With old faces draped in new franchises, the 2013 NBA Playoffs alone seem like a wide open playing field. Think about how broad the landscape for the finals will be. That is unless you are a firm believer in the direction of the Miami Heat this offseason and how those strides will force them back into the hierarchy of contention.
The buck starts but does not stop with LeBron James, although the past season may echo an opposing conclusion. There are ten things that he and the Heat must do over the next few seasons to ensure that he delivers on his promise for multiple championships.
With this winning formula, the dynasty, post-2006, could enjoy at least three.
Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals was only a minimal accomplishment in the face of the 2012 NBA championship that the Miami Heat won, yet it was a landmark moment in LeBron James’ career. The individual box score was not even the most important thing about the game.
Of course, the fact that Miami tallied a greater score than Boston determined the ultimate conclusion, but James’ game was not primarily defined by how many points he scored. What impressed fans and swayed a lot of doubters into believers was the manner in which he scored those points.
There was a blank stare.
There was a cold, emptiness in his eyes that no one had really seen before. James was usually so jovial and transparent. In that game and in those moments, he was everything but, and fans loved every minute of it.
His teammates were proud that he could dig the franchise out of that scalding cauldron so gracefully and without a complaint. That 45-point, 19-rebound game signaled a turn of the tides in his mental game and exacerbated the angle that James could never be "that guy."
The Miami Heat could utilize this 50 percent of the time as some games call for him to be relentless and cold, though it may not be a prime personality trait in his everyday life.
No celebration until victory. No complaints to the referees about missed foul calls or a false whistle. No emotion.
Ray Allen has already solidified his position in league history as the most accomplished three-point shooter in the league, trumping Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller. That landmark may have the Miami Heat reacting to his presence like the second-coming, but it is assuredly so that he is only a fraction of his former self as exhibited by Doc Rivers’ willingness to relinquish his starting job.
Avery Bradley has limitless potential, but if Allen were at least 75 percent of the man that he was for the Celtics previously, pre-bone spurs, that would have never happened. Unfortunately for him, Bradley’s youth, athleticism and court vision on defense trumped Allen’s contributions.
The Heat need to keep in mind that a great coach like Rivers, who has more than a few reasons to give Allen every chance in the world as a starter with the Celtics, took the ball out of his hands.
The 37-year-old has something left in the tank and can do a lot for Miami. With his veteran leadership and businesslike approach to the game, Allen is everything that the Heat need when it comes to possibly grooming younger players to take over in the future.
He has a polished stroke and a sophisticated routine that has ensured that he can still be a problem on the perimeter for opposing defenses. Still, don’t put all the eggs in one basket and expect Allen to ever come in and save the day.
It’s far past time for that.
The Miami Heat are not a team that operates from outside in. They crash the paint to draw the defenses, and if the shot is there, they take it. If not, there is clearance for those outside shooters, and with Wade and James being chief passers, that play will produce.
This is not a franchise that needs to line up rookies on the perimeter to develop them into three-point gurus for the team’s future. The Heat need to focus on athleticism and defense if they want to maintain a portion of the identity they have formed and that has played to their core’s strengths.
A player like Norris Cole has thrived with the Heat due to the fact that he plays heavy-duty defense and is athletic enough to keep up with the turn-of-age points that have been blossoming throughout the league. Cole has even gone as far as to chase down Rajon Rondo after the Boston guard had a glaring head start.
Miami has grown into a reliable half-court producer, but it’s no secret that the the Big Three’s athleticism flourishes most when there is a strong defensive game to jump start the run in transition.
The Heat trump the speed of most franchises in the league in a footrace from basket to basket and their precision in long range passes is damaging to the confidence of those actually trying to curve their effectiveness.
The team excels with athleticism and defense as their top priorities, and that should remain true.
The draft is not where the Miami Heat need to bring in their perimeter sharpshooters or at least threats. The free agency and trade acquisitions are where those procurements must be made.
The Heat are a franchise that will have unrelenting strength in the Eastern Conference for a while, and it will only become a more attractive destination for skills players in the league who are no longer on the upside of their careers. When a shot is not falling, shooters tend to lose their confidence and slip in focus.
Bringing a rookie into a pressure situation like the championship in the Miami franchise may set them up for failure. A younger player more easily drops in value simply because he lost his shot and begins to second guess his contributions.
Veteran shooters have learned that it’s just the name of the game and the position that they play.
Wade is a shooter, and he was struggling in the Indiana-Miami second-round series of the 2012 NBA playoffs. He was able to think positively about how, even though he and coach Erik Spoelstra had a spat, he came right back into the game and kept shooting.
Young players hesitated while Wade just kept looking for his edge, and LeBron kept trying to help him find it. James kept Wade involved in the team’s offense because his effort made it clear to the rest of the team that his lack of immersion in the game was not going to be the reason that they lost.
That is the value of an experienced shooter.
Wade is getting older and doing everything in his power to restore the explosiveness in his game. He still drives the lane to the basket, uses his athleticism to his get his defender off balance and is Miami’s pure scorer.
From anywhere on the court Wade can be an influence on the Heat offense, but his age will determine his command. The Heat need to begin to prepare for the time when Wade hits the hardwood and comes up slower than usual.
It’s already been openly admitted that he is leading his leadership position in the franchise to LeBron James, talent-wise specifically. Addressing the physical reparations for his years in the league is far more important than dispatching labels.
Wade is the team captain in every moral right, and therefore his continuous involvement in the team’s offense is important.
The half-court game will suit Wade’s needs more as time goes by. Not that the Heat will flip their angle completely, but Wade is the second most important player on the team. As he slows down, so does production in transition.
That is if he slows down.
Chris Bosh is not just some guy that Wade and James decided to throw in the mix at the last minute. He is not just some nobody from the Toronto Raptors that Pat Riley just so happened to think was worth an contract equal to LeBron's and more than Wade's.
When Bosh was out of the lineup and firmly planted on his big, comfy couch at home beside his wife and child during the NBA playoffs, his worth was made clear. The Miami Heat needed him to be that presence in the middle against big bodies like Roy Hibbert and early in the series against Kevin Garnett.
The Heat ended up taking control of both series and moving forward, but had Bosh been with Miami throughout the Indiana series, what could have been?
How quick could Indiana have demolished the leaderless Pacers? How quick would Miami have gone through the Celtics?
Bosh’s return signaled the turn of the tide in regards to his perception of his game and his control over the direction of the franchise. It does not matter whether or not the outsiders feel like he’s an integral division of the Heat’s game plan.
What matters is that everyone in the organization reminds him of that role.
As much as Bosh is not a man of the game who needs validation, every player needs to be reassured of their ranks in a franchise in order to maintain loyalty and longevity. Ignoring the personal aspect of the Wade and James’ brotherhood, there never needs to be a loss of absorption when it comes to Bosh on the court.
What position does LeBron James play? What position will Wade be moved to if Allen is allowed to be injected into the starting lineup?
Is Bosh Miami’s center or will the franchise look to bring a true center in midway through the season?
There are so many questions revolving around the team’s status, but yet those inquisitions have gone unanswered. Why answer them at all?
There is no need to address a situation within the roster that works in Miami’s favor. The fact that LeBron plays point-forward works for the Heat because he is a physical mismatch for anyone at those positions.
When James plays the point, he’s the best in the league. When he plays the forward, he’s the best in the league, whether that position is at the 3 or 4.
Shane Battier, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are also pictures of perfection when it comes to versatility and flexibility. Miami focuses on being able to adapt to situations—namely why a player like Mike Miller was consistently selected into the Heat’s lineup over James Jones.
While Miller’s main identity on the floor was to shoot the three persistently, he could make defensive plays on the other end of the floor like drawing charges and pulling down defensive rebounds. Jones may be viewed as a more competent three-baller, but Miller’s serviceability is what made him a better candidate for playing time.
That is what adds to the elusive trail that Miami is blazing. The franchise does not just want good players.
Pat Riley wants players that fulfill their roles ambidextrously.
Beating the Boston Celtics is not just a personal vendetta.
It’s a professional one as well.
Getting past the Celtics, who have likely cemented the rest of the Eastern Conference beforehand, is one of the simple pleasures of being the best team in the Eastern Conference. As much as the Miami Heat are criticized for being nothing more than a loaded squad, there is far more to the blueprint than statistics.
The basis of the rivalry against the Celtics is due to the elite nature of the competition that each franchise continues to bring to the table. It is not fueled by the fact that James laughed in Kevin Garnett’s face during their last series outing.
It is not propelled to its heights because of the fact that the play gets a tad bit physical from time to time. The source of the ill will is due to the fact that each side of the war has proven how worthy they are in victory.
The Heat winning the 2012 NBA finals encourages the war because it gives the Celtics a way to demote Miami, to step over them on their way to the prime chip.
Staying on top of Boston ensures that Miami will stay on top of the conference.