Updated: Feb. 12, 2006, 10:18 PM ET
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
Will they ever bring the Heat?
(Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this around-the-league notebook edition of the Daily Dime.
My man Dan Le Batard tells me that regular listeners of his afternoon radio show in Miami consider your humble correspondent to be a Heat Hater.
I have a feeling that the following scouting report, filed after I spent a night with their heroes, isn't going to help my longstanding (and futile) efforts to convince Heat Lovers that it's nothing personal against the team or the town.
The view from Weekend Dimedom?
Heat Lovers care a lot more about the Heat than the Heat's actual players do.
It's only the truth, Miami. The Heat don't care about Sunday's "showdown" with Detroit or the two games left on the schedule with the Pistons after that or anything else until the playoffs start. Alonzo Mourning aside, they don't care enough to dig in on defense. No matter how many times Pat Riley publicly and privately challenges, harangues or mocks them, it's clear Miami's locker-room inhabitants aren't listening to the warnings. The regular season is over in South Florida. The Heaters are simply waiting for the playoffs and praying for something magical to click in.
Fifty games in, they haven't shown even a flicker of passion to match some of the venom in my e-mailbag, going all the way back to
my July protests after Riley decided to remake the whole roster.
After taking in Thursday's humiliating Heat surrender in Dallas -- as a hater, lover, whatever -- I don't know how you could see anything else. They arrived with a 1-8 record against the NBA's other five division leaders, which was really 1-10 when you include Miami's games against San Antonio. Running out of chances to give us (and themselves) at least a hint of contender potential, Riley's lads decided instead to no-show.
They'd have to beat the Pistons three straight times, starting Sunday, to make anyone objective believe that it won't be a struggle just getting past Indiana and New Jersey to get to Detroit in the playoffs.
You can nit-pick about all the problems I (and many others) anticipated when Riles assembled this crew -- too many guys who need the ball when Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade should be the playmakers, not enough shooters to space the floor for Shaq and D-Wade, and no hope of dealing with pick-and-rolls when Shaq and Jason Williams are on the floor together -- but there's no sense focusing on the basketball issues. If the effort isn't there? You needn't bother to wonder about Shaq's ankles or toes or how much dominance he has left as his 34th birthday approaches next month.
"We've got to get a sense of urgency in here," Gary Payton said after Dallas inflicted a 36-point hammering -- and after a testy closed-door meeting after the game -- in a tone that sounded like a plea to his teammates.
Of course, as Riley could have told GP, pleas don't resonate with this crew. Whatever honeymoon followed the inevitable transition from Stan Van Gundy to Riley has long since ended. Or did you miss Riley's jab earlier in the week, when he suggested that maybe "I'll just wait for the playoffs to start" along with the rest of them.
This was Riley in the hours before Thursday's rout: "We're a winning team right now. That's all we are, and that's not good enough. We're a winning team. And for us to get to another level, there's going to have to be a tremendous amount of improvement in the overall commitment to a great effort for 48 minutes. That's what my goal is. I think once you can get that effort, then execution and efficiency and everything else follows."
Trouble is, I don't think we'll see any extended effort before the playoffs. Shaq and Co. know that they can't catch Detroit and that no one in a disappointing East appears capable of beating Miami to the No. 2 seed. So they carry themselves like there's nothing to play for, even though they're so wrong. There are little details like cohesion and momentum that are generally best addressed before the playoffs start.
You know where I stand on Riley's original vision for this group. I've maintained since the day he dealt for Antoine Walker and Williams that he'd have been better off opting for minor adjustments to a team that nearly beat Detroit in the East finals with a half-speed Diesel and Wade. If he hadn't added Walker and James Posey, Riley probably would've scored Wade's pal Michael Finley in free agency. He still could have added Payton and Jason Kapono's shooting to replace Eddie Jones and Damon Jones, who were thriving in Van Gundy's system.
Miami still would have needed some role-player depth in the frontcourt to complement Shaq, Zo and Udonis Haslem, but finding that type of piece seems easier than trying to fit 'Toine in as a third or fourth option. Seattle's Reggie Evans, for example, is suddenly available. Effort men are out there if you know where to look.
Whether or not you still believe that Riley made the changes to doom Van Gundy and set himself up to reclaim the bench -- a charge he has denied for months -- this much I do know about Riles:
He and I have found some common ground at last.
"It's on me," Riley said after the Dallas rout. "It's on us [as a group], but it's on me."
I've done what I can, Heat Lovers, to try to motivate this soulless bunch before Detroit hits South Beach. As Riley says, it's all on him now to reach the players he wanted.
I'd give him better odds if these guys cared as much as the Stein Haters.
• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang
• Dimes Past: February 1 | 2 | 3 | 4-5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
Want a team that's clicking right now? Try the Mavericks, who have surrounded Dirk with a very deep supporting cast. (See below.)
It's only fair, if Heat Lovers are forced to stomach my take, that someone speaks on their behalf.
So the floor goes now to Antoine Walker, who (not surprisingly) disputed my premise above when I hit him with it Thursday night.
"Whatever. Everyone's opinionated, man. I don't know how many balls you need or who needs what. We'll see when we get to the playoffs. Until that time, you don't know what the result of this team's going to be.
"After 50 games, we're in first place in our division and we've held things together for 20 games without [an injured] Shaq. We're obviously disappointed with how we played [in Dallas], but I think we're pretty good when we've got Shaq in the lineup.
"Do we feel like we're a championship-level team right now? No. But we have 32 games left to get there, and that's the way we have to think. We'll let everyone stay opinionated and have their assumptions about who's going to win and who's the favorite, and we'll see come playoff time who's right."
You can't completely rule out the idea of Steve Francis winding up in Denver until after the Feb. 23 trading deadline passes. At this point, though, it's a serious long shot.
It's the Nuggets who pulled out of a three-way deal with Orlando and New York that would have landed Francis in the Rocky Mountains, doing so because owner Stan Kroenke ultimately was unwilling to absorb the three years and nearly $50 million left on Francis' contract after this season. Resuscitating the Francis deal would require a change of heart from the owner's box, which seems unlikely with Carmelo Anthony due for a maximum contract extension in the summer and the lucrative long-term deals belonging to Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby and Andre Miller still on the books.
Lost amid all of the above was Denver's willingness to send Nene to the Magic in the proposed deal. The Nuggets clearly realize it'll likely be too expensive to match offers Nene receives in the offseason as a restricted free agent, with Chicago, Atlanta and Toronto all expected to make big bids even though the Brazilian is out for the season with a knee tear. So the Nuggets are looking to move Nene now, with the backup hope that they'll be able to get something for him in a summertime sign-and-trade if nothing materializes before the deadline.
(For the record, I haven't budged from the position that Francis and Anthony would be an ill-advised match. OK, so maybe it's not the worst you can come up with -- if the Knicks actually have legit interest in chasing Francis when they still have Stephon Marbury -- but I struggle to see how Francis' need for the ball meshes with 'Melo's. The Nuggets' interest isn't surprising, given George Karl's belief that you take the talent now and ask the chemistry questions later, but the only appeal I see is getting a name for Nene as opposed to the risk of losing an asset of Nene's quality without compensation.)
How do you bid farewell to the NBA's MVP and lose no ground in the standings? With a string of personnel gems, that's how. And Dallas is on quite a run ... Erick Dampier aside.
Before Steve Nash's final year in town, Dallas had the sense to draft Josh Howard with the final pick of the first round after 20-something teams inexplicably passed on him. Shortly before electing not to match the Suns' $66 million pitch to Nash, Dallas then dealt Antawn Jamison to Washington for an even more effective sixth man (Jerry Stackhouse) and the draft rights to Devin Harris.
The Mavs also scored Jason Terry as a reasonably priced Nash parachute, stepped up to absorb the expense involved in adding Keith Van Horn as perhaps the league's best seventh man and most recently turned Cleveland castoff DeSagana Diop into a defensive difference-maker. Dallas is so deep that another gem it unearthed -- undrafted (but subsequently well-compensated) Marquis Daniels -- can't get on the court right now.
Doug Christie's injuries (and the organizational tension he and wife Jackie created) ended that experiment after a month, but even that miss ended well. Dallas originally planned to sign perimeter specialist Wesley Person to take Christie's spot but opted instead to bring back a former Mav named Adrian Griffin ... who has only established himself as the club's top perimeter defender.
I should have known the West's coaches were going to vote for Seattle's Ray Allen over New Orleans' Chris Paul.
I did know it deep down and wrote of my fears twice in the past week.
So I screwed up in my recent All-Star reserves column when I didn't, at least as a backup plan, suggest sending Denver's Anthony to Houston as the West's fourth guard on the assumption that Paul would be passed over as a rookie. Although 'Melo probably plays more power forward than shooting guard in real life, coaches are given license by the league to turn small forwards into guards and power forwards into centers (a la Pau Gasol) when they vote. It thus would have been permissible and justified, because 'Melo deserves to be in Sunday's All-Star Game as much as Paul and Pau.
'Melo has been double- and triple-teamed for weeks and hasn't flinched while keeping the Nuggets atop the Northworst Division and carrying them through a succession of injuries to all the bigs who are supposed to protect him: Camby, Martin and, of course, Nene. If the West's coaches didn't want to pick a rook over deserving vets, 'Melo should have gotten Allen's spot.
Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images
This is Pat Riley calling a play from the bench . . . but it also represents what Riles thinks of the Heat's effort lately.
Interest in Cleveland's Drew Gooden
is understandable. Gooden's contract expires at season's end, his salary is lower than the league average at just over $4 million and he's averaging nearly a double-double (10.9 points and 8.8 boards) in less than 30 minutes per game.
The latest signals I'm hearing suggest that Gooden, a restricted free agent come July, will still be in Cleveland after the Feb. 23 trade deadline in spite of outside interest and the Cavs' ongoing search for another point guard.
Detroit's Rasheed Wallace is not just the league's leader in technical fouls
with 12. 'Sheed, who has a one-T lead over Kobe Bryant, is four T's away from incurring a one-game suspension.
'Sheed and Kobe apparently need daily reminders that the NBA has a new scale of penalties for technical fouls. Starting with technical No. 16, players are hit with one-game suspensions for every other technical: No. 16, No. 18, No. 20, etc.
Every one-game suspension would cost Wallace more than $93,000 in salary and nearly $145,000 per game for Bryant.
I owe my man Michael Redd an apology. I got his hopes up.
Last time I saw him, back in mid-January, Redd said he was already bracing for a snub from the East's coaches in All-Star voting, noting how much competition there is at guard in his conference.
I told him not to worry. I was convinced that the Bucks' winning record had to make Redd a virtual All-Star lock.
Turns out I was wrong, but so are the voters. Washington's Gilbert Arenas will be widely billed the East's biggest snubee, but not here. Redd has been the one constant for a Bucks team that has been wracked by injuries yet has managed to stay at .500 or better all season. So Arenas, at best, is a co-No. 1 on my list of East snubees with Redd, whose scoring average (25.1 ppg) is just a 3-pointer shy of Arenas' 28.2.
Orlando's Dwight Howard is up there, too, although the Magic's current 1-6 funk made the league's top rebounder a tougher sell. Of course, I'd take any of those three over Boston's Paul Pierce, who can't escape the reality that the Celtics are a whopping 13 games under .500 in spite of Pierce's individual brilliance.
From the Stein Line e-mailbag:
Aaron (NYC): Do you think Larry Brown regrets leaving the Pistons yet? Or has he actually convinced himself that he was fired rather than being the master of his own fate?
Stein: I actually don't think he regrets it. For two reasons.
1. Larry has been doing this long enough to know that the Pistons' core was starting to tune him out. I'm sure you've heard me and zillions of others describe how Larry grates on his players more than most coaches. The way around this for Larry's bosses, typically, is making personnel changes to keep the coach's message and methods fresher for longer. But the Pistons' core wasn't changing. And two drama-filled years with Larry was like seven (or 17) with almost anyone else. It was time for a change. For everyone. Detroit's vets just want to play, which is why Flip Saunders is so right for them.
2. Of greater importance to Larry, he could not influence personnel decisions in Detroit. Those belong exclusively to Joe Dumars. In New York, Larry knew he would have a lot more say in the decision making alongside Isiah Thomas ... with Isiah sure to get more of the blame because he has been there longer. Couple the opportunity to help shape the roster with a return to his hometown team -- plus the healthy salary -- and there's no way Larry could resist.
Even if you could have told him in July how bleak it would be in February, he'd have taken the Knicks' job.
Stein on All-Star snubs
Marc Stein appeared on Friday's HotList on ESPNEWS to nominate his biggest All-Star snubs in each conference. Hint: They play for Milwaukee, Orlando, New Orleans and Denver.
"Truthfully, man, I'm going to play two more years. That's my goal. When I first got in the league, I had a target number -- it was 15. This is my 13th year right now. Two more years are going to be enough for me. After I get two in, I think I'm going to be a pretty good head coach in this league."
The Clippers' Sam Cassell, revealing his long-term plans Tuesday night on ESPN2's NBA Coast to Coast.
It remains to be seen whether those two seasons will be spent in Los Angeles, where the 36-year-old has helped coach Mike Dunleavy chip away at a losing mentality that has suffocated Clipperland for nearly two decades. Cassell, remember, is in the final year of his contract, and no one would blame Sam I Am -- who maintains that he has been underpaid throughout his career -- if he's on the skeptical side about getting a healthy two-year extension from Clips owner Donald Sterling.
Given the effect he has had on Elton Brand, after propelling Kevin Garnett to an MVP season in Minnesota, Cassell deserves no less than two guaranteed years with a tidy raise from his current $6.1 million salary. Committing long-term cash to Brand, Corey Maggette and Cuttino Mobley was a breakthrough for Sterling, but it's his forthcoming contractual dealings with Cassell, Dunleavy, Chris Kaman and Shaun Livingston that will determine whether the Clippers are winners for more than a season.
|FEB. 8: TRACY MCGRADY VS. LAKERS|
The fine line Wednesday was deciding which development from Houston to spotlight here. Is it Brian Cook scoring 27 more points -- one night after Cook scored a career-best 28 (four more than Kobe Bryant) in Dallas -- to give the Lakers their first win in February?
Or is it Tracy McGrady enduring a second straight nightmare?
Cook was certainly worthy, given that he had zero 20-point games this season before getting to Texas. (So, too, was Washington's Gilbert Arenas after torching his old team from Golden State for 45 points -- without a 3-pointer, no less -- after finding out that he had been snubbed by the East coaches in All-Star voting.)
Yet the standout line for me from Lakers-Rockets is McGrady's. T-Mac's misery against L.A. not only dropped the Rockets to 6-16 at home but also meant McGrady managed just 24 points in back-to-back games on 10-for-37 shooting. Stretch that out over three games and McGrady was a 19-for-64 funk entering the weekend.
Which tells me T-Mac has to be hurting again, because it's hard to believe he could have two no-shows in a row without his back causing some trouble.