The New York Sun’s Martin Johnson thinks “it’s nice that all the contributors from last season’s title will be on hand for the banner raising and ring ceremony,” but suspects the defending champion Miami Heat’s complancency spells impending mediocrity.
Miami was 52“30 in the 2005“06 regular season, which makes them the worst team to win a title since the 44“38 Washington Bullets upset everyone en route to the 1978 crown. That alone should have made the Heat a bit more proactive in their offseason hiring.Then consider the team’s age: center Shaquille O’Neal is 34; his backup, Alonzo Mourning is 36; reserve point guard Gary Payton is 38; the starting point guard, Jason Williams, turns 31 in November, and forward Antoine Walker is 30. The Heat’s shooting guard, Dwayne Wade, 24, and power forward Udonis Haslem, 26, are the only Heat players in the rotation that figure to improve. And how much better can Wade get? At times during the Heat playoff run, Wade didn’t look Jordanesque ” he looked better than Michael. Or, considered another way: Last season Wade averaged 27.2 points, 6.7 assists and 5.7 boards per game while shooting 49.5%. Expecting dramatic improvement on that kind of production is unreasonable.
It is likely that the Miami graybeards will decline and even more likely that they will miss substantial time with injuries. O’Neal missed 23 games last season and has been out of uniform for 77 contests in the last five years. Those expecting some sort of miraculous bounce back should consider that O’Neal has always been a tad injury prone (perfectly logical given the level of pushing and shoving he absorbs in the paint); Shaq last missed fewer than three games in a season in 1994,when he was 22. D-Wade has missed 33 regular season games in his three years as a pro. Mourning has missed entire seasons with kidney problems and a variety of maladies have kept him out of other regular season games. Williams is often dropped from the schedule with some ailment or another. Put simply, this is an old and increasingly frail team that is returning to defend their title.
Hands up, everyone who thought J-Will would live to see 31, never mind still be in the NBA. Then again, there’s something to be said for improved arena security, post-9/11 (ie. coaches cannot so easily pack heat).