Published December 22, 2011
| Sports Network
"The King" took his talents to South Beach in 2010-11, but the Larry O'Brien Trophy felt North Texas would be a better place to take up residency.
With one statement on an ill-conceived ESPN hour-long vehicle called "The Decision," LeBron James went from being one of the most loved sports figures in this country to one of the most reviled. In fact, comedian and talk show host Jimmy Kimmel Tweeted the night the Dallas Mavericks disposed of James' Heat to win the franchise's first NBA title: "70 years after WW2, LeBron James has America rooting for the German. Congratulations."
Turns out James didn't like all the negative attention but let's face it the superstar had plenty of opportunities to hush his critics, the last coming during Game 6 of the NBA Finals when he disappeared in the fourth quarter as Dirk and the Mavericks closed out the Heat, 4-2.
For whatever reason James morphed into a shrinking violet in the final frame of Game 4 in Dallas and never recovered. The rabbit ears went up and his game went down.
The "NBA insiders" who made getting close to James during the "Summer of LeBron" a cottage industry say he is well aware of all the "negativity" surrounding him these days and doesn't like it.
"I think LeBron is going to get booed more than ever before," NBA TV analyst Chris Webber said. "He doesn't have to accept the villain role, but that's who he is. Hopefully, he knows it's not personal, it's basketball."
Whether its' personal or just basketball James better get used to the microscope and the pressure. His Heat have been tabbed by most as the favorites to repeat as Eastern Conference champs and capture the King's first NBA title.
But James will finally have to play his best when it counts the most. In fact, winning is the only way for LBJ to fix his fractured reputation.
2010-11 Results: 58-24, first in Southeast; Lost in NBA Finals to Dallas.
FRONTCOURT: James had reestablished himself as the best player during last year's postseason until his finals meltdown. An unbelievable athlete with a freakish combination of strength, speed and size, James is virtually unstoppable especially when the jumper is falling. His willingness to check players like Derrick Rose and Lou Williams down the stretch of games showed maturity and is something that never happened in Cleveland. LeBron has always had the lateral movement and length to guard any perimeter player in the NBA. A championship is the only thing separating James from entering the conversation for the mythical "best of all time" title.
Bosh remains one of the best offensive power forwards in the game and a plus- rebounder but he could show a little more toughness on the defensive end. That said, the former Toronto All-Star is by far the best third-option in basketball. He can, however, wilt against nasty players that crave contact, something that can be magnified since he will be forced to move over and play some minutes in the pivot.
The starting center figures to be the under-sized Joel Anthony, a raw, athletic player that is very long. He's a natural shot-blocker that relies on his length and energy to create problems on defense and the glass.
"It's not easy to do what we're trying to do," Bosh said of potentially playing undersized in the middle, "but you're going to be asked to do things that aren't necessarily easy.
"I believe we have enough of what it takes right now. We just have to make sure we take care of our bodies and accept the challenge every night. We may be a little bit smaller, but we're more athletic, so we try to use the motto that speed kills and just work it to our advantage."
BACKCOURT: Dwyane Wade, the NBA Finals MVP in 2006 and a former scoring champion, remains an athletic marvel and one of the league's best finishers around the rim. He can also handle the playmaking role, something his transition and penetration skills are tailor-made for. He also remains the team's best pure closer in tight games.
Mario Chalmers, offers speed, quickness and pesky defense at point guard but is an inconsistent player and streaky shooter that will turn it over and take bad shots on occasion.
"We've always viewed him as a talented, productive, young point guard. He's really grown," coach Erik Spoelstra said.
BENCH: An already deep bench was bolstered by the addition of defensive stalwart Shane Battier, rookie Norris Cole and center Eddy Curry. The Heat also have veteran big men Udonis Haslem and Juwan Howard and a trio of shooters in Mike Miller, Eddie House and James Jones.
The veteran Battier is still a top-tier wing defender that craves doing the dirty work, something that will certainly be welcomed in South Beach. Offensively, expect Battier to station himself on the weakside to take advantage of all the double teams the Heat's Big Three gets.
Haslem, a good rebounder with a solid mid-range jumper, missed most of last season after tearing a tendon in his left foot in November. He was back late in the playoffs and brought a certain toughness and energy to the Heat as well as his rock-solid, mid-range jumper. The underrated big man is also a steady defender and capable rebounder.
The sharp-shooting Miller, who struggled with injuries to both his thumbs last season, was a candidate for amnesty but Miami felt they could still benefit from his weak-side presence. Jones and Eddie House can also stretch the floor for Spoelstra at times while Howard can provide situational minutes up front.
Counting on Curry is probably not a wise idea, however. The oft-injured, usually out of shape big man is a walking, talking tease.
COACHING: Spoelstra, a Pat Riley disciple, first joined the Heat in 1995 as the team's video coordinator and moved up from there. He helped the team bounce back from an ugly 15-67 mark in 2007-08 and, like Riley, preaches defense and conditioning.
OUTLOOK: This could be a make-or-break season for "Miami Thrice." Much like the 2010-11 campaign anything less than a championship will be considered a failure for the trio of James, Wade and Bosh.
That said, remember that the Heat were up 2-1 over Dallas in the finals and leading by nine points in Game 4 before James was stricken with his puzzling crisis of confidence. As long as he, Wade and Bosh are on the floor, this team is going to be a serious title contender year in and year out.
"If we don't win a championship, yes, it's a bust year. Last year was a bust year," Wade said.
Getting by with Anthony and Bosh in the middle and figuring out why James shrinks in big-time situations could be the final pieces of the championship puzzle.
"We have another shot at it this year. And that's what we're committed to, is giving ourselves another shot there, at the end," Spoelstra added. "Mentally our guys are ready, they've had enough time to think about it."