NBA Oregon Trail: LeBron James Free Agency Edition

LeBron Oregon Trail Riley Dead

For the latest installment in our NBA Oregon Trail, LeBron James makes his free agency decision. James is supposedly on vacation in Brazil for the World Cup, but in actuality, he's taking prospective employers on the Oregon Trail to make his decision rather than sitting in a gym with Jim Gray. He's learned his lesson, guys.


Taking My Talents….Home!


The Miami Heat’s failure to capitalize on its first shot at an NBA Championship, with their “Big 3,” in place, will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest disappointments in Sports History.  It’s not the fact that a team so top-heavy in talent can lose a series; it’s what happened prior to this point, that’s the problem.  This series wasn’t about what Dallas Accomplished, but more about what Miami failed to Accomplish.  The series wasn’t about the dynamic leadership displayed by Dirk Nowitzki, but the lack of leadership by LeBron James.  All of these things are magnified due to the brash and very bold statements made by James, starting with “The Decision.”

The Decision

James’ announcement of his choice of team via Television Special, followed by a proclamation of at least 7 Championships, ultimately set the Heat up for failure.  James was so confident in the team’s ability to succeed, that he hinted at victories even if Pat Riley was the team’s starting Point Guard.  With a team this talented, who’s going to argue LeBron’s statements?  I for one saw the Heat as a dead-lock for the Finals, which was correct.  I initially picked them to lose the Finals versus the Lakers, but uhh…We saw how that turned out for “Showtime!”  Once the Lakers were ousted, I didn’t see anyone standing in the way of Miami’s Destiny.  As a team, they entered the playoffs clicking on all cylinders, and even watched LeBron mature as a player through the first 3 series.  But then came the Big Stage…(Here’s where you insert for favorite sad face : ( perplexed style : / or the highly emotional crying face (,-__-,)


James basically disappeared in the Finals, averaging 18pts, 7ast, & 7reb!!! LeBron is a former NBA Scoring Champ, and averaged 18 ppg!  Let’s also note that James averaged 21ppg as a ROOKIE!  Now, not taking anything away from his overall playoff performance, because he is the reason Miami got to the Finals.  James was playing like a man possessed in the first 3 rounds, and hit some huge shots in both the Boston and Chicago Series’.  You can argue that it’s a team game, and all of the blame can’t be placed on James, which is correct.  However, LeBron’s actions coinciding with his talents are what create the enormous bulls-eye on his back.   He also doesn’t help the scrutiny by his comments, and almost nonchalant attitude at press conferences.  Again this is a team game, but the team itself doesn’t share in the talking aspect, which James excels in.  If you go back to the introduction of “The Heatles,” it was LeBron who did the most talking, and predicting on behalf of the Heat.  Look at it like this…Muhammad Ali was known for his trash talk before, and during, some of the biggest fights of his life.  While Ali didn’t have an unblemished record, he always came back to avenge a loss, thus backing his proclamations.  LeBron doesn’t have a history of closing games, playing to his full potential, nor being the leader that the “Face of the NBA,” should; but talks as if this isn’t the case.  If LeBron showed a little more humility, I don’t believe the backlash would be to this unbelievable level.


So What Exactly Happened?

Aside from LeBron’s shortcomings in the Finals, what else seemed to go wrong for Miami, that didn’t for Dallas?  Let’s start with Miami’s consistency outside of its core.  The bench play was much uninspired throughout the series, while Dallas had its role players contribute on a nightly basis.  But despite the poor role playing on behalf of the Heat, they controlled this entire series.  Splitting the first 4 games, could have easily been a 4-0 Miami Sweep.  Dallas turned the Heat into a jump shooting team, and prevented them from attacking the paint, which is their
strong suit.  Along with Dallas’ defensive adjustment, was Dirk’s relentlessness as a leader.  There wasn’t a moment in this series that Dirk wasn’t in attack mode.  This same thing can be said about Dwayne Wade, who played his heart out throughout the series, and if not for injury, wouldn’t have let up.  If you take each team at 100% attack mode, the Heat should win out every time.  My reasoning is simple; Dwayne Wade and LeBron James excel on BOTH sides of the court, which is a headache for every team in the league.  I fully believe that if LeBron guarded Nowitzki for the entire series, and Wade on either Terry or Barrea (depending on who’s in the game), I don’t see Miami losing this series at all.  This tactic then forces other players to beat you, who aren’t as offensively gifted as the aforementioned Nowitzki, Terry or Barrea.

I also believe that the Heat lost some faith in the process at some point.  Squandering big leads in games they controlled from the beginning, is inexcusable.  The team got extremely passive during the final moments of Game 6, and the stars of the team almost seemed to defer to its role players.  A play that replay’s endlessly in my mind, is the Chalmers turnover under the basket.  With 3 players making over 100 million dollars each, and have the ball in Mario Chalmers’ hands in crucial parts of the game in ridiculous!  I just don’t see the team letting up if Pat Riley is who you have to face when you come off the floor, versus Erik Spolestra.  While Spolestra did improve as the season went on, I think his lack of big game experience is what ultimately did him in.  But again, the coaches aren’t the ones who perform on the floor…it’s the players!


The Fallout

While the Heat are the early favorite to win next year’s Title, something has to change.  With 7 players as unrestricted free agents, 3 will likely return with their player options (House, Jones & Illgauskas).  Mario Chalmers is the team’s lone restricted free agent, and has already been rumored to be receiving a qualifying offer from Miami.  Two things that need to change are the team’s ability to score off the bench, along with the team’s interior defense.  When your Shooting Guard is blocking as many, or more, shots than your big’s…There’s a problem!  But not only does the interior defense need to improve, but the overall toughness of the team.  As it stands, it seems as though when Wade isn’t at 100%, the team loses its heart and backbone.  If Miami is lucky enough, there are a few players that I feel could be added at a bargain price to aid in the team’s improvement.  Perimeter Players – Tracey McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Al Thornton, Michael Redd, T.J. Ford, Shane Battier, Andrei Kirilenko, and Josh Howard.  Interior Players – Kenyon Martin, Samuel Dalembert, Chuck Hayes, Craig Smith, Chris Wilcox, Boris Diaw, Troy Murphy, and Etan Thomas.  While these are all unrestricted free agents that are all possibilities for the Heat, bigger players like Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Nene, and J.R. Smith, are all likely to command too high of a price tag on the market.  Players like Redd, Prince, Ford, Battier, Kirilenko, Martin and Dalembert, would dramatically improve the Heat’s overall roster.  Dalembert provides added shot blocking, along with Martin, who also would be an enforcer that the Heat desperately need.  Battier, Prince and Kirilenko provide length, and solid perimeter defense, as they can defend several positions on the court.  TJ Ford would be a tremendous upgrade at the Point Guard position, while Redd provides more scoring ability off the bench to go along with Mike Miller & James Jones.  Players like McGrady, Josh Howard and Michael Redd are all very injury prone players, but can be very serviceable if their health/minutes are preserved for a playoff run.


Along with these changes, I have a strong feeling that Pat Riley will step in as the new coach.  Riley worked too hard to put this team together, to see them fail.  Riley is often linked with the great Phil Jackson, as they not only were great coaches, but managed some of the game’s biggest personalities.  Riley has the pedigree to get the most out of this Heat team, and surely would not have allowed them to relinquish those late game leads.  Look for major changes in South Beach, which will result in Miami’s hoisting of the Championship Trophy.  The only thing that could prevent a title run from happening, are another implosion by the team itself, but if Pat is patrolling the sideline, I wouldn’t bet on it!



Follow – @TheKidSkoob



What a series, huh?

This years remarkable NBA Finals capped off with a remarkable Game 6, one watched by 23.5 million people, producing ABC’s best non-Oscar sunday in five years (and the most watched game 6 since Jordan beat the Jazz in 1998.

Now that the season is done, we’ve got plenty of time to get into intricate detail on how this year’s series stacks up against the greats. We’ve also got a lot of cool things a’brewing here at Saving the Skyhook for the offseason, including a live blog during the NBA Draft, but for now, I’d like to offer up some love for the first time NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks.

Continue Reading


Erik Spoelstra’s Seat Just Got Warm

Erik SPOELSTRA - 09.10.2008 - Miami Heat / New Jersey Nets - NBA Europe Live Tour - Paris....Photo : Olivier Andrivon Photo via Newscom

(Source: Yardbarker.com)

Think back to July 8th. LeBron James sat around with Jim Gray and made his decision. The man was taking his talents to South Beach. Woo-hoo! And then came the claims from some NBA analysts about how this could potentially be the greatest team ever, and a team that would challenge the ’95-96 Chicago Bulls’ record win total of 72. Continue Reading


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.