Taking My Talents…Home!
The Miami Heat’s failure to capitalize on its first shot at an NBA Championship, with their “Big 3,” in place, will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest disappointments in Sports History. It’s not the fact that a team so top-heavy in talent can lose a series; it’s what happened prior to this point, that’s the problem. This series wasn’t about what Dallas Accomplished, but more about what Miami failed to Accomplish. The series wasn’t about the dynamic leadership displayed by Dirk Nowitzki, but the lack of leadership by LeBron James. All of these things are magnified due to the brash and very bold statements made by James, starting with “The Decision.”
James’ announcement of his choice of team via Television Special, followed by a proclamation of at least 7 Championships, ultimately set the Heat up for failure. James was so confident in the team’s ability to succeed, that he hinted at victories even if Pat Riley was the team’s starting Point Guard. With a team this talented, who’s going to argue LeBron’s statements? I for one saw the Heat as a dead-lock for the Finals, which was correct. I initially picked them to lose the Finals versus the Lakers, but uhh…We saw how that turned out for “Showtime!” Once the Lakers were ousted, I didn’t see anyone standing in the way of Miami’s Destiny. As a team, they entered the playoffs clicking on all cylinders, and even watched LeBron mature as a player through the first 3 series. But then came the Big Stage…*Here’s where you insert for favorite sad face : ( perplexed style : / or the highly emotional crying face (,-__-,)
James basically disappeared in the Finals, averaging 18pts, 7ast, & 7reb!!! LeBron is a former NBA Scoring Champ, and averaged 18 ppg! Let’s also note that James averaged 21ppg as a ROOKIE! Now, not taking anything away from his overall playoff performance, because he is the reason Miami got to the Finals. James was playing like a man possessed in the first 3 rounds, and hit some huge shots in both the Boston and Chicago Series’. You can argue that it’s a team game, and all of the blame can’t be placed on James, which is correct. However, LeBron’s actions coinciding with his talents are what create the enormous bulls-eye on his back. He also doesn’t help the scrutiny by his comments, and almost nonchalant attitude at press conferences. Again this is a team game, but the team itself doesn’t share in the talking aspect, which James excels in. If you go back to the introduction of “The Heatles,” it was LeBron who did the most talking, and predicting on behalf of the Heat. Look at it like this…Muhammad Ali was known for his trash talk before, and during, some of the biggest fights of his life. While Ali didn’t have an unblemished record, he always came back to avenge a loss, thus backing his proclamations. LeBron doesn’t have a history of closing games, playing to his full potential, nor being the leader that the “Face of the NBA,” should; but talks as if this isn’t the case. If LeBron showed a little more humility, I don’t believe the backlash would be to this unbelievable level.
So What Exactly Happened?
Aside from LeBron’s shortcomings in the Finals, what else seemed to go wrong for Miami, that didn’t for Dallas? Let’s start with Miami’s consistency outside of its core. The bench play was much uninspired throughout the series, while Dallas had its role players contribute on a nightly basis. But despite the poor role playing on behalf of the Heat, they controlled this entire series. Splitting the first 4 games, could have easily been a 4-0 Miami Sweep. Dallas turned the Heat into a jump shooting team, and prevented them from attacking the paint, which is their strong suit. Along with Dallas’ defensive adjustment, was Dirk’s relentlessness as a leader. There wasn’t a moment in this series that Dirk wasn’t in attack mode. This same thing can be said about Dwayne Wade, who played his heart out throughout the series, and if not for injury, wouldn’t have let up. If you take each team at 100% attack mode, the Heat should win out every time. My reasoning is simple; Dwayne Wade and LeBron James excel on BOTH sides of the court, which is a headache for every team in the league. I fully believe that if LeBron guarded Nowitzki for the entire series, and Wade on either Terry or Barrea (depending on who’s in the game), I don’t see Miami losing this series at all. This tactic then forces other players to beat you, who aren’t as offensively gifted as the aforementioned Nowitzki, Terry or Barrea.
I also believe that the Heat lost some faith in the process at some point. Squandering big leads in games they controlled from the beginning, is inexcusable. The team got extremely passive during the final moments of Game 6, and the stars of the team almost seemed to defer to its role players. A play that replay’s endlessly in my mind, is the Chalmers turnover under the basket. With 3 players making over 100 million dollars each, and have the ball in Mario Chalmers’ hands in crucial parts of the game in ridiculous! I just don’t see the team letting up if Pat Riley is who you have to face when you come off the floor, versus Erik Spolestra. While Spolestra did improve as the season went on, I think his lack of big game experience is what ultimately did him in. But again, the coaches aren’t the ones who perform on the floor…it’s the players!
While the Heat are the early favorite to win next year’s Title, something has to change. With 7 players as unrestricted free agents, 3 will likely return with their player options (House, Jones & Illgauskas). Mario Chalmers is the team’s lone restricted free agent, and has already been rumored to be receiving a qualifying offer from Miami. Two things that need to change are the team’s ability to score off the bench, along with the team’s interior defense. When your Shooting Guard is blocking as many, or more, shots than your big’s…There’s a problem! But not only does the interior defense need to improve, but the overall toughness of the team. As it stands, it seems as though when Wade isn’t at 100%, the team loses its heart and backbone. If Miami is lucky enough, there are a few players that I feel could be added at a bargain price to aid in the team’s improvement. Perimeter Players – Tracey McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Al Thornton, Michael Redd, T.J. Ford, Shane Battier, Andrei Kirilenko, and Josh Howard. Interior Players– Kenyon Martin, Samuel Dalembert, Chuck Hayes, Craig Smith, Chris Wilcox, Boris Diaw, Troy Murphy, and Etan Thomas. While these are all unrestricted free agents that are all possibilities for the Heat, bigger players like Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Nene, and J.R. Smith, are all likely to command too high of a price tag on the market. Players like Redd, Prince, Ford, Battier, Kirilenko, Martin and Dalembert, would dramatically improve the Heat’s overall roster. Dalembert provides added shot blocking, along with Martin, who also would be an enforcer that the Heat desperately need. Battier, Prince and Kirilenko provide length, and solid perimeter defense, as they can defend several positions on the court. TJ Ford would be a tremendous upgrade at the Point Guard position, while Redd provides more scoring ability off the bench to go along with Mike Miller & James Jones. Players like McGrady, Josh Howard and Michael Redd are all very injury prone players, but can be very serviceable if their health/minutes are preserved for a playoff run.
Along with these changes, I have a strong feeling that Pat Riley will step in as the new coach. Riley worked too hard to put this team together, to see them fail. Riley is often linked with the great Phil Jackson, as they not only were great coaches, but managed some of the game’s biggest personalities. Riley has the pedigree to get the most out of this Heat team, and surely would not have allowed them to relinquish those late game leads. Look for major changes in South Beach, which will result in Miami’s hoisting of the Championship Trophy. The only thing that could prevent a title run from happening, are another implosion by the team itself, but if Pat is patrolling the sideline, I wouldn’t bet on it!