Posted Mar 4 2011 11:29AM
How often does a team bring together three players with 19 combined All-Star appearances, two league MVPs and one NBA Finals MVP ... and then months later admit it's not enough?
That's what happened in Miami when the Heat pulled Mike Bibby from the discount bin and the Heat universe reacted as though they just found a Fourth to join their Big Three. Here in the stretch run of the playoffs, the Heat realized their point guards made Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo sleep peacefully at night. And maybe nothing has changed in that regard. Really, the last time Bibby heard this much talk about being a big piece was seven or eight years ago, when he actually was big, helping the Kings reach the finals in the West.
And when does a team that reached the NBA Finals twice in three years express delight at what they found while rummaging through the same discount bin? When that team is the Celtics, who grabbed Troy Murphy, mostly to keep him away from the Heat.
Whether the Heat and Celtics upgraded themselves is debatable. At best, Bibby and Murphy are marginal improvements, and they probably won't decide who wins or loses the East. Miami will still lean heavily on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Celtics on their usual suspects, and we'll all find out if that's enough to beat up each other (or the Bulls or Magic) come spring.
The truth is, neither the Celtics nor Heat addressed their main weaknesses, not at the trade deadline, and not after a wave of buyouts sent free agents scrambling for teams to join. Murphy is a solid rebounder but not equally solid on interior defense, where the Celtics will miss Kendrick Perkins. Unless the Celtics suffer an injury, Murphy will see 10-15 minutes a night, maybe fewer in the playoffs. He can stretch a defense with his shooting, and will help around the glass, but the last time Murphy was a big factor was with the Warriors back in 2005.
Until Wednesday, he hadn't played since January 7 because of a weird situation with the Nets. More importantly, Murphy has never been on a playoff team in his 10-year career. Even now, he'll have to share time with Jeff Green, who came in the Perkins trade. What the Celtics have is a backup-by-committee, except Green and Murphy are unable to provide help at center, should Boston see Dwight Howard in the postseason.
Bibby was once a quirky, fluid point guard who had moments in Sacramento. Now he's approaching 33, doesn't attack the rim, whiffs on defense and lives strictly by the 3-point shot. The fuss being made over him says more about how weak Miami was at the position than Bibby himself.
What Bibby will do is bring experience and blend in easily. There won't be much of a transition. He's smart and hides his limitations fairly well. He doesn't make mistakes, although that's largely because he doesn't take risks. He rarely tries to beat his man off the dribble. His routine is to bring the ball upcourt, throw it to someone and then stand at the 3-point line, hoping to be ignored by the defense, allowing him to hit an open jumper. It's hard to make a turnover doing that.
But that's what Miami wants Bibby to do. With James and Wade drawing double teams, Bibby -- who's shooting 44 percent on threes -- should make teams pay. And Bibby won't always defer to those two, or freeze up in the clutch and treat the ball like a live grenade. That's where he's an upgrade, though slightly, over Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers. He'll take big shots, relieving the Big Three of having to bear that responsibility constantly.
"I'm not a player who needs shots to be effective," he said. "I get the ball to guys where they need the ball. I'm an older guy now. But I think I can help this team."
Someway and somehow, the Heat need to prove to themselves, if not the league, that they can beat the better teams. Losing to the Magic last night in Bibby's debut didn't reverse a troubling trend, and the upcoming schedule will only bring more of the same. They get the Spurs Friday in San Antonio, the Bulls on Sunday, then the Spurs again, Lakers, Thunder and Hawks the next 14 days.
It's not a matter of Miami trying to grab good playoff pole position; the Heat should be assured of at least the No. 3 spot. But entering the playoffs with a less-than-encouraging record against the giants, especially the Celtics (Miami is 0-3), won't do wonders for their confidence.
Bibby might help, but Miami will have to make it work mainly with LeBron, Wade and Bosh. In that sense, nothing's changed since last summer.
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