This one is not about where James is going to play, however. Tonight is about how he is going to play.
And this decision is tougher, because he doesn’t have days to think about it. He has about an hour, tops.
Upon seeing James was he was still in high school, Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld offered this succinct scouting report: half Magic, half Michael.
Tonight, in the biggest game of his career, James has to decide which half gets the Heat past the Indiana Pacers.
Unlike his decision three summers ago, James didn’t create this dilemma. He didn’t turn down a contract extension or invite a half-dozen teams to kiss his ring or have his camp conspire with ESPN to orchestrate a distasteful, self-serving TV show.
Ironically, this decision has been created by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, BFFs and supposed superstar teammates who were supposed to prevent this from happening ever again. Together, they formed “The Big Three” or “The Three Amigos” or “The Heatles” and were going to dominate the NBA for the rest of this decade.
Each had been carrying a team by himself quite capably for some time. Together, they would be unstoppable, taking turns dominating and deferring and basking in a glow of glory that would make the sun of South Beach look like Seattle.
So far, the plan has worked pretty well. Their first season together was largely spent working out the kinks and still almost produced a championship, coming up about two or three stops short. Their second season ended with a title, validating James, superteams and small ball all at once.
Season three seemed to be following a natural progression. Wade and Bosh had the best shooting seasons of their careers. James won a fourth MVP in five seasons. The Heat won 66 games – including a staggering 27 in a row – and breezed through their first two playoff rounds. James’ proclamation of “not two, not three, not four” titles now seemed more of a formality than an absurdity.
But as the playoffs have progressed, Wade and Bosh have regressed. They have morphed into Larry Hughes and Anderson Varejao, and James has said his current situation reminds him of “his Cleveland days.”
Wade has gone 13 games without scoring 20 points, the longest stretch of his career. His longest previous run was nine, in his rookie season. His longest previous postseason slump was three.
Bosh also has scored 20 points just once this postseason, a lack of production compounded by his absolutely feeble rebounding numbers. In the conference finals, he has three more rebounds than Ray Allen, who plays 25 feet from the basket.
Yes, both players are hurt. Wade had a bone bruise on his knee that he has been dealing with since the regular season and Bosh turned an ankle on the opening tip of Game 5 vs. Indiana. And the league-leading defense of the Pacers deserves some credit as well.
But the numbers don’t lie. Wade is 11-of-34 in the last three games and averaging 14.5 points in the series. Bosh is 5-of-21 in the last three games and averaging 11.3 points in the series. And James is 31-of-65 in the last three games and averaging 28.5 points in the series, more than Wade and Bosh combined.
Yes, “The Big Three” clearly has been reduced to “The Big One.” And the decision facing James tonight? That’s a big one, too.