Three thoughts on competitive balance, from a Heat perspective:
Tiebreaker timing: The NBA Board of Governors' move this past week away from a divisional tiebreaker for this season makes sense with the unbalanced schedule created by the lockout. It was a logical shift.
But if the Board wanted to carry out the process to its natural conclusion in the wake of the lockout, then a one-time strength-of-schedule tiebreaker should have been added beyond the primary tiebreaker for head-to-head competition, considering the degree that the 66-game schedule is so out of balance.
For example, say the Heat and Chicago Bulls split their four-game season series (the Heat lead 1-0 with the second game Thursday night at the United Center), consider from a Western Conference perspective that while the Heat are scheduled twice apiece against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, the Bulls have just one game again each of those three (the Heat and Bulls each play the San Antonio Spurs once).
Even in the East, the Heat have four games apiece against the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers, with Chicago playing each of those teams at the top of the conference just three times (the Heat and Bulls each have four games against the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics).
The reality is it simply is not an even playing field this season.
The NFL incorporates strength of schedule as a primary tiebreaker because of its imbalanced scheduling. The NBA would have been wise to take a one-time page out of that book.
Wither the Southeast: Depending on the approach by the Magic and Hawks at Thursday's NBA trading deadline, the Heat could wake up Friday in the NBA's worst division.
No matter what Orlando might possibly get in a Dwight Howard trade (if there is one), it is difficult to fathom the Magic being in anything but a rebuilding phase in any post-Dwight world.
Similarly, if the Hawks meet Josh Smith's trade demands (never a big fan; views himself as better than he is), then Atlanta could be starting over again, possibly coming to further regret the absurd offer made to Joe Johnson in 2010 free agency.
What we already know are the Charlotte Bobcats are dreadful and that the Washington Wizards could be on the verge of yet another blow-it-all-apart makeover, with coaching and general manager likely to change in the offseason.
Heat President Pat Riley long has downplayed divisional banners, even as he has raised them to the rafters. By the end of the week, such a banner may have even less value.
March 23: For the Heat, what doesn't happen at Thursday's trade deadline could have a greater impact that what does transpire.
Remember, March 23 (March 1 in a typical, non-lockout season) is when players must be waived in order to be playoff eligible for other teams.
For the Heat, that could make no news from the New Orleans Hornets on the Chris Kaman trade front as significant as any news. Similarly, other players in the final seasons on contracts on lottery-bound teams also could offer their teams some cash back as an escape mechanism, similar to how the Heat acquired Mike Bibby a year ago.
Two factors often get overlooked in the process.
Foremost, players currently in the league must be waived by March 23 to be playoff eligible elsewhere, but can sign any time up to the final day of the regular season.
Beyond that, a player who has not been in the NBA this season (such as those playing overseas) can sign any time prior to the final day of the season and be playoff eligible, essentially opening the door to many who fled to Europe and beyond amid the lockout.
APPLES, ORANGES: Sometimes stories can't be as neatly packaged as those comparing Peyton Manning's gracious exit this week from Indianapolis to LeBron James' departure from Cleveland in July 2010. Sure Peyton was gracious on the way out -- he wasn't given, or faced with, the option to otherwise stay. LeBron had to make a decision between staying and leaving. And while it hardly was handled in the best fashion (LeBron has admitted as much), no means of departure would have changed the reality for the Cavaliers of having to reload. The reality is Manning is currently deliberating what landing spot will give him the best championship outlook. You know, sort of like LeBron in 2010.
DAVE ON DAN: Amid his tour of NBA cities, David Stern touched down Wednesday in Denver. With the Cavaliers in town, that afforded the commissioner an opportunity to discuss the email-now, think-later approach of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who in July 2010 eviscerated James for his departure in a hastily issued email and then in December questioned the New Orleans Hornets' handling of Chris Paul, in an email that eventually was leaked to the media. "In my pastoral role, I've suggested that he should always do a first draft and then put it in a drawer for a while or show it to his wife before he lets it go. But other than that, you've got to love him," Stern said. "I think Dan is going to be more prudent in his reactions, but I'm very happy for him. He's so committed to Cleveland and I think that's the well from which these communications spring."
SOUR GRAPES: Despite defeating the Heat in last season's NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks insist they're receiving neither championship treatment nor championship respect this season. NBA TV analyst Chris Webber agrees. "They don't get the respect of the champs," he said. "On this show and NBA TV we don't talk about them like they are the champs. We talk about OKC and Miami. They don't get treated like a champion. We don't talk about them like a champion. We didn't treat Mark Cuban like a champion." To a degree, the Heat endured something similar after winning the 2006 championship following a 52-30 regular season. The reality in the NBA, with so many multiple champions, is that you have to back it up to matter.
GOING THERE?: Among those who could become available at the NBA's March 23 buyout deadline is Charlotte Bobcats center Boris Diaw, who fits all the qualifications of being in the final year of his contract and playing for a going-nowhere franchise. Plus, the Bobcats aren't even playing him. Yet while the Heat clearly are in the market for another option at center, Diaw essentially was playing that position out of necessity in Charlotte as a hybrid and is best with the ball in his hands, something that would be the exception with the Heat. He likely is on the Heat radar, but the fit might not be ideal.
MOVING ON: Although still a South Florida resident and a visitor to AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday night, former Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskas will be taking his talents to Cleveland's training camp next season. As a Cavaliers advisor, Ilgauskas has been asked by coach Byron Scott to work with Cleveland's big men, including 2011 first-round pick Tristan Thompson, next fall.