A miraculous Ray Allen 3-pointer helped King James eventually get to a second championship last season. This year, the Miami Heat never even put themselves in position to cut their deficit to single digits in the final three games.
In fact, the San Antonio Spurs outscored the Heat by a jaw-dropping 70 points in five games in this year’s Finals – the biggest point differential in NBA Finals history. That means James lost to the Spurs in worse fashion than he did when he first faced them back in 2007 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he had no business being in the Finals in the first place.
Obviously, you have to credit Gregg Popovich and the Spurs for their incredible discipline and execution on the offensive end. Still, it would be a mistake to say that the Heat did everything they could to prevent San Antonio from essentially toying with them in the final three games.
So again, what now for James? He came to Miami for a chance to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (probably to a lesser extent). The problem is, Wade apparently can’t be a full-time player anymore, and his constant absence throughout the past season undermined what the Heat needed to do in the regular season to define who they would be in the playoffs. And once again, as he has at various times during the playoffs over the past few years, Wade disappeared in the final two games. The shooting guard is no longer the player he once was, and he is only getting older. It’s not to say that he is a slouch – he was highly efficient for much of the playoffs before running into the Spurs - but James probably hoped for more than this when he decided to pair up with Wade.
Moving on from the Heat may eventually enter James’ mind, but a source close to him questions if there is even a team worth switching to at this point, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:
Heat fans have just reason to be nervous. A source close to James, however, offered a response that might ease the concern.
“Where is he going to go that is as good or better than Miami?” the source told to Yahoo Sports. “The San Antonio Spurs? The Chicago Bulls? The Los Angeles Clippers? Where is he [realistically] going to go?”
The options simply aren’t that promising.
His home state Cleveland Cavaliers? The Cavs haven’t made the playoffs since he left and are about to hire their third coach of the post-James era. The ugly aftermath of James’ departure likely can’t be forgiven.
The Bulls could have the available money, and they have Derrick Rose and arguably the league’s best defender in Joakim Noah. Chicago would have to amnesty forward Carlos Boozer and likely trade forward Taj Gibson to get the needed salary cap space. But can you really see James with an Eastern Conference rival that couldn’t beat the Heat even when Rose was healthy?
The Houston Rockets have the money, but it’s tough to say if James would be a good fit with center Dwight Howard.
The Los Angeles Clippers? Well, a source said James and his wife, Savannah, love Los Angeles. LeBron James also is close with Clippers point guard Chris Paul and he admires coach Doc Rivers. But the Clippers already have at minimum $66 million in committed salary next season, which leaves no room for James’ max salary.
It’s interesting that a source close to James believes his options may be limited. With certain players on the Heat ready to retire or become free agents, Wade’s questionable reliability and Chris Bosh’s slow decline, why wouldn’t there be more options?
Take Houston, for example. James Harden could be considered a more dynamic version of Wade at this point and spreads the floor the way Wade never could. Howard is five times the defender that Bosh is. Already, there is a better building block than what’s left in Miami.
The Bulls are another terrific option. Rose is expected to make a full recovery but even if he’s not nearly as good as he used to be, that team is really all about Noah, Jimmy Butler and the nasty defensive concepts of Tom Thibodeau. They ended up being the second best defensive team in the league this past season despite starting Carlos boozer and Mike Dunleavy with Butler missing more than a handful of games. Add James to that mix and they, by far, become one of the scariest teams in the league. One thing’s for certain – Bulls defense would never have allowed the Spurs to get the kind of looks they had in the Finals.
James and company in Miami can still be formidable if they add the right pieces over the summer (and they have a lot of adding to do if they lose Anderson and Mario Chalmers). Hell, any team with James on it will be formidable. But is the situation there so good that there aren’t better options should he choose to leave?
Given that they just got done suffering one of the most embarrassing series defeats in NBA history, I would say hardly.
You can make the argument that they made the Finals four straight times and won two. Sure, longevity is great, but you have to make improvements year after year to sustain greatness. This year, they weren’t anywhere near as good as they were the previous season (and there is no reason to assume Wade will be completely healthy next season), the entire supporting cast is in total jeopardy, and even James’ defense took a dive in the wrong direction (and will only continue to decline from here on out) over the course of the season. As for Wade’s defense, I’ll let this amazing video clip speak for itself. There isn’t much reason to believe that this team will be better next season.
Shane Battier, who is set to retire, summarized what felt wrong with the Heat throughout the year, from Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:
“It was a difficult year,” Shane Battier said after his final NBA game, repeating a sentiment he’d privately expressed several times during the season. “It was a trying year from the standpoint that there were very few pure moments. That was the biggest difference between the past two years.
“And we were always trying to conjure something. And for a while there, in the second half, it worked. But you can’t win a championship trying to conjure something. It has to be who you are, and it has to be pure, and that wasn’t the case for us this year.”
“Unfortunately, I made the mistake of looking at our defensive rank before the Finals,” Battier said. “And I know that no team outside the top 10 had ever won the title. So we’d have to do something pretty historic to beat the best offensive team in the league. And that 12th ranking is not the result of two weeks or a month of basketball. It’s the result of an entire season. And we just didn’t have the fundamentals to stop an offensive juggernaut like the Spurs. And we were exposed.”
Bosh was right behind Battier in stating that it was a trying season for the Heat, from The AP:
“I don’t think anybody really enjoyed this season like in years past,” Bosh told The Associated Press. “There was no, like, genuine joy all the time. It seemed like work. It was a job the whole year. Winning was just a relief. Losing was a cloud over us sometimes and then we’d break out of it — and then go right back. But we got here. We had a chance. They were just better.”
Still, Bosh and Chalmers are hoping to stick with the current core, from Spears:
“I know everyone wants to know and the whole speculation thing. I think everybody is going to make it work out,” Bosh said. “We have a chance to continue to play at a high level.”
“I hope we stay together,” Chalmers said. “I think we have a good thing going.”
Ray Allen, who has been an integral part of the Heat and helped them capture an unlikely title last season, will decide on his future in the coming days, from Brian Windhorst of ESPN:
“I’ve had a great career, I’m content with what I’ve done,” Allen said. “It’s hard to think past this moment. In the next couple of days I’ll think about it and see where my true heart lies.”
“One thing is for certain, to [make retirement decision] on my terms is the most important thing,” Allen said. “Whether that is me retiring, staying here or going somewhere else it will be on my terms. I’ve made it to this point and I felt great that I have the choice to make it for myself.”
Also, word around the league is that there will be plenty of interest for free agent Rashard Lewis.
The only certain thing about the Heat right now is that they have a lot of questions to answer in the coming months. LeBron is a pretty smart guy, and that’s worth keeping in mind because if I can see that the team’s situation is pretty much a mess right now, so can he.
OTHER NEWS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE:
- For the first time in his career, P.J. Tucker will look to sign a big contract in the NBA, from Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: “It’s always kind of crazy,” Tucker said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think teams know all the time when another team is going to jump out there. I’m excited to go through it. “I don’t know what their (the Suns’) direction is. I know I had great years and that they like me, but they might look another direction. It’s a business. Always has been, always will be. Maybe they draft a player who they think can do what I do at my position. Maybe they move on, maybe they don’t. I don’t know. I’m excited to see, though.”… “I like being here,” Tucker said. “I love being here. If I could be here, I would love to be here. The business aspect of this is a big part of this, especially for me in my position. I’ve got to see my cards. There are so many different situations that it’s hard to even speculate. “It’s my first time in free agency, so my agent is walking me step by step. It’s weird, but at the same time, it’s kind of awesome.”
- Doc Rivers will now be the president of basketball operations while maintaining his position as the head coach for the Los Angeles Clippers, from Broderick Turner of Los Angeles Times: “Amid the continued chaos revolving around Clippers owners Donald and Shelly Sterling, the team announced Monday that Coach Doc Rivers has restructured the basketball side of the organization’s operation. Rivers has a new title — president of basketball operations. He had been senior vice president of basketball operations, a position that will now be filled by Kevin Eastman, who had been an assistant coach. Dave Wohl has been promoted from director of professional scouting to general manager. In addition, Gary Sacks was demoted from vice president of basketball operations to assistant general manager, and Gerald Madkins was demoted from director of basketball operations to director of scouting. Jason Piombetti, the team’s director of scouting, was demoted to assistant director of scouting. The Clippers also hired Jud Winton as director of analytics and fired video coordinator Mohammad Dakhil.”
- Lawrence Frank appears to be a candidate to be an assistant for Rivers, according to Turner: “Lawrence Frank, who was on Rivers’ staff as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics during the 2010-11 season, is being strongly considered for an assistant’s position with the Clippers, the executives said. Frank was the lead assistant for Brooklyn Coach Jason Kidd at the start of this season, until Kidd had Frank removed from the bench and reassigned to another position with the Nets. Frank still has five years and $5 million left on a Nets contract that pays him $1 million per season. If Frank joins the Clippers, whatever salary they pay him would be “offset” by what he is still owed by the Nets.”
- The Chicago Bulls are looking to make a major move this offseason, be it for Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love or even LeBron Jmaes, according to Joe Cowley of Sun-Times: “According to several NBA sources Sunday, the Bulls have been actively looking to improve the starting lineup at almost any cost, with Derrick Rose the only untouchable player — and not by choice. “They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,’’ one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson. But the source said it was “doubtful” whether that meant the long-rumored departure of coach Tom Thibodeau could come into play. Carmelo Anthony is still Plan A as the Bulls and the rest of the NBA await to see if the Knicks forward will opt out of his contract. But the Bulls are more active in their pursuit of Kevin Love than initially rumored. Also, don’t rule out LeBron James coming into play again if the four-time MVP opts out of his deal.”
- Dirk Nowitzki would love to play alongside Anthony, from Ian Begley of ESPN NY: “Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has made a public pitch to recruit Carmelo Anthony to Dallas. “If Carmelo would really love to come here, we’d love to have him,” Nowitzki said in an interview on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas… “Listen, I think I’ve showed over my 16 years that I can play with anybody,” Nowitzki said. “The only tough season I think we’ve had is when we had [Antawn] Jamison and Antoine Walker and myself who are all three kind of the same four-men, but other than that I think I’ve shown over my career that I can play with anybody. I’ll adjust, whether I have to get out of the way or go to the corner more, post up, pass. I’ll do whatever, really, that needs to be done out there to win or for this franchise to be a winner.”
- As usual, here is a terrific breakdown from Bbballbreakdown of how Kawhi Leonard became the NBA Finals MVP:
- All that despite not having a single play called for him. Amazing.
James Park is the chief blogger of Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on twitter @SheridanBlog.