So...... it's been a while. Since the last time Baby Hornacek and I wrote anything, the Miami Heat went from dysfunction to contending status to national laughingstock. Lebron James went from pariah to "best player alive" to an international criminal (or so it would seem). Hell, last time we wrote, Eddy Curry was thinking of a comeback, Dirk Nowitzki was still a slightly richer man's Drazen Petrovic, and Nate Robinson wasn't peeing in public. Yeah, it's been a while. As an apology for our break (Editor's note: and to my loved ones, overcoming meth wasn't easy), here's my thoughts on the season that has passed, the way it ended, He Who Must Not Be James-ed, and the upcoming season:
- First, congratulations to Dirk and the Mavericks. For a jump shooting team to get on that kind of run and battle back against tough defenses and more athletic, stronger competition is something that I thought I would never see. Here is who I am happy for, ranking style:
Dirk Nowitzki- Solidified his place as the best international player ever (I don't count Tim Duncan as an international.) an absolute joy to watch, one of those guys who makes "HOW DID THAT SHOT GO IN???" plays on a regular basis. What I think is the ultimate compliment: I am working hard to incorporate Dirk's moves into my own humble basketball arsenal. Everyone should be. One day, I'm going to at least show my kid Dirk Nowitzki tapes. He's just that good.
Jason Kidd: Always been a Kidd fan, especially when he rocked the baby blonde 'fro (Editor's note: Best basketball haircut of the past 25 years after everything that ever sprouted from Scot Pollard's head). One of the coolest captains on the court and I see him playing for a couple more years before entering Bibbyland. (Editors note: "We don't go there...that's the forbidden zone")
Bibbyland: Where youthful faces fool you
Mark Cuban: Until now, he was mostly known as a crazy owner billionaire who was just as into the game as his players (even more so sometimes). Also, for giving out ridiculous contracts to people like Erick Dampier. Now he's an NBA champion. Look for it to go to his head and for him to overpay a lot of the current Mavericks in order to "keep the team together". It just seems like something Cuban would do.
Brian Cardinal: Simply for the fact that my dad thought he was Zyldrunas Ilgauskas on THREE seperate occasions.
Jose Juan Barea: Has had one of the best years on record. From dating a Miss Universe to winning an NBA championship, he has arguably had the best 2011 of anyone. It's a toss-up between him and Rebecca Black. The worst? Everyone who had to listen to Rebecca Black. Another Barea note: He needs to stay in Dallas or else go to a team with a lot of jump shooters. Unless teams have to stay out on shooters, opening the lane for Barea's penetration, he will get exposed.
Peja Stojakovic: Forgotten winner in all of this. Experienced true hardship, going from Western Conference Finals, All-star games and on the brink of an NBA Finals to a forgotten player on the Hornets. Glad he got a ring.
Tyson Chandler: Simply because he successfully reversed the curse of being a big man drafted by the Bulls. It seems to have gotten Eddy Curry. Aaron Gray is still suffering. I'm counting Mike Sweetney, even though he was drafted by the Knicks, because it's always funny to bring up Mike Sweetney. Chris Mihm and Jake Voskuhl are in dark rooms somewhere, nodding their heads. Joakim Noah is working hard to escape its clutches.
Ian Mahinmi (Not because he got some playing time and filled in admirably for a few minutes at a time. Not because he's a champion so young. Not even because he's French. The real reason I'm happy for him is that this NBA Finals finally settled a bet I had as to whether Mahinmi was black or white. I won!
Shawn Marion, Deshawn Stevenson, Jason Terry (I'm putting them all in the same category because although all three are major douches, they still fought hard for that ring. Marion also set up shop in Lebron James' head, probably by softly whispering "Siiiiiiidekiiiiick" every time down the floor).
Will Dallas be back next year? That is still up in the air to me. They have a lot of free agents they have to re-sign and a lot of moving pieces still. And considering they are owned by Mark Cuban, I wouldn't be surprised to see all of them get big contracts and have the Mavericks come back with basically the same team next year. Will they get on the kind of run they had this year, where they were basically unstoppable from the three point line, Dirk was on another level, and it sparked their whole offense? My gut tells me no. And my gut went to Harvard (Editor's note: where it was promptly beaten up by the Winklevoss twins).
- Yet while I have nothing but applause for the Mavericks, I have nothing but scorn for Heat haters and Cavaliers fans of all stripes. Let me be clear: I am a Heat fan. However, I try as hard as I can to be unbiased about my team.
Right now, it's the cool thing to hate Lebron James and the Heat. People I know who care little about sports in general have questioned why I am a Heat fan and have expressed their undying hatred of Lebron James. Apparently hating Lebron means you have to hate the Heat (despite Dwyane Wade's obvious professionalism, Chris Bosh's passion for the game (as evidenced by him breaking down in the hallway after the game) and the rest of the team's quite dignity in the face of unrelenting criticism).
I admit wholeheartedly that Lebron James and the rest of the Heat do stupid things sometimes. The Decision. The Welcome Party (Editor's note: Doesn't even compare to the welcome party we threw ourselves for writing two articles in one year!...twice as much meth, easily). Those two events are the ones most often referred to by Miami Heat critics as legitimate reasons to hate.
I won't delve deep into my own opinions of both of these events but let's be honest: Lebron James is not the devil. He is not evil. He is not a "cocks*cker" as I read in one article. He is an immature, 25 year old gifted with incredible physical gifts. He may use the nickname "King James" but it was given to him. We, the media, the fans, millions of hoopheads, brought up the name Jordan. WE want to compare him to greats and then get mad when he doesn't fulfill OUR expectations.
Lebron James shouldn't have to fulfill our dreams. He should work towards his own. Obviously his dream is an NBA championship and he took the steps he felt he needed to take to get there. Call it a cop-out. Try to delegitimize any future championship he may win. It won't matter because it will still be an NBA championship and he will still be a champion.
In terms of the Cleveland Cavaliers organization and its fans, from Cavs for Mavs to the Governor of Ohio, you all need to grow up and move on. What Lebron did was bad. He didn't make any real attempts to stay and instead left on national television. However, your hatred of him is over the top.
The only reason Cleveland fans get national coverage is because most of the country is still amused by their comical reactions to Lebron James' actions. Whether it's shots of patrons in a Cleveland bar crying when Lebron left or people cheering on the Heat to lose (they were not cheering for the Mavericks to win), the people of Cleveland, Cavaliers fans and the Cavaliers organization are only further showing their classless nature and forever tying themselves to Lebron James.
Next Mayor of Cleveland
It is a fine line between having a legitimate reason to be upset and clinging to past grievances. Move on and show that you can still be a home for great NBA talent.
- But what about Lebron James? Where does he go from here? Hopefully to the inside of a locked gym in downtown Miami with a 6 months supply of water and rations (Editor's note: Rations? So couple boxes of Cheezits and a couple bananas?). The success of the Heat into the future hinges on Lebron's ability to expand and evolve his game (as well as Dwyane Wade to do much the same).
But will Lebron do it? Call me crazy but I think these Finals and the amount of hatred he is receiving may finally wake him up. In 2007, when he made the Finals, no one expected him to win. The problem was not with Lebron James. It was his supporting cast, his opponent (a great Spurs team) and the simple fact he was still only 22 years old. From 2008 to 2010, it was the fault of his supporting cast and people not getting enough pieces around him. Now? He no longer has that excuse. While I wish the Heat would have won, adversity is always the greatest teacher. And I think it will teach Lebron James. Let's hope that he listens.
- For the Miami Heat as a whole, I think calls to break up the team are the silly, irresponsible overreactions from sports commentators who want to up their reads, make a name for themselves, or showcase their stupidity. This is year one. The Miami Heat made the NBA Finals. The NBA Finals. They outlasted teams, like Boston or Chicago, who many thought would wipe the floor with them. It is absolutely inconceivable that they would break up this nucleus now that it has experience and the ability to eventually win an NBA championship.
Are Dwyane Wade and Lebron James players with a similar skillset? Absolutely. However, they are also some of the best players in the league and I trust their abilities to adapt their games. In my opinion, what sunk the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals was the team's inability, stemming from Lebron James, to create a true coherent strategy on the offensive end in the middle of the biggest games of their careers.
Spoelstra and the coaching staff emphasized defense all year long and left the offense up to the general abilities of the talented Heat players. However, when the Mavericks were raining bombs on the other end, the Heat had no answer on offense and Lebron was out of touch. While Lebron did play below his average, it was result of his inability to find his niche in the offense. He was a facilitator. Then he was called on to be a scorer. Then a shooter. What sunk the Heat was that their old problems of chemistry surfaced at the worst possible time. Lebron James didn't know his role and that confusion spread throughout the rest of team. Is it something they can fix? Absolutely. They'll have to if they want to win.
In terms of improving their roster for the upcoming year, I think the Heat have a lot of work to do. My dream list for their acquisitions: Shane Battier, Grant Hill/Shannon Brown and Samuel Dalembert (Editor's note: I think you mean DALEMBEAST!). While everything is up in the air in terms of the new CBA and various other league-wide issues, I still think the Heat are in a great position to improve their team greatly next year. One major criticism of this team is that they spoke and flaunted before they won a single game. Now they have a full season and a deep playoff run under their belts. They can only get better.
- But enough of the Heat love. Here are my next season predictions and thoughts for some NBA teams that have caught my interest:
Dallas Mavericks: They'll be a contender next year but I am hesitant to say that they are the favorites to repeat. The run they had in the postseason, especially with hitting their 3 pt field goals, is something that will be incredibly hard to do again. The disease of more (i.e. players wanting more money and the team dealing with more expectations) is something that could definitely strike this team down. While Carlisle, Kidd and Nowitzki are certainly steadying hands, to me there's just too much uncertainty for the team. And opponents will see them coming this time.
Golden State Warriors: I like the hire of Mark Jackson even though he is my second favorite NBA announcer (after gliding and sliding, swishing and dishing Walt Frazier). As much as I like Monta Ellis, and love drafting him in fantasy basketball every year, he's somewhat expendable with Stephen Curry on the roster. Whether it is for Igoudala or someone else, the Warriors need to move Ellis and start thinking defense.
Chicago Bulls: Can we all agree now that Derrick Rose was overrated just a little bit? Just a little? He certainly deserved the MVP award for leading the Bulls to the best record in the East. But he is still a severely flawed player. I see Chicago going after J.R. Smith or Jamal Crawford. However, I don't know whether upgrading at shooting guard solves all of their problems. Chicago is a team full of one-way players, players who either play well on offense or defense but not both. While they do have players who can do both, like Luol Deng, they need to create a more cohesive team identity that emcompasses both ends of the floor.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Which way will this franchise go? Will they learn from the Lebron lesson and work harder to surround their best players with appreciable talent? They have the top two picks in this upcoming NBA draft but I am not sold on either of the players they are projected to choose. Kyrie Irving, to me, is incredibly overrated and judged on too small of a sample. While Enes Kanter has the chance to be a great player, I just think that the Cavaliers organization is riding high on players who have limited potential in the NBA. We will see. Lebron James may be persona non grata in Ohio but they need to be smart about drafting players who will replace him (Editor's note: Persona non grata? Look who's getting fancy!).
Allen Iverson: Deserves a shot somewhere. You're telling me a contender couldn't use a shot of energy and scoring off the bench for 15 minutes a game? Allen Iverson should be on an NBA roster next year.
Well I had a lot to say. There will be more posts to come! I promise! (Editor's note: Don't believe him.)