The eyes of the basketball world will be firmly planted on South Beach and the emerging powerhouse that is the Miami Heat. The main attraction will be the newly-signed superstar LeBron James, who, despite joining fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a historic top three on the depth chart, stands to be the most-discussed player in the NBA. Every move LeBron makes will be scrutinized, every performance closely evaluated, every quote dissected.
So what will LeBron James need to accomplish in his first year in Miami in order for the joining of the three Superfriends to be deemed a success? Here we'll go over 15 musts for King James in his first year with the Heat in order to keep the haters at bay.
The Heat acquired Chris Bosh from the Toronto Raptors with the intention that he'd work the glass and control the paint for Miami, opening up lanes for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to drive into. Rebounds should be Bosh's area of expertise, but Miami is thin beyond Bosh in the front court. Udonis Haslem and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are seasoned vets capable of helping on the rebounding front, but LeBron James can offer more when pulling down boards.
James' size advantage over players that will be tasked with covering him, combined with his sheer strength to potentially out-muscle even power forwards and centers, gives him a unique rebounding ability. When that's combined with his excellent outlet passing, and passing in general, LeBron's influence by raising his rebounding game would be extremely large.
He has already averaged an impressive seven boards per game over his career, but if he can push that number up closer to 10 this year, the Heat will benefit greatly.
Erik Spoelstra is not getting much attention heading into the season, predictably so considering the elite talent that's currently on the Miami Heat's roster. If LeBron James wants his first season in Miami to be a success, though, he will need to be sure that he's in Spoelstra's corner come the first rough patch the Heat endure this year.
Spoelstra is in the rare position of having sky-high expectations for the team he'll be coaching. He rose to prominence with the Heat by working steadily with the team from 1995 on, eventually getting credit for working with Dwyane Wade on his shooting technique and assisting Wade make the leap to superstardom.
While Spoelstra may not work as closely or intimately with James, the King needs to be deferential to the coach whenever possible. It's ultimately up to the talent on the court to thrive, but LeBron was seen as controlling his coach in Cleveland. He'll need to change that perception in Miami by being extremely team-first, and also extremely pro-coach.
No need to shut down the @KingJames account that LeBron has going right now, but he may want to ease off attracting any major attention to himself in cyberspace. This preseason has seen LeBron come into focus for his "Hater Day" where he retweeted particularly offensive and aggressive rants directed towards him on the site.
He may want to avoid these types of stunts and whims throughout the season, as it will provide less ammunition for critics and remove the possibility for an escalation of the negativity that's currently directed towards James.
Twitter users often complain that athletes offer no insight through their Twitter accounts, but in James' case less could very well be more.
Given the microscope James will be under over each of the 82 games the Heat play this season, and considering many observers think LeBron "quit" on the Cavaliers during their final two playoff games in 2009-2010, LeBron needs to be sure that his effort level never slips this season.
He has much more support than ever before in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but his individual effort still needs to be world class night in and night out this year. It's obvious that he won't be on point in every game, but he has such physical gifts that he can still make a large impact when his shot isn't falling or he's struggling with turnovers.
As in, reel off a nice winning streak to start the year. That means winning the first game of the year on the road at Boston, an opponent that LeBron has a lot of history with. It's conceivable that there might be a bit of a feeling-out period for Miami as its three stars get accustomed to sharing the court during regular season games.
However, if LeBron wants to have a successful first year, he'll be well served to come out and see the team through to a nice early season run. It alleviates a lot of the pressure and lessens questions about living up to the hype, and immediately builds confidence that the team is an NBA title contender.
Most expectations are that Dwyane Wade will remain the sniper that's expected to frequently take big shots with games on the line for the Miami Heat. He's the senior member of the high-priced trio, and he's the only player of the three to win a ring so far in his career. He carries a reputation for making clutch shots and big plays with games on the line.
So LeBron needs to establish his first game-deciding Miami highlight early on in his tenure. Whether it's taking over a game and putting together a generally dominant performance on a night where either Wade is ineffective or perhaps out of the lineup, or if it's actually hitting a game-winning shot or making a huge game-changing defensive play, LeBron needs an early-season stamp to get momentum rolling for Miami and his tenure there.
Last season on arguably his best Cleveland Cavaliers team, LeBron averaged 8.6 assists per game for 651 total on the season. With a much better supporting cast in Miami, his excellent passing skills should pay even greater dividends.
Having the option to dish to Wade and Bosh each time down court, along with playing (eventually) with a high-quality shooter in Mike Miller, LeBron's assists should absolutely increase. He has been described as having the passing vision and skill of a true point guard, so expectations should be up for helpers from the King.
The Orlando Magic have been an elite team in the Eastern Conference the past few seasons, and have to be considered a contender to stand in the way of Miami's march to a championship. They have a big man that poses major problems for Miami, as Dwight Howard is a matchup nightmare defensively for the Heat.
For LeBron's first season to be a success, the south Florida team will need to have sustained success against their central Florida rival. It will show that a new power in the East has emerged, while also erasing the idea that Dwight Howard is the kryptonite to Miami's roster construction.
This works in tandem with establishing superiority over the Orlando Magic, as they are Miami's chief rival in their division. This is one of a two-pronged requirement for LeBron James' first season in Miami, as finishing atop the Southeast insures high seeding and a playoff berth (all but a given). Finishing atop the division is not only bragging rights, but it lessens the difficulty of the path to the NBA Finals for LeBron and company.
This is another team goal, but with LeBron this year, team will be the most important factor to consider when judging his year's success or failure. A huge team goal has to be finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
This would entail outpacing teams like Orlando and Boston, the two contenders with the potential of keeping LeBron out of a Finals appearance. Being the No. 1 seed in the East playoffs would be a big first step for LeBron and company.
LeBron James has had great playoff performances already in his still-young career. He's hit game-winning shots and carried his team to big playoff victories.
But the last playoff memory fans have is of the Cavaliers folding against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs last year, so LeBron needs to assert himself as often as he can throughout his first NBA playoffs with the Heat. Whether it's winning a game with a big shot, or just playing steadily great throughout a series or stretch of games, his first season will be greatly helped out by a big early summer performance.
LeBron James' departure from Cleveland, where he made his NBA name, has been beaten to death since his announcement this past summer.
The first game that LeBron heads back to face the Cavaliers will be a circus. Every one of LeBron's quotes will be looked at, and his relationship and attitude towards his hometown will be judged harshly by every sports pundit working today.
LeBron needs to do two things: win on the road in Cleveland, and avoid brewing up any unwanted and unnecessary controversies via his comments when asked about going home. This will totally erase any off-court distractions that could follow the Heat for the days and weeks surrounding.
They are the defending Eastern Conference champions, and they are considered the veteran team capable of knocking off the Heat and LeBron. It's extremely presumptuous to say that they will meet in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but they seem to be the two top teams in the conference, and I expect them to face off at some point on the road to the NBA Finals.
LeBron will need to conquer this team if he wants his first year to be a total success. They have veterans that are hungry for another championship, and are fresh off a disappointing Game 7 loss in the NBA Finals. This is a hurdle that LeBron must cross in order to see his first year in Miami through to the finish.
The biggest part of LeBron's first year for the Miami Heat being considered a success will be whether or not he comes away with an NBA Title. If LeBron James lifts the O'Brien Trophy in June 2011, then his first year will have been a smash hit in South Beach.
If he's able to do it by beating the five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals? A proverbial cherry on top. But the ring is the thing for LeBron, Bosh and Wade. It is what stands between a successful first season for James, and an average to below-average campaign.
All the regular season wins and accomplishments won't matter if the team can't get its championship, the reason why three potential franchise players joined together on one team.
Seeing these players, particularly LeBron James, chase down the trophy together is one of the best storylines to watch this NBA season.