The Miami Heat shouldn’t have made so many personnel changes. Even with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwayne Wade nursing injuries, South Beach was just four minutes away from the 2004-2005 NBA Finals.
Last season, Miami also established something that’s rare in today’s NBA: team chemistry. Shaq and Wade were the accepted go-to-guys, while Damon Jones, Eddie Jones and Udonis Haslem did all the little things that win basketball games.
Nobody complained about playing time, contracts or shots. Third person references were kept to a minimum. The only thing that mattered to the 2004-2005 Heat was winning.
Two months later, things have changed. Team-first players like Eddie and Damon Jones are out, replaced by me-first players like Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey.
What’s Heat GM Pat Riley thinking?
There’s a theory that Riley’s hand has been somewhat forced. Call it the “big appeasement.” O’Neal has never been tight with Eddie Jones. Last season, the two co-existed, but there’s a “big” reason the veteran wing got traded from LA. Could history have repeated itself in Miami? And Damon Jones apparently angered Shaq with his late turnover in game seven against the Pistons.
Walker, Williams and Posey aren’t the answer.
Riley has a sentimental thing for versatile players. With the Lakers, he had “Magic” Johnson. Two summers ago, he signed Lamar Odom as a free agent. Walker isn’t close to Magic or Odom. His point-forward game didn’t work in Boston or Atlanta; he had a hard time fitting in with Dallas. Walker’s affinity for the three-pointer, lack of defense and me-first approach will have Heat coach Stan Van Gundy looking like his sleep deprived brother in Houston.
Williams and Posey are talented-and totally dysfunctional. In Sacramento and Memphis, J-Will’s undisciplined game often got him benched. At times, he’s been a dependable lead-guard, but Williams had a meltdown in last season’s playoffs. In 2003-2004, Posey was on the verge of becoming a star. Last season, he was slowed by injuries and ended up in Mike Fratello’s doghouse. Williams and Posey are a huge risk for the Heat.
Walker, Williams and Posey are all big-ticket players. As part of the Walker trade, Miami signed the forward to a four-year, 30 million dollar contract. There’s also a team option for a fifth and sixth season at 22 million dollars. Williams is on the books for three years at 27 million; Posey is owed 12 million over the next two seasons. With these new, expensive contracts, the club can only offer free agents the mid-level exception and veteran’s minimum.
They had other options. Jerry West is the GM of the Memphis Grizzlies. He originally drafted Eddie Jones, so it’s no surprise that the two re-connected in Tennessee. Miami should have forced West and Memphis to include Shane Battier in any trade for Jones.
Antoine Walker isn’t worth 54 million dollars. This contract makes even less sense if the Heat sign Michael Finley. Walker won’t be willing to split minutes with Finley at the “3” spot or Haslem at the “4”. After all, he hated Dallas’ platoon system and even pouted about giving his playing time to Michael Jordan at the 2002-2003 All-Star game.
Miami shouldn’t have blown up their supporting cast from last season. The Heat will learn that the best moves are often the ones you don’t make.
By Oly Sandor. Oly is an NBA analyst and a free-lance journalist based out of Vancouver, BC. His work has appeared in eurobasket.com, insidehoops.com, basketball.com, Ballerz Magazine and hoopsvibe.com. Send him an email at [email protected]