On Sunday, June 15, the 2013-2014 NBA season came to a somewhat shocking close, as the San Antonio Spurs steamrolled the Miami Heat in five games to win their fifth championship since 1999. The matchup between the two teams was, as every NBA fan knows, a repeat of last year’s thrilling seven-game series in which the Heat, thanks to some incredible late-game heroics, emerged victorious and won their second consecutive championship. Before the start of the much-anticipated rematch, NBA fans and analysts expected the series to be closely contested, and some—not surprisingly—favoured the Heat to win their third straight title.
However, the Spurs, still bitter from letting the title slip through their fingers in 2013, played some of the prettiest basketball fans and experts have ever seen, debunking the prevailing theory that superstar-laden teams and isolating said superstars are the keys to success in the league. Instead, the Spurs moved the ball exceptionally well and utilized a deep roster to keep players fresh—and nowhere was the incongruity between the two teams’ game plans more evident than in the opening game when the air conditioning failed. The Heat, by contrast, could not keep up. As the series progressed, they looked increasingly anemic compared to the leviathan Spurs; their once-mighty offense looked languid at best by the fourth quarter of the decisive Game 5.
The loss, of course, comes with attendant scrutiny, especially for the Heat, as their three superstars—namely Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Lebron James—predicted they could win several championships when they signed in 2010. The dust has barely set on this year’s season, and fans and analysts are already prognosticating on the Heat’s future: “Will Lebron stay? Will they all opt out? Will they take less money and go for Carmelo?” These, indeed, are the questions that have become ubiquitous.
If, hypothetically speaking, the Heat’s stars do indeed opt to stay in Miami and chase a third title in five years, the road won’t be any easier. In fact, it will become increasingly more difficult as the old guard of the NBA moves aside for the talented newcomers who have already made a good deal of noise. What this year’s Finals made inarguably manifest is the massive gap between the Eastern and Western Conferences. The Spurs were exceptional—perhaps one of the best teams ever—but, given the way in which the Finals unfolded, it would not be a huge stretch to say that several teams from the Western Conference could have defeated the Heat. But how could this be? The Heat have the best player in the league and were supposed to be an offensive juggernaut. When and how did the Heat shrink down from Goliath to become David? In any case, the Heat’s “shrinkage” appears to be a very real phenomenon.
This list looks at five reasons why the Heat will not win another championship with their current trio of “superstars,” a word that must be in quotation marks because of the loose way in which this list uses it. That is to say, is Chris Bosh really an unassailable superstar anymore? Was he ever? If you don’t agree with this list, drop us a line in the comments section and tell us why the Heat still have championship prospects with these three players. Enjoy…
5. Dwyane Wade’s Decline
For the record, without Dwyane Wade, the Heat would not have won their two championships since Lebron James and Chris Bosh came to South Beach four years ago. In the 2011 Finals, when the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 6 games, it was Wade who brought his game, while Lebron disappeared when it mattered most. Wade, moreover, was instrumental in attracting Bosh and James, and he has since quietly conceded control of the team to James. These facts are significant in that they signal D-Wade’s importance then and now in the Heat organization.
Dwyane Wade, however, is on the decline, and NBA Finals highlighted this unfortunate fact. This season, Wade played in only 54 games, which is approximately 66% of regular season games. Although that number means nothing once the playoffs start, it suggests that Wade’s health is a real concern for the Miami Heat. In the playoffs, Wade oscillated between moments of brilliance and languor, a polarization that is not comforting to see in a player being paid close to the maximum salary. Bill Simmons remarked that Wade looked like he had “no lift,” a comment that signals a player’s athletic decline rather than a bout of poor play. And in those last two games of the Finals, Wade shot an anemic 7-25 from the field and committed 3 turnovers per game. Rather than Lebron’s superhero sidekick, he looked like one of the faceless entourage from Lebron’s days on the Cavaliers. Without Wade playing like the Wade that we have all come to know and love, the Heat’s championship prospects are bleak.
At 32, Wade is definitely on the tail end of his career. Since many consider him to be one of the greatest shooting guards, a comparison to other greats—namely, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan—at the position at similar ages is apropos here. Kobe and MJ developed strong back-to-the-basket games, in which they could (and Kobe still does) lull defenders to sleep before fading any which way they chose. Wade does not have that game—yet. His face-up style of play, with his tremendous slashing ability, will quickly take its toll on his already injury-prone body. If he cannot develop this kind of game to protect his body, Wade will fade very fast, and that does not augur well for the Heat’s success.
4. No Money to Sign Good Players
As Dwyane Wade continues to decline, while eating up a good chunk of the Heat’s cap space, the team will continue to have real problems with signing good players to bolster the lineup. The NBA Finals made manifest the team’s lack of good point guard play, as Wade committed costly turnovers when trying to handle the ball too much, and the offense was mainly limited to isolation play when James had the ball at the top of the three-point arc. The team’s point guards, Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, do not look like they are good enough to lead this team at the point, both of whom corroborated this point during the NBA Finals. With Toronto’s sensational point guard Kyle Lowry hitting free agency this summer, it is not as if the Heat don’t have options, but Lowry’s likely price tag will force the Heat to disband their Big 3, if they want to bolster their play at the point guard position.
3. Lack of Big Men/ Rim Protectors
Another hole in the Heat’s roster is their lack of strong big men and rim protectors. In the Finals, Duncan and Splitter affected the Heat’s offensive rhythm significantly; Splitter, if you remember had a nasty block on Wade in Game 5. Though the stats will not show the significance of these two leviathans down low, their presence precluded the Heat’s wingers from slashing and getting points in the paint. By contrast, the Heat do not have a player that can protect the rim like Duncan and Splitter (remember when Manu Ginobli facialized Chris Bosh in the Finals?) Yes, Bosh is one of the best defenders of the pick and roll in basketball; his unique combination of size and speed affords him this ability. But Bosh is otherwise weak at defending the post. Unfortunately for the Heat, Greg Oden does not look like he will develop into a good player. Without a strong rim protector, the Heat are doomed.
2. Lack of Cohesion
During the NBA Finals, one glaring difference between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat was the Spurs’ team unity. Not only did they have a deep bench, but they had a well-constructed one, full of players who had been with the organization for some time. The Heat were not too dissimilar in that their core group of supporting players—namely, Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, and Chris Anderson—all played for the team in 2012-2013. But Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier were literally ciphers throughout the series, an aging Ray Allen essentially came to the team to chase more championships before he retires, and Norris Cole was not much of a threat offensively or defensively. This offseason, the Heat will lose Shane Battier to retirement and probably Ray Allen to either retirement or free agency.
Given the way in which the Spurs dismantled the Heat, this lack of cohesion from year to year should raise flags for the team, its management, and its fans. The Heat cannot win with a new group of mid-level exception players each and every year; there needs to be some stability. What exacerbates this problem is the very presence of the Big 3, who attract solid role players or great players at the end of their careers, but not many young players who are eager to blaze their own trail through the NBA. Indeed, as long as the Heat operate under their current paradigm, which is to surround Bosh, James, and Wade with solid role players, the Heat will have far less success than in years past, as a new group of talented young players are eager to prove themselves on the biggest stages.
This last point is both empirically justifiable and moot—empirically justifiable in that one does not have to dig deep to realize that there is a new group of talented teams like the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers that will make it increasingly tough for the Heat to win another championship, and moot in that there is always a good deal of parity in any professional league and that didn’t stop the Heat from winning back-to-back championships. Given all the aforementioned points, however, growing parity in the NBA might be the death knell to the Heat’s championship prospects. Next year, and every year until the Big3’s contracts expire, the Heat will be worse than they were this past year. Lebron’s performance in the Finals was uncannily similar to his performances with the Cleveland Cavaliers—that is, his performance was a dazzling solo act. A dazzling solo act will be tough to sustain for much longer in a league that is getting better—much better.