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Heat ruckus clearly a case of too much too soon

by | CBSSports.com Columnist

One of the problems with a slow news day (at least so far) is that those of us charged with feeding the beasts tend to go to the same part of the zoo and tease the same ones over and over.

In other words, the Miami Heat.

It's November and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is already feeling pressure, even from Phil Jackson. (AP)  
It's November and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is already feeling pressure, even from Phil Jackson. (AP)  
The Heat did nothing on Thanksgiving Day, given that they had lost to Orlando on Wednesday and were prepping (if you can call it that) for Philadelphia on Friday. No drama, no tortured expressions from Dwyane Wade, no confused stares from LeBron James, no aggressive condemnations of Chris Bosh's role as this Rat Pack's version of Joey Bishop.

No, all was quiet. Except for any third-day stories about Phil Jackson firing Erik Spoelstra long distance, or Stan Van Gundy ripping Phil Jackson (thereby involving two more teams in Miami's problems), and the ongoing worry that the Heat's trip to Cleveland this coming Thursday will be so ugly that the Cavs are banning anti-LeBron shirts and signs (thereby including a fourth team), and Barack Obama's caution that the Heat will take time to jell as a super team.

So that's four teams, plus a world leader who tackled the Heat's issues with Udonis Haslem to avoid discussing his own issues without the House of Representatives.

At first glance, this looks like excellent branding. The Heat are a big deal every day, bigger when they lose than when they win because they have so effectively taken on the role of the team you love to loathe, all the way down to giving you enough losses to keep your interest day in and day out.

Put another way, if they lose Friday to the miserable 76ers, the stores will flood with customers on Saturday in ways that Black Friday never thought possible. The Heat could singlehandedly turn around the economy.

We, though, fear the opposite. A lot of very big cards are being played awfully early in this hand, and we may have nothing left when the HeatHate story meets the playoff run.

The Jackson card is already serious overclubbing for November. In jabbing the team, coach Spoelstra and club president Riley, and in taking Orlando coach Van Gundy with him for extra mischief, Jackson has already moved several steps ahead. Spoelstra is the logical scapegoat here, being (a) a coach for Riley when Riley apparently has the itch to coach himself, and (b) the secondary victim in the loss of Haslem to a foot injury, the worst possible injury for a team that has precious little of what Haslem does so well.

It's as if whatever gods run the NBA have targeted Spoelstra for the ills of his players, and have chosen to do so quickly rather stretch out the agony.

Still, to be ticketed for firing speculation so early by a colleague (if Jackson can be considered a colleague of anyone in the coaching business) seems over the top for November.

The last coach to get whacked this early was Eddie Jordan in Washington two years ago, but the Wizards were 1-10. Terry Porter got de-legged in Phoenix two years ago with a 28-23 record, but that team was on the verge of mutiny. Spoelstra's single crime here seems to be having the job.

But the trip to Cleveland next Thursday ratchets up the interest in this potential tire fire because there is nothing quite like 20,562 chanting in unison, "We Wish You Eternal Torment, No Titles And Crippling Knee Tendinitis, O Former Son Of Ohio." Or something shorter and pithier, with the word "suck" as a prime component.

And the President? It's November, for God's sake, and he's already had a belly full of November without taking on something truly irreparable like the Heat's national image.

In sum, what comes after the game in Cleveland? How can the outrage be amped up in a more gradual and systematic way so that it doesn't wear everyone out by Christmas? Or, to take the Spinal Tap analogy one step beyond, what the hell comes after you've turned the amp to 11, especially when you cranked it up to 11 for the opening song? Do the laws of physics allow for 12? Wouldn't dogs tear their own ears off at that point?

No, the Heat are, if you'll pardon the expressions, over-Heating way too early. If they are going to be the new most hated team in America, they have to pace themselves. They need to hang around seventh or eighth, battling for a playoff spot with Milwaukee, Indiana and, God willing, Cleveland. They have to sneak in on the final day at Toronto (where nobody will be paying attention), and then get their brains kicked in by the Celtics, or better yet, the Magic, in the first round.

They have to build to a crescendo with this. They're going too fast. They're going to burn out as a figure of national scorn, and then what will we have? The Clippers? The Sixers? Feh.

In fact, double feh. We've invested too much in this story. We don't have the time or inclination to tackle another one. Unless, of course, Riley takes the coaching job, gets fed up, and trades James to the Clippers.

Now that, we could work with.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.


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