November-December: The Miami Heat Stumble Out Of The Gate And Into Cleveland

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FEATURING (in order): Bethlehem Shoals, Tom Ziller, Bill Simmons, Kevin Arnovitz, Mark Cuban, Shoals, Barack Obama, Scott Reiter, Wright Thompson, Jason Whitlock, and Brian Windhorst.

10/27/2010: "Sorry if everyone thought we were going to go 82-0. It's just not happening."

That was Dwyane Wade (he's the superhero, not the introspective braggart), speaking after the Heat's loss to those nasty Celtics. That said, they will still play 82 games, maybe even more. I will write about each and every one of them. After last night, I am considerably less excited about this assignment.

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10/27/2010: That the Heat would lose in Boston is not a surprise; while the Celtics weren't particularly wonderful at home last season (24-17), they lost only 70-12 in the regular season at TD Banknorth in the previous two (less injury-ravaged) seasons. Playing a team as good at the Celtics in Boston is a daunting task for any team, even one dubbed super.

That's the allure and the curse of the Heat to this point -- the team is talented enough to win 50 games in its sleep, but in doing so doesn't use the roster's unique talents in any harmonious way.

The concern is that the wins will pile up for Miami and LeBron and Wade will never become more than LeBron and Wade. The team that had the world in apoplexy all summer wasn't a sequel of the 2006 World Championship team; it was the idea that 82 games could concoct something far more epoch-changing. Based on Game 1, it looks like that while the wins will come soon, our answer as to the Heat's identity will take longer to arrive.

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10/29/10: Only a few basketball teams figured out how to balance the agendas of two superstars; every time, it took a major concession on someone's behalf. West's Lakers never won a championship until Chamberlain tapped into his inner Russell. Kareem's Lakers benefited from Magic deferring for the first seven years, then assuming command as a scorer when Kareem's game began to decay. You can't win an NBA title without someone eventually saying, "I got this" and everyone else agreeing, "You're right, you got this." Miami isn't there yet.

I thought LeBron would make that sacrifice, but upon further review, Wade needs to reinvent himself as the team's defensive stopper, facilitator, emotional leader and occasional closer (much like Kobe did on the 2008 Dream Team). Why? Because LeBron is better than him. In Boston, I was praying to myself, "I hope LeBron doesn't decide to take over." Wade was an afterthought. And yeah, he struggled that game ... but I know what I saw, and I know how I felt. The only guy on the court who could stop LeBron on Tuesday night was Dwyane Wade.

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10/30/2010: Whatever cohesion the Heat still lack on offense, Spoelstra has already instilled a fluid brand of defense that maximizes his team's uncommon quickness and smarts. Fans will tune in to watch the offensive exploits and the dazzling Top 10 fodder -- and who wouldn't -- but the Heat are going to succeed on the strength of their defensive system, one that has a chance for a historic season.

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11/15/2010: "Hallelujah, boys, is that great or what? … How cool is that? Now, they could still turn it around and win out for all that matters, but you're starting to see some of the problems. Any team with a strong, big guy that can score, they're getting abused by. Paul Millsap goes out and pulls a Tracy McGrady. What, Tracy McGrady scored 13 and 30 and Paul Millsap scores 11 in 29 seconds or something like that? They just don't have size to battle. They have the fewest points in the paint of any team and that's tough. … My buddy Dan Gilbert is smiling all the way, too. Again, it's early in the season and you never quite know how it's going to play out, but how glorious."

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11/24/2010: At least I've learned one important lesson so far. No, not that covering the Heat these days is pretty much like being a team blogger for a crappy team, as Eric Freeman put it. Remember the so-called "super-team"? Miami was the first, and there could be another one, or two, in the offing, depending on what Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul feel like doing with themselves. I used the term as recently as three days ago. I don't think that notion is going anywhere; you can always attribute Miami's problems to their particular set of superstars, or their lackluster supporting cast (yes, I realize there's a problem with that statement). I wonder, though, how many GMs — or even players — would still salivate at the chance to put together the next of these juggernauts. I still think Wade and James can play together, and yet that's only part of the puzzle here. For all the credit Pat Riley's receiving, what exactly did he pull off?

My Thanksgiving message: There are no shortcuts; the Heat are dead; and if we didn't kill them, then we might as well have killed ourselves.

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11/25/2010: "It takes some time for the team to come together," Obama said. "There’s no ‘I’ in team. So no matter how good a player is, no matter how good a group of players are, if they haven’t played together before they are not going to be as good as a team that has played together a long time."

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12/1/2010: ...in Akron they’re entitled to see the better side of the Chosen One, perhaps because he’s still just the kid who made this city so proud so early in his life, still the NBA player who asks permission to use his old high school gym with that tinge of respect that comes talking to elders, still the myth who is flesh and blood when he’s home, walking the streets unbothered.

They’re entitled, because in Akron, certainly, they simply loved LeBron.

And still do.

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12/1/2010: Cleveland used to be the center of America's rise. This used to be a factory, and these used to be jobs, and this mill used to be a future, not a silent metaphor for the past. This city used to be home to the third-largest number of Fortune 500 companies. It used to be the home of 400,000 more people. Generations of talent have left, never to return. That's what they will tell you, and you will realize that there are two Clevelands: the one that exists today and the ghost city floating just above it, in the memory of the people who've been here for a long time, and in the imagination of those who just arrived. Everything is defined by these two competing narratives. My friend, Dave Molina, who is from Cleveland, told me this: "They're both myths. The only thing that isn't a myth is the present. But it's so complicated. It's much easier to be positioned at the intersection of two impossible myths."

LeBron was part of both myths, and, even in departure, he remains so; a reminder of what could have been and what once was.

He is a 6-foot-8 steel mill.

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12/1/2010: The people surrounding and advising James are just as devoid of mature perspective as James. ... It’s the blind leading the blind. Unless one of them talks James into financing a dogfighting ring, it’s highly unlikely James will ever snap out of his cluelessness.

Seriously, that’s what it took for us to see the best of Michael Vick, another once-in-a-generation talent who never approached his potential until he sat behind bars for 19 months.

I have no interest in seeing LeBron James go to prison.

So I give up. I’m just going to accept his immaturity and stubbornness and bullying. He’s an immense talent I’ll never fully enjoy or appreciate. I’ll tune in Thursday night and root for the Cavaliers.

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12/2/2010: A thousand little pieces.

That is what it feels like the Cavaliers have become since the last time LeBron James was at Quicken Loans Arena. They were a juggernaut championship contender with a $100 million payroll, the two-time Most Valuable Player, a team with seven years of infrastructure designed to support the best player the franchise has ever seen.

Now, James is in Miami with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and one of the team's trainers. Shaquille O'Neal and Delonte West are in Boston. Mike Brown is doing television work waiting for another head coaching job. One of his assistants is working in New Orleans, another in Denver. Team executives have departed and been hired in San Antonio, Phoenix and Oklahoma City.

Simply put, the Cavaliers are a shell of what they once were. They've lost five of their last seven games -- not great timing with the country focused on James' return to Cleveland on Thursday.

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