By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:50AM
He's sorry. He's humble. He's repentant. He's more mature. He's a really good guy when you get to know him. He's sensitive and caring and charitable and loves his fellow man.
And he will not give you three quarters if you ask him to change a dollar bill.
LeBron James embarked on an image control tour soon after he turned into a ghost in the closeout game of the NBA Finals last June. Well, actually, soon after he uncurled himself on the sofa. To say the 2010-11 season was the best and worst of times would be an understatement. As fine a season as LeBron had, certainly MVP-caliber, he couldn't enjoy it because of the wounds he inflicted on himself, and the wounds others were all-too-willing to give him. Oh, and because of how he weakly went out against the Mavericks.
Therefore the spin started, from his management company to the companies he endorsed and from LeBron himself. The goal was to portray a warm and cuddly LeBron, an athlete who owned up to his shortcomings, a guy who even learned to laugh at himself. You saw it in that McDonald's commercial where his multiple-championship claim was playfully ridiculed, and in those pickup-game tours during the lockout, and in the carefully-crafted sit-down interviews right before camp.
The theme: LeBron vows to change.
Or rather, revert to who he was before The Decision and the madness hit.
"The one thing I kind of wanted for LeBron," said Dwyane Wade, "was to get back to being 'LeBron' and not try to be somebody that everybody wanted him to be."
That was a stab at LeBron's weird claim last winter to willingly embrace the bad-guy role the public gave him.
"That's not who he is," said Wade.
Putting aside the image makeover for a minute, the only "change" that'll benefit the Heat is for LeBron to get over his fourth-quarter swoons in The Finals. Had he strung together a few solid performances, the Heat might be defending champs right now.
Of all the criticism LeBron received last season -- more than athletes who were charged with, you know, actual crimes -- the one that seemed out of place was his ability to play in the clutch. It was as if his one-man demolition against the Pistons four years ago in the playoffs never existed. Or his takedown of the Bulls last spring in the Eastern Conference finals, when LeBron punctuated a big finish by blocking Derrick Rose's shot. Obviously, his mysterious collapse against the Celtics in 2010 was revisited. Still, LeBron the basketball player was mostly bulletproof until last June.
"You've got to give to the game what it deserves," Wade said. "The game's been good to him. I don't think he did that last year and he doesn't think he did it."
Wade was LeBron's biggest critic behind closed doors and told his friend his "attitude and approach" had to change.
One of many areas where LeBron faltered was his mid-range game and his ability to post-up in the half-court offense. LeBron was all about the three-point shot or scoring in transition. The Mavericks exploited his lack of a mid-range game and he suffered. At one point, Dallas put J.J. Barea on LeBron, the ultimate insult.
Was this the same player who averaged almost 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists a night?
"I wasn't myself," LeBron said.
The public backlash would've been tough for any strong-minded person to endure, so perhaps LeBron was distracted. If so, if his pledge to mature is sincere and if the public is already bored with LeBron and looking for the next villain, he can begin building a better image and rebuilding his basketball reputation.
"The lockout gave me an opportunity to see who I am, go back to who I am," he said.
We don't really know who LeBron is, and honestly, that only matters to those who are buying his products. It's the basketball side of LeBron that'll dictate what Miami does this season and if the Heat, as most assume, will make good on their loss to Dallas.
"I'm really looking forward to this season," said LeBron.
So will everyone else, looking to see if LeBron can be who and what he claims to be.
1. The schedule might be the toughest challenge for the Heat, at least as it relates to the injury-prone Wade. Because of the back-to-backs and fewer days off, Wade must navigate safely through the minefield and make it to the post-season in one piece. This is a player who has never made it through a full season and only came close twice. He only saw three minutes last preseason. Coach Erik Spoelstra would be wise to give Wade a breather as much as possible.
2. So, Mike Miller is still hurt? Tell us something we don't know. Miller was the tough-luck story for Miami last season when he was forced to drag a broken thumb deep into the year, and never really healed. And yet, even after getting Shane Battier, who can shoot the three-pointer, the Heat could use Miller. It certainly doesn't hurt to have an extra hot hand, and Miller/Battier/James Jones can stretch a defense when they're hitting.
3. Pat Riley had a saying when he coached the Lakers: no rebounds, no rings. The Heat was exposed in the Finals as a team with a mild interior, on both ends of the floor. Inside points were tough to come by because Chris Bosh has a mid-range game and even Udonis Haslem is a jump-shooter. Somehow, Miami must at least make an effort to score inside against the bigger teams. Is this where Eddy Curry comes in?
1. Is there any question whether Micky Arison and Riley are the best owner/president combo in basketball? As a hard-core basketball town, Miami is one of the worst; however, Arison/Riley have made the Heat an event. Not many could pull that off. Credit Arison for his excellent relationships with players (helped by his stance during labor negotiations) and Riley for skillfully putting the Heat in position to grab Bosh and LeBron. In short time, Miami has become a go-to destination for players, like Phoenix was a decade ago.
2. Spoelstra absorbed far too much blame last season. Given the circus surrounding the team and the challenging of meshing egos and building a philosophy on the fly, he actually did an admirable job. People forget the Heat came two games from winning it all, and would be champions now had LeBron strung together a pair of decent fourth-quarters. Not once did Riley think about giving his young coach the hook.
3. Riley is still making life wonderful for 38-year-old Juwan Howard. Roughly 10 years ago Howard became the first player to sign for more than $100 million, helped largely when Riley tried to pry him from Washington. A complicated legal and salary-cap battle ensured and Howard stayed in Washington. Long story short, he's back for another season in Miami, his seventh team. Howard never became an All-Star after inking the historic contract, and has amassed nearly $200 million for his career.
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LAST YEAR: 58-24, 1st in Southeast
FINISH: Lost in NBA Finals
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
MARIO CHALMERS, POINT GUARD
6.4 PPG | 2.1 RPG | 2.5 APG
Chalmers doesn't shy away from the limelight, but his decision-making is still iffy. His steals and assist totals have consistently dropped each season, too.
DWYANE WADE, SHOOTING GUARD
25.5 PPG | 6.4 RPG | 4.6 APG
After a few early bumps in the road, Wade meshed well with James and Bosh. He gets a little 3-point happy at times, but overall there are few flaws to be found.
LEBRON JAMES, SMALL FORWARD
26.7 PPG | 7.5 RPG | 7.0 APG
James buckled under the weighty expectations of The Finals, but he showed his dominance in closing out Boston and Chicago in Miami's run to the championship stage.
CHRIS BOSH, POWER FORWARD
18.7 PPG | 8.3 RPG | 1.9 APG
Bosh's jumper is the perfect weapon for when teams overplay James and Wade. Of all of Miami's "Big Three", he took the biggest hit in the personal stats department.
JOEL ANTHONY, CENTER
2.0 PPG | 3.5 RPG | 1.2 BPG
Anthony pretty much only plays defense, which he does better than most centers in the league -- especially shotblocking. Any offense he gives Miami is simply a bonus.
|Shane Battier||6-8||220||F||Hard work on defense almost makes you forget he brings little offensively.|
|Udonis Haslem||6-8||235||F||Everyone's favorite "warrior" is perhaps better off as a top reserve.|
|Eddy Curry||7-0||295||C||Reclamation project could produce big dividends if all goes well.|
ADDED: G Norris Cole, C Eddy Curry
LOST: C Jamaal Magloire, G Mike Bibby
EDDY CURRY, C
Let it be known if Eddy Curry helps lead Miami to a title, it would be the mother of all comebacks. In the last few years he developed money and legal problems, became a punch line, ate his way out of the league and found few teams wanting him, even though he was a seven-footer who came cheap. Keep in mind Curry owned one of the softest touches of any big man before being swallowed up by these issues and was capable of scoring 20 points a night. Pat Riley had nothing to lose by giving him a look, so the pressure is all on Curry to make the most of his second and maybe last chance.
|Gordon Hayward's Big Night|
Gordon Hayward scores 33 points and grabs seven rebounds to lead the Jazz to victory over the Clippers.
|Nightly Notable: Kevin Durant|
Kevin Durant scores 30 points, grabs 6 rebounds, and hands out five assists during Wednesday's game versus the Nets.
|Blake Griffin's Big Night|
Blake Griffin scores 40 points and grabs 12 rebounds during the game versus the Jazz on Wednesday evening.
|Jazz vs. Clippers|
Gordon Hayward scores 33 points and grabs seven rebounds to lead the Jazz past the Clippers, 102-91. Blake Griffin scores 40 points in the loss.
|November 25th: The Fast Break|
Take a quick tour of Wednesday's action-packed night.