The Making of a Dynasty? Yes
by Ethan Skolnick
Basketball, even at the highest level, is a simple game based on simple strategies and even simpler arithmetic.
Your offense is only as dynamic and efficient as the number of players who demand a double-team. Double-teams increase the likelihood that somebody will get a clear and open look at the basket — on balance, in rhythm and unforced. After all, even average NBA players can exploit that extra space to score.
So if you have a star, you can probably produce enough points to make the playoffs. But it’s hard to go much further. The Heat have been one of those teams the past two seasons, with Dwyane Wade carrying almost all the load. Historically, to contend, NBA teams have needed two legitimate stars, forcing defenses to pick their poison, which is why Pau Gasol’s addition to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers was so impactful.
What if you have three? What if you have three of the league’s top-10 talents, all entering or in their primes? What if you have three players who have shot high percentages even when flanked by teammates that few defenses feared?
Here’s what happens, and will happen for Pat Riley’s Miami Heat: You win a championship immediately, in the first season that those three stars are on the same side.
After all, the Celtics won a championship in their first season (2007-08) after adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Paul Pierce, and all were in their 30s, all about a half-step slower than they’d been a half-decade before. Wade, 28, is currently better than Allen was when he got to Boston. LeBron James, 25, is better than Pierce was then. And if Chris Bosh, 26, isn’t clearly better than Garnett was, he likely has much better days ahead.
As for the skeptics who wonder whether this will work? Well, they need to get working calculators.
Wade demands a double-team. James demands a double-team. Bosh demands a double-team. Last time we checked, the NBA doesn’t allow the sixth man to enter the game until a starter leaves the floor. So you can’t double-team all three at once, even if you wanted to, even if you were comfortable leaving the Heat’s other two players entirely alone. That means that at least one of them, at virtually all times, will have single coverage. And, quite simply, that’s basketball suicide. Bosh has a varied offensive repertoire, and has been one of the league’s most consistent and efficient frontcourt players from his second season forward — even while playing with no one better in Toronto than a bored Hedo Turkoglu or a declining Jermaine O’Neal.
Wade and James are among the league’s three most difficult perimeter assignments, not just because of their skill level (Wade’s first step and James’ strength) but also because of the respect they garner from the officials. When they’re not at the rim, they’ll be at the line. Think their games aren’t complementary? James has never seemed comfortable in the late-game killer role. Wade thrives on it. James loves to pass. Wade has shown a willingness to share when he trusts his teammates. How could he not trust these guys?
So it really doesn’t matter which other two players are on the floor — after landing the Big Three, Riley could have just chosen the complementary pieces out of the American Airlines Arena crowd. Instead, he piled on. He added three of the league’s premier shooters in Mike Miller, Eddie House and James Jones (whose wrist has finally healed) to stand out on the 3-point line and dare opponents to ignore them. He loaded up the frontcourt with solid screen-setters, starting with Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire, to free the Big Three on the rare occasions they don’t do so themselves. And he brought back Carlos Arroyo to bring the ball up the floor and give it to a rested James or Wade to take it from there.
Sure, you say, but defense wins championships. Well, this has the potential to be a strong defensive team. Anthony has been one of the league’s best shot-blockers on a 48-minute basis. Haslem and Magloire are physical and tireless positional defenders. The Heat missed out on acquiring a proven irritator of opposing swingmen, someone like Matt Barnes or Raja Bell, who signed with the Lakers and Jazz, respectively. But Wade and James have both shown that when they are energetic and enthused, they can dominate on that end. They should both be more energetic because they’ll get more rest, not only on the sidelines but also when on the floor, since they aren’t responsible for creating every shot for themselves or someone else.
And you can bet they’ll both be enthused.
Nothing motivates like negative press, and the trio — Miami Thrice, the Triple Play, the Heatles, whatever — has heard plenty of that since this officially came together on July 8. They’ve heard that they colluded, to the detriment of fair NBA competition. They’ve heard that they each ran from the responsibility of leading a franchise, taking the easy way out. They’ve heard, from legends like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller, that yesterday’s stars would never have joined forces like this.
“I’m going to have a lot of stuff in my locker,” James says of the criticism. “I like that. It’s on.”
It will fuel them, getting them through the boredom of the 82-game slog. Until they can take a run at the team on top.
“We know the Lakers are the defending champions, two-time defending champions, and they’re a very, very, very good team,” Wade says.
They are. But this team will be great. A dynasty. Starting now.
The Making of a Dynasty? No
by Michael Murphy
Oh, it’s tempting. Very tempting.
Seeing two-time reigning MVP LeBron James joining 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami makes you want to hand the Heat the NBA title. Not just one, either. Two. Three. Four. However many they want to win — an endless string of championships, parades and good times on South Beach.
It’s a breathtaking glimpse of the new world order, NBA-style.
Yes, it’s very tempting.
But let’s not get carried away with the coronation just yet. Sure, James, Wade and Bosh make up the best power trio since Cream, but don’t be too surprised if this super-collider experiment turns out to be a relative dud.
Will they be entertaining? Yes.
Will they win a lot of games? Definitely.
Are they a lock to win the title? Hardly.
Make no mistake, nobody’s saying that it can’t work. Even if the Heat fielded only the Three Kings and went 3-on-5 every night (and some will insist that Miami will be doing precisely that), you’d still have to throw them into the discussion of potential champions.
But history tells us that the road is going to be tougher than most people think.
Yes, this bold experiment has been tried before, and for the most part, the previous efforts have failed to meet the incredible expectations.
In 1968, the Los Angeles Lakers put together what then was the greatest collection of individual talent ever to play on one team. Wilt Chamberlain, the most dominant offensive force in the history of the game, joined Jerry West and Elgin Baylor to make the first real superteam.
Just like today, there was much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over how the Lakers were going to be an unbeatable juggernaut, win a slew of titles and destroy the sanctity of the game. Didn’t quite work out that way. The Lakers were derailed by Boston in the Finals, with Bill Russell leading the aging Celtics, a true team, to one last, dynasty-closing championship. It wasn’t until three years later, after Baylor retired nine games into the 1971-72 season, that the Lakers finally won their championship.
In 1976, Julius Erving, the LeBron James of his time, joined the Philadelphia 76ers, which featured All-Stars George McGinnis and Doug Collins. There was similar fanfare, but the Sixers, who won “only” 50 games, were shot down by Bill Walton’s Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals.
In 1996, Charles Barkley hopped on board with the Houston Rockets, joining Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler (later replaced by Scottie Pippen) to form another dazzling constellation of superstars. But the team couldn’t develop the proper chemistry and never advanced past the Western Conference finals.
Of course there have been a few examples of power trios that actually worked. The Chicago Bulls teamed Michael Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman, a dynamic trio that won three straight championships. But it worked well because Rodman never got in the way offensively, preferring to stick to defense and rebounding while leaving most of the shots — and the glory — to Jordan and Pippen.
And the Boston Celtics wrung an NBA title out of the teaming of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Garnett and Allen were done-it-all veterans nearing the ends of illustrious careers, so they were willing to subjugate their egos in pursuit of the only thing that had eluded them, a ring, which they got in 2008 to cap a glorious 66-win season.
But as the Lakers, Sixers and Rockets clearly illustrated, it’s not just about adding superstars together. No, the area to watch is chemistry, which is why Miami’s experiment could blow up in their faces. James, Wade and Bosh are not end-of-the-line veterans. No, they’re young studs who have always been the No. 1 options for their teams. How will that be addressed in the locker room and team huddle?
And each of these three has always been the last guy to trot onto the floor — usually after an elaborately choreographed signature routine with his teammates — during the pre-game introductions. What now? And don’t for a second think that anything that trivial doesn’t matter, because in the ego-driven world of professional sports, it does.
Indeed, everything matters.
Who’s the facilitator and who’s the finisher? Who takes the last shot? Who has the ball in his hands at the end of the game? And how long before the respective families, friends, “advisors,” and “team members” start counting up the shots, headlines and column inches? How long until the ties that bind these three mega-stars together start fraying?
Sure, they said and did all the right things during the 2008 Olympics, but that was a very short sample with the outcome all but assured, not the under-the-microscope pressure of an 82-game season and playoff run.
Then there’s the ridiculous pressure on the coach, who knows that most fans expect them to go 82–0. And how long before the “other” teammates grow tired of their relative invisibility? It all contributes to friction in the locker room, where many of the Heat’s games will be won and lost.
Whatever the result, the Heat did all the right things to position themselves for what will certainly be a very memorable stretch.
“The road to history,” James wrote on his Twitter account, “starts now.”
Let’s see where — and just how far — that road takes them.