Is Mike Bibby up to the task?
MIAMI -- One essential characteristic of a good point guard is sound decision-making.
So it goes without saying that Mike Bibby's decision to turn over $6.2 million in guaranteed salary next season to get out of his contract and become a free agent this week has raised eyebrows in most league circles. But in Miami? Nope. The Miami Heat's top players didn't even bat an eye.
Making that sort of sacrifice has become standard operating procedure with the team these days. Negotiating that buyout from the Washington Wizards wasn't really negotiating at all. For Bibby, a 13-year veteran searching for a run at a title in the twilight of his career, it was flat-out charity.
When he clears waivers Wednesday afternoon and signs a prorated contract for the rest of the season with the Heat, Bibby will have already taken the first step in a three-step process to become an impact player with his new team.
"You've got to respect a guy that takes a buyout the way he took it, with a whole year left on his deal," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "Not many guys do that, especially going into a lockout year, or a possible lockout year. That shows his commitment to wanting to win [and] being with an organization he feels can do that."
That's step No. 1 to fitting in for Bibby. Falling in line with the sort of salary sacrifices made by players, from the $100 million-plus earners such as Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the middle-class performers such as Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller to the minimum-wage help in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Eddie House, who is Bibby's brother-in-law.
Step No. 2 for Bibby will be garnering the ultimate respect from LeBron and D-Wade -- the level of confidence that will convince the superstars to give up the basketball in key moments and trust Bibby can do his job of running the offense and not reduce him to a stand-in-the-corner, spot-up option.
The only way Bibby will be truly effective in Miami is if he's allowed to be what he's been for the bulk of his career. He has to be a savvy, decision-making, ball-moving point guard, not a placeholder on the floor who waits in a spot for LeBron or Wade to find him. Instead, Bibby must direct them.
With Bibby's track record of success running perennial playoff teams in Sacramento and Atlanta over the past decade-plus, indications are that Bibby's sacrifice to come to Miami will be rewarded with LeBron and D-Wade delegating some of their ballhanding demands to allow Bibby to do his job.
Carlos Arroyo tried to get things done in that pure point guard role, but he lost his starting job to Mario Chalmers in January. Then, Arroyo lost his job altogether when he was released Tuesday to make room for Bibby. Chalmers has never tried to dictate terms or impose his will as a point guard with the Heat. He conformed to the stand-in-the-corner-and-wait role, which led to job security, to some extent.
"Absolutely," LeBron said, when asked if Bibby will be granted the room to operate as a conventional floor general. "And that's no knock on [Chalmers] or Carlos. We have a lot of confidence in those guys. But you add an experienced point guard who's accomplished a lot in his career, and you have no problem with letting him run the offense. It gives me an opportunity to play off the ball and be a little more comfortable and play the position I know I can play full time."
LeBron spoke as if he has been reluctant to handle the ball as much as he has with the Heat. He sounded like a player who would be happy to relinquish some of those responsibilities, as long as he's turning them over to a player he can respect and trust.
At 33 years old, Bibby isn't what he was when he was flying up and down the court with the Sacramento Kings while locked into all of those thrilling showdowns with the Shaq-and-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers. That was a long, long time ago.
And Bibby might not even be the same player who guided the Atlanta Hawks from laughingstocks to legitimate playoff contenders when he arrived in a trade four seasons ago. We don't know what Bibby has left at this point, other than a 3-point stroke that has him shooting a career-best 44.1 percent from beyond the arc this season, even as an expendable piece for the Hawks.
The transition from the Hawks to the Heat -- by way of Washington, no less -- has sort of a Donovan McNabb feel to it. The Hawks traded Bibby to the fellow Southeast Division member Wizards last week, knowing full well that there was a good chance he would be bought out and end up with a potential playoff rival in the East.
And that's exactly what happened.
The Philadelphia Eagles parted with McNabb in similar fashion, not necessarily fearing that the one-time franchise cornerstone would have enough left to help a rival such as the Washington Redskins get past them when it really mattered.
In Bibby, the Heat could have acquired the NBA's version of McNabb -- a leader with a big-time name, an impressive career résumé and a star's stubbornness to believe there's still plenty left in the tank if provided the right opportunity with the right team. The difference is McNabb joined a Redskins team that lacked the Heat's talent and level of expectations.
McNabb's stint in Washington stunk and turned out to be a major letdown. Bibby won't have to do as much heavy lifting in Miami to give the Heat a boost. But that remains to be seen.
"He looked at it and saw he can make an impact here," Wade said of Bibby. "If he didn't feel he could make an impact, I don't think he would have done that. He feels he can be one of the guys that can help us move forward, get better and get over the hump in certain places and with certain things that we're missing. At point guard, [you need] leadership and experience. Hopefully he can bring that."
The hope in Miami is that Bibby can help cure some of the late-game meltdowns, assignment breakdowns and broken plays that sometimes leave the offense in a mess in tight games. Sunday's come-from-ahead loss to the Knicks was the latest example of Heat hero ball gone bad.
Miami is 5-11 this season in games decided by five or fewer points, games the Heat often finished without a point guard on the floor.
That brings us to Step 3 for Bibby: Be a factor at the finish, whether it's with shooting, playmaking or leadership to execute down the stretch. If he can be anything in the same zip code of what Chauncey Billups is for the Knicks, this move will be a solidifying transaction for the Heat.
If not, it can be the NBA's version of the McNabb situation.
"He's been in a lot of playoff series," James said. "He's hit big shots. He's taken big shots and he's not afraid to miss. When you get to add a veteran with experience, who's been in big games before, you can't shy away from that. He'll be a really, really good piece to our team."
The Heat have had flings with a bunch of players who used to be somebody when they landed in Miami: Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, Penny Hardaway, Eddie Jones, Shawn Marion, Jamaal Magloire and Juwan Howard. Some have helped. Others have proved to be as washed up as they were thought to be.
With Bibby, there are far more reasons to believe he will help the team instead of hurt it or prove to be a non-factor. But that's the same thing everyone said about McNabb in the same city Bibby just left.
But Bibby comes in with three things going for him: Sacrifice, experience and respect.
We'll see how far that takes him.
More important, we'll see how far he can help guide the Heat.
Be Like Mike ...
... and boycott the Detroit Pistons. It's a shame this once-proud franchise has hit rock bottom. That city and region could use a team to rally around amid all of the other tough issues affecting the area. But I'm warning the fan base to stay away from Detroit's biggest disaster area: The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Last week's semi-protest by some players who skipped shootaround was classless, unprofessional and a straight-up punk move. Coach John Kuester has been at odds with veteran players all season, but things have been on a downward spiral since Joe Dumars traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. How's that answer working out? Here's how. A team that went to five straight conference finals has replaced the Clippers as the laughingstock of the league. And that's hard to do. The new ownership's first move should be to fumigate the franchise, from the floor to the front office. It's time for a change. We forgave Dumars for Darko MIlicic, but there have been too many blunders since then. Detroit is detestable.
"We will have our breakthrough. As painful as it is right now, there will be a time when we break through, be able to execute and win a game like this against a quality opponent going down the stretch. What you hope is that the pain of a game like this resonates enough to make a change. That's what we need to do. We need to get better with our execution in these type of close games in the fourth quarter."
--Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, speaking after the Heat's demoralizing 91-86 home loss to the New York Knicks. It's been a repeated mantra from Spoelstra. The Heat, who led by as many as 15 points in Sunday's loss, dropped to 5-11 on the season in games decided by five or fewer points.
Close Up: Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh probably isn't looking forward to Sunday's visit from the Chicago Bulls -- or maybe he is. The last time Bosh faced them, he had one of the worst shooting nights in league history, going 1-of-18 from the field in the Heat's 93-89 loss on Feb. 24 at the United Center. Since then, he's shot a respectable 13-of-27 over the past two games. But that slump remains a sore subject for Bosh, who recently talked about coping with that horrendous game and examined the league's power landscape.
Question: After that tough night in Chicago, LeBron James said it was probably best that teammates didn't try to talk to you too much because you probably needed to be in your own thoughts. Is that true? And if so, how did you handle the recovery process from a night like that?
Bosh: It's nothing much that anybody can tell me. You know how it is, man. You write a couple of bad stories. You write a couple of bad ones, and what is somebody going to [say]? Keep writing. And you're like, 'Yeah, I know.' There are going to be bad days. Sometimes when it rains it pours. But inside, it's all about how you react. I was just trying to keep my composure.
Question: How much does anxiety grow with each shot you miss when you're in slump like that?
Bosh: Really? All that's going through your mind is, 'Man, I just really need to make a jumper.' Because at the end of the day, I know they're going to be open. I know I'm going to have to knock those down in order for us to be successful, in order for me to help this team out. I know they're going to be there all the time. I just need to knock half of them down. I just want to knock one down. I was figuring if I could just get one, I could get myself going a little bit. I was just trying to keep myself in the game, make no lapses on the defensive end. Offensively, I just think about the next play. I try not to think about how many times I missed it. It will hit you often enough. You think about what's next.
Bosh: I think their switch over to the East Coast is good. One, for the conference and just for the competition. We're going to be tested a lot every night, and especially as the years go by there's no telling how good teams can get or who else is going to come over. So, I think it's good for us, it's good for the conference. Just to have an elevated level of competition is always good for the fans.
Question: You think Kobe Bryant will come over?
Bosh: No. I doubt it. That's mister L.A.
Question: How do you look at the league from the perception that the players have the power are taking over and controlling movement throughout the league?
Bosh: I think players have always had power. Does it really matter who's in charge and who's not? At the end of the day, if we stop playing, what happens then? I think it's just guys going where they want to go and realizing the power they have. There's nothing wrong with that. If you have the option, why not use it? It's just kind of been a unique situation where guys sign deals they want to sign and create flexibility for yourself. Sometimes as a player, all you have is flexibility. It's interesting how this has become this huge thing. But it's not a huge thing if a guy gets cut in the middle of the season and he's got mouths to feed and he's married and his mortgage [payment] is running out.
Just when you thought LeBron might be done with petty Twitter beefs, he launched himself right back into the middle of another mess. This time, it was a short-lived, teenaged, school-girl faux feud with former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Daniel Gibson over a remark Gibson made in crowning himself the "new king of Cleveland" at a private party over the weekend with R&B singer and fiancée Keyshia Cole. King James took offense and tweeted his displeasure without actually mentioning Gibson's name. Although it was all later dismissed as a misunderstanding, it still reeked of insecurity and immaturity on LeBron's part. He took an unnecessary shot at Gibson and absorbed a completely avoidable beating in the court of public opinion on this one.
Top 5 Available Free Agents For Heat
With Mike Bibby now in the fold, here are five players still on the free-agent market who would be intriguing options for the Heat after recently negotiating contract buyouts.
Eddy Curry, C: Conditioning problems, injuries and off-court issues have prevented him from playing meaningful minutes the past three years. Pat Riley is a riverboat gambler when it comes to reclamation projects. This would be his biggest wager yet. Curry has reportedly told people in Chicago he'll eventually end up in Miami. I wouldn't rule anything out. But it's hard to buy this one.
Corey Brewer, SF: It seemed like yesterday that Minnesota was pushing Brewer for the league's most improved player award. Now in his fourth season, the No. 7 pick in the 2007 draft is only 24 years old and still has plenty of upside. His athleticism and perimeter defense would be a perfect fit behind Dwyane Wade and LeBron. And he'd come cheap. This would be the next Dorell Wright-type project for Miami.
Leon Powe, PF: A bit undersized at 6-foot-8 and trying to work his way back into a meaningful role after knee surgery two seasons ago, there are legitimate questions about the former Celtics and Cavaliers forward. But Powe's toughness and rebounding intrigue the Heat. And after missing out on Troy Murphy, Miami could use an upgrade at the backup power forward spot until Udonis Haslem returns from foot surgery.
Al Thornton, SF: Word is Thornton is headed to Golden State when he clears waivers. But the Heat should consider making a run at the former Florida State standout, who is still salvable as a gifted athlete and versatile scorer. Thornton is a capable defender who has underperformed, but defense is contagious with the Heat. Like Brewer, Thornton is relatively young and would come cheap at a position where Miami could use a spark off the bench behind Wade and James.
Rasual Butler, SG/SF: There's a "been there, done that" element with Butler, who before being traded in 2005 developed into a productive defender and shooter with the Heat during Wade's first two seasons in the league. Butler had the best season of his career in 2009-10, when he averaged 11.9 points and started 64 games with the Clippers. But he fell out the mix this season and played sparingly.