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The Heat Could be Great, but it Could Backfire

The cat’s out of the bag.

After two years of wild anticipation, massive media coverage, various rumors, meetings, summits, and behind-the-curtain discussions, LeBron James has sealed his fate for the next several seasons, and he’ll be spending them in the merciless sun of Miami, Florida, with the Heat.

But that’s not all. The King is joining forces with the two next-best players on the market this summer, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who will also be putting their talents on display in South Beach. With one of the most star-studded teams trios in the history of professional sports, this basketball team is redefining the term “superstar.”

With no doubt, this squad has the potential to be one of the greatest of all time. Putting together three players who do nothing but dominate on the hardwood could yield fantastic results. Each of these guys can beat essentially any defender one-on-one, assuring remarkable offensive efficiency for the Heat. Moreover, all three guys are capable of hitting the big shot, so crunch time will be more like lunch time in Miami. Further, still, Wade and James are widely considered solid defenders, and Bosh is halfway decent, so, assuming they put in the effort, they won’t be giving up many points, either. I foresee many games with astronomical scoring margins.

Since the rumors that LeBron would, in fact, go to Miami began to surface, they were immediately paired with reviews of how they gelled together on the USA National Team in the 2008 Olympics, and that they did. James, Wade, and Bosh sliced, diced, and scored with ease as the team went on to win the Gold Medal in those games, putting their various talents together in a memorable synergy.

Still, there are countless looming concerns that could render this team one of the most disappointing ever.

The most concrete qualm with this scenario is the lack of talent that will fill out the roster. With these three sizable contracts, the Heat have no choice but to fill out the rest of the team with minimum-salary veterans, per NBA rules. Will the overwhelming talent of the Big Three outweigh the palpable ineptitude of the rest of the players on the roster? They have no real point guard (unless Mario Chalmers qualifies) or center yet, and those are, arguably, the two most positions in the lineup. Will Pat Riley be able to scour the market for players who can fill the roles at least somewhat decently? It’s a fair question. The team will also be astoundingly shallow, and Eric Spoelstra is going to have to try his hardest to keep two of the Big Three on the floor at all times to avoid being completely overwhelmed by other teams’ superior second units.

Then there are the possible problems that could arise with injury. Sure, any key player on any team could go down with a health problem, but with the Heat, the talent is so concentrated, that if one (or, god forbid, two) of them goes down, it could cause major problems with the team’s production, as someone would have to fill the void — and it’s entirely possible there won’t be anyone capable of doing so on that team. They’d better invest some good money in the training staff, because it seems like Wade, at least, misses some number of games every season.

Furthermore, there’s the looming question of compatibility. Yeah, they looked good playing together on Team USA, but this is a different scenario. In international competition, preoccupations with money, fame, stats, and alpha-male status are all put on hold for the good of winning in representing the country. In the NBA, without that patriotic passion, the more nitpicky concerns begin to arise. Will the guy who’s getting paid less handle it well? Who’s going to get the ball in key situations? Who will get the most possessions? Who will pass the ball? Who will be the leader? Will winning be the ultimate concern for these guys, or will superstar tendencies take over?

The other argument that people cite in support of this trio of legends is in reference to the 2008 Boston Celtics. “Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce came together to do it. Why can’t these guys?” they say. But realize that this is not the same thing at all. Garnett, Pierce, and Allen all filled different roles. Pierce was the multitalented get-the-ball-in-the-net guy, Allen was the shooting-and-slashing guard, and KG was the tenacious defender, rebounder, and opportune post scorer. Furthermore, their collective egotism certainly wasn’t enough to blow you out of the room like that of the group on Miami. Those guys got it. I’m not sure these guys will.

And moving beyond either of those comparisons, there’s still just the conception of how it will work on the court. Take this into consideration. The median pace factor (number of team possessions per game) last season was 95.0. John Hollinger’s usage rate tracks the number of possessions that a player uses per 40 minutes. Last year, James, Wade, and Bosh all played about 40 minutes a game, and you can expect that to stay about the same or go up in the coming season. Last year, the usage rates for Bosh, James, and Wade were 25.9, 32.2, and 33.2 respectively, for a total of 91.3 possessions per 40 minutes. And that still leaves eight minutes unaccounted for! And that’s without including the other nine (or more) players on the roster. Clearly, there just isn’t enough time for each of them to get his fill.

Accordingly, these guys are going to have to tone down their scoring in order to make it work, and I’m not sure that can happen. If it doesn’t, the results could be catastrophic. They’ll haul totally inefficient shots early in the possession to get more looks, and the team will struggle overall.

All that said, they might get all the chemistry right and take it on to the court and dominate with ease. But combining Bosh, James, and Wade on the same team on the same court could end up being a very dangerous proposition.

Hardwood Paroxysm