If you argue that what the Heat did isn’t very visionary and unselfish, that anyone could have put together James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and won, you haven’t been paying attention to all the desperate scrambling behind Miami since this Heat incarnation came together … and you aren’t noticing how much money matters to the people in this particular business, players and owners alike.
Almost everyone on the Heat is playing at a discounted rate. Big deal, you say? They make tons of money and this isn’t really a sacrifice? Well, Oklahoma City lost young James Harden over money. Memphis, which presented nightmarish matchups for Miami, sent away Rudy Gay over money. The Bulls got rid of their entire bench over money. The owner of the Nets has all the money in the world, but is stuck with a counterfeit superteam that pays Joe Johnson more annually than LeBron, and Deron Williams more than Wade. You’ll have a hard time finding teams with any players who have taken discounts, never mind one like the Heat, a team on which almost everyone has. The Nuggets have as many wins as the Knicks because of what they got in return for Carmelo Anthony, who had to get his. This now prevents New York from being in play for Chris Paul when he becomes a free agent again unless Paul is willing to take an enormous discount because none of the best-paid Knicks would take a discount of any kind.
Team dynamics can be so fragile. Bryant recently demanded that Howard play while injured. Howard responded that Bryant wasn’t a doctor. Howard then played hurt, and poorly. Bryant not only put Howard in the position of looking like he didn’t care enough and wasn’t tough enough … but then got the credit for Howard playing through a pain only he was feeling. Bryant gets to be the great leader while Howard is the wimpy place to put the blame. You can park a motorcycle on Howard’s shoulders, but that kind of weight, put there by Bryant, is one he doesn’t need while coming back from a torn labrum and back surgery. Imagine how Howard experienced that transaction with Bryant, and now compare it to the way Wade handed over his franchise to James.
Setting the pace
It is a good thing Wade did, too, because it is looking more and more like James, who is better than ever and in his prime, might be winning the championship now in any city he had chosen, with any teammates, hard as that is to hear in South Florida. Keep in mind, those James teams in Cleveland won 61 and 66 games in consecutive regular seasons — a pace Miami hasn’t been able to match in three years of James, Wade and Bosh. He was already on the cusp … and before he was this good. This is not a perfectly constructed champion, odd as that is to say, given the aforementioned redundancy of the James and Wade skill sets. But James just keeps getting better, as evidenced by shooting an absurd 42 percent on three-point attempts this season (better than even Ray Allen) and making 43 of his past 59 shots of any kind. Wade and Bosh have not been insignificant to that improvement, especially since it has come at the expense of their own stats, but it could have happened in any number of cities that The Chosen One chose.
The Lakers were forced to chase what the Heat planned, developed and conquered first. That’s not leading. It is following. And so the Heat continues leading the way in every way while the Lakers keep following … and falling … and failing. Miami’s biggest victory wasn’t in the NBA Finals, believe it or not. It was in the planning. You’ll Witness it for yourself Sunday as the old Lakers limp toward The King’s throne.
Los Angeles got its aging superstar a stranger and a temporary, one-year “solution” — the hurt-in-more-ways-than-one Dwight Howard.
Whereas Miami got its aging superstar one of his very best friends — who also happened to be the best basketball player in the world.