Dispense with all the vituperation about how LeBron James' televised decision was the be-all, end-all of sports' innocence. Discard the worries about collusion prompted by Brian Windhorst's magnificent curtain-peeling look at how the "Miami Threet" came to be. Focus, instead, on the basketball, and ask yourself this: How do we know we won't see this show repeating in four years?
Yes, that's right: Four years, not six, the publicized length of the deals Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, is the window for championships that will keep the threesome in Miami. That's because each can opt out after four years and has a player option for the fifth year. So if there's discontent after Year Four, Year Five, or Year Six of this experiment, we could get the Summer of 2010, Part Two: The Re-Reckoning.
That would make titles in the first four years important, it seems. And those years might be harder ones to dominate than the dream scenario of having the best two players in basketball on one team in later years.
But exactly how much stands in the Heat's way? And exactly how many titles will be the dividing line between success and failure? Hey, delving into what lies before the Heat is far more interesting than lambasting LeBron James, right?
Miami will have probably the toughest division in the NBA to play in for the near future. The Magic have young stars and tremendous depth; the Hawks have less wattage but an impressive array of talent; the Bobcats are probably no worse than the seventh or eighth-best team in the East; the Wizards have John Wall. That will make getting home-court advantage tougher, but it also means the grind of 82 games might be especially hard for the Heat.
Another major disadvantage particular to Miami: The matter of the supporting cast. Though veterans are likely to flock to Miami to chase rings by night and chase other things by early morning, they will be last hurrah vets at best—Jason Williams, Juwan Howard, Joe Smith, and James Jones are among the names floating around, and none of them could be confused for more than role players. The veteran-wooing process will get easier as more veterans see the Heat play and/or decide they can take less money to get a title, but that process will take time, and could be derailed by a new collective bargaining agreement that squeezes the NBA's salary cap. And because the surrounding talent will be meager for at least a while, any injuries to James, Wade, or Bosh will be more damaging than an injury to, say, Andrew Bynum is.
And in that time, the Heat will have to deal with the last hours of a few powers' reigns. The Lakers are still the NBA's most talented team, and have as many more years on their clock as Kobe Bryant's body can muster. The Celtics might have been the best team in the league last year, and without an untimely injury to Kendrick Perkins, might have beaten the Lakers. The Magic are loaded. The Thunder have a blindingly bright future and a megastar to lead them to the promised land. The Bulls are rising. The Blazers could be excellent if healthy. Throw in the aging Spurs, Mavericks, and Suns as dark horses.
Count those squads up, and it's clear there are a lot of obstacles on Miami's road to reign, enough that "Yes We Did" as a slogan for the Heat sounds arrogant in addition to being wrong. (Unless the thing "we did" was sign with Miami, which hardly seems banner-worthy.) Calling a team that hasn't played one game together the favorite to lift the trophy seems stupendously premature, too. But, perhaps the forgotten aspect of the pessimistic outlook: James and Wade, and, to a lesser extent, Bosh, are really, really good.
You would be hard-pressed to find any teammates any of the three players have had that measure up to what each one now has in the other two points of the triangle. (Shaq, early in his Heat career, is probably better than Bosh. But that might be it.) And James and Wade have made their careers on elevating lesser talents to successful seasons; remember, James carried a team with two All-Star appearances outside of his own—both by Zydrunas Ilgauskas—to an NBA Finals in 2007, and Wade lifted last year's Heat to 47 wins without losing his mind trying to decide whether Michael Beasley or Jermaine O'Neal were good. Add Bosh, who has lifted mediocre Raptors outfits to the playoffs, to two of the top three or four players in the NBA and that core is astoundingly talented.
And it will help both James and Wade that their games mirror each other. Both take tons of punishment slashing to the hoop, but if they can alternate sharing the brunt of it from night to night, and make double-teams pay with dishes to Bosh, it might keep both players fresher for longer.
There is a steep mountain to climb, but this team is uniquely equipped to climb it with one of the most fearsome trios in NBA history. The expectations for this team will be titles every year, and the excuses will evaporate after the first year, which will be easily written off as a getting-to-know-you stage without the "right" pieces around the Tremendous Three in place. But two titles in the first four years isn't out of line with the hoopla that will follow this team. And it might be the minimum to make sure that all three are happy come 2014: Could you imagine a lone title won in June 2012 making all three happy after four years? Would two in five years be good enough? Three in six?
Success, for James and Wade, players who get compared to the finest perimeter players in NBA history—Jordan and Bryant—whether they want to or not, will be defined not by aesthetics or statistics or joy, but by titles. That's the scenario set up by forming the Superfriends of South Beach.
Coming up with a 50% success rate might not be enough.
And then we might be right back where we are now.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.