Last year, the Miami Heat were mired in mediocrity — with supporting cast surrounding Dwyane Wade that was unremarkable at best, horrid at worst, the Heat were going nowhere in the Eastern Conference. This season, they're the odds-on favorites to win it all. It's been quite a turnaround, and it gets you thinking — has any NBA GM ever had a better offseason than Pat Riley?
It was a quick fall from grace for the Heat after their first title, just four short years ago. In 2006, they were on top of the world; in 2008, they were at the bottom of the barrel. In 2010, they were back to the middle. Wade could only do so much on his own — an up-and-down season in South Beach yielded 47 wins, a No. 5 playoff seed and a quick, unceremonious exit from the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Now there's hope again. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and a boatload of established veteran role players have landed in South Florida, ready to take the Heat back to the top. After 47 wins last season, there's now buzz about a possible 70.
James, Bosh, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Miller will all join Wade in Miami this winter. And this summer, they might join him on the big stage to accept an O'Brien Trophy.
No one saw this coming a year ago. But a lot can happen in a year — and the Heat are far from the first team to find that out.
Take the Celtics just three years ago, for instance. The C's were the scum of the basketball earth in 2007, having just lost 58 games and tumbled into the draft lottery. All it took was two blockbuster trades — one in June for Ray Allen, then another in July for Kevin Garnett, and Danny Ainge was back in business. Add a few role players, mix and match, and go for the gold. A 17th banner came back to Boston in 2008.
The Lakers had a similarly dazzling offseason in 1996. Jerry West needed to stir things up after a first-round playoff exit in '96, and he set his sights high. First he went out and traded Vlade Divac to the Hornets for the rights to the No. 13 overall pick in the draft. His name was Kobe Bryant. Later that same month, West hammered out a seven-year, $121 million whopper of a contract for free agent Shaquille O'Neal. A few years later, those two were waltzing to three straight titles.
The Celtics' other great offseason was in 1980. Red Auerbach had the No. 1 pick in the draft that summer with a deep class ripe for the picking — but rather than make the top pick, Red traded down, sending the No. 1 to Golden State for the No. 3 and a young center. The No. 3 turned out to be Kevin McHale, and the center was Robert Parish. Boom — three more rings.
Numerous teams have turned their franchises around with one draft pick — the Bulls with Michael Jordan, the Spurs with Tim Duncan, the Cavs with none other than the aforementioned James. It happens all the time — one great summer, and suddenly everything everything's looking up.
But when we all look back on this summer, we may ultimately say that no one ever did better than Riley in 2010.
Of course, this is all pending a championship (or three, or five). If history someday shows the Heat as winners, then we'll never forget the summer that turned everything around. If this new Miami big three flops, though, we may brush this moment in history aside.
Right now, it looks like the Heat have the stuff of champions. If they can prove it, they'll have vindicated the mastermind who made it all possible. Pat Riley has a lot at stake in the years to come.
NESN.com will analyze 25 key NBA questions this September.
Sept. 7: Whose career still has life — Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady or Allen Iverson?
Sept. 9: Will John Wall be a star right away?