Dwyane Wade’s return has not significantly improved the Heat in the only stat that really counts

It was so much fun getting Dwyane Wade back last month, but now you have to wonder. Are the Miami Heat any closer to making some real noise in the playoffs with this 12-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP on their roster?

The numbers say no, and they suggest there’s an early playoff exit coming no matter what.

Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade (3) shoots over Washington Wizards’ Mike Scott (30) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Miami. The Heat won 129-102. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami was 29-26 when Wade, the most productive and popular player in franchise history, returned to the Heat in a Feb. 8 trade with Cleveland. Since he joined the team, Miami is 9-7 in all games and 7-6 in games that Wade has played. Nothing special either way.

At different times in a Heat uniform this season Wade has been everything from brilliant (27 points in a 102-101 win over Philadelphia), to mediocre (4-for-13 shooting in a close loss to the same team) to inactive (a hamstring strain has kept him in streetclothes the last three games).

Of course, there are other moving parts that must be considered when it comes to the team’s overall record. Hassan Whiteside plays like an All-Star some nights but doesn’t on others and lately he hasn’t been playing at all. Different players take the scoring lead in different games, a reflection of Erik Spoelstra’s lack of a true closer without Wade in top form. Injuries continue to change the chemistry and the rotation every week of the season, too.

Overall, it feels good to think that Wade is saving up some of his steam at the age of 36 and will begin to dominate parts of games once the postseason gets here. He’s still capable of getting some big shots to go and of stealing or blocking a ball in critical situations.

There just doesn’t seem to be anything truly transformational about it, though. Wade is working hard to contribute and making no complaint about coming off the bench. He probably has a few 20-point explosions in him, too, if he isn’t pushed too hard in a string of consecutive games, and there’s always the wealth of experience and leadership he brings to help the Heat through the tight spots to come.

Back, though, to the original question of how much difference Wade makes in potentially pushing Miami through the first playoff round against Toronto or Boston or Cleveland and into something more serious.

The answer, or at least my answer, is not enough of a difference.

The Heat are tough and versatile and capable of digging very, very deep, as demonstrated in Monday’s epic double-overtime win over Denver, a win that came without Wade or Whiteside.

I would have said all those things about Miami before Wade’s return, and it’s a mouthful. There is little more to be said, however, with Dwyane at Spo’s disposal, other than it is comforting to have him around, and that every little bit of emotional strength counts at this anxious stretch of the season.

And if there’s more to it than that, we’ll probably know it March 27, when LeBron and the Cavs come to town. That’s the kind of challenge that brings the best out in Wade, and if he’s healthy by then, it will be a good showing of what his best is these days in terms of production and emotion and turn-back-the-clock magic.

[March Madness star Eric Musselman got his break with West Palm CBA team] 

[Like Zach Thomas and Wes Welker, Amendola is a Texas Tech tough guy]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

Dwyane Wade’s return strikes every emotional touchstone for Heat fans

Group hug, everybody.

Short of winning another NBA title, Thursday’s wholly unexpected trade bringing Dwyane Wade back to Miami is the greatest emotional touchstone this franchise could strike for its fans.

Think of all you get here.

  • The most decorated player in Heat history, seemingly lost forever in the foul tide of free agency, is returning to AmericanAirlines Arena for what certainly will be the last stop of his NBA career.
  • Wade no longer is a teammate of LeBron James, a temporary arrangement that unsettled stomachs around here much worse than the side of D-Wade in a Chicago uniform.
  • The wall that existed between Wade and Heat godfather Pat Riley has been torn down and a beautiful garden of memories can grow again where it once stood.

That’s a whole lot of payoff for one deal involving a 36-year-old guard who started just three games for Cleveland this year, but Wade has never been about the numbers alone.

Heat president Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade. (Miami Herald file photo)

He’s a symbol of so many good things for Miami, and that predates The Big Three phenomenon.

What happens now for the Heat of 2018 is less glorious. With Wade they will find a way into the playoffs and find their way out pretty quickly. It would have been the same, to be honest, without him.

How much fun will it be, however, to break out those old No. 3 jerseys from the back of the closet, the ones with mustard stains from that concession-stand hot dog wolfed down before Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, the night that Wade scored 42 points to start Miami toward its first title, as well as tear stains from July of 2016, when he signed with the Bulls feeling unappreciated by Riley?

The only thing left to hope for is a first-round playoff pairing with Cleveland.

Dwyane and LeBron are still best buddies. In fact, they both reportedly were consulted on Thursday’s trade, a chance to get Wade the kind of playing time that was being denied him while a Cav. Maybe there’s even a chance to like LeBron a little bit again if that’s true, but only after the hoped-for opportunity to boo him and cheer Wade at equally ridiculous decibel levels in the crucible of the postseason.

As for Erik Spoelstra, the former assistant coach who worked directly with Wade on his jump shooting skills when both were kids, this is the end of wondering who will take the last shot in Miami’s close games. Wade does that. For good or for bad, and remember that this season Wade is nearly 90 points shy of his career-best .545 shooting percentage, closing is what he was born to do.

What is the best that could come of this?

Well, in Wade’s rookie season he led a 42-40 Heat team to the second round of the playoffs, and that team had one fewer All-Star than this one does in Goran Dragic.

I’m not counting on anything like that, nor is it logical to expect that anyone in Cleveland is feeling particularly wounded by Wade’s departure. The Cavs will go on without him, and they’ll be better equipped to win a title following Thursday trades that did not involve Wade at all.

For now, let’s just say that the best thing that could come out of this reunion has already happened, and in an instant. It’s the burst of enthusiasm it already has sent through Miami’s fan base, and the sheer joy that will come with seeing Wade back in the Heat lineup Friday night at the arena.

It’s the perfect salve for sore attitudes during a five-game losing streak, and the ultimate answer to why anyone should be investing additional energy in a team that is not constructed to do much damage this spring. For the alternative emotion, imagine if the addition of Luke Babbitt had been Thursday’s only Heat transaction.

Getting Tim Hardaway at the trade deadline in 1996 was a bigger deal for Riley, but this transaction is a better one for the overall psyche of the franchise.

Miami-Wade County has its mayor back, and now, finally, he is unanimously proclaimed as mayor-for-life.

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/06/dwyane-wades-top-five-miami-heat-highlights/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/15181/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/dwyane-wade-by-the-numbers/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/07/dwyane-wade-miami-heat-not-the-only-messy-breakup-in-south-florida-sports-history/

 

http://heatzone.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/07/16/pat-riley-says-dwyane-wade-exit-was-his-fault/

 

[Where was Derek Jeter 25 years ago when his Marlins franchise was born?]

[There was a time, gulp, when the Heat played in the Western Conference]

[Please, NFL, takes us back to the days when a catch was a catch]

 

There was a time, gulp, when the Miami Heat played in the Western Conference

 

Imagine if the Miami Heat were in the NBA’s rugged Western Conference, how much more difficult mounting a legitimate playoff run would be.

Wait a minute. They actually were a Western team, back in Miami’s expansion season of 1988-89, and the results were not pretty.

1988 AP file photo of Miami Heat coach Ron Rothstein shouting encouragement at his team during a game against the Denver Nuggets in Miami.

Maybe you’ve heard of the franchise’s 0-17 start that year against a sprinkling of Western and Eastern teams.

That had coach Ron Rothstein and company scrambling for the slightest taste of success, and they finally got it in mid-December with a groundbreaking 89-88 victory over the Clippers at the old Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Grant Long, Pat Cummings and Billy Thompson contributed 15 points each that night.

Along the way to 15-67 were some truly horrendous happenings and some ridiculous road trips. As a member of the NBA’s Midwest Division, Miami’s closest division rival was about 1,000 miles away in Houston.

One trip crossing from December into January included games at Seattle, Denver, Portland, Golden State, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Those stops were part of a 10-game losing streak and it wasn’t much better when the Heat were home.

Magic Johnson, James Worthy and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers scored a 47-point victory at Miami Arena that season, for instance. That was nice for Pat Riley, who was their coach at the time, but it should be pointed out that the West wasn’t even the toughest conference back then.

The Lakers were swept by Detroit in the 1989 NBA Finals and that set off a five-year championship run by the Pistons and the Chicago Bulls of the Eastern Conference.

What was Miami doing out west in the first place? It was all part of the NBA’s effort to work in some expansion teams and make all the numbers work in the process. Miami and Charlotte came in first, followed by Minnesota and Orlando the following season.

The Heat spent just that one season in the Western Conference, finishing 36 games back of Utah in the Midwest and 42 games behind the top-seeded Lakers.

It took a while, but Miami eventually won three NBA titles. Keep that in mind when today’s Heat team lays an egg like that loathsome 111-109 home loss to Orlando on Monday night.

Remember, too, that just about most every NBA team looks fairly hopeless from time to time.

In 2000 and 2001, Riley failed even to get Miami to 60 points in a couple of bad losses, and those were 50-win Heat teams featuring Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

[Please, NFL, take us back to the days when a catch was simply a catch]

[Eagles went from losers to champions in one year, but what about Miami?]

[Dan Mullen predicts a national title for Gators but doesn’t say when]

 

There’s nothing left for LeBron James to do but coach himself

The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t going all that great at the moment.

Ten losses in the last 13 games, and a reportedly angry team meeting the other day that hardly washed out all the toxins. If LeBron James wasn’t a Cav and if Cleveland wasn’t bound for the NBA Finals in spite of it all, this could be some pretty serious stuff.

SAN ANTONIO,TX – JANUARY 23 : LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers acknowledges the crowd after hitting his 30,001st point during game against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on January 23, 2018. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

As it is, everybody just watches LeBron a little closer to see how he will react. Will he want different players added to his entourage? Is he fed up with head coach Ty Lue, who continues to juggle lineups at this late stage? Is he willing to take some of the blame for Cleveland being no better than No. 3 in the Eastern Conference’s overall standings and just barely ahead of Miami?

“Just get me to the playoffs,” is LeBron’s answer to those questions and just about every other when doubts arise during the regular season.

The man is still a monster at 33, and knows it. Who else would congratulate himself on social media for joining the elite 30,000-point club? Who else would say something scripted and sanctimonious like “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” instead of just announcing his free-agent choice of teams?

So if LeBron really is so brilliant in basketball strategy and mental preparedness and roster analysis and leadership skills, why not just cut to the chase?

Let King James try his hand at being the Cavs’ player-coach. There hasn’t been one of those in the NBA since Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics 39 seasons ago, but several Hall of Famers have done it.

Bill Russell won two NBA titles as player-coach of the Celtics. The Cincinnati Royals asked Bob Cousy to do it all and the result was a 36-46 season that was tiresome for everyone involved. Richie Guerin and Lenny Wilkens worked more than 300 games each as player-coaches. Bob Pettit tried it for about a week.

LeBron already runs the huddle when he doesn’t like how a play is set up in the final seconds of a big game. He has final say on all kinds of major decisions in Cleveland, whether it’s official or not.

It would be fun to see him stand before the cameras and do more than roll his eyes when asked about what is wrong with the team.

It would be fine to see him rally the troops and not just rise above them.

I think he probably would be pretty good at this. LeBron has been good about everything else in a game he was born to boss around.

He’s a trendsetter at heart, always looking to put more power in the hands of players, at contract time and at crunch time. What better way than to coach his own team, and to make a two-pronged success of it?

It’s the difference between being His Highness and His Oneness, and LeBron is exactly the type who would revel in that distinction.

[Player-coach is the only thing left for LeBron James to do]

[Eagles’ coach Pederson once saved Don Shula’s bacon as backup QB]

[Philly is only conference finalist that Dolphins don’t play in 2018]

 

 

Would LeBron ever consider coming off the bench like Dwyane Wade is now?

Two things came to mind with the news that Dwyane Wade has asked to come off the bench at Cleveland, thinking that may be a benefit to him and to the team.

First, would it have been possible for the most popular player in Miami Heat history to return to the franchise if he had come to that sort of career conclusion a little sooner? Yeah, probably, and that would have been fun for everybody.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dwyane Wade, left, and LeBron James have a discussion during a game against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Leah Klafczynski/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS)

Second, has LeBron James, the monstrous talent who drew Dwyane back to his side with the Cavs, ever forfeited his spot in the starting lineup to someone else?

I was surprised that the answer is yes, but just barely.

Going into Tuesday night’s game with Chicago, LeBron had suited up for 1,281 NBA games and started in 1,280 of them. That includes 217-for-217 in the postseason, from the age of 19.

The one exception, when LeBron stayed on the bench for the first 5:59 of a game in December, 2007, was sold as a favor for a Cleveland teammate.

Anderson Varejao was feuding with the Cavs over a new contract and sat out that season’s first 21 games as a restricted free agent. Eventually he signed an offer sheet with the Charlotte Bobcats, which the Cavs matched in order to keep him, but the idea that Varejao didn’t want to be in Cleveland raised the possibility of a negative reaction when he returned to the court at Quicken Loans Arena on Dec. 11.

That also happened to be LeBron’s first night back after missed five games with a sprained left index finger. Nobody knew quite what to make of him staying on the bench in his warmups as the game tipped off, but later, after a 118-105 victory over Indiana, LeBron explained.

“I thought it would raise the intensity of the fans, having me, Larry (Hughes) and Andy (Varejao) come in at the same time — and it worked,” James said. “I thought by coming in with Andy it might stop some of the boos Andy might get. Just protecting my teammates.”

LeBron told reporters that was the first time he had not started a game, going back to high school and earlier.

“That was one and done for me,” James said. “I will not be coming off the bench anymore.”

And he hasn’t, and he won’t. Unlike Wade, LeBron’s ego would not be able to process the concept, much less to propose it to a head coach.

He will always see himself as the best player in the building, or else he won’t enter the building at all.

[It once was the same thing in Chicago with fans favoring Cutler’s replacement]

[Hoping for a little churn at top of NBA and not another Cavs-Warriors Final]

[Even UM’s greatest teams learned how murderously tough it is to run the table]

 

 

Heat return to FAU, and we take a look back at their inaugural game there in 1988

The Miami Heat are returning to the Florida Atlantic University gym next week for training camp, which always brings back memories of the team’s first-ever exhibition game there 29 years ago.

Until the night of Oct. 14, 1988, Miami’s NBA expansion franchise had only practiced and played intrasquad scrimmages. It was totally new and exciting when head coach Ron Rothstein actually put on a business suit and brought his guys out to play the Seattle Supersonics with Heat partner Billy Cunningham alternately looking on and signing autographs.

1988 AP file photo of Miami Heat coach Ron Rothstein shouting encouragement, or something, at his team.

Were you there? Don’t lie. The box score says only about 4,000 people were, and at that time a mere 4 percent of the Heat’s season tickets had been sold to Palm Beach County residents.

That was a long time ago, though, before the Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, before all of South Florida fell in love with the Heat’s championship ways.

Fun to look back, after three NBA titles, to the franchise’s beginnings. What follows here is my column from the night of that exhibition debut, a 116-107 Seattle victory, with apologies to one original Heat player for writing that he “had all the finesse of a front-end loader.”

Here goes.

 

HEAT UNWRAP AN NBA VISION OF A TEAM DRESSED IN BASICSOct. 14, 1988By Dave George, Post Sports Columnist

   Until Friday night, until a fairly full house at Florida Atlantic
University watched a somewhat significant exhibition game against a semi-tough NBA opponent, the Miami Heat dangled somewhere between fantasy and fact.
  Like a papier-mache pinata, the concept of a major league basketball franchise in
our own backyard was beautiful but no one had taken a whack at it yet.
South Florida’s last taste of suspense this sublime was when Christo the
artist promised a masterpiece of floating fabric surrounding a handful of
islands off Biscayne Bay. Would the Heat be similarly fluffy, presented in
pleasing pastels for the discerning Floridian but lacking in substance?
    Any fear of that was ended with the first glance at Miami’s shock-troop
entry to the domain of Magic and Isiah and Kareem and Larry Friday. Maybe
storm troops would be a better word, since the NBA’s most mod squad debuted in black uniforms, insufficient to shake the veteran Seattle SuperSonics but a
fashion statement of great note.
The Heat’s new palace in downtown Miami may be pink but the players who
take the first halting steps toward tradition there won’t be. A ghastly green, perhaps, but definitely not pink.
   No squad with Pat Cummings in the paint,
moving with all the finesse of a front-end loader, could ever be so. No coach whose last official sideline bark came in the NBA Finals ever would allow it.
  “I’m sort of pleased but not satisfied,” Heat coach Ron Rothstein said
of the 116-107 loss his junior achievers suffered in their first dry run
toward the apocalyptic Nov. 5 season opener. “It’s going to be a long, drawn- out process but I hope people appreciate how hard the guys played.”
Appreciate it? These folks ate it up, howling like Lakers fans with $50
Forum seats. In truth this was only the FAU gym, a distant little dot on the
map for the fans who have invested the most in the belief that Artis Gilmore
and Art Deco both belong in Dade County.
   Heat Managing Partner Lewis Schaffel estimated Friday that only 4 percent of the team’s season tickets have been bought by Palm Beach County residents, one percentage point ahead of the number sold to New York City residents. Those 4 percent were in the gym when the game started at 7:30 but by 8:15 the faithful had arrived, filling all but the far corners of the stands.
Joining them there were Stu Inman, Miami’s director of player personnel,
and Billy Cunningham, former NBA star and one of three partners in the
franchise. They scattered themselves in the bare spots of the bleachers to
watch the game, doing everything physically possible to complete the crowd and thus present the most pleasing face possible for this first date.
They needn’t have worried. The Heat may be only tepid today but there is
steam in the furnace. Let’s get crazy here, in honor of the moment. Miami
won’t win just a dozen games in its opening season. The Heat will win 14. No, make it 15.
      Why fight the feeling when it feels so good?
The possibilities are endless. Consider for a moment that the Heat went
through the entire opening game with just two basic offensive sets, signaled
by various point guards with a shout of “fist” and “thumb up.” That leaves
four fingers completely unexplored, and that’s using just one hand.
Consider also that Rony Seikaly sat the bench for this one. Sure, every
center in the NBA won’t melt in his shadow like Dwayne Schintzius did but
they’ll have more trouble with him than Seattle’s big men did Friday with
Scott Hastings.
And chew for a moment on the fact that this fresh mixture of mice and men actually led at halftime, 55-54. The Sonics walked to the locker room in
confusion over this exhibition aberration, rationalizing to themselves, “It’s not the Heat, it’s the humidity.”
There even was a point midway through the third quarter when Miami led by 11 points, cause for celebration even in a practice game. Exuberance was in
the air, rivaling the gush of a public address announcer who earlier had
introduced Tony Karasek to the crowd as a member of the Heat.
   Karasek was cut on Wednesday.
The 21-4 run that the Sonics used to reinstate the natural order of the
universe quieted the crowd only for a moment. And it never stopped the Heat
from hustling. Chief among the survivors was rookie Kevin Edwards, who
established himself on opening night as the talent on a team that had
difficulty even getting the ball across half court against Seattle’s full-
court pressure.
Still, how could you hate them? On they went, racing up and down the court like fireflies. A flash of brilliance here, a dark spot there. Sure, it’ll take time but now that the Dolphins are playing like veterans again, there is room for a pack of rookie renegades.
This may work out after all.

Think you can predict the Heat’s offseason moves? Remember 2003 before answering

You think you know what will  happen with the Miami Heat in Thursday’s NBA draft and the free-agency period beyond?

Nobody knows. Nobody could.

There are too many moving parts in this process, especially with Pat Riley in charge of it.

Dwyane Wade and his son with Pat Riley after the Heat selected Wade with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 draft.
(File photo)

Look back to 2003, the year that Miami made its most successful first-round pick ever – Dwyane Wade. The followed happened that offseason, one seismic step after another, and the most astonishing news of all broke just days before the start of the regular season. Remember?

Well, here it all is, with the blockbuster headline buried near the bottom of the list, startling enough to make Wade wonder if he was even starting his career with a stable franchise.

  • Junior Dwyane Wade leads Marquette to the Final Four but the Golden Eagles get blown out by Kansas 94-61 by Kansas. Wade, who was married with a 1-year-old son at the time, said “I’m known for having a great season but I didn’t go out a winner, so it will be a tough decision.” Luckily for the Heat, he decides to leave college one year early and enter the draft.
  • Wade works out in June for at least nine teams, including Miami, which is coming off a 25-57 season and has the No. 5 overall pick.
  • Certain stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh come off the draft board before the Heat can act but Riley takes Wade and says “we feel like we have, contrary to what people might think and other than LeBron, one of the best players, if not the best player in the draft.”
  • The agent for Heat point guard Anthony Carter blows it by failing to inform the team that his player wants to exercise his option for the coming season. When the deadline passes without notification, Riley no longer is obligated to pay Carter his salary and the option on keeping him becomes the team’s instead. The Heat let Carter go and gain an additional $4 million to spend on free agents.
  • Riley speaks generally with reporters about the possibility of saving his money for the next offseason, when Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett might be available as free agents.
  • Riley makes a one-year offer to Alonzo Mourning, who missed the previous season with a kidney ailment, but is satisfied to let the greatest player in Heat history go. The New Jersey Nets sign Zo to a four-year deal and he says he is going because he is trying to get a ring and can’t wait for the Heat to get better.
  • Riley signs Elton Brand to a six-year offer sheet but the Los Angeles Clippers match the offer and keep the free agent.
  • Riley goes after the Clippers again, signing Lamar Odom to an offer sheet for six years and $65 million. This time the Clippers can’t match and Odom joins Miami.
  • Wade plays his first exhibition game in Puerto Rico against the Philadelphia 76ers and shows immediate promise with 18 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots.
  • Wade signs his rookie contract for three years at $8.5 million with a team option for a fourth year.
  • Riley quits as Heat coach four days before the regular-season opener and names assistant Stan Van Gundy to replace him. Riley says he will remain as team president for the final two years of his 10-year Heat contract, adding “I feel the time is right because this team is headed in another direction. It’s turned around. It’s fresh. It needs another voice.” Riley is 58.
  • Miami goes 42-40 and makes the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. After beating the Hornets in the first round, the season ends in the conference semifinals against Indiana.
  • Riley tears it all up and rebuilds the following summer, trading Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal.

 

It couldn’t possibly be as dramatic as all that this offseason, right?

Well, I’m not predicting anything. Riley won’t let me or anybody else do that, and he likes it that way.

[Koepka and Berger make it two wins in a row for PB County high school products]

[LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals but he’s a long way from being a loser]

[Thermodynamics of NHL life: Players on ice and coaches on hot seats]

 

LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals appearances, but he’s a long way from being a loser

Let the LeBron bashing begin. Oh, wait, it never stopped?

Pretty amazing that an athlete this comprehensively talented could be laughed at as a loser, but Cleveland’s loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals on Monday night has unleashed the usual wave of social-media silliness.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James speaks at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 12, 2017. The Warriors won 129-120 to win the NBA championship. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

LeBron brings it on himself, no doubt, appearing always to be the guy who gets whatever he wants in terms of building a team worthy of his participation, but there needs to be a little reality to go with the rants about his 3-5 record in the NBA Finals.

Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA Finals appearances despite at times having Hall of Fame teammates like Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. The Boston Celtics dynasty of Bill Russell and company wouldn’t let West and the Lakers close the deal and yet West wasn’t called a loser.

Instead, he got the nickname of “Mr. Clutch.” He was voted the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 in a losing effort. His silhouette was chosen as the logo for the NBA.

Wilt the Stilt was 2-4 in the NBA Finals and there never has been a more physically imposing athlete than Chamberlain was in his time.

Hey, they’re not all going to be Michael Jordan, 6-0 in the championship series. Doesn’t mean that everyone else stinks.

In South Florida LeBron will always be appreciated for bringing two NBA titles to Miami and loathed for bolting to Cleveland and grumbled about for the two NBA Finals when he and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t win.

Take a look at the numbers, though. Wade, beloved for bringing the first title to the Heat before the Big Three era had arrived, was the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals while averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in a six-game series win over Dallas. He shot 47 percent, too. Can’t do much more than that, right?

Well, LeBron just did in this five-game series loss to the Warriors.

James averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists while shooting 56 percent against the Warriors.

Those numbers in defeat were even greater than LeBron’s stats in his three NBA Finals MVP performances with the Heat and the Cavs.

“With him, the negativity that surrounds him (LeBron), honestly, to me, I think is so unjust and so unfair,” West told ESPN last summer. “Take him off of the team and see how these teams do. That’s all you have to do. Take him off. And it frustrates the heck out of me when I see some of these players who play this game at an enormously high level get criticized because their teams quote, ‘Can’t win the big one.’ The damn guy gets his teams there every year.”

[Panthers hire new coach but how long before he’s on the hot seat like most other NHL bosses?]

[Predicting a 4-1 start to the season for Miami Dolphins]

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is for Feleipe Franks to win job]

Not saying that I love LeBron because that’s not true, but it makes little sense to hate him the way that some people do.

If he were a free agent this summer and available to the Heat, would you hate the idea of Pat Riley getting a meeting?

When fishing for NBA whales, better know the peculiar traits of each species

 

Pat Riley invented the notion of hunting for “whales” in NBA free agency. You know, the biggest of the big in terms of talent, which implies the ability to turn a team into a championship contender overnight plus, of course, the immense amount of money they must be fed.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (No. 32) of the Los Angeles Clippers. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Some of the names being thrown around this year don’t seem to fit the category all that naturally for me. Sure, the current salary structure may indicate maximum contracts are due, but does the player’s actual production deserve that special designation?

Let’s say Miami could get a shot at the following free agents, though in some cases it is ridiculous to ponder, and let’s separate them out by their particular species of whale.

Blue whale (Largest animal on earth at 69 to 90-plus feet in length) – We’re talking Kevin Durant here. He won’t be leaving the Warriors, of course, but what a splash he would make with any new team.

Finback whale (72-82 feet) – It’s a stretch but I’ll put Blake Griffin here because he averages 21 points and close to 10 rebounds per game and has high visibility from appearances in several national TV commercials. Guy gets injured every playoff season, though, and his attitude is suspect.

Right whale (45-60 feet) – Here we find Gordon Hayward, just once an All-Star, and Chris Paul. The first is a sensational shooter but is not always in monster mode. The second, Paul, is a trusted leader and a tough competitor but needs to be teamed with other top stars in order to chase a title.

Sperm whale (35-60 feet) – Deliberately leaving this one blank so that none of you goofballs out there start snickering.

Humpback whale (42-50 feet) – Here we find Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap and Miami’s Dion Waiters, three guys who lack the consistency to scare you every night. Dwyane Wade could fit this, too, if he options out of the $24 million that Chicago owes him, which I would not advise.

Minke whale (28-30 feet) – Shaun Livingston and Patty Mills are postseason tough but can’t rate them much higher on the food chain if they’re not automatic starters.

Beluga whale (13-15 feet) – JJ Reddick, Jrue Holiday and Taj Gibson. There’s a lot to like about all of these guys but they would still be role players on a great team.

Narwhal (13-15) feet) – This animal is just plain gnarly, with a long tusk protruding from its mouth and plenty of other traits that only Charles Darwin could love. I’m thinking Kelly Olynyk here, right?

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is Franks as starting QB]

[Will Trubisky match numbers of Tannehill, another lightly-used college QB?]

[From the day he left high school, LeBron was compared to Magic Johnson]

 

Look to Spo’s history as a player for the toughness that helped turn season around

From 11-30 to the NBA playoffs is an incredible journey that the Miami Heat still haven’t completed, but the question is the same no matter how this turns out.

How does a coach keep grinding the way Erik Spoelstra always does, whether his team seems bound for a world championship or the draft lottery?

MIAMI – Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra watches during the second half of a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on March 19. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

That’s one heck of a range when it comes to expectations and achievement and personal satisfaction, and it’s one that didn’t always hold Pat Riley’s attention quite as well during his coaching days.

Riley, of course, was a brilliant athlete in high school, good enough to have Adolph Rupp chasing him at Kentucky and brawny enough to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys coming out of college. All he ever knew was winning when he got to the NBA, and he can’t stand to be away from it for long.

Spoelstra was just the opposite, scrapping for everything he got as a point guard who weighed just 98 pounds as a high school freshman. There’s an old USA Today story that tells of Spo taking 30,000 jump shots from three-point range one summer in order to stretch and improve his skills.

Yeah, that’s the kind of doggedness that comes in handy later when you’re 11-30.

Eventually Spoelstra earned a Div. I scholarship offer, but it wasn’t from UCLA or North Carolina. Instead he played at the small college in his Oregon hometown, the University of Portland.

Must have played pretty well, too, because he was named the Freshman of the Year in the West Coast Conference. Loyola-Marymount owned that league at the time, averaging 110 points per game, and Gonzaga, a No. 1 seed in the ongoing NCAA tournament, owns it today.

Problem is, the Portland Pilots weren’t very good overall. They started 0-13 in Spo’s first season there and wound up 2-26. It’s a real challenge not to quit on a team like that.

Stick with it, though, and 11-30 somewhere way down the line doesn’t rattle you as much as it might others.

Spo kept pounding away, starting 97 games in four years, which ranks ninth on Portland’s all-time list. He learned how to create scoring opportunities for teammates, ranking fifth on the school’s career list for assists, and how to make the most of his own chances, ranking fourth all-time at Portland with a free-throw percentage of .824.

That’s a lot of serious stat mileage for a player whose individual career numbers – 9.2 points, 4.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds – don’t exactly knock you out. Spo pushed every possible hot button, though, even though the Pilots never won more than 11 games during his four-year college career.

Is that the kind of guy you want coaching your team in the midst of an 11-30 nightmare? Well, sure, especially if he also has found great success, as in back-to-back NBA titles with the Big Three.

[Only 3 Gator teams ever made it to Sweet 16 more easily than this one]

[Most get in free for inaugural NCAA hoops title game in 1939]

[From franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

There’s something here for everyone on the Heat roster, a coach who understands the psychological torture of losing, a coach who remembers what it’s like to be overlooked, and a coach who will accept only the highest standards no matter what anybody else thinks or says about his team.

What the team has achieved and what it continues to chase make more sense in this context. It tells you that the Heat couldn’t be in better hands.

It’s true now. It was true at 11-30.