October 1st, 2007
Coconut Grove, FL
Mayfair Hotel pool area
Cheryl, what’s up lady? This is the life. Presidentes by the pool. Warm weather. Most of our other SLAM buddies are gearing up for a cold winter and we’re loungin’. The SLAM guys knew the deal by having us do the season preview for the Heat. After last year’s horror show, we have to be better than that, right? Talk about loungin’. That championship hangover hung on too damn long. Between Riles’ mini-vacation, D-Wade’s “crippling” shoulder injury, and Shaq’s continued disinterest and body fat-gate, the ’06-’07 season highlight reel could have been headed by the emergence of Chris Quinn as a premier point guard (that’s a joke). The one positive I took from last year was that although we lost Shaq, Wade, AND Riles for a good portion of the season, we still won the division by 3 games. That should weigh heavily on this years edition too.
So, on to the “Summer of Nothing.” Or should we say the “Return of the Tarnished Penny” or as fellow SLAMonline commenter CoolWhip 11 called him, “Peso Hardaway”, for the similarities in worth between the two. I would love to take off my sunglasses and be “shocked” by his greatness this year, but I have a sneaking suspicion that all Heat fans should keep their eyes covered with anything handy to keep them from being blinded by his blandness. If he’s not a better option at this point than “Free Dorrell” Wright, then why bother? And let’s not even go into the whole Charlie Bell/Mo Williams/Steve Francis/Michael Pietrus/Ron Artest/Mike Bibby (anyone else I’m missing?) missed opportunities. All we wound up with was this stinkin’ t-shirt, I mean Smush Parker. Anyway, enough with the pre-season pleasantries , let’s get into this season.
Eboy! Wassup, my man.
The Presidente is on ice, the feet are kicked up, and the pool water is sparklin’. I was really psyched when Slam asked us to do a ‘joint-review’ of the Heat, and I knew they didn’t know what they were getting into. It’s us so y’all should know this is going to be at least 3,000 words!
Anyway, yeah Penny is a wild card. I have no idea what to expect from him so I’m not going to expect much. Surprise me, Penny. If he can give us what Grant Hill did the Magic last year, then maybe he’s worth the non-guaranteed contract. But, if his help within the system is minimal at best, then it’s not worth it to take away from whatever burn Dorrell can get. The kid needs a chance to show whether or not he can be a player in this league, otherwise we need to move on. I hate to talk about a future season in this review, but Wright needs to show that he can at least be a trade chip for February or the summer of ’08.
This is going to be a very interesting season because of what will go down inside that locker room. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. (Head out of the gutter, guys!) What do you think about the personalities this year? You got Riley with his “my way or highway” edict; ‘Zo’s fierceness and pride will absolutely call for him to want to conduct his “farewell tour” with aggressive play and a hard-line focus on finishing in the Finals. Can his discipline and dedication spread throughout the locker room? Smush and ‘Toine are both kinda moody, at least from what I’ve read about them over their careers. What kind of dynamic will they bring inside the locker room if Riley (which he will, I guarantee it) limits both of their minutes, particularly in fourth quarters? Can Dwyane be a true leader? He shied away from that role last year, deferring to Shaq. But if he leaves it to Shaq to be the leader, I’m afraid this season’s team will fare worse than last.
What say you, White Hot?
Cheryl, here’s how I’m hoping the season turns out. D-Wade misses about 10 games early. We start Eboy, Wright, Haslem, Shaq & Walker (shudders) and they stay around .500 for the first two weeks. Once D-wade is back in the mix, I see him needing about 6-8 games to start rounding into form. By that time we’ll be into December and probably a few games out of first in the Southeast. Orlando didn’t impress me with the addition by subtraction route they took with signing Rashard Lewis. They’ll miss Grant Hill for sure. The Wiz didn’t do sh*t to shore up their weaknesses. And Agent Zero is still crazy, which is a good thing for his admirers, not so great for Wiz fans. Charlotte added some firepower with J-Rich, but they still have an unproven core that probably needs one more year to seriously threaten.
So my hope is that by the All-Star break we’ll sit just south of the division lead, D-Wade will be in mid-season form, Shaq will have played off his annual rust (WD-40, Diesel, it works) and Riley will have established the rotation he will be willing to sit with, unless he gets a deal done by the trade deadline (we can hope for that more than anything else). Shaq/Zo, Haslem/Walker, Wright/Peso, Wade/Cook & Eboy/Smush. That’s what we’re looking at. The biggest loss from last year? Posey, for sure. He’ll be loved in Boston. Missed big-time here. When he is on his game (excluding drunkenness and excess bodyfat) he works the intangible angle better than most other “utility” men in the league. If Wright can play that role, he will be invaluable. It’s a big if, though. I read a report of Penny taking Dorrell under his wing during the off-season so all that says to me is that either D-wade is tired of trying to get through to him or he is busy scouting the group of “new” Mrs. Wade’s on the Heat Dance Team. (I’d be eye-ballin’ dancer Sandra, D-Wade, just trying to look out).
Right now, the Heat have twenty bodies on the pre-season roster. They’ll have to eliminate five. My guess: Chris Quinn, Earl Barron, off-season signings Jeremy Richardson, Devin Green and Marcus Slaughter don’t have a locker prepared for their first regular season game of the year.
Dude, I think you’re right about who will get the boot, except Chris Quinn. I believe Riley likes the kid—he doesn’t turn the ball over and he can get the team in their sets. But if this kid they just acquired on Monday, Brian Chase, has speed and floor vision, then I can see Riley letting Quinn go. The thing is, I really don’t know anything about any of the guys that are getting buzz from the writers around here who witnessed the summer league team and have access to assistant coaches. For instance, I hear Anthony Johnson will make a good backup to Haslem, but what about the first round pick Wayne Simien? Have they given up on him? And Winderman (local reporter) says Jeremy Richardson can defend and has a decent 3-point shot (sounds like Posey to me). So, that brings me to my general feeling about the Heat’s upcoming season.
Adjustments. That’s going to be the theme for this team this season. What do I mean by that?
Wade: Yeah, he’ll miss the first 10 games or so because of his surgery and rehab. But I think he will need to adjust his game a bit if he wants to stay healthy, and I think Riley will push that point to him as well. It is critical to the success of this team that once he is back in the lineup, Wade remain healthy. It is THE only way this team does anything this year. As great and exciting as this kid is, most of his injuries have happened because of his sometime reckless playing style. Certainly you don’t want to stifle the guy’s creativity (it’s what makes the games so fun to watch for fans), but he needs to re-think that “fall down seven, get up eight” crap. He’s got a wheelbarrow full of money coming to him if his career is long and successful (key word long). This year, he has to stay on the floor, playing as much as 40 minutes a night. The Heat will not win without that. (And by the way, I truly hope he’s not looking for a ‘new’ Mrs. Wade, Eboy. Have fun, but don’t get stupid, young man. That’s just a Sistah’s Point of View).
Shaq: You are not the leader anymore, Big Fella. That is the adjustment Shaq will have to make this season. He’ll be a great complimentary piece, not the key cog in the wheel. (He’ll also have to learn to get out of UD’s way so he can become a low post scorer. More on that later) He has to defer to Dwyane and (the part that will probably be hardest for him) ‘Zo. Dwyane’s leadership has to shine through this season, particularly for the youngsters who will be his running mates after Shaq, ‘Zo, and ‘Toine are gone. But I think ‘Zo will be the best center on this team (I know, blasphemy. But mark my words) and will likely play as many minutes as Shaq. However, ‘Zo’s leadership will be evident inside the locker room; he will defer to Wade and Shaq on the court. But he will be the Tasmanian devil in the locker room if there’s even a hint of the lax attitude the guys carried last year. ‘Zo’s pride will prevent him from bringing anything but his best every night, and I bet, at every practice. Shaq should either follow ‘Zo’s lead or shut the f*ck up. Figuring out how to get his FT percentage in the high 50s – low 60s will go a long way toward being what this team needs as well. This is going to be hard for him to do. I think this is going to be a really tough year for Shaq mentally more than physically. Will he swallow that ego (he is very sensitive, as much as he tries to hide it) especially around Penny (Fredo)? That’s going to be a huge adjustment for Shaq. Losing weight is the easy part.
Walker: He’s the wild card, I think. He had a horrible year last year. And the robbery, they say, really shook him up. Will he come into the season moody or motivated? In or out of shape? Ready to redeem himself for last season’s disaster or content to play out his contract as a bench warmer and ‘boo’ recipient? If Antoine comes into camp in shape and motivated, he could offer the Heat the scoring option that Pat thought he’d be getting all along. I’m going to be watching him closely in the early part of the season.
Penny (Fredo): Who’da ‘thunk’ I’d be typing his name?? Okay, so folks who have seen him play this summer have said he looks good. He’s down to his playing weight of 212 with very little body fat. He’s moving laterally and can even jump some. He knows the game and especially knows how to play with Shaq. If he can give us leadership, 10 or 12 points a night and provide help defense (no one expects him to be a one-on-one defender), he will be a nice pick up as a back up for Wade. Will he surprise everyone and start the season as the starting 2 guard, while Dwyane rehabs? Maybe. I only hope that what ever he has left will last into the post season.
JWill: He’s heard the whispers about being traded and about being injury prone. He’s even heard the shouts—coming from the mouth of one Smush Parker declaring that he will take his job (give me some of what that guy is on). I don’t know what motivates Jason; he’s a hard to read kinda guy. But I hope he shows that he can score and, for at least the beginning of the season, adjusts his mindset from a set-up guy to a scorer. He can do it; in fact I’ve watched his teammates get on him about passing it up when it was clear that he had an easy lay-up.
Haslem: He’s another player who can score. In college and overseas, he led his teams in scoring. Haslem’s a team player, so he’ll do whatever the coach asks of him. He’s a warrior with a nice touch from 12 to 15 feet. He’ll have to become a low post scorer as well this season. Where does that leave Shaq, you say? Well that’s an adjustment the big fella will have to make himself. If UD shows he can score down low, Riley will be adding some plays for him this season.
Dorrell: The adjustment this kid needs to make is mostly mental. A consistent 3-point shot will get him in the rotation, but his biggest adjustment is learning the game. He MUST learn spacing and rotation. He’s got to learn how to adjust to different defensive schemes and when to pass the ball vs. when to take his man off the dribble. I think he gets nervous about not screwing up in Riley’s eyes. This season, he’s got to study film like a madman and say to himself “it’s now or never”.
Pat Riley (and his staff): Mr. Adjustment is going to be his middle name. He’s going to have to coach three mini-seasons. The first two months he’s got to get the most out of JWill, UD, and ‘Toine. Who will be his starting 2? Penny? Smush? Someone yet to be signed? In fact, what will his line up be period? Should he start ‘Zo and bring Shaq off the bench? Or does he appease Shaq’s ego by letting him start? He’s got some egos to manage this year; a year where his leaders will change and his top players have a lot on their minds outside of basketball. His second mini-season may find him trying to catch up after being without DWade for the first 10 to 12 games. When he gets Wade back, he’s going to have to adjust his line-up and his rotation. He may even have to adjust his style of play. The third mini-season—after the All-Star break—will (hopefully) find Riley adjusting to a new player received by the trade deadline. He’ll lose Wright and maybe Haslem (if Johnson and Simien show any skills) and have to figure out what kind of team he has with this new person. Riley was off his game last year. He can’t afford a mid-season sabbatical. He’s got to be as sharp as he’s ever been in his career and he’s got to convince this ‘rag-tag’ squad that last season was an aberration.
You may have noticed that I left ‘Zo off this list. That’s because he’s the only one who doesn’t need to adjust. In fact, the Heat will be better for it if he just continues to be the warrior he’s been his whole career. I could do without the muscle flexes and the points to the sky after every shot (that’s what you’re supposed to do as a basketball player, dude), but ‘Zo is the one guy on this team that I hope doesn’t change.
Where will this team end up at the end of the season? Honestly, I DO NOT KNOW. But since this is a team preview and I guess we’re supposed to offer our well-thought out prediction, I’ll say we’ll end up with the number 4 spot behind Detroit, Toronto, and Chicago. I’m not sure about Boston and the Magic could surprise (I’ve got a lot of reasons why I think they’ll surprise this year, but I’m not doing their review. But let me just say that Stan Van Gundy is underrated as a coach.) Here’s my prediction for the eight teams that will make the playoffs:
7. New Jersey
No Wizards, unfortunately. It was a toss-up for me between them and the Nets and I went with New Jersey solely for the Kidd factor. I can’t see him not making the playoffs. Also, Milwaukee may just be the surprise team of the East. Don’t sleep on them. I will not be surprised to see them in the mix at the end of the season.
The Heat will beat Boston in the first round, but barely. That makes a Detroit/Heat series in the 2nd round, which I think we’ll win because Flip will never beat Pat Riley in a game of adjustments. Sorry Detroit, I love your team but your coach sucks. We’ll have Chicago in the Conference Finals and I hope redemption is on the Heat’s mind.
I know, I know. But you asked for a prediction and I had to make one. What did you expect? –ASPOV
All right Cheryl, this is my take on the playoffs. I think they’ll pull the division title out narrowly, probably with about 50-52 wins. I think their playoff success depends on their seeding. If they take the top spot in the Southeast and can get the 3 spot, I think they can beat the lower tier teams in the East. I’m thinking the East shapes up like this,
1. Bulls (will pull it together for a strong run, you’re welcome Russ)
2. Celtics (the new Big 3 will be deadly in their efficiency)
4. Pistons (they will still be strong, don’t sleep)
5. Raptors (would have won the division again if not for a certain Mr. Garnett)
6. Cavs (Lebron’s cape is going to see some more wrinkles this year)
7. Knicks (a lot of talent, can be a powerhouse, or due to other problems can be on the outside looking in)
8. Wizards (Hibachi will stay hot enough through the season to push the Wiz in)
Nets? Nope. Magic? Not this year. I know our SLAM compadres are going to eat these picks alive, but the Nets have been pretty friggin’ mediocre for too long and the Magic haven’t done enough to move up just yet. They could flip/flop with the Wiz in the standings, but I’m gonna ride with Agent Zero on getting the Wiz there.
Can the Heat beat the Cavs early? I’m pretty sure they can. In a long series. If my standings held true, that would mean a second round matchup with the Raptors or the Pistons. Those are both winnable for the Heat. Tough series, both, but winnable. The Celtics and the Bulls would pose a lot of problems for the current Heat roster, but with a good move or two by the trade deadline, I think the Heat could compete for the East, barring any major injuries. Zo will be hyped more than ever for his farewell, Shaq will be motivated to show that he can still perform at a fairly high level (18/9, you like that Bodie?) and I think D-Wade will come back to ’05-’06 form and run through the East with the force of a hurricane. Seriously. Riley will lay down the gauntlet. Believe that. Will they win a title? I’d love to think they could, but I’m a realist. Can they matter in the East? You bet your a$$. And in a series, against any team, D-Wade’s brilliance can shine through. At least that’s what these beers are telling me, right Cheryl?
Damn, White Hot! You killed the rest of the Presidentes?? I was just taking a quick dip in the pool and I come back to empty bottles. That’s cold, dude. Real cold. And here I thought I was your Queen??
Anyway, I hope you’re right about the Heat getting the third spot, cuz I think they’re going to have just as tough a road to the Finals as they had last season. The difference this year will be a healthy Wade, which will at least get them to the ECF. After that, all bets are off. A lot has to go right this season. Health—Shaq needs to play at least 72 games and once Wade returns, he needs to stay. Penny needs to drink from the fountain of youth that’s on the corner of Biscayne and 2nd (I think that’s where my man Ponce DeLeon found it) and ‘Toine’s head has to be in the game, every game (not that he’s ever done THAT before). Like I said everything has to go right this year for this team to play past May. Sigh.
And, get the f*ck outta here! The KNICKS?? Was that prediction for the benefit of our Slamonline cronies?? Cuz you must be outta your mind if you think the Knicks are gonna be anything other than dysfunctional this year. C’Mon, Zach in New York City?? That’s an arrest waiting to happen. And pairing him with Starbury? Oops!
Alright Cheryl, so we agree that the boys will have a rough time this year to do heavy damage unless all goes right with this current group. But I still feel that after last year’s missed opportunities and this summer’s as well, Riles will work something out by the trade deadline that will either be season-changing for the good or will backfire in our faces. I have faith. And no fears. For now……….. Plus Zo is going to be more “heated” than ever before since he knows this is his last. I hope he get’s into Shaq’s face a few times to get the Diesel jumpstarted because if they both play hard (well in Shaq’s case, interested) we will still have the premier front court in the East and they will batter all of the other East bigs in a series. Maybe I should pick up another 6-pack of Presidente. The Heat’s Motto for ‘07/’08: “We Don’t Have Time To Burn!”