Spurs make Heat's Big Three look obsolete in Finals rout
Well, those plucky kids from Miami almost upset the mighty Spurs, but they couldn't pull it off. Well, you know what we like to say: Good job, good effort.
OK, fine: Good effort.
Oh, well: Thanks for showing up.
Still too strong?
Well, congratulations to the Heat for attending the NBA Finals in a purely physical sense. Miami was blown out for the third straight game in a 104-87 loss to the Spurs in Game 5 on Sunday. And let's be fair here, OK? The lopsided result says more about the Spurs than about the Heat. San Antonio has the best team in the NBA. It became obvious in this series.
For better or worse, though, Miami will continue to exist, not just in a purely physical sense, but probably in a why-is-every-media-outlet-acting-like-Miami-is-the-only-team-in-the-NBA kind of way. It could drive you insane, but if that hasn't happened already, you are probably safe.
So now Miami enters the Summer of LeBron 2.0, and in some ways, it will be even more interesting than the original. Back in 2010, we knew Miami had a chance to create a champion, even if we didn't think the Heat would actually land LeBron James. Now the path to a title is not so clear.
A championship-round blowout always seems more damning than it actually is. If you only watched the Heat in the last three games, you could reasonably conclude that Miami is 10,000 miles from being a championship team. Of course, that's not true. The Heat beat this same Spurs team a year ago.
Still, Miami has real roster problems. The flaws are not as big as the Spurs made them look, but they are real. And that is why this summer is as fascinating for Miami, in a way, as the summer of 2010, when Pat Riley used put his championship rings on fishing line and reeled in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
To understand what's ahead, we first must appreciate that this Miami team is unlike any in NBA history, for this reason: The stars created it. Yes, Riley runs the organization, and Erik Spoelstra built the offense, but this incarnation of the Heat exists because those three All-Stars decided to play together. The city and franchise were secondary considerations.
James, Wade and Bosh have been invested in the team on a different level than most stars. When the Cavaliers failed, James could (rightly) wonder what management did wrong. He can't say that now. He had as much input as anybody. When Ray Allen signed with Miami, LeBron lobbied hard to make it happen.
And that is why it's hard to see James leaving Miami this summer. He has plenty of options, of course -- when you hear the Rockets or Bulls attached to Carmelo Anthony's name, remember that those teams would take James in a nanosecond over Anthony. And yet, you never hear about James going to Houston or Chicago. The only city you hear, besides Miami, is Cleveland. That is for sentimental reasons, and James is far too calculating to make this decision for sentimental reasons. He does pride himself on being a businessman, after all.
James' career is tied to his Miami experiment. He seems to have faith in his franchise, and he knows he can help steer the course. So let's assume James returns to Miami, either by putting free agency on hold for another year (my suggestion) or by signing a long-term deal this summer (more likely). What happens next?
Well, the simple answer is that Miami has to become more like the Spurs. Other than its Big Three, Miami has filled its roster with aging, limited players for the last three years -- guys like Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Chris Anderson and Udonis Haslem, each of whom helped a great deal at times but also got exposed by San Antonio the last two years. The point guard spot has been filled by Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, and at times they looked better than they actually are because the team was so good. But they are really mediocre NBA players. With savvy scouting, Miami can upgrade.
Miami needs to come back with a deeper, more versatile team next year -- one that defends and rebounds far better than this group did, even in good times. But in order to do that, the Heat need its Big Three to approach this summer in the exact opposite way from 2010.
Back then, James, Wade and Bosh were the show -- and they knew it. They listened to free-agency presentations from teams that had no chance to sign them. They pretended to flirt with every suitor. And then, of course, they held that silly rally in Miami, when James promised "not one, not two, not three" championships.
Well, two championships later (and really, let's not ridicule two championships, OK?) those three can't be so arrogant. They need help. And they should realize it.
Wade will turn 33 next year, which is the same age that Isiah Thomas was when he retired. Wade and Thomas played different positions, but they share some qualities that make the comparison relevant: They are both extremely tough, crafty players who relied on quickness and tenacity to outshine much bigger players, because neither was a great outside shooter. (They each shot roughly 29 percent from three-point range in their careers.)
When you play that way, it's hard to last a long time. Your body gets beaten up. You can't easily transform yourself into a different kind of player, because you don't have the size to play down low (or guard down low) and you don't have the shooting skills to become a complementary piece.
Nobody is saying Wade is near retirement. But with every passing year, Wade will have a harder time getting into the lane, and will struggle even more to coexist on the floor with James.
But of course, the Heat can't just let Wade sign elsewhere. He means too much to the franchise, and again: He helped build this. If Miami wants to keep going, Wade has to be part of it.
And presumably, Wade doesn't want to sign elsewhere, because he has spent his whole career in Miami, and that's where he has the best chance to win more championships. Ideally, Miami can get Wade to re-sign for a more palatable contract than the $41 million he is due the next two years. Will he go for that? Wade is a winner, but he is also a prideful player, and most guys want the money. The smart financial move for Wade is to play out his deal. But if he does that, he will hamper Miami's chances of building a more complete team.
Bosh swears he wants to go back to Miami, and the Heat actually need him more now than it did in 2010, because Wade is diminished. But it would sure help if Bosh took a pay cut, too. It's what Tim Duncan did, and look at him now.
There are other challenges -- the repeater tax looms if the Heat go into the luxury tax once again, and owner Mickey Arison has to decide how much he will spend to win. There are opportunities, too -- Miami's first-round pick, No. 26 overall, will have as much value as a top-20 pick in a typical draft because this year's depth. Miami could swing a trade or draft a player who can help soon.
But ultimately, the Heat's future once again depends on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In 2010, they thought they were good enough to conquer the world, no matter who played with them. In 2014, they must realize: They aren't. The Spurs just proved it.
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