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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Commentary: Simien could help Heat right away

Miami looking to win now, so Kansas University product logical choice with 29th pick

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— Wayne Simien.

Well, ESPN's Dick Vitale liked it.

"What a great choice for the people down in Miami!" the caricature exclaimed.

Then again, Vitale would have approved of the Heat selecting a campus security guard, so long as the guy had sampled snacks in a college cafeteria at some point.

So what does this pick mean for the Heat? It means now. That's all. Everything is about now, well, now. This isn't some 18-year-old prep prodigy or some 19-year-old with 33 syllables in his surname. This is a four-year player from an elite program, someone whose scoring average improved every season, all the way to 20.3, even as he struggled through injuries as a senior. This is someone with a shot to crack the rotation, if Christian Laettner is let go or Alonzo Mourning can't go and could do more if Udonis Haslem leaves for more loot elsewhere.

This is quite different from what the Heat did at this time last year, but it was a different franchise then. It was more focused on building than closing, so it chose the skilled but skinny Dorell Wright rather than a more polished product such as Jameer Nelson.

Then Shaquille O'Neal arrived.

Then the clock sped forward.

So, now, it's time to close, before O'Neal's prime time ticks off.

Even if the 33-year-old center re-signs for four or five seasons, logic suggests his health and fitness will decline a bit, or a lot, with each one.

So the Heat, with the cushion of gifted wing projects Wright and Qyntel Woods on the roster, needed to find another young guy who could fit the system as it is, not as it might be someday. It needed to find another big guy to knock down a 15-foot jumper when double-teams attack O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. Someone who can do it now.

This one has a chance.

(So long as he stays away from Ricky Williams, who shares Leigh Steinberg as an agent. For the Heat's sake, let's hope Steinberg doesn't promise Simien is driving to South Florida from Kansas.)

Will he be a star? That's beside the point at this point. You don't find many stars at No. 29; the best you do is a Nazr Mohammed. Nor do the Heat necessarily need another to win a championship - they might have won one with just two if both had been healthy at the right time.

The question in the Shaq-Wade era is the same for the rookie as for every other player: How willingly and capably can he fill a role?

To answer that question, it doesn't hurt to come from a good program and with a reputation as coachable.

The Heat have fared well taking and grooming high-character players with significant big-time collegiate experience, from Caron Butler to Wade to Haslem, players we've seen shine on the grandest stage.

He has scored against quality competition, in practice and games. Rebounded against it. Defended against it. And, for a surprising bonus, he has shot 81 percent from the line over the past two seasons. Maybe he can show Shaq something. OK, that's asking too much, even from a guy who dubbed himself Big Dub.

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