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14 posts from May 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Back off 'Bron-'Bron

So, he didn't speak.

Yes, it would have been nice if LeBron James stepped up to the podium after the Cavs were eliminated James-general the other night by Orlando in Game 6.

Yes, most of us hacks could have used a good quote from the so-called King to complete the copy we all wrote to sum up one of the better six-game playoff series the league has put on in recent years.

And yes, LeBron probably should have taken a few seconds to at least waive in Dwight Howard's direction to acknowledge their mutual respect as their teams headed off opposite ends of the court.

I was there. And again, I find myself in the minority when it comes to the backlash aimed at 'Bron-'Bron. Had Cleveland won Game 6 to force a Game 7 back on their homecourt, James certainly would have gone up to the podium and accepted all of the questions about how he kept his team alive.

Instead, he left Mo Williams to deliver the eulogy on the Cavs' disappointing finish to a solid season. While the move wasn't cool, it also hasn't been worth all of the condemning he's taken the last 24 hours. The fact of the matter is that James owed us in the media nothing, really.

As long as he spoke with his teammates, which he presumably did, and acknowledged his coaches, which we were told he did, then what else should we demand from a man at his most depressed moment? To know if he's going to opt out of his contract 10 minutes after his season ended? To know how he feels about the speculation he's headed to New York? To know what he plans to do with that puppet in his image that Nike no longer has any use for?

Some of us who do what we do need to get over ourselves. His silence is being as overplayed and over-analyzed as anything he's done on the court this series.

James-shame It's a shame that James put himself in a position to be questioned about his sore-loser reaction after he provided one of the most remarkable playoff series performances we've seen in some time. His play was a six-game thrill ride that ended abruptly because Orlando was the better team.

James did all of his talking on the court for six games - nearly averaging a triple-double and single-handedly keeping his team alive against the Magic.

And when it was all said and done, who really needed to explain themselves more, James or his teammates and coach? I guess that's why I felt James was wrong for his approach, but not totally offended or disgusted like some seem to be.

It was time Mo Williams faced the music after his mouth put an even larger target on the Cavs' back. Mike Brown certainly had some 'splainin' to do for his lack of innovation and adjustments.

To try to read into LeBron's actions and emotions after the game is probably like trying to guard him on a fastbreak. Impossible. Maybe even something with a worse success rate than impossible.

It doesn't mean he can't win a title in Cleveland. Hell, if you can get to the Conference finals, you're not far from taking the next step.

It doesn't mean he doesn't fit well with his teammates. This was the same supporting cast that helped James-sandwiched Cleveland win 66 games and post the best home record in the league.

And those who suggest that James is better off in New York should have their heads examined. Or their basketball-debating privileges revoked. Because they're either from the Big Apple, have a rooting interest for teams in the Big Apple, or perhaps just had a big apple cracked over their heads.

Yes, James punked out at the podium.

The one thing James did wrong all series had nothing to do with his performance on the court. That, however, spoke volumes.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Getting To The Point

Covering the Eastern Conference finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic, and it suddenly hit me. And then it hit me again. And again.

What does the Cavs-Magic series have to do with the Heat? Plenty. Rafer

Especially when you get to the point. Point guard, that is. The veteran variety.

It could be argued that one of the Heat's biggest weaknesses this season was the absence of a proven, veteran, play-making point guard it could bring off the bench or use to challenge rookie Mario Chalmers.

Well, these conference finals, particularly in the East, are essentially a Point-Guards-R-Us outlet center.

And it makes you wonder. Why does every other team in the league seem to have a spare Flip Murray on the roster, yet the Heat goes two seasons without one? Shaun Livingston didn't have the legs. Marcus Banks lacked the skills. And Penny Hardaway - dare we say - didn't have anything left other than pleasant memories of when he used to be somebody in this league.

This Magic-Cavs series is stocked with serviceable, stop-gap type veteran parts at the point that Miami either tried to get and couldn't, parted with too soon or probably should have pursued harder when it had the chance.

Orlando has three of them: Rafer Alston, Anthony Johnson and Tyronn Lue.

Cleveland has one: Mo Williams, who understandably went for the money grab in Milwaukee and turned down Miami as a free agent. He was then dealt to Cleveland.

Anthony carter Denver has one: Anthony Carter.

Even the Lakers can haunt the Heat here: The final piece of the Shaq trade was the pick the Lakers ultimately used to draft Jordan Farmar.

And what do Farmar, Carter, Williams (Heat get a pass here), Alston, Johnson and Lue all have in common? Each would just be the type of backup the Heat so desperately needed this season. Many - if not all of them - would have started for Miami. These cats aren't saviors by any stretch. But they can be short-term, serviceable solutions that Dwyane Wade can trust and respect in the backcourt.

They can also groom Chalmers.

I know. I know. The last time the Heat went for its own Flip, it ended up getting Smush-ed. And burned.

But that was two seasons ago. The scorn should have worn off by now. Smush

It's well past time to address this need. It won't cost much. It won't break the salary cap. It won't send Miami too deep into the luxury tax. It might have, however, sent the Heat a round deeper in the playoffs. So it's worth the investment, isn't it?

After all, the Heat never did have an answer off the bench against the Hawks for Murray, who played a key role in flipping the Heat out of the postseason.

Pat Riley, one of the NBA's ultimate deal-makers, was able to get a second-round draft pick out of the Magic two years ago for releasing Stan Van Gundy from his coaching-turned-consulting contract with the Heat.

In hindsight, Riley probably should have held out for the option to take one of the Magic's 26 veteran backup point guards instead. Filling this void would be one small but significant step toward roster improvement for the 2009-10 season.

Get my point?

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wade Extends - With Zo's Groove

It was good to hear Dwyane Wade clear it all up.

Standing on Thursday at a podium behind all of the microphones, reporters and TV cameras, the Miami WadeInterviewed Heat's franchise player offered the type of commitment that will tie him to the region for quite some time.

He mentioned how he plans to show Chicago, his hometown city, plenty of love in the coming years.

He talked about doing the right things, making the right choices, having a lasting impact and giving a championship-level effort until he retires.

Yes, Wade is taking all of the good things he's been a part of in Miami and carrying them to Chicago.

In the offseason.

And then he's coming back to Miami to play ball. For now. For the near future. And possibly for as long as he's able to lace them up and throw down 30 a night.

"Even now, I'm back to work on an important project," Wade said of the work his Wade's World Foundation plans to do in the area. "We have our own 'Miniature Groove' in Chicago. Not like this. This is where it all starts."

Wade-ZO At a time when Wade is facing some of the biggest decisions of his career on the court, he made it clear Thursday that his biggest priority off the court this offseason is to extend his work with Alonzo Mourning to expand the reach of their joint charitable ventures.

Wade appeared at the Seminole Hard Rock Cafe for a joint press conference with Mourning to lay out plans for The Summer Groove, this year's version of the event that used to be called Zo's Summer Groove. For the second straight summer, the even will be co-hosted by Wade and Zo and runs from July 8-12, with the All-Star basketball game set for July 12 at AmericanAirlines Arena. But for the first time in the 13-year history of the fund-raising festivities, Zo's name does not solely headline the events.

"This was something that was already phenomenal and didn't need anything," Wade said of the remarkable job Mourning has done with the Summer Groove before the two teamed up. "Last year, it was great. We felt something inside at every event. Me and Alonzo, left a better person after every event."

Yes, Wade could end all of the speculation by signing a contract extension in two months that would keep him in a Heat uniform until 2015. But why bother now? He sees no rush, especially with another guaranteed season on his contract and the option to play an additional one after that before his current contract expires.

The commitment Wade gave Thursday by sticking alongside Mourning - foundation to foundation - was a good solid step to show that he's got plenty invested in South Florida, regardless of the number of seasons left on his contract. 

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Split Decision for Spoelstra

It's a predicament that might be as challenging as any Erik Spoelstra has faced in his first season as the Miami Heat's head coach.

He's completely torn on this one. And for good reason. Spo-timeout

Spoelstra considers Stan Van Gundy one of his closest friends in or out of the NBA. Spoelstra also goes way back with Mike Brown, back to their days as rival college point guards out on the West coast.

Spoelstra essentially came up in the coaching ranks under Van Gundy's wings with the Heat. Spoelstra also shares the same career path Brown took to the big seat on the bench, with both rising from the film rooms in arena basements.

So when asked to make a pick between Van Gundy's Orlando Magic and Brown's Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, Spoelstra was essentially stumped.

"It's unique, because I've known Mike for a long time, since college," Spoelstra said. "But I'm also very close to Stan - I think everybody knows that. So I'm not picking one."

Smart choice for the rookie head coach.

Instead, Spoelstra was much more willing to break down the intangibles in the best-of-7 conference finals series that begins Wednesday night in Cleveland.

The Heat had its hands full with both teams this season. Miami was a combined 2-6 against Orlando and Cleveland. Against both opponents, the Heat did a fairly decent job at keeping Dwight Howard and LeBron James from having monster games, overall, although there was a breakout or two.

Mike Brown But the differences between the Heat and the two teams that are competing for a trip to the NBA Finals are the depth and the supporting casts that surround those two other superstars.

Spoelstra believes the Magic-Cavs series will play out much like the thrilling first-round slugfest of a series between the Bulls and Celtics, where there were a half dozen overtime periods and every game was up for grabs in the final seconds.

"Both teams are tough defensively, and are very efficient on offense and don't make a lot of turnovers," Spoelstra said. "It'll come down to clutch moments and big plays in the fourth quarter. That's probably how the series is going to shake out. Whoever has the ball last will have the best chance to win. But it's going to be tough."

Making a decision will be much easier for Spoelstra in the NBA Finals. In either case, Spoelstra will be Stan Van Gundy pulling for one of his closest friends in the profession to get his first championship ring.

And fairly soon - if the Heat plays its offseason cards right this offseason and next, and outfit Dwyane Wade with more depth and a stronger cast - Spoelstra might be in position to go bling for bling with his coaching buddies.

My take: Cleveland advances in six. 

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Heat Tidbit or Two

As the Heat's coaching staff wraps up the final written stages of its player evaluations from the season, figured we'd check in with you on an update or two from the roster.

Jermaine O'Neal- He's recovered from the concussion symptoms that sidelined him for the final games of the first-round series loss against the Hawks. J.O. has been cleared to resume workouts, but, like New Jermaine most players, will take a couple of more weeks off before he starts his offseason program. Jermaine still has plans to split the summer working out with the noted trainer Tim Grover in Chicago and Joe Abunassar in Las Vegas to regain strength in his knees and legs. Apparently, O'Neal's knee problems were a bit more serious when he arrived in the trade than everyone let on. Pat Riley even admitted that O'Neal had to have the knee drain three times in the final two months of the season. 

The Heat plans to monitor O'Neal's workouts closely, either by sending staffers with him when he goes out of town or by offering to bring O'Neal's outside specialists to Miami. The approach will be similar to last summer, when Dwyane Wade chose to work out away from Miami (but under Heat supervision). The hope is that O'Neal's results are as rejuvenating as they were for Wade.

Udonis Haslem- No major updates and development here. But internal reports are that Haslem won't require any medical procedure for his back. Haslem sustained a severe bruise midway through the season and played the final three months with spasms. He feared he might need to have some form of surgery or procedure, but those fears were erased after the season. He was told rest was all he'd need, and has been instructed to stay as far away from a basketball gym and associated activities as much as possible for about a month. Word is Haslem's focus and tolerance level for pain are unlike any other player that has come through the franchise.

Luther Head- The free agent guard is scheduled to have the cast removed from his left hand by the end of this week. Head missed the final month of the season after he broke a bone in his hand while reaching in against Dwight Howard during a March game against the Magic. Had the Heat advanced past the first round, Head and the team likely would have taken a more aggressive approach with his rehab and cast removal. But after the first-round exit, there was really no reason to rush it. Head would still like to stay with the Heat, but said he understands the "wait-and-see" approach the Heat takes with its own free agents at the initial stages of the offseason.

Daequan Cook- The shoulder problems that slowed Daequan Cook toward the end of the season were considered muscle strains that would improve with rest. The time off he will get before he resumes an Cook Shooting intense off-season workout regimen with several other teammates should allow enough time for him to heal. Cook was discouraged and confused about his shoulder problems, especially in light of what happened last summer when he jammed a shoulder during offseason drills. That injury kept him out of the initial stages of the offseason program and summer league last season. He simply hopes it's not a chronic situation and plans to report back to Miami early next month healthy and ready to go. Also, Cook recently was the guest speaker at graduation ceremonies for a drug treatment program in his native Dayton, Ohio. Cook told a group of young graduates to be careful about the choices they make in the future and also told the story of how one of his grandmothers died from an apparent overdose.

Jamaal Magloire- Big Cat just wants to set the record straight one more time. "I love it here and would like to come back and finish what we started," Magloire, the free-agent center, said before he made plans to spend a few weeks back home in Toronto. Once O'Neal arrived in the trade, Magloire soon settled into his role as a productive backup who provided energy, rebounding and a general pounding in limited minutes. Magloire, a former All-Star, knows he's well beyond his prime. But he also knows he's tired of bouncing around the league at this stage of his career and is willing to accept another modest contract. He would prefer two years, but also understands the year-to-year approach Pat Riley is taking.

Also, as the focus shifts toward preparing for the draft (Miami has two late second-round picks - for now), there also is an eagerness from the coaching staff to get started on the offseason program that will target Cook, Mario Chalmers, Dorell Wright, Michael Beasley and, to an extent, O'Neal. Part of the plan, as Riley mentioned in his postseason exit session comments a few weeks ago, will include what might amount to scrimmage sessions against players from other teams who are in their own offseason programs. The workouts could include twice-daily sessions, with the mornings set aside exclusively for Wade-ZO conditioning and fundamental work, with the evening set up for on-court team development.

One final note, Wade and Alonzo Mourning have scheduled a press conference later this week to talk about this year's "The Summer Groove (my bad, I first had Grove by mistake)." Notice that no one's name is listed in front of the event. It will be the first time Zo's name hasn't been out front since he started it a dozen years ago. It's all part of the plan for Zo and Wade to sort of co-market the event, with Zo still maintaining a heavy role in the successful charity efforts. It is officially called The Summer Groove, hosted by Zo and D. Wade.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

D. Wade Doing Work, Too

Congrats to Dwyane Wade for everything he's done this season to play his way back into All-World form.

Another accolade was added to his resume Wednesday, when the league announced that Wade was named to the All-NBA first team for the first time in his career. Wade became only the four Heat player in history to earn the D.wade distinction. And it's well deserved.

Joining Wade on the first team were Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki. It wasn't exactly the ballot I submitted as a league voter at the end of the regular season. But it was close enough.

No arguments there. But my first-team group consisted of Wade, James, Howard, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan. My second team was Kobe, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol and Yao Ming. And my third team was Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson, Dirk and Shaquille O'Neal.

But back to Wade.

It was sort of easy to take for granted the remarkable things this guy did this season. But the truth of the matter is that we may never see a season, from an overall production standpoint, that Wade provided during the 2008-09 campaign.

In addition to being a first-team All-NBA selection, Wade won a scoring title, finished third in both MVP and Defensive player of the year voting, was a second-team all-defensive team pick and became the first player 6-4 or shorter to record 100 steals and 100 blocks in a season.

WadeDunk There were three 50-point games. There was the halfcourt running three-pointer to beat Chicago. There was the thrilling 24-point fourth quarter bloody outburst to lead the comeback against New York.

There were the numerous dunks on the heads of shot-blocking centers. There were the huge rejections in the post against 7-footers.

You can go on and on and on about what Wade delivered this season. Yes, he is back. But not only was he back, he was better.

At some point, you would have thought that the momentum this man brought back from that gold-medal run in the Olympics was going to fade a bit. That Wade would eventually come back to earth. I predicted at the beginning of the season on the blog that Wade would lead the league in scoring.

But I never imagined he'd be able to keep up this pace. You could say that Wade got better even as the season progressed. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: No player was more important to his team per possession this season than Dwyane Tyrone Wade Jr.

That didn't make him the MVP in my book, though. But I had him second to LeBron. No shame in that.

As I think back to the one moment that stands out this season, the one moment above all others LeBron-Wade that personifies Wade's worth, it was that Jan. 9 night in Sacramento.

With the Heat extended to overtime, and the game going back and forth with the Kings, Wade tossed the ball inside to Jamaal Magloire. Magloire fumbled it away, as I recall. He fouled on the next possession. Wade motioned to the bench, pointed at Udonis Haslem and forcefully told him to "get in the game."

Wade didn't need to consult the coaching staff. He never even looked in coach Erik Spoelstra's direction. He simply wanted his dawg to ride with him with the game on the line. He called a shot. (As an aside, there's a level of respect, trust, partnership and bond that Wade and Haslem share that could never really be explained to or appreciated by those outside of the lines of an NBA court. But it's there. It's also why trading Haslem would be the toughest call Riley would ever have to make to Wade - if that were to be the case. But that's a discussion for another day.)

Udonis checked in and the Heat went on to get a road win. Yeah, it was the lousy Kings. But they weren't as lousy then, with John Salmons and Brad Miller still on the roster. But still. No moment this season more clearly defined the leader Wade had become. No moment, to me, more clearly defined whose team it is. No moment more clearly defined that Wade knows what he wants and when he wants it.

I've blogged about that night before, which resulted in a 119-115 Heat win in OT. It wasn't about Wade showing up any coaches. It wasn't about him dissing Magloire, who would become Wade's personal enforcer by season's end. It wasn't done with a lack of respect shown to Haslem.

Beasley-Wade It was simply leadership. It was legit. And it was the most defining moment to me in what, statistically, will go down as a legendary season for Wade.

Sure, Wade suggested after the season that he's not sure if he'd like to again carry the type of load he shouldered as the league's scoring champion. But make no mistake about it. Wade took plenty of pride in posting the best numbers of any player in the league this season.

He'd just like to get a little bit more help next season, and cash in for more than 43 victories.

And that, he deserves, too.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Key(s) to Perspective

It's amazing what a bit of perspective - and a week removed from the playoffs - will do for you.

Took the weekend to get away from with the wife and kids for Mother's Day.

Made the drive for the first time all the way down to Key West (usually I punk out at Key Largo).

Did the dance down Duval St.

Made out with a margarita or two at Margaritaville.

Cleared the Conch salad.

Sweat off a pound or two (in offseason conditioning already) on the sand at sultry Southernmost Point.

In other words, it was good. All good. Until I turned on the TV back in the room.

Like most of you, I'm watching this Cavaliers-Hawks series with a bit of disbelief. Wade-disbelief

No, it's not shocking that LeBron James is exceeding every expectation.

It's not even surprising that the Cavaliers are handling the Hawks like Manny Pacquiao bum-rushed (remember that old-school term?) Ricky Hatton.

But what baffles me is that these are the same Hawks that crushed the Heat four times in that scratch-your-head of a seven-game series in the first round.

I mean, really? Ask yourself. With the way this is playing out, Is this second-round, so-called series between the Hawks and Cavs a bigger indictment against the Hawks or the Heat?

I know the Cavs are good. But unbeaten, untested good and barely-need-to-break-a-sweat good?

For now? Yes. Considering the (low) quality of competition at this stage.

There was a time when I told a colleague on the beat that I thought the Heat would have extended the Cavs to as many as six games had the LeBron Jameses and Dwyane Wades met in the second round.

But as much as I would like to convince myself that the Heat would have fared much better against the Cavs than these Hawks, logic, perspective and facts would force me to reconsider.

Having said that, it's safe to assume that had Game 7 been played in Miami, the Heat would have advanced. But it wasn't. And it didn't.

The good news is that - regardless which direction the Heat takes with personnel changes this offseason - it won't require much to close the gap and secure homecourt advantage next season.

But a far more sobering reality is that the gap between a healthy Cleveland, Boston, Orlando and the rest of the pack next season might still seem to stretch as long as the Seven Mile Bridge you take to get back here.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Final Grades Are In

A week that opened with the Heat still in the playoff mix will end with the team already immersed in the initial stages of the offseason.

New SPO After tallying the highs and lows, ups and downs, pain and progress, breakthroughs and breakdowns, we now present the final player grades for the 2008-09 season.

Overall, I give the Heat a C+ for what it accomplished this season. To come from a disastrous 15-win season to deliver a 43-39 finish this season was a significant step forward. All things considered, the Heat was a slight notch above average, but a few grades below very good.

On to the individual transcripts. Keep in mind that these grades are based on a curve, on how a player performed to expectation. So a C for Yakhouba Diawara might not mean the same as a C for Jermaine O'Neal.

Joel Anthony, C+: He is what he is. And that's a shot-blocking project with raw-to-limited offensive ability. Yes, Joel managed to hit a jumper or two this season that may or may not have led to money changing hands between wagering teammates. He stepped in at a time when the Heat had nowhere else to turn at center early in the season to provide a defensive spark as a starter. But his hands were still as bad at the end of the season as they were at the start. It could very well come down to an either/or situation as to whether the Heat brings back Joel or Jamaal Magloire, who are both free agents.

Michael Beasley, B: By far the toughest player on the roster to grade. Part of his development was stunted by inconsistent playing time in a rotation where he was made to earn his minutes. Another factor New Beasley that tugged on Beasley was his shoddy defense. Overall, we all saw the promise and potential that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. We also saw the growing pains and stretches of inconsistency. The bottom line is Beasley can be a player the Heat can pair with Dwyane Wade for some time to come - unless Pat Riley grows impatient and feels he's forced to make a deal for a proven All-Star right now.

Mark Blount, D: At this point, Blount is simply a bad, unproductive contract that's weighing down the Heat's cap. Due $8 million next season, this was one of the mistakes Riley admits to having made as part of the failed trade that sent Antoine Walker out and brought in Ricky Davis and Blount. Blount had some personal issues that took him away from the team for several weeks late in the season, and he ended up on a leave of absence. If the Heat can't trade him, he'll be back to haunt the cap next season and cost the Heat a shot at resigning Anthony or Magloire.

Mario Chalmers, B: Before you criticize him for what he isn't, maintain perspective on what he is. Or was. And that's a rookie, second-round pick on whom the Heat simply took a gamble to see if he would turn out to be something if he learned to play point guard. What Miami got was a durable player who became the first rookie in franchise history to start all 82 games. Chalmers also ranked among the league leaders in steals. For that, he was well worth the limited investment. The question now is can Chalmers improve his offense, play more sound defense and truly become the attacking playmaker who can help Wade?

Daequan Cook, C-: He had a solid B for the first half of the season, but stumbled to a D down the stretch. Cook, in his second season after spending just one year at Ohio State, essentially played well New Cook enough for the duration of a college season. After tournament season was over, so was Cook's effectiveness on the court with the Heat. Even Riley was puzzled at how fast and hard Cook's play had fallen after he won the NBA's 3-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend. He went from securing a role as the top guard off the bench to losing ground to James Jones and Luther Head. Now, his status is back in limbo, and he could end up a trade chip this summer.

Yakhouba Diawara, C: Give Khouba credit for being ready to step in whenever he was called upon, even though his season may have peaked during that exhibition game in his native Paris back in October. He was a steady defender who knocked down an occasional three-pointer to provide some life off the bench. But in reality, he's essentially a ninth or tenth man in the rotation.

Udonis Haslem, B+: I'm going to admit that I'm biased here, and that I have a strong appreciation for the way UD approaches the game and the way he played through a very difficult season. It's hard to tell which pain was worse for him this season, the physical problems or the emotional ones for having to deal with the losses of several relatives and close friends this season. Still, he played on. Through 20-plus stitches around his eyes and hand, through a severely bruised back, through foot and ankle issues. And I'm sure I missed something. Not only did UD lead the team in rebounding, he led it in toughness and accountability. As long as Beasley is here, UD might never get the appreciation he deserves. He'll play through it and give 120 percent anyway.

Luther Head, C: Never really got to see him do much after he was picked up after being released by Houston. Head is a quick, solid defender as a back up point guard. But he broke his hand in March and missed the final months of the season. He doesn't really qualify as the proven veteran the Heat needs at point guard to push Mario Chalmers. But Luther is a change-of-pace option who can knock down shots, although he never really found a rhythm in Miami. As a free agent, is he a keeper, or was he simply passing through?

James Jones, C-: Grading him a little low here because he never really had a chance to live up to what he was brought in to be as the Heat's top free-agent pickup last summer. Wrist surgery in October took Jones out of the mix for all but the final two months of the season. He didn't really hit his stride until the final few games. He became the starter in the playoffs. His highlight was that 11-second sequence when he made two four-point plays against Atlanta. With Beasley expected to take over as the starting small forward next season, Jones will be the sixth man and top three-point threat on the roster.

Jamaal Magloire, B: Big Cat was probably one of the few players on the roster who exceeded expectations, considering how low they were for him when he arrived on a minimum-level deal for one, non-guaranteed season. But Magloire provided the muscle, physical play, professional, dirty work and on-and-off the bench support that made him a sort of unsung hero on the roster. Whether it was rebounding, decking dudes or taking up for D. Wade when things got rough in the lane, Cat was there. Those kind of intangibles are always needed on an NBA roster. As a free agent, Magloire wants back in.

Jamario Moon, C: The honeymoon was great right after the trade. For a moment, Moon's above-the-rim chemistry with Dwyane Wade left Heat fans asking: Shawn who? But reality soon set in and Moon slipped into sort of an anonymous role in the starting lineup. A groin injury, which required season-ending surgery in the playoffs, took him out of the mix and leaves his status in limbo entering free agency this summer. The Heat would prefer someone among Dorell Wright, Michael Beasley or even James Jones - all under contract next season - to step up and take over that role.

Jermaine O'Neal, C+: Did the offense get better after he arrived in the trade? Yes. Did he bring the New Jermaine balance the roster lacked with Shawn Marion here? Yes. But did he ever seen like he truly got it going? Not really. While Wade can turn an expansion team into a playoff contender - which is essentially what he did this season - he needs help from O'Neal to carry the Heat from playoff team to title contender. No, Jermaine isn't what he was a few years ago. But there's still enough there to be a double-double type center who can also block a few shots a game. He has to be healthy and motivated. Riley revealed after the season that O'Neal was still having problems with his knees. The plan now is to visit Tim Grover, the same trainer that brought Wade's body back from the doldrums last season.

Chris Quinn, C: A solid, hard-working, decent-shooting point guard who is what he is. At best that's probably a backup, who might even be closer to a third-string guy on most rosters. He's a Heat culture guy who is good in the locker room and stays ready on the bench. Riley has challenged Quinn, a Notre Dame alum, to go back to South Bend this summer and work with the cornerbacks on the football team, so he can address his defensive weakness and better stay in front of his man.

Dwyane Wade, A+: What more could he have done this season for this team? Nothing. He led the New Wade league in scoring, ranked among the league's leaders in assists, steals and blocks, became the first player in league history at 6-4 or under to record 100 steals and 100 blocks, finished third in MVP voting and on the second-team All-NBA defensive squad. And I probably haven't even scratched the surface on his accomplishments during the most statistically productive season of his career. What Wade needs now is rest, and the rest of the roster to take some of the load off his shoulders next season.

Dorell Wright, D: Yes, he's still here. And he'll be around next season as well. But you haven't seen much of Dorell for the past two seasons because of injuries that have derailed Dorell's development. Say that three times real quick. But there's just something in this kid that Riley won't give up on. Eventually, you hope the light comes on for Wright, who has played fewer than 200 games in his five seasons with the team. The small forward position has been there for the taking for two years now, and Wright hasn't been able to grab it. Maybe next year's the year. If not, expect it to be Wright's last one on the roster.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

When Riley Talks ...

Heat president Pat Riley talked Wednesday.

A bunch of us South Florida media members gathered at AmericanAirlines Arena to listen.

Now, after transcribing - or, rather, quickly listening to the comments - let's determine what they mean in order of priority as the Heat heads into the offseason.

Priority No. 1 - Signing Dwyane Wade to an extension this summer, before he can opt out in 2010. Wade-Riley

Riley: "It's been broached. It's on everybody's mind. We want Dwyane Wade here the rest of his career. We would love to get a commitment. He's our franchise player. We understand he has the right to wait."

Lowdown: Now, it's D. Wade's turn to make everyone wait on his commitment. Riley should know how it's done, considering the way he publicly handled his coaching future a few years ago. I've got no problem with Wade taking his time. I've got no problem if he waits until 2010. He's earned that right. He knows he's the anchor of this franchise. But business is business. And he's got leverage.

Priority No. 2 - Moving Michael Beasley to small forward

Riley: "I'm a believer in Michael and Erik (Spoelstra) is a believer in Michael. He never really had a developmental summer the way Dwyane had (after his rookie season). He can play that spot. I coached James Worthy, when he was a power forward coming out of college. Michael has the ability to be one of the best 3-4s in the league. You need offensive firepower."

Beasley-Wade Lowdown: If Riley is truly determined to make this current roster work, he had no choice but to move Beasley to small forward. Why the team couldn't have committed to that change after the Shawn Marion trade is beyond me. There is no doubt that Beas can play the three. And enough with all of the talk about him not being able to defend LeBron James and Paul Pierce. Hell, who can? Beasley simply must stay out of foul trouble and force opposing small forward to guard him as well. He can create mismatches.

Priority No. 3 - Is Michael Beasley untouchable as a potential trade chip?

Riley: "I would think so. (But) You never know what will come from outside."

Lowdown: Riley had to be convinced to keep Beasley on draft night - and beyond. Of course, he's going to say all of the "we-want-to-keep-Beas" things right now. But let Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire become available, and Beas might be out of here as quick as he can get a shot up. Having said that, I would much rather see Beas stay and develop and benefit from being alongside Wade the same way Wade did so being alongside Shaq in those first couple of seasons.

Priority No. 4 - Developing the young core of Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Daequan Cook and - get this - Dorell Wright.

Riley: "Michael and Mario and Daequan and Dorell are going to be part of what we call the Heat Academy. We have foregone the summer league this year because I want it to be about a summer of work. Of drilling and out of the box thinking about developing their athleticism and not just their basketball skills. I think they will get more out of it than in the summer league. I'm not saying we won't take them somewhere for a session - I've talked to four or five other teams.  

Priority No. 5 - Making a blockbuster move this summer.

Riley: "Being patiently impatient is what it's about. If something happens that is good and could change the direction of the franchise immediately, if it was sound, fiscal, fit into all of the parameters, like the Shaquille deal did at the time, you move forward. But with what we did last year, what we brought in this year, and how we were able to clean the table for 2010, that has to be the vision and the long-term plan. But I would be proactive if something were to happen. I've got a huge ego. But it's got nothing to do with anything other than the team. It's really about the team."

Lowdown: Pat's got Henry Thomas on speed-dial. Henry not only represents D. Wade, but also Chris Bosh. And if Pat can get Henry to get Toronto to take back anyone on the roster, except Dwyane, it's a done deal this summer - if not by the trade deadline next season.

Priority No. 6 - Getting anything near $23 million worth of production from Jermaine O'Neal next season. SPO-O'NEAL

Riley: "We saw the balance he gave the team. He gave us a presence in the middle. Trying to incorporate him into a perimeter-based game around Dwyane wasn't an easy thing. He needs one summer of just getting strong. We had to drain his knee three times. I think we're going to have that (a strong, healthy and consistently productive) O'Neal next season."

Priority No. 7 - Deal or No Deal regarding Udonis Haslem, who has an attractive expiring contract.

Riley: "You don't want to move players like Udonis. We all know what Udonis brings. We all know what Udonis is all about. Business is business. But Udonis is a fixture here. I would like to keep him here.

Lowdown: Again, this might go back to the Henry Thomas factor. Henry also represents Udonis in addition to Chris Bosh and Wade. The bottom line is that Udonis has taken on a sort of Zo-like quality within the franchise. He doesn't complain. He works hard. And he's the toughest dude in the locker room. Plus he's Dwyane Wade's sidekick. Wade and Haslem are the only rotation players left from the 2006 title team. Jordan had Oakley. Magic had A.C. Green. Bird had McHale. Wade has Udonis.

Priority No. 8 - Riley's future beyond 2010, when his contract is believed to expire.

Riley: "I can have a handshake agreement with (owner) Micky (Arison). After 14 years, I don't think it's Riley-Arison about contracts."

Lowdown: As Riley admits, he has a huge ego. Don't think for one second that he did all the groundwork (along with his staff) to set this team up for a blockbuster summer of 2010 to walk away without reaping the benefits of what becomes of it. Riley will eventually head off into the sunset of Southern Cal. But not before he sets Wade up with another mega star to make a run at one last title.

Priority No. 9 - On dealing to get a first-round pick for the draft, which the Heat does not have right now.

Riley: "Maybe. We'll take a look at it if we like the player and it slots into what we're trying to do."

Lowdown: Probably not. Unless landing a draft pick is part of a larger deal to dump salary. Any takers for Mark Blount? Going once ... going twice ... ?

Mario Priority No. 10 - Acquiring a veteran point guard to compete with Mario Chalmers.

Riley: "I have a depth chart in my office with all of the starting point guards on a board. I told Mario: Don't make me trade for one of those guys to take your spot. He said: I won't."

Lowdown: Riley sees a little bit of Rajon Rondo in Mario. And that's a good thing. Because Rondo faced all of the same questions Mario does now when he took over as the starting point guard in Boston two years ago. Look at Rondo now. One of Mario's best games this season came against Rondo and Boston on the road, when Wade was out. Don't expect Riley to give up on Chalmers now.   

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Where To From Here? Here.

It never really seems like it's over until, well, it's over.

The Heat's season ended Sunday with a loss to Atlanta in Game 7. The team went from planning to move on to Cleveland to face LeBron and Co. to heading back to Miami to face the reality that it's done.

WADE-Confused And it's been a long, long, long season. How long ago does that trip to Europe seem? I was there and it seemed like it was closer to seven years ago rather than seven months.

Again, I can't complain. It was a good ride.

It was a rewarding one. An at times disappointing one. But, overall, an encouraging one.

In reality, it played out the way it probably should have. The higher-seeded team with homecourt advantage beat the lower-seeded team that didn't have homecourt advantage.

There are some things Dwyane Wade can't overcome. Rookies. Roster limitations. Game 7s on the road. Joe Johnson nailing "40-foot threes" in his face. Zaza. A supporting cast that mostly fell flat.

But take nothing away from the remarkable season Wade had this season. Yes, LeBron James is the MVP and he deserves it. Any logical person can come to that conclusion.

But I still make the case that no player in the league is more important to his team per possession - on either end of the court - than Wade. The difference is in value. How much value is there in 43 victories, no matter how great of a season one had?

How much more is there in 66 wins and a 39-2 home record? That's the difference between Wade and James. Teammates. Hell, maybe just one teammate. Maybe just Mo Williams, who still has the ring Pat Riley gave him two years ago as a free agent the Heat desperately wanted to wed.

But it should be noted that Wade, although he finished third in the MVP voting behind James and Kobe Bryant, got more first-place votes than Bryant.

And that's about right, too.

Now, the question is this: Should the Heat break up this team around Wade again?

Wade has already gone through at least four roster makeovers since his rookie season - and three coaches. There were the Caron and Lamar years, when the Heat valued youth.

Then came the Shaq and 'Tione Walker years, when the Heat sold out to vets, bad attitudes and culture shock to win an NBA title.

Then came the purge season, when Shaq had to go and Shawn was initially romanced as a suitable Thumbs-UP sidekick to Wade on the wing. In reality, the Matrix was only a money man on an expiring deal that led to another deal.

Now, there's the Jermaine O'Neal, James Jones, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers collection of youth and role-playing veterans around Wade.

Count me in the minority, non-knee-jerkers who believe the team that ended the season - one that only had about eight weeks together - should be the same one that starts the next one. With one exception. Pat Riley has to bring in a veteran point guard if, for nothing else, to push Chalmers.

The kid hit a wall late in the season, and still kept his job because there was no one there to take it. What does it say about your point guard depth, when you look at Flip Murray with envy?

This is not a knock on Chalmers. The kid is going to be a solid NBA player for a long time. He has the swagger, hunger and drive. But he wasn't even a pure point guard when he arrived from Kansas.

He was taught the position in summer league last year. Remember?

But more than anything else, this team needs a veteran point guard that Wade trusts enough to give him room to breath. Part of Mario's development was stunted simply because Wade takes the ball and does his thing just about any time he feels like it.

And that's fine. This is Wade's team. But there are times when he simply needs to get off the ball and have someone else take over for a possession or six.

I like the talk about moving Michael Beasley to small forward. I think Jermaine O'Neal, if he commits to an offseason workout the way Wade did last summer, can come back and have a solid presence in the post. The idea of slotting James Jones and Daequan Cook off the bench is the right one (if one isn't dealt to address another need for an athletic backup center/power forward).

Unless there's a Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire available - and a subsequent GM willing to be suckered by Pat Riley again - give this team a shot, with a wee bit of tweaking.

Past bad moves are still haunting the Heat. Smush Parker was still on the cap this season. Mark Blount is still suffocating the payroll for another $8 million. The Dorell Wright Fund, bless his heart, will milk the Heat for $7 million over two years, including another next season.

At some point, these constant make-shift makeovers are going to catch up with D. Wade. How many times can he get used to new teammates? Develop this young nucleus around Wade. Don't destroy it.

This, after all, was a rebuilding job. Remember?

And as rebuilding jobs go, the Heat - going from an injury-riddled 15-win season to the playoffs - is ahead of schedule, all things considered.

Progress was achieved.

Taking the next step from here is going to require a bit of patience - and a veteran point guard.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports)



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