Read Everything That Dunks Must Converge

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by Bryan Harvey

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by Bryan Harvey

Previewing the ACC-Big Ten Challenge

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by Brendan Brody

To their own devices: Pablo Larrain's 'The Club'

To their own devices: Pablo Larrain's 'The Club'
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Paper Tigers: What Lessons Need to Be Learned by Miami's Big Three from Embarrassment

March 5, 2011

"Is Allah so unbending. . . . Should God be proud or humble, majestic or simple, yielding or un-? 
What kind of idea is he?What kind am I?"
--Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

I've got four years experience, but I am in no way an expert teacher. I still struggle sometimes with how to give upbeat criticism that doesn't crush a kid's hopes and inspirations. I also sometimes over react to small things, and I under react to big things. And I know there are times when my expectations grate on the kids, especially my AP students. I call them kids because sometimes I need to remind myself that they're still growing up and that car wash fundraisers and Prom and curfews are all more important to them than the knowledge to be found in 50 Essays. I call them kids because I need to remind myself that patience is required; they are not finished products--some of them aren't even on the same assembly line. But one of the few things I have learned in my short tenure as an educator is that students kids need to know you have a plan and they need to believe in it. And while they may not know every step of the plan or even need to know, you have to make them aware that the plan is a process and not an exact formula. The plan is never as simple as do this, then this, and then this happens. It's more like work on this, work on it some more, okay, now that you think you've mastered it, work on this new thing. It's frustrating. It's a battle of wills. It's cursing the powers that be, and it's wrestling with faith. No more. No less. Just complicated and tedious. Even painful.
In the first quarter, against the Spurs, the Miami Heat looked like a team that once believed in formulas, was losing faith in the formula, and never knew a process existed. It was sad. It was pathetic. It was terrible basketball. And meanwhile, the Spurs ran their system to perfection--it was beautiful to watch.

While the defensive effort of the Heat should be questioned, has been questioned, and will continue to be questioned, defensive effort will only solve a few of their short term goals, while ignoring the work and sacrifice it's going to take for them to be successful in this year's playoffs and over the long haul.

When Pat Riley constructed the Heat, he constructed them based off of a formula: stars equal championships and more stars equals more championships. He looked at Boston and saw a Big 3, so he went out and got a Big 3, and it was believed to be that simple. Then the Heat got off to a slow start. Then they started rolling. And now the wheels have fallen off. What other conclusion could be made as Tim Duncan said over and over in the first quarter of last night's game it's over, it's over? The Celtics Big 3 didn't work just because they were All-stars; the Celtics Big 3 worked because there was a system in place that relied on a complicated defense and ran an offense that required their offensive talents to complement one another's, and having Rajon Rondo helped a lot, too. The Heat don't have a system, and other than when they're running the fast break, their skills don't complement each other. But they could.

The Spurs are ancient. Watching them drive the ball into the lane, dish it out to a shooter, and then swing it around the perimeter for the best available shot is like listening to a colony of ferns whisper to each other. It's telepathic. It's indigenous. It's natural. Except that they do it with a different set of players every other year and have so for over a decade now. Because Matt Bonner is not Danny Ferry and George Hill is not Stephen Jackson and Dujuan Blair is not Malik Rose, one can come to only a few non-exclusive conclusions about the Spurs. One, they have a system in place and find players that are born to play that system, such as Gary Neal. Two, they teach, learn, and perfect their system because they believe in it with a cult-like fervency. Three, the system possesses an incredible amount of elasticity: Popovich and Duncan, the great stone stalwarts, are actually rubber trees that bend in the wind. Oh, how we misjudge them!-- and oh, how they survive.

The Heat need to quit looking for formulas, mnemonic devices, and cheat sheets. It's time to hit the books, and it's time to actually learn some shit. Great teams stay relevant because they have a flexible belief system; otherwise, they snap, crack, and bleed like Libyan dictatorships. The Spurs have gone from a tortoise to a hare, and even the Celtics, who stubbornly clung to the belief that their starting five could never lose, parted ways with fan favorite Kendrick Perkins because they wanted a more versatile lineup (Jeff Green had his first 20-point game last night). Teams have to have a system, and when cracks start to reveal themselves in that system, a team has to be proactive and evolve. Duncan slowed down, became more and more glued to the hardwood, showed signs of losing his touch, so Pop took the ball out of his hands and put it in the hands of his other playmakers. And Duncan accepted his diminished role because he believed, and this is where we encounter our first problem with the Heat.

Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James do not believe in anything other than their superior talents. For them, championships are owed to them because they are wonderfully gifted. They are also wonderfully stupid. After blowing a 24-point lead against the Knicks, Bosh slammed the basketball against the floor, making himself look like a kid throwing a temper tantrum. Kids throw tantrums because they don't believe things will ever get better than the horrible moment in which they currently reside. It's the same reason people riot, and it's the same reason that Eric Dampier shoved Tony Parker in midflight last night--the Heat can't see past the moment.

But they need to. They need to see that they are indeed headed somewhere. They need to believe that they are marching towards some sea, or ocean, that will quench their thirst. They need to feel like they are on a pilgrimage, which means they need a prophet to lead them. Is Eric Spoelstra a prophet? Currently, I would say no. He seems too young, too unaccomplished, and too incompetent in his abilities to make in game adjustments. Admittedly, the Heat have nothing other than James, Wade, and Bosh, but if a team is killing you with three-pointers, have your perimeter guys stay home with the shooters, even if that means giving up a few more lay-ups or rebounds. The lead was built on threes. Stop the threes. Quit trading two points for three points, especially when a team is setting a franchise record for shots made from behind the arc. Call it making adjustments. Call it being flexible. Call it having a plan that is more elastic than a formula. Call it coaching. But whatever it is you have to do it, and Eric Spoelstra needs to start coaching a system (whether it's strategic or inspirational), or he needs to go.

The flexibility of the coach may actually be of less importance than the flexibility of the players. At the beginning of the year and even to this day, much was and is made about whom is going to take the last shot for the Heat and whom should the offense revolve around. The answer has clearly become LeBron James. He is their best player, even if Dwyane Wade's resume includes a championship; the Dwyane Wade we see today isn't the 2006 Dwyane Wade. He's older, he's been through injuries, and he looks lost, consistently hanging around the perimeter, not attacking the basket, watching LeBron run whatever it is the Heat are supposedly running. If the Heat aren't getting up and down the floor, then Wade basically turns into a very good version of Trevor Ariza. It's sad to see because he's better than this, and it's hurting the team.

The Heat's frontline, aside from Bosh, should retire, or be put out of its misery, and everyone knows it. The best frontline the Heat could possibly have--and the one that was most effective last night--featured Bosh at the five, LeBron at the four, and Mike Miller at the three. If the Heat want to make a deep run in the Playoffs, this offense comes first frontline needs to be the foundation for their "system of faith."

The paradox of LeBron James is that his team suffers when he is the best at everything, like saplings in the shade of a great oak. LeBron is the Heat's most physical player. He's also their best creator. He's also the only guy who looked like he really cared last night, forcing the Spurs, in the second quarter, to at least acknowledge that, no, the game wasn't quite over before it began, with fifteen points in the second. The play that most indicated his will to win and his brute strength was when he shook off a Matt Bonner arm tackle, while spinning, like a running back dragging a defensive back into the endzone. In that play, the Heat saw what they need to be successful. Put LeBron at the four and let him become a more versatile Blake Griffin, rather than a Magic Johnson who won't fully embrace being a point guard, and maybe that way his team can fully embrace his talents.

In other words, it's time LeBron quit being a great jam band, or indie band, and accept the fact that he sold out, left Cleveland, and now has to use his liberal basketball education and pick a career--and the career his team needs him to pick is that of a power forward.

LeBron at power forward would allow Dwyane Wade to play a role that he's more used to playing--slasher and creator. It would allow the Heat to have their best five on the floor. It would force Chris Bosh to discover his missing vertebrae, and it would allow these three incredibly talented athletes to actually play in the manner that made them dream up this madman's plot to begin with--after all, on the Olympic team, Bosh was a center, Wade was a guard, and LeBron played power forward. And it worked.

The Celtics and Spurs never had this much trouble because their players and their positions already complemented one another's. Kobe and Gasol fit like a glove. Carmelo and Amar'e doesn't take a lot of figuring out, but a team with two wing players, who aren't great shooters, and a near seven-footer, who doesn't like the painted area, that takes some creativity and ingenuity, growing legs, stretching one's neck, and standing up on two legs.

It requires moving forward.


suriya said...

That is so clever!!! I love the homemade mold!

Wheels Miami

May 27, 2011 at 2:16 AM

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