Power has a funny way of shifting. When we lose it, we jump to the conclusion it’s been stolen from us because sometimes it can be too difficult to accept that it just left. Having power is rarely seen as anything but optimal, but there’s a novelty and a curiousness found in the wake of losing it. The Miami Heat watched the best basketball player of our generation leave for Cleveland last week, and now must try and move on without the face of their franchise.
In his tenure with Miami, LeBron catapulted the Heat past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2006, won two most valuable player awards, two NBA titles, and two NBA finals most valuable player awards.
LeBron may have been the primary catalyst for Miami’s success, but Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Udonis Haslem, Norris Cole, and yes, Mario Chalmers, were on those teams, too. Bosh turned down a much more enticing opportunity with Houston and re-signed for five years, $118 million. Cole’s team option was picked up and he’ll make just over $2 million next season. Chalmers re-signed for two years, $8.3 million, and Wade and Haslem will likely re-sign in the coming weeks. The players and coaches of the Miami Heat were the soul of the team, not one person. If basketball embodies anything it’s the strength of the collective over the individual, and regardless of the numerous times LeBron took over in late-game situations, there were still four other players on the court and a system they abided by.
The Heat shouldn’t be relegated to a post-apocalyptic desert and abject poverty.
Lest we forget they play in the rancid Eastern Conference, far and away the weaker of the two. A season ago, the Atlanta Hawks made the postseason despite being six games below a .500 record—which would’ve ranked them No. 11 in the Western Conference. Sure, it’s unreasonable to assume Miami will win 54 games like they did a season ago, but it’s just as unreasonable to assume they will fold in the same way Cleveland did when LeBron left in 2010. Cleveland’s roster was built around James and James only, their starting lineup was abysmal: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. There are 15 all-star appearances on that squad; James is 10 of them.
Pat Riley’s vision was what brought the Big 3 to Miami, and Riley remains the president of the franchise. Riley has made a few moves this offseason: Luol Deng signed to two-year, $20 million deal; Josh McRoberts signed to a 4-year, $23 million deal; Danny Granger signed to a two-year, $4.2 million deal. Miami unloaded numerous role players at the end of last season, and now has brought in two valuable replacements (Granger hasn’t played 60+ games since 2011-12).
Where many team representatives would justify tanking, Riley is clearly not cast from the tanking cloth, and has enough money to throw max offers at Eric Bledsoe or Greg Monroe. Most reports have Bledsoe remaining in Phoenix, but on a team with four point guards, you never know if he’ll jump for the spotlight. Clearly, Miami could use Monroe after finishing the season dead last in the league in rebounds per game (36.9), but it remains to be seen if they’ll chase.
Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls landed the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season without both Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. Sure, they have more of a systemic approach to basketball than Miami, but if they can compete, Miami can, too.
A team that ranks No. 11 in the league in assists per game (22.5) and holds one of the top defenses in the league doesn’t crumble. They rebuild. If Pat Riley’s nine championships signify anything, it’s that he refuses to be complacent or accept failure. Miami, this season might not be your best, but it surely won’t be your worst.