By TED SILLANPAA
Golden State Warriors fans should note that it turns out having three big-time stars on one roster doesn’t assure that the path to an NBA championship will be smooth.
Bay Area hoop fans should keep all of the following in mind as they lust to get Minnesota power forward Kevin Love to Oakland in trade. Keep in mind, too, that LeBron James could choose to become a free agent this summer. The latter piece of information is of interest as Warriors fans start this summer by dreaming big and loud.
The Miami Heat signed LeBron, the greatest player in the game, and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. They kept Dwyane Wade. All three stars teamed up on South Beach for far less than they could’ve gotten in separate deals on the open market.
ABC analyst and former NBA head coach Jeff Van Grundy immediately announced that the Big Three in Miami would break records for most wins in a season, as well as consecutive victories in a season.
Even the many among us who were outraged that LeBron went on ESPN to announce his decision to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami, mostly, agreed that those three guys on one NBA team would create competitive imbalance. They were all U.S. Olympic gold medal winners. They’d won separately, Wade even had an NBA title. The thought of what they’d do together with the Heat would, many believed, kill the NBA.
ESPN radio and TV host Dan LeBatard, a Miami native who loves that city, predicted that LeBron playing alongside Wade and Bosh so tilted things in the Heat’s favor that the organization would be able to hold special nights where a different Heat fan would win the chance to play point guard for the team. It didn’t matter who the two guys alongside the “Big Three” were, he figured.
LeBatard, it’s worth noting, doesn’t put any stock in the value of coaching or intangibles like teamwork, players jelling after playing together for years, etc. He spent the last four years insisting that talent always wins and that the Heat would always have the best player on the court and he was right . . . except for the two seasons when he was wrong.
The Heat reached the NBA Finals four straight seasons, winning two straight titles. That’s a truly amazing accomplishment. The San Antonio Spurs, however, absolutely pounded Miami to win this years title in just five games after losing to the Heat in seven games last year.
San Antonio has three stars — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. They’re all past their prime, though. (Wade is just now showing signs that age, not injuries, have slowed him in Miami.) While the Heat used money not allocated to the “Big Three” for aging veterans or limited players like guard Mario Chalmers, the Spurs added a young superstar in Kawhii Leonard. The kid is 22 years old and played LeBron evenly, for the most part, once the Spurs took control of the series.
Most of all, while the Heat signed aging 3-point shooters and any number of big guys to try to defend the rim, the Spurs signed and developed younger players like forward Danny Green and point guard Patty Mills. Somehow, they saved the career of 32-year-old Boris Diaw after he’d been released by three NBA teams.
The Spurs changed their defensive approach in these finals after losing to the Heat a year ago. Rather than sagging back, giving up the mid-range jump shots, they dared Wade, Bosh and the others to respond to in-your-face defenders by trying to go to the hoop. LeBron still got his points, but when the defense did collapse on him, he passed the ball to wide open teammates who seemed to have gotten older as soon as this year’s Eastern Conference finals ended. Shane Battier, Ray Allen and others couldn’t connect on the open 3-pointers that LeBron got them. Bosh was of little value on the perimeter either, allowing Duncan to defend around the hoop.
Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is an outstanding coach. He’s got those back-to-back titles and coaches defense as well as anyone. Spoelstra couldn’t do much with an offense built around the world’s greatest player creating for himself and others when the others can throw a pea in the ocean.
The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA. He adjusted his offense to everything the Heat tried defensively. There was no better example than in Game 5 when Spoelstra called on 6-foot-8 enforcer Udonis Haslem to defend the 6-foot-11 Duncan. The Spurs found a half-dozen different ways to get the ball to Duncan in the post. Duncan finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. The Spurs shot an other-worldly percentage from the field because they move the ball around the perimeter and from the inside out. If Parker or Mills couldn’t create, Duncan could from the post.
So, Golden State Warriors’ fans who are pining for a trade to bring Love to Oakland to team with guard Stephen Curry should think long and hard about how the Heat decision to sign the “Big Three” worked, but not like NBA followers thought it would. It can be argued that there were lots of NBA teams that could’ve won two of last four NBA titles with LeBron on the roster.
The Spurs give credibility to the folks who like the idea of Curry, Klay Thompson and a familiar, young cast stay together with new talent added strategically to make guys like Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and others better.
Or . . . or . . . Warriors’ fans could think a minute about how LeBron could opt out of his Heat contract this summer to become a free agent. LeBron’s got financial interests all over the world, but he’s getting more and more involved in the entertainment industry.
There will be months before the Warriors tip off next season. So, keep in mind how the Spurs won and take a second to consider what Golden State co-owner Peter Guber told ESPN.com of LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland and sign in Miami in 2010:
“Guber said on FOX that he did not agree with Dan Gilbert’s reaction (to James’ decision), ‘Give me a break, will you? [LeBron's] in business. . . . This is a 25-year-old kid who wants to put his product in the best marketplace. He gave (the Cavaliers) seven great years of complete loyalty and built himself from the ground up. He has a right to put that product in the best marketplace, on the best shelves, and think about the future. It’s a team sport. He wanted to surround himself with the kind of people that would help build that legacy. I think he did a hell of a job.’ “
Maybe Guber can think of a better “marketplace” for a more mature LeBron to get the help he needs on the court and be close to his new enterprises on the West Coast?
The “Big Three” deal does depend some on who the big three turn out to be. LeBron playing on a team with kids like the 6-foot-11 Kevin Love and the mercurial 3-point bomber Curry could . . . potentially . . . be a much better test of how having a “Big Three” actually can work in the NBA.
(Just spit-balling here. I think LeBron will stay in Miami and that the Heat will rebuild around him. I also know he’s a businessman.)
Fans should figure out if the Warriors have the talent to send to Minnesota for Love or the willingness to spend best-player-in-the-world money to make a splash by signing LeBron. It’s summer! It’ll be fun!
As fans are imagining if LeBron, Curry & Love with Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Jordan Crawford and . . .
Oh, right, the “Big Three” approach is no sure thing.
(Ted Sillanpaa writes about all things at tedwrites.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tedsillanpa.)