The rules have changed. There is a new trickle-down theory at play in South Florida sports. Call it The Heat Effect.
Seldom has there been much cross-pollinating among our four major professional teams, each operating as separate ships at sea beholden to distinct fan bases. Now, though, because one of our teams and only one is so prominent, popular and successful, the onus is on the other three to respond simply to maintain (let alone grow) their diminished place in this market.
The result we are beginning to see is the Marlins, Dolphins and Panthers conveying more urgency, more boldness, more of a nod to public relations, and generally more of a win-now mind-set. The word rebuilding has been struck from the local vocabulary; or if it remains it is an expletive now.
Miami’s NBA championship parade still echoes but even now our state-of-the-art franchise aims to turn up the Heat, not only on the rest of the league but also in this market. You do not stand pat. Not when you see the Los Angeles Lakers acquiring Steve Nash, and the Brooklyn Nets wooing Dwight Howard. So the Heat casts in free agency for former Celtics guard Ray Allen, who visited to be wooed Thursday.
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Allen turns 37 this month. Doesn’t matter. They see his three-point shots spreading the floor and opening space near the basket for the Big 3 to attack. Besides, the Heat endeavors to add a key piece not with five years from now in mind, but with next season’s playoffs in mind. With another parade in mind.
Unlike most other bidders, Miami can offer Allen neither the most money nor a starting role, yet is judged a strong candidate to sign him for some of the same reasons other local teams are scrambling to keep up:
What owner Micky Arison and architect Pat Riley have fashioned here, led by reigning league MVP LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, has a chance to become a basketball dynasty and grand-marshal this region’s sports parade for years.
So you look around and you begin to see the impact.
The Heat Effect:
Do you think it’s a coincidence the Marlins agreed to star on Showtime’s The Franchise reality series this summer?
Even a new ballpark, new spending and new stars such as shortstop Jose Reyes and manager Ozzie Guillen couldn’t hoist the Marlins above the star-dominated, title-bound Heat this spring-into-summer.
Now, languishing a disappointing fourth place in the National League East and struggling to score runs, the Marlins trade two prospects to Houston for immediate offensive help in first baseman Carlos Lee, a proven run producer. Immediate? He doubled, singled and scored in his debut Thursday, a win.
The old Marlins would not have dealt pieces of the future for a beefed-up present, certainly not while in fourth place. The old Marlins would not have seen Lee, 36, as a wise investment. But age is not nearly as big a factor when you’re thinking “right now,” not toward some vague and distant tomorrow.
Now, with a new ballpark and a Heat championship parade winding raucously through their city, glomming the spotlight, the Marlins see an urgency they never seemed to in the past — an urgency only magnified by baseball adding an extra wild-card team and reducing excuses for not making the playoffs. The new rules are that the Marlins know it will take the postseason to compete for the marquee in this market now.
The Heat Effect:
Do you think it’s a coincidence that the Dolphins agreed to star this summer in HBO’s reality series, Hard Knocks? An inherently conservative franchise agreeing to give network cameras free reign?
“If we’re not struggling and the Heat aren’t dominating and it’s still like it used to be down here, with us as the top dog, no way we’d be on that show,” a club executive told us this week. “This is about raising our profile, competing, because we have to.”
The Dolphins privately hope rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is ready to be a star in a few years, but the new rules are that you don’t concede anything while you are waiting. No more R-word, remember?
So the Dolphins sign veteran quarterback David Garrard, 34, thinking he might be a right-now upgrade over Matt Moore. And the team swallows its conservative pride to sign attention-magnet free agent Chad Ochocinco (now Johnson again), not just to please HBO, but with the idea a 34-year-old former star might have a last hurrah left in him at a position of need.
“[Club owner Stephen] Ross knows the season-ticket needle won’t start to move again until we’re a playoff team,” the Dolphins executive said. “We’re not just competing against Tom Brady anymore. We’re competing against LeBron James.”
The Panthers are included in The Heat Effect’s trickle-down urgency. Ending their long NHL playoff drought last season must prove to be the onset of a trend, not an aberration, if the club is going to matter again in this market.
Win now. Matter now. Why else would reacquiring longtime former Cats goaltender Roberto Luongo be among the possibilities being considered this offseason? Luongo is 33 now. That matters if you are slowly building to some ill-defined future, but far less so if a demanding sports market has you locked in the present tense.
Thank the Heat, then.
Not just for winning a championship.
For building a model that is forcing our other big teams to be bolder, to be better, in order to compete in their own backyard.