There are always going to be people that hate super-teams in any sport, but the fact that Pat Riley was able to assemble the team that he did this summer, by using free agency and not trades, was awe-inspiring. He got three modern NBA players to buy into the notion that their individual success would pale in comparison to their collective success, and he got them to take a reduced salary to test his theory.
The story has been played over and over so many times this summer it's easy to forget how tremendous a feat this is. While the supporting crew that he's arranged for them is a good-but-not-great collection of NBA veterans (Boston had the advantage of Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo already being on the club when the went the Big Three route), the sheer talent of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh should be enough to make them a force this year while they await the use of their cap exceptions next summer to flesh out the roster (assuming that cap exceptions still exist in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement).
The fun thing to watch with this team is going to be how they use their versatile talent to create matchup problems for opposing teams en route to the Playoffs. One of the biggest reasons that the Orlando Magic were able to reach the Finals two years ago was that they had Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis available to them to throw off conventional defences not used to a big man with Lewis's offensive versatility or a big man point-forward like Turkoglu. While the Heat don't have the outside shooting in their big three that Orlando did, the fact that they can force opposing NBA point guards to have to guard either Wade, James or Mike Miller in a starting five without a traditional ‘one' is going to cause problems. As is the fact that both Bosh and Udonis Haslem (who won't start but will almost assuredly finish games) can hit long-range twos, pulling defences out of the paint for drives by Wade and James.
How head coach Erik Spoelstra is going to utilize all of his assets is something of a mystery because his assets can be used in so many different way. Heck, let's be honest, we can't even say for certain how long Spolstra is going to last as a coach, because everyone assumes that Pat Riley is itching to take over this team at the first sign of trouble. When Riley went about luring LeBron James, the story goes, he dumped his five NBA Championship rings on a table as an example of what James would be playing for in Miami. Well, all the experience that got those rings is only going to be able to do so much sitting in an executive suite upstairs. While Riley has pulled of a managerial move that is the envy of all in his profession, his truly game-changing impact on the NBA over the last thirty years has been as a head coach. When you're talking about one of the most dynamic rosters ever assembled in NBA history, how could he NOT want to be the orchestrating their play?
For right now, though, how does one define success for this club this season? Because of the youth of the players involved, do they get a one-year grace period before Championships are their only measure of success? Can a title-less season (and the media scrutiny that will attract) really help in keeping everyone's egos in check, especially that of James, who has been dogged for his lack of a ring for the last four NBA seasons? As good as the Heat look, many opine that the Lakers are the deeper, more experienced club with a better coach and that they far have greater chemistry – can the Heat's raw talent really hope to contend with all that? Can we even be sure they have the ability to push past a fully healthy Boston or Orlando club?
Right now, we can't be sure of anything with this team. They are the biggest story in the NBA and they remain the biggest mystery. They also remain the biggest reason that it feels like an eternity before we get to the start of the NBA season.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
PG – LEBRON JAMES
Spolstra may chicken out and go with Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo in a more traditional backcourt, but Riley used the allure of James playing as Magic Johnson on this team and there is absolutely no conceivable reason why he shouldn't have that role. He averaged 8.6 assists-per-game last season and is one of the most gifted passers in the NBA, not just technically, but in terms of sheer vision. He sees the court the way Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Chris Paul see the court, only he's able to marry that vision with a power forward's body, making him a matchup nightmare for any team. Remember, he came into the NBA as a point guard, and was only transitioned onto the wing when more traditionally minded coaches felt he needed to be a finisher, not a creator. Well, with Dwyane Wade as his running mate, James has a perfectly capable finisher to feed the ball to, so here's hoping he gets to finally deliver on the promise of being this generation's Oscar Robinson by playing quarterback for his Miami Heat club.
SG – DWYANE WADE
Imagine what it must be like to go to sleep one night with a starting lineup surrounding you comprised of Jermaine O'Neal, Michael Beasley, Quentin Richardson and Carlos Arroyo and then wake up with James, Bosh and Miller there, instead? Wade not only got to team up with two superstars this summer, he got to do it in a town he already owns, which means that he'll retain the role of A1 superstar despite playing alongside NBA poster boy, James. While James and Bosh have a ton to prove going into this season, Wade just has to go out and do what he does, with very little being able to besmirch his reputation at this point. There can't be a happier camper in the NBA heading into this season, there just can't be…
SF – MIKE MILLER
…Except for maybe Mike Miller. Miller just got a new lease on his NBA life, getting to just stand out behind the three-point arc to prevent defences from sagging in a cutting off driving lanes for the stars. That he's an accomplished passer and capable rebounder is irrelevant, he's got the easiest job in the NBA and he's getting paid handsomely to play it. Playing on teams like this, with a legit role, is what helps journeymen keep their names alive long after they've retired. It may not be fair that people remember Robert Horry and forget Alex English, but that's the way of the NBA world.
PF – CHRIS BOSH
People say that Bosh is the player most likely to see his star fade as a result of this Super Team, but it says here Bosh quietly made out better than most think. Bosh had tremendous trouble in Toronto playing without the ball in his hands, and it could be said he was as much a star as a result of being able to totally dominate an offensive structure as he was because he's that talented an offensive player. In 2009, when Jay Triano took over the team and tried to make the offence-less Bosh-centric, his scoring dropped by six points and his shooting dropped by ten-percent, leading to Bosh's highest-ever usage rate last season in Toronto to get his production back up to snuff. In Miami, everyone expects to see his scoring drop off from 24 points down to around 16 because Wade and James are going to dominate the offence. The truth is that without being the featured part of the offence his scoring was going to drop-off anyway, this will just help hide the reasoning better.
C – JOEL ANTHONY
If there is a weakness in Miami's armor, it's their centre spot. Anthony is a very solid intangibles guy, someone who knows how to set a screen, how to box out, how to rotate to cover on defence and how to block shots at the NBA level. However, at only 6-foot-9, he's going to struggle against the mightier (and meatier) big men who stand in Miami's way en route to a title. While he has a nice platoon of aged veterans behind him (including Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard), Anthony is going to have a hard time matching up with Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for long, seven-game series. Udonis Haslem will probably get the call to help out as much as possible, but size is going to be an issue that dogs this team until they prove that they can overcome it in other ways.