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The Miami Heat are lukewarm. Oh, sure: They beat the streaking, defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night, prompting Kobe Bryant to return to the AmericanAirlines Arena court for a late-night shooting session. Nevertheless, the Heat have lost five of their past six games. They flounder in end-game situations. They struggle against quality opponents. They seem disheartened, even burdened by the ongoing blowback from "The Decision" and the outsize expectations created by the boy band-shaming union of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
In short, Miami is a long way from one NBA title, let alone four, five, six or seven. And if the Heat want to change that -- become more than a flawed glam squad that exists primarily to: (a) pummel the league's dregs; (b) create amazing highlight photos -- there's only thing to do.
Open up team owner Micky Arison's ample wallet, graciously allow current coach Erik Spoelstra to spend more time with his family and persuade Lakers coach Phil Jackson to take his talents to South Beach.
|LeBron James has been a winner when Phil Jackson was in the building this year.|
Then start manufacturing red and black "XII" hats.
Granted, this isn't exactly a novel notion. My colleague Arash Markazi already has hinted at a similar scenario. Only I'm not hinting. I'm demanding concrete action. More importantly, I'm suggesting that Heat fans stop chanting for Heat president Pat Riley and instead intone the name of the Zen master.
Seriously: Descend en masse upon Arison's estate. Bring signs. Bring sleeping bags. Make like teachers at the Wisconsin state capitol. Keep it peaceful, positive and persistent. Because a Jackson-helmed Miami squad isn't simply a pipe dream from the Department of Obvious Ideas.
It's a very possible, very workable, win-win solution from the Department of Obvious Ideas that Should Have Been Adopted, Like, Last Week.
Let's start with CryGate.
Unless you've been living under a stack of TeamSheen internship applications, you already know the story: Following Miami's 87-86 loss Sunday to Chicago, Spoelstra said that "there are a couple of guys crying in the locker room right now." The result? The sort of instant media firestorm typically reserved for, well, dispatches from Sheen's Korner.
Spoelstra seems like a stand-up guy. He certainly means well. Thing is, he walked back his tear talk the very next day. Which means he botched it. Not because he broke the omerta of the locker room, but because he broke the omerta of the locker room to no apparent advantage. Miami lost its next game to Portland; the Heat got scant motivation and beaucoup negative headlines out of Spoelstra's ill-conceived revelation.
This would never, ever happen under Jackson.
Jackson is prone to public taunting. He baits referees -- and sometimes the league -- seemingly for fun. When things don't go his way, he can be a little (read: a lot) whiny. Contrary to popular belief, he is neither an actual Zen master nor a droid-concealing, mind-tricking Jedi Knight.
But so what?
Jackson knows how to push buttons. He's adept at public and private mind games. More importantly, he's seen as a crafty guru. Which, psychologically speaking, makes all the difference. Power of suggestion and all. Players and the press alike believe Jackson knows what he's doing -- even when he's just mouthing off -- and that belief creates favorable mental frames.
To wit: When Spoelstra mentions locker room waterworks, the first question is: Was Chris Bosh the primary weeper? If Jackson said the same thing, it would be: What is Phil up to this time?
|Does Phil Jackson need any more endorsement than this?|
Besides, the Heat have a habit of everyone-hates-us, guess-we'll-eat-worms sulking. The club's mental toughness is a slow, halting work in progress. Miami is reminiscent of ... the frustrated, put-upon Chicago Bulls of the late 1980s and Los Angeles Lakers of the late 1990s.
Frustrated and put-upon, that is, until Jackson showed up.
Speaking of Miami's flaws, Charles Barkley is right: The Heat have a basketball problem that has nothing to do with mental fortitude. Specifically, they lack a first-rate point guard, a back-to-the-basket scorer and interior size and muscle. On the other hand, Miami boasts the best, most versatile shooting guard (Wade) and small forward (James) combo in the league, an All-Star power forward (Bosh) and a number of skilled outside shooters.
Sound vaguely familiar?
Jackson's Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan at shooting guard, Scottie Pippen at small forward, Horace Grant/Dennis Rodman at power forward and ... a bunch of outside shooters (John Paxson, Steve Kerr) and unremarkable interior role players (Bill Wennington, Will Perdue). And they won. A lot. They won because Jordan and Pippen dominated on both ends of the floor, to be sure, but also because Jackson put lesser players in positions to succeed.
Under Jackson, couldn't Wade and James reprise the Jordan-Pippen formula? Wouldn't Jackson's signature triangle offense -- which rewards versatility, encourages crisp half-court ball movement and gets secondary players involved -- help maximize Miami's strengths while minimizing its weaknesses? Particularly if James learned to play in the post the way Jordan once did?
If nothing else, wouldn't it be an improvement over the Heat's predictable, defendable "your turn, no, my turn" Wade/James top-of-the-key late-game isolation offense?
Another advantage to bringing Jackson to Miami: He commands respect. He doesn't simply get the benefit of the doubt; thanks to his résumé, there is no doubt. He has more rings than fingers. If there's one thing we know for certain about James, it's that he bows to championship hardware. Especially when it comes by the bagful. Remember those blame-shifting, Spoelstra-undermining leaks from "people close to the situation" -- hi, Maverick Carter! -- during the Heat's early-season swoon?
Again, that would never happen under Jackson. Or at least never matter. Because unlike Spoelstra, Jackson has leverage. He's not up-and-coming, still trying to prove himself. He's proven. Wealthy. His legacy is secure. His players don't buy in? Their loss. Jackson can walk, write another book, go watch the Australian Open. He would be doing James and Co. a favor by helping them win, not the other way around. Which gives him a Seinfeldian hand.
Similarly, Jackson pretty much has been coaching the NBA's most glamorous and scrutinized teams for the past two decades. He's used to it. The hothouse doesn't faze him. While Riley laments the "neurotic media" -- guilty as charged, yes, but also pot, kettle, black, discuss -- Jackson has fun with the extra attention. He seems to dig it. And isn't that also what Miami needs? Someone who can take pleasure in sparring with the press -- like Bill Parcells -- while craftily deflecting attention away from his players, a la Joe Torre?
Jackson to the Heat. It ought to happen. It needs to happen. Would Riley stand in the way? Perhaps. Spoelstra is his protégé, an extension of his coaching and leadership style. Replacing him likely would be painful. That said, Riley's philosophy always has boiled down to a single, Sheen-esque idea: winning. Jackson provides that in spades. And as Markazi notes, the two longtime rivals have, according to Lakers executive and Jackson girlfriend Jeanie Buss, "mutual respect for each other ... there is no bitterness there." As such, it's reasonable to assume that Jackson and Riley could coexist. Even thrive together. Both men have reached the summit. They want the same thing: to stay on top a little longer. With James, Wade and Bosh all entering their primes, the Heat have the on-court talent to make that happen.
Of course, it could be that the 65-year-old Jackson is serious, and that the current season truly is his self-proclaimed "last stand." The Lakers are aging. Dynasties crumble. Jackson has a knack for getting out just before the deluge, first with Jordan's Bulls, then with the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers. Maybe Jackson is done with coaching, with the grind, with putting additional miles on his artificial hips. Maybe the opportunity to amass even more rings with the Heat isn't especially enticing.
Never forget: Jackson is a man who wrote a book entitled "The Last Season." And that was two championships ago.
Patrick Hruby is a freelance writer and ESPN.com contributor. Contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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