Commentary

Start Udonis Haslem, not Chris Bosh

Updated: November 19, 2010, 3:35 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

Let me start off by saying that I am not a Heat hater.

I'm not mad at LeBron James.

[+] EnlargeChris Bosh
Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesChris Bosh has not been accused of being super aggressive on the boards and defense.

Nor am I upset the Big Three are all on the same team.

With that being said, I don't like watching Miami play. The team is nothing special on offense and its lack of size makes interior defense an oxymoron. But there is a clear way to fix all of that and turn the Heat into the team we thought they would be: sit Chris Bosh.

Or start Udonis Haslem.

Phrase it however you like, just as long as the team's grittiest rebounder and toughest post defender is on the court at tipoff.

I'm not suggesting Bosh gets benched like Knicks center Eddy Curry in 2008. I'm suggesting he comes off the bench like Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili has often in his career, an All-Star-caliber sixth man who becomes the focal point of the offense when he's in the game.

Bosh is struggling to find a place to belong in Miami for the same reason, in seven seasons with the Toronto Raptors, he played in only 11 playoff games: unfinished dirty work in the paint. No one on his Toronto teams was willing or able to do it, including him. Especially him.

With James and Dwyane Wade in the lineup, the pretty points are already spoken for. What the starting five needs is sharp elbows, and well, that ain't Bosh. Like Rashard Lewis in Orlando and Antawn Jamison in Cleveland, Bosh is listed as a 4 but really he's a powerless forward, an offensively talented big man who tends to shrink the closer he gets to the rim. Bosh isn't soft, but he's a finesse player who is far from being the nasty enforcer the squad needs to set the tone at the start of games.

And if this Miami Heat team wants to join the league's elite, it can't be done with pretty.

Or Twitter.

"I don't know if I would start Haslem, but I know if they want to beat teams like Boston and L.A., he has to play starter minutes," said one basketball executive.

Another suit put it this way: "That's exactly the right basketball decision that Miami should make, but from a perception, financial and organizational standpoint, they won't do it."

They won't do it because the media would have a field day.

They won't do it because it would be interpreted as an admission signing the Big Three didn't work.

They won't do it because of the very thing the Big Three said wasn't a factor: ego.

I agree with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: it's going to take a little time before the Heat's offense jells. But championship continuity isn't just about figuring out where each person likes the ball. It's about understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each player's game and how the pieces of the team fit together.

[+] EnlargeUdonis Haslem
Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesUdonis Haslem takes care of business in the paint.

It's really nice that Bosh scored 35 point against an undersized Phoenix Suns squad. But Celtics guard Rajon Rondo hardly looked scared when he came flying in and dunked on him last week and, well, that's a problem. And only three of Jazz forward Paul Millsap's 19 field goals came from behind the arc en route to a 46-point night, and that's a problem. Shaq calling him "the RuPaul of big men" last year is both funny and a lingering problem.

Until Pat Riley can find a center who will add grit to that starting lineup, supplanting Bosh with Haslem is the best defensive personnel move. Besides, Haslem may not have great moves like Bosh, but his ability to catch and shoot from 17 means he's not a self-check.

Now the $100 million question: Can an NBA franchise have a $100 million man come off the bench? Sure, provided the team doesn't interpret the move as a demotion. Fans will, but that can't be helped. The media will, but the harshest critics might then lose their credentials.

But the Heat players have to accept the change. First, a negative attitude about coming off the bench by Bosh would send the wrong message to the rest of the reserves. Second, Bosh would have to embrace the role. For that to happen, it has to be viewed as crucial to the team's success.

Which brings us back to Haslem. The grit he brings to every game is crucial. Only a pickup ball player at the local Y would belittle boxing out and rebounding in traffic. NBA players who know what it takes to win understand their teams don't without someone doing the dirty work.

Nasty may not win very many fans, but it does win playoff games.

If ego is truly not a problem for the All-Star Heat, then any drama that comes from massaging the starting lineup would be ours, not theirs.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

MORE COMMENTARY »

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine