What if, in July, you told Pat Riley his SuperTeam would start the season 8-6? And that he would have already signed and released Jerry Stackhouse? And that he would resort to hiring Erick(-a) Dampier? And that Joel Anthony (and his newly-minted $18 million contract) would be one big epic fail? And that Chris Bosh would be the league’s laughingstock? And that Lebron James and Dwyane Wade would play like mortals?
And then, after all that, Udonis Haslem would tear a ligament in his foot, and perhaps miss the entire season?
I imagine Riley would be thinking to himself, “Well, looks like it’s ‘Fire Spoelstra’ time.”
I knew Haslem’s torn ligaments would take awhile to heal, but this? Perhaps a full season? For the Heat, this hurts like a kick to the nads. Only if a kick to the nads hurt for four months or so.
Erick(-a) Dampier is not the answer. Moving Anthony (and his previously mentioned $18 million deal) to fourth-string center is not the answer. The return of Mike Miller is not the answer. The loss of Haslem, perhaps for the entire season, will reverberate in Miami and throughout the league.
Haslem wasn’t just the Heat’s sixth man, he was their heart and soul. He was the one player up front to be counted on, the one Miami frontcourt member who didn’t shy away from contact or the spotlight. When Haslem called Paul Pierce a “studio gangster,” I’m sure some Celtics fans were upset. But Haslem wasn’t just taking a shot at Pierce, he was sticking up for his team. He was standing his ground in an attempt to lead his teammates, to say, You know what guys? We’ve gotta fight back. We can’t get punked like that.
Who’s going to stand up for the Heat next time? James? He just wants to have fun. Chris Bosh? He just wants to chill. Dwyane Wade? He just wants to laugh off losses.
So who will it be? Dampier? Child, please. Juwan Howard? Tough to be an enforcer while chalking up DNP’s most of the time. Jamaal Magloire? For Miami’s sake, I hope it doesn’t come to that.
What does this mean for the Celtics? It means the Heat, who already had serious issues, have now found their most serious issue yet. It means Orlando might be the only real competition for top seed in the East. It means the Heat could be an absurdly dangerous 4th- or 5th-seed in the playoffs. It means, well, not as much as you might think.
The Celtics are fighting their own battle right now. If they can avoid boredom, the regular season will be a success. If they don’t avoid boredom, the regular season will be a long one. At some point in the playoffs, the Celtics will meet the East’s best teams. Whether those teams are Orlando, Chicago, Miami or — hell, who knows? — Indiana, Boston would be better off playing them with homecourt advantage.
So yes, losing Haslem hurts Miami. A lot.
But for Boston, the path remains unchanged.