The Heat And The Hopeless: Introducing An Equal Opportunity Series

Lebron James and Chris Bosh have brought a certain sizzle to the Miami Heat, where they've joined Dwyane Wade to form the hottest team -- and topic -- in the NBA. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

In the first edition of a new SB Nation series, we take a closer look at the hottest basketball team on the planet -- the Miami Heat -- and the literal polar opposite. From South Beach to the Great North. All season long, we'll run a column once-a-week tracking the Heat and the Minnesota Timberwolves as they flirt with the best (and worst) records in NBA History.

The NBA season is nearly upon us, and that means it's time to talk about the Miami Heat. Because in 2010, that's all anyone's talking about. That is a FACT.

I know this because I was watching ESPN the other night when they had a roundtable discussion with questions like, "Can the Heat win 72 games?" and "Who is the biggest threat to the Heat?" along with "Can LeBron James and Dwyane Wade share the ball?" or even "If the Heat played pro football, what position would each of them play?"

That last one was a joke, but don't laugh too hard.

But we're not here to scoff at ESPN's pandering. We're all players in the same game, and truth be told, the SB Nation editors are no different. A few weeks ago someone came to me and asked, "So what do you think about a running series on the Miami Heat?" Because for all our snarkiness, there's no question that the Miami Heat are the most fascinating story of the 2010 season.

And that brings us to the present day. After thinking about it for a little while, I decided that yes, we could do something on the Heat. But no, it couldn't be just the Heat. That's the sort of inane, redundant coverage that makes me want to throw my remote at Jon Barry every time he shows up on SportsCenter. We can at least mix it up a little bit. So, what's the polar opposite of this year's Miami Heat team?

To understand the answer we have to think about what this year's Miami team embodies. We're talking hip-hop. Big beats, booming through the streets. A crew of young millionaires that took their destinies into their own hands--Empowerment with a capital E. A general manager that schemed through back channels to pull of the greatest offseason coup in history. A star player that went on national television to announce his decision to betray his hometown. So bold, so unapologetic.

Be careful. You don't want to choke on all that swagger.


So, yeah: if you guessed "endearing" as the polar opposite of the Miami Heat, then you're not technically wrong. But the answer we're looking for is the Minnesota Timberwolves.


Because what's the opposite of Miami? Well, since Fargo, N.D., doesn't have an NBA team, I think Minneapolis is as close as we're going to get. If the Heat are hip-hop blaring from a gigantic stage with obnoxious colored lights, the Minnesota Timberwolves are nothing less than a desperate howl in the frigid wilderness. If the Heat's "Big Three" took their destinies into their own hands and built an empire, then the Timberwolves are full of players who are relatively powerless. This is their NBA fate, and fighting it will only make things more painful.

So they've got a good humor about things, which is why I kind of love the Timberwolves and their fans (and their blog, Canis Hoopus, which might be the best in the entire SB Nation network).

Point is, nobody in Minnesota has any delusions of grandeur. It's a refreshing antidote to the Heat's hubris. For instance, LeBron James went on national television to maximize the spectacle surrounding his decision. Minnesota's Anthony Tolliver mocked him:

Tit for tat, all season long, we'll run a column once-a-week tracking each of these two teams as they flirt with the best and worst records in NBA History. Miami and Minnesota. LeBron James meets Lazar Hayward. Jonny without an H, Dwyane with a misplaced Y. Michael Beasley's present, Michael Beasley's past. Speaking of which...

1. Michael Beasley Is The Center of the Universe. Or this column's universe, at least. Beasley was jettisoned from Miami this offseason, prompting many to call him a bust. But he just needed a change of scenery. As David Kahn explained on ESPN Radio this offseason:

"He's a very young and immature kid who smoked too much marijuana and has told me that he's not smoking anymore. ... He is growing up -- he's not grown up. He's 21 ... and he just turned 21 last January, and if you think back, as I do all the time, to when I was 21 and if you had given me this kind of money and put me in this kind of world with these kinds of pressures attached to it and some of the demands, I don't know (that) I would have handled it any easier than, say, he has."

Now, I've heard that the weed gets better as you go North, so who knows whether Kahn's faith will be rewarded. But I'm not sure that rule applies to South Beach, a city that was literally built with drug money, so here's to hoping Beasley's new home will be healthier.

Ira Winderman thinks it will be. In this case, Beasley's departure was mutually beneficial:

The reality is that Beasley was never going to get his numbers with the Heat as long as he served as a running mate to Dwyane Wade. In Minnesota, at least until Ricky Rubio arrives, it can be argued that Beasley is the Timberwolves' most versatile talent.

What matters for the Heat is not what Beasley accomplishes in exile, but what the Heat accomplished with his banishment. ... The reality is that Riley traded Beasley not for picks, but for the cap space that created the room to add Mike Miller (Udonis Haslem's space was created by the givebacks from Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh).

From a fantasy standpoint, Beasley could come up with the bigger numbers this season. From a reality standpoint, Miller not only is the better fit, but someone James targeted as teammate heading into free agency. And that makes him essential to a level Beasley never was.

As much as I'd like to subscribe to this "Everybody wins!" theory, I'm still a huge Beasley fan. This puts me at odds with legions of detractors and a fair amount of statistical evidence that says he's destined to be one of those good players that spends his career on lottery teams. But he would have been perfect on the Heat.

Everything that's been said of Beasley after his first two seasons was once said of Lamar Odom. He's a tweener that can't carry a team. He's gifted, yeah, but you can't build around his gifts. He doesn't rebound well enough, he doesn't score efficiently, etc. 

On a good team though, where he wasn't asked to carry the load, Beasley could have been a pretty fantastic compliment. Especially in the atmosphere they've got in Miami this year, he could have matured, learned his role, and thrived as a versatile and occasionally deadly option off the bench. That's his best-case scenario as an NBA pro, and the Heat decided not to take the chance. Because LeBron James wanted Mike Miller...

2. LeBron James Declares Hater Day. If you're not on Twitter by now, here's what you're missing.


He was the only athlete named on the Fortune Magazine 40 Under 40 list, so obviously, the haters are going to come out of the woodwork. Or maybe nobody heard about 40 Under 40 list, and haters just hate him because he's insufferable. Who can say?

3. Do The Timberwolves Have A Shot At Carmelo Anthony?


Doc Funk says no.

4. Do The Miami Heat Need A Point Guard? This is one of those questions that feels destined to persist throughout 2010 and 2011. Can the Heat survive with Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers handling the ball? Or, realistically, with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James handling the ball while Arroyo and Chalmers stand and watch?

Again we go to Winderman, the Sun-Sentinel's star beat writer, who breaks it down for us in plain terms: "You could count on one hand the number of times Tuesday that Carlos Arroyo or Mario Chalmers were asked to get the Heat into offense." And that's the biggest issue. It's like asking whether the Lakers need a point guard.

The Heat offense begins and ends with Wade and LeBron, and regardless of who sets up next to them in the backcourt, it'll be point guard in name only. If people want to nitpick the Heat and call that a weakness, that's fine, but unless someone like Chris Paul was back there with them, it's hard to imagine James and Wade offloading the ball-handling responsibilities. And they're perfectly capable, too.

The only problem? On the other end, someone like Chris Paul will wreak HAVOC on Chalmers and Arroyo. Which means that against teams with great, explosive point guards--the Celtics, Bulls, Magic, Thunder, Jazz, etc--either James or Wade will have to spend the game chasing around a faster, smaller player. But again, we're nitpicking. If the Miami Heat lose this season, it won't be because they lack a point guard.

Carlos Arroyo "gets it" already. From the Sun-Sentinel:

"Most of the time LeBron was the one creating most of the plays and making things happen," [Arroyo] said. "We've just got to make sure we're in the right spots and ready to make something happen, either creating for another player or knocking down shots."

5. The T'Wolves Pups Enjoy Their Homecoming. When you're playing for a bad NBA team, you have to appreciate the little moments. Like getting the chance to go back and play at your alma mater. It's a reminder that things weren't always this hopeless, and with any luck, some of these players might find a winner one day. That's what happened when the T'Wolves visited Syracuse to play an exhibition game last week.

Minnesota rookie Wesley Johnson got a warm welcome immediately:

Wes Johnson didn't need to know exactly where he was when he arrived with the Timberwolves in Syracuse late Wednesday night.

The lady at the hotel told him.

"First thing she said was, 'Welcome home,''' he said. "And it feels just like that."

And Jonny Flynn got nostalgic about his time in the Carrier Dome. "Everywhere I look out on that court, there are memories," he said. "That corner, this spot here. Great memories." Here's to hoping he cherishes those memories. Keeps them close to his heart. Because on Feb. 14, after the Timberwolves lose by 26 to the Blazers and Jonny is greeted by single-digit temperatures as he searches the night for a Valentine, those memories will keep him warm. That's the only way to survive that kind of suffering.

6. Dwyane Wade's Less-Endearing Homecoming. While the rosy-cheeked Wolves were soaking in the atmosphere in Syracuse, Miami's Dwyane Wade faced the challenges of being an NBA Veteran. That's right: divorce proceedings.

The Associated Press gives an overview of Wade's time in court:

Testifying for the first time in a case for custody of his children, Dwyane Wade denied on Friday a slew of allegations made by ex-wife Siohvaughn Wade. ... He also rebutted the charge that he engaged in sex acts with his girlfriend in front of his boys. Wade spent much of the day answering questions from his attorney, Jim Pritikin, and is expected to testify again on Monday.

"For the first time I have an opportunity to have my voice heard," said Wade, wearing a pinstriped suit and Louis Vuitton sneakers. "It's great the court has allowed me to (give it)."

And for what it's worth, Wade's ex-wife seems to be genuinely nuts, so it's a fairly tragic case. But without speculating too much on what's true and what's not, let me just say that only wyane Wade could pull of the "pinstriped suit and Louis Vuitton sneakers" look. We can only hope that he topped everything with a fedora.


And whatever happens in Wade's custody battle, he'll always have LeBron:


(This will be a lot funnier 20 months from now, when Maverick Carter is taking subliminal shots at Wade in an exclusive sitdown with Dime Magazine while LeBron nods his head in the background, sipping from a bottle of Fiji water, fidgeting unsuccessfully with a Rubik's Cube. Family, son.)

Meanwhile, in Minnesota...

7. Ladies of Minneapolis, Darko Milicic Is Available And Ripe For A Paternity Suit.


8. And finally, let's compare the season previews. 

Our T'Wolves blog breaks down the team's strengths:

I have no idea what this team's biggest strengths are. ... The biggest problem with writing about this team is that I do not believe anybody (yes, anybody) has any idea how all of these parts will play together. Last season was such a massive failure on all fronts that we have no idea how (or if) Kurt Rambis can really coach, if his system is really a system, or if anyone involved with the team has any clear idea what the hell they are doing.

Down in Miami, the strengths are more obvious:

The amount of talent on this roster combined with the camaraderie between the players is key.  There are plenty of occasions where great players are brought together on a team and they just don't mesh well and the team struggles. This will not be the case with the Heat because not only are all of these guys friends, but they all came to Miami because they shared a common goal, which is to win an NBA championship.

On the other end of the spectrum... Canis Hoopus sums up the Minnesota weaknesses in one sentence:

At this point, and with their track record, the question is what aren't their weaknesses?

The Heat, on the other hand, are kind of invincible. Says the Heat fan. 

I'm not saying this team won't have any weaknesses, but as of now I couldn't tell you what they will be. I realize that sounds cocky/confidant...but you take this roster and see what you come up with.

What are Minnesota's goals? Well, pretty simple, really.

Not perpetrating fraud upon the paying public.

While they're aiming a bit higher in Miami:

When you put together a team like this, its very much ‘win or go home.'

And there you have it. We'll dig deeper as the season goes on, but for the first go-round, that's all you need to know. It's "I couldn't tell you what our weakness will be" vs. "What isn't a weakness?" It's "Win or go home" vs. "Not perpetrating fraud upon the paying public."



And Minnesota.


And we didn't even mention Pat Riley and David Kahn! 'Till next week...

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