Is it only twelve days since “The Decision” ? So much has been written about LBJ’s joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami that it seems like it’s been longer , much longer . Much of the speculation has been about whether the trio will be able to deliver a NBA championship to Miami and , if so, how many. Early on, it seemed like the pundits were about to anoint the Heat as Champions without even a game having been played. The Las Vegas oddsmakers immediately designated them as favorites at odds of 8 to 5 and dropped the L.A. Lakers , the two time defending champions , to second favorites at 11 to 5.
Since then, cooler heads seem to have prevailed and most sportscasters seem to feel that while the Heat will win a title , it may not be this year and they certainly will not win seven in a row as someone brashly predicted ; the number most frequently heard is two.That’s two Championships over the six years of their max contracts.
The two reasons given are that 1)Miami will not be able to give Wade, LBJ and Bosh a good enough supporting cast and 2) Miami will not at once become a ‘team ‘ since the three superstars( hereafter ‘ the trio’) will have to learn to play each other.
In the days since the decision, Miami GM Pat Riley has acted quickly to sign up a supporting cast for the trio. I don’t like Riley ; I find him opportunistic, self -promoting and a bit too full of himself but I can’t deny that he is a shrewd operator and very good GM. As of now , the Miami Heat roster looks like this :
Centers : Zydrunas Ilgauskas , Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magliore
Forwards: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, James Jones, Shavlik Randolph, Mike Miller,Yakhouba Diawara
Guards: Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Carlos Arroyo.
* Rafer Alston is still shown as being on the Miami Heat roster but I can’t imagine he will be there for long. His high salary and Miami’s need to trim the budget means that he will be gone very soon.
Miami also has to make a decision about four second rounders from the draft : Dexter Pittman (Texas), Jarvis Varnado ( Miss. St.) , Da’Sean Butler ( W.Va.) and Latavious Williams ( Memphis) . Of them all, Dexter Pittman , the 6-10 , 293 center out of Texas would seem to have the best chance of making the roster. Da’ Sean Butler was an intriguing pick but an ankle injury has hurt whatever chances he had.There may still be a couple of minor moves as Riley refines the roster but the team is more or less set.
Not a bad team at all. In addition to the what the Big Three bring to the table, Haslem provides tough hardnosed defense and rebounding and Mike Miller and James Jones are genuine three point threats. The one weakness is the interior defense. Z is a warrior but his best years are way behind him. Chris Bosh is soft and Magliore and Anthony are spotty. Other than that and the fact that they have to rely on Mario Chalmers at point-guard, I don’t see any weaknesses on this team. Given how good Wade and James are, isn’t it possible that they will offset these problems ?
The real issue is : Will the Big Three be able to share the basketball ? Both Wade and James love to have the basketball in their hands, and sharing is not something that James had to do in Cleveland. There he was always top dog and everybody deferred to him. The Heat however were Wade’s team before James came to Miami and he is going to have to learn to play second fiddle to Wade. It’s going to be a difficult adjustment. Bosh is not an alpha male like the other two and will have an easier time blending in .
Another factor is how well James will take to being coached by a no-name coach like Erik Spoelstra. Spoelstra has done a good job in Miami the past two seasons but that may not be enough to work with James. In Cleveland , James was used to having his way and listened to Mike Brown only when it suited him.It was difficult to imagine it being any different with Spoelstra in Miami.How long will Riley stay behind the GM’s desk ? Surely he will be tempted to step in much as did a few seasons ago with Stan Van Gundy ?
In the Eastern Conference, I think the Heat’s main rivals will be the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics. I don’t see that the Magic have made any significant improvement over last year’s team and unless Dwight Howard develops an offensive game to go with his defensive heroics , I don’t see them as serious contenders.The Bulls , like the Heat , have completely redone their team and will need some time before they learn to play together. Unlike the Heat, they have put together a bunch of team oriented players and, if Tom Thibodeau is able to duplicate the job he did in Boston with the Celtics , they will be tough customers. Boston have upgraded themselves by replacing Rasheed Wallace with Jermaine O’Neal and their success will hinge on a) how much Kevin Garnett has left and b) if Kendall Perkins makes a full recovery from his knee injury.I expect Miami will have to beat one or both of these teams to be the Eastern Conference champs.
In the West , the Lakers will of course have to be considered the favorites.They have all the motivation they need . Kobe is raring to go up against the Heat and Lebron, and it’s Phil Jackson ‘s swansong . Assuming Bynum makes a full recovery from his knee surgery ( now slated for July 28th) and with a bench strengthened by the addition of Steve Blake , the Lakers should win the West though it won’t be easy. I love the way in which the Oklahoma Thunder team has beenbuilt through the draft and, with Kevin Durant not even close to his prime, they’re going to give their Western Conference foes fits . Portland and Dallas also will be serious contenders though Denver, Utah and San Antonio seem to be treading water.
As a long time Laker fan , I think the Lakers have just enough to hold off whoever emerges from the East , make it a three-peat and send Phil Jackson off in style. If they do , it may be the last championship for this group of Laker players. With the Zen Master scheduled to retire and with a lockout looming for next season, Kobe Bryant will be 34 in 2012 and nearing the end of his transcendent career. By then also, Riley will have strengthened the Heat by using the mid-level exclusion ( assuming it still exists) and Miami’s Big Three will have perhaps learnt to play together.
To cut back to the present: One thing has not changed for Lebron James. In Cleveland , he was the reason , the Cavaliers became an elite team but , when they failed to win it all, he was blamed for their falling short. In Miami , he has made the Heat instant favorites but if they don’t win this year ,or the next, he will be perceived as the reason for their failure to do so. Not Wade, not Bosh.. he, Lebron James. Wade has already delivered a championship in 2006 and Bosh is a lowkey player who hasn’t hyped himself the way LeBron has.
Is James up to it ? Only time will tell.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.