The obituary of the 2012 Miami Heat will be filled with over-the-top, and often unfair attacks on LeBron James, calls for young coach Eric Spoelstra to be fired and schadenfreude from jealous executives and fans. Yes, even If Miami comes back and beats a good but not great Boston team, there's no way this flawed unit can be competitive against the powerhouse Oklahoma City group they'd meet in the finals.
The focus should not be on James, who was masterful all year and has been out of this world in the playoffs, or Spoelstra, who's dealt with more scrutiny than any coach should ever have to. The team with two of the league's top five players and an all-star forward is going home early, because their player development over the past ten years has been largely a failure. By lurking in the shadows, team president Pat Riley has impressively managed to take all of the credit for drawing James and Chris Bosh to Miami, while getting no heat (no pun intended) for a supporting cast that would have trouble putting up 80 points playing against 8th graders.
Since 2000, Riley has drafted two players who've had a significant impact. Caron Butler in 2002 and Dwyane Wade in 2003. Butler was a productive starter for Miami in his time there, but his most important impact was being the main piece in a 2004 trade with the Lakers for Shaquille O'Neal. Wade has been a transcendent talent since day one, and by leading (with help from Bennett Salvatore) the Heat to a championship in 2005, he and Riley have become bulletproof in Miami.
Here is a partial list of some of the other picks. Eddie House, Ken Johnson, Dorell Wright, Wayne Simien, Jason Smith, Michael Beasley, Marcus Thornton and Dexter Pittman. And those are the players anybody's heard of. Murderers row it 'aint.
Miami's complete failure at developing talent has put an unreasonable amount of pressure on them to attract free agents. Look at it this way: signing LeBron and Bosh two summers ago was unquestionably the greatest free agent haul in NBA history. Players of Bosh's caliber rarely hit the market, much less first ballot hall-of-famers like James. That you can have three players that good and still not have the most talented roster in the NBA raises questions about the front office talent evaluators in South Florida. You don't have to be Red Auerbach to spot LeBron or Bosh's talent. It's the role players that bring championships.
Playing devils advocate for a moment, the two top ten picks Riley has had over the past 12 years resulted in Wade (massive success) and Beasley (colossal bust).The odds of picking a great player shrink significantly once you leave the top 10 of any draft. Look however, at the other three teams that made it to June. The Celtics drafted Rajon Rondo 21st in 2006. Now he's probably their best player. The Thunder's top scorers were all drafted in the top five, but they took Serge Ibaka, arguably the best defensive player in basketball, at #24 in the 2008 draft. And the Spurs, legendary for finding diamond in the rough pieces that fit their system, took Tony Parker 28th in 2001 and Kawhi Leonard 15th overall this past year. They would've had a tough time making the playoffs without either player.
LeBron and Spoelstra are easy targets to throw under the bus when the Heat eventually get eliminated but not the right ones. You can't win in the NBA without depth, and the Heat has none. That's on Riley.