Sunday, July 3, 2005

Commentary: Simien reflects Heat’s new attitude

Miami ready to win now, and draft pick out of Kansas University proves the point


— This is the difference one year and one 330-pound centerpiece has made to the Miami Heat. The difference is clear direction. The difference is attitude and imperative.

The difference is reflected in the man sitting here, Wayne Anthony Simien Jr.

A man, indeed: NBA-ready for a win-now mind-set.

The Heat's new first-round pick out of Kansas is 22, for starters, which refreshingly makes him all but a graybeard in this sport's teen-mill draft.

His body looks both athletic-lithe and thick, not seeming to require any fattening or time to finish growing.

His very bearing is one of maturity. He has a degree in sociology. He is a power forward. He is what he is: a college graduate ready to go to work.

What a stunning change in one franchise, in one year.

At the time of the 2004 draft the Heat had not yet made (or thought actually possible) the seismic trade that soon brought Shaquille O'Neal here.

This was a club in flux, unsure where it was headed or who would lead the way. Clearly this was not a championship-contending roster at this time a year ago, and the draft reflected that.

Dorell Wright was 18, the first kid ever drafted right out of high school by Miami. He was baby-faced; you'd card him if he tried to order a glass of milk. I didn't know whether to shake his hand or ask to see his hall pass.

He was skinny enough to slip under a closed door. Evidenced by the fact he would play scant minutes in all of three games as a rookie, Wright was a "someday, maybe" pick, someone for what Pat Riley likes to call "the cupboard."

Wayne Simien is not.

Just about everybody who has ever drafted anybody claims to have gotten the one player they truly wanted. That's a given. Just as most every fan, along with Your Friend the Media, claims instant certainty as to whether a pick was superb or scurrilous.

Simien, though ... how can you not love this pick?

He seems like an off-the-court saint, a guy who plans to get involved large in the community and charity, and pursue full-time ministry after basketball.

Simien is a major-conference player of the year and consensus first-team All-American from a hoops school, a guy who might have been a top-10 choice if old injury concerns weren't draped on him like a shawl. Presuming good health, he is a player the Heat needs now -- or might very soon.

Simien is Udonis Haslem. Only slightly younger. Slightly bigger. And with a better midrange jump shot.

He is the Heat's immediately redeemable insurance policy in case Haslem up and leaves in free agency, a real possibility. Even if Haslem stays, Simien is depth at the position, with more offensive pop.

Either way this is not a "someday, maybe" draft pick, but rather a specific piece to a puzzle the Heat seem pretty close to solving.

That is how far one franchise has come in one draft, in one trade, in one year.

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