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The Limitations of the Miami Heat

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It's not you, it's me.

These are the words Heat president Pat Riley should be uttering to head coach Erik Spoelstra this morning. The roster Riley has handed the rookie coach makes it all but impossible to win games like the one it lost to Portland on Wednesday, no matter how prepared or focused it may be under Spoelstra's guidance. This team has a ceiling, and though it has the makeup and pride to pound on that ceiling all season, it's not going away.

We all knew this roster was soft at point guard and center entering the season, but it's hard to summon the moral outrage while you're rooting on your team. It's hard to say the team needs a real center as you watch Udonis Haslem turn in one heroic effort after another. It's hard to say the team is weak at point guard when rookie Mario Chalmers is holding his own against the league's best. It all feels unfair - those guys aren't using size or experience as crutches, so what right do we, as fans, have to make excuses for them?

Here's the thing: one can recognize a weakness without condemning the player trying valiantly to alleviate it. The way I see it, Haslem and Chalmers are being put in a position to fail. That they are not failing is a testament to their talent and grit, but it doesn't change the fact that success, for them, has a very limited definition. Given the limitations they brought to the job, there's only so much they can accomplish. What looks like achievement is really the absence of disaster. Again, that's a testament to the two men's character, but it's not the recipe for a playoff team.

Let's get to the proverbial brass tacks.  

Haslem is a power forward. He should be allowed to play against other power forwards alongside a center who can share the heavy lifting. The Heat roster makes that impossible, so he enters every game at a size disadvantage.

Chalmers is a rookie point guard. He should be playing behind a veteran who can manage the game and learn something new every night, not sharing a starting backcourt with a superstar with a heightened sense of urgency and a low tolerance for youthful mistakes.

The roster is small, but not because of any ideological tilt towards running. It's just small, so it has no choice but to try to run, because 6-8 and 6-11 don't look so far apart in a blur. But while the collective height says run, the skill sets say otherwise. Dwyane Wade doesn't need open-court chaos to reach the hoop - he can split any defense, man or zone, an NBA team can concoct. Michael Beasley doesn't want a footrace to the low block - he's patient, probing, methodical. Haslem's not throwing down any fast-break alley oops while some 7-foot stiff lumbers four steps behind. And Chalmers, once again, is a rookie, so non-stop fast break basketball is like fast-forwarding a song while he's trying to learn the lyrics. The only primary player the running fits is Shawn Marion, whose awkward fit with the team only confirms that its attempted identity as a running team is contrived.

The Heat is .500 right now, a neighborhood it's likely to inhabit for much or all of the season. The team has gotten by with a 6-8 center and a novice point guard. But let's be clear - that's all this team can do. Getting by, with a roster like this, is equivalent to success. And without personnel changes, all we have to look forward to this season.