Three weeks later, it's still hard to believe what Pat Riley pulled off. This summer has been straight out of a NBA2K franchise. Get rid of everybody, convince three of the most talented guys in the Eastern Conference to team up together for less than market value. The title of this piece is a bit misleading. The Heat will win often this year, maybe upwards of 65 games. They won't win a title though.
The NBA playoffs are a different beast. The MLB postseason is about who gets hot at the right time. In the NFL, it usually comes down to strategic maneuvers from the coaches. Neither of these things really matter in basketball. What matters in June, is leadership.
When I say leadership, I don't mean the rah-rah Hoosiers pre-game speech. It's the opposite really. Every championship team MUST have a tenacious, bulldog. In laymans terms, a motherf*cker. Of course this guy hates to lose, but more importantly, he'll get on his team if they're not cutting it. He doesn't have to be the most talented but certainly the most respected/feared. Look back to the 90's. Every championship team has had one of these guys. I'll refresh your memory.
09/10 Lakers - Kobe Bryant: He'll ream out his teammates when they make mistakes, but they have the utmost confidence in him in late game situations. Kobe is the ultimate closer in the NBA today.
08 Celtics - Kevin Garnett: The king of talking trash has made multiple teammates cry with his criticism. Yet he's anchored the Celtics D for the past three years and turned them into champions.
99/03/05/07 Spurs - Gregg Poppovich: He's not a player and he's not nice, but "Coach Pop" has earned respect throughout the league. He has arguably the top power forward in NBA history in Tim Duncan, yet there's never been a question who the leader of the Spurs is.
06 Heat - Shaquille O'Neal: First off, this was the weakest final of the past 25 years. Miami or Dallas wouldn't have made the semifinals of last year's playoff with their rosters. Still, "Big Diesel" played a vital role in getting South Beach a champion. Dwayne Wade was the most talented but Shaq led the Heat into battle.
04 Pistons - Rasheed Wallace: The king of technical fouls scared the crap out of teammates, opponents and referees alike. This was a deep and talented Piston team who shocked the Lakers, but it's no surprise that a midseason trade for the supposed malcontent Wallace, put them over the hump.
00/01/02 Lakers - Shaq and Kobe: Are you sensing a pattern here? These two may have hated each other, but their burning desire to win trumped this animosity, leading to three championships. Both feared that the other would be considered the team's best player, leading to feisty practices and eventually ring-fitting ceremonies.
90's Bulls - Michael Jordan: The ultimate alpha male. Jordan was adored by the fans and isolated from his teammates. Revered and feared by everybody around the league. No matter the talent Jordan had around him, there was no question as to whose team it was. If another Bull messed up, they were getting embarrassed publicly by MJ. Call it cruel if you'd like, but no one can argue with the results.
So this brings us to the Heat. When you break down their roster, they have two superstars (Wade and LeBron), one very good forward (Bosh), and a bunch of yes men. When I say yes men, that doesn't mean the supporting cast isn't talented. They will however, always defer to James and Wade. Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Zydrunas Illgauskas are playing in Miami because Wade and LeBron asked them too. It seems the entire Heat roster are just best friends who were just really love each other's company.
While this cohesiveness should make for an enjoyable team Thanksgiving meal, it won't lead to success in June. Undoubtedly they will face some playoff adversity and what then? Who takes over, LeBron or Wade? Who lights into the team for playing soft? The fact is you need at least one mean sonofabitch to win in the playoffs. Say what you want about the big three, none are particularly cantankerous.
The only way to inject some nastiness into this team is to get rid of another nice guy. Goodbye Erik Spolestra. Pat Riley is the ruthless assassin the Heat need to spice things up. Forget LeBron, Dwayne and Chris. When a guys with five rings sits on the bench, he's in charge.
I can't tell you who will win the title. Maybe the Lakers, or possibly my dark horse, Portland. What I can tell you is, until the three amigos get some anger and toughness in them, the Larry O'Brien trophy won't rest in Miami.
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