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Art Garcia

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As the losses mount, the frustration continues to build in Miami.
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Struggling Heat should consider the lessons of Team USA


Posted Nov 29 2010 11:43AM

As the reveling continues by the masses along with the Heat's struggles and the players-only meetings pile up, the missteps of Team USA should resonate in South Beach. Great players don't make great teams.

Not right away, at least.

There was a time not so long ago when the effort in constructing the American roster was about as scientific as Joe Fan punching an All-Star ballot. The names made sense. The results didn't, as USA Basketball lost games and its aura of invincibility.

"They learned the hard way," said Richard Jefferson, a member of USA Basketball teams from 2003-04.

Jefferson remembers players just being shuffled through the national team without much rhyme or reason. He must have played with more than 20 teammates during his short stint, he said. Chemistry and continuity were difficult to establish.

"At first they just threw the superstars out there and said, 'OK, we can beat everybody with our talent,'" said Tyson Chandler, the starting USA center at the recent World Championship. "Well, it doesn't always work that way because some superstars can't play with each other. A lot of superstars in our league are used to dominating the ball and controlling the tempo of the game."

Is there a parallel in Miami? Duh. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are franchise talents sharing the same franchise. As the only NBA team that can approach the wattage of previous Team USA offerings, they're learning to share the ball, responsibility and spotlight. The scrutiny is a given.

"We're all critics," LeBron said, echoing a one-time Nike slogan from those bygone Cleveland days.

The pedestrian 9-8 start, punctuated by four losses in their last five games, is weighing on the Heat even if they insist that outside critiquing rolls off their backs. Internally, the strain is beginning to show. Bosh yelled at his teammates during a timeout Saturday in Dallas. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and James bumped into each other during another stoppage, with neither budging nor acknowledging the jacket-displacing jolt.

"Yeah," Spoelstra said when asked about it. "That's the way it should be."

He spoke about the hurt associated with losing: "Until we feel that pain and accept it enough to make a change these will be the results." An accountability session followed the 11-point loss, as the players closed the locker room for 45 minutes to say what needed to be said.

LeBron, Wade and Bosh were supposed to address the media together when the doors finally opened. LeBron and D-Wade delivered the state of the union, with their 6-foot-11 counterpart noticeably absent. Heat leadership appears to be a two-man job. And for now it's a delicate balancing act between the homegrown BMOC and the (chosen) one who's led everywhere else he's been.

So what's the solution? Chandler believes Miami needs more dirty-work guys willing to do the intangibles -- set picks, d-up, accept their roles, blend. USA Basketball had that this summer, he said, in Kevin Love and Danny Granger. Short of Riley trading for Love and Granger, the mindset of the latest USA squad would also play in Miami.

"Every person out there to a man was so unselfish and just had one goal in mind," Chandler said of the American team. "Because of that guys played into their roles on that particular team. They were looking more for character than anything else."

According to LeWade, they've got to play harder, smarter. They've got to cut out the lapses that come from being so talented.

"We're accountable," D-Wade said. "I would never put anything on the coaches."

He also reminded everyone that during the championship run of 2006, the Heat started 10-10. True, but a former Pat Riley assistant was also fired that season to make room for the slick-haired team president. Does the Stan Van Gundy fate await Spoelstra?

"I don't worry about changes," Wade said. "I can't control it. The only thing we can control is our effort."

More effort would probably shave a few degrees of Spoelstra's seat right now. LeBron talked about needing more time. More time to heal (see: Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem) and coalesce. James should know from his Olympic experience.

"LeBron was on the team that lost (2004) and he was on the team that won (2008)," Jefferson said. "You look at him now going into this situation. It's not that they're not trying to win. It's not like they're not giving effort.

"It's like with the USA team when people complained that they weren't giving effort. Who was on that team? Tim Duncan, Carlos Boozer, Dwyane Wade."

In the meantime, Miami Thrice has traded Argentina, Brazil and Spain for Indiana, Memphis and Utah. Team USA has won the last two gold medals and if somehow -- gasp -- Miami doesn't finish the season with a champagne shower, there's always next year. And next. On through 2016, which is the last year of their mirror-image contracts.

They're going to figure it out, as LeBron promised, before then. Aren't they?

"They're too good not to," Chandler said. "They've got some great players over there - Dwyane Wade, Bosh and LeBron. It's going to take some time for them to figure out and understand how to play together, but they're so talented and smart they should be able to do so."

However...

"It's not going to be easy," Jefferson cautioned. "They have a good record against teams below .500 (8-1), but they've struggled against teams above .500 (1-7). Above .500 teams are teams that typically have played together for a few years."

It's only been 17 games for the Heat. An interesting and fascinating 17, sure, but just 17.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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