A friend asked me today what I think the Heat should do next.
The same as it has been for months:
Whatever Dwyane Wade wants.
Really, that's what it is about: making sure that the style and the roster are to his liking, so he remains beyond his contract's expiration in 2010.
That's what this trade was about, too.
For the past year-plus, it's been apparent that Shaquille O'Neal, on whose broad shoulders Dwyane Wade stood for two seasons, was now figuratively and literally standing in Wade's way. Standing in the way of Wade becoming a leader. Standing in the way of Wade setting the locker room tempo, to something more like what Alonzo Mourning what espouse. Standing in the way of the Heat playing a style that suited Wade best.
If you were around the team at all -- and I wasn't around as much as in the past three seasons -- the tension was obvious. O'Neal's presence made it easier for Wade to become what Wade became. Now, however, O'Neal's presence was making it more difficult for Wade to become something even greater.
"We simply looked at the big picture, where we are today, and we need to build around Dwyane," Pat Riley said before Wednesday's game in Detroit. "And everything we do now, moving forward is about building around Dwyane."
Again, you could see this coming.
My guess is that Riley saw it coming before the season, but figured that he could get one more strong season out of O'Neal. And even if he couldn't, he wasn't sure if he could get much for him.
He got plenty, as it turned out.
He got a multi-dimensional player who has made four All-Star teams, and whose contract doesn't do as much damage as O'Neal's contract, even if Shawn Marion chooses to opt in next season.
And Wade got what he appeared to want:
The Heat is all his.
Now it's up to Wade to take that next step, out of O'Neal's shadow.
Wade must demand more from teammates.
Wade must demand more of himself.
That means cutting back on some of the off-the-court commitments.
That means committing to defense.
And it's up to Riley to construct a team that convinces Wade to commit to the Heat for the long-term.
What would you like to see/hear from Wade?
Below, you'll see two columns that I wrote before this season.
You'll see that I'm making the same points now -- and Riley seems to be making them as well -- that I made then.
You'll also see that I underestimated Riley again, when I said it would be all-but-impossible to trade O'Neal.
If every homeowner had a realtor like Riley, housing prices would be soaring, not slumping.
July 17, 2007 Tuesday
Broward Metro Edition
WADE'S NEW CHALLENGE? MAKING HIMSELF HEARD
BYLINE: ETHAN J. SKOLNICK COMMENTARY
The mayor had no chance in this competition. Dwyane Wade, even at less than full strength, remains a formidable one-on-one opponent.
"I got more votes to come here today than he did to get in office," Wade joked Monday, appearing on a platform before adoring and amused adults and children at City Hall Park.
The count wasn't close. Richard Kaplan won his 2006 election with 1,950 votes. City Hall Park received 110,000 votes in the Staples Dream Park Challenge, earning the park $25,000 in renovations and its supporters an hour with Wade.
Wade remains the people's undisputed athletic champion in South Florida. He is no longer a defending NBA champion, wearing the scars of surgery and a Bulls sweep instead of a crown. To reign again, he must make the Heat his team, just as he made Lauderhill another one of his towns.
It's his time now.
"I'm going to be here for a while," Wade said. "I don't know about Zo, I don't know about Shaq, but I'm going to be here for a while."
Heat fans can only hope. His contract expires in three years. If all goes well, an extension will follow. All will go well if Pat Riley can find the right complements to his game and personality, and leave him feeling comfortable with the franchise direction.
Wade can play a part, too.
He assisted Riley in the difficult, doomed attempt to recruit point guard Maurice Williams, but he hasn't failed at much else in four seasons. His record of consistently exceeding expectations has earned him the right and responsibility to set them for others, too.
Monday's recognition of that reality showed he had done more than heal this offseason. He has grown. He reiterated his desire to "be the best at everything," while quipping that "maybe my three-point shot might come into play. Who knows? It's going to come out one of these years."
What must come out most next year?
It should be stronger.
While that is difficult when sharing the spotlight with someone as outsized as Shaquille O'Neal, Wade sounded ready for that step. He doesn't plan on being "a coach in the locker room," because "we have Coach Riley.
"But a coach on the floor, because I know the game a little better, I know my teammates a little better, I know how to handle guys a little bit better now," Wade said. "Coming in as a young guy, no matter if you're the quote-unquote superstar of the team, it's still tough as a young guy to tell someone who has been in the league 12, 14, 15 years to do something out of character."
"Not yelling and screaming, and cussing people out in the papers," Wade said, smiling. "Maybe once or twice."
Steering them back into shape.
Upon announcing his return Sunday night, Alonzo Mourning spoke of intensity, of never settling, of the dangers of feeling you can "flip that switch." Mourning, the embodiment of the Riley way, has as much credibility regarding work ethic as any athlete alive. Mourning vowed to start "cracking that whip" so much that teammates were "probably going to get kind of sick of hearing my voice."
Considering O'Neal's hearty historical endorsements of switch-flipping, Wade is Mourning's more natural apprentice. Wade must adopt Mourning's attitude and commitment to defense, and take Mourning's burden, by demanding the same of others.
"Losing changes everything," Wade said. "When you come off winning a championship, a lot of guys are like, 'We know what to do because we've done it.' And you don't follow the same format all the time. Losing changes that. It gets you refocused, it gets you right back to being a student again, and listening to your teacher. We've just got to do a better job of coming in and listening to Coach Riley and our leaders, Shaq, Alonzo, myself, and take it from there."
Wade has listened well. He must make others listen to him.
May 3, 2007 Thursday
Broward Metro Edition
PHILOSOPHY MUST MIRROR COACH, STAR;
IT'S RILEY'S JOB TO BUDGE O'NEAL
BYLINE: ETHAN J. SKOLNICK, COMMENTARY
See you on the sidelines, Pat Riley.
Riley did not commit to returning as the Heat coach Wednesday. He committed only to a return to the hard, old Heat way, the way of responsibility and accountability.
"Mine," Riley said.
So, if that's the culture he wants, that's whose responsibility it is to compel the change:
Just as Riley realized the mistake of attempting to meet his listless players halfway, he should recognize it would be equally foolish to take the halfway approach to the re-indoctrination process.
He must coach the team next season.
He must serve as the bridge to the next Heat era, smoothing the transition of primary influence from a slipping superstar to an ascendant one, helping to make this Dwyane Wade's team on and off the court. He must adjust the overall attitude sufficiently that someone like Erik Spoelstra (a Wade favorite) would have a fair shot upon someday taking control. He must create the conditions that convince Wade to stay a Heat player for life.
He must coach, even though he has sometimes enjoyed better success as a personnel evaluator when not simultaneously serving on the sidelines, and even if the thought of the grind makes him queasy.
Riley must coach.
His only other choice is to trade O'Neal, and that's not happening. While no longer an irresistible force, O'Neal represents an immovable object, due to age, salary and a short list of acceptable landing spots. New York? Maybe, to fill the Garden again. Dallas? Only if Mark Cuban got irrationally desperate after a first-round exit.
So O'Neal stays. The Heat has experienced the perks of Diesel power. O'Neal energized the fan base while occupying sufficient attention to free Wade to emerge. Yet as O'Neal starts to run (or jog) on fumes, he stands as an impediment as much as an asset.
He is an impediment stylistically, as he ages and the Heat tries to compete with more athletic, free-flowing opponents. He is an impediment transitionally, his presence preventing Wade from taking total control of this environment. He is an attitudinal impediment most of all.
It's no secret who sets the corrosive flip-the-switch tone.
"He admitted to me, `Coach, you came halfway, I agree, and we didn't come and meet you,"' Riley said. "And he said `we."'
If Riley plans to fulfill his promise to monitor attitude more closely this season, the prime surveillance spot is neither a house in Malibu nor an office in Miami. It's the practice floor, locker room and sideline.
Riley still has the best chance of any coach to reach O'Neal. He understands O'Neal's obsession with legacy, speaking Wednesday about how O'Neal "wants to go out favorably," and relating that O'Neal was "very depressed" about the sweep.
"But he also knows that his influence on his teammates and the fact that he wants to end his career illuminated, then he's going to have to lead by real example," Riley said.
That, to Riley, isn't about big numbers. It is about supporting the coach, doing the work, setting the tone, with body language as well as words, from the bus to the court.
"Shaq's good at this," Riley said. "He lifts players up. But the leadership is going to have to be strong."
Leadership also entails knowing when to let another lead.
Making O'Neal understand that will require Riley's strong leadership. Riley must do the delicate work of steering this team toward Wade, who is more pliable and, when healthy, more physically capable to respond to the challenge.
Riley said Wednesday that Wade was "hurting" emotionally and didn't like the way the season ended. Expect Wade to return inspired.
Few observers liked the way this Heat team handled itself from start to finish. Remember, after Stan Van Gundy's 2004-05 squad fell a game short of the Finals, Riley also spoke of the need to instill more of the old Heat culture. And that Van Gundy team embodied the correct culture far more than this last Riley one did. After allowing the culture to corrode on his watch, Riley is responsible for doing the hard, hands-on repair work.
That would be a show of accountability for every player to follow.kaynak : NBA