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Friday, November 19, 2010
The Heat: Innovative? Yes. Immediate? No.

By Rob Mahoney

Miami Heat
Marc Serota/Getty Images Sports
Right now the Heat are a new team groping in the dark. Give it some time.

It's the year 2010. We have computers that can fit into your pocket, commercial space travel, wifi on every corner, cars that run on corn, robes that are worn backwards with the functionality of a blanket, reactors fueled by nuclear power…and the Miami Heat.

It's the year 2010. We have GPS devices that make our pocket computers trackable by a number of parties, progress toward space militarization, instant connectivity for better and worse, inefficient car engines, needless consumerism, nuclear weapons that could eradicate most all life on the planet … and the Miami Heat.

The Heat are a state-of-the-art experiment in all things basketball, and while they're revolutionary and exciting to say the least, the full impact of their very young existence is not yet known. The NBA has never encountered anything truly comparable to this year's Miami model, yet the Heat were expected to have all systems go by opening night.

Just think about that. Pat Riley created something new and advanced, and just a few months later, Erik Spoelstra and his staff were expected to not only have fully understood all the possibilities of an unprecedented roster, but bring that roster to a state of total actualization.

There is a gradual process of refinement and realization that's necessary for all things new, time that must elapse between innovation itself and all that follows it. Given that the Heat are so remarkably unique, shouldn't we expect that gradual process to be a bit more involved than that of any traditional basketball team? Shouldn't we expect their learning curve -- and ours -- to be a bit steeper? Something is going on in Miami, but there's little reason to expect anyone -- whether within the organization or outside it -- to fully comprehend what’s going on at such an early stage.

No one asked the fathers of the Manhattan Project to hammer out detailed blueprints for the nuclear power plants that would emerge decades later, nor fully imagine the ethical dilemmas surrounding a non-governmental group wielding nuclear weapons. Our understanding of things on the hardwood tends to advance more quickly than our grasp on the implications of nuclear fission, but the point remains. Patience is an essential part of understanding and appreciating innovation in any field, and before anyone judges the Miami Heat definitively, they'd be wise to consider just how slow the human mind is in taking to the unfamiliar.

If we reduce the Miami roster to its most basic components, it's unfathomable that they've won only eight of their first 13 games. It's perhaps even unacceptable that they're merely second in the league in offensive rating and third in the league in defensive rating. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are simply too talented for us to expect anything less than sheer dominance. Of course, such a perspective not only neglects the nuance that goes into assembling any new team, but also the incredibly unique nature of this particular one.

The Heat are not the Celtics, nor the Spurs, nor the Showtime Lakers. There is no parallel to draw, only an entire regular season during to the Heat will work through every problem that arises. The Heat are being instantly evaluated in the same way that everything on the cutting edge is: its absolute worth is measured by its most obvious and immediate impact.

That's a shame. Miami may not be reinventing the game with every possession, but there is real power in their play and undeniable potential in their core. Yet because of Chris Bosh's performance, or because of their offensive rebounding, or because they stumbled defensively against Boston, we're supposed to believe that they are anything less than revolutionary?

We may not fully understand the Heat. LeBron James, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra may not fully understand the Heat. For now, that's okay. Today’s NBA doesn’t always place a premium on patience, but there can be significant gains from staying level. That seems to be the mentality of Miami's players and coaches themselves, even as the outside world picks them apart for being only one of the league's elite.

There's no reason for the Heat, or anyone observing the Heat, to panic. There's no logical justification to discount this team after 11 games. There's no cause to see Miami as anything other than what they are: a distinctly modern team facing distinctly modern problems.