Painted on the walls of locker-rooms, shouted in pre-game huddles, few adages hold more significance when it comes to winning than "whatever it takes." And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more accurate reflection of it than the Miami Heat’s big three.
LeBron James made “the decision” to join forces with a pair of All-stars from his 2003 Draft Class in Miami’s all-in attempt at a championship. The Heat heartbreakingly discovered it would take more than a “Big Three” to get it done.
The real decision rested in the hands of Dwyane Wade. After falling to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, “Flash” approached James and handed "The King" the reigns, admitting he needed to be the guy in order for this team to reach the Promised Land. And Wade would take a step back.
James, Wade, and Chris Bosh were each the “Alpha Males” with their respective teams, but in Miami they have had to redefine their roles in order to win. Bosh is strictly a perimeter player in Miami, looking to spread the floor and open the lane for LeBron and Wade. Don’t expect any of the guys on this list stepping back from the limelight for the greater good of the team like Wade and Bosh did.
Every player wants to win; the harsh reality is that some aren’t ready to give it all for the name on the front of their shirt to do so. Some just don't live by "whatever it takes." Like Mike Singletary famously said in reference to 49ers Tight End Vernon Davis, “Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them, can’t do it!”
Here are five stars you don't want to build around.
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4 James Harden - G - Houston Rockets
When you’re defending him, you’re hoping and praying he doesn’t touch the ball. When he’s guarding you, it's time to attack.
James Harden is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NBA, however, he hurts the Rockets when he holds the ball too long. When he’s got the ball behind the three point line with about 10 seconds left on the shot clock, it seems like he’s content with just fizzling the clock out and trying to go one-on-one and take the hero shot. He always seems to make that mesmerizing shot that makes you scream no, no, no! Uh, nice shot James! So you live with it.
For a high volume shooter who loves that step-back jumper from the outside, he isn’t inefficient. He led the NBA in free throw attempts per game last year, and was second behind his ex-teammate and league leading MVP candidate Kevin Durant this season. However, in the first round against the Blazers, Harden is shooting a dreadful 34% from the field.
Watching him on the defensive end is both shocking and painful. His nonchalant effort shatters the character of a basketball team. How can his teammates continue to buy-in on the defensive end when they’re convinced their essentially on the penalty kill? Pinpoint Patrick Beverley, a guy who hounds opposing guards with his relentless on the ball defending.
After shutting down his man for the first 20 seconds of the shot clock, then seeing Harden’s man sneak to the basket and score before the clock expires, its difficult to duplicate that effort and expect to be successful on the next trip. Sure, some guys around the league take possessions off in the regular season, but how can Harden do it consistently in the playoffs, when an entire organization and fan base is banking on him to leave his heart out on the floor?
Harden needs to install his "fear the beard" mantra on the defensive end.
3 Rudy Gay - F - Sacramento Kings
Rudy Gay will never live up to the 5-year, $82 million deal he signed with the Grizzlies back in 2010, yet every team that acquires him holds that glimmer of hope that he might, and they’re disappointed when he fails to do so. It goes like this: his team figures out he isn't worth the money and desperately tries to get rid of him. A new team in need of an injection of star power entertains the prospect that he may finally flourish into that superstar. Before even analyzing what he brings on the court, it must be noted that only a handful of players in the entire world can justify the worth of that contract.
With Gay, it comes down to shot selection. He always shows flashes of a budding superstar, but just when you’re ready to believe in him, he jacks up an ill-advised shot that rattles around the rim and stays out, like Gay’s attempt to make it as an all-star.
The Raptors were 6-12 when they traded Gay to Sacramento. Since then, they have gone 42-22, skyrocketing to third in the East, and home court against the Nets in round one of the playoffs. Imagine how Gay feels watching the team that was aching to get him out of town thrive in the postseason, seemingly every single one of its players benefitting from his departure.
DeMar DeRozan was thrust into a role as “the guy” received all the extra touches he needed to transform into an All-star. Seldom used second-year guard Terrence Ross finally got playing time in a starting role, and provided efficient outside shooting, and an athletic on the ball defender the Raptors desired.
Don’t forget the “Sacramento four” that came back the other way in the Gay deal. Cast offs Vasquez, Patterson, Salmons and Hayes have added the leadership and playoff experience that this Raptors team just wasn't familiar with. Not to mention the 17.8 million in 2014, and 19.3 million (player option) in 2015 that Masai Ujiri was able to obliterate off the cap, an all-star type act in its own right.
That’s your first hand look at how you’re better without Rudy Gay.
2 Dwight Howard - C - Houston Rockets
On paper, the Los Angeles Lakers 2012 team seemed destined for a deep playoff run. The team swarmed Dwight Howard away from Orlando and Steve Nash from Phoenix, and paired them with Kobe and Pau. However, the "Big four" never came close to finding any chemistry together, and Howard was shipped to Houston after just one season with the Lakers.
Despite showing no signs of it in a forgettable stint in LA, Dwight is still a dominating force within the paint, and continues to churn out double-doubles on a nightly basis, even though he'll never relive the success he had with the Magic. The system and personnel in Orlando fit him to a tee. Hedo Turkoglu was thriving in his point forward role, and the chemistry between him and Howard was phenomenal. But, that's all in the past.
When his hook shot isn’t falling, he’s a liability out there on the floor. Similarly to Harden, Dwight needs the ball in his hand to make any impact on a game. Unlike Harden, outside of 12 feet he can’t score to save his life or Houston's. Teams are continuously relying on the “hack-a-Howard” strategy to get back into games against the Rockets, and as Dwight keeps missing from the charity stripe, Head Coach Kevin McHale debates between his ears whether or not to leave him on the floor.
Had the Rockets held on to either Kyle Lowry or Goran Dragić instead of signing Jeremy Lin, the atmosphere in Houston may have felt closer to that of Orlando rather than that of Los Angeles for Howard.
Carmelo Anthony - F - New York Knicks
The Knicks had built a solid core prior to pulling the trigger on a deal to bring Carmelo Anthony to the big apple in 2011. With that cast headed the other way in the deal to Denver, the Knicks were banking hard on the seven-time All-star to carry them.
New York went just .500 the rest of the way in 2011 and were swept by the Celtics in the first round. Fittingly, Masai Ujiri, the same man who traded Rudy Gay for key contributors did the same with Carmelo, and bolstered his Nuggets team. The Knicks lost their core, and with Melo, they’ve lost ever since. The Nuggets have won more without him (148-106), than the Knicks have with him (141-117).
Anthony falls in love with his one dribble pull-up far too often, even when he knows, his defender knows, and the fans know that there are few defenders in the world that can prevent him from getting to the basket any time he wants. It’s those occasional 40+ point outbursts that mask his imperfections. Those nights stand in the way of him feeling forced to work on his game, and specifically his decision-making.
Furthermore, like Gay, he just doesn’t make anyone around him better. He exceeded five assists just seven times all season. Bulls Center Joakim Noah, and even the high-volume James Harden each did it 38 times. The biggest problem with Anthony is that he isn’t his harshest critic.
Anthony has a player option for 2014-15 but the Knicks should hope he opts out and heads to free agency. As crazy as that might sound for the casual basketball fan, he just isn’t a championship caliber "Alpha-Male." By 2015, the contracts of Stoudemire (23.4 M) and Chandler (14.5 M) and Bargnani (12 M) will come off the books, along with Anthony (23.5 M). That same summer, names like Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Goran Dragic are all free agents.
With Phil Jackson now at the helm, it won’t take much to lure two of those second-tier players to the Big Apple, and reestablish a hard-nosed winning culture in New York. It’s time for Anthony to move on. Unfortunately for him, his losing ways will follow.
1 Russell Westbrook - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook’s electric first step and explosive athleticism are a nightmare combination for any defender to deal with. However, it’s these same traits that force him into many of his poor decisions on the court. Westbrook only knows one pace, and that's part of why he turns the ball over at an alarming rate, his own version of a nightmare.
Since being drafted by Seattle in 2008, Westbrook has ranked in the top eight in turnovers per game every single year of his career. He puts up monster numbers like his ex-teammate Harden, and even flirts with triple-doubles every other night, but when everything’s on the line in the playoffs, he’s shooting 35% from the field and 20% from beyond the arc. And of course, he leads all playoff performers in turnovers at 4.5 a game. You always want to learn from your mistakes in a win rather than a loss, and Kevin Durant helps make that a reality for Westbrook.
Remember that he’s still just 25, and if there's going to be one guy that does win from this list, it'll be Westbrook. But he needs to polish his game before being considered among the best floor generals in the association. Slow it down in the half-court, cut down on the turnovers while involving teammates and take more quality shots. But when it’s time to break out in transition, explode to rim.
If he can work on those things, he'll provide the Thunder with stability at the most important position on the floor, and get them over the hump. And at least he doesn't have to worry about Harden taking his touches away anymore. Picture Westbrook, Harden, and Durant still together in OKC all calling for the ball. That’s like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Dez Bryant screaming at one quarterback they were open. For now in OKC, the ball is best kept in the hands of KD.
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