The Miami Heat are 6-3 and had to scramble a bit to beat Utah 92-91 in their last game but this isn’t so bad. If fact, it’s simply life in the NBA, with players out for various reasons at various times and entire rosters struggling to find an early-season rhythm.
It happens to the best of them, and the proof is in knowing that it happened to Miami’s Big Three in 2010, with the whole world watching and a fair chunk of that audience snickering over the troubles that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were having in their newly-formed partnership.
I looked back five years to find a strikingly similar start for a more glamorous Miami team. The Heat were 5-4 out of the gate in November of 2010, with the only difference being an overtime loss to Utah rather than a close win on the order of Thursday night’s result.
The stars definitely were not aligned at that point, and Erik Spoelstra, not yet a championship coach, was being widely criticized for being in over his head.
Truth is, at that point Dwyane and LeBron had a lot to figure out about who should lead the team and how. In those first nine games, Wade led the Heat in scoring six times and LeBron did three times. Through it all, Bosh, a major scorer in his Toronto days, was in limbo concerning his role.
It was seven games before each member of the Big Three scored 20 points on the same night. If that was a breakthrough, Bosh wanted to make full use of it. He made a special point of sitting next to LeBron on a flight home from New Jersey, eager to push their relationship from teammates to friends.
“I wanted to talk to him, and really get to know each other really,” Bosh said in the Nov. 8, 2010 Palm Beach Post. “I think that’s an important part of team-building.
“The process hasn’t been easy. I was letting that show through my demeanor. Sometimes I get a little lost out there, because it’s different. We have a system, but at the same time, when the game is happening so fast, sometimes I just get lost. I don’t know whether to go, whether to cut, whether to get back.”
What does all this have to do with Wade and Bosh and Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic in 2015? Maybe not as much as it does with the rest of us and the the way we perceive this new Miami unit operating together for the first extended period.
Bosh’s honesty about the Big Three’s beginnings is the clearest picture possible of team dynamics in motion, particularly when superstars are involved.
It got worse, too, remember? The Heat actually got to 9-8 that season, causing the New York Daily News and other national outlets to speculate about a “mutiny” being led by LeBron against Spoelstra. Included in that was a sideline bump between the two of them, with LeBron’s shoulder briefly jolting Spo as they crossed paths during a timeout. Accident?
Few were willing to give the benefit of a doubt on things like that. The Heat, a supposed team of destiny, was lukewarm at best. Wade, trying to make the best of it after a huge blown lead against the Jazz, said “This is good to have a game like this for our team. It will be a good thing. But not right now.”
He was talking about the playoffs. He was downplaying the obvious, like the fact that Miami lost twice to Boston in the season’s first nine games, and looking forward to the inevitable knitting of the various parts. That’s how it happened, too, with the Heat losing a total of just three games while blowing through Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago in the 2011 Eastern Conference playoffs.
Dallas got the best of Miami in the NBA Finals, but back-to-back Heat championships were just around the corner. In the end, that troubling 9-8 start to the Big Three’s first season was forgotten, and so was the 12-game winning streak that immediately followed it.
So what do we make of the fact that Bosh and Wade and Whiteside are averaging 51.6 points per game as a whole this season while waiting for Dragic to morph into the Dragon?
Well, for one thing, there’s the acknowledgement that this Miami team isn’t promising multiple NBA titles over the next few years and need not be measured in any significant way against the Big Three, who averaged 70.9 points in their first regular season together.
Even more, there’s the reminder that this is November. Teams are just warming up. Genuine trust is just a concept, as evidenced by the mysterious two-game suspension that Gerald Green is preparing to put behind him.
We won’t know this Heat team for some time now, because they don’t really know themselves. It’s a common problem, for uncommon partnerships like the Big Three and for all the rest.