On July 9, 2010, the Miami Heat were coming off consecutive first round exits from the NBA playoffs, the Florida Panthers had posted nine consecutive non-playoff seasons, and the Florida Marlins were 41-45, perennial penny pinchers doomed to miss the postseason every year.
All that changed the next day, when the infamous "Decision" was made. Lebron James was bringing his talents to South Beach, and he was bringing Chris Bosh with him.
It has long been a blueprint for short term success to buy talent, putting an average team in position to make a deep run into the postseason. What the Miami Heat did was sign three of the NBA's top 15 players to nearly matching long term contracts. All three made between 14.2 and 14.5 million dollars last season.
The results were hard to argue with, as Miami finished with a Southeast leading 58-24 record. They posted streaks of 12 wins, nine wins, eight wins, and seven other streaks in which they posted at least three consecutive wins. In fact, excluding their 9-8 start and the five game losing streak near the end of the season, they posted an impressive 49-11 record.
The Heat then proceeded to make light work of the Eastern Conference, putting the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics, and the favored Chicago Bulls each down, four games to one before running into giant slayer Dirk Nowikzki and the Dallas Mavericks.
The Heat are poised to be just as good or maybe even a little better this season. After all, they've had a year to get used to each other.
The Florida Panthers looked to be paying attention, and in the 2011 offseason General Manager Dale Tallon made quite a splash in the free agent market, signing or trading for forwards Sean Bergenheim, Matt Bradley, Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc, Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall and Kris Versteeg. He also signed goalie Jose Theodore and defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski.
The line of Fleischmann, Versteeg, and longest current tenured Florida Panther, Stephen Weiss, are all lodged firmly in the NHL's top 20 scorers. The Panthers defensive corps is the highest scoring unit in the league, and the team has a very solid grip on first place in the Southeast Division, currently seven points up on the second place Washington Capitals.
The team looks poised to break the NHL record streak of futility at 10 playoff-less seasons. They are currently on pace for 103 points, which would be their best record since the NHL decided to field a team in Florida.
Now it seems like the Miami Marlins are following suit. So far in this offseason, they have signed reliever Wade LeBlanc, top-flight closer Heath Bell, All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and possible number one or two rotation pitcher Mark Buerhle.
Apparently, Miami has dropped out of the Albert Pujols sweepstakes, but they may not be done making a splash this offseason. They are reportedly interested in pursuing first baseman Prince Fielder and pitcher C.J. Wilson. The endgame is unknown at this time, as the Marlins have, in the past, built a contender for the short run only to sell off their assets after the playoffs. Still, their track record with this strategy is hard to argue with, two postseason appearances, two World Series titles.
The three South Florida teams seem to be on parallel trajectories. Boston may have had all the success lately, with recent world championships by all four New England franchises. Maybe some other cities have been a little jealous, but Miami, at least, seems to have a shot at bringing some glory down south. Now, if they could only get the Dolphins on board...