Rock You Like a Hurricane

It has been about a week since the Yahoo! Sports revealed the massive violations that have gone down with the University of Miami football and basketball programs. Since then, there has been a lot of talk about sanctions, penalties and even a NCAA death sentence. So, time to play catch-up and put it into simplier terms.

Ponzi scheme mastermind Nevin Shapiro reportedly invested millions into the University of Miami football and basketball teams both legally and illegally. It has been reported that 72 student-athletes between 2002 and 2010 received some form of benefits from Shapiro, be it cash, cars or even prostitutes.

Shapiro, serving a 28-year prison sentence for his role in the Ponzi scheme, was open and candid about his involvement with Yahoo! Sports. In fact, his willingness to throw the organization he loved so much under the bus was a little bit troubling. To me, it had a little bit of a Wee Bay feel (The Wire, greatest show ever) where Wee Bay already knew he was going to serve life in prison for murder and shooting a cop, so he started taking credit for everything that went on with the Avon Barksdale drug ring.

If you haven't watched 'The Wire', get on that.

So, what is the smoking gun that apprently set off Shapiro on this The U hating spree? Apparently, the university became displeased with Shapiro’s payment plan towards a new student center that was named after him. In response, Miami removed his name from the building and discontinued their legal relationship with Shapiro.

Whoops.

Due to the report, the NCAA has launched an all-inclusive investigation into what actually went down within the programs. It probably won’t be until after the 2011-12 NCAA football season until there is an official ruling, so one can only speculate what type of penalty will be handed down.

However, that hasn’t stopped anybody from sharing their opinion as to what should be done. NCAA president Mark Emmertt has said, without refering directly to Miami, that if it is deemed necessary to hand out the “death penalty”, then the NCAA will see fit to do that. Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly has stated that he would like to see the harshest penalty taken to those who don’t play by the rules, and Alabama coach Nick Saban said something similar.

For clarification sake, the death penalty would be the discontinuation of an athletic program at a university. That program would cease to exist. No coaches. No players. No fans. Everything about the program would stop dead in its tracks and disappear.

¬†The last time the NCAA handed out a penalty as severe as the death penalty came in the 1980s with the Southern Methodist University, better known as SMU. If you want the complete story of what happened, make sure to go to ESPN and re-watch their phenomenal 30 for 30 documentary “The Pony Excess”.

20+ years removed from the death penalty and SMU is still recovering. They appeared in their first bowl game post-death penalty in 2009, and the last two years were the first time in 25 years the program posted back-to-back seasons with winning records.

If there were a situation to lay down a death penalty, this seems to be the exact case. To review, Jim Tressel, one of the most successful coaches in Ohio State history, lost his job over a “lack of compliance” with NCAA rules when it came to players selling their own memoralbilia. Southern Cal got a two-year post-season ban and Reggie Bush lost his Heisman Trophy over accepted benefits. And Michigan basketball is still recovering from “The Years that Weren’t” when it was discovered the Fab Five received benefits.

This isn’t one coach or one player. This is one INSTITUTION. The argument can be made that quite simply, the coaches didn’t know. But, something this explicit, how could¬†nobody on the coaching staff not be aware of what is happening? Shapiro was a booster that had deep roots with this particular school. He had a building with his name on it. There had to be some awareness on the school’s part that this guy was doing things under the table to help the program.

This has been a real disgusting year for Miami sports fans. The “Big Three” didn’t fulfill their promise. The Dolphins failed to address their quarterback situation. And the Marlins remained the Marlins. Now, their pride and joy, their most successful entity over the last decade, is on the brink of extinction.

I’m sorry Schwartz. But, it doesn’t look good for THE U.

Greg Kaplan is a co-founder of Home Field Advantage

Big 3 vs. Big D- 2011 NBA Finals

Starting tonight at 9:00 EST, is the culmination of a wild season for the Big 3 of the Miami Heat, and a quietly productive season for Dirk and the Dallas Mavericks. In the offseason, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade to create a super team, and the hype hasn’t died since. Dirk Nowitzki has been his usual gawky, ferocious self, manhandling teams throughout the playoffs. Tonight in Miami is Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the journey for Dirk or Bron’s first ring.

Mark Cuban’s Mavericks fought their way over the hump, into the NBA Finals after finishing the regular season 57-25, 2nd in the Southwest Division, and 3rd in the Western Conference. The Portland Trailblazers were the first round match for the Mavericks, and so far, gave them the most trouble. Portland continued to cut away at late leads, but Dirk, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry were able to hit shots when it mattered. Jason Terry scored at least 20 points in three of the last four games of the series. Dallas moved on 4-2 behind Nowitzki’s 27.3 PPG.

The Conference Semi’s was a shock when the Mavericks Swept the Los Angeles Lakers in 4 games, putting them away easily. The Mavericks were unforgiving, constantly one-upping LA, building frustration in one of the better teams in the league:

Yet again, Dallas had little trouble putting away its Western Conference foe in the Conference Finals, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 4 games to 1. Dallas had lost more games in the first round than it had in the Semi’s and Conference Finals. Dallas had taken what it had learned in the first round against Portland and used it to crush the hopes of the Thunder, constantly making 4th quarter comebacks on the shoulders of Dirk, and even the likes of Shawn Marion. “The Mavs made a historic comeback in Game 4, finishing regulation with a 17-2 run to force overtime en route to becoming the only team in the past 15 years to win a playoff game after trailing by 15 or more points with five minutes remaining.” (from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon)

“They’re a helluva a team, they’re Hollywood as hell, but they’re still very good.” From the brilliant mind of Joakim Noah, this one is actual true of the Miami Heat. A roller coaster season ended at 58-24, Southeastern Division champs, and 2nd in the Eastern Conference behind the Bulls. Round 1 the Heat tested the playoff waters with the Philadelphia 76ers, and came out relatively unscathed in a 4-1 series win.

The Conference Semifinals was a battle of two big 3’s, Miami versus Boston. Wade, James and Bosh against Allen, Pierce and Garnett. Many believed Miami would falter here and get the boot, but LeBron and Wade stepped up, alternating each game as the leading scorer, and playing excellent defense. Boston was certainly limited, never gaining a strong foothold, and Miami took advantage winning the series in, surprise, 4 games to 1.

Chicago was the regular season conference champions, and had little trouble in the playoffs, then the Miami Heat came to town. The Bulls had been dominant in 4th quarters during the regular season with a +187 point differential, but Miami outscored Chicago by 24 in the final quarter and overtime in the series. Finally someone for the Heat was stepping up and hitting clutch shots at the end of games. This series LeBron and Bosh took the position of leading scorer every-other-game, while Wade had big contributions late in games. After losing game one, Miami never looked back and took the series from Chicago, you guessed it, 4-1.

Of the two teams, Miami has the only NBA Finals Championship, from 2006, when they beat the Dallas Mavericks.
NBA Finals Appearances (*won)
Dallas- 2 (2006, 2011) Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry on the team for both appearances
Miami- 2 (2006*, 2011) Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem on the team for both appearances

Dirk and DWade in '06 Finals

Last Season
Dallas- Lost in Western Conference first round
Miami- Lost in Eastern Conference first round

Regular Season Leaders
Points: Dallas- D. Nowitzki, 23.0 PPG
Miami- L. James, 26.7 PPG
Assists: Dallas- J. Kidd, 8.2 APG
Miami- L. James, 7.0 APG
Rebounds: Dallas- T. Chandler, 9.4 RPG
Miami- C. Bosh, 8.3 RPG

Playoff Leaders
Points: Dallas- D. Nowitzki, 28.4 PPG
Miami- L. James, 26.0 PPG
Assists: Dallas- J. Kidd, 7.7 APG
Miami- L. James, 5.5 APG
Rebounds: Dallas- T. Chandler, 9.3 RPG
Miami- C. Bosh & L. James, 8.9 RPG

Game One Starting Lineups
Dallas
PG: Jason Kidd
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Tyson Chandler
Miami
PG: Mike Bibby
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Chris Bosh
C: Joel Anthony

Regular Season Match Results
November 27th, Dallas 106 Miami 95 (Caron Butler and LeBron James leading scorers with 23 apiece)
December 20th, Dallas 98 Miami 96 (Dirk with 26, and Wade with 22 to lead scoring for their respective teams, Dallas win ended 12 game regular season win streak for Miami)

From Elias: Dallas has won its last 14 regular-season games against Miami, the 2nd-longest winning streak teams to meet in the NBA Finals. The other 4 teams to enter the Finals with at least a 5-game winning streak against their opponent have gone on to win the title.

The Heat, as their name suggests have begun to heat up in the playoffs, winning fairly easily against good teams. Dallas has also shown that they can cruise through the playoffs. The Mavericks have the regular season head-to-head advantage, but this is a whole different situation, the past should not have a factor on either team. This will be a hard fought battle, two extremely good, well-rounded team, one brash and flashy, the other with substance and hard work. This Finals will be very Dirk vs. LeBron, with a lot help from all of the regulars in defense and scoring, with a lot of close games.
Game 1: Tues, May 31, 9:00 p.m. EST in Miami
Game 2: Thurs, June 2, 9:00 p.m. EST in Miami
Game 3: Sun, June 5, 8:00 p.m EST in Dallas
Game 4: Tues, June 7, 9:00 p.m. EST in Dallas
Game 5*: Thurs, June 9, 9:00 p.m. EST in Dallas
Game 6*: Sun, June 12, 8:00 p.m. EST in Miami
Game 7*: Tues, June 14, 9:00 p.m. EST in Miami
*if necessary, All games on ABC
My Prediction: Miami Heat in 7

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

ESPN: Crasnick on Marlins New Look

ESPN Story Link

State of the Franchise: Miami Heat

This Season: 46-21 (3rd in Eastern Conference, clinched playoff berth)

Last Season: 47-35 (5th in Eastern Conference, lost 1st Round to Boston Celtics)

Ah, yes. We’ve come to this point. The State of the Franchise: Miami Heat edition. What more is there to say that hasn’t already been said? One week, this team is celebrating NBA Championships they haven’t won yet. The next week, they’re struggling mightly and people are saying their a fraud and will never win. The next week, they seem utterly unbeatable and people put them back up on their pedastol.

Well, let’s see what we’re dealing with. Starting with “The Big Three”.

It might be time we change the title of this trio from the “Big Three” to “Two and a Half Men” (heard their looking for a new guy on that show anyway). LeBron James is showing everybody that he is arguable the best talent the NBA has to offer its fanbase night in and night out. This year, King James is averaging 26.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.1 assists while leading the Heat offense. Yes, he is averaging roughly three points less per game this year then last, but he simply doesn’t have to do all the scoring now when compared to the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers.

That’s because the second man in this scenario is Dwayne Wade, former NBA Finals MVP. Wade is averaging 25.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Again, his points-per-game are low in comparison to previous totals, but he doesn’t have to carry the load offensively for this team anymore, thanks to LeBron.

However, the Miami Heat gave out three huge contracts last off-season, not just two. That third contract went to former Toronto Raptors All-Star forward, Chris Bosh. Bosh does lead the Heat in rebounds per game with 8.2, but, aside from his rookie season when his playing time was limited, that’s a career low. He’s also averaging less than 22 points per game for the first time in five seasons, and shooting under 50% from the field for an inside player. His 18.2 points are nice, but I wouldn’t say their what the Miami Heat thought they were paying for.

Bosh creates another problem that is holding this Miami Heat team back: size in the middle. Since the “Two and a Half Men” are all commanding large salaries, the team had to clear out much of what they had last season on their bench and replace them with over-the-hill veterans or unproven young players. Thinking Bosh would provide all the support they would need in the middle, the team signed wingman Mike Miller to a hefty five-year contract to compliment the slashing styles of James and Wade. This year, Miller has been hard to find, battling injuries the majority of the season. When he has been healthy, he’s been averaging a career-worst 5.9 points and a career-low 40.5% from the field (he’s a career 46.3% shooter).

Also, two of the players the Heat kept on roster when they brought in James and Bosh to play with Wade have either underperformed or have been hurt. Forward Udonnis Haslem was supposed to provide the physicality the Heat needed off the bench, and was doing just that, averaging 8.0 points and 8.1 rebounds. But, he proceeded to break his foot, and has been limited to 13 games this season. The Heat hope that by playoff time, Haslem will return to their regular rotation, easing the burden on the bench. Also, point guard Mario Chalmers has continued to regress after a strong rookie campaign in 2008-09, when he averaged 10.0 points, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals. This year, shifting constantly between the starting line-up and the bench, Chalmers is down to 6.9 points, 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals.

The Heat have done all they can trying to add veteran talent to provide balance to their stars, but the production just hasn’t been there consistantly. Recently, the team added point guard Mike Bibby off the waiver wire after he was traded from Atlanta to Washington. But, Bibby has remained ineffective in the line-up. appearing seven times off the bench and averaging just 5.1 points.

What’s more concerning for the Heat is their apparent inability to hit clutch jumpers or beat teams with better records than theirs. Two different times this season, the Heat have lost 4+ games in a row, including their most recent five-game skid that ended with the “CryGate” controversy, when head coach Erik Spolestra informed the media that players were in tears after failing to hit yet another game-ending jump shot. The team has also dropped every game this year in which they’ve played the top two teams in the East, the Chicago Bulls or the Boston Celtics.

However, when things are looking their worst, the Heat always find ways to respond. Recently, the Heat have knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs, all playoff teams, at home. They beat the Spurs, holding onto the NBA’s best record, by 30. Tonight, they face off against Kevin Durant’s youthful Oklahoma City Thunder in yet another tough test at home.

No matter how mercurial this Heat team plays this year, the true test will be how they perform in the playoffs. If the playoffs were to start today, they’d match up with the New York Knicks, a team in which they split their season series with and have a long history of playoff battles from the early ’90s. This team will not be able to get over the hump unless Chris Bosh starts playing up to his contract, or the team is able to import a big body to defend the low post. Also, this team will need a true point guard to help steady the ship and distribute the ball to the big-time threats of James and Wade. The matter in which this team is built this year, it would be difficult for them to come out of the East and win the NBA Title.

Until any of that happens, the story of “Two and a Half Men” will continue on to be a preplexing saga.

Oh, and so will the Miami Heat.

State of the Franchise: Florida Marlins

Last Season: 80-82 (3rd in NL East, missed playoffs)

The Florida Marlins remains a team in fluid motion. We covered yesterday that the Marlins seemingly go through cycles in which one year, they’re competitive, then the next year, they sell off the team. Well, that happens for two reasons. One, the Marlins are a team with a strict budget. A product as to why they have a strict budget: nobody goes to Marlins games. They hope that changes when they move into their new downtown-Miami stadium in 2012, but that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, let’s examine the product the Marlins plan on showing off in 2011. The most notable trait about these Marlins, which is usually the case, is their youth. Throughout the roster, the Marlins have an enormous amount of home-grown talent occupying starting positions.

Where that talent shines the most has to be their strong pitching staff. Last year, the Marlins boasted a rotation with four different starters winning 11+ games. Their ace, heads above the rest of the rotation, is right hander Josh Johnson. Johnson is bar-none the best pitcher you have never heard about. After Tommy John surgery ended his 2007 campaign prematurely, Johnson has dominated National League line-ups. In 28 starts last year, he finished 11-6 with a league-best 2.30 ERA and 186 strikeouts in 183 innings.

Joining Johnson are two more young righties, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez. Nolasco, 27, started to come into his own last year, recording a team-high 14 wins to go along with a 4.51 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 157.2 innings. Nolasco did battle through some injuries last season, limiting him to 26 starts, but he reported to Spring Training this year with a clean bill of health. Sanchez, 26, has battled injuries in the three previous seasons before 2010. Last year, he made a career-high 32 starts, going 13-12 with a 3.55 ERA. Unlike Nolasco and Johnson, who are both power pitchers, Sanchez uses a variety of off-speed pitches to induce easy outs defensively.

Finally, the Marlins received a strong season from third-year pitcher Chris Volstad. After going through a disappointing campaign in 2009 as a sophomore, Volstad came back strong, winning 12 games in his 30 starts and posting a respectable 4.58 ERA. However, Volstad was still hittable, compiling a WHIP of 1.41 and walking 60 batters in his 175 innings.

Looking to add a veteran presence to round out their starting rotation, the Marlins add righty Javier Vazquez. In his second tour of duty with the New York Yankees last year, Vazquez was anything but reliable. He posted a 10-10 record with a 5.32 ERA. However, in 2009 while pitching for the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, Vazquez’s numbers were much more impressive, finishing with a line of 15-10, 2.87 ERA, 238 strikeouts in 219 innings and placed fourth in the league’s Cy Young balloting. There’s no reason to think Vazquez, now back in the NL East, can’t reproduce those numbers. If he’s able to come remotely close, the Marlins pitching staff is as deep as any in the National League.

Offensively, the Marlins were as strong as their pitching staff. However, their defense has always been a concern and has been the reason they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the National League. The team has moved on from third baseman Jorge Cantu and traded slugging second baseman Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves. In the Uggla trade, the team acquired 2009 All-Star utility player Omar Infante, who will instantly provide an upgrade defensively for the Marlins at second. While Infante won’t hit the power numbers Uggla did last year, he will provide a needed boost of contact and speed at the top of the line-up, hitting .321 last year for the Braves. Similarly, the Marlins will look to replace Cantu’s shady defense at third with speedy Emilio Bonafacio. Like Infante, Bonafacio was primarily used as a utility infielder last year. Now, in a full time role, the team will hope Bonafacio can improve on the .261 average he has last year and better utilize his speed, only swiping 12 bags in 2009.

With added defensive pieces at second and third that also provide contact to a power-hitting line-up, we come back to the dynamic Hanley Ramirez at shortstop. In the long-term picture, Ramirez will most likely be better served to play third base, but the Marlins will let him roam shortstop until he becomes more of a defensive burden than he already is. Offense has never been the problem for Ramirez, a former Rookie of the Year, batting champion and three-time All-Star. Last year, by all accounts Ramirez had a down year, but still managed to post a .300 average with 21 home runs, 76 runs batted in and 32 stolen bases. Now, with Infante and Bonafacio at the top of the line-up, Ramirez will be slotted in his more comfortable three hole in the batting order.

The fear in South Florida is without Uggla, there won’t be the same type of protection for Ramirez in the line-up. For that, the Marlins are going to rely heavily on their very young outfield to provide some needed pop. Most of that power, team insiders believe, will be provided by 21-year old right field Mike Stanton. In 100 games after his call-up last season, Stanton pounded 22 home runs and 59 runs batted in. However, he only hit .259 during that time, and struck out 123 times in 396 plate appearances.

The team also traded away last year’s Opening Day center fielder, Cameron Maybin, to the Detroit Tigers with the plan to shift left fielder Chris Coghlan to center. Coghlan’s year ended early last season in a fluke post-game pie-in-the-face incident that tore some ligaments in his knee. Before the injury, the 2009 Rookie of the Year was hitting .268 with a .335 on-base percentage. He’ll look to regain a spot at the top of the order with Infante again this season.

With Coghlan’s move to center, that opens the door for a third Florida youngster to man left field, Logan Morrison. The 23-year old switch-hitting outfielder played in 62 games last year, hitting .283 with a more impressive .390 on-base percentage. A slugger in the minor leagues, the Marlins will hope he adds onto his power stroke in the big leagues, connecting on only two home runs last year, but had 20 doubles and seven triples among his 69 hits.

The team also imported two other veterans to fill out their line-up and beef up the bullpen. Catcher John Buck, an All-Star with the Blue Jays in 2010, will look to bring some added power to the line-up after connecting on 20 home runs last season. Also, the team looked to bridge the gap from their starters to closer Leo Nunez by adding side-winder Randy Choate. The lefty Choate averaged about a strikeout an inning for the Tampa Bay Rays last year, and will look to quiet some of the lefty-heavy line-ups in the National League East, which includes power hitters such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jason Heyward and Ike Davis, among others.

The prognosis for the Marlins in 2011, the first full season with Edwin Rodriguez, is pretty strong. However, they will have to deal with playing in the uber-competitive National League East. The Phillies have the monster pitching staff and strong line-up, the Braves have a very solid team from top to bottom (not to mention Dan Uggla), the Mets will surprise people this season and even the Nationals improved with the signing of Jayson Werth. Its difficult to see the Marlins coming away with a division crown, or even the Wild Card.

But, the previous two times the Marlins won the World Series, nobody expected anything from them, either.

State of the Franchise: Miami Dolphins

Last Season: 7-9 (3rd place AFC East, missed playoffs)

The Dolphins have serious holes that need filling heading into the 2011 NFL seeason (if there is one). Many of the team’s problems began on the offensive side of the ball, starting with the quarterback position.

Despite a strong offensive line unit anchored by former number-one overall pick Jake Long, quarterback Chad Henne seemed uncomfortable each time he dropped back to pass. Henne finished the year completing 61.4% of his passes while throwing for 3,301 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, the 19 interceptions he threw crippled what the Dolphins could achieve offensively, and had arguably one of his worst games of his young career Week 17 against the Patriots, completing just six of 16 passes for 71 yards.

Owning the 15th overall selection in the upcoming NFL Draft in April, it is widely believed that both top quarterbacks, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, would have been selected earlier. However, the likes of Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet should remain available if the Dolphins wanted to go in that direction, but Mallet’s lack of speed may not fit into what the team likes to do offensively.

The team may prefer to draft a quarterback in one of the first two rounds because their receiving core is experienced enough to account for a talented player learning the system. Led by Brandon Marshall, who led the team with 86 receptions and 1,014 yards despite missing two games due to a hamstring injury, and slot receiver Davone Bess, who had a team-high five touchdowns along with 820 yards receiving, the team will have options to throw to. The problem last year was completing passes to guys in the same color jersey, not guys on the team failing to catch the ball.

Furthermore, the only running back the Dolphins currently have under contract right now is fullback Lousaka Polite. The team’s top two rushers from the previous year, Ronnie Brown (734 yards, five touchdowns) and Ricky Williams (673 yards, two touchdowns), are unrestricted free agents. Many around the league expect the team to bring back one of the two veterans, but not both, mostly due to the wear and tear the aging running backs have experienced in the Wildcat offense. Brown, at 29, had one of his worst seasons as a full-time start, failing to eclipse 90 yards in any game last season. Mostly due to injury, Brown has only one 1,000 yard season to his credit (1,008 yards in 2006). But, when the team chose to run the Wildcat, Brown would routinely line up in the shotgun quarterback slot, which proves to be a valuable asset to the offensive attack.

However, Ricky Williams at this point in his career is nothing more than a change of pace running back. At 33, Williams carried the ball only 159 times last season, but produced a higher yards-per-carry average than Brown (4.2 to 3.7, respectively). When Brown was lost to an injury in 2009, Williams surprised many when he rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns. By all accounts, the Dolphins will have to add another dynamic threat at running back to offset the loss of either Brown or Williams, if not both.

Defensively, the unit as a whole as strong, which is expected when playing for a defensive-minded coach such as Tony Sporano. The signature signing from the Dolphins 2010 offseason, linebacker Karlos Dansby, helped anchor a defense that finished in the top half of the league. Dansby’s 95 tackles and three sacks trailed only Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell’s 101 tackles for the team lead. As far as pass rush goes, the team got an unexpected jolt from former Canadian Football League two-time Defensive Player of the Year, edge rusher Cameron Wake. Wake’s 14 sacks were good enough to place him third in the league and earned him a spot on this year’s Pro Bowl roster.

Also, young cornerback Vontae Davis continued to grow into one of the elite pass defending corners in the NFL. Though he only has one pick to show for his efforts, he forced teams to plan ahead and use the other side of the field opposite from the one Davis lined up on.

Because of that, the team will desperately look to improve their other cornerback position in this year’s offseason. Though Jason Allen led the team in interceptions with three, there were multiple occasions during the season in which a misplay or mental lapse from Allen led to a big score. And while second-year pro Sean Smith out of Utah showed flashes of promise, the team would love to find an upgrade and lock down the position opposite of Davis. Between Bell and strong safety Chris Clemons, the team is one cornerback shy of having one of the best top-to-bottom secondaries in the NFL.

In summary, the number one priority for the Dolphins this off-season is to draft a young quarterback or trade for one to compete with Chad Henne. The team will not be able to move forward unless they address their quarterback problems.

Second, the team needs to come to a conclusion about their running back tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The team’s rushing attack was surprisingly poor, only averaging 102 yards per game, 21st in the NFL. Both Brown and Williams have years on their legs, and are unrestricted free agents. The team will likely re-sign one of the two, then look to acquire a young speedster to fill the other end of the Wildcat offense.

Lastly, in order to solidify their strong defensive unit, the Dolphins need to bring in another cornerback opposite Vontae Davis. The team was very good last year, but if they want to take the next step towards dominance on that end of the ball, a second elite corner is an absolute must.

The Dolphins had a surprisingly poor 2010, winning only seven games. I wouldn’t expect them to play that poorly for two consecutive years. This team is only a couple years removed from surprising a lot of people and winning the AFC East. However, if they do stumble this time around, the whispers of this off-season surrounding Sporano’s job won’t be whispers anymore.

Miami Sports Franchises: Miami Heat

Championships: 1 (2006)

Retired Numbers: #10 Tim Hardaway, #13 Dan Marino (seriously), #23 Michael Jordan (can’t make this up), #33 Alonzo Mourning

Rivals: New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics

The franchise everybody in South Beach and across the nation can’t stop talking about. So, let’s examine how we got to this point:

The Heat were founded in 1988, and became the first NBA franchise for the state of Florida. In their inaugural season, the Heat set a then-NBA record by dropping their first 17 contests. Though the team drafted future star guard Glen Rice out of Michigan in their second season, they didn’t see improvement until Kevin Loughery took over in 1991.

Loughery drafted Michigan State guard Steve Smith in the first round of the ’91 draft, and, coupled with Rice, the Heat finished 38-44 and earned their first post season playoff appearance. When the team traded for former Pistons forward John Salley, there was hope that the Heat were building a winner. However, Salley flopped, and the Heat struggled in 1992-93.

The following year, the Heat claimed their first winning season, finishing 42-40 and capturing the eight seed, but eventually losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. There was still hope in Miami, as guard Steve Smith earned a selection onto the Dream Team, part 2, for the 1996 Olympic Games. But, the team would try to revamp their roster, and traded away the likes of Smith, Ronny Seikaly and Grant Long. 1995 saw an ownership shift, as Carnival Cruise Line owner Ted Arison bought the club and placed his son, Mickey, in charge of the day-to-day operations. Mickey Arison fired Loughery and replaced him with Alvin Gentry in an effort to save the 1995 season, but the team finished 32-50.

Looking to make a splash and keep the team in Miami, Arison brought in Pat Riley, who won titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and guided the strong early 90’s New York Knicks teams, to be the head coach. Within hours of getting the job, Riley traded Heat star Glen Rice to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for center Alonzo Mourning. Along with the additions of Tim Hardaway, Walt Williams and Chris Gatling, Riley guided the Heat to a winning record, but fell to Jordan’s Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

By 1996, the Heat had a whole new look. Riley continued to build around Hardaway and Mourning by bringing in Jamal Mashburn, P.J. Brown, Dan Majerle and Voshon Leonard. The Heat would finish with a record of 61-21, capturing their first division crown in franchise history. The team beat the Knicks in an ugly first round series that saw Knicks guard Charlie Ward and Heat forward P.J. Brown get into an altercation, leading to multiple suspensions, but eventually lost again to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in round two.

The following year, the Heat would again meet the Knicks in the first round, and a budding rivalry was again reborn when Alonzo Mourning and Knicks forward Larry Johnson cames to blows, highlighted by Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy clutching to Mourning’s leg at the bottom of the scrum. This time, it was the Knicks victorious in the first round, again sending the Heat home early from post-season play.

In the strike-shortened 1998-99 season, the Heat claimed the East’s best record, and lined up with the Knicks in the first round for a third consecutive season. Coming down to a decisive game five, Knicks star guard Allan Houston his a runner as time expired to knock off the heavily-favored Heat. The next season, the Heat opened up a new, bigger American Airlines Arena that housed 20,000+ fans, but found their season thwarted again by the Knicks in the playoffs.

Trying to add more star power to their team, the Heat went hard after guard Tracy McGrady, who elected to sign with in-state rival Orlando Magic instead. Instead, the Heat traded P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn in a package to the Charlotte Hornets for forward Anthony Mason, and guards Eddie Jones and Ricky Davis. However, in 2000-01, Mourning missed significant playing time, though Mason filled in nicely. When Mourning returned, he didn’t play nearly as well as the team expected, and once again, the Heat were eliminated early in the playoffs.

With Mourning battling cancer and the Heat losing their core from the 90’s, Pat Riley missed the playoffs for two consecutive season for the first time in his long coaching career. In 2002, the team realized the need to rebuild, and selected UConn forward Caron Butler in the first round. The Heat would finish 2002-03 with a record of 25-57, and Pat Riley stepped down as head coach.

In the offseason leading up to 2003, Alonzo Mourning’s massive contract expired, and, coupled with other players coming off the books, the Heat were finally able to make significant moves in free agency. The team signed forward Lamar Odom to team with Caron Butler, and drafted versitale guard Dwayne Wade fifth overall out of Marquette. Riley, who stayed on as team president, also named Stan Van Gundy, brother of Jeff, to be head coach. The Heat went onto return to the playoffs for the first time in two years under Van Gundy, but lost to the Pacers in the Conference Semifinals.

In the offseason, the Heat made arguably their biggest trade in franchise history. The team sent Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant to the Los Angeles Lakers for megastar center Shaquielle O’Neal, who asked for and received a trade out of L.A. to remove himself from Kobe Bryant. The Heat marched out to a 59-23 record as O’Neal partnered with rising star Dwayne Wade. The Heat advanced to the Conference Finals that year, the furthest they had ever in the playoffs, but lost Wade to an injury after game five in Detroit, and fell in seven games to the Pistons.

After the season, the Heat acquired former All-Star Antoine Walker, along with Jason Williams and James Posey, in a massive five-team, 13-player trade, while signing aging point guard Gary Payton to fill out the roster with Wade and O’Neal. In December of the ’05-’06 season, Pat Riley surprised everybody when he came back to coach the team after Stan Van Gundy left for personal reasons. After a slow start, the team managed to finish 52-30, and the team advanced to their first NBA Finals. There, they met Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Behind a Jordan-esque performance from Dwayne Wade, the Heat managed to steal the series from the Mavericks.

The following year, injuries began to eat away at O’Neal and the veterans on the Heat roster. Even Dwayne Wade missed significant time due to injury in the 2006-07 season. The Heat managed to finish 44-38, but were bounced quickly once they reached the playoffs, unable to defend their crown. The team took an even bigger stumble the following season, thanks largely to questionable moves to bring in point guard Smush Parker, and bring back swingman Ricky Davis. The Heat finished 15-67 that year, and eventually traded away Shaq to the Phoenix Suns for Shawn Marion and Maurice Banks

Having the second pick in the 2008 draft, the team selected Kansas State forward Michael Beasley, who dominated in his lone year in college. The Heat were hoping that Wade mixed with the youth of Beasley would guide them back towards the top of the Eastern Conference. The team also traded away the two players they had received from Phoenix for Shaq, Marion and Banks, for Jermaine O’Neal to shore up the low-post presence. Coupled those moves with the strong play from rookie point guard Mario Chalmers, the Heat were able to reach the playoffs, finishing 43-39.

The Heat improved on that record the following year, finishing with 47 wins, but fell again to the Boston Celtics. Entering the 2010 off-season, the Heat’s star player, Wade, was ready to hit free agency, and the notion around the league was he wanted to sign with his hometown Chicago Bulls. However, we all know what happened from there, which we will cover extensively tomorrow.