When Miami finally reviews Saturday’s unexpected loss to the Utah Jazz, the Heat will surely notice trends that can be used to improve the immediate future. But amidst the wreckage of that disastrous performance, the team can also find a treasure with long-term ramifications.
Richard Jefferson, at age 33 and playing for his fifth NBA franchise, can be a key to Miami’s future.
The 2014 offseason is set to be a tumultuous one, with the possible departures of Miami’s “Big Three” a distraction until the speculation is finally and totally resolved. Assuming superstars LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade stay with the Heat is a huge risk but one that Heat President Pat Riley seems willing to make.
Riley takes chances, of that there is no doubt. He’s traded away great players (Glen Rice, Lamar Odom) for franchise cornerstones (Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal) and has gambled the short-term in order to win the free agent pot.
But he has built the team up again and again to be a title contender, and the odds are in his favor to do so again, using James, Bosh and Wade as his biggest chips.
This is where Jefferson comes in to play.
He represents the type of player that Riley has proven can come in, surround the “Big Three,” and contribute toward a championship.
Mike Miller. Shane Battier. Ray Allen. Rashard Lewis.
All players that have achieved success individually and are willing to sacrifice individual numbers – financial and statistical – in order to win a ring.
Jefferson’s career has been steady. With the New Jersey Nets for seven seasons, he was a part of teams led by Jason Kidd that contended for titles (actually playing in the Finals twice) but failed to win the big prize. He had hoped to retire with the Nets but was traded away by the rebuilding organization to Milwaukee, thus beginning his journey from star to journeyman. After one season, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, playing for three seasons but failing to return to the Finals.
In 2012, he was shipped to the fast-paced Golden State Warriors, a team that ran at a different pace than the 10-year veteran. And so, after a season-and-a-half of mostly-solid play, he was traded yet again to the Utah Jazz.
With the Jazz, a player that been relegated to the bench for years, has once again surfaced as a starter, redefining himself as a spot-up shooter. The speed and athleticism are not what they were but in their place, a deeper understanding of the game and how to make timely contributions have emerged.
He is capable of knocking down long-range shots (currently shooting 43%), playing opportunistic defense and driving to the hope when necessary. In 28 minutes of play against the Heat, Jefferson scored 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, grabbing four rebounds while drawing the unenviable task of guarding LeBron James.
James was held to 13 points in the loss.
Jefferson was likely not the reason for LeBron’s off-night – not entirely – but defense has been Miami’s calling card for years and Saturday’s performance certainly makes a good audition to the Heat’s front office.
After the game, Jefferson deflected any praise of his performance instead offering this assessment of James’ play:
LeBron’s one of the great players of all time, the best player in the game and has been for quite a few years. So if he comes out after a few days off and puts up 13 points and now we’re talking about stopping him, let’s not.
Humble and intelligent, willing to play for a demanding coach and be a complimentary piece on star-laden rosters – these are apt descriptions of what Jefferson has been throughout his career and for his potential role with Miami.
But most importantly, he’s had his chances for a title and failed, and so he can best be described in one word – hungry.
The Heat will definitely use that hunger this summer to lure him to the AmericanAirlines Arena.