Pat Riley was publicly punched in the gut Friday morning when LeBron James made his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The rest of the world was punched the face when word started to fester that Chris Bosh would be signing on with the Houston Rockets. Things were so devastating that the potential demise of the Heat warranted several articles. That is, until the demise started to look not so drastic.
Call it what you want, but four mornings ago the Miami Heat roster sounded like a hand in a game of spades.
Over the course of a few days, the team went from three definite youngsters — Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shabazz Napier — and two possible vets — Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger — to a solid mix of 12, with returning bookends. All brought to you by the money and magic of Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg.
You see, Riles’ “Godfather” persona was not enough to sway James from abandoning the depth issues that were sure to plague the team, but it was adequate enough to convince a quality two-way player like Luol Deng to come off of his salary demands and take the $10 million per year that he had been previously reluctant to accept. And the extra $30 million didn’t hurt in coaxing Bosh back.
Now, he has to become as close to the 20 point, nine rebound guy that he was in Toronto as possible, because he’s now being paid like him.
Obviously none of this makes up for James’ absence, however, Heat fans should look at Ira Winderman’s bright side:
“… every game will matter again, the standings will matter, there no longer can be coasting and cruising, and maintenance and marginal interest. Those games against the [Utah] Jazz and [Philadelphia] 76ers and [Sacramento] Kings and [Milwaukee] Bucks can’t be blown off.” (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
Lazy, lackadaisical play has been the calling card of the “Heatles” for the last two seasons, as they often came off too Hollywood for effort. It was like they knew that the luxury of having James meant that just showing up would get them to the NBA Finals. Yet many fans could have cared less how locked-in the team was once they kept winning.
However, 2014 signals the beginning of not being able to rely on the Chosen One to bail them out in the final five seconds of the shot clock. Instead, they will be looking towards a guy who will need to go from hunted to hunter like he did after four other organizations overlooked him in the 2003 draft. A guy who will be going from James’ friend to James’ rival, as the jab in his subtle tweet stated — “Home Is Where The Heart Is. My Home, My City, My House. #HeatLifer”
This is Dwyane Wade’s chance to show that this season wasn’t proof that he doesn’t have the alpha male in him anymore — even as his scoring averages have steadily dipped from 26 points per game to 19.
With a summer of no knee work and a diet to get lighter, Wade will have to stay determined to soften the shock of going from a bona fide All-Star team to a quality squad in what columnist Marc Stein refers to as the “Leastern Conference.”
It will be different, but the genius building skills of Riley will keep the organization at enough of a competitive level to hold the interests of season ticket holders, while attempting to entice the top crop of 2016 free agents. So everyone can put their pity parties on hold and watch the Heat try to keep their hands out of the quick sand.