The greatest crime you can accuse the Miami Heat of, at this point, is that the team has failed to remake basketball. That's a lofty task, especially considering that we're talking about men in their 20s, and a coach with just a few seasons of head coach experience. But that's the promise LeBron James and Dwyane Wade silently made when they joined forces, a pact made explicit if not naked when the duo started talking about winning up to seven championships together.
There's been fall-out from that particular statement -- fans of rival teams and bitter observers who love to hate have latched on to LeBron's declaration that the Heat would win enough rings to fill a hand and then some.
When you team up with a fellow top-five player and talk about winning seven championships, you're making a promise that you'll not only be great, but that you'll be special. And the only ways in which Miami has been special this season is in hype -- check the ratings -- and in the clutch. The latter? That's not a good special.
To say Miami has struggled to win close games is a massive understatement; this latest losing spell is but the most recent example of the Heat's late-game ineptitude. The finish to the loss to the Bulls on Sunday, in particular, was brutal. The Heat aren't missing two-foot putts here; they are putting themselves in position to need a chip from the bunker to win. Look at LeBron's lay-up attempt (after pulling Joakim Noah on a switch) again.
He's driving on a quick 7-footer, with two more defenders essentially waiting at the rim. Because LeBron starts his break fairly late in the clock, and because it's so obvious where he's headed -- if he doesn't pull up from 15 feet, he's going to the glass -- the Bulls can just hang back and bookend the lane, ready for him. The Bulls are, by the way, the best defensive team in the NBA. They know what they are doing. They aren't going to leave the rim open against a player who struggles to shoot beyond 18 feet.
So LeBron bricks his wild lay-up, as Noah seals him off and the help defense gives LeBron no other option. Wade's miss off the rebound is nothing surprising -- that's a tough shot with no time to get a better one. That begs the question: why is Wade waiting for an offensive rebound? Why aren't LeBron and Wade running plays together?
Erik Spoelstra has had a monumental task in both getting LeBron to respect him as a coach and in getting James, Wade and Chris Bosh on the same page on the court. For the most part, Spoelstra has had great success. After early murmurs of dissent, James has seemed to fully back his coach. James and Wade are spectacular on defense -- each takes responsibility, and the fact that Derrick Rose was able to finish this incredible lay-up on the run with Wade and James waiting speaks only to Rose's amazing ability.
That leaves offense, where LeBron and Wade are still two stars, not one amazing tandem. Spoelstra has managed to fuse the two in transition -- look no further than the ol' 90-foot alley-oop -- but in the half-court? They take turns. It's boring, it's predictable and it's the polar opposite of special. In looking at Miami's astonishing clutch failure, keep this in mind. Those end-game scenarios? Those are all in the half-court, with the opposing defense set. Those are all predictable, using none of the innate talents that could make this team, this tandem something truly wonderful.
Until Spoelstra finds a way to make LeBron and Wade into something greater in the half-court, Miami is destined to be a great team that exists within basketball as we've known it. And perhaps it can't be done. Maybe Wade and James are too similar to work in concert within the strict confines of the NBA. I don't think that's the case, but maybe all of our hopes and dreams were too heavenly, and perhaps no genius could make this 2-D team three dimensional. Maybe Spoelstra isn't to blame either.
Either way, we were promised more, and that's why all the derision is deserved. In exuberance and supreme confidence, LeBron told us what was in store. We're still waiting, and many of us are starting to doubt it will ever arrive.