April 4th, 2008 – Dr. Browntorious
What is going on with Mr. Pat Riley?
Let’s go back in time to the 2003-04 season for a minute. The Miami Heat, with Wade, Odom, Butler, and Eddie Jones were a pretty solid team. Dwayne Wade in his rookie season was averaging pretty decent numbers (17 ppg, 4.5 assists, 4 rebounds). Lamar Odom’s numbers were pretty much the same as they are today, Butler was still up and coming but contributing in multiple facets and averaging almost 10 ppg, and Eddie Jones led the team with slightly over 17 ppg. They made it to the playoffs, but were eliminated early. This team was a young team resting their future plans on the growth of Wade and Butler. Then the big trade happened. Odom, Butler, Grant and a first round pick were sent to LA for a disgruntled Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaq, already playing with the best player in the league (Kobe) and two future hall of famers (Payton, Malone), was not able to win his 4th championship. Shaq’s physical shape, resulting in a drop in his production was significant in comparison to his years winning championships. Shaq had become more of a liability against good defense’s than an asset (think of the ‘04’ Detroit series). So what was Riley thinking? He’s going to give up the future of the Heat for one, maybe two shots to make a deep post-season run?
The following year, Miami didn’t make it to the finals; they were wiped out by Detroit again in the conference finals. This is even after Miami landed the best back-up center in history, Alonzo Mourning, who played better that year than even Malone played sometimes filling in at Center for Shaq on the Lakers.
Finally, after Riley pulled some more moves getting Kapono and Jason Williams they managed to win the 2006 NBA Championship. Good job. What happened afterwards? In 2006-2007 Shaq went back to his lazy self as he was on the Lakers, and went on the injured list for the majority of the year, “saving himself for the stretch run”. All the hits Wade took finally caught up to him and he injured his shoulder missing a good part of the season. Although Wade tried to come back and play through the injury just before the playoffs began, it still resulted in Chicago sweeping the Heat in the first round. For a team that had almost no roster changes, they went from being the defending champions to losing to a team considered as “decent” or “mediocre” by most analysts in the league.
Now that brings us to this mess of a season for the Heat. Alonzo goes down with a career ending injury, another overweight, under motivated Shaq and an injured Wade resulted in Miami having the worst record in the league. What does Riley do? He trades Shaq for Marion. In my opinion this is where Riley pulls out his smart card. Phoenix wants to win now and they need to be able to fight against the big men in the West (Amare wasn’t enough?). They trade away Marion, who statistically is consistently one of the best players in the league every year, for Shaq. Shaq’s quoted as saying “I can run”. Yes Shaq, you might be able to run for a couple months, but we’ve seen how lazy you can get and your inability improve on your free throws; so how long can you run for? If history repeats itself, Shaq will be back to his lazy self by the start of training camp next year. What does Miami get with Marion? They get basically a Lamar Odom type player back and probably a number one draft pick next year(because of their position)…so it puts them approximately in the same position as they were in 2003-04.
Where are the Lakers out of that original trade to bring Shaq to Miami? Odom and Kobe are playing amazing together. Lakers rebuilt around Kobe, and have a YOUNG championship contending team for years to come. Sure, Gasol being shipped to the Lakers for nothing is quite inexplicable, but regardless the Lakers were still a top team this year with the way Bynum had been playing.
So now that Riley’s recent trade history is in the books. Is Riley the idiot or is Riley the genius? I vote at this point he is a genius. He managed to score another title, and has set himself up to be leading an up and coming young team for the future of Heat basketball. If he can get a solid draft pick, and fill the missing center position the team might have a chance to run for the finals in a few years. One key to Riley’s future with the Heat, will be Miami’s success or failure next year. If they miss the playoffs, he could be out a job. The Lakers were able to depart with Shaq and only miss the playoffs once (in the difficult west). Can Riley do the same for Miami?