How the Heat's Haul Changes Everything
Tawdriness and lost honor aside, this LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh formation is a big deal. It makes Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen look positively quaint by comparison. That was a reach. This is power-broking galore. I know that brands and legacies have been tarnished, but that's an old paradigm. Who knows how this will affect these narratives down the road? Haven't we complained for years that no one can step out of Jordan's shadow? Well, this is real innovation. It's uncharted waters; we have no idea how history will judge it.
What I'm thinking now is what this means for the rest of the league. Yes, we know, this team will be the prohibitive favorite to win rings for years to come, especially with role players lining up to play for sheckles. It might well destroy the competitive balance of the league. But to get more specific, this changes everything for Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Let's start with the Thunder, if only because enough digital ink was spilled this week in praise of Kevin Durant's modesty-in-extension. As one friend pointed out, while Durant may be totally genuine, we're not that far away from him being held up, sickeningly so, as a counter-Bron, a model for all that our kids should aspire to even as James tries to bankroll their futures.
But this idea isn't new. If James has been known to disappear and lacks a murder-setting -- one popular criticism -- the smaller, less physically-gifted KD lives and dies by the game's outcome.
What's more, Sam Presti has built a team from the ground up, through smart draft picks, imaginative combinations, and signings geared toward maximum flexibility. The Thunder aren't just the wholesome good guys to the Evil Empire of Miami. They are a team built the Right Way, which in this context means using brains, imagination, and acumen. No blunt force, no shortcuts. Landing Durant was lucky, and yes, I'm sure there's some curse on them because of Sonics-gate.
If the Heat plan to dominate, their most worthy foes for the future just might be a team that represents everything they're not. And one that leaves the door open for a team to rebuild organically, dynamically.
(I know it's become fashionable over the last few hours to posit Kobe Bryant and the Lakers as the anti-Heat. I'm not sold. For one, they won't last much longer. For two, Kobe staged a similar, if less outlandish, courtship of suitors when his deal came up in 2004. For three, that Pau Gasol deal wasn't exactly a high point of competitive fairness. And, four, this team doesn't have quite to longevity that the Thunder or Heat do. Gasol, maybe, but Kobe's aging has been palpable, numbers don't apply to Ron Artest -- they flow backward and forward in arbitrary intervals -- and Phil Jackson is almost done.)
Morality plays aside, though, the real question is what this means for other superstars from the mini-max generation. Two names bandied about often in this summer Free Agent Meltdown were Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, neither of whom were actually free agents. But with Anthony hitting the market a year from now, and Paul supposedly available for the right price, we have two other major forces weighing their futures as we speak.
With this Miami team in place, do they really think they have a chance unless they themselves join some sort of super-cooperative?
When Amar'e Stoudemire guaranteed Melo or Tony Parker in New York, it was taken as typical Amar'e bravado. But -- and let's suppose he didn't yet know where James was headed -- he did, in some sense, see the writing on the wall. Here's the good news, Knicks fans: Any player serious about getting a ring now needs to cling to other max idols. So yeah, Carmelo Anthony very well might end up in New York. What else is he going to do?
Piling up talent didn't work for the Lakers in 2003-04, but that team had corrosive chemistry and no one but Kobe in his prime. The Big Three of Boston knew that cohesion was king. Let's presume that Miami will have more firepower than either, and the shared wavelength of the Celtics.
That's a monstrosity, in a good and bad way. One that, like it or not, maybe severely limit the options of the league's other biggest names.