Miami hopes one plus two adds up correctly
FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. — Ironically, the longest stretch that this new Big Three spent in uniform together occurred at that disco-style celebration a few days after Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James committed to South Beach University for the next five years.
Three minutes into the first preseason game of the new Team of the Century Oct. 5, Wade left with a strained hamstring and will see his first game action since then tonight in the season opener against the Celtics.
Wade’s inability to participate during the preseason leaves droves of NBA fans wondering how the three-man thing all will work. The Heat took their training camp to an Air Force base in the northern part of the state to sequester themselves during the first week.
They played one public scrimmage for soldiers and their families, an intense 40-minute session in which coach Erik Spoelstra put the Big Three on the same team for the second half, and for that small stretch, the 300 fans allowed into the second session watched brilliance. James glided with the ball as the point guard. Seemingly a distributor by nature, he would use his hulking body to dive into the paint, and then flip the ball back to Wade for an open 3-pointer.
If that option was unavailable, he would swing a pass across the key to Bosh, who is comfortable with the perimeter jumper and swished them with ease. The chemistry was apparent. There was no way that any tinge of selfishness would creep into the gym at the base 40 miles from Pensacola.
Following “The Decision’’ and “The Runway Show,’’ the Heat have pushed aside the vanity and focused on making this three-man weave work. Team president Pat Riley, who coached one of the most successful Big Threes in Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, formulated this current trio banking that each would sacrifice for the sake of winning a title.
Since the Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks in an epic title matchup in 2006, the organization had been reduced to a one-man team, with Wade battling injuries because of the heavy responsibility of carrying his teammates. He scored 166 points in five games against the Celtics during last year’s playoffs, and the Heat won one game.
James watched his pristine reputation as a dominant player damaged by the Celtics during the Eastern Conference semifinals. Some accused James of quitting during the series, resigned to the fact the Cavaliers simply weren’t good enough — and never would be if he stuck around — to win a championship. He gave up $30 million, and was battered for his career-defining decision to leave Cleveland.
Bosh languished in anonymity in Toronto, putting up commendable numbers for bad teams. The departure from the Raptors was ugly, with Canadian fans accusing Bosh of mentally checking out during his final season. Meanwhile, many Bosh adversaries around the league privately have questioned his potential effectiveness in Miami now that the Heat is on. Perhaps they should be the “Big 2’’ one former All-Star remarked.
So here we are, the bare basics of basketball. A hot gym in a remote area filled with the 15-plus guys who are expected to take over the Eastern Conference like a small defenseless country. The fans only want to see the finished product, not the painful transformation of three All-Stars into a cohesive and winning unit.
“When we made the decision to come here, I had a vision of how it would work,’’ James said. “It’s definitely everything I expected and more. We still have a lot of work to do. This is not a team that has a bunch of rookies and has a bunch of guys who don’t know how to play the game of basketball. It’s a veteran ballclub. Coach Spoelstra tells us what we need to do and we get right into it. Guys know for the most part, it’s not that many sets offensively and defensively in the NBA. It’s all pretty much the same. And we have a veteran ballclub that knows what to do.’’
Spoelstra announced that Carlos Arroyo will start at point guard tonight with Joel Anthony at center. But the Big Three have insisted that shots won’t be an issue, especially with Wade and James sharing time at point guard. Bosh seemingly is relieved that he is no longer the primary scoring option and can flourish as a complement.
Wade, meanwhile, grew tired of piling up points and losses. But Wade didn’t spend training camp making googly eyes at Bosh and James. This won’t be an instant success.
“The first thing we need to understand about this whole thing is we need to get better every day because we have a lot of ground to make up,’’ Wade said. “This is business. We know we have a team that can win ballgames, but we have to develop a team that can win in clutch situations and can win in any style of offense or defense that’s being played against us. And, off the court, we have to come together more as a family, understand that we can’t let nothing seep through the cracks of our team and we all have to be very tight.’’
During the offseason, Spoelstra, an astute, smooth coach who will shoulder much of the blame if this group falters, met individually with the Big Three and then met with the team before training camp, stressing that the goal is winning a title and there is very little adjustment time.
The Heat are a top-heavy team with holes on the bench. Since Miami invested so much money on the Big Three, management had limited resources to complete the bench, hence the addition of players who were cast off by former teams.
There is uncertainty as to what veterans Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Eddie House, Jamaal Magloire, and Jerry Stackhouse can bring besides leadership.
Said Wade: “It’s going to be a challenge for us in a good way to make sure we look at all the options we have on the court and not get predictable at any moment and make sure all of our options become mind-boggling for teams.’’
House, the former Celtic, has a special insight, given he was in Boston for the arrival of the previous Big Three. Traded to the Knicks because he had become an ineffective 3-point shooter, House accepted a substantial pay reduction to join the Heat on a two-year deal.
“I never doubted this whole thing would work in the first place,’’ House said. “That’s why we came together. You can’t compare [Boston’s Big Three to Miami’s]. It’s totally different. One has nothing to do with the other. These guys [in Miami] sacrificed a lot of stuff to come together, as opposed to being traded and coming together.
“[Coming here] was a no-brainer. It was a chance to do something special, a chance to come back to an organization that when I left , we weren’t too good.’’
With James barreling into the key on drives, Bosh a versatile post player and shooter, and Wade a slasher, House will spend most of the 24-second clock blowing on his hands for the chance to launch a 3-pointer. An overshadowed strength of Boston’s Big Three was the freedom it provided for the other players, allowing them to play to their strengths.
Kendrick Perkins improved defensively because he didn’t have to concentrate on scoring, Rajon Rondo became a better floor leader, and House received open shots as a result of overcompensating defenses.
“The game is easy for [Wade, Bosh, and James] and, in turn, easy for us,’’ House said. “You get easy, open shots. You don’t have to force anything. You don’t have to think too much out on the court. You see the play, you know you’re wide open, you take the shot. It’s real easy to play with guys who are unselfish, have a high level of talent, and a very high basketball IQ.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.