Sunday, January 11, 2009

On The Verge Of Something Great, The Miami Heat Need To Decide

I'm a Shawn Marion addict.

No lie.

The affinity I have for oversized-3/undersized-4 forwards ties directly back to Marion. Quick on the touch pass, funky release, tremendous man-defender, great in transition, not an awesome handle, can't create his own shot, can nail open looks from anywhere on the floor. That's my type of guy. I think Marion was scapegoated in Phoenix to a certain degree, but also tends to bite off more than he can chew. He wants to be a number one guy, but you can't be a number one guy if you can't take your guy off the dribble or dominate in the paint. That's just not the way the world works. You can be really awesome at thinking up ways to make food, have an eye for ingredients and temperature and taste, but if you can't slice a tomato, you're out of luck as a chef, you know? But Marion still possesses an incredible array of skills, is a multi-faceted weapon at both ends of the floor, and can still put together a stat line to make you dizzy.

So when I say this, understand it's not born out of a disrespect for Marion's game. But I want what's best for both sides in this.

The Miami Heat desperately need to trade Shawn Marion.

Now, I have been here before, which I should probably factor into Marion's value. But there are entirely different reasons for Miami needing to switch him out. And oddly enough, a lot of it goes back to the player the Suns traded Marion for, and Miami's acquisition of him.

In 2003-2004, the Heat figured out that this Dwyane Wade kid might have a future someday. They had a scrappy, young club with a lot of promise. They had a trifecta of Dwyane Wade, Caron Butler, and Lamar Odom. They sacrificed all of that for the big prize, a championship ring with Shaquille O'Neal. Now, we know they won a championship with Shaq, and we have no idea if they would have won one with Tuff Juice and Lamar the Head Case. But you have to believe that with young players, cap management, a superstar in Dwyane Wade, and the kind of potential they had, they may have been able to develop a lasting establishment. We'll go ahead and throw that idea out for now as nothing more than whimsy. But when you look at the devastation in the wake of Shaq's decline (and believe me, it's coming Phoenix!), you have to at least think about what they had to go with. Now the Heat in that situation ditched the uncertain future for a certain path to the Finals. Great, right? But there's a reason Joe Dumars doesn't sacrifice multiple young players for superstars. He only took on Iverson when it was clear a change was necessary and he knew he could get him as an expiring. Dumars thinks about five years, not one.

Again, this is not to say the Heat did the wrong thing. They have a ring they may not have had otherwise. But perhaps not being bold was the move then, but it is now. Because they are faced with a dual-headed scenario of equal complications now.

On the one hand, they have Marion, who simply does not fit here. It's not a conceptual issue, but he just sticks out. It's as if there are two entities on the floor simultaneously. The Miami Heat, and Shawn Marion. And to be sure, there are times when Wade is able to bridge that gap, and when he does, it's music. But Marion looks awkward, restrained, out of place. He's the bicycle for the Heat's goldfish. Many are going to suggest this is a problem with Marion and not the relationship. That's fine, for the discussion. Because once we admit that something's got to give, we see the opportunity in the problem.

And there is opportunity to be had. There's a foundation in place. The Lakers found it staring them in the face tonight in the fourth. Udonis Haslem picking his spots, breaking for dunks when the defense floats up. Wade 2.0 absolutely unleashed. He's pressuring more and more in the halfcourt trap, tonight forcing a late crucial turnover on none other than Kobe Bryant to create the tying dunk by Haslem. They have shooters in Dequan Cook. A serviceable backup point guard in Chris Quinn who needs to know when to not try to be a hero, but can still hit some big shots. They have a talented athletic young point in Mario Chalmers, who can attack the basket. And the biggest complication to Marion. Beasley.

Time and time again tonight, the Lakers assumed that if they sent two guys to the top of the key to double Wade, the offense would flutter and die. Only, for some reason, they decided to double either with Beasley's man or force the rotation to him. And Wade, who's taken the kid more and more under his wing, fed him. And he knocked down shot after shot. To be sure, Beasley can't create assists right now. He's the quintessential black hole. But his handle's not terrible, and his vision is something he can work on to improve. The fact is he's a natural shooter, and tonight for the first time I've seen, there was chemistry between him and Wade. I followed Beasley for Under the Microscope over at FanHouse, and you can see that Wade wants him to succeed. When Beasley stuck to the perimeter on a half-court break opportunity on a busted play and Wade's pass sailed out of bounds where Beasley should have been, Wade yelled, but he also rubbed the kid's head. He's seeing what Beasley can be, and he's investing in him. Kid's a natural scorer of the best degree and is starting to put in his time on the boards.

There is plenty to be excited about for this team in the next few years. However, they have a legitimate shot of making noise this year. But that's not going to happen unless they add a legitimate center. Haslem is a workman's workman. But physically he's over matched just in terms of height. The only reason the Lakers sneaked out that one tonight in Staples was because there was no one tall enough to block out Bynum. Bynum had an explosive night, and I was noticing that on the box score. Until I realized that he was up against Joel Anthony and Haslem, who just gives up too much vertical size. The Heat have to have a guy to put a body on people. They're not a pure running team. They can really put something together, with some more size. It's possible the thought preseason was to overwhelm teams with talent instead of size, with both Marion and Beasley on the floor, stretching defenses and picking up boards.

But Marion and Beasley can't coexist. If you watch possessions with them both on the floor, it's like two bassists for a band on stage at the same time. They're both taking up the same space on stage, they're playing over one another, and every time they go for backup vocals, they're staring at the other one wondering what they're doing. It's just awkward.

Marion's numbers are mute compared to his usual flourishes. Age probably has some to do with it, but a lot of is just a lack of fluency within the Heat. But that's what makes this situation such an amazing scenario for the Heat. The big problem with Marion in Phoenix was that there was no way to get equal value for him considering his stats, productivity, talents, and the fact that he had the extension option for this season. But now? His numbers are down. His contract is expiring. He's both more attractive and more tradeable. He no longer demands so much you have to try and swindle teams. He's an expendable 30 year old former All-Star that can rebound, score, block shots, run in transition, hit threes, defend power forwards, small forwards, and small guards, and who even if you don't get equal value back on, you're still coming out ahead because you set yourself up for the playoffs and beyond. But they have to pull the trigger.

The Heat have been silent about Marion the whole season, supposedly waiting to see if this combination could work. It doesn't. They now have a chance to lock up the long term success they sacrificed, rightly, in pursuit of their ring. They can acquire a set of assets to fill in, while not sacrificing their 2010 spending money. And they might just have enough to make some noise come April, put the fear of God in the Eastern Conference, and establish themselves as the rising challenge to the Kingdom of James.

But they have to pull the trigger.

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