Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Miami Heat An All-Time Great Team...Not So Fast

Now originally I was going to wait until after this year's NBA Finals before writing this but I decided since everyone else couldn't even wait for the end of the regular season before making their declarations, I figured even if they won it wouldn't change my point of view on the subject. That subject being: are the Heat one of NBA's greatest teams of all time? Let me quickly give my answer, no. They have one of the greatest players of all-time in LeBron James & a future Hall of Famer in Dwayne Wade, but after Chris Bosh, who has shown to be a good solid player but not a superstar, they are a very flawed team. 

These NBA Finals will be a referendum on the old style of NBA ball compared to the new. The Spurs, led by Tim Duncan, represent the way the league was built for most of its history, save for those 6 championships Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls won; a dominant big man, a shooter/slasher at the 2 & 3 positions & a top flight PG. Meanwhile the Heat are the new style of NBA with the small ball lineups made popular by Mike D'Antoni & those Steve Nash led Phoenix Suns teams. The Heat had a difficult time dealing with the size & strength of the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals & will be facing a similar situation against the Spurs, just not quite as big & not quite as physical. 
When you start to rank the all-time great teams over the last 30-40 years that list contains, the Willis Reed led Knicks, the Magic Johnson led Lakers teams of the 80s, same as the Larry Bird led Celtics teams, the Bad Boy Pistons teams, the Moses Malone led 76ers, Shaq & Kobe's Lakers, Jordan's Bulls teams & the Spurs '05 & '07 teams. The one thing all those teams shared was a lack of flaws. 

Each one of those teams not only had their superstars but they also had legendary role players & even more importantly could play any style to win. They could all post up, had 3 point specialists, defensive specialists & could get out on the break. The Bulls were the most unique in that their best post player for those last 3 titles was Jordan but they would start EVERY half by posting up their center, be it Bill Cartwright or a Luc Longley. Now you have to stop for a second & understand the significance of that. Here you had a team with probably the greatest player of all time in Jordan but Phil Jackson would give the ball to Cartwright or Longley over the G.O.A.T....let that sink in for a minute. If that isn't a clear indication of just how important it is to have a legit low post threat then I don't know what is. 

The Heat are a greatly flawed team & it's no coincidence that the Big 3 didn't win until LeBron developed a low post game. Problem with that is, he's too good to just plant him on the blocks, you have to have the ball in his hands in order to utilize all of his skills. They did win 27 games in a row which is a hell of an accomplishment but that says as much about the state of the league as it does to how good they are. With LeBron & a healthy Wade they can out-athleticism every team in the league on any given night but if you were to put them up against those teams I mentioned above for a 7 game series, any one of those teams would flat out dominate them in the front court. As good as the Pacers are, I don't think anyone would have the gall to even consider them in the same breath with any of those teams. 
Now I'm sure Heat fans will say Wade's  health played a part in their struggles but the Pacers size & defense played a large part in his struggles as well. It's not a knock at the Heat but the reality is, the methodology of parity has created whole divisions, conferences & a league full of flawed teams. While I'd be the 1st admit the salary cap has served a purpose, it also helped create situations where a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder have to trade players like Jeff Green & James Harden because they just can't afford to pay that dreaded luxury tax. It's made dynasties very difficult to maintain which is why what the Spurs have been able to do over the last 10 years is remarkable. 

The Heat meanwhile, have a huge gaping hole in the middle so they have to rely on the greatness of James & Wade. Bosh is almost like a backup plan to Wade & his health but if both Wade & Bosh struggle, it's very difficult for the Heat to beat the top teams consistently. They've had to fill their roster out with aging vets on lower salaries so Pat Riley has had to make the adjustment & accentuate their strengths to cover up their flaws. Those older great teams didn't have many of those financial constraints. Even the Shaq & Kobe led Lakers teams still had the option of going over the salary cap to put together those teams. 

Now however, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is so restrictive even a larger market like LA has to think twice about making such a move. Again, it's really not the Heat's fault & I'm really not knocking them but their flaws are so glaring that it's impossible to compare them to those other teams. Younger fans who never saw those teams & that style of NBA play, have become so used to the high flying & the long range shots in todays NBA, that they fail to see the importance of that low post game. It can be the difference between a contender & a dynastic team. 
Having someone who can score from 8' & in with their back to the basket, affects how the defense will guard you. A low post game opens up lanes for slashers & creates space for shooters. Even a token post game like the Bulls had will affect the defense. I don't have any verbal confirmation from the Zen Master, Mr. Phil Jackson himself, but I've theorized that they would post a guy like Cartwright early in each half just to see how the defense reacts to it. Then, later in the game they could put the best player in the world on the blocks & guys like Steve Kerr, John Paxson, Bill Wennington, Luc Longley etc etc, would be wide open for face up jumpers. Even an all-time great like Dr. J couldn't win a title until the 76ers got Moses Malone to dominate in the post. Before that, they never could get past the Celtics or Lakers while both teams could feed 2 of the best low post players ever in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Kevin McHale. The 76ers just couldn't match up using Darryl Dawkins & Caldwell Jones. 

The Heat will undoubtedly try to make the Spurs look their age while playing their version of an inside-out game. Difference is, theirs is based on getting into the lane via dribble penetration & finding the open 3 point shooter. If they're not able to though, it will be interesting to see, in a copycat league, will teams begin to try to build their rosters in a more traditional sense or continue the small ball trend like the Heat.  

One thing I think you will see is teams getting away from trying to form their own Big 3 if the Heat lose. Because if they do, you can't help but think Bosh could be traded & if so it would mean that between the Celtics Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce & Ray Allen & the Heat's Big 3 it would've amounted to a total of 2 titles between both teams. Meanwhile the Spurs would've won their 5th title by building from the draft, the old school way. That's a topic I'll get into in another blog later, the whole Big 3 phenomenon.  For now though please people spare the short sided view of declaring these Heat an all-time great team. Savor the championships & let that topic be. It's amazing how quickly people forget the greatness of those throwback teams. I guess its like the old saying, "out of sight, out of mind."