LeBron James and the Miami Heat: Why They Will Win the 2012 NBA Championship
Even with the ongoing lockout, it’s reasonable to believe Miami’s mainly focused on winning its second title in franchise history.
I’m not a Heat fan—and this isn't a bold statement by any means—but I believe they’ll win next season’s NBA championship. While their Big Three have occasional anxiety issues, they’re too talented to be denied the Larry O’ Brien Trophy for much longer.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade Will Become More Effective Playing off Each Other
Dwyane Wade’s preseason hamstring injury might've been the biggest one ever that didn't amount to missed time when games started counting. LeBron James looked very comfortable running the show while D-Wade was out. However, upon Wade’s return, both players were overly deferring and complacent, trying too hard to keep touches between them equal.
The question many wondered going into last season was whether the two best players in the NBA (sorry, Kobe fans) could mesh effectively because of their similar skill sets and play styles. At first, a major adjustment period took place while James and Wade were learning how to play off the ball—something that must continue to improve—after dominating the rock their first seven seasons. They also had to get accustomed to being two of the league’s biggest villains and no longer amongst its most likeable players. As the season progressed, comfort levels rose remarkably, helping them become the deadliest fast break duo in the league.
Still, James and Wade must improve their catch-and-shoot abilities. Upon first entering the league, neither had a very effective jump shot. Now, each has a solid off-the-dribble jumper but is very streaky shooting off the catch. However, improvement will come from the added work each puts in this offseason.
Another reason they’ll play off each other more effectively is...
LeBron James Will Work out of the Post More
When Chris Bosh went down with an ankle injury in January and missed some time, James tried his hand at playing in the post.
While it came with mixed results, Heat fans should be happy King James showed a willingness to try something different. With a 6'8", 275-pound body, he’ll soon become a dominant post presence—shooting over smaller defenders and out-maneuvering bigger ones—by developing a signature move. Once that happens, his incredible passing ability will open up a gargantuan amount of good shots for teammates.
With James on the perimeter less, Wade will have wider lines to attack the basket and more space to pull up for his deadly mid-range jumper. If James becomes a willing screener, those two in pick-and-rolls will cause a heap of problems for defenses.
Of course, improvements will come from more than just the top two guys...
Chris Bosh Will Be Comfortable in the Offense from the Start of the Season
While James and Wade endured adjustment periods last season, the member of the Big Three with the toughest task was Chris Bosh. Like his fellow superstar comrades (yes, Bosh is a superstar–think about his numbers in Toronto and how the team consistently contended for the playoffs), Bosh had to forget about being a ball-dominator on offense. Going from numero uno to third wheel is no easy task, something he learned very quickly.
Bosh faced more scrutiny during the first year in Miami than the rest of his career combined. Kevin Durant called him a fake tough guy, ESPN’s Skip Bayless constantly referred to him as Posh Spice and that’s just a small sample. When Miami lost to Chicago by one in early March, a game he shot 1-18 and had one of the worst flops ever, many speculated he was one of the players crying in the locker room after the game.
After his initial struggles, Bosh improved as the third option, transforming from a nervous player back into the old Chris Bosh—one of the most skilled players in the low post. By finishing the regular season averaging about 19 points, on 49.6 percent shooting, and 8.3 rebounds per game, he helped silence some who believe Miami only has a Big Two-and-a-Half and not a Big Three.
In the playoffs, Bosh was very effective, averaging 18.6 points on 47.4 percent shooting and 8.5 rebounds per game. He had a couple of poor shooting games (as did James and Wade), but consistently provided Miami with good defense and rebounding. His biggest series was the Eastern Conference Finals against Chicago when he put up 23.2 points a game on 60 percent shooting and helped limit his nemesis Carlos Boozer to just 14.4 points a game on 40.7 percent shooting, including two games Boozer only scored in single digits.
His biggest shot of the postseason was the decisive bucket in Game 3 of the NBA Finals (done with just one good eye). Miami may have been better served getting him more shots in Game 6 of the Finals, as he was 7-9 from the field with just one turnover while James and Wade were a combined 15-31 with 11 turnovers.
Whenever the next NBA season starts, look for Bosh to hit the ground running and finish the year averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. His return to playing at a superstar level will pay huge dividends for Miami’s half-court offense, opening up easier scoring opportunities for teammates.
Speaking of Miami’s half-court offense . . .
Erik Spoelstra Will Design Better Offensive Sets
Some may disagree, but Erik Spoelstra’s a very good coach. Miami may have failed to fulfill its title expectations in year one of the Bosh-James-Wade trio, but only a small portion of the blame should be directed towards the head coach.
In Spoelstra’s first season, he took a team that had 15 wins the previous season to a 43-39 record and a playoff appearance. In season number two, he guided Wade and a bevy of soon-to-be free agents to 45-37 and another playoff trip. Last season, his team had the NBA’s best defense and came up just short of winning it all.
A lot of criticism toward Spoelstra comes from the perception he’s not a good offensive coach. Critics argue that the offense during his first two seasons only involved giving Wade the ball to make a play. He was scrutinized last season for allowing James and Wade to do whatever they wanted on offense after making a good play on defense (although he received praise for it when the Heat were in the midst of a 21-1 stretch). Don’t be surprised to see that toned down next season.
As last season progressed, Spoelstra somewhat began to use set plays involving off-ball motion and screens. The offense was still simplistic, especially compared to the Celtics, but probably for the better, since it’s never easy to make major scheme changes late in the year. With the luxury of having a season under his belt with the Big Three, he now has a good understanding of how the team functions best. Pat Riley’s former video coordinator will watch a lot of film this off-season and find ways to maximize Miami’s half-court efficiency.
The offense will also improve because...
Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem Will Be Back to Full Health
Heading into last season, Pat Riley dreamed of a lineup with Dwayne Wade, Mike Miller, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem.
Unfortunately for the slick-haired executive, early season injuries to Miller and Haslem put a damper on that. Both of the former Florida Gator teammates made late returns, but couldn’t provide the same type of contributions that would have come had they played throughout the year.
Next season, a healthy Miller and Haslem will help Miami on both sides of the ball. On offense, Miller will return to a 45-percent three point shooter—not having a broken thumb on his shooting hand certainly helps—which will space the floor for James and Wade, and Haslem will make opponents pay for helping out on the Heat’s penetrators by knocking down 15-foot jumpers and being a beast on the glass (since defenders will be out of position to box him out). On defense, both players will provide a huge boost with rebounding.
The Miami Heat Will Get Free Agency Help
It’s going to be difficult for Miami to get free agent help with not much salary cap room, especially if the next collective bargaining agreement creates a hard cap, but they’ll land a couple veteran players who’ll take less money for the chance to win a title. The Heat's biggest needs are at point guard and center. Mario Chalmers has been offered a contract and it’d be stupid for him to leave a perennial contender, unless another team’s willing to shell out a lot more money. It’s likely they’re not bringing back Mike Bibby, so someone to start in front of or backup the former Kansas hero is a must (assuming Chalmers stays).
Expected point guard targets (in order of most to least sought-after): Aaron Brooks, J.J. Barea, T.J. Ford, Acie Law and Earl Watson. Pat Riley’s probably salivating at the possibility of adding Brooks—a three-point shooter with very good speed and quickness—but will probably have to settle for Ford, Law or Watson, who would each be a good pick up. If the Mavericks let Barea go, Miami’s got a great chance to get him (depending on how much money he’s willing to turn down from another team with more cap space, like the Knicks).
Miami would also love to add a big body to the roster, especially if it’ll bolster the center position. Joel Anthony was solid last year on defense but consistently inept on offense, allowing opposing defenses to play five-on-four. The Heat can win a championship without upgrading, but would be more comfortable not having to play guys like Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, Eric Dampier or Zydrunas Ilgauskas (each of whom may not even be on the roster next season).
Expected big man targets (in order of most to least sought-after): Samuel Dalembert, Kenyon Martin, Aaron Gray, Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry. K-Mart could be solid—if he stays healthy and accepts a pay cut—because of his energy, rebounding and mid-range jumper. Gray could provide Miami with a 7-footer who’d finish better around the rim than Anthony and is an underrated passer. Brown picked up his level of play towards the end of last season and could bring solid defense and rebounding. Curry would probably be used to simply fill up five to 10 minutes a game and provide six fouls against a top-tier big man like Dwight Howard, Al Horford or Andrew Bynum.
If Miami gets its first choice in Dalembert, his shot blocking ability will allow the Heat to easily lead the league in both fast break points and steals per game. Miller, Chalmers, James and Wade could play aggressive perimeter defense and cheat on passing lanes like never before. The one-two punch at center of Dalembert and Anthony would take the NBA’s No. 1 defense from last season to another level.
While Dalembert’s a target of numerous teams, and would likely get more money going somewhere else, Miami’s Haitian population could sway the 30-year-old center into taking his talents to South Beach. Not to mention the relatively close proximity of Port-au-Prince, his native country’s capital (the average flight time is just less than two hours). Dalembert has dedicated so much to help the impoverished nation—even flying back and forth from Philadelphia between games last January to assist with relief efforts after a devastating earthquake killed and injured more than 300,000 people and displaced nearly two million. His presence would give the NBA’s most hated team someone to cheer for, and he could use the spotlight to raise awareness that Haiti’s still suffering from the catastrophe 18 months later.
Miami has some very alluring features for free agents: a young core of superstars who’ll compete for championships over the next few years, a beautiful city in a warm climate and a vibrant nightlife. While there are turnoffs—the worst fans in the NBA, little cap room, a gargantuan media spotlight and an unruly police force—it’d be hard for a veteran player to turn down an opportunity to win of this magnitude.
It's not far-fetched to think guys like Grant Hill or Tracy McGrady haven't already thought about joining.
The NBA Lockout Will Hurt the Miami Heat the Least Amongst Title Contenders
As long as Charles Barkley’s belief that next season will be cancelled entirely doesn’t come to fruition and the NBA’s lockout only causes some games to be missed, the Heat will be hurt the least amongst legitimate title contenders. Their core (James, Wade, Bosh, Haslem, Miller and Anthony) is safely intact and they’re not undergoing a head coaching change.
The Lakers have a new coach in Mike Brown who wants to move away from the triangle offense that helped them win five championships over the past decade. There’s rumors that Brown wants to run the offense less through Kobe Bryant and more through the inside guys. It remains to be seen how accepting of this Bryant will be, especially considering his surprise that management didn’t consult with him about the coaching vacancy (possibly because of his close relationship with assistant coach Brian Shaw) before hiring the 2009 Coach of the Year Award winner. Also, trade speculation surrounding Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum could be a distraction.
The Celtics will be a season older and may feel too much pressure to win the championship in what’s likely their last realistic opportunity. Boston also needs a training camp and preseason to get Jeff Green comfortable (unless he’s let go). The fact no one’s safe from being traded doesn’t help either.
Oklahoma City needs time to get Kendrick Perkins going—and in better shape—before major scrutiny about his contract arises. The Thunder couldn’t capitalize on opportunities to take control of the Western Conference Finals, but still had a terrific postseason and saw James Harden develop into the excellent third option they desperately needed. However, the lockout could seriously derail development: The longer they’re kept away from the basketball court, the harder it’ll be to return playing at that high level. They started off last season poorly, and if it happens again—especially with raised expectations—trade rumors surrounding Russell Westbrook could surface.
Dallas and Chicago would be in better situations than those aforementioned, but problems will still rise. The Mavericks may lose key players to free agency, especially if a hard salary cap gets instituted, while the Bulls are young and in need of a guard who can create plays to take pressure off Derrick Rose. A full season would be a great benefit to both teams.
LeBron James Will Get Help to Deal with His Anxiety Issues
James' nerves in his final series of the past two postseasons have been well documented. He didn't play (or look) like normal after Game 3 of 2010’s Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston or during most of the 2011 NBA Finals.
During this past postseason, James was Miami’s best player in the first three rounds, as he put up big numbers and hit a bevy of clutch shots. However, against the Mavericks he was tentative and ineffective for long stretches. After the finals culminated, LeBron stated there’d be no diverting from his usual offseason regimen, but that won’t be the case.
King James knows he has to put his ego aside and face this issue head-on for the good of his team and legacy. He won’t reveal it to the public (because of the scrutinization that would tag along), but there’ll be a few psychiatric visits made to decipher the best way of overcoming his dilemma. Thanks to meditation and an epiphany that even the best basketball player in the world is allowed to be human, the big-moment anxiety bug will no longer weigh him down.
James' new-found mental toughness will improve his play and increase the likelihood that...
The Miami Heat Will Consistently Close Teams out
Miami was constantly plagued with an inability to bring the hammer down on teams last season.
Often, when an opponent seized opportunities to make a comeback, the Heat would become nervous and chuck up bad shots. As last season progressed, they improved tremendously in this area, but regressed in the finals (most notably in Game 2, when they lost after leading by 15 with a few minutes left).
That won’t happen next year. As their best player gains a new-found killer instinct, they’ll learn to disregard the scoreboard and refuse to take their foot off the gas by relentlessly attacking the basket. It’s also unlikely they’ll run into another ridiculous late-game barrage from Paul Millsap.
2011-2012 Season Prediction for the Miami Heat
Assuming there’s a full NBA season in 2011-2012, Miami will go 67-15 and get the playoff’s No. 1 overall seed. The Heat will defeat the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals in five games and beat the Thunder in the finals in six. LeBron James will overcome past postseason demons, earning both his first title and finals MVP with averages of 28 points, 9 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
My feeling is that there will be a shortened season of 54 games, so in the spirit of hypothetical reasoning: Miami will go 42-12 and still get the playoff’s top overall seed (records for the best teams will be worse, since they’ll have fewer opportunities to get on major hot-streaks or beat up on weak opponents). The Heat will defeat the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals in six games and beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals in five games.
Regardless of how many NBA games are played in 2011-2012, Miami will win its first Larry O’ Brien Trophy since 2006. If the worst-case scenario plays out, and the season is lost, it'll do it upon the league’s return to action.