It seems that what Kobe Bryant is to the Lakers, Shaq has become for the Heat. That is, a decision-maker, a power broker, the man who decides who comes and who goes. As an impending free agent in the summer before last season, Bryant quietly retooled the Lakers to his satisfaction, with disastrous results.
The Heat had better hope Shaq is a better executive than his former Los Angeles teammate.
On Monday it was announced that Stan Van Gundy resigned as head coach of the Heat, citing “family reasons.” Sure, and I’m the NBA’s all-time leader in rebounds.
I’m not accusing Shaq of purposely dogging it by sitting out 18 games with a sprained ankle while his Heat struggled to an 11-10 record, then came back just in time to usher Van Gundy out the door and invite Pat Riley to step down from his presidential perch and take over on the bench. I am saying that a cynic certainly could view it that way.
Remember, this is the same Shaquille O’Neal who, while with the Lakers, once waited all summer to have his injured toe operated on, then did so just before training camp and explained, “I got hurt on company time, so I’ll heal on company time.” So it’s not unprecedented that he would put his interests before that of anyone else’s.
When an NBA franchise gives a player a five-year, $100 million contract extension, what they also give him in the process is more power. Don’t be surprised when he uses it.
It could also be concluded that Riley himself orchestrated this when he shook up his roster last summer and brought in high-maintenance misfits Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Jason Williams. He might have calculated that the maelstrom created by the confluence of their attitudes would be so overwhelming for Van Gundy that it would provide the perfect excuse for Riley to dump his coach and take over himself. After all, Riley had won four NBA titles with the Showtime Lakers of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, et al., so outside of Phil Jackson he is basketball’s preeminent ego wrangler.
But there’s nothing wrong with that. As team president, Riley has the authority to do whatever he deems necessary to make the Miami Heat the best team it can be. Sure, it may appear unseemly if Riley has rediscovered a yearning to coach again and has decided that bouncing a loyal lieutenant such as Van Gundy is just collateral damage in that pursuit. But it’s not as if Riley is unqualified. He’s one of the greatest living basketball coaches on the planet. Maybe he feels he can do a better job than Van Gundy.
PBT: Lance Stephenson led Indiana with 25 points in a win that eliminated his hometown team. Stephenson and the Pacers will face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
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