As it turns out, even with the Decision, even with the purported stacking of the deck that some claimed ruined the game, LeBron James was still almost as much of a one man wrecking crew as any team to win the title in the last 30 years. His playoff “win shares” for this postseason (three-point era) ranks only behind Tim Duncan in 2003, because Duncan played one more postseason game. His win shares per 48 minutes for these playoffs, for all players who reached at least a conference final, ranks only behind some guy named LeBron James in 2009, and two Michael Jordan performances (1991 and 1996) where the Bulls collectively lost two playoff games and three playoff games, respectively.
Now that the monkey is off that proverbial back, people can look back and say that LeBron has been one of the best playoff performers ever to this point in his career. Of course, nobody is a one-man wrecking crew, really. It’s still a team game, even if some members of the team can carry more weight.
I looked back at all NBA champions of the three-point era, to see where the teammates ranked. As it turns out, even with signing with Miami to pair with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, these Miami Heat rank closer to the bottom in terms of the “Other Two” of a “Big Three” among champs. So while LeBron was derided for moving to a different city, I guess he couldn’t count on his original franchise bringing in one of the best centers in the game in their primes – twice.
He couldn’t count on his team trading away a star a few years earlier and falling into the first overall pick the year Magic Johnson came into the league, like Abdul-Jabbar. He couldn’t count on adding another great player by drafting him a year early (Bird) or where the team could fleece the Golden State Warriors for two Hall of Famers (Parish and McHale). And as the years in Cleveland showed him, he couldn’t count on a team adding two players like Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen in the draft before he left in free agency.
Among all 33 champions since 1980 (prorating this year for fewer games), the Wade/Bosh combo ranks 21st out of the 33 teams in the combined win shares of the 2nd and 3rd best player in the regular season. Some of that is injuries, as last year, if they would have won, they would have ranked near the top. If we expand it out to the top 4 starters besides the “star,” then the Heat this year drop even lower. Only both Houston championships with Olajuwon, 2003 for Duncan, last year with Dallas, 2001 with the Lakers, and Miami’s first championship with everyone else but Wade rank lower. Of course, the combined win shares of this year’s Heat team still ranks way above the other starters in Cleveland when LeBron was there.
In short, his teams in Cleveland weren’t good enough to win titles, and this team was, though it was far from a dominating or unusual supporting cast for a NBA champion. Five of Michael Jordan’s six titles came with more productive teammates, all of Kobe’s did, four of five of Magic’s did, three of four of Duncan’s did, and all of Bird’s did. LeBron didn’t change the NBA; he followed how the stars have almost always won titles -by pairing with a couple of other players among the top 25 in the NBA who could have been stars on most teams.
Of course, there is already reference to multiple titles and the earlier proclamations by the Heat about how many titles they would win. I’ll say this – LeBron does not have a 25-year old Pippen and a 25-year old Horace Grant on his roster like Jordan did heading into a decade-long run. The Heat actually face The Decision, part II. The bold move would be to make a roster change now. I know that a couple of weeks ago (remember that time when LeBron didn’t have a title and the Heat were in danger vs Indiana and Boston) we discussed trading Dwyane Wade. I think it should at least be discussed, as Wade will be 31 and still brings a lot of value.
The safe play, the play that makes the Heat the favorite again next year, is to keep Wade and ride out the Big Three until they are not big anymore. The play for greatness is to probably move him to re-load for the rest of LeBron James’ career. The Lakers lost their second best player, Gail Goodrich, when they had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in exchange for multiple first round picks. It set up the dynasty of the 80′s. The Heat are good enough to be a top 5 contender without one of the other Big Three as part of a trade initially, but won’t be the clear favorite.
The other option is to stay put, trust that aging veterans wanting to grab at a ring will play for cheap and can be quality 4th and 5th options on championship teams. Adding more quality on the back end will keep the Heat in the catbird seat for a little longer.
We all, including writers in Denver, know that the top way to a title is to have the best player. Beyond that, though, there are decisions the Heat can make that will determine just how many LeBron can get. It’s silly to expect six, because that takes a lot more parts than just the best player for a long time.
[photo via US Presswire]