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?
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: