by Dallas Jackson - 10/12/2005
5/2. Those are the current Vegas Line odds on the Miami Heat to win the NBA Championship. That is a pretty stiff number for a team that hasn't made the Finals in the franchise's 17-year history. What I am curious about, however, is the kind of line I can get on a Miami implosion? I think 7/1, and I'm buying.
"Dallas, you're crazy!!!" ? I can see my inbox filling now.
But seriously, just hear me out.
I recognize all of the obvious facts. Shaq is still there. Wade is a top 10, if not top five guard. The Heat had the best record in the East at 59-23 just last season. Hell, they had the second best home record in the NBA at 35-6. I know these things. Stan Van Gundy has done a fabulous job. He's 101-63 in just two seasons with the club. He had a winning record without Shaq. I agree. And Pat Riley can build a winner. He has rearranged the roster. How can this not work?
Well, I'm glad you asked.
Before I begin my argument, I have to preface it with this: The Heat will be in the playoffs. That is a given. They could even make it as the No. 1 seed, who knows? All I am saying is that I wouldn't be surprised to see them out before the Conference Finals. I don't think they will be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
If you are planning on laying at 5/2 odds, please listen. First of all, the Heat roster is worse this year than last. And second, the East is vastly improved over last year. These are the two main reasons why I will be abstaining from those odds.
The Heat have definitely taken a step back this offseason. They will not be as good as last year. Most of the starting five remains the same: Shaq, Wade, and Udonis Haslem. It's the point guard and small forward positions that have had to face the turnover. At the point, Damon Jones and Keyon Dooling are OUT, while Jason Williams and Gary Payton are IN. What this means is that Miami got colder and older. Damon Jones was the spark plug of this offense. He provided high energy and was a clutch performer - a very nice combo. His 225 three pointers was good for second in the NBA (Kyle Korver and Quinten Richardson each had 226) and most of those treys came in crunch times for the Heat. Keyon Dooling logged sixteen minutes per game off the bench, while playing in 74 games last season. He was unsigned and is now battling Jameer Nelson for a starting job in Orlando.
The additions of Williams and Payton, on paper, look fantastic ... until you delve a little deeper. J-Will, aka "White Chocolate", is a year older than Jones, but years behind him in discipline. Williams had 32 more turnovers than Jones last season, while playing in 11 fewer games. He is (usually) too busy playing street-ball in his attempt to be on SportsCenter than he is concerned with making the safe, open pass. And Gary Payton is over-the-hill, at best. After 16 seasons, he is no longer performing anywhere near the caliber of a nine-time All-Star. He averaged fewer than 12 points per game last year, for the first time since 1991 (his second year in the league), and his diminished skills are now a defensive liability, where as it used to be his strength. Do not be surprised if he is passed on the depth charts by the natural two-guard, Andre Emmett, and then becomes a distraction.
I am not as critical on the turnover at small forward, but I do not like the looks of things. Eddie Jones and Rasual Butler were team guys. They understood and accepted their roles. Eddie was a natural shooting guard, who took his lumps against bigger men playing the three. He used his natural ability and speed to work around his bigger opponents. He was yet another clutch performer for Miami, hitting 142 threes last season while averaging 13 points per game.
I do not view Butler as a key loss. He was a young guy coming into his own, but is more than replaceable. Antoine Walker and James Posey may be better natural fits to fill the small forward position, but there are injury questions surrounding both of these men. Walker, who is only 29, has bad knees. He had to have his deal re-worked and most likely will not be physically able to fulfill his obligation. His relegation to the sixth man is not something I foresee him enjoying too much. He is a very selfish player who either can be clutch or a major distraction. Shaq should help keep him in line, but there simply will not be enough shots to go around for him to be a factor.
James Posey is a walking trip to the injured list. His hip, shoulder, and foot problems have cut into his minutes each season since 2001. He is better on defense than Walker, or Jones for that matter, but is only good for 10 points per game and is not known for being much of a shooter.
Overall, the Heat lost their top five three-point shooters from last year, leaving Dwayne Wade's 13 three-pointers-made as tops returning. Adding Williams and Walker can lighten that burden, but not enough to fill the 400-plus missing threes. I do not buy into team chemistry as a reason for success and failure. If you have good players, they find a way to win. But I have my doubts here. Payton, Williams and Walker all have their histories. With Shaq's advancing age, fewer minutes and increased days off, this team could be in for a rude awakening this season. And that doesn't even take into consideration the bigger, better East.
(BONUS INFO) Would have been a second point, but I was already at 1000 words.
* If you cant join 'em, beat 'em. Damon Jones was not welcomed back to Miami, so he took his game to Cleveland. He, along with Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall, teamed up with LeBron, Z, and Drew Gooden to form one of the most talented groups in the Eastern Conference. At 28-1 odds, the Cavaliers will be a much better play to win their division, and would be my bet to go from the East.
* Detroit lost nothing over the off-season, aside from Larry Brown, and at last check, he didn't make one basket last season. Aside from being another year older, the Pistons have the same nucleus of players back, and 10-1 is still a better investment than the Heat.
* A full season of Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson suddenly make the Nets a serious competitor in the East. Kidd wants to win and Vince loves the spotlight. If RJ can get back to pre-injury form, the Nets will be back in contention. At 33-1, it isn't a play I would make, but they can compete with the rest of the East.
* Lastly, the Indiana Pacers are back on track. Assuming another fight doesn't break out, Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and company match-up well with the Heat. A perennial playoff team with 8-1 odds is a team that could very easily knock off "The Big Aristotle."
Questions or comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of Doc's NBA picks subscription service.