Heat vision beginning to take shape
The vision is beginning to take shape.
Pat Riley and Micky Arison met with Derek Fisher for three hours at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in downtown Miami on Saturday and apparently made Fisher a “compelling” offer.
Given the contract situations of Udonis and Mike, the compelling nature of the offer was more likely a vision of Fisher as the starting point guard on a team that also features among the most talented trio the game has ever produced than it was of monetary reward.
At the same time, the coup from Cleveland appears it may continue. Free agent center Zydrunas Ilgauskas is contemplating the option of rejoining LeBron James, his close friend, in Miami. It will certainly be interesting to see if the fanatics of northeastern Ohio deem the 12-year veteran center a Benedict-Arnold-like traitor, or if that title is devoted exclusively to far more talented but far less tenured former members of the organization.
More interesting are the implications the two additions could have on the Heat organization. Riley’s vision appears to change by the day, as new and unexpected possibilities avail themselves. As of now, it seems to follow along the lines of:
Starting Rotation: Derek Fisher, Dywane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Second Unit: Mario Chalmers, Raja Bell, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony.
The concept of the two units, however, is likely to be fluid. There may never actually be a moment when Dwyane, LeBron and Chris are all resting comfortably together. Perhaps the best part of having three legitimate superstars that can each dominate a basketball game in his own right is that each can take long, rejuvenating rest stops, in rotating fashion, throughout the course of a game. The concept of tearing down a body by playing forty-plus minutes per game may be a thing of the past for each of the three, vastly decreasing the potential for injury and prolonging the career.
When you consider the bench that Pat seems to be putting together, such a rotation system may even be a preferred alternative. The natural concern about such a Big Three trio is the perhaps less than complementary nature of their games. On the other hand, Bell, Miller and Haslem are all knock-down shooters that would complement the games of a superstar wonderfully – with the range of Bell and Miller stretching all the way behind the arc and that of Haslem to the top of the key extended.
The lesson we can take from the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns of yesteryear is that when you surround a playmaker or two with a gaggle of shooters, it makes it exceedingly difficult to defend and nearly impossible to double-team. It creates wide open driving lanes which, if closed, will leave Mike Miller wide open for a three point field goal attempt (where he shot 48% last season) and, if not, will produce a series of thunder-dunk highlight reels the likes of which the NBA has yet to ever see from a single team.
A fully-rested Big Three on the court together in the final minutes of any game that happens to be tight has to be a scary proposition.
The Heat figures not to be just an offensive powerhouse, but a severe match-up problem for just about every team in the league. Consider the flexibility afforded by having a Second Team All Defensive shooting guard, a First Team All Defensive small forward who has the quickness to cover opposing point and shooting guards and the frame to cover opposing power forwards, and a lanky 6’11” power forward who, despite the lack of hardware, is among the game’s best statistical rebounders, as well as a strong pick-and-roll defender who moves his feet and alters shots with his length and leaping ability.
But there are issues that need to be dealt with. This is by no means a team, even if it comes together as envisioned, without its flaws.
Ilgauskas, 35, is an aging center whose defensive capabilities are oftentimes not on par with the expectations of a Riley-run organization.
The more athletic but less coordinated or “big” big man, Joel Anthony, figures to spell the 7’3″ center for large portions of the game, including key stretches during close ball games. But he is by no means a definitive answer. Joel has made steady progress over the past two seasons, but he still can’t catch a basketball nine inches in diameter, let alone place it inside a rim 18 inches in diameter. And while his shot-blocking prowess is absurdly good (third in the league last season in blocks per 48 minutes, at 3.96), his rebounding prowess is not (9.0 per 48 minutes, good for 71st in the league).
The script down low has yet to be fully written. None of the Heat’s current options are starter-quality, certainly not for a title contender. The Heat would be better served sliding Bosh over to center, James over to power forward, and inserting Miller into the starting rotation, in what would become a very offensive-minded unit. But that takes a collective buy-in.
The other glaring weakness of the team also figures to be at the point guard position.
Fisher would be a decent addition, as a floor general, clutch performer, strong locker room presence and overall proven winner. He is also a bull, who uses his brute force to cover bigger guards without any trouble. But he’s well past his prime, not a great shooter or distributor, and he has more trouble staying in front of quicker guards than does projected backup Mario Chalmers, who himself struggles in that role.
The team desperately needs a defensive-minded point guard option who can stay in front quicker opponents, preferably one that has the ability to space the floor with his three-point shooting capabilities.
After four years of failure, there is reason to hope in South Florida. The prospect for a healthy, fresh and fully-rested rotation that features three of the best players on this planet has us all salivating. But there remains some work to be done.