Editor's note: Throughout the 2012-13 NBA season we'll be asking our colleagues at The Heat Index to weigh in on the progress of the Lakers' newly-minted super group. This week, Tom Haberstroh has some advice he learned in watching the Heat's big three first come together.
“I think right now it’s a feel-out process. I talked to those guys, it almost felt like we were being too unselfish to get each other into the flow of the game. The reason we’re here and the reason we’ve been successful is because we’ve put ourselves in a position to be aggressive at all times no matter who’s on the court.”
Those are the words of LeBron James. The date? Oct. 27, 2010 -- right after Miami’s big three made their highly-anticipated debut in Boston. The Heat looked like a disjointed mess in that game, losing by eight points to a veteran Celtics team and satisfying a world of basketball fans itching for some South Beach schadenfreude.
These words from LeBron came back to me when I read Steve Nash’s quotes on Thursday, talking about how he’s not “worried” about himself offensively and wants to make his teammates happy first. But in the embryonic stages of Miami’s Superfriends experiment, James warned that that was precisely Miami’s problem.
James’ message: being deferential is not what got them to be perennial All-Stars and MVP candidates. But now that the Lakers are 0-2 and facing an avalanche of scrutiny, Nash seems to be falling into that trap of well-intended unselfishness.
"I'm very reluctant to worry about myself,” Nash said on Thursday. “I want to learn, I want to build this team up and then if I need to be more proactive and a bigger part of things, that'll come. But right now, I want to try to get the offense going, get the guys going, get everyone's confidence up and we'll find a happy medium sometime down the road.”
When Steve Nash decides to be Steve Nash again, the Lakers will likely be better off for it. It’s not helping that Kobe Bryant is chastising fans who want Nash to get back to his identity, dismissing the call to “let Steve dribble the ball around and create opportunities for everybody.” As if generating open looks for teammates was somehow putting the Lakers at a disadvantage.
It’s an odd thing to say considering that spontaneous creativity and artful improvisation is precisely what makes Nash so unique. Why trade for Nash if you want him to play like Mike Bibby? That’s why you have Steve Blake and Chris Duhon on the roster. And when you have a guy who boasts a 50/40/90 shooting profile over the past decade, you want him to be a little selfish too. Let him get his, because you want one of the best shooters in NBA history to, you know, shoot.
It’s true that the Lakers have bigger problems to solve on the defensive end, but marginalizing Nash’s talents could have longer-lasting effects. Let Nash thrive in the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard and allow him to carve up defenses like he’s done his entire career. But if we learned anything from the Heat’s stumbling to a 9-8 record in the big three’s maiden voyage, Nash shouldn’t be preoccupied about being too assertive -- Princeton offense or not.
This will take time. It wasn’t until early Dec. 2010 – about a dozen games into the season -- when the Heat’s offense started clicking and James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh realized they needed to play like their star selves rather than try to be someone they’re not.
Just be yourself. That was James’ takeaway when he was asked how he and Wade turned the corner two months after that embarrassing start to the season.
“(Wade) stopped trying to figure out if it’s his time or my time,” James said. “He had a lot on his mind at times. He’s just trying to figure this out instead of just going out and playing. And that’s the same for me, too. We’re both in those instances where we were both trying to figure things out at the same time and we’re kind of hurting the team.”
After these comments, the Heat proceeded to win 17 of their next 18 games. Take heed, Lakers.