Idus Martiae: March 15.
It is a day most noted for a famous assassination, but how does it apply today, if at all?
Who exactly should ‘Beware The Ides Of March’?
If you are unfamiliar with the history of the day, allow me to explain in brief, though let’s establish that The Ides are not to be confused with the Patron Saint of Malted Alcoholic Beverages and 1990’s rappers, St. Ides.
In his play Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare waxed eloquently about the Roman King of Kings getting whacked by his so-called friend Brutus and up to 60 other co-conspirators from the Roman senate in 44 B.C.
A seer alerted Caesar of impending doom befalling him by or before March 15. Caesar, en route to the eventual scene of the crime, the Theatre of Pompey, remarked snidely in passing said seer that the day had arrived, yet he was still alive. The seer reminded the ruler that though the day had come, it was also not yet quite over, either.
The fact that this article drops between The Ides Of March and St. Patrick James Riley Day is not a coincidence.
That St. Patrick James Riley Day doesn’t actually exist yet is of no real consequence.
Call it literary license, but the new NBA holiday fits our narrative.
With a month left in the regular season, teams are jockeying for something greater.
Be it favourable playoff positioning or more ping pong balls at the lottery, each team in the Association is defining its near future schema.
How does one account for the Miami Heat?
Arguably the hottest team in the Association from one of the coolest cities in the world is showing immense Valentine and Testicular Fortitude that belies the perception of South Beach and its inhabitants.
In the year 2014 A.D., there was a shift in organizational and tactical policy in Miami. This shift was hastened by the trek back home by LeBron James, despite the Comic Sans-esque Dan Gilbert 2.0 Lite shade tossed by team prez and ‘Miami Mafia’ don Pat Riley at The King, uncertainty about Christopher Wesson Bosh’s health as well as the age and pending free agency of the franchise’s greatest player in Dwyane Tyrone Wade, Jr.
Riley was faced with a decision to build around and sign a guy, one who was playing pickup games in a Charlotte, North Carolina YMCA as late as August 2014, to a four-year, $98 million dollar contract during this past offseason to become the new face of the franchise in Hassan Whiteside.
The onus to pull together and coach a team with Whiteside, Goran Dragic, solid second year players in the injured Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, a couple D-League All-Stars like Tyler Johnson and Willie Reed and veteran journeymen, led by incoming free agents James Johnson and Dion Waiters, fell to Erik Spoelstra.
The rap on Spo for some was that the job he did in guiding the LBJ/DWade/Bosh-led Heat to four straight NBA Finals could have been done by anyone, animate or inanimate. This is unfair and patently erroneous. But after an 11-30 start to the 2016-2017 campaign, there were more than whispers about Spoelstra’s abilities as a pro bench boss.
Since MLK Day January 17, however, the Heat sport a league-best 22-5 record and are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, directed by as strong a candidate for miracle worker and NBA Coach of the Year as anyone else in Spoelstra.
Granted, there are still a couple weeks left before the real season begins and (insert cliché here) ‘anything can happen’. But who would have expected the Heat to be here now, lurking, threatening to make the playoffs and possibly shake the apple cart in the East?
Included in the 22 victories are a win over Golden State on a huge Dion Waiters shot to silence former OKC teammate Kevin Durant and 2 more apiece over both Houston and Cleveland in which Waiters, playing completely out of his mind, was a key if not THE key figure in conquering some of the top teams in the NBA.
Dion Waiters has always been a bit of an enigma in the NBA. Talented, but perhaps a bit misguided about his talents and where they actually stood in comparison to other shooting guards in the league, he seems to have finally found a home in Miami.
Some things never change… or so it seems.
Toward the end of a 120-92 Heat blowout of the Cavs in Miami, backup guard Rodney McGruder threw down a dunk over Cavs backup centre Channing Frye with just over a minute left in the game. It appeared that McGruder not only violated professional courtesy with the dunk despite his team heading to a clear and wide margin of victory, but by also hitting Frye in his back in a post-flush flourish. The action seemed to be unintentional. Cavalier Earl Joseph Smith, Jr. wasn’t having it. Neither was Waiters, as he ran toward the Cavs bench in defense of his teammate and lots of naughty words were exchanged.
This flare-up was only exacerbated more by another Miami win two days later at the Q, closed out by a long three point dagger by Dion Waiters from the edge of the Cavs’ centre court logo during the back end of a home and home series.
Health-related uncertainty plaguing the teams who have contested the past two NBA Finals, as well as their foremost challengers from South Texas, has spawned hope in cities such as Houston, Boston and Washington that another Warriors-Cavaliers showdown isn’t the foregone conclusion many have believed for months.
Injuries to Kevin Durant and Kevin Love have opened the door and stirred preconceived expectations of a third consecutive confrontation. A Finals trilogy between two of the same teams is a phenomenon never seen in the history of the league.
Perhaps we won’t see it if Dion Waiters can do anything about it.
NOTE: I am just as amazed by my typing that last sentence as you may be by reading it.
There is now a home for Wayward and Misfit Toys in a magical place called Miami.
It is a place where royalty once reigned and an unmistakable sheen of slickness and polish befitting the rosters assembled between 2010 and 2014 ruled.
But no more…
To go from an embarrassment of riches to abandoning the dream of a fifth consecutive Finals appearance must have been tough for Gordon Gekko aka Pat Riley.
But if Riles’ coaching and management history reveals anything, it is that he assesses and amends according to his personnel like few others in the NBA.
The 2016-2017 Miami Heat look to have found their stride. It is a team cobbled together by the same architect that in ways more resembles his New York Knick squads of the 90s: tough, gritty, resilient… but playing more with a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude.
Or perhaps Miami’s new aesthetic may remind some of the early to mid-2000s Pistons team: No superstars, but all of the right parts from other places; where potential wasn’t realized until they came together with the understanding all they had were one another in Detroit.
There could be danger in underestimating this ragtag bunch.
Their grit and determination is exhibited in the way that head coach Erik Spoelstra has adapted to and adopted his talent wholeheartedly, along with the tactical nuance shifts in how the game is played today beyond the arc.
The Heat’s rise is not accidental; it is exhibited in philosophical flexibility, in the relentlessness and toughness of Goran Dragic, the evolving maturity of James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside and, dare I say, the leadership of Dion Waiters.
THIS Dion Waiters.
If we as fans are lucky enough to be blessed with a first round playoff matchup between the Cavs and the Heat, the storylines will serve as heavy cannon fodder to enhance public perception of the pairing.
But what if?
What if Miami can turn that second half of the regular season heat into the inferno that topples Cleveland and slays The King in the first round of the playoffs?
Will Dion Waiters, cast off from Cleveland and let go by OKC, be the Brutus to LeBron’s Caesar?
Will Riley and Spo be accomplices, looking to exact a revenge they would never publicly admit, by defeating the Cavs in what would be considered one of the greatest playoff upsets in NBA history?
Et Tu, Brute?
Caesar’s final words, articulated with last breaths toward his assassins, are Latin for “Even you, Brutus?”
If this imagined NBA happenstance were ever to occur, to whom would James utter the query: Waiters, Spoelstra or Riley?
To LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Beware The Ides indeed.
May you watch your back because Dion, Hassan, Goran and the Heat gang are hungry and climbing for their place in the landscape of NBA elites.
And to the Miami Heat and the rest of you, please imbibe responsibly on St. Patrick James Riley Day.
Just try not to think of it as practice for a post game celebration in June…