NBA PM: Will HEAT Repeat, Fulfill Plan?
When Pat Riley was recruiting LeBron James to the Miami HEAT during the summer of 2010, the team president sold the reigning MVP on the chance to be the focal point of a dynasty. James heard pitches from six different teams, but Riley separated himself from the pack during his meeting with the superstar. Riley, sitting across from James in a conference room, placed a box on the table. James opened the box, found Riley’s collection of championship rings and was encouraged to try them on. Riley made it clear that James could have a collection of his own if he signed with the HEAT.
That’s been Miami’s mindset from the start. This was never about winning one ring. The plan was to form a dynasty. A team with multiple stars would hang multiple banners in the rafters of American Airlines Arena.
It’s why shortly after signing, James went on stage and announced to the world that the HEAT would win championship after championship (“not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven”).
It’s why when the HEAT are talking amongst themselves about how good they can be, they don’t just talk about being one of the best teams in the league, but rather one of the best teams of all-time.
It’s why everyone in the organization got back to work almost immediately after last year’s championship parade ended. The players went through the same intense training programs that they had completed the summer before, the front office used the limited money they had to persuade free agents Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to turn down larger offers and come to South Beach, and the coaching staff met to discuss how they could get even more out of their star-studded roster.
Most teams are content with winning one title. One ring puts them in the history books and separates them from the 13 franchises that haven’t hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, that’s not enough in Miami.
When Lewis was testing free agency and meeting with teams over the offseason, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to sign with the HEAT. He feared that they would be complacent after just winning the title and felt that his best shot at winning a ring might be with another team that was hungrier. However, after meeting with members of Miami’s organization, he realized his assumption was way off.
“When I walked in the office to meet with those guys, I saw a number of people in the office working on how they’re going to win it again this year,” Lewis said. “You can see it in their eyes when they’re talking to you. They’re very serious. They’ve got the competitive drive and they’re trying to see what they can do to not only to try to win it again this year, but over the next couple of years. They want to be a dominant team in the NBA.”
The HEAT wants to string together championship after championship, and they’re already behind schedule after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals during their first year together.
This year, they’re on track to add a second title to their trophy case. They currently hold the best record in the NBA at 48-14, and they’re on a 19-game winning streak entering tonight’s match-up with the Philadelphia 76ers. James is having the best season of his career, Wade has been phenomenal as of late, Bosh has gotten comfortable in his role and the supporting cast is better than ever.
The fact that nearly every contender in the Eastern Conference is without a key piece also helps Miami. The Indiana Pacers are without Danny Granger, the New York Knicks are without Amar’e Stoudemire, the Chicago Bulls are without Derrick Rose and the Boston Celtics are without Rajon Rondo. That should make Miami’s route to the NBA Finals easier than the one they faced last year, when they were nearly upset by Indiana and Boston.
In the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are viewed as the two teams with the best chance at taking down Miami. However, the HEAT is undefeated against those teams in the regular season, beating the Thunder twice and the Spurs once.
Miami’s weaknesses from past seasons – such as their mediocre three-point shooting, poor late-game execution and unselfishness to a fault – are gone. The pressure that crumbled Miami in 2010 is, for the most part, gone as well since the team got the monkey off their back with last year’s title run.
It’s hard to imagine Miami losing four of seven games in a playoff series, probably because they haven’t lost a single game since Feb. 3 and haven’t lost more than two games in a row all season. The HEAT seems poised to repeat and turn Riley’s vision into reality. If all goes as planned, it’ll only be a matter of time before James, Wade and Bosh are lugging around their jewelry in boxes too.
Lakers Finally Figuring It Out
The Los Angeles Lakers are finally in the Western Conference playoff picture. After spending most of the season on the outside looking in, they currently hold the eighth seed with a half game lead over the Utah Jazz.
The Lakers are playing their best basketball of the season, winning four straight games and nine of their last 11. What’s the biggest difference between these Lakers and the struggling team we saw earlier in the season?
“The most important thing for us is now we’re starting to get chemistry,” Antawn Jamison said. “We’re starting to understand each other’s roles. When I’m in there with Dwight, I know what to expect and I know where he likes the ball, and the same thing with Kobe. The pick-and-roll with Nash is different than the pick-and-roll with Blake. Coach had to adjust his system a little bit to us as well. Now that the chemistry is there and we’re all comfortable playing together, we all have a little bit more confidence. We all trust in each other a lot more than in the beginning of the season when Coach first took over. I think that’s been one of the biggest adjustments and biggest differences.
“We knew it was going to take some time, but I think we thought because we have so many phenomenal players on this team that it would be quicker than normal or wouldn’t take as much time. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The word patient is always used in the NBA, but never really taken to heart. We just really had to have some patience and believe that things were going to turn around. Once we started playing with a sense of urgency, understanding the important of every game and the importance of playing with one another, things started to take place.”
The Lakers, like any team with so many new focal points, just needed some time.
“I think time is definitely paramount for our success. Our recent success has definitely been due to time, but we still have a long way to go,” Steve Nash said. “I think the more we play together, the more cohesion and understanding we have defensively.”
Another key for the Lakers has been Dwight Howard’s elevated play. He had his best game as a Laker last night against the Orlando Magic, contributing 39 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in his return to Orlando. Howard seems much healthier than he has all season, and as a result he’s playing with much more intensity, aggressiveness and confidence. Nash credits Howard for the team’s improved play, particularly on the defense end.
“I think Dwight has been great,” Nash said. “He has really stepped up and played with a lot of energy and toughness. I definitely think that Dwight is a key factor to our defense.”
While Laker fans are looking at the standings and trying to determine which first-round match-up is best for the Lakers, the team isn’t focusing on that. They’re just trying to win every game on the schedule to ensure that they’ll be playing when the postseason begins rather than watching from home.
“I think, for us, we’ve been in this situation with our backs against the wall since January so we’re not trying to worry about where we are in the playoff standings,” Nash said. “We’re trying to worry about winning the game in front of us and trying to be a better team every night. To get in the playoffs, one, we’re going to have to win a lot of games and, two, we’re going to have to be a better team to actually be able to survive in the playoffs. That’s why we’re just trying to get better every day.”
What’s Next For Andrea Bargnani?
Today, the Toronto Raptors announced that Andrea Bargnani will miss the remainder of the season with an avulsion sprain of the right elbow.
That begs the question, has Bargnani played his final game with the Raptors?
Toronto shopped Bargnani prior to the trade deadline, but couldn’t find a taker for the former No. 1 overall pick. This summer, the Raptors will likely try to move the 27-year-old again, but will there be any interest in a player who has struggled and been injured for much of his career? This latest injury isn’t related to Bargnani’s previous right elbow injury that sidelined him for 26 games from December 12 to February 3, which means it’s another issue that could scare off potential suitors.
If the Raptors can’t trade Bargnani, it’s possible that they’ll use their amnesty clause to clear the remaining two years and $23 million owed to him after this season off of their books.
NBA Chats: There were two NBA chats scheduled for today. I finished my chat earlier today at 1 p.m. EST. Check out the transcript. Lang Greene will hold down the PM chat slot tonight at 8 p.m. EST. You can always find upcoming NBA chats by clicking here. If you are looking for previous chats, click here.