The Decision: Heat
With LeBron in Miami, title chase is full of contenders
The news that LeBron James is going to Miami to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will surely have some anointing the Heat as next season’s favorites.
It’s a power trio that could rock the league for years to come.
“I can’t say it was always in my plans, because I never thought it was possible,” said James, who wrestled with his decision for weeks. “But the things that the Miami Heat franchise have done, to free up cap space and be able to put themselves in a position this summer to have all three of us, it was hard to turn down.
Ending weeks of round-the-clock speculation, the two-time MVP nicknamed “King James” said he was uncertain until the eleventh hour before deciding that the only way he could fulfill his dreams of winning multiple championships was to leave his home state and a city that hasn’t sprayed championship champagne in 46 years.
See ya, Cleveland.
Sorry, New York, Chicago, New Jersey, Los Angeles and all you other NBA cities who came calling.
Hello, South Beach.
“It’s going to give me the best opportunity to win,” James said. “We’re going to be a real good team.”
But not a cinch to win the championship, say many basketball people.
“It’s not over with,” New York coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Nothing’s over.”
Miami has three of the best players in the NBA, but it takes 12 to fill a roster. And even if the trio keeps its word and takes less money than allowed, there still won’t be much cash left for the Heat to have many good choices.
Certainly not enough to go sign their versions of Ron Artest and Lamar Odom, who helped the Lakers pull out Game 7 of the NBA finals over Boston and its Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen while Kobe Bryant was struggling.
“I think whatever happens, I don’t think anyone is going to beat the Lakers anyway,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “When you look at what the Lakers have, it’s really hard to beat them. That team is so good, but if they continue to get better and can stay healthy, it’s not going to matter who you put together.”
Still, the Heat now have a chance to do it, all because they took a chance in free agency and it paid off.
The best players almost never leave as free agents in the NBA, where the league’s collective bargaining agreement allows them to receive longer contracts with bigger raises from their own clubs.
Yet the Heat persuaded James and Bosh to come to South Florida, even though it could mean leaving about $30 million on the table.
Once the euphoria from James’ announcement wears off and the partying stops on South Beach, filling the roster will be the next step. The Celtics were able to surround Garnett, Pierce and Allen three years ago by finding veterans such as P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell who were interested in signing on cheaply for a shot at a title, and that’s likely what Miami will have to do now.
Even with their new lineup, the Heat won’t find it easy even to get out of the Eastern Conference. The Celtics’ Big Three is returning and has added Jermaine O’Neal. Chicago signed Carlos Boozer to join its good young core and Orlando will be tough again.
The Celtics believe they could still be the class of the conference.
“I have a great deal of respect for all those guys – all the top-notch free agents,” team president Danny Ainge said. “Whatever happens, I know that it’s going to be a challenge. The East is going to be stronger. But I think everybody that’s worth their salt thinks they can beat somebody.”
And if the Heat do escape the East, the powerful two-time defending champion Lakers could be waiting.
“They still have to put pieces around those guys, and they’ll have a chance. They’ll have a chance,” Smith said. “Remember, I go back to the Laker days when they loaded up all those guys over there but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything.”
In the most-hyped free agency period the league has seen, the Heat were the clear winners. Time will tell if that will make them winners on the court.
“They have to fill out their team. It’s definitely not unbeatable or anything like that,” D’Antoni said. “It’ll set a high bar for the Eastern Conference and we’ll chase them.”