As a fan of the Miami Heat since their inception the stakes and my expectations always seemed to rise. When the team first started in 1988 I was happy for them to beat anybody. When we got a few decent players like Glen Rice, Steve Smith, and Alan Ogg my expectations at the start of the season were that we would make the playoffs. When Pat Riley came in 1995 I expected a lengthy run in the playoffs. When we got Shaquille O’Neal I expected a championship and in 2010 when LeBron, Bosh, and Wade joined forces I expected solar eclipses of legendary hoops.
Now that a year has a passed since LeBron James, Ray Allen, and any realistic hopes for a championship left Miami I’m still numb. It was annoying to watch last year’s Finals and know a Miami Heat team with LeBron and Ray Allen would have clobbered the champion Golden State Warriors.
But without a realistic hope for greatness it’s hard to feel anything with a new season upon us. After going four years where every Miami Heat game beckoned with the possibility of athleticism and skill that had never before been seen on a basketball court, where every playoff game had the pressure often reserved for the fate of civilizations, I’m left wondering now what’s the point of watching? To hope and pray they win 49 games and get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs?
I got spoiled.
And if the Miami Heat fans feel ennui toward the upcoming season how must the players and the coaching staff who were along for the epic four year ride where they went to the Finals every year feel? If last year is any indication when Dwyane Wade decided to sit out every other game, Birdman cut off his mohawk, coach Erik Spoelstra made player substitutions like he wanted to be fired, and Chris Bosh made up some auto-immune disease so he could take the second half of the season off, they were also in a state of existential crisis.
Now it’s year 2 post-LeBron. Dwyane Wade is back. Chris Bosh has recovered from his fictional illness. We have Goran Dragic as a point guard, who is an offensive upgrade from Norris Cole. Rookie Justise Winslow was by most expert’s opinions a top five player from the draft who somehow fell to the Heat at #10. Gerald Green is an athletic shooter even though he has only nine fingers and Amare Stoudamire is instant offense who bathes in red wine.
But our only true chance at greatness lies in center Hassan Whiteside. Last year the seven footer had a triple double of over ten points, rebounds, and blocks. It’s a feat that hadn’t been done in the NBA in years and it took him less that half a game to accomplish that. He had more 20 rebound games in his first 50 games than any player since Shaquille O’Neal.
In a league that is over reliant on shorter perimeter players, having a true beast in the center like Whiteside often was last season, could be a chance to stand out. Under coach Erik Spoelstra I am a little concerned that won’t happen. In this year’s first game he benched Whiteside four minutes into the game. Whiteside only took four shots and had a sorry stat line of four points and six rebounds. Perhaps our coach thought that would motivate him and maybe it will, but Spoelstra’s track record of getting young players to reach their potential has not been solid, he gives up on them fairly quickly.
But if the Heat are going to go for greatness or at the very least have us spoiled Miami Heat fans care about this upcoming season, it’s Whiteside or bust.