For a long time, I've had a sneaking suspicion that Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade was not quite himself this year.
Sure, he may have posted his typical flashy numbers, averaging 24.6 ppg and 6.9 assists per contest, but he seemed to be forcing his shots, something was amiss and now we know what it was.
Wade will now miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, leaving the newly acquired Shawn Marion, who has averaged 14.5 ppg and 10.3 boards with his new team, to carry the baggage for the 11-50 Heat, who will certainly have the most ping pong balls during the lottery, which means that they will have a shot at Kansas State standout Michael Beasley.
Unfortunately, Marion only seems to thrive when he has Steve Nash feeding him the ball, although it is to early to tell at this point other than by his play with Leandro Barbosa at the helm. Since he left Phoenix, Marion has been handling the ball more instead of running the floor and waiting for his point guard to find him an open look. Marion has always been a catalyst for Phoenix's fast break and if that dimension of his game doesn't come back soon, the Shaq deal will have been a loss for the Heat.
But fear not Heat fans, there is light at the end of this dark and dreary tunnel. Although the Heat have limped to their current position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, there is enough talent on that roster to compete in the near future, especially with the addition of Beasley or North Carolina junior Tyler Hansbrough to their front line.
Not only will Wade be healthy next year (knock on wood), but once Marion gels with his new team, he and Wade could form a lethal tandem on the fast break for a long time. Also, the Heat's mediocrity ensures them a chance for a very high pick in a draft loaded with potential all stars such as Beasley, Hansbrough, IU's Eric Gordon, Memphis' Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts and USC's O.J. Mayo (although he has said that he would return to school next year, the NBA payday will be to much to pass up).
This team won a championship in 2006 with a roster very similar to this one. With the exception of the recently departed Shaq, all of the Heat's losses were role players, and while some were important to the team, they can be replaced with competant roster management by Pat Riley.
Finally, This year also offers some hope in the form of the East-leading Boston Celtics, who were cellar dwellers last year. While I do recognize that the Celts made some monumental moves, Danny Ainge's work fixing up Boston's ailing bench is what put them over the top. Now, I'm not saying that the Heat will pick up a KG-type player, but they have good athletes all over their roster and could come into the '09 season with a major chip on their shoulder, hungry to return to championship form.