- Heat vs. Pacers: Series Hub
MIAMI – Nothing seems to have much staying power anymore. A season of your favorite TV show might run 13 episodes. Tech gadgets need to re-generate every few months or somebody’s stock price plummets. What was the next big thing tomorrow and a huge deal today morphs into old news even before yesterday arrives.
If that’s the backdrop against which we’re to judge the Miami Heat’s immediate predicament — a dynasty curtailed, should they lose to the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena (8:30 ET, TNT) — then maybe the brevity of this whole thing makes sense.
But seen against the expectations the Heat raised when this group came together 35 months ago, measured by the tremors sent through the league when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all signed as free agents with Miami, a shelf life this potentially short seems startling. Way premature, too, given the smoke and mirrors, the pomp and circumstance that heralded the Big 3’s arrival and James then famously promising multiple championships with his ‘not one, not two, not three …’ line.
After Game 5, on the same night that James talked about his decision to relocate to south Florida — “That’s what I came here for, to be able to compete for a championship each and every year” — he also was candid about the limited help he was getting vs. the Pacers and the need to reach “back to my Cleveland days” in meeting the must-win challenge.
After the Heat’s 91-77 loss in Game 6, the issues were obvious, the criticism fully revved. On TNT, Reggie Miller called them the “Miami Cavaliers.” Steve Kerr said James was getting “zero help.” And Kenny Smith observed that Bosh and Wade were physically and athletically “outmatched.”
These were the supreme talents who were going to bully the rest of the NBA for years to come? The legends-in-making who would chase down Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and other giants for claims on all-time greatness?
At the moment, Wade looks old, Bosh looks overpriced and James, well, he looks lonely. In his most recent public exposure, he sat alone on the postgame podium in Indianapolis after the Game 6 loss, a long way from the lasers-and-anthems of his Miami introduction in July 2010.
“I mean, we can state the obvious: they’re both struggling,” James said, moments after reminding everyone that he believes in his teammates.
Belief comes harder when Wade, his bruised right knee showing no discernible improvement over two months, lingers on the perimeter and shows no explosiveness and lift. And when Bosh, having turned an ankle in the series, looks awkward or absent as a defender and rebounder.
Three seasons ago, in the first season of their grand experiment, the challenge was sorting out their egos and oversized games into a collaboration of trust. Last season, they all figured it out on their way to the championship. This season, the Heat seemed more formidable, its 27-game winning streak as a bit of history and prelude to what, still, they hope is a repeat title.
James again reigns as the NBA’s preeminent performer. But Wade looks to be paying bills coming due from his attack-the-paint, take-the-hits early career. And Bosh, after sitting a chunk of the 2012 playoffs with an abdominal strain, is now missing in plain sight.
“We have to do a good job of getting opportunities for me and Chris to succeed,” Wade said. “Everybody individually wants to play better and we want to play better as a team. We are just going to have to self-will it and we’ll see how we respond as a team.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked about the adversity of this series strengthening “your brotherhood” and said it was on him to get Wade and Bosh more involved. “I need to find a way to get them in places where they can be really aggressive,” he said.
Write them off at your own peril.
A strong close-out game Monday and renewed vigor against San Antonio in The Finals, along with a summer where Wade could rest, Spoelstra could tinker and Pat Riley could flash his pearly whites and recruiting rings and — voila! — the dynasty is safe again.
Even if it’s not, the Pacers would deserve more credit than the Heat blame. Indiana’s mix of perimeter defense, rebounding size, a budding star (Paul George) already bigger than two of the Heat’s Big 3 and center Roy Hibbert sabotaging Miami paint attempts are anti-venom to the defending champs. Getting beat doesn’t necessarily mean falling apart; Miami is 48-7 since the start of February … and 4-5 against Indiana.
Think that will calm everyone down, as far as end-of-Heat hysteria? Of course not. The team’s fans already hear a clock ticking, the looming scenarios of 2014’s offseason making them edgy. That’s when the three marquee guys have early-termination options.
If that’s not troubling enough, the what-if’s related to all three sticking around could be its own sort of problem. Already, Miami has $86 million committed to 2013-14 salaries, $56.8 million to James, Wade and Bosh. It has about $70 million on the books for a partial roster in 2014-15, even after some possible nips-and-tucks to the current crew.
With a salary cap this season of slightly more than $58 million, a luxury-tax threshold of $70.3 million and the multiplier tax measures in the new CBA squeezing everyone, Miami could be forced into tough decisions.
Each of the Big 3 — Wade at 33, Bosh at 31, James at 30 — would be north of $20 million in individual salary two seasons from now. Chronologically, not so old perhaps but at least for the first two, with legitimate concerns about the bang for their bucks. Particularly at double-tax levels.
It especially gets tricky because the big decisions that summer belong to the players, not the team. That’s when a franchise can end up with the exact opposite results it needs. For instance, the most valuable of them (James) could opt to leave, while those underperforming their contracts might choose to stay.
Underperforming does not even titles. Not two, not three, not four.
“The only thing I care about is that we win a championship this year,” Miami owner Micky Arison told the South Florida Sun Sentinel when asked him about the team’s future — and speculation about it — last week.
“Next year, the only thing I’ll care about is we’ll win a championship next year. And then, after that, I’ll worry about what you’re talking about. July next year, that’s when I’ll start thinking about it.
“I don’t think these guys have a clue what they’re going to do in ’14.”
All due respect — it is, after all, Arison’s money — but anything that falls short of a second straight Larry O’Brien trophy in the next couple weeks will start everyone thinking about it. Pro-active is better than reactive and reactive could fast-track its way hard into 2013.