SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Scottie Pippen was sitting inside an AmericanAirlines Arena suite last week when he mentioned something he said 21 months ago that irked some Michael Jordan fans.
“I said LeBron James is probably going to be the best player to ever play the game at the end of his career, and everybody knocked me for it,” said Pippen, who teamed with Jordan to win six championships with the Bulls.
So now that James has won another MVP and his first championship, does Pippen feel vindicated?
“I don’t feel vindicated, but the numbers don’t lie,” he said. “They speak for themselves. No one can compare to [James]. He’s powerful, he’s strong, he’s big. He’s the most complete player the game has ever seen.”
Pippen, at the arena promoting Prime Joint Support Formula, was asked if James is now as good as Jordan ever was. “Physically,” Pippen said. “Mentally, Michael was more mature, not to take anything away from LeBron. Michael had four years of college under Dean Smith.
So a lot of what LeBron had to experience in the league, Michael experienced before he got there.”
But Pippen doesn’t like the James/Jordan comparison because “LeBron doesn’t play the same way. If you want to compare somebody to Michael, I would say Kobe Bryant. He’s got more that mentality.
“LeBron is a willing passer, plays more gracefully, bigger, easier. Michael was more flamboyant. There was more of a wow [element] of, ‘How did he do that?’ because people saw him being small doing all this stuff against giants. LeBron is a giant.”
At 28, James this season is shooting better (56.0 percent) than Jordan ever did in a single season (53.9). Jordan still owns the higher career scoring average (30.1 to 27.6), but James boasts superior career numbers in rebounds (7.2 to 6.2), assists (6.9 to 5.3) and three-point shooting. James, incidentally, will pass Jordan’s point total (32,292) in 5 1/2 seasons if he averages 27 a game.
“LeBron can guard the fastest guy on the floor and also has the size and strength to guard the biggest guy,” Pippen marveled. “Shaq would be the only guy he couldn’t guard and he ain’t in the league.”
### When the Big Three convened, some believed they could rival the Bulls’ dynasty. Even Jeff Van Gundy, who works Sunday’s Heat-Lakers game on ABC, predicted in 2010 that Miami would break Chicago’s single-season 72 win record.
So why hasn’t that happened? “I don’t think they’re that good,” Pippen said. “I’m not taking anything away from the Big Three, but I don’t think that team is that good. They’re one out of two.”
Though owner Micky Arison said a year ago that the luxury tax – which becomes more onerous in 2014 – won’t force him to break up the Big Three, it will affect the supporting cast.
Pippen said: “I don’t know that that group stays together” long enough to come close to the Bulls’ six titles. “LeBron may do it, but Dwyane Wade won’t last that long. Chris Bosh may get traded. You can’t compare them with [our Bulls] teams. You may be talking about [something like] the Pistons that won two championships.”
Couple final thoughts from Pippen: Contrary to Erik Spoelstra’s claims, he believes the Heat “is kind of bored. Championship teams normally don’t try to come back and set records. I don’t think there’s any concern.”
And he disagrees with Charles Barkley’s contention that Wade’s skills have diminished. “He’s still at the top of his game,” Pippen said. “Why should he have to kill himself to try to quiet his critics in the regular season? He’s coming off a championship. What does he have to prove?
“The media is going to always kill him, because if you aren’t playing up to LeBron’s level, you [allegedly] aren’t who you say you are or who you used to be. That’s the way I felt playing with Michael.”
Here’s what new UM offensive coordinator James Coley tells us he would like people to say about his UM offense in time: “Here’s a guy that creates explosive plays in the run game and passing game and is always seeking how to stretch the field, whether it’s horizontally or [vertically] and gets your guys in space where they can do damage.”
He will use a pro style offense with multiple formations and spread elements. “You are not handcuffing yourself into a two-back set all the time,” he said, adding he’s willing to use formations, at times, such as five receivers and an empty backfield, and isn’t opposed to occasionally lining up Duke Johnson at receiver to flummox defenses.
Tight end is a UM strength, and Coley said: “[If] you’ve got athletic tight ends” the key is “find the bad linebacker and exploit them.” Of emerging Clive Walford, Coley said: “The more he’s played, the better he’s gotten. I’m looking forward to start feeding him the rock.”
Coley, 39, helped craft the Seminoles’ game plan as offensive coordinator, but coach Jimbo Fisher called the plays. “It was time for me to go out and do my own thing,” said Coley, who called plays in 2006 for a talent-deficient FIU team. “Calling games is my passion. I want to try it on my own.” Besides Fisher, his other offensive mentors include Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan, both colleagues in his three seasons on the Dolphins’ staff.
### UM people believe Florida State and Arkansas were two schools that negative recruited against the Hurricanes, with FSU warning players that UM is going to be on NCAA probation, despite having no firm evidence. FSU was irritated about losing Coley to Miami, but UM believes FSU bad-mouthed UM last year, too.
### The sense here has been that the Dolphins at least will try to make a big impact move in free agency, especially with Steve Ross telling friends he expects to spend a lot of money. But there is even more incentive now, with the Dolphins taking their stadium financing plan to a vote of Miami-Dade County voters, likely in late March or April.
What better way to excite your fan base than signing a marquee player (Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, etc.)? Of course, some fans excited by the signing of a neon name will still oppose public financing, and the Dolphins face an uphill climb getting voter approval. But there is now even more incentive for the Dolphins to make a big free agent splash.
### Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland predicted last week defensive end Olivier Vernon is “going to get much, much better” – he had 2 ½ sacks in the first six games, just one in the last 10 --- and Cameron Wake said he will spend time this offseason teaching Vernon more pass-rush moves.
“This is a big offseason for him, and that’s an understatement,” Wake said.
### Some Dolphins free agents are frustrated Ireland has made unappealing contract offers or none at all. But he often waits until the NFL Combine in late February to get serious. Players can sign with other teams starting March 12.... The Dolphins say they won't raise prices for season tickets or individual game tickets.
### Marlins camp opens Monday, but Logan Morrison hasn’t been cleared to run off knee surgery and said he won’t know for awhile if he will be ready for opening day April 1. “We will go as far as I go,” he said, knowing he must “help” Giancarlo Stanton offensively. Moving from left field to first base “will help my knee.”
### Juan Pierre said he was 15 minutes from signing with Houston before the Marlins called this winter and offered $1.6 million. Returning here “was a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s a special place. I met my wife when I was with the Marlins.” (She worked in the team’s marketing department.) “Juan Pierre and Tony Gwynn had the best work habits of any players I ever managed,” Jack McKeon said last week.