Monday, July 21, 2014

The Failure of The Miami Heat's "Big Three"

Two NBA championships and four finals appearances in four years hardly sounds like a failure, but that’s exactly what it was for the Miami Heat and the “Big Three,” who have now broken up for good. Under normal circumstances that would be a pretty ridiculous statement, but this was definitely not ordinary. For The Heat anything short of a dynasty marked failure, and two championships is no dynasty. So why did the Big Three experiment have such high expectations and end so abruptly? Well it was their own hubris that got them in trouble.
The Heat (mostly LeBron) brought those expectations upon themselves. LeBron James’ “Decision” left a bad taste in many basketball fans when he abandoned the place he had grown up, good ol’ “Midwestern Values” Northeast Ohio, to go win championships with his friends in flashy South Beach Miami. It didn’t help that he did this in pretty much the most obliviously self-centered ways possible, but more on that later. The first thing the Big Three did, before even playing together, was throw a huge celebration in their own honor, where James claimed they would win more than eight championships together. The bar was set high.


Flash forward four years, The Heat have just been beaten down in one of the most one sided final series in recent memory. They managed to eke out one narrow win, but lost the remaining four games by at least fifteen points each. This was arguably more embarrassing for James then when the same Spurs swept him in the finals the sole time he took the Cavaliers to a championship series. LeBron admitted that free agency wasn’t even on his mind at the end of the season, but after seeing how his team held up against the best of the Western Conference that changed quickly.
The Heat never were as good as they appeared, sure they dominated the East, but since the decline of the aging Celtics, and seemingly never-ending injury to Derrick Rose, the only team with even a slight chance to compete with them in the conference had been Indiana. It was a rude wakeup call when the Heat, who had met almost no resistance getting to the finals, were beaten like a drum by San Antonio. In all honesty five or six teams from the West would likely have beaten The Heat in a playoff series this past season.

Why were the Heat simply not good enough? It was because of the Big Three; with three superstars they lacked other talent. Dwayne Wade wasn’t the player he was when he won the finals MVP in 2006; in fact, he wasn’t even the player he was in 2010 when LeBron joined the Heat, age was beginning to get to him. Bosh was still a worthy sidekick but he played out of position as the Heat didn’t have a true center. That was all the help James had, the rest of the team was subpar, just like his 2007 Cavs team. Unlike Miami, Cleveland had actually greatly improved since 2010. Without LeBron the team struggled but were rewarded with draft picks, including two first overalls in four years including Kyrie Irving. The Cavs were brimming with young talent.

It now was obvious to James that the team had abandoned had a much brighter future than his current one. It was time to head back and look to the future. Eight championships in Miami was never going to happen, even if he snagged a few more, he was never going to surpass Jordan or Kobe or in number of championships. So James could either; keep making it to the finals in Miami as a villain and lose to the West, or return as a home town hero and have a chance to raise the Cavaliers to greatness one day after their young stars develop and win the first title in franchise history. The choice seems obvious to me.

Thus ended the failed experiment of the Big Three. Perhaps if he had won another, maybe back in 2010 things would have been different; after all, Shaq won three titles with the Lakers before losing one and fleeing the city, and that was considered a rousing success, but it was apparently not to be this time. James once again left a slew of loyal fans for greener pastures, but this time around he was smart about it and came off looking like a good guy, so he got a pass. In 2010 James had an hour long televised special to announce where he would be “Taking his talents” before letting his own team know he was leaving. This time he wrote a little humble letter, and instead of talking about how easy it would be to win multiple championships, he said it would be difficult and take time. He even got made fun of wearing an awful shirt that looked like a tablecloth so this time he used an old photo of himself in a classy suit. People said he matured, but honestly he just did the opposite of what got him in trouble last time around. Of course, he did bring up points about how Northern Ohio needs him more than Miami, which is true, as after his departure the area felt it economically, and while I may take his reasoning with a grain of salt, I’ll give him credit there.

In the wake of all this there were still two members of the Big Three in Miami after their leader’s departure. Everyone assumed that Wade, who has spent his career in Miami would stay, but it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that, without James, Bosh, the master of photobombing, would depart, most likely for the Rockets. Except that second part didn’t happen. Bosh didn’t ditch Miami the second he realized he was the best player left and there no longer a realistic chance to win a championship. He resigned with the team. The experiment failed, but Bosh didn’t jump ship, he stayed loyal to his fans and teammates, and will become a real leader on the team.

So where does this all leave us? Well first of all, the East is weaker than ever, It’ll probably be at least another five years before a team from the East can win a championship, depending on how long it takes for James to do it with Cleveland. With the downfall of the Heat, the East, with its abundance of bad teams, is just as open as the West, with its good teams. Right now it looks like The Pacers have the best chance of being the lucky team that will lose in the finals next year, but just lost Lance Stephenson, so who knows? Of course a big variable in all of this is former MVP Derrick Rose. His return to the Bulls, along with newly signed Pau Gasol makes the team a dangerous contender. Of course The Heat gutted as they are, can still probably at least secure home court advantage in a playoff series with Bosh and Wade sticking around, and with an abundance of cap space they can hopefully add some much needed depth.
Point is that the super team of 2010 just didn’t work. The chest pounding, boastful team came up short and James saw the failure and left, now trying a much more humble approach, intentionally setting the bar as low as possible. In all honesty I’m glad James went back to Cleveland, it needed him and perhaps he needed to go back, away from the bandwagoners, and repair the relationship with the real fans he once spurned. Bosh and Wade’s decisions to re-sign with the Heat also speak volumes about their character, the bandwagon fans may now have switched to Cleveland, but there are still plenty of real Heat fans in Florida.

The era of the Big Three is over, but a much more interesting time is about to begin. Hopefully with many more Chris Bosh photobombs.

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