Van Gundy's seat gets even hotter with Shaq injury

Updated: November 4, 2005, 10:31 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

You can't deny that the toughest coaching job in the NBA just got tougher.

You likewise can't discuss a potential month-long absence for Shaquille O'Neal without questioning his recuperative powers at age 33 and the propensity for ankle injuries to linger.

However …

Even if you have second-guessed Pat Riley's recent roster choices in Miami -- and I'm pretty sure you know how I feel about Riley's approach by now -- this is the one scenario where you have to like the Heat's depth.

The massive assignment that has been foisted on Stan Van Gundy could be as much as a month behind schedule after Shaq's nasty tumble Thursday night. A coach asked to establish a familiarity and pecking order that blends Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Gary Payton and James Posey with Shaq, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Alonzo Mourning doesn't have four weeks to spare.

O'Neal has tried to play through various foot ailments for years, which simply can't get easier as he gets older and heavier.

Yet this was unavoidable. Freak injuries happen. Unless you honestly believe that Ron Artest, without looking down, intentionally managed to land his right foot precisely where Shaq would step on it -- and, sadly, because one of the appendages involved belongs to Artest, I'm sure some of you out there are twisted enough to believe that -- Miami can't complain. The Heat simply have to deal with O'Neal's absence.

This, then, is a good time to have too many scoring options.

Only a trip to the NBA Finals will change my belief that Riley should have pursued three or four understated upgrades and tweaks to the Heat's deadly 1-2 punch instead of gambling on two guys (Walker and Williams) who look ill-matched to play with Shaq and Wade because they're not spot-up shooters and because they need the ball in their hands to be effective.

In the short term, though, Wade will need a little help to occupy the defense and Van Gundy won't have to look far to find it.

It's starting the whole blending process over in December that has to worry Stan The Man On The Hot Seat.

Especially if the Shaq-less Heat start running more to make the new guys more effective, which would require a tricky switch back to The Diesel's pace four weeks from now.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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