DALLAS – The Miami Heat are the NBA’s resident experts on manufactured super teams, and don’t think they’re not watching the latest model to this point wheezing along on the West Coast.
“You can’t do nothing but watch it,” Dwyane Wade said of the struggling Los Angeles Lakers. “It’s everywhere.”
Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces in Miami during the summer of 2010 and uniquely understand the expectations and pressures currently weighing heavily on Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and the soon-to-return Steve Nash.
It’s a group that didn’t come together through prearranged handshakes like the Heat’s Big Three, but rather through an opportunistic Lakers front office that flipped assets into an awesome collection of talent that many instantly predicted would return the Lakers to the Finals and challenge the Heat for league supremacy.
However, this Hollywood script has spilled over with unforeseen drama — injuries, a messy coaching change and even now with confusion and back-and-forth rhetoric over roles in Mike D’Antoni’s newly implemented system.
Although not a facsimile of Miami’s initial struggles as a super power on paper, the Heat can relate to the enormous external pressures.
“It’s different in a sense,” LeBron said. “They’re struggling not being whole, they’re not whole. Nash hasn’t played. Gasol has had tendinitis and they’ve had what, three coaches now in what, 22 games? So they’re situation is different. Ours was coming together, the first time we’d all been together and now just throw us on the floor and try to figure it out on the fly.
“We struggled. We were 9-8 when we came in here [to Dallas] and lost that game, but the month of December, I think we ran off like 20 of 22 from December to January, and that’s what kind of propelled our season from that point.”
The Heat ultimately turned the season into a trip to the Finals, a disappointing six-game defeat to Dallas that would further challenge LeBron and fuel their title run in Year 2.
The question everyone is asking and no one has the answer to is if the Lakers, at 12-14 and lacking any sense of continuity or purpose, can pull it together in time to make a serious run in Year 1?
“It takes time, that’s all I can say, it takes time,” LeBron said. “I don’t care what type of talent you have, it takes time. It takes time and we’ll see what happens. I’m not one to say what they’re going to do. I don’t really care too much about what they do, but that’s my opinion: It takes time to build a team.”
The Heat’s 110-95 dismantling of the Mavs Thursday night did rekindle memories of Miami’s Nov. 27, 2010 trip to Dallas and its shaky infancy as a super team. Frustration ran afoul. Players slammed the locker room doors shut after the 106-95 loss and kept them that way for a half-hour.
James’ scrutinized shoulder-bump into coach Erik Spoelstra as he marched to the bench for a timeout added another layer of drama to be dissected on talk radio and TV shows, fueling speculation that the young coach would soon suffer the fate of Stan Van Gundy in 2006 and be replaced by team president Pat Riley.
It never happened. Riley propped up his hand-picked successor, sensing what Spoelstra said on Thursday, that despite the early losses and particularly the disappointing no-show in Dallas, he was seeing the Heat actually coming together.
“We had that game here where it was a very disappointing loss, but even at that point you could see with our guys that they had the right mentality of, ‘Let’s just fix it, let’s not get caught up in the drama,’” Spoelstra said. “I remember distinctly what that Monday shootaround was like before the Washington game; guys came in just with a clear mind to try to fix it.”
Because their union was preconceived, the Big Three’s early struggles strengthened their determination not to splinter just as a large segment of the public wished failure upon them.
“We were taking a lot of beatings on the outside, but on the inside we stuck together,” Wade said. “There was no pointing fingers and we worked hard every day to get ourselves out of the mud.”
The Lakers are an intriguing mix of personality and ego coming together for the first time. Immersed in adversity from the get-go, it is a mix that so far has seemingly remained non-toxic. And Nash’s long-awaited return — targeted for Christmas Day at home against the New York Knicks — the Lakers believe, will help establish harmony for Gasol and others as they learn from the one-and-only Zen-master of D’Antoni’s system.
Whether it means the Lakers can turn this lump of coal into a season of celebration will be the story the entire basketball world will be watching, including the Heat.
“That team, you know once they figure it out they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with,” Wade said. “You got a bunch of veteran guys over there and it just takes one win, it takes them playing together and understanding it’s going to take a while.
“Everyone wants it to happen now, but if they want it, then it will turn around for them.”