An Old Hope

Help me Tony, Tim, and Ginobili. You’re my only hope.

It's desperate times for some NBA fans

It’s desperate times for some NBA fans

While the NBA Finals rematch between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat is likely to be an epic series, there is a lot on the line for a certain population of basketball fans nationwide. The people that I am referring to are the haters of the team residing in South Beach. A third consecutive title for the Heat could be the official beginning of a dark period for many NBA fans. Yes, you read that right and no I am not on drugs.

What once felt like Tyson-Ruddock was more like Tyson-Spinks this year.

What once felt like Tyson-Ruddock was more like Tyson-Spinks this year.

In watching Miami’s dismantling of the Eastern Conference one thing is clearly apparent, virtually no one can match up with the defending champions. Look at how the playoffs have played out thus far.

A season ago, Indiana felt that their two year progression had elevated them to their foe’s level. Not having home court in the decisive seventh game last year was perceived to be the ultimate difference maker and had the Pacers owned it, perhaps they would have advanced to The Finals. Equipped with the home court advantage this year and a deeper bench featuring CJ Watson, Evan Turner and Luis Scola made absolutely no difference as the Heat reminded everyone how wide the gap is between these two teams.

In my opinion, the window of opportunity for the Pacers to dethrone the Heat has closed. When you get the chance to knock out the champs in three consecutive years and fail, then you have all but proven that your squad cannot advanced past theirs. With big money invested in the current core of Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West, and George Hill, fans of Indiana may have to get used to finishing a distant second for years to come.

It's tough to win when the two best players on the court are usually wearing the same uniform.

It’s tough to win when the two best players on the court are usually wearing the same uniform.

If not the Pacers, then who can pose the biggest threat to Miami’s dominance? The Nets? The Bulls? The Raptors? The Wizards? As hopeful as a fan can be, do you really think your team is suited to beat the Heat come post-season? Brooklyn fans, myself included, were proud that their five-game series defeat showed that the Nets could play competitively until the Heat decided to suffocate them with their defense during the closing minutes of the game. Is that really something to hang your hat on? Sad, isn’t it?

It’s not as if time will be the ultimate equalizer and eventually this Heat team will fall off due to old age. Both LeBron James and Chris Bosh are under the age of thirty, and although Dwyane Wade has endured a lot of wear and tear over the years, he still has the ability to unleash his superstar talents when healthy. Credit the Miami coaching staff for devising a part-time work schedule during the regular season to preserve Wade’s health for the post season.

The fact that the Bosh has openly admitted that he would consider a pay cut means that Miami’s Big Three will most likely stay intact for years to come. When they initially joined forces many wondered how they would fill out the rest of the roster. As we have now seen, established players in the “back nine” of their careers are willing to play for nothing for a chance to win the title. Obviously Ray Allen could play elsewhere for more money and when he ultimately retires there will be another former star or future Hall of Famer eager to take his spot.

If anything, time is having the opposite effect of equalizing things. Any elite competition that once existed for the Heat is dying off one by one – the Celtics, the Lakers, and soon enough the Spurs once Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili call it a career.

"I can't believe they're not covering me either."

“I can’t believe they’re not covering me either.”

Out of all the team sports, basketball is the one that closely resembles an individual one in that the best player usually wins. Opposing teams in baseball can pitch around the most dangerous hitter, who only gets four chances per game to make an impact. In football, a team playing a ball control offense can strategically reduce the amount of time an opposing offense can be on the field.

In basketball, someone as dominant as LeBron can play nearly every minute and have a major influence on every offensive possession. With a healthy Wade, Miami has two players that can command a double team. Factor in the consistent open looks from Bosh and Allen and you have an unstoppable offense. Think about that for a second! A top-tier player and arguably the best pure shooters in league history are afterthoughts on most possessions!

tim duncan manu parker

No other Big Three is as battle tested to withstand Miami’s arsenal.

Miami is the varsity team playing against the JV at this point. During The Big Three era in the postseason, the Heat has accumulated 58 wins with only 25 losses—against playoff competition! If your horse in the race isn’t Miami, you have to wonder what the point of even watching is.

Some NBA fans will fantasize that Oklahoma City can defeat them in a series, but haven’t you seen enough by now to realize that there’s something lacking from the Thunder? Would you really bet on Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka over James, Wade, and Bosh if your life depended on it? I wouldn’t either.

The team that is capable of beating the champs will have their opportunity for redemption over the next few weeks. They are the ones with the championship pedigree, experience, depth, leadership. The Heat may have the best weapon(s), but the Spurs have the better army.

It’s now or never for these Spurs and a nation of desperate fans can only hope that San Antonio can win three more games.

Could LeBron Have Kept His Talents in Cleveland?

In the “microwave society” we live in today, expectations for instant greatness and achievement seem to be at an all time high.  We are not satisfied with steady, gradual gains.  We demand exponential growth or else our patience wears thin.  Perhaps sports are the epitome of this unfortunate reality.

While watching the NBA Finals, it became more evident to me that LeBron James failure to deliver a championship to the city of Cleveland during his seven-year reign was an unfair blemish on his resume.  After all, he entered the league as an eighteen year old kid and took them as far as he possibly could.

Many people are quick to point out that LeBron had zero support while playing for the Cavaliers.  His supporters defended his decision to leave Cleveland for the chance to join forces with fellow stars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.  Making this move was a no-brainer if he was going to position himself with the best chance to win a championship.

If you watched the NBA playoffs you would have realized that the Miami Heat actually struggled at times against formidable opponents.  There were moments when it appeared that the Spurs and even the Pacers had a chance to eliminate the defending champions.  The Big Three looked vulnerable, as Bosh provided virtually no offense and a hobbled, ineffective Wade seemed to limit the floor spacing.  The sports media likened this situation to the final years in Cleveland, when LeBron had to do it all himself.

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Wasn’t this supposed to easy?

Credit Erik Spoelstra for making the difficult decision during moments of crisis and reduce the minutes of two-thirds of his Big Three in Wade and Bosh.  Most coaches would feel obligated to run their highly paid stars out there and be prepared to go down with the ship if they didn’t produce.  In doing so, Spoelstra found his most productive, cohesive units in James, Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller.   These combinations surrounded James with shooters to space the floor and an energetic big man to defend the post and finish in the paint.

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If you look back at LeBron’s last year in Cleveland, in which the Cavaliers won 61 games, the roster didn’t have another superstar to play Robin to LeBron’s Batman.   Instead the team had a proven scorer, yet on the downside of his career, in Antawn Jamison, a capable point guard in Mo Williams, and a few good role players in Anderson Varejao, Anthony Parker, and Delonte West.  Hardly a championship roster when looking at it now, right?

The criticism at the Cavaliers’ management when looking back at those teams was that when they brought in proven players, they were a shell of what they once were.  This list included the likes of Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Shaquille O’Neal, and the aforementioned Jamison. Consecutive sixty win regular seasons ended in disappointment with playoff exits prior to The Finals.   As the Cavaliers lost to the Celtics in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the handwriting was on the wall that LeBron had played his last game in Cleveland.  It was time for him to move on to greener pastures at the age of 25 years old.

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Perhaps the problem wasn’t the supporting cast that surrounded LeBron in his final season in Cleveland.  Watching LeBron during the Heat’s consecutive championships has shown that he is a different player now.  The development of a consistent outside jump shot and a legit post game has made James practically unstoppable.  No other player in the league has the combination of size, speed, strength to defend him.  It has gotten to the point where only LeBron can stop himself.

What had plagued the Heat’s offense periodically during their championship reign had been the sudden incompatibility of their star players.  In shaking up the supporting cast, Spoelstra surrounded LeBron with an average point guard, two great shooters in the twilight of their careers, and a high-octane center that provided the necessary spark on both ends in the paint.

Does this type of cast sound familiar?  If you look closely at who was complementing LeBron in Cleveland, the names may be different but the skill sets and statistics are similar to what made the Heat offense efficient and unstoppable in the playoffs.  Consider some of the regular season game statistics from some of those key role players:

FG%

FT%

3P%

MIN

PTS

REB

AST

BLK

3PM

M. Chalmers

43

80

40

27

8.6

3.5

1.6

R. Allen

45

88

42

26

10.9

1.8

M. Miller

43

73

42

15

4.8

1.2

S. Battier

42

84

43

25

6.6

1.9

C. Andersen

57

68

15

4.9

4.1

1

U. Haslem

51

71

19

3.9

5.4

0.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FG%

FT%

3P%

MIN

PTS

REB

AST

BLK

3PM

M. Williams

44

89

43

34

15.8

5.3

2.3

A. Parker

43

79

41

28

7.3

1.3

D. Gibson

46

69

47

19

6.3

1.3

D. West

45

81

33

25

8.8

0.5

A. Varejao

57

66

28

8.6

7.6

0.9

The bottom line is, LeBron’s Cavaliers did not win a championship because the game’s best player had not reached the level that he is currently playing at.  On average, athletes do not reach the prime of their careers until they reach their late 20’s.  Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas did not win their first titles until they were 28 years old.  Hakeem Olajuwon was 31.  There are some exceptions where players won earlier in their careers (Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, and Kobe Bryant); however those players were in unique situations where the core group possessed more than one great player.

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Coincidental that once MJ added long range shooting into his arsenal, the Bulls evolved into a dynasty?

There is no way to change history, but looking into the numbers shows that perhaps LeBron had sufficient support during his Cleveland tenure.  The problem was that he wasn’t the complete player that he is now.  In the end, the most physically gifted talent added skills that raised his game to an unthinkable level and in the process he developed a tough-minded, killer instinct.

 It is unfortunate that we live in that “microwave society” where everyone demands instant results and greatness overnight.  The Cavaliers were on their way to that elusive title assuming LeBron continued to develop as he entered his physical prime and the management filled out the roster with the similar parts.  It just wasn’t his time in a sport where one player can single-handedly dominate a game and carry his team to victory.  Now that LeBron is in his prime, Ohioans (especially those Clevelanders) can only wonder what could have been.