By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) — That Miami team doesn’t look so scary anymore, certainly not the one getting embarrassed on its home court.
They turn the ball over carelessly, dribble too much, and stand around looking at each other, waiting for somebody to do something. They take contested shots with the clock in the red. They are confused on defense, chasing ghosts: every hard close to an open shooter is punished by a weak-side cut or a reversal of the ball, every trap creating an equal and opposite scoring chance, and every hesitant rotation making them more likely to foul.
The big, bad Heat are being vivisected.
On the surface it all looks good to Bulls fans, if bitterly so. The unraveling of Miami’s projected identity of inevitability may satisfy those still smarting over not only the mechanism of their construction that left Chicago holding the bag, but the cold finality of playoff losses at their hands. There is pleasure in their pain, and some may be feeling something even beyond that.
It’s something resembling hope, and with that, one must be very careful.
Time is never on the side of sustained dominance. Even in professional basketball, where the combination of talent and seven-game series overcomes randomness, it’s difficult to stay great. Effective, inexpensive supporting casts are fluid, churning around a star-laden core in an accounting dance with the salary-cap and luxury taxes. Just navigating the physical challenges of the regular season has become a modern coaching concern, and the rapid deployment of advanced analytics is allowing smart teams to be more competitive in new ways.
Dwyane Wade is an old 32. Lebron James has already logged a career total of 46,000 minutes. Ray Allen is done, and so is Shane Battier. The Heat point guards are regressing, and not one single player on their roster seems to be getting better, with the possible exception of James. Therein lies the warning.
Are there really new cracks in the glass ceiling of the Eastern Conference, or is it just tempting to want to see them?
The timing is convenient for the Bulls, amid growing dissatisfaction with the repeated pattern of regular-season overachievement followed by playoff strangulation. That’s the hamster flywheel of NBA hell, and both John Paxson and Gar Forman are smart enough to want to get off. They are increasingly impatient, and they are trying.
Carmelo Anthony is a long shot, as is Kevin Love. Regardless, even the outside chance of some kind of tactical nuclear option is more compelling than anything else for a fan base getting antsy for a Derrick Rose Era to be resurrected in any meaningful form. It feels like there’s a lesson in this new evidence of Miami mortality, that it’s more worth it than ever to reboot the system with some kind of second star, assume that Rose is himself, hope Tom Thibodeau can be taught or forced to better care for his human resources, and make the grab for at least that puncher’s chance. There’s no good reason to wait.
For many of us, it’s worth doing almost just because. It can’t hurt, it could help, and it sure beats watching the same sad, predictable ending again. But it may be missing the larger point, which is how to really get by the Heat, or wherever a still-prime James may be.
Play basketball like the San Antonio Spurs. Do business like the San Antonio Spurs.
Move the ball gracefully to open shooters in uncovered areas. Space the floor with ideal geometric balance, and synchronize every action. Defend with awareness of situation and personnel. Acquire and develop intelligent, multifaceted, unselfish players who respond positively to relentless coaching and quiet veteran leadership. Put together a global machine – two Frenchmen, an Italian, an Australian, a guy from the Virgin Islands, a Brazilian/Spaniard and a few well-chosen Americans – that becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s just that easy to make the Miami Heat look overmatched.
Everyone’s vulnerable to greatness.