the marriage of Miami Thrice going thus far?

Is it, as ESPN’s Bill Simmon’s put it: “like two people getting married in Vegas – it seemed like an awesome idea at the time but I don’t think he put any though into it”? 

Is Lebron about to wake up and realize that he may have made a catastrophic mistake?  Or, is he still waiting patiently for the unstoppable juggernaut to start rolling?

Let’s face it: injures have decimated the Heat thus far – Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and even Dwayne Wade have missed time.  For the team, the loss of Haslem has been the toughest to overcome as he was (unfortunately for them) their toughest defender and rebounder through the first part of the season.  Time will tell if the loss of Udonis Haslem is completely crippling to their title hopes, given the dearth of big men on their roster.  Losses have begun to pile up. 

At times there have been flashes of what this team is capable of – see for example, the first game against Orlando.  The team fired on all cylinders and effectively limited Dwight Howard.  Lebron played the role of distributer, Dwayne Wade scored 30 and Chris Bosh played tough inside.  Overall it was a great game for the team; probably the best win they have had to this point in the season. 

Cut to Game two against Orlando.  The Heat were absolutely dominated by Dwight Howard and picked apart by Jameer Nelson (just like Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Chris Paul).  It was the worst loss they have suffered.  Lebron tried to take over late, Dwayne Wade was a shadow of himself and Chris Bosh was completely overmatched.  While the team, particularly Bosh (who has returned to his former self and is finding his place on the team thanks to unparalled aggressiveness and desire to contribute) have taken some baby steps forward there are still some significant wrinkles to iron out. 

Firstly, they got rid of a semi-retired, out-for-a-ring Jerry Stackhouse.  Definitely a good move.  The last thing the Heat needed was another 6-6 swingman.  Stack was taking up a legit roster spot and contributing a few missed shots per game and some lousy defense.  The Heat do not need players like Stackhouse even though they were unecessarily counting on him to provide veteran toughness and leadership.  One-time champ Dwayne Wade can contribute all and more than Stack.

Secondly, they brought in an aging, out of shape Erik Dampier to save the day and fix their gaping-hole-in-Riley’s-Championship-designs.  Sure, the Heat desperately need some size and toughness inside…but Erik Dampier?  Really?  The Heat have comitted a lot of money to Miami Thrice.  A lot.  The only other players they can bring in need to be willing to play for cheap.  Udonis Haslem was, as was Mike Miller and now, Erik Dampier.  Could he potentially shore up the middle?  Yes and no.  He might be an improvement over what they are fielding now, but that is not saying much when Paul Milsap or Emeka Okafur is running wild all over you

However, as I said previously, I think the key for the Heat is containing the point guards that they have allowed to run free.  The Heat beat the Magic handily when they played them the first time and part of that was holding Jameer Nelson to 1 assist.  In game 2?  Different story – Nelson ripped them for more than 20 points and 13 assists.  Containing the point has to be a focus defensively in order for the team to win.

Back to the other thing; Erik Dampier running in to save the day?

Erik Dampier?

They could not find a better fit?

One of the reasons the Celtics worked so well in 2008 is that their Big Three was surrounded with one potential future all-star (Rajon Rondo) and a tough-as-nails big man (Kendrick Perkins).  The Heat have surrounded their Big Three with extremely limited former 10th men (Eddie House, Udonis Haslem, Carlos Arroyo) and nobodys who have yet to show any promise like Rondo or Perkins did (Joel Anthony, Mario Chalmers). 

So who would have been a better fit?

1) Shaq – he wanted a title, very badly.  So badly in fact that he signed up with the Celtics just to get to the finals so he can go toe to toe with Kobe one more time when it really matters.  He hates Kobe so much that he tried to sign with his best bet – regardless of what they are paying him.  Shaq would have provided instant interior toughness, and has the ability to rest himself until the playoffs.  That would be all the Heat need him to do.  He has relationships with both DWade and Lebron and he is hungry to win.  Very hungry.  He wants it badly and he would have worked himself into shape to help the team.  Shaq knows he cannot be counted on to win games by himself but with the Big Three?  He probably would not have had to.

2) Hell, at this point, for the money they have, there really are no other options but Erik Dampier.  This sucks. 

Thirdly and most important of all – the Heat must build team chemistry!  Wade / LBJ may not work together without defined roles.  Given Lebron’s recent comments about changing his game: “No, I can’t change my game dramatically and I don’t think he can either.  It  doesn’t make any sense to do that.  (Pause)  I’d just be a role player at that point.”  Winning a title and creating a dynasty is going to be about either Wade or Lebron becomming the Pippen to the other’s Jordan.  However, unlike Jordan and Pippen – they have the chance to share both roles.   Either player could take control and the roles could shift season to season.  It will all come down to sacrifice and chemistry.  The two need to play together a lot more in order to develop it.   

In his most recent piece Bill Reiter argues Lebron’s comments make him appear more Wilt (phenomenonly talented but all stats driven) than Jordan (title driven).  At this point that appears true:  Lebron wants to average a triple double but that may not be in the best interests of the team winning a title.  Did he prove himself by sacrificing money to win titles?  Maybe, but now he has to back up his words through his actions and so far, stats still seem to be driving him.  He does not have to take over every single game and that may grind him more than he lets on.  Wade and Lebron need to play together more and build on their unique skills instead of trading off on offensive possessions.  The key remains Chris Bosh.  When the team looks their best and most fluid, he is scoring 20-25 points, shooting 50% and pulling down 9-10 rebounds.  If he can continue his aggressive play and maintain his return to star status he could provide the balance the Heat need between LBJ and Wade. 

Lebron and Wade need to keep Bosh involved and interested in the games instead of leaving him isolated on the other side of the court while they drive to the basket.  At times all three have looked lost and forlorn on the court as they just stand around waiting for their isolation play.  Lebron seems to finish with either 30 points or 20 and 10 assists.  Wade either puts up 30 or finishes under 10.  At this point it is clear that balancing the offense is at least as complicated as balancing the budget (although one magazine claims to have done it!)

Here is where to start:

1) Get James Jones hot again:  The Heat need a three point shooter to take the load off the Big Three.  The Big Three need someone reliable that they can kick it to.  If they do not trust their teammates they will not win games.  When your top three-point shooter is currently Eddie House, you are in trouble and dropping 3 out of 4 games.  The return of Mike Miller will be largely beneficial. 

2) Develop the bench by giving these guys more than garbage time: Of course, garbage time has been hard to come by as of late.  Sure, I know that after Miami Thrice the team is terrible.  Possibly beyond terrible.  However, look at the  Cleveland, Miami and even Toronto teams of the past few years – these three guys can make subpar players better.  That is what great players do.  Give them a chance to do so in Miami.  Develop full team chemistry and give some of the 11th or 12th men a chance to play with the best.  It may help LBJ and DWade come together on the court – they will have to in order to survive each game.  Come June a 6 man rotation will not win a title.  Period.  If the Heat do not allow their players to become battle tested they will not raise a trophy this year or any other.

3) Get back to the aggressive defense that wins titles.  As of late they seem to be sagging, but hopefully Erik Dampier (dear god) can help at least stop-gap the middle of the floor.

4) Get LBJ right: Articles about him being the next Wilt Chamberlin are not helping.  Being part of a “superteam” is a new scenario for the big three and no one is bigger than Lebron.  He has not figured out  how to be part of a team he does not have to carry because he is so talented.  Lebron is more physically gifted than any other player in the history of the game but he still has a lot to learn about winning a title.  Remember he is only 25 and has more than enough time to learn (this season?  67 games).  Right now he needs to find his place on the team.  A few weeks ago there was talk about potentially scrapping the three-man format and going back to just Wade / LBJ.  Now, people are wondering if Lebron will survive the season with the Heat.  How much frustration can he take? 

Obviously he thought the whole process and transition would be an easy one – it is now painfully clear that it is not, nor will it ever be.  Lebron and Wade are rapidly nearing gut-check time.  This will either work or it will not.  More than anything when Miami Thrice came together it reaffirmed my belief in the innate goodness of sport.  Sometimes teamsmanship can trump stats and money.  These are the main reasons Lebron is my 2010 Sportsman of the Year.  Lebron cannot forget the reasons he came to Miami.  Not even for one second because if he does: the team falls apart into a fragmented version of what they can be.  Bosh will feel like the child caught between two parents who both want him and there will be no titles for anyone:  No dynasty for Lebron or Wade to hang their hats on

The road to the title will be rough but the Heat can get there.  The Big Three need to continue to quietly develop their chemistry because it is coming and they will continue to put together solid performances.  Over time they will dominate.  It is incredibly important to keep all three involved in the team concept and working towards a common goal.  I believe it will work out, but only time will tell. 

At least the Heat have added a new threat:

Fingers crossed.

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Sportsman of the Year – 2010

Sports Illustrated is set to choose their annual Sportsman of the Year, so I have gone ahead and chosen mine.  Listen very carefully because I will be the only person to make the argument for this particular person – Lebron James

(Waiting patiently for the laughter to die down)

(Still waiting)

Go ahead, laugh, I will wait.

(Still waiting)

Okay.

How can you possibly name Lebron James – the man who single handedly killed Cleveland on national television – “Sportsman of the Year”?  Are you insane?

No, I am not insane.  Think about it: who had more profile this year than Lebron James?  Who did we talk about all summer long as we waited patiently for him to make his decision?  Who did we watch – for an entire hour – make the choice to take his talents to South Beach?  The answer of course – Lebron James.  He dominated the past year like few other athletes ever have.  He won MVP with an almost triple double and led the Cavs to one of the best records in the NBA. 

Yeah, he may have done all that, but he quit on the Cavs and their city!

Did he?  Yes, of course he did.  I assume he had good reason, ahem Delonte West, and it is about more than one ill-advised television special.  Lebron may not represent all that is right with sports, but he does represent the current generation of NBA stars.  For the first time in the history of the sport a guy in his prime gave up his own spot as alpha dog to put together a team that can win titles 

Was the city of Cleveland the unfortunate “spurned girlfriend”?  Yes, but Lebron is trying something here and we have to at least give him credit for it.  He is genuinely willing to sacrifice his own stats to win.  He is willing to play the villain most demand he be.  Yet, what he has done has a much deeper meaning than what we see on the surface.  Lebron has changed the landscape of the NBA forever.  In my opinion: for the better.  The Heat will eventually embody the ultimate example of a team winning without regard to stats and it was Lebron who has largely taken “the Heat” for bringing it all together. 

Is he really the person we want to join the illustrious company of the previous “Sportsman of the Year?”

Illustrious company of previous sportsmen?  Are you kidding me?  Here is a brief rundown of some of the past Sportsmen of the Year in no particular order:

2007 – Brett Favre: When he should have retired with dignity and grace he made the list.  Now he serves as an embarrassment to hanging on too long and has singlehandedly contributed to the destruction of professional sports.  Congrats Brett!  Thankfully I avoided the shots of your wang that are floating around on the internet.  For shame.

1996 and 2001 – Tiger Woods: no further explanation necessary.

2002 – Lance Armstrong: Cheating allegations follow him everywhere he goes.

1998 – Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa: Sure, we loved their Olympian-like chase of the Stats of the Gods.  Too bad the entire thing was an overinflated farce that both men lied about for years.

1991 – Michael Jordan: Read “The Jordan Rules” by Sam Smith.

1979 – Terry Bradshaw: Has not really done anything too bad other than his atrocious acting – which really should be a crime.  You’re with me right?

1982 – Wayne Gretzky: As a Canadian I am forbidden to speak ill of the Greatest Hockey Player in history but google “Rick Tocchet Gambling Scandal” and you will see why he makes the list.

1975 – Pete Rose: Yep, Pete Rose ladies and gentlemen.  The man banned forever from baseball for betting on his own team. 

1993 – OJ Simpson: Not really, but for a second, having read this list didn’t you almost believe it?

So really, what Lebron did (go on television and act with his entire ego while stabbing Cleveland repeatedly in the back) is not even in the same catagory as many of the other previous “Sportsmen of the Year”.  He does deserve, rightfully to join the list. 

What about “The Decision

Really “The Decision” his only indefensible act…although he did raise over 2 million dollars for The Boys and Girls Club of America.  So honestly, in his darkest hour he did a good thing.  Sort of. 

He is one of the most marketable and recognizable brands in the world and he has transformed basketball for the better this year.  He is the epitome of sacrifice for a common goal.  He should be the role model we are all looking up to as Lebron put working together over induvidual glory.  Instead, most will choose to continue to look down at him, when he deserves so much more.

Lebron James is my Sportsman of the Year

Runner up: Michael Vick.

Kidding…or am I?

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – November 18, 2010

Last week was a rough one for Heat fans.

The team did not gel as well as they had been, nor were they able to contain either of the elite point guards (Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams) they faced.  The Heat dropped two straight and blew a 22 point lead against Utah, mostly by allowing Paul Milsap to destroy them (46 points!) around the basket.

This week, however, has started off a lot brighter. 

While the team was enduring the rough patch it was increasingly clear how much they are still searching for their identity.  At the moment they are still trying to coexist and walking around on eggshells, waiting for someone to come along with broad brush strokes and paint the way.   It should be clear by now that is not going to happen.   Against Boston, Dwayne Wade again forgot how to play basketball, Chris Bosh was completely overmatched and Lebron James had to attempt to carry the load in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated.  Without an accepted identity the team continues to move, rudderless, from game to game.  Sure Lebron has suggested a few different directions the team could go:

This commercial has been mocked over and over again in multiple venues simply because Lebron seems to be genuinely  asking what he should do.  What role do we want to see him assume?  He appears to be more than willing to take on whichever one will earn him the most money.  Just ask the people of Cleveland who raise many of the Lebron / Heat related mysteries and their subsequent conspiracy theory aftermaths in their own commercial…

Claim: Lebron quits Cavs after Game 5 in 2010 Playoffs

Conspiracy Theory #1)  He had already planned his caculated move to the Heat to team up with Wade and Bosh.  Lebron no longer cared about the Cavs and leading them to a title because he had agreed with the other two during the ’08 Olympics to carve out their own dynasty elsewhere.  Possible?  Not Likely, as the matching three year extensions signed by the big three are sort of suspicious, but there has to be more of a reason for the dramatic changeover between games 4 and 5 against the Celtics.  Lebron was not the same player in the latter part of the series and it goes beyond wanting to team up with Bosh and Wade.  That said if he had won a title with Cleveland it would have been nearly impossible to leave…hmmm.

Conspiracy Theory #2) How to put this, ahem, delicately: Delonte West slept with LBJ’s mother, the entire team knew and no said anything to Lebron!  Lebron found out before Game 5 and could never trust his teammates again.  At this point there was no way he could return to the Cavs.  Ever.  Possible?  Maybe, as this theory at least offers a reasonable(?) explanation as to why he just quit in the middle of the Boston series. 

Claim: Lebron has destroyed his legacy.

Reality:  Maybe a little, but you cannot forget the first seven years he spent in Cleveland.  Lebron led the Cavs to their only title appearence by putting the team on his back and carrying them there.  Then he almost did it again: every single year afterwards.  Additionally, he is probably the most talented player in the history of the league who made everyone around him better.  No one can argue Lebron did not leave a legacy in Cleveland because he ushered in a new tradition of winning.  Sure, he scorned them in the worst possible way on national television in front of the biggest audience of the summer but Delonte West slept with his mother and his teammates knew!

Claim: Lebron tells Cleveland he has a goal to lead them to a title.  Then does not, before murdering their entire city with one televised line, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”.

Sorry, even as a Heat fan I cannot argue with this one.  He destroyed their team, and then he razed the city like the Romans on Carthage.  Brutal all around.  He could have / should have told them before hand that he was leaving.  In his defense – the ratings definitely would not have been as good.

Going back to Lebron’s new Nike commercial and all of the suggested roles: The Miami Heat do have an identity, but they have not fully embraced it yet.  Once they do – they can beat everyone and create a dynasty. 

Attention Miami Heat: You know at the end of every single Scooby Doo episode when they pull the mask off the bad guy and reveal their true identity?  If they were to do it now, YOU would be standing there complaining about the meddling Celtics.

You are the bad guys.  You are the villains.  Embrace it!  Start intimidating everyone and swaggering in and out of arena’s like you honestly do not care what happens.  Throw elbows and rebound like Moses Malone!  You are young, supremely talented and on the rise – all that is missing is the attitude neccessary to carry you to a title. 

Take Jeff Pearlman’s great book on the 90’s Dallas Cowboys Boys Will Be Boys, in it he details how the Cowboys partied hard but were willing to work harder than any other team and were thus feared league wide.  Why?  Because they were the greatest collection of misfits ever molded into a team.   They had attitude, they had swagger and they took over the entire league because no one wanted to mess with them.  Intimidation can help you win games.  If the other team is afraid to step onto the court with you:  you have a serious advantage. 

The Cowboys were bad to the bone – and I am not advocating following their lead exactly because you may want to stay away from the massive amounts of cocaine and strippers they indulged in.  However, you can take the best parts of their example and be like them.  You have three talented young stars – like Irvin, Aikman and Smith – and a potentially rowdy collection of cast-offs but you need to get angrier!  Get angrier right away!   Think Kobe right after Shaq left but with a lot more winning of titles and less preening like the prize pig for five years, before you finally get two of the top twenty players in the league to help you win your “own” title.  Miami already has the three, top twenty players in place! 

Sure the Cowboys eventually fell apart in a haze of sex, drugs and gigantic ego but we already know about your ego problems! (See: Decision, The).  Even South Park has picked up on it:

In the most recent episode, Lebron and his new commercial are mocked mercilessly.  In one scene, in order to avoid trouble with his mother, young Eric Cartman decides to employ “the Lebron James technique” (“What should I do?  What should I do mom?  Should I…”)  Completely confused, his mother runs off to do something else and Cartman is left free to continue his reign of terror. 

Lebron, that is what your commercial has done to all of us: we are confused.  Who do we want you to be?  We want you to accept the role you have drawn for yourself.  The Heat are the bad guys.  Sometimes, the bad guys win as you almost certainly will.  Your half-hearted attempt at redemption is especially puzzling when the path could not be clearer.  The public has decided, LBJ and co, even if you are still struggling with the decision outcome.  We do not want you to “play the villain”, instead we want you to be the villain you have already become.  Accept it, revel in it and like the Cowboys, good things will come to the Heat. 

Take last night against the Suns:  Dwayne Wade was angry, showing a serious attitude and real leadership with his rim-shaking dunks.  Chris Bosh (who like I predicted broke out with 35 points) made me feel like a father whose son has finally stopped disappointing him, and Lebron has continued to do exactly what the Heat need from him without complaint (20 pts, 9 assists, 8 rebounds – 3 of which were on the offensive end).  Better yet: for the first time the Heat contained an elite point guard and played hard in the middle.  Last night the Heat beat a good team.  Wade has taken the first steps toward assuring their villainous identity but for them to be truly successful it needs to be Lebron who leads by bad-guy example.  He must become public enemy number one and he needs to make sure Bosh and Wade continue to follow along. 

With Bosh starting to play at a high level we finally saw the potential last night: an unstoppable team that dominated like few others in history have.  The future is bright, as long as the team goes dark knight.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – November 8, 2010

At this point in the young NBA season it has become clear that Miami has trouble guarding the middle of the floor.  However, another glaring defensive weakness has begun to make itself apparent: their inability to contain quick point guards.

Take the Heat’s last two games:

Miami 93 – New Orleans 96

The middle was dominated by the dreaded Emeka Okafur who ate them up inside on the way to the best game of his career (26 points, 13 rebounds) all the while making Chris Bosh look  overwhelmed and frustrated.  Bear in mind of course, this is the same Emeka Okafur who was a throw-in during a Charlotte trade (essentially a salary dump on the Hornets who are doing everything in their power to retain their young superstar). 

Is it time to panic?

As I wrote before, I think Bosh is struggling mightily to adjust to his new teammates and will improve as the season continues and as he becomes more comfortable in a high-tempo situation.  However…when one of your superstar acquisitions (who you brought in to dominate the paint) is being manhandled by Emeka Okafur it is a cause for concern.  Bosh will eventually come along but it is troubling to see him fall apart so completely when he becomes discouraged.  Perhaps his recent “heart to heart” with Lebron James will help smooth his transition back to the player we all know he can be.

More troubling then Bosh’s struggles however has been the way the Heat have succumbed to quick – pass first point guards who have run circles around them twice in their seven games.  In game one, Rajon Rondo went off for a ridiculous 17 assists – those are Steve Nash numbers – and he was not even trying out his new and improved jump shot.  He has the players around him to make spot up shots and no one in the league is better at creating for their teammates. 

Except Chris Paul who forged a frighteningly potent combination with the aforementioned Emeka Okafur on his way to a mind-numbing 19 assists.  The Heat did not have an answer.  Lebron James has spent a lot of time in the last four games as the primary ball-handler and distributer.  On defense he plays a tough perimeter game but is no match for speedy players who can create wide open shots for their teammates.  Nominal “point guard” Carlos Arroyo has played alright when his opponent is not of top caliber but he has been treated like a blown-over yield sign by two of the best in the league. 

Who will the Heat have to get past in the playoffs to get out of their own conference?

Two of the best point guards in the league. 

Rajon Rondo – 11.1 ppg, 14. 7 apg (league leading).

Derrick Rose – 25.0 ppg, 9.8 apg (MVP type stats).

If the Heat do not learn how to contain these guys they could be in for two potentially brutal, seven games series where they will have to contend with both outside and inside power players.  Before, obviously, they meet the Pau Gasol-led Lakers. 

While interior defense will rest (nominally in any event) on the sagging shoulders of Bosh, the perimeter needs to see a huge contribution from Wade.  He is quick enough to keep up with some of these point guards, but it will be his awareness of trouble that can save the Heat.  His recognition of what Rose and Rondo can do will help Carlos Arroyo immensely.  Arroyo needs to start pretending it is the World Basketball Championships and that he is playing for Brazil again so he can begin the process of turning in decent efforts.  If Wade can contribute  aggressive defensive help and Lebron can clog the perimeter, they may have enough to get through.  With Rondo, it can safely be assumed a pass is coming.  With Rose (the most dangerous player in the league right now?) they will have to limit his shot selection and try to contain the damage in what will surely be a shootout.

One thing is clear at this point, the Heat have a long way to go, and both of their losses this season have come from a complete inability to contain an elite point guard

Their next game?  Against Deron Williams and the Utah Jazz.  The key to the game: containing the damage Williams is capable of and taking the first step in defending the entire court. 

New Jersey 89 – Miami 101

This was the first game that truly showed what the Heat are capable of when they are (almost) firing on all cylinders:

Lebron notched 23 points and 9 assists, Wade put up 26 points and 10 rebounds and Bosh (kind of?) broke out with 21 points and 5 boards.  More importantly, each of the Big Three shot around 50% from the field.  For the first time Bosh looked semi-comfortable in the offense and buried his shots when he had the opportunity.  Lebron is quickly gaining confidence as a playmaker and we now know who will be scoring the majority of the points: Dwayne Wade.

Bosh admitted after the game “I’ve kind of been on my heels for the first part of the season, so I’m starting to figure it out; it’s starting to come to me.  But at the end of the day, I just have to be aggressive.  That’s what it’s all about.”  Through the first seven games, Bosh has continued to say the right things and has said the only stat he cares about is winning.  It seems true, but Bosh looks frustrated on the court.  Now that he is starting to find his place perhaps he will improve a great deal.  In any event, he hit the right target as being aggressive on both ends of the court will make a difference for the Heat now and down the road. 

One area he needs to channel that aggression towards to immediately improve?  Rebounding.  Again, against the Hornets he pulled down just one board.  Dwayne Wade had 10 and then 10 again agaist the Nets.  Currently the second leading rebounder on the Heat is a (generously listed) 6’4 shooting guard and not their star power forward.  Troubling?  For sure, as Wade is also out rebounding James (who might be happy he does not have to lead the team in three statistical catergories for once in his career).  How long can the Heat get by without Bosh looking tough inside? 

What the Heat can do this week:

1) Contain Deron Williams

2) Keep Bosh involved in the offense – If Bosh is going to build on the (sort of) positives from his New Jersey game then Lebron needs to keep creating shots for the big man.  Bosh needs to bury nearly every chance he gets and he desperately needs the chance to take over a game.  Statistically, if the Big Three all go for twenty-plus points, the Heat will win.  They need to ensure this happens by continuing to move the ball around with precision. 

3) Continue the attitude – Lebron is playing angry.  Wade is angry.  Bosh is confused.  Most of the NBA’s best players are usually angry – see: Bryant, Kobe; Jordan, Michael.  Bosh needs to join this group – get him angry and bring back this guy:

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – November 4, 2010

Wherefore art thou Chris Bosh?

While Lebron James and Dwayne Wade have each had signature 30+ point outbursts through the first five games, Chris Bosh has not…not by a long shot.  Thus far his best effort (22 points) has come in the preseason with both of his compadres watching in street clothes.  His lack of offensive output is especially puzzling when you consider his career stats. 

For his career Bosh has shot nearly 50% from the field, averaged 20 ppg and more than 9 rebounds.  His stats in the five games thus far:

Game 1 vs Celtics:  3-11, 8 rebounds, 8 points (and to paraphrase Bill Simmons he wanted none of the aggressive Celtics or the hostile crowd).

Game 2 vs 76ers: 6-12, 7 rebounds, 15 points

Game 3 vs Magic: 2-9, 10 rebounds, 11 points

Game 4 vs Nets: 8-10, 1 rebound, 18 points

Game 5 vs Timberwolves: 4-12, 6 rebounds, 13 points

For the season: 42% shooting, 6.4 rpg, 13.0 ppg.

Not exactly his regular averages.  Is there an explanation?  

Bosh will potentially score less points this season because he is getting less shots then he is used to taking in the past (thanks to the quality of his teammates).  Rebounds?  Bosh should be the primary rebounder on this team and it seemed like he was going to be averaging a double double right off the bat.  Strange that he has only hit that mark against Orlando so far.  As for his shooting percentage, that too should be on the rise since Bosh is getting the most open looks of any player in the league.  42% for a guy who will lead the league in uncontested jams? 

Bosh’s play has been inconsistent.

 How can he go up against one of the toughest teams in the League (Orlando) and pull down 10 rebounds while against New Jersey he is only able to grab 1 measly board?  There have been games where he has shot extremely well, and some games where his shooting has been atrocious.  For a big man who is not getting as many shots as last year, he needs to be burying his open looks and bringing his shooting percentage up to 50% at the very least. 

Bosh is struggling to find his place with Miami and he has not fully become emeshed in the offense (maybe he did too many things in the offseason that had nothing to do with basketball?). 

However, Bosh’s experience serves to function as a microcosm for the entire Heat season thus far

He has incredible potential to gel on offense with his new teammates.  We have seen him in the preseason with Lebron and it was like watching him take over a game in Toronto: running the floor with ease, shooting eighteen footers with confidence and stepping into the lane to contest shots.  The entire offseason he has had to endure all the “two and a half men” references and has been labelled the “weak sister” of Miami Thrice. 

Yet, coming into the season, he was the one player who was more than willing to sacrifice shots to the other two and had appeared frequently to be been the most consistent player on the Heat.  With Bosh you knew what you were going to get – a solid power forward who has a sweet stroke and a great ability to get to the rim.  

He was one of the top three free agents for a good reason:  He can take a team to the next level and he can transform a good team into a great one.

As soon as Lebron signed with Miami, Bosh became an afterthought and has played like one thus far.  To be fair Bosh is trying to adapt to playing center at times, where he is horrendusly outmatched by every team in the league.  He has struggled to find a good balance of offense and defense and is still adapting to the way LBJ and Wade play the game.  Not that the team is not still coming together: Lebron leads the league in turnovers and has appeared indecisive.  Bosh has taken the “third lead” position happily, but at some point when Lebron gets a complete handle on the ball, he will break out.  When he does – scary, scary stuff. 

Take his game against Orlando where he had 11 points and 10 rebounds.  He shot 2-9.  Imagine he hits 50% of his shots.  5-9 suddenly he has 17 points and 10 rebounds against the runaway defensive player of the year and the rest of the Orlando Magic (one year removed from the finals).  On the Heat those numbers are nothing to scoff at.  Bosh has looked overwhelmed early but when he is able to settle down he has an uncanny ability to knock down everything he puts up.  Case in point: New Jersey, where he stroked eight of ten shots with an excellent selection from a variety of different looks. 

The team on the whole is still adjusting to moving the ball around and developing an offensive chemistry to match their defensive intensity.  Bosh has done pretty much whatever they need him to do thus far.  Rebound?  Sure.  Score?  I will hit 8-10 shots and garner a season high 18 points.  Play tough defense?  Absolutely.  On this team Bosh may find his niche becomes that of “jack-of-all-trades” a la Lamar Odom on the Lakers.  He may just be the most important player on the team, lost in all the Wade / James talk is that of Bosh’s sacrifice.  If he continues to do so – and begins to play better on offense – it could be the key to the title.   

The roles have shaped up pretty simply so far: Lebron has begun to employ his point guard powers and Wade seems to have become the primary scoring weapon, while Udonis Haslem is leading the team in rebounds.  Once the players become more clearly defined, the offense will gel and the numbers will stablize (ie. Bosh will score 20 ppg). 

Bosh is a very different player from Wade or Lebron and that has slowed his development with the team.  From the outset it was clear that the major battle would be between them.  They had to figure out how it was going to work for the team to begin to go forward in any direction.  Against the Celtics, Wade struggled mightily and Lebron turned it on, reminding everyone just how good he is.  Even the other night against Minnesota LBJ seemed to realize he only had six points at half and then went on a rampage in the second half, scoring at will.  It was like he is checking at halftime and has to ensure he hits his twenty points / ten assists totals for each game.  These are strong power plays in which he makes everyone remember for a ten minute barrage that he is the king of this team and can score when he wants to.  Bosh has not had to do that, but he has also lacked the opportunity. 

Will he break out soon?

Unfortunately for Bosh, the team still has a way to go…that said: things are definitely moving in the right direction.  The Heat have shot the lights out from three point land which has given Lebron and Wade time to become acquainted.  If this continues…

and once Bosh becomes a regular star in the offense, the Heat will be virtually unstoppable.  No one, and I mean no one (except maybe the Lakers) will be able to slow them down.  Mid-season may be a blowout bananza.  They have adapted remarkably to a degree but the ceiling is very high and they are only stretching a fraction of the way. 

Similarly to Chris Bosh who has barely scraped his potential on this team but has gladly accepted the chance to reinvent himself and his game.  His time will come when he evolves back into the dependable and steady player he can be.  I see him eventually becoming the calming influence whom the Heat can go to for a quick, thunderous dunk – the kind that either quiets a road crowd to that deathly lull or that ignites the powder-keg in a home arena and brings the roof down.  We Heat fans are waiting patiently for that day to come.   

Let’s just hope celebrity does not get the best of Bosh. 

Randy Moss and The Wire

When the Minnesota Vikings traded for Randy Moss four incredibly short weeks ago it seemed like a match made in heaven.  Or not.  The Vikings were a sinking ship going for the Super Bowl or bust this year behind their ailing quarterback. 

It looks like bust.

Last year, Brett Favre had one of the best statistical seasons of his career at age forty.  There was no way he could duplicate that performance was there?  No, there was not.  Yet for some reason known only to Favre, he continues to forget the lessons of the players that went before him and the torment their bodies gave them later in life because they played too long.  I will be blunt – Brett Favre is a complete idiot for playing with his injuries.   Not just a little bit of an idiot, but full on Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber.  Like poor Lloyd he will not end up with the girl at the end (not for lack of trying though!)  and he will not win another Super Bowl in his career.  Somewhere, buried under all the New York Jets gear and Minnesota Vikings T-shirts is a pair of Wrangler Jeans where Favre has stored his Super Bowl ring from the Green Bay Packers.  Maybe the next time he is home, Grandpa Favre could take a look at it and will finally realize that he does not need to keep playing and further damaging his body.  We get it, Brett, you are tough.  You have proved your point and now it is time to retire, please, so your grandkids do not have to see you in a wheelchair.  If you want we can remember you leading the Vikings to within a game of the big one and not this, horrific scandal plagued mistake of a comeback. 

Which brings us back to Moss.  In order to placate Grandpa Favre who had come back to win a title, the Vikings had to do something when their best (and really only…) reciever Sidney Rice went down in week one.  Fortunately, the Patriots had an insanely talented, occasionally eccentric wide reciever to offer up.  When the Patriots picked Moss up a few years ago from the Raiders for a fourth round pick it was pennies on the dollar…that they got the Vikings to pony up a third round pick was borderline highway robbery.  Bless you Bill Belichek for always being willing to stockpile useless draft picks. 

Moss returning to his original team was like Season Three of HBO’s incredible The Wire when legendary soldier Cutty returns to the streets after spending fourteen years in prison and joins Barkdale’s formidable – but foundering – crew.  The comparison gets even more interesting when you think about the two induvidually: each a singular talent returning home after a long stretch away.  Moss, arguably the most physically gifted wideout ever, who has been a polarizing figure since his days at Marshall University; and Cutty who once shot someone and then called the police himself  to come pick up the body.  In their day both were the most feared talent anywhere. 

What happened?

Moss wore out his welcome in New England either by feuding with coach Belichek or Tom Brady.  Cutty, on the other hand, took a different path that may reflect Moss’s reasoning more than we may know:

Cutty decides “the game ain’t in me no more, none of it”, which sort of parallels the way Randy Moss has played much of this season.  Years ago he famously stated “I play when I want” and it did appear when he wanted to he could do things on the football field no one else in history could even dream of.  I can still see him kicking in that fifth gear and leaving a cornerback fifteen yards behind him, or that if he was able to get to the corner it was certain to be a touchdown because no one could catch Randy Moss.  No one

Maybe Moss just does not want the game anymore, because when he does no one is better.  This year, he has looked distracted and has seemed to distance himself from two teams.  Maybe that is why he cannot stay in Minnesota and wore out his welcome in New England.  Who knows where he goes next, but I hope he can return to the Patriots a humbled man who wants nothing more than the honor of fighting to get a (deserved) Super Bowl ring.   

Or, perhaps, in the off season none of us will be surprised if two  first ballot, Hall of Fame Viking’s announce their retirements.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – November 1, 2010

Lebron questioning “the decision?”

Relax Heat fans!  He is not questioning taking his prodigious talents to “south beach”, rather he is rexamining how he broke the news to the world.  James said “if I had to go back on it, I probably would do it a little bit different.”  Really?  A little bit different?

James then went on to joke that it was never too early for teams to start recruiting him for the 2015 season when his contract is up.  Given that he will be 30 and still in his prime when his six year contract is up the suitors are already lining up.  How will he let the world know about his next team with his newfound desire to change it up?

Maybe Lebron will walk into a darkened studio in LA, surrounded by bullet proof walls and announce that he is joining the Lakers and playing one last season with aging (yet still wily) vet Kobe Bryant before he takes over the team for the next six years.  Or he could finally joins good buddy Jay-Z and plays for the Brooklynn Nets.  Who knows, but in all liklihood he will stick it out with the Heat and continue to win championships. 

Enough about Lebron and his decision about the next decision: how is the team doing? 

In short – League, time to get terrified.  They are figuring it out very, very quickly.

Take game number one: A loss at Boston in which (as ESPN.com’s) Bill Simmon’s argued Chris Bosh looked like he the crap scared out of him.  Lebron took over at the end and Dwayne Wade was so cold he could not have hit a layup.  Defensively the team played well but they were way off connecting on offense. 

Flash forward to Game three and four: Magic 70 – Heat 96 / Nets 78 – Heat 101

The Magic talked a big game in the preseason, claiming it was possible the Heat would not even be the best team in the state of Florida.  The Heat made a mental note apparently and took it out by publically flogging the Magic…

After week one we made a few assumptions about the Heat.  Here is how they went out of their way to demolish those thoughts in games 3 and 4. 

Assumption #1 – The Heat do not have enough size or defense to compensate for the lack of a solid center.  Players like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum will eat them alive. 

What has happened – No one (least of all me) is denying that the center of the floor was a massive trouble spot for the Heat when they played against the Celtics.  Dwight Howard is in a different class as whatever body (Big Baby?) the Celtics can put on the floor.  At the outset of the game and throughout the first half it seemed like that weakness would continually be exploited.  Howard dominated the low post just like Boston’s rotation had and racked up an impressive 19 points.  The only problem for the Magic? 

Not one other player could score. 

In the second half, Howard was shut down completely and got into serious foul trouble.  The Heat were so smothering that no one else could hit a shot.  Some balanced defensive rebounding led to a lot of chances for the Heat’s emerging and deadly transition offense.  Dwayne Wade was unstoppable in the open court; Lebron hit a couple of three’s and distributed the ball well; Chris Bosh shot well enough to hit high teens in points and (opening week hero) James Jones?! continued to score from three point range with reckless abandon.  One thing you can say about the Heat – they have adapted remarkably well in a very short amount of time.  The team does not even seem to be the same one that debuted in Boston less than a week ago. 

Crowd Hatred?  What bothered the Heat in Boston has now become background noise.  Lebron is beginning to relish the idea of proving his doubters wrong.  Against the Nets, though he was steadily booed for much of the game, the fans had to cheer when he threw down a couple of astounding dunks.  Love him or hate him Lebron is one of those players whose skill is never in doubt, and it will not be long before everyone forgets what he has done and remembers he is (in the words of his own tattoo) the “Chosen 1”.

As for not being able to play enough defense?  The Heat have been absolutely stifling in that regard going all the way back to their debut in Boston.  Lebron, Wade and Bosh have all settled into a solid rotation and are attacking the ball with a ferocity that has been lacking in their careers to this point.  It is almost as if the team is taking out all their pent up aggression on the defensive end of the court.  The Heat have come together defensively much faster then on offense and it has kept them in the close games and helped them swamp everyone else in blowouts.  While Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard both scored around twenty on the Heat, they have not allowed anyone else to get into an offensive groove.  With their offense kicking into high gear, a swarming / ball-hawking defense will spell trouble for most teams regardless of how dominating the center is.  As long as they continue their swarming ways and if  Udonis Haslem and Jamal Magloire can hold their own in the low post, the Heat should continue to improve as the season progresses.  

Assumption #2 – The Big Three cannot coexist on offense and will struggle for months until they figure it out. 

They are not fully living up to their ridiculous potential but things are starting to turn around offensively.  Slowly but surely  Lebron and Wade are learning how to meld their similar styles together and the returns have been promising thus far.  Against the Magic, Wade stepped up and carried the majority of the offensive load, and his thunderous alley-oop from Lebron highlighted the future possibilities for these two.  Against the Nets, Lebron led the team in assists and scoring while Chris Bosh shot 80% from the floor – with one of the best centers in the game on the floor. 

The biggest thing from the box score against the Nets?  Balance.  Bosh 18 pts, Wade 17 pts, Lebron 20 pts.  They moved the ball well, shot well and continued their angry defensive ways.  As I mentioned before, these guys are beginning to adapt their offensive styles nearly as fast as the T-1000 in Terminator 2:

The rest of the league should be afraid, very afraid.  Wade, Bosh and James are beginning to figure it out and even though it is still the early stages they are formidable.  Once they are humming along, Miami will be unstoppable…at both ends of the floor.   

What to watch for:

1) A Breakout Game from Chris Bosh:  He is overdue, very overdue for a 24-30 point outburst.  Should we be worried thus far?  Not yet, but his one rebound against New Jersey may overshadow his 8 of 10 shooting.  He was tough inside against Orlando but seemed to take a step backwards in New Jersey.  Bosh needs to regain his consistentcy and this week he will likely have his first truly great game in a Miami uniform.

2) Offensive domination continues and improves – Will we see three 20 plus point scorers on the Heat this week?  Will Lebron top 10 assists?  Given how defensive-minded this team has been, it still feels like they have barely touched on their potential.  The continued growth will be maintained and expanded this week.  We could be in for some growing pains but also some astounding efforts. 

3) Defense wins championships – The Heat have played defense with a ferocious edge, gleaned from all the off-season talk about how they could not do it.  Will they be able to maintain the suffocating defense once their offense really takes off? 

4) A close game? – How exciting will it be to see a furious comeback featuring three of the top 15 players in the NBA?  They can score points in a hurry: cover Lebron, Wade is open.  Cover Wade and Lebron, Bosh is open and shooting 60% at the moment.  Should we let other teams play six players against them?   

Every win cannot be a blowout.

Can it?