Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sadly for Heat Haters, All Is Not Lost

Preach, Brother Pat, Preach
So here's the money quote from Pat Riley on losing LeBron James to the Cavs.

"No one can fault another person for wanting to return home."

See that? No Comic Sans, no plantation style petulance, no recriminations or need to talk ill will. No salting the earth for the next big money FA to come in and deal with, either. And it takes just that right bit of nasty in your own mind to hear the condescension, just for the home crowd, no? Baby Bron needed to go home to his binky!

Riles then followed up with this:

"I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We've proven that we can do it and we'll do it again."

Um... well, sure, that's what you are saying publicly. And it's not as if Miami stopped being a fun place to play, or Florida started having state income tax, or winter weather that involves a lot of snow removal. The fact that Riles didn't throw a rod publicly doesn't hurt, either.

But Riles is 69 now, and showed in his tone-deaf post-defeat press conference that his old-school tough love approach is out of keeping with the modern partnership approach that dominates the NBA. James and his quasi-contemporaries (Chris Paul, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony) aren't going for long-term deals or rest and vest contracts. They are full-bore competitors who see themselves as independent contractors and brands, not locked to any team, because that's just the natural outgrowth of where the game has gone.

When James' career is over, they will count the rings, just as they do with Shaq and Kobe and Wade and the rest. If he has to travel to get them, so be it; team loyalty is something that the olds and rubes care about a lot more than, well, the players and writers. (All of whom, it seems, would rather be GMs.) The fact that he chose wisely in Miami will, in time, add to his legacy, not subtract. (Consider, for an instance, how Charles Barkley might be remembered if he were just better at picking his clubs. Or how Karl Malone's last year as  Laker is so evocative of his sad old self. But I digress.)

So there is no plan for Miami to assume the fetal position next year. Chris Bosh resigned, and they got back Mario Chalmers (surprising, that) and Chris Anderson. It would not surprise me in the least if all of those guys get off to hot spite starts next year with more touches and a lot to prove. They brought in Luol Deng, and while he's on the wrong side of his career and has a lot of tread on the tires, he's a hell of a lot better than Shane Battier, who is a lot kinder than noting he's a hell of a lot worse than James. At least they won't be criminally thin any more. A starting lineup of Chalmers, Wade, Deng, Josh McRoberts and Bosh should win at least 45 games in the lEast, and that's actually a top-flight forward rotation. And there's actual bench options now.

Maybe they get something out of one more year of "recovery" Greg Oden, or the light bulb goes off for Michael Beasley. They also have Danny Granger, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis; one or more of those guys could blossom with more touches and minutes. Ray Allen probably isn't sticking around, but if he is, there are worse guys to shoot threes off your bench. I don't think very much of Shabazz Napier's game, but some do, and maybe he pushes Cole and Chalmers. And if Wade can get mutant baby stem cells put into his knees...

Well, let's not kid ourselves; they've got the look of a 5 through 8 seed and honorable first round exit team, at least in a good conference. But keep in mind that they only need to be better than Orlando (easy), Atlanta (same), Charlotte (meh) and Washington (intriguing, but far from seasoned) to win the division and be no worse than third in the conference. And maybe Erik Spoelstra has more to him than that. Remember, Phil Jackson takes the non-Jordan Bulls with Toni Kukoc and Scottie Pippen to the Eastern Conference Finals in what might have been his best coaching job ever.

A similar deep run, and maybe vengeance moments against the Cavs, could be in the cards. (By the way, despite the influx of talent, the Cavs are a lot less likely to have home court in the playoffs, seeing how they need to get through the long knives of Chicago and Indiana, and to a much lesser extent, Detroit and Milwaukee.) Home court matters a lot more to noobs, and if nothing else, watching Wade get in his usual shocking thuggery against James might qualify as more than a little fascinating.

And then, just like the Knicks, and maybe even the Bulls and Cavs, the Heat will be back in prime position to add that Quality Piece (James off the 12-month opt-out, with Cleveland Fan having the Woe Is Us Freakout to end all freakouts? Kevin Durant? Marc Gasol, who would solve their interior issues in a pen stroke?) to get back over the hump.

Again, Riles is 69. Wade spent the Finals playing like it. Your surest bet is entropy and apathy and things falling apart without the lynch pin. If Wade is spent, this team has no good answers at 2 to serve in his footsteps, and no on-court leadership that's been proven to step it up when things are going wrong.

But again... it's the lEast. And a lot of the guys who will be wearing Heat gear in the fall won a lot of games in the last four years, a lot of those with defense that isn't entirely James-specific.

I just don't think we're quite done with Miami yet.

Oh, and Riles might be a vampire. Seriously, look at that picture again. Dude just needs some incisors and he's good to go...

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