Joe-Pinions: Sports

18 Mar 2011 – NBA Officiating: A Stern Problem

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 18/03/2011

NBA referee Bill Spooner recently sued the Associated Press and one of its sportswriters, Jon Krawczynski, for defamation.  Spooner sued Krawczynski and the AP over the following Twitter message Krawczynski sent while watching the January 24, 2011 game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets:

“Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d ‘get it back’ after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.”

Here’s a little background information to put that tweet into the proper context:

  • Spooner called a foul on a Timberwolves player in the second quarter of the Jan 24 2011 game between the Timberwolves and the Rockets.
  • Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis engaged in an argumentative discussion with Spooner regarding the call.  Rambis obviously disputed the call.
  • Spooner told Rambis that he would review the call at halftime.
  • Rambis said he was fine with that, but then pointed out the fact that his team lost two points as a result of the disputed foul call.  He then asked Spooner how the Timberwolves were supposed to get the two points back.

Up until this point, there have been no disputes regarding what has been presented thus far.

Spooner’s claim that Krawczynski somehow defamed his character and damaged reputation depends greatly on whose version of what happened next you want to believe.

Spooner claimed that he didn’t respond to Rambis’ question regarding how the Timberwolves were supposed to get the two points back.

Krawczynski’s tweet clearly shows that Spooner did respond to Rambis in no uncertain terms:  According to Krawczynski’s tweet, not only did Spooner tell Rambis he’d “get it back” (what does “it” mean here?  The two points, or the foul call?), but he made a second bad – and apparently, an intentionally bad – call penalizing the Rockets to restore the balance and create some measure of justice for Rambis and Timberwolves.

As appropriate for people in his profession, Jon Krawczynski was seated at courtside.  He was thus well-positioned to see, and hear, any conversations Bill Spooner and Kurt Rambis had during the game.

Clearly, it’s a case of “he said-he said;” who you would be more inclined to believe then becomes a question of who has got more credibility behind him.  

A journalist’s livelihood is 100% dependent on his own personal credibility.  Not only that, but his employer’s credibility is also at stake.  A journalist with his credibility in question is useless, and any institution that hires or works with a journalist with his or her personal credibility damaged in any way will be discredited and ignored by a serious and critical audience.

(As an example, just look at Jim Gray and ESPN with critical and discerning eyes.)

In an ideal world, the same would be true of people whose job it is is officiating sporting contests.  This includes referees, umpires, line judges, stewards, clerks of the meeting, and other officials in all sports, whether amateur or professional.  Credibility is everything for people whose professions are all about deciding the legality of sporting events, whether these occur at a micro- or at a macroscopic level.  Mr. Spooner, then has a lot to lose if his personal credibility is sullied as a result of Mr. Krawczynski’s revelations as trasmitted through Twitter.

On the surface, it’s very difficult to tell whose version of the truth is correct.  Since they look to be mutually-contradictory, only one version is true (or, is much closer to what actually happened).  The task of sifting through the recorded facts, meager as they are, seems nearly impossible.

But let’s inject some other considerations.  First, the AP has moved to legally defend themselves and Mr. Krawczynski against Bill Spooner’s defamation lawsuit.  This clearly indicates that they stand by Krawczynski’s story and are prepared to defend themselves in a court of law.

A second consideration is purely my opinion:  While Mr. Spooner is not particularly known to be a bad NBA referee, most knowledgeable NBA fans would be very quick to admit that the league’s officiating as a whole is atrocious.  It is therefore not far beyond the realm of possibility that the call Spooner made against the Timberwolves which inspired Kurt Rambis to have that argument with Spooner was indeed a bad call.  In other words, Spooner could have made a mistake, and Rambis became irate over it because it adversely affected his team.

To his credit, Spooner promised to review the disputed call at halftime.  Most bad officials would undoubtedly just use their powers and punish anybody complaining over a debated call with a technical foul, or even an ejection from the game.  But Spooner apparently wanted the opportunity to review the call at halftime.

The problem with that, of course, is that while he might later see the disputed call as indeed incorrect, the consequences of the call may have affected the entire basketball game as a consequence.  What if that one disputed call gave Houston all the momentum at a critical point of the game and they built a big lead as a result?  

Mistakes happen all the time, but it is my opinion that Spooner made a big mistake by telling Rambis he would even review the call at halftime.  I think the better and smarter response was to walk away from Rambis and not continued the conversation, especially since it was obviously a very emotional moment in the game.

If Krawczynski’s report of the incident is true, Spooner made two bigger mistakes.  He apparently told Rambis he’d “get it back,” and he penalized Houston with a disputable call soon after.

It was very wrong to promise any competitor over which you are supposed to be an impartial judge (as referees are supposed to be) anything.  If Krawczynski was being truthful in his Tweet, Spooner was very stupid to have said anything to Rambis that could have been construed as a promise.

The bigger mistake, though, was penalizing with a questionable foul call later in the game.  In my opinion, two wrongs never make things right.  Spooner compounded his mistakes by willfully and intentionally trying to restore some semblance of balance.

Spooner is right to defend his reputation, but I think he really has no legs to stand on.  I strongly agree with Krawczynski’s derisive final sentence in his Tweet which ignited this controversy.  By saying that “That’s NBA officiating folks (sic),” Krawczynski not-so-subtly told his Twitter followers (and, as a consequence of Spooner’s defamation lawsuit, the world at large now) that the quality of NBA refereeing leaves much to be desired.  You can see the shrug of resignation in Krawczynski’s Tweet, an acknowledgement of the sad state of affairs in NBA officiating.

I used to play basketball at a competitive level, so I do have some experience playing the game.  Perhaps I was never ever good enough to be a college-level player, but it’s absolutely true that I used to play in organized leagues and tournaments.  My point is, I’ve been between the lines; to whatever limited degree, I do know what it’s like to compete in basketball, and I know what it’s like to be subject to the quality of the referees officiating the game.  

Missed calls are a huge deal in most, if not all, sports.  But even as a competitor, you do understand that the referees are only human.  They make mistakes.  You just hope and pray that you and your teammates don’t get victimized by a bad call at the worst possible time.  But even then, sometimes honest mistakes still do happen.

In the NBA, though, it seems that their officials are beyond criticism.  If a player or a coach or any team official would dare lob any kind of critical comment directed at the referees, even if backed up by video or photographic evidence, the NBA and commissioner David Stern would surely respond by levying fines or other penalties.  Allude to any questionable calls, you’ll probably get a call from an irate David Stern or one of his henchmen, bullying you to can it, or suck it up and forget about it.  

I can remember times when Phil Jackson would get fined because he pointed at two or three game-changing calls; Mark Cuban is another unforgettable critic of the quality of the NBA’s officials.  Shaquille O’Neal got punished with a huge fine for complaining on a local television post-game interview about the calls made during a game.  

My point is, it’s very easy to point to examples of the NBA’s officials’ ineptitude, which is the best possible description of some bad calls.  My less charitable side would just call the NBA’s referees malicious, unjust, and completely unfit and unworthy of their station and pay (easily into six figures).

David Stern’s policy of acting so defensively at an institutional level towards any criticism leveled at this particular class of his employees is inappropriate.  There is clearly a gigantic group of accusers, from players, coaches, the press, and fans, who can obviously see that the NBA’s officiating is sub-standard; why punish all those who point it out?  Why not look at the problems, study them, eliminate the worst officials from the payroll, and strive to improve on the quality of your employees’ performance?

But David Stern, in his arrogance, seems to believe that he is beyond reproach.  Any change to the status quo would be seen as a capitulation on his part, an admission of weakness.  It seems to me that he doesn’t care about the implications on the competitive aspect of his reluctance to censure his referees.  The ideals of sport and fair competition are far lower on David Stern’s priority totem pole than where I personally think they should be.

Bill Spooner’s lawyer was told by the NBA that to continue the suit against the AP and Krawczynski wasn’t likely to be “productive.”  At this point, I don’t know if Spooner has withdrawn his defamation lawsuit.  The league’s VP for Basketball Communications, Tim Frank, also said that they investigated the events described in Krawczynski’s Tweet and found it to be without any real merit.

It looks to me that the NBA would be content to just sweep this whole episode under the rug.  Maybe they think people will forget just how bad the league’s referees are if they can cover this incident with Spooner up with no real response.

Don’t let David Stern hoodwink you, as he always does. 

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14 Mar 2011 – The Only Thing Kobe Has Left To Prove

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 14/03/2011

Kobe Bryant is certainly in the thick of things when people discuss who the greatest Laker of them all is.  He is on many people’s short lists of the greatest ever professional basketball player.  He has done it all:  He has won championships in the NBA, gold medals in the Olympics and in other international tournaments, scoring titles, and league and NBA Finals MVP awards.  He is rocketing up the all-time scoring lists, currently in sixth position all-time as I write this.  Through the course of his long career (through the 2010-2011 NBA season, he will have completed fifteen seasons as a pro), he has seen it all, and he has done it all.

You can correctly say that he has nothing left to prove.

In my opinion, though, this would be slightly (just ever so slightly) off the mark.  

I think Kobe has just one last thing to prove.

Kobe has to prove that he can trust his teammates.  Kobe has to show that he can use his teammates’ talents, even during crunch time, if doing so represents the Lakers’ best chance to win games.  Kobe has to demonstrate that his evolution into the ultimate player the game of basketball has ever seen is complete by being able to defer to his teammates judiciously, even when the game’s outcome is on the line.

For him, this is the ultimate test; for Kobe Bryant, to choose not to shoot when every cell in his body, when every single line of code in his DNA is screaming and demanding that he should keep the ball and take the key shots, this is the ultimate leap of faith.  

Logic says this is what Kobe ought to be doing.  As a consequence of his absolute devotion and commitment to the game of basketball, Kobe’s body has been ravaged by an accumulation of injuries and broken body parts.  The list of his injuries is frankly too long to recount.  Ultimately, all these injuries all add up to a reduction of Kobe’s capabilities as a basketball players.  It’s only logical.  You hurt your knees, your feet, your ankles, you simply don’t leap as well as you used to.  You slow down inevitably as a consequence of simply aging.  You break enough fingers on both of your hands, you just won’t be able to hold and control the basketball as well as you think you could.  You don’t shoot as well, either, simply because too many fingers are broken.  Through no fault of his own, his adventure living the life of one of the greatest of all basketball warriors has wrecked so many parts of Kobe Bryant’s body.  It is the price he pays for his greatness, and it is a price that I’m sure he is so willing to pay for his love of the game and for winning.  

Yet despite the litany of physical issues, Kobe’s will is so indomitable, his courage so extensive, he constantly amazes you by finding, or making, a way to overcome.  It is one of the best parts of his character and is the greatest reason why he has earned my admiration.

As usual, though, the sword cuts both ways.

The simple fact of the matter is an injured player is a limited player.  Kobe’s got so many injuries right now, and this is surely affecting his game adversely.  He is so far from his potential best, much more the absolute peak of his form (since he is older and is now on the downside of his career).  He has always been what people call a “volume shooter” (he takes a ton of shots to put up a ton of points), but with his efficiency much reduced due to both his age and his injuries, he is now starting to hurt the team with more and more shot attempts.  His injuries have also affected his ability to play defense one-on-one.  He simply has lost enough foot speed so that he can no longer afford to gamble on defense:  He simply cannot recover position if he and the man he’s guarding have enough separation.

As a Laker fan, I am (and forever will be) grateful to Kobe Bryant for his significant contributions to the team’s history.  He’s one of my guys.  But it is as a Laker fan who loves to see his team win as much as Kobe wants to lead his team win that I say that Kobe should start evolving into the most difficult role that he can ever assume.

Kobe must learn to now be the ultimate decoy.

Now is the right time for this stage of his evolution.  

He’s got a great team, punctuated by the NBA’s most unique offensive asset:  The Laker Twin Towers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.  Together, these two seven-footers represent an almost unstoppable 1-2 punch.  Most NBA teams don’t even have a legitimate big man to anchor their low-post defense; Gasol and Bynum are an embarrassment of riches for the Lakers, and to me it’s an absolute and unforgivable sin for the Lakers to not exploit this most unique advantage much more often than they presently do.

Beyond Gasol and Bynum, Kobe’s also got people like Ron Artest and Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom to help him carry the scoring load.  All three can shoot from the perimeter, albeit with varying degrees of success, and Artest and Odom are skilled enough to operate close to the basket as well.

And from the bench, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake can be opportunistic on offense.  Barnes, in particular, is an asset since he knows how to slash and cut to the basket; he can move without the ball very effectively, and he has a decently reliable jumpshot.

The key here is that Kobe really ought to start believing that his teammates are able to come through for the team.  He should start believing that he doesn’t need to dominate possessions, especially at the end of games, for the team to win.  I’ve always believed that a team with multiple offensive options is harder to defend than a team with just one known option.  Related to this is the idea that a ball that’s being passed around and moving is harder to set a defense on than a ball being handled by just one person.

At his absolute peak, Kobe was the ultimate one-on-one basketball weapon.  Kobe at his absolute best was almost impossible to stop.  Sadly, time and the accumulation of injuries have done a great job at imposing limits on his ability to do what he wanted to do on the basketball court.  Time and injuries are now doing what single defenders have always had problems doing, and that is make Kobe ineffective as an offensive weapon.

If Kobe wants to keep on winning (and I’m sure he does; it’s a hunger he will never fully satisfy), he now has to make the ultimate change to his basketball modus operandi.  He has to become the best decoy threat we’ve ever seen.  

To do so is not a declaration of surrender; it is not a capitulation, nor a means of merely saving face.  

If Kobe is to become the greatest of all winners, he has to prove he can lean on his teammates and trust them and utilize their varied and considerable talents.  In my opinion, this will prove he is the greatest of them all.

9 Mar 2011 – Why Not Enjoy the Here and Now (or, why be afraid of what MIGHT happen)?

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 09/03/2011

Yes, yes, yes, the Lakers are dominating the NBA right now.  They’ve won all eight of their games since the All Star break, and they’ve done so with the emergence of the player who I not-so-facetiously have called the Lakers’ MVP:  Andrew Bynum.

Now, I’m not daft.  I’m not saying he’s the Lakers’ best player.  Right now, that’s Kobe Bryant.  Pau Gasol is probably next on that hierarchy.  But the young Bynum is, to me, the linchpin, the fulcrum around which the Lakers’ championship hopes revolves.  Everything hinges on the play of an effective Andrew Bynum.

Astonishingly, though, despite the Lakers’ impressive run of success keyed by Bynum’s renewed dedication to doing the dirty work that gets things done – rebounding and defense – and less personal emphasis on getting touches on offense, I still keep hearing whispers of discontent.  There are still people who seemingly can’t enjoy how the team is winning these days, people who apparently only want to rehash old stories and look back on what may be historical facts, but are still not particularly relevant to the present time.

I’m speaking, of course, of that segment of Lakers fans who apparently are still waiting for Bynum to get injured sometime between now and the end of the season and therefore get removed from the lineup.  Believe it or not, there are people who, instead of congratulating the young center for figuring things out and playing his heart out and helping his team ascend from the mire of mediocrity and declare themselves as legitimate challengers for this year’s NBA championship, are waiting for what they seem to think is the inevitable.

Negativism of that sort is so stupid.

I guess I feel that citing history is fine and dandy, but to speculate and project the past into the future is a fool’s exercise.  I mean, what’s the point of anticipating that kind of scenario?  Until something catastrophic actually becomes a reality in the present, it’s nothing but a very negative kind of wishful thinking.

Now, one of the maxims I live by is “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”  But it seems to me that there are too many people who live by a corrupted version of this philosophy:  Such people “Prepare for the worst, because that’s what we think will happen.”

That’s asinine in the extreme.  And that kind of stupidity just pisses me off.

If I’ve learned one thing from Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, it’s this little nugget of Zen philosophy:  Live in the moment.  Concentrate on the here and now, do your best at whatever you’re doing at this present moment, and the rest takes care of itself.

Looking at anything else other than what’s directly in front of you only means you’ve taken your mind off what you’re doing, what’s happening right now.  And that’s when people usually get in trouble.

Do Lakers fans actually wish for Bynum to become hurt again and be unable to help the team go where we (the real fans, the ones who want nothing but the best for this team) want them to?  What’s the point in wanting that?  So you fools can be right because so many of you have been wishing for the team to get rid of Bynum?  That’s stupidity of an extreme sort, the kind for which I have absolutely no tolerance.

How would these so-called fans react if Andrew Bynum basically plays out his entire career the way he’s played these last few excellent games, stays healthy, and the Lakers win games and championships?  Will they continue to hold whatever grudge they do against the big man?  Will they still want to trade him away?

Why is Bynum so under-appreciated by so many people?

Why does it seem that only me, my dad, and people like Mark Heisler of the L.A. Times, Scott Howard-Cooper (he used to be an L.A. Times reporter; he now works for NBA.com), and other rational basketball people seem to see Bynum’s great value?

I’ve long been saying that there’s a reason why Bynum is always the player other teams want when they talk trade with the Lakers.  Why would you ever want to give up what the other teams, the opposition to your team’s goals and aspiration, the enemy, as it were, want so dearly?

Why not just enjoy the here and now?  Why be afraid of what may not happen and focus on the negative?

Why not just enjoy the Lakers winning?

Why not just keep on hoping for the best?

7 Mar 2011 – The Crying Shame that is the Miami Heat

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 07/03/2011

Some of my buddies who follow the NBA sometimes ask me, “Who do you think will end up in the NBA Finals this year?”  Now, it must be said that most of these friends are L.A. Lakers fans like me, so I think as far as they’re concerned the question they’re really asking is “Who do you think will the Lakers be playing in the finals?”

I think that’s a bit presumptive, but I play along.  I tell them, “Well, OK, I think the Lakers are my prohibitive favorites coming out of the Western Conference.  Their most dangerous rival, the team against which they look to match up against the worst, is neither of the two Texas teams (San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks) who currently are leading them in the standings; rather, I think the Oklahoma City Thunder is the team that looks to be the Lakers’ biggest challenge in the West.”  And I had been saying that even before the Thunder acquired erstwhile Celtics big man, Kendrick Perkins, in what was the most stunning draft deadline deal bar none this year.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” my friends pooh-pooh me.  “Never mind that.  Who’s coming out of the East?”

“Well, before they traded Kendrick Perkins away, no doubt the Celtics.  They were the scariest team to me by far; after the Perkins trade, I think they got appreciably weaker.  Chicago is very dangerous, even more so than prior to the Perkins trade; Orlando is also possible as an Eastern Conference champion since they have a good big man (Dwight Howard) and potentially a very explosive offense if enough of their shooters are having good days.”

“What about Miami?” they ask.

“What about Miami?” I ask back.

“You don’t think the Heat will get out of the East?  Over Boston or any of those other teams?”

“I don’t rate Miami at all; I certainly don’t think they’re better than those other Eastern Conference teams I named.”

“But what about the ‘Big Three’?” they ask me, incredulous.

“What about them?” I ask back.

“You don’t think Miami, with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, can win the East?”

“No.  For months I’ve been telling you, and anyone who’d listen, that three very good players – or even two great players and one good (yet overrated) additional sidekick, which is what James, Wade, and Bosh really are – will never beat a true team that plays good, strategic, and tactical basketball.  This will be especially true in a playoff best-of-seven matchup.”

I’ve been singing this song ever since the Heat assembled their trio of superstars, and despite this many people seem so surprised that Miami is now starting to wilt under the ever-increasing weight of pressure and expecations.  That’s what you get when you get your basketball knowledge from the noisemakers and know-nothing blowhard talking heads over at what Matt “Money” Smith and Petros Papadakis call so eloquently “the evil ‘four-letter’ on their eponymous radio show.”

If nothing else, the Heat have been a great drama.  I despise the exploitation of train wrecks (one of myriad reasons I so despise so-called “reality TV”).  But if I’m honest, I’ll tell you right now that this is the one exception I’ll make.  This is one spectacular derailment that I want to see unfold.  I’ll even admit to you right now that I’m a Heat Hater.  (You can blame LeBron James for that.  Oh, and “tough-as-wet-toilet-paper” Chris Bosh, too, who I have always thought to be a “fake tough guy,” too, like Kevin Durant said he is.)  I want to see these villains fall hard on their faces.  It’s the price I expect, and want, them to pay for their bald hubris.

But drama is useless in sports.  Too often it gets in the way of winning.  (Just ask any Lakers fan about Shaq vs. Kobe, or the whole Eagle, CO thing.)

The latest Heat-centric drama is their current losing streak, which reached four games.  Now it’s normal for most NBA teams to experience losing streaks.  But when you’re the self-proclaimed multiple champions in waiting, well…

And what makes it all laughable to me is the news that, apparently, some Heat players were said to have been crying after their latest last-second loss to a strong contender, this time to the Bulls.

Give me a break.

(This is a bit of shadenfraude on my part, for sure, but I make no apologies for it.)

Why the hell are the Heat players crying (whoever they were)?  It really doesn’t matter who was doing the crying – some have said Udonis Haslem may have been one of them; others have suggested LeBron James was another.  All this shows is that the Miami Heat players are simply clueless when it comes to the big picture:  The regular season really doesn’t prove much of anything.  Playoff time is money time.  Crying over just the latest regular season loss may have been a spontaneous response to an emotional situation, but it also seems to be a hugely inappropriate reaction.

To be perfectly honest, it strikes me as a childish tantrum that happens when a spoiled brat realizes that he isn’t getting his way.

Either that, or it’s a moment of clarity.  Maybe someone over there at South Beach has finally realized what I’ve been telling friends for months:

Jason Whitlock quite brilliantly phrased it in print today the way I’ve said it to some:  “You don’t win NBA titles 3 on 5 or 3 on 8.”

(Give his piece a read; as usual, it’s provocative, I promise.)

Never mind Mr. Whitlock’s commentary on how officials can screw Miami, perhaps alluding to the allegedly questionable judgment foul call against the Heat’s Mike Miller; the salient point is that for all the fanfare for James, Wade, and Bosh, the three of them simply cannot carry the weight of an entire team of inadequate and mismatched parts and be expected to win against a good team with a proven system, a clear modus operandi.  The challenge for them to do so only becomes more difficult when you talk about winning playoff series against teams with established systems, teams that understand and maximize their own strengths and disguise and minimize the impact of their own weaknesses.

I think this is where Miami’s problems start.  They may look like they have a great collection of parts, but it appears that they don’t fit together all that well.  Not only that, but that collection is woefully small; the rest is just junk.  And I say this with absolutely no disrespect intended towards the rest of the Miami Heat squad after the Big Three.  The talking heads have been trying to sell the idea that the three mega-superstars in Miami are all that’s required for the Heat to dominate the NBA not just this year, where they were anointed as champions even before the first game was played, but for years to come.

Basketball is a team game (despite David Stern’s “the NBA is a superstar’s league” philosophy, a philosophy I have decried for decades now), and its greatest winners are a roll-call of great collectives.  From Russell’s (and, two decades later, Bird’s) Celtics, to Magic’s 5-time champion Showtime (and, two decades later, Phil Jackson’s and Kobe Bryant’s 5-time, hopefully 6-time, champion) Lakers, even to Jordan’s twice-three-peating Bulls, NBA dynasties are all teams in every sense of the word.  Sure, each NBA dynasty named here had its fair share of greats and hall-of-famers, but what they also have was great role players and a systematic way of playing the game.  Russell’s teams were founded on defense; Bird and Magic’s teams were built on solid teamwork and clutch shot making, as were all of Phil Jackson’s championship winners.  And their benches were filled with unselfish role players who also weren’t afraid to confront the team’s leaders and exert their own influence in judicious moments, if only to lend a counter-balance and a healthy ego check to their superstars.

These NBA dynasties were built with parts that were compatible with each other.  These teams all understood that the chain was only as strong as its weakest link.

The Miami Heat of 2010-2011 vintage?  From where I’m sitting they have more than one head, three or four, and they each seem to want to go in a different direction from everyone else.  LeBron James is a big black hole; Dwayne Wade is also exerting the same kind of gravity; Erik Spoelstra is one, too, trying to rein all the egos on his roster in and have them going in the direction he wants to go; and Pat Riley probably has his own gravitational force ripping this team up at its seams.

As far as the actual Heat roster is concerned, it’s a hodge-podge of parts.  The Big Three as individual players might look awesome when isolated; but thus far the experiment of bringing James, Wade, and Bosh has been a spectacular illustration that it’s not so much the greatness of the individual parts that matters most.  Rather, it’s how the pieces all fit.

Basketball teams are like jigsaw puzzles:  Some pieces are big, some pieces are small, but to have the complete picture all the pieces have to fit.

The Miami Heat’s pieces look like they belong to three or four different puzzles all mashed up together.  It’s impossible for a jigsaw like this to fit.

If you read Jason Whitlock’s piece, I obviously agree with a lot of what he says.  He expresses my own misgivings on the Heat thus:

Spoelstra wanted us — media, fans and Heat critics — to know just how much the players he’s responsible for getting mentally and emotionally ready to play care about winning.

We’re not stupid. We know LeBron, Wade, Bosh and all the players care, particularly since their rough November start. The Heat play really hard. No one in the league plays harder than James and Wade. The Big Three gave maximum, marvelous efforts on both ends of the court against Chicago. They desperately wanted to prove they can beat the NBA’s elite teams.

There are no legitimate questions about in-game effort and caring as it relates to the Big Three.

The questions are about whether the Big Three know how to go about preparing to win, subjugating their egos and finding a smart, comfortable rhythm/chemistry that produces victories against elite competition, and whether they have the right supporting pieces…

Pat Riley did Spoelstra no favors. I’m not talking about the flawed roster Riley gave his young coach. I’m talking about the organizational arrogance that Riley fueled throughout the offseason. In its desire to be relevant in a city that finds it easy to ignore professional basketball, the Heat franchise embraced the illogical and anti-team notion that three players could beat full teams and create an instant dynasty.

Protected by a fawning, local media cocoon and the ESPN hype machine, James, Wade and Bosh are just now coming to realize the depth and the weight of the burden they undertook.

*****

To be perfectly honest, Miami’s current slide is no revelation to me; it’s merely confirmation of what I’ve been telling people for many months now.  Despite their arrogant declarations of “multiple championships” and record-breaking seasons even before the first tip of the 2010-2011 season, their most recent performances have exposed them to be as fraudulent as LeBron James himself.

As much as LeBron James is the King of Nothing as far as I’m concerned, the Miami Heat are just as false as NBA championship contenders.  Three superstars by themselves cannot beat cohesive teams with adequate talent and also play with great purpose.  Individual talents are useless if they don’t complement each other.  The wolf that is the Miami Heat and their “Big Three” is nothing of the sort; they are, in actuality, three little lambs in wolf’s clothing.

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