I say that with guarded optimism. Wait, no I don't. If there is a hiccup that prevents me watching 2011-2012 NBA basketball on Christmas Day, I will be crushed. To say I am happy billionaires and millionaires have *almost* agreed on how to split the billions of dollars they will make off fans and sponsors for the next few years would be akin to me saying I am happy my brain and my lungs have agreed to work behind the scenes to keep me living and breathing. Okay, that may be overstating my case, but make no mistake: NBA fanatics like me are truly ready for some basketball. Hey, since Hank Williams, Jr. is no longer cashing NFL checks for that Monday Night Football song, perhaps he could allow some brilliant hip-hop producer to adapt the lyrics to fit basketball and then remix it to appeal to the NBAs fan base. I know that was a random thought, but that's mostly what I'm dishing out in this post-random thoughts. It's been a long time since I've been able to log into PIM, let alone post anything, so I just hope this thing is readable by the time I'm done.
2010-2011: The Season that Was
Even five months removed, it still stings to know that our beloved Miami Heat were two wins away-with a one game cushion at one point-from hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy. This is especially true if you primarily attribute the failure to win a World Championship to LeBron James's anemic fourth quarter production. If, however, I allow myself to look at that run objectively, I must say it was a success. At this time last season, I had yet to sip the Kool-Aid yet and truly believe the Heat would even be in the NBA Finals. Did I think it was possible? Of course. But I also felt the team needed time to gel around its core. That's not to mention that the core-the Big Three, the Super Friends, Miami Thrice (did we ever settle on a proper nickname?)-needed time of its own to learn to function as a cohesive unit. Most notably, the injury bug got rather cozy with two really important rotation guys: Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. Taking all that into consideration, the Heat exceeded realistic expectations for Year One. Hopefully no one will miss half the season due to injury, and surely the team will figure out how to keep the League's most talented player involved offensively at closing time. Prognosis: The stakes could never be higher for such a recently assembled squad, and there will likely be even newer faces in important positions this time around, but a relatively healthy returning core will get the job done in Year Two and hang another Championship banner in AAA.
Just How Hot Is Coach Spoelstra's Seat?
Publicly, Pat Riley has been as supportive as a boss could be to Head Coach Erik Spoelstra. I think Riles believes in his heart of hearts that Coach Spoelstra is the best man to guide this team to the Promised Land. While I have been as critical as any reasonable fan-feel free to take a moment to laugh at that oxymoron while you ponder its likelihood and possibility-could have been over the past three seasons, it think Spo has demonstrated exemplary leadership. He managed to overcome a rocky start to the 2010-2011 season, Bumpgate, and Crygate (the one I personally thought that would most certainly lose him his locker room). Despite the success he did have in Year One by leading his troops to an NBA Finals appearance, the fact remains that Coach Spoelstra missed the mark when he was so close. The label that currently haunts LeBron James-that he can get his horse to the water but can't get it to drink-may well be branded on Spoelstra's chest if he comes up short of pay dirt this season. Take notice: Although the final result of Eastern Conference Champion was certainly a hell of an accomplishment in Year One, squandering that 2-1 lead was a massive choke job. Many have pointed out the benefit of the upcoming condensed 66-game season, but the back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-backs are going to put some teams in a bind. This should be a season in which fans and the front office alike understand a bit of a stumble out of the gates, but don't be surprised if such a stumble results in Riles asking Jerry Sloan to climb down off his John Deere tractor and report to the coaching end of the Miami Heat bench.
Would-Be Newcomer that Would Have the Greatest Impact?
I will limit this conversation to players who I think actually have a legitimate shot of landing in South Beach when the dust settles. Let's face it: our team has more cap space committed to fewer players than any other team in the League. Therefore, I'll assume no one significant gets added to this team via sign-and-trade or extend-and-trade because aside from our tantalizing trio, we have very few attractive tradable assets. To compound the matter, not many teams will be enticed to trade for the draft picks of a team that should perennially have one of three lowest picks in the next five drafts. That leaves the Free Agent Class of 2011. Atop that class seems to be Nene and Tyson Chandler. While recent comments out of his camp present Nene as a guy who is only concerned about winning, the most productive years of his career are likely ahead of him, and this is likely going to be his "career" contract. For those reasons, I look for him to land with a team with more cap room. I think Chandler returns to Dallas to help the Mavericks in their effort to defend their title. Samuel Dalembert is the impactful free agent I believe the Heat has a real chance to acquire. He is north of 30 years of age. He has likely already signed his own career contract. Signing with the Heat will put him much closer to his native Haiti. Reports suggest he is willing to give the Heat a discount. His particular set of skills would vastly improve the frontline of the Miami Heat defensively. He would also contribute to the team offensively by finishing plays from perimeter playmakers, by cleaning up broken plays, and by getting put backs from offensive rebounds. It seems like a good fit. Combine the acquisition of Dalembert with some cap-friendly sharpshooters, and I see our Miami Heat hanging a Championship banner on opening night in 2013.
Assuming the particulars of the new CBA are hammered out and it is ratified by week's end, I look forward to December 9. Are you ready for some basketball? A Christmas Day party? I hope I wasn't too random.