Pick the punchline. Either way, Quentin Richardson had been reduced to a joke going into this season. Having been traded four times in the summer of ’09 before finally landing in Miami, Q-Rich was being treated like that not-quite-cute but available girl who’s “friendly” with everybody on your dorm floor: Useful for what you need at the moment (to dump a bad contract, to free up cap space, etc.), but nobody you feel obligated to claim and nobody you wouldn’t dispose of easily.
After all, what did Richardson really bring to the table? At 29 years old, he had a fat expiring contract ($9.3 million), an increasingly fat waistline, and was basically a go-stand-in-the-corner shooter — his time with the Knicks having turned him into something closer to Mark Blount than the Mark Aguirre potential he once had coming out of Chicago.
But Q-Rich got in shape during the offseason, won the starting small forward job with the Heat, and lately has been a key contributor in Miami’s playoff push. In three games last week, all wins, Q-Rich averaged 20.6 points on 53 percent shooting from the floor, bumping his season stats to 8.6 points per game on 42 percent shooting. His shots are falling and he’s got an extra spring in his legs. Against Golden State, the Heat announcers said Q had only had 11 dunks all season going in, but he threw down at least two during that game. He did his best Glen Rice impersonation against the Lakers, sticking seven threes for 25 points. Then on Saturday, Richardson dropped five threes and 22 points in a win over Atlanta.
The Heat have one constant: Dwyane Wade. Over the past two seasons, the struggle has been finding the right complementary pieces who will consistently play at a high level alongside their superstar. Michael Beasley (15.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) has been more up than down in his second pro season, but he’s still prone to coasting and going invisible for stretches. Jermaine O’Neal had a great month of February (15.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg), but he needs to stay healthy — J.O. hurt his knee in the first half of Saturday’s game and missed the entire second half. Rafer Alston had some good games since signing with Miami mid-season, but he recently got benched, then drew an indefinite suspension after going AWOL this past weekend. Mario Chalmers has also been in and out of the rotation following a solid rookie season, and Daequan Cook‘s PT has similarly dropped after what seemed like a breakout season last year.
It only takes a few, however. If Beasley and O’Neal keep producing throughout the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs, and Q-Rich continues his hot streak, the Heat will be in good shape. Currently they’re in 7th place in the East, one game behind Toronto for 6th place. That one game will very likely be the difference between facing Cleveland or Orlando in the first round, and facing Boston or Atlanta. Obviously, the latter scenario is preferable to the former. (Although Miami is 0-3 against the Celtics this year, Boston looks ripe for an early exit.)
But the first step is getting in. Once they’re in the postseason, Miami has a puncher’s chance against any of the conference heavyweights simply because they have one of the best players in the world. And if Q-Rich gets out there and starts landing haymakers of his own, don’t be surprised to see the Heat pull off an upset.
How far can the Heat go in the 2010 playoffs?
More Miami Heat stories:
– NBA Trade Deadline Losers
– The Other O’Neal Who Will Help His Team in the Playoffs
– Michael Beasley Can Still Be a Top-10 Superstar