Somewhere in Bristol, Connecticut, headquarters for Disney’s sports affiliate, ESPN, Michael Beasley has been arrested in the Bahamas, Greg Oden and Dwyane Wade are both in wheelchairs and LeBron James has already joined Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, back in reality, the actual 2013-2014 NBA season has yet to begin.
Training camp starts this week for the Miami Heat in the Bahamas and even its location is breaking news and worthy of conjecture. When the Heat’s "Big 3" era began in 2010, camp was held at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton, Florida. Three years later, the combat fatigues have been replaced by swim trunks, the soldiers replaced by sunbathing beauties. Based on the reaction of media and fans alike, the decision to hold camp in a tropical paradise (because Miami, just 290 miles north, can hardly be considered one as well) is a clear indication of the Heat’s bloated ego.
The common perception is that after three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and two championships this success has somehow made the team lazy and complacent. NBA pundits already have the Indiana Pacers or Chicago Bulls hoisting the Eastern Conference championship banner. Much has been made about the improvements the Pacers, Bulls and, to a lesser extent, Brooklyn Nets have undergone. Meanwhile, the Heat has quietly tweaked its winning roster yet again and is seemingly locked in on its annual quest to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to the American Airlines Arena.
The argument can be made that this subtle retooling, coupled with the incredible three-year run of success, has become somewhat boring. Predictable, even. The Heat is the clear favorite to win it all again. And so, the question must be asked; has any team improved sufficiently to challenge the Heat or is this simply an attempt to make the regular season more interesting?
The Bulls, dispatched by Miami in five games last season, bring back the same unit minus its fearless sparkplug Nate Robinson and with the addition of Derrick Rose. Science has yet to prove that reconstructive knee surgery gives you a consistent jump shot so let’s just say Chicago is neither better nor worse.
On the other hand, Indiana might actually have improved. Danny Granger, a proven 20 PPG scorer is back from injury and its likely Paul George, coming off an All-Star year where he was clearly the best Pacer on the floor, will be even better. Signing Luis Scola, a high-energy rebounder proven in both the NBA and international play, is reminiscent of the Heat’s own late-season addition last year, Chris Andersen. Cause for concern? Definitely. But as long as the referees don’t swallow their whistles every time David West or Roy Hibbert clobber their way through the paint, a healthy Heat team still has the edge.
How has the Heat responded throughout the off-season? Calmly and consistently, just as a true champion is expected to react. The league has been on its collective heels since 2010 and that was the case this summer. Other teams can blow up their rosters and make headlines when it doesn’t count; the Heat just keeps on rolling smoothly towards its championship goal.
With the exception of waiving the often-injured warrior, Mike Miller, the Heat’s offseason moves seemed to go under the radar. Re-sign its veterans. Bring in Oden and Beasley as high-reward/low-risk projects. Reshuffling the team’s administration and extending Head Coach Erik Spoelstra’s contract.
During the Heat’s Media Day event earlier today, James was asked about his potential free agency, the upcoming season and how the team would be affected by the media hype. James explained that the veteran roster can handle the pressure and stay focused on the ultimate goal. Echoing the mantra that Spoelstra has repeated so often, James added that the team all understands "the process". This phrase has been Spoelstra’s go-to phrase to summarize the team’s dedication to working through problems, getting better in steps and building toward playing their best basketball at the end of the season when it counts.
One can almost picture Pat Riley smiling in the shadows, nodding in approval.
So while Mickey Mouse Sports keeps debating what team can lure James away or which one can knock off Miami from its well-earned throne, the Heat just keeps working quietly and getting better. Other teams get headlines in September while LeBron, Dwayne, Chris and company just get more rings in June.
For the Heat, the season and its championship process begins now.