South Beach hasn't seen a gang like this since Scarface took a dip in his fountain, so let's forego the cheesy, traditional, sports-related monikers and call the Miami Heat basketball organization what it is—El Cartel.
Pat Riley, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade—forget Chris Bosh—run Miami right now and no one makes a move unless they say so. The goal is complete domination of the basketball world.
Natural haters, and those wanting to hate, can rationalize their anti-Heat campaign any which way they want; the reality is this team is a lock to win at least 60 games and make a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
And while fans and sportswriters are spending their time calling LeBron a traitor or whatnot, every single general manager and coach in the league is trying to answer the following question:
How do we compete with the Miami Heat?
Believe it or not, this includes the New York Knicks, a team whose biggest off-season acquisitions this summer, after successfully landing superstar Amar'e Stoudemire, are Raymond Felton and... Anthony Randolph?
Yes, the Knicks. How do they, as a work in progress, give a team like the Heat a competitive 48-minute run, let alone challenge them in the standings?
By doing five things...
First things first, if you don't believe you can beat every opponent and win every game, you have no business being on the court. In order to win, you need to tap into that competitive fire and bring it.
Look at the photo. When was the last time a Knicks player had the gusto to even try to intimidate?
Do we have to go back 18 years to 1992, when "Oak Tree", "X-Man" and "Mase" guarded their paint like a stash house, or does, um, Kurt Thomas suffice?
Probably the former.
It's no coincidence the Knicks, one of the most unsuccessful NBA franchises of the past decade, went down the toilet the minute they abandoned the need for an enforcer.
Every team needs a tough guy of some kind, even a straight-up goon, to win in this league. At the very least one player with a, "I will shut you down" mentality, is a must-have ingredient in the championship recipe.
The L.A. Lakers had Ron Artest last season. The year before Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza surprised with tough play. The Boston Celtics had Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and James Posey in 2008. The 2007 Spurs had Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen. And so on.
Meanwhile, the Knicks' center of the past five seasons, Eddy Curry, can't (too fat) or won't (too lazy) battle for a rebound or challenge a layup attempt.
Obviously, this has to change. The Knicks need a Danny Fortson-type. The Knicks need a Reggie Evans and his castration tactics. The Knicks need to toughen up and take it back to the "make them feel you" mantra of those 90's squads.
The Heat are far more talented than the Knicks but also softer than Egyptian cotton. If New York had a physical game-changer unafraid to knock LeBron or Wade on his ass, there's no doubt it could make the Heat sweat some.
Nothing about watching a basketball game bothers me more than when I see players quick to launch jumpers but hesitant to take the ball to the hole. After all, the pros of attacking the basket grossly outweigh the cons.
Close-range shots lead to:
-Higher-percentage of scoring.
-Shorter rebounds, which are less likely to result in fast break chances the other way.
-Foul trouble for opposing defenders.
Against the Heat, who will undoubtedly play an up-tempo style, the Knicks will want to attack the rim every chance possible. Miami lacks bench depth, and by pressuring its stars into committing to defense it will only be that much more physically taxing for them.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh won't be able to play an effective 40 minutes per game each and every night of the season.
Don't let the Heat dictate the style and pace of the game; take the game to them and attack the basket relentlessly.
A front line of Stoudemire, Randolph and Danilo Gallinari is weak in both the rebounding and defensive departments. The Knicks are in desperate need of a traditional, shot-altering center.
Are the New Orleans Hornets so desperate to pare payroll that they would consider a Wilson Chandler ($2.1 million, expiring) and Eddy Curry ($11.3 million, expiring) swap for Emeka Okafor (four years, $53 million)?
Erick Dampier, anyone?
Ronny Turiaf was a nice addition, but the man has never averaged more than 21.5 minutes per game in a season. A big part of the reason is his inability to stay out of foul trouble. Expecting him to play 28-plus minutes per night could be a stretch.
And who knows if and when recently signed Russian center Timofey Mozgov will be ready to play. We've been down this road before with Mirsad Turkcan, Slavko Vranes and Frederic Weis.
Remember those guys?
Luckily for the Knicks, the Heat are also weak at center. Even if Joel Anthony returns, Miami still lacks a serious threat in the middle. Should the Knicks be able to land an Okafor or Sam Dalembert, they'll gain the advantage in the paint.
What the Knicks lack in defensive skill, they can more than makeup with in length by employing a 2-3 zone. This will help them in securing defensive rebounds, as well as clogging driving lanes to the basket.
In addition, being able to play Randolph or Gallinari, both 6'10", at the three-spot is a luxury for their long arms and will help to contest perimeter shots.
There may not be a better defense to employ against the Heat, whose main offensive strength will be found in running isolation plays. Using a 2-3 zone would force them to move the ball around more, as well as dare them to shoot from the perimeter, something most teams would be comfortable with given the long-range limitations of Wade, LeBron and Mario Chalmers.
Until the Heat get some shooters, they will have trouble against a zone.
While fans have every reason to be excited about a Knicks team that's clearly headed in the right direction (youth, talent, financial flexibility), they would be naive to believe their team is anything but a work in progress.
Currently, there isn't one player on the roster older than 28. And if veteran leadership isn't a concern, there are plenty of red flags regarding injuries.
Aside from a freak eye injury that cost him 29 games and all of the playoffs in 2009, Stoudemire has been an iron man since undergoing micro-fracture knee surgery in 2006. Still, after investing $100 million in him, his injury history is rightfully a concern to Knicks fans.
Gallinari has back issues. Kelenna Azubuike is coming off of knee surgery. Both Turiaf and Randolph missed 40 or more games last year. Bill Walker has had three knee surgeries in the past eight years.
And if that isn't enough to worry Knicks fans, what about the answer to the following question: After Stoudemire, who's the best player on this team?
Make no mistake, unless the Knicks make another significant move this season and add a Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul, or some player of that caliber, they'll be lucky to win 35 games.
Fans need to know mediocrity in the win column is OK for now. More importantly, the organization needs to keep its head on straight and not revert back to reckless spending. By exercising patience, the Knicks can be a serious power two or three years from now.
They just need to focus on getting another—more importantly—the right-star to complement Stoudemire & Co.
Then the Knicks will really be able to challenge the Miami Heat.