Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Can The Heat Regain Its Championship Flame?
Hey, I know the football season just started, but it's never too early to start looking forward to the NBA season and another year of Miami Heat basketball. Let's face it. With the way the Dolphins are playing, you can pretty much throw this football season down the toilet. In fact, let's just say the Dolphins are now on the clock with the first pick of the 2008 NFL Draft and are waiting for Commissioner Goodell to approach the podium.
Today the Heat started its training camp and with it always comes optimism and hope. Afterall it was just less than two years ago that Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal were hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy back to a raucus victory parade down Biscayne Boulevard. But after the way last season ended, that celebration seems like a million years ago.
If you know anything about Pat Riley, you know there are few people on the planet who are as competitive and take losing more personally than Miami's Armani-clad leader. And make no mistake about it, Riley's pride was wounded after last season's 4 game sweep by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.
But bruised ego aside, can Riley once again resurrect this roster of aging fatcats into a championship unit? A year ago, the Heat were basking in glory and getting ready to defend its title. The team held a lavish ceremony prior to its home opener against the Bulls and received their championship rings. When it was all over, the Bulls proceeded to kick their ass.
The entire season was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. But Shaq assured us the team would return to championship form come playoff time. That's right. Don't worry. We'll just turn on the switch when it matters. But it never happened. A shoulder injury to Wade didn't help and Chicago's young legs ran circles around Miami's tired veteran outfit.
So what can we look forward to this season? Usually there are a couple of new faces--either free agents or draft picks who fans eagerly want to see. But this year, the Heat virtually struck out on every free agent they wanted. It wasn't from a lack of trying. They wanted Rashard Lewis. He signed with Orlando. They wanted Moe Williams. He resigned with the Bucks. There were even rumors of interest concerning Mike Bibby and Ron Artest. But nothing has materialized. Even guys who the Heat didn't really want like Charlie Bell, turned down Miami to stay in Milwaukee.
Instead of fresh new faces, the Heat will begin this season with an uninspiring pair of veteran free agents Penny Hardaway and Smush Parker. As Jim Mandich would say, neither makes my toes tingle. And I'll be honest, I didn't even know Penny Hardaway was still an active NBA player. I thought he retired with Bob Cousy and Jerry West. Parker spent most of his career with the Lakers watching Kobe Bryant hog the basketball. So it's understandable when you notice how few assists Parker accumlated in LA. It's hard to distribute the basketball when one player holds on to it all the time. As far as the draft was concerned, the Heat selected Ohio State's Daquan Cook, who was only considered the third best freshman on his team. But if you know anything about Riley's history with rookies, Cook will spend the year giving Shaq and the boys cups of Gatorade during timeouts.
Maybe I'm sounding too much like a gloom and doomer. But how is this team going to be better than last year? Not only did the Heat fail to pick up any big-named free agents. They also lost some valuable talent from their team a year ago. Who's going to shoot the 3's? Last year's sharpshooter Jason Kapono is gone. Who's going to play defense? James Posey is gone. And to make matters worse, Posey signed with the Celtics, an Eastern Conference team with a drastically improved roster. And for crying out loud, when is Dorell Wright finally going to develop into a legit NBA player. We've seen flashes and glimpses. But inevitably, Wright finishes the season with more fizzle than sizzle. This year, Wright had better become a big part of the Heat's rotation or this will be a long year.
No doubt my expectations have been simmered down this year. But if you know about Riley's history, he often does his best coaching when he's counted out. The "experts" are claiming the Celtics are better. And with the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen along with Posey, it's hard to argue with them. The Orlando Magic are a team on the rise, led by former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy and one of the best young post players in the game Dwight Howard. The Pistons are always tough and don't forget the defending Eastern Conference champs the Cleveland LeBron James's.
But screw the critics. You'll know basketball is back when the sneakers start squeeking and TV play-by-play announcer Eric Reed belts out "Tippy-toe three....Kaboom!". Just close your eyes when Antoine Walker shoots those tippy-toe threes. I never thought I'd look forward to American Airlines Arena announcer Mike Biamonte scream "Dos Minutos!" near the end of every quarter. Yes, it's stupid, childish and everybody rolls their eyes when he does it. But after watching the Dolphins stink up the field, maybe a little hoops is needed to heal this wounded sports soul.