Now that a hush has fallen upon the off-season, I’ve been thinking about what actually transpired. There are only three guys returning from the line-up they had at this time last year. To some folks that qualifies as “blowing it up”. But I’m not so sure. I think the overall philosophy, make-up, and expectations for growth that we all had in mind for that 47-win team a few seasons back, finally came into play after being put in something of a holding pattern.
Look at all the elements. After winning the Atlantic and losing to the Nets in the first round, it was clear that the team needed another scoring threat on the wings to compliment Bosh, they needed somebody who could bring some of the smart, tough, veteran experience they lost with Garbajosa’s injury, and they needed to improve defensively. Look at the moves they made this season, and it would appear that there is a chance to meet all those objectives.
The 47-win team did have Anthony Parker as a fairly reliable scoring threat to compliment Bosh. But the consistency dropped off against the stronger teams in the league. That helps to explain why that team was so good against teams below them in the standings, but hard to figure out once they met stronger competition. Parker had to work harder on the defensive end in those games against stronger opponents. And when he expended all his energy on the defensive end, he usually didn’t have much left over to be that second or third scorer. His energy level also could not be sustained through a full schedule. He had slow starts, and went into two post-seasons a bit worn out and diminished in his abilities. He still would have been great as a guy off the bench this season, but it was more important to actually make sure that this team could get that solid second option on the wings. And now we have Mr. Turkoglu, who has proven very durable, and if not an enormous second scoring threat overall, he has always been there at the end of games where Parker and others most notably faded. So in terms of consistency, that is going to be just what this team has been looking for since way back.
And Hedo also brings a lot of the intelligence and intangibles that Garbajosa brought. I mentioned that the overall philosophy remains intact from that time, and I would point directly to the desire for constant ball movement. That is something that Jorge played a big role in getting firmly implemented, allowing the dependence on Bosh to be less burdensome, and it is something that guys like Carlos Delfino and Jason Kapono failed to carry over successfully. That won’t be the case with Hedo. Sure there will be times when it appears that he’s just chucking it, but you could say the same about Garbajosa. What it comes down to is that both Hedo and Jorge know what a good shot is and what a bad shot is, but they are able to bring a level of aggressive play to bear upon the game as well. Whereas Delfino brought the aggression without any idea what a good or bad shot was, and Kapono brought a great sense of what a good shot was without any ability to be be consistently aggressive. And making the right play most of the time, without hesitation, is something that rubs off positively in the same way that doing too much and forcing shots at the first sign of trouble, or hesitating and turning down plays that are there for the taking, effects a team negatively. Now if Belinelli, Jack, DeRozan and Wright can in any way add to that heady and aggressive style of play, without needing to be constantly urged on or held back like Kapono and Delfino respectively, then the team really adds to what they had in place before.
The same thing goes for the defensive side of the game. At this time last year, my hopes for the season were pinned on one of Adams, Solomon, Moon or Graham becoming something of a defensive specialist. I think I’m being much less wishful now when I look at what all the role guys should be able to do in that respect now. The main cogs have talked about defense as a primary concern throughout the off-season. And when Jarrett Jack failed to mention defense at his introductory presser, it was great to see Bosh show up and state right off, that Jack was going to be a big help as a leader and talker on defense. The 47-win team was able to get stops, and they were able to convert defense to offense to some degree. Their biggest failings came late in games, particularly against strong teams. When they absolutely had to get a stop, they just couldn’t be counted on to do so. Their primary mindset was to win with offense. And the mindset did change but the overall situation had not been fixed. In fact, where the team did manage to succeed defensively, they failed to converted it to any offense since then, and had simply become a team all too easy to gameplan against. There was never the pressure applied to opposing teams that opposing teams applied to Bosh and Calderon, and there was just no need for teams to apply pressure anywhere else. That left a small margin for error, and too many nights where good individual results could not translate into team victories.
So I feel that they’ve gotten back on track and will be an improvement over that 47-win team that I loved. Triano was there before as a big contributor to the idea of ball movement and recognizing the need to improve on defense, and he is here now with the means to put it all together in terms of the personnel. The franchise brought in Rasho back then, with the intent of having Bargnani confidently play ahead of him eventually, and that is what we look at today. They had been able to capitalize on having two starting calibre point guards throughout the marathon of an NBA season, and now with Jack they are able to benefit from that again. Will there be enough familiarity to make it all work? Well, Rasho has played with the three returning cogs as well as with Jack and Hedo. Jack has also played alongside Bosh. Belinelli and Bargnani are very familiar with each other. If they can all share the same mindframe, then they have a good chance of making all the change work very much as a means of building upon the team from ‘06-’07. That’s where improved leadership from a guy like Bosh can prove to be another measure of what was needed in terms of developing further back then.
So let me suggest that this is no blowup. Metaphorically it lies closer to how De Palma’s Blow Out was a remake of Antonioni’s Blowup. The film with Travolta in the lead part owed much to the film that preceded it. One was layered upon the other. In fact I would say that the past two seasons have been much closer to the sort of post-modern themes of both films, involving the inability to fully trust what you see and hear. Hopefully looking closer and closer at this team as assembled now, we might see revealed the true makings of the kinds of masterpieces that the cinema saw in decades past with a couple of notable Italians at the helm. The fear does certainly remain, of eventually seeing the team metaphorically represented by the bombs that pockmarked Travolta’s career. I really need to keep myself from thinking about that too much though, if for no other reason than it makes me realize that I’ve followed Travolta’s career way too closely. I watched Kotter before entering high school myself. I actually still possess his hit single Let Her In (which was the kind of glorious off-key ballad so predominant at the time, and which Auto-Tune has left us forever yearning for again). Aside from those terrible vehicles where he provided the voice for a talking baby, I’ve damn near seen everything else he’s ever done. This is a bit of a frightening realization that illustrates to me once again why I should just stay away from metaphor. But let me end by saying that I’m anticipating De Palma’s fireworks scene set in Philadelphia on the fourth of July, or the three-way from the earlier Antonioni work to fit my mood this time around. If not, then I’ll just have to turn to Blow as the prevailing metaphorical device.