Even with superstar trio, Heat roster needs work

208975.jpg

Even with superstar trio, Heat roster needs work

Friday, July 9, 2010
4:02 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Now that LeBron James has decided to play for the Miami Heat, the most-anticipated decision in NBA free-agent history has been made and the balance of the league has changed--or has it?

With only four players on its current roster after trading Michael Beasley-- the former No. 2 overall draft pick behind Derrick Rose--Miami obviously has to make some additions. While a lineup of James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and two random South Beach denizens would dominate your local pro-am league, not only are 12 players required to be on an NBA roster, Mario Chalmers alone won't cut it. That's why some people felt James should join the Bulls, as their more complete roster seemed tailor-made for a superstar to push Chicago to the next level.

Whether he would have been the right fit--Derrick Rose is a true point guard, requiring the ball in his hands the majority of the time, as does James; neither player is a pure outside shooter--is another story. However, by making the move to South Florida, James proves that the selfless, playmaking instincts that came so natural to him as a high school phenom--he was more Magic Johnson that Michael Jordan back then; some of his multi-faceted game has been since diluted in order to carry the scoring load in Cleveland--have been rediscovered. Say what you will about how his decision came across or perceived lack of personal ambition by joining a so-called "super team," but his selflessness is being manifested in the forms of accepting less than a max deal, recognizing his individual star power could be somewhat muted and assuredly knowing he may have to adjust on the court by becoming more of a floor general.

Miami is Wade's team, where he won a title and on which he is the face of the franchise. The Chicago native has commented in the past about wishing he had a playmaking partner to shoulder more of the ballhandling duties, and James' passing abilities should only further enhance Wade's scoring effectiveness.

As for Bosh, while he'll surely be the Heat's top post threat and able to unleash his accurate mid-range jumper as a frequent recipient of the talented perimeter pair's passes in pick-and-roll and drive-and-kick situations, he'll likely be also utilized as a third scoring option, rebounder and energy player. With his bluster about wanting to be a team's alpha dog, not reaching a feasible sign-and-trade scenario with Toronto and frustration about not being able to lead the Raptors past the first round as their franchise player, Bosh is likewise sacrificing.

The players who won't be missing any figurative meals are the supporting cast of the new "Big Three." An announcement about sharpshooter Mike Miller's signing could come any minute, but with convenient trade of Beasley to Minnesota, point guard Mario Chalmers is technically all that's in the cupboard, with second-round draft choices Da'Sean Butler (whose NCAA Tournament injury dropped his stock; the former West Virginia star isn't expected to be ready to play at the beginning of the regular season), shot-blocker Jarvis Varnado and widebody Dexter Pittman, as well as 2009 pick and Windy City product Patrick Beverley, who was stashed in Greece for a season, all waiting in the wings.

A blend of a handful of the aforementioned youngsters and several inexpensive veteran free agents should fill out the team's roster. Obviously shooters--Miller will apparently decline New York's financially more impressive offer; his versatility is a bonus and he's not as one-dimensional as many would like to believe--a true center (Bosh's reluctance to moonlight in that role is well-documented; a familiar name to Bulls fans, Brad Miller, is among the possibilities for the Heat) and additional help at point guard are necessities. Despite the lack of big names still available on the market, Miami's role players will be expected to be reliable, play within themselves and only be proficient in limited capacities.

The man responsible for orchestrating this perfect storm, Heat president Pat Riley--although Wade should get some of the credit, whether or not he was entertaining other teams in his hometown to stall or gather intelligence, as is suspected by some--isn't done playing puppeteer, but one string he's unlikely to pull (at least not immediately) is that of head coach. Erik Spoelstra will have the opportunity to sink or swim with his talented trio and regardless of his relative inexperience and lack of success, winning cures all. Remember the general opinion of Doc Rivers prior to the formation of the "Big Three" in Boston?

Some tweaking by all of the above primary parties will be necessary to pull off their expected goal, especially in James' case. Suddenly reviled in Cleveland--and a lot of other places--"The King" certainly wasn't deserving of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's stinging missive, posted on the team's website shortly after "The Decision," but the scrutiny he'll receive will be even more intense than ever before.

It will take time for the start-from-scratch squad to truly connect, but even in a best-case scenario, they'll still face staunch competition in the Eastern Conference from the Celtics and Magic, not to mention the rising Bulls--the significance of acquiring Carlos Boozer has almost been overlooked by the basketball landscape as a whole, but he's joining a back-to-back playoff team with burgeoning young talent, an expected upgrade on the sidelines and a front office that still has bullets left in its gun this offseason--and of course, the two-time defending champs, if Miami was to meet the Lakers in the Finals.

It's still early July and there are plenty of moves to be made, both on the trade and free-agent markets--or a combination, such as the Knicks' sign-and-trade of free agent power forward David Lee to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azuibuike and Ronny Turiaf--and things could be even more dramatically altered by next February's league-wide trade deadline. So while it's pondered how Miami's presently incomplete roster will fare this upcoming season, it may be wise to sit back, take a deep breath with the major free agents having determined their destinations and wait for some actual basketball to be played.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls lose an ugly one vs. 76ers

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls lose an ugly one vs. 76ers

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

Bulls fail to show up against 76ers

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

How does Bastian Schweinsteiger fit into the Fire's lineup?

Carlos Rodon slated for MRI, could start season on disabled list with bicep tightness

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

Bulls fail to show up against 76ers: 'We didn't guard anybody'

Bulls fail to show up against 76ers: 'We didn't guard anybody'

It's been said and proven that the Bulls can't handle any level of prosperity in this season of tumult, but they've apparently lowered the bar even more as they were unable to handle the thought of prosperity.

Taking a 10-point lead against the 10-man Philadelphia 76ers had the United Center buzzing with unselfish play, easy shots and Rajon Rondo wizardry. About 90 minutes later the slipper fell off Cinderella and life hit the Bulls hard in their 117-107 loss, as they failed to win their second game in a row for the first time in a month. 

76ers rookie Dario Saric led the brigade with 32 points and 10 rebounds on 12 of 19 shooting, with two triples. Five 76ers scored in double figures, including an undrafted big named Shawn Long scoring 18 points and seven rebounds in his 10th NBA game.

Jimmy Butler scored 36 with 11 assists and seven rebounds in 42 minutes, but the narrative was the same, as he didn't have enough help on the offensive end for long stretches.

More importantly, it again signaled the reality that the belief this team can make a run for the playoffs with the schedule being the easiest of the contenders over the next two weeks is a fallacy—if the first 70 games is any indication.

"For us to come out with that lack of effort at this point in the season is maddening," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Look at the points in the paint, 70-30; that tells you everything you need to know about tonight's game."

If the Bulls can't take care of business against the likes of these 76ers, they can't be counted on do much against anybody, regardless of how the schedule shakes out for the last six games.

By the time the United Center faithful was on its third cycle of boos when a Bulls turnover led to them having more points in the paint than the Bulls had on the scoreboard, it was clear the night had turned for the worst and wouldn't be turning again.

"Lost balls and rebounds, they got every one," an exasperated Hoiberg said.

They already had a 54-52 paint-to-total ratio and the Bulls committed just three fouls, meaning for all the 76ers activity, the Bulls didn't even touch them or give any consequences by making them earn it at the foul line.

"We didn't guard anybody," Butler said. "The lack of discipline, game plan, whatever you want to call it. The game plan is important but if you're not going to do what the game plan says then go get a stop and nobody will be mad at you."

Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson and T.J. McConnell literally sliced up the Bulls defense by getting inside and exposing the weak perimeter approach.

"Gotta have individual pride in our defense. Try to keep the ball in front of us," Rondo said. "Tonight, they took it to us."

When asked if the Bulls could change course suddenly after the first 70 or so games, Rondo was blunt: "Hard to say. Of course I want to say yeah but habits are habits. You can't just flip a switch, you are who you are at the end of the day."

When Rondo was on the bench with Joffrey Lauvergne, the relative newcomer asked Rondo why was there such variances with the Bulls' play; If given the chance, many Bulls fans would've asked the starting point guard the exact same question.

"I don't know, I don't have the answer," Rondo said. "Consistent play. It's how the season has been. It gets magnified when you lose to Philly or teams you should beat."

[Buy Bulls tickets right here]

The lead ballooned to 26 at 81-55 with 6:15 left in the third and the Bulls looked as lifeless as they had at any point, given the relative lack of competition. They made a game of it, although the insertion of Anthony Morrow seemed to indicate a white flag more than a search for new energy.

"We finally showed up to fight in the fourth quarter but it was too late," Hoiberg said. "We were all over the place and just watched them to continue to drive right past us."

Morrow and Bobby Portis gave Butler the help he desperately needed with a surge that cut the deficit to 102-92 with seven minutes remaining—giving the Bulls a better than expected chance to salvage an improbable comeback.

But with the margins so thin and Butler already expending so much energy just to get the Bulls back in it, they couldn't do more than threaten as Saric probably earned a few extra rookie of the year votes with his career performance.

The Bulls defense, through, was far less than inspiring. The 76ers lived in the paint with guard penetration, scoring 40 in the paint in the first half alone. Rodriguez, Henderson and the rest of the perimeter players feasted on the Bulls as Robin Lopez and Lauvergne were missing in action, leading Hoiberg to leave both on the bench for the majority of the second half.

And with this sobering bit of reality, one wonders where the Bulls truly go from here.