By Micah Hart, NBA.com
Is it possible that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their prime could somehow end up without an NBA title for Miami?
Surely that can’t happen. The Heat were just a few baskets away from winning a title last year, after all. In their first season together. Even in these playoffs, minus an injured Bosh and with whispers of Wade getting his knee drained regularly, they are still an excellent bet to make The Finals and cut the nets.
And yet … what is it about the Heat, with two of the best players in the NBA now and forever, that they continue to have such difficulties executing in late-game situations? Something is broken. If the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different result … well, Miami needs to be committed.
Listen to Wade’s take on his missed 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime: “That’s a 50-50 shot when it goes up,” he said. “I’d do it all over again.”
You would? You’d wait until the last second to take a shot, despite getting the ball with 14 seconds left to play and your team trailing by two? That kind of decision making (and approach to decision making), that failure to learn from past mistakes does not sound like a sound path to a title.
And what of LeBron’s miss at the end of regulation? It’s hard to knock a guy for passing out of a quadruple team to get an open look for a teammate. No matter his intentions, the result of the play was an airball, and a rushed airball at that.
Back to the point at hand, though. Everyone likes to clown LeBron and his teammates for their proclamation from the outset as to how many championships they could win in Miami. Perhaps they were shooting a bit high to think they could reach seven or eight.
But one … they have to be able to get at least one, right?
That might be more difficult than it seems, considering:
Their age: There is no doubt James and Wade form the most dynamic duo in basketball. But how much longer can they exist at their current level? Wade is 30 years old and he has taken as big of a beating as any non-post player in recent memory. His game is predicated on attacking the basket, and he is getting pretty close to the age where his athleticism will start to wane. Is he capable of reinventing himself as a shooter the way Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did? It’s certainly possible, but even then he becomes less than the monster force he is now. James is 27, and Bosh is 28 by the way. The peaks of their careers are at hand.
Their competition: Most would suggest that right now, the Heat will be underdogs to either the Spurs or the Thunder should they reach The Finals. Let’s say that proves to be the case. The Spurs, as solid of an organization as there is in the NBA, are probably looking at their last title run of the Tim Duncan era. Their status as a threat is undoubtedly short-term, though given the franchise’s ability to find treasure where others see trash they could prove that notion wrong.
OKC, on the other hand? The Thunder are just getting warmed up. Kevin Durant? 23. Russell Westbrook? 23. James Harden and Serge Ibaka? They are 22 for goodness sake! The Thunder may not win a title just yet, and they have some challenges in re-signing guys like Ibaka and Harden. But if they get past San Antonio this year, they might be favored against the Heat, and given the respective management teams’ track record for complementary roster construction, they could be favored in years to come.
And that’s just Oklahoma City. Consider the Bulls’ future with Derrick Rose at the helm, or Chris Paul and Blake Griffin with the Clippers, or any other young contender that could spring up in the not-too-distant future (Minnesota? Indiana?)
Their margin for error: The Heat rely so heavily on their Big Three, and have had such difficulty adding pieces to take the pressure off of them, that an extended absence by any of them (like with Bosh’s current abdominal strain) requires the others to perform nearly Herculean tasks. It’s a tremendous credit to Wade and James that they’ve been able to do what they’ve done in these playoffs with Bosh on the shelf.
You can never predict injuries, but they are a part of the game and can affect any team at any moment. The Heat have no alternatives to their superstars. Should they be unlucky again in the future, it’s hard seeing them overcome it.
Their payroll: The Big Three take up an awful lot of space, and with the new collective bargaining agreement, Miami’s front office is going to have to consider the financial ramifications of the new, more punitive luxury tax. In the first two years of this regime the Heat have had to fill most of their roster spots with minimum-salary veterans, and the larger contracts they have doled out have gone to players who haven’t quite earned their paychecks. Finding Spurs-like diamonds in the rough will be imperative in the future. Their track record is spotty at best.
Up until now, the lumps the Heat have taken have seemed part of the learning process, and it’s easy to say that, eventually, their talent will win out. The Bad Boy Pistons took several years to get their first ring. So did Jordan’s Bulls and Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers.
But for the first time since a certain press conference took place in Connecticut, I’m having some doubts. And I think you should too.