Dwyane Wade arrival after the 2003 NBA Draft changed the Miami sports scene for over a decade. The summer of 2016 altered the idyllic landscapes of other NBA organizations as well: San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers.
Tim Duncan exemplified a Spurs identity of low-key egos since he first stepped onto the San Antonio basketball court in 1997, alongside "The Admiral," David Robinson. For 19 years the "Big Fundamental" was as much a fixture in his adopted town as the Alamo. He had no farewell tour, but penned a simple "I'm done" letter to the fans. Coach Gregg Popovich faces his own Texas-sized stress test without one of the, if not the best, power forwards of all time.
Kevin Durant symbolized the Oklahoma City sports scene ever since the franchise moved there from Seattle in 2008. As the town's only MVP, Durant built an international following, which placed OKC on the global sports map. Without him, Russell Westbrook carries the championship aspirations of an entire community on his own shoulders, as teams will triple-team him whenever he pounds the rock.
Kobe Bryant ceased being the Lakers' savior years ago, yet the 2016-17 season marks a loss in L.A.'s storied pedigree. How well can the current crop of talent continue the tradition of excellence lead by Geoge Mikan, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe? D'Angelo Russell's role as the chosen one, designated to carry the mantle of previous legends, sets an exceptionally high bar for him to reach as the season unfolds.
For eight seasons Erik Spoelstra coached Wade-inspired teams built around Wade's, and for a while, LeBron James' prodigious skills. This year though, Spo doesn't face the limitations imposed by coaching generational talents, but can craft his own strategy, based on the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
A video on the Miami Heat site shows James Johnson, Luke Babbitt, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters draining three-point baskets from distance: very unWade-like, since "Flash" was known for attacking the rim with the best of them. As John Wooden said, "We don't have to be superstars. All we have to do is learn to rise to every occasion, give our best effort, and make those around us better as we do it."
These guys are desperate. With their backs against the wall, they enter the season either fighting to the last man standing, or perishing as a team. The snippets provide only a glimpse of the enormous amount of time and effort they put into perfecting their individual and team skills. The excitement Heat fans will witness starts with a pre-season game in six weeks on October 4.
On Wall Street the SEC-required disclaimer says, "Past performance does not guarantee future results." Observers base their evaluation of the current team solely happened before, not on its future possibilities. Spo's mission is to replicate the 46-11 record of the Sioux Falls Skyforce, where a group of strangers banded together to exceed the media's mundane expectations.
For all the click-baiting trade talk, very few players, e.g. James or Westbrook, would be game-changers for the Heat at this late stage of teaching the players to speak the same language. For instance, moving to or from Japan presents anyone with the hurdles of learning a foreign language and culture.
Subconsciously the players are starting to anticipate each other's thoughts in the gym, because once the games begin, the action moves too fast for conscious thought. If a player has to stop and think about what to do, the ball is already in the basket. The Heat will pummel any team that is slow to react to its surroundings.
Twenty-something Josh Richardson gives a sneak preview of an upcoming feature in Miami's Ocean Drive magazine. A new generation of the Heat waits to redefine the city's social scene.