How do you know LeBron James will succeed in Miami this year?
For decades, the Bermuda Triangle brought mystery and intrigue with its notoriety as a place where good-intentioned fliers went to disappear. Does the same hold true for basketball players?
Just a bit to the west of those storied waters, another triangle of despair has formed in Miami. LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) were supposed to be the superstar trio at the heart of an NBA dynasty. Instead, the three have struggled to start the 2010-11 season, and Miami has won just 10 of its first 18 games.
When James and Bosh joined Wade in Miami over the summer, I imagined that the team in my city, Orlando, would quickly become forgotten. Even with center Dwight Howard(notes) still dominating, it is tough for Orlando to attract or maintain a following among Florida’s NBA fans while James, one of the greatest and flashiest players in the game, is anchoring a powerhouse Heat team. The shift occurred almost overnight. The stores in Central Florida swapped out Magic jerseys for Miami Heat jerseys, and folks started to check the schedule to find out when the Heat would be in town.
Now, the question lingers about what sort of team the Heat really is. Is Miami yet another failed experiment? Is it an indication that you just can’t buy success? The theories are rolling off the lips of sports commentators all across the country, but it’s all a bunch of poppycock. By the end of the season, the Miami Heat will be the team we thought they were. You can count on it, and here are five reasons for those who need a little convincing.
The competitiveness factor
LeBron James did not go straight from prep school to the NBA by coincidence. He is a superstar because he has worked to become one. Like a true professional, he takes his job seriously, and he sets his goals high and works to achieve them. In 2008, he nearly single-handedly lifted Cleveland to an NBA championship. That requires heart, skill and focus, and there’s no doubt that he has all three. Make no mistake – James did not come to Miami because he likes sunshine. He’s there to win. That’s his focus and drive.
That’s what LeBron has been doing his whole basketball life. He takes a few extra shots in practice, runs a few extra sprints and spends an extra hour watching film. He does it because he knows it pays off. Like a good doctor, LeBron knows a tried-and-true remedy for what ails him and his Heat teammates. Has he struggled with his shooting? Definitely. But he’ll solve his shooting woes because he is not going to give up until he does. Folks will forget all about his slow start when he’s throwing up 40- and 50-point games in early 2011.
The talent factor
Without question, the talent is there. LeBron remains one of the best players in the NBA. He has a career scoring average of 27.7 per game, and he’s an athletic 6-foot-8 guy who has the ability to make the dazzling pass, drive to the hole off the dribble and bang around inside for rebounds. Even with some less-talented players in the everyday lineup, there is no denying that the Heat are a potential scoring machine. The numbers do not lie. Wade has a career 25.3 PPG average. That provides the Heat with a solid foundation and better than 50 points per night. Each also has the ability to make players around them better, and that bodes well for a team that gives up a little at point guard and center.
The chemistry factor
Basketball is not baseball. A guy does not walk up to the plate with a bat and face a pitch all by his lonesome. In basketball, chemistry is everything. Even the great ones need someone to set a screen, someone to make the pass and someone to play defense. Chemistry, though, takes time. The flavors have to mix together like a pot of leftover chili on the bottom shelf in the fridge. The Heat are a competitive team now, and they will take a step forward each week due primarily to the gradual uptick in familiarity and comfort level between players.
The comfort factor
When LeBron left Ohio, he left behind all that was familiar to him and thrust himself into unfamiliar waters. In Miami, he’s playing with unfamiliar players in front of unfamiliar fans on an unfamiliar court. After the games, he’s questioned by unfamiliar sports reporters. Let’s face it – it wouldn’t be a big surprise to hear that he got lost on the way to or from the stadium.
These are new surroundings for James, and he’s still just 25 years old. He might score like a big boy, but he’s still growing into his adult life. As he becomes more familiar with his new digs, he’ll learn to relax and stay loss. That is bound to carry over to his performance.
The communication factor
The Heat recognize that something is amiss. The players held a closed-door meeting last week, and James on Monday met with head coach Erik Spoelstra. The two discussed the offense, which James hopes will be tweaked to take advantage of the unique skills and he Wade bring to the table.
The simple fact that the players are communicating bodes well for Miami. It’s much more common for animosity and frustration to be relayed from one player to another or from player to coach through the medium of a sports reporter. That never ends well. LeBron, though, has chosen another method. He’s communicating, and that is a good sign.