An Analysis of LeBron's Miami Move

July 10, 2010

In a silly one hour television special that turned this historic NBA offseason into an episode of American Idol, LeBron James announced that he would join stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to form a powerhouse glamour team in Miami.

The ripple effect of LeBron's move will be felt throughout the league, and immediately brings to mind the following questions:

1. What Did Cleveland Do Wrong?

At the outset of the free agency period, Cleveland had a lot things going in its favor.

From a monetary standpoint, Cleveland could offer LeBron at least $30 million more than the Heat. Furthermore, the Cavs had an extra ace up their sleeve since they were James' hometown team. In addition, they had recently hired a respectable coach in Byron Scott and were a legitimate title contender, having earned league's best record last season.

Of course, some things were beyond Cleveland's control.

Nobody expected the Heat to clear enough cap space to sign three premium free agents. Nor did anyone anticipate that the friendships forged between James, Wade, and Bosh during the 2008 Olympics would culminate in all three teaming up this fall.

Despite those outside forces, Cleveland ultimately produced their own demise.

First, owner Dan Gilbert created a culture of ass-kissing toward The King which ultimately caused him to lose respect for the organization.

James had an entourage of sycophants and high school pals-turned-advisers running wild in and around the organization trying to play "grownup," and yet, Gilbert never once paused to ask this collection of kids, "just who in the hell are you again?"

As a result, he lost a bit of institutional control, gave an inch, and allowed James and his cronies to begin running the asylum.

That permissive enabling permeated down to head coach Mike Brown, who appeared petrified of criticizing James or holding him accountable, particularly during his playoff no-shows.

Brown should have been demanding more from the King - more leadership, more ball denial on defense, more skill development in the low post. Brown, however, seemed more intent on being his buddy.

In Brown's defense, James generally produced on the court, so to criticize him would run the risk of alienating his star. But such critique is precisely what stars truly need to take them to the next level. Perhaps that is why Pat Riley - a prodder, to put it kindly - could be coaching James down the road.

To be fair, James did improve his defensive commitment under Brown, but much of that newfound growth was influenced by the players and coaching staff of Team USA at the Beijing Games.

With the owner and coach so desperate to please LeBron, his self-absorption - already quite pronounced from his days as a high school star - grew even stronger and began to infiltrate the team. It manifested itself in various forms, such as when the Cavs whined like entitled frat boys when Mo Williams initially was left off the All Star team two seasons ago.

Second, GM Danny Ferry also contributed to the departure with some questionable basketball moves.

Ferry dealt for Shaq a year too late, turning down a deal for The Diesel in 2009, when Shaq could have defended Dwight Howard in the playoffs. Ferry refused to make the trade due to salary cap concerns.

This year he made an even worse decision, electing to trade for Antawn Jamison rather than Amare Stoudemire when Stoudemire was being actively shopped by Phoenix.

LeBron clearly wanted Stoudemire, but Ferry made the short term decision that Jamison's outside stroke would be a better fit in 2010 with Shaquille O'Neal on the team.

What Ferry should have been thinking was which guy would fit better with LeBron in the years to come after Shaq had left town. Undoubtedly, Stoudemire was that guy - a true second option and a star who might have convinced James to stay.

2. Do the James-Wade-Bosh Signings Automatically Vault Miami Past the Lakers & Celtics?

With forward Michael Beasley now traded to Minnesota, the Heat will have only four players on their roster. The rest of the team will be comprised of a collection of spare parts - rookie second-rounders, veteran's minimum free agents, and perhaps swingman Mike Miller.

Obviously, there will be an adjustment period with all the newcomers, and nobody knows at this point who will be on the team come training camp.

Still the question must be asked, do these three stars alone instantly make Miami the favorites to win the 2011 title? After all, each one is young, hungry, and coming off an outstanding season.

The short answer is no.

The truth is that although Miami now is an instant title contender, it does not necessarily enjoy an overwhelming matchup advantage against either the Lakers or the Celtics at the three positions which Wade, LeBron, and Bosh occupy.

The Lakers can put Pau Gasol against Bosh in a matchup of long, skilled, finesse bigs, that on paper looks fairly even. Bosh is the more athletic of the two, but Gasol is the better passer.

While LeBron is the reigning MVP and gives Miami an edge over LA at the 3, Ron Artest is the NBA's most physical defender at that position, and at least will make things interesting. This postseason, Artest made a difference against every star small forward he faced, first lowering Kevin Durant's shooting percentage in the first round, and later giving Paul Pierce trouble in the Finals.

At the 2, the Wade-Kobe matchup is a classic clash of superstars. At worst, it is a wash for the Lakers, and possibly even a slim advantage. Throw in their size advantage with Andrew Bynum at the 5 and Lamar Odom coming off the bench, and LA can match fire with fire.

Boston meanwhile, is by no means outclassed by Miami, despite the Celtics advancing age.

Paul Pierce has historically played well against LeBron, and KG showed in his head-to-head matchup with Gasol during the Finals that he has enough left in the tank to compete with Bosh. At the 2, Ray Allen still has a great stroke and also put up some good games against Wade in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.

Factor in point guard Rajon Rondo's ever-developing game and superiority over Mario Chalmers, and the potential signing of a decent big man in Jermaine O'Neal, and the Celtics now have advantages at two positions on the floor.

To pencil in a title for Miami at this point is just simply premature.

Although most great players are unselfish and willing to share the ball, there nevertheless will be some time needed for these three stars to mesh with all the new faces in South Beach.

Wade and James provide the Heat with two of the league's three best players, and Bosh is a top 15 guy himself. All three can score from multiple areas on the floor and will draw double-team attention throughout the year. Moreover, all three are outstanding in the pick-and-roll and are capable of creating their own shot with the shot clock winding down.

Given such talents, the Heat will see plenty of double teams and zones, and therefore, will need several knockdown shooters on the roster to space the floor.

They will also need some physical inside players to complement Bosh's finesse game and battle Dwight Howard, among others. Beefy rookie Dexter Pittman is a step in the right direction, but is just a rook. Absent such additions, the Heat could come up short in 2011.

3. What Happens To Pat Riley?

Riles could dust off his sneakers, become the Heat's fifth starter, not add another player to the team, and he still would win the Executive of the Year award based upon what he has done thus far.

But once the roster is assembled and Pat Riley the GM can catch his breath, does Riles the Coach then start to glance longingly at the sidelines?

Make no mistake, Riley's coaching history was a major selling point in LeBron's decision.

The King is saying all the right things now about current coach Erik Spoelstra being the guy, but James will have little patience for Spoelstra's on-the-job training.

More importantly, neither will Riley.

Because the talent and stakes have been raised, Spoelstra will be on a short leash. As a result, should the Heat stumble during the playoffs, expect Riley to step in and take over the helm, much as he did with Stan Van Gundy.

It would be a move welcomed by the Heat's three stars, and one that Riley could stomach at this point in his life.

After suffering a bit of burnout following a couple of losing seasons in Miami, a now older Pat Riley would only return to coaching if presented with the right situation. In this case, the right situation is at hand, as the Heat are a title contender with the right mix of star power that Riley could drive over the top.

Spoelstra has one shot at this. If he fails to bring a ring or make an impressive playoff showing, he will be gone.

4. What Happens to Cleveland?

The loss of the MVP from Cleveland's starting lineup is devastating. In addition, expect the Cavs to lose starting center Shaquille O'Neal to free agency, and possibly backup and fan favorite Zydrunas Ilgauskas as well.

To make matters worse, Dan Gilbert has alienated every potential free agent remaining on the market with his ridiculous public letter to the Cleveland fanbase.

The childish tone of that letter caused his already small-market franchise to plummet into Amateur Night at the Apollo - unfortunately with no Sandman to rescue Gilbert from himself.

Unquestionably, the life has been sucked out of the Cavs franchise. It is a blow not quite as brutal as Art Modell's departure to Baltimore, but close in devastation to "The Drive," "The Fumble," or "Red Right 88."

So with the team's heart ripped apart and no incoming new blood arriving via the draft, what happens to the Cavs this year?

Contrary to popular belief, LeBron did have some pieces around him, enough so that Cleveland should sneak into the playoffs.

New coach Byron Scott should inject some life into the squad, and perhaps bring a more imaginative offense than Mike Brown.

Tweener forward Antawn Jamison for all his faults will be a reliable scorer in the paint and behind the three-point arc. Point guard Mo Williams is not a great creator and disappears in the playoffs, but at least can stick jumpers and score in double figures.

In addition, swingman Anthony Parker is a good defender and spot-up shooter, and big man Anderson Varejao remains a valuable rebounder, albeit overpriced. Throw in the fact that Cleveland is a sound defensive squad capable of squeaking out wins against the numerous weak, lower-rung teams in the Eastern Conference, and the Cavs could secure the eighth and final playoff seed.

If not, a return trip to the lottery might not be so bad. After all, they could get lucky, land the number one overall pick, and draft a franchise player . . . well, nevermind.

5. Will the Move to Miami Ruin LeBron's Basketball Legacy?


Many are trying to point out that LeBron's legacy on the court will be diminished by not staying with one team and trying to win in Cleveland. They will point to Magic, Bird, and Jordan, and claim that part of their greatness relates to having won titles with their original teams.

By logical extension, these naysayers will believe that any championship won in Miami will somehow be a diluted title for LeBron because he needed 2 other stars to help him.

What hogwash.

The reality is that winning cures all ills. Changing teams and then winning titles with that new team never hurt Kareem's legacy, nor that of Shaq or Clyde Drexler. Moreover, the legacies of former malcontents Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest did a 180 degree turn after acquiring rings with their new teams. In the end, championships can only improve one's legacy.

Furthermore, no title has ever been won single-handedly, as history has proven that every star needs help. Should LeBron get his ring in Miami, it will be no different than the game's other greats receiving some help along the way.

However, if there is one thing that might have been revealed with "The Decision," it is LeBron's true level of self-belief.

The NBA is a star-driven league where role players can be readily replaced, and James has safely allied himself with two other stars. Taking the emotion and hometown ties out of it, James' choice in that sense was the correct, easy, and pragmatic decision from a long-term basketball "winning" perspective.

It was also the courageous decision, as even LeBron could look beyond his bubble of yes men to realize that a Miami move would cost him some popularity.

Still, one cannot help but think that to some degree LeBron feels deep down that he is not yet the man. In other words, perhaps he is not just seeking better help, but a lesser burden. They are not necessarily one and the same.

In the 2008 Olympic gold medal game, LeBron was not merely deferential to teammate Kobe Bryant, he downright disappeared in the second half. It was Bryant and Wade who stepped up, seized the reins, and closed the game out, while James passively did the minimum.

When James has gone head-to-head with Kobe during the past two years, we have seen him give Bryant almost too much respect, as if he mentally does not believe that he is quite yet at Bryant's level.

Even when he clearly was the best player on his team and had his share of successful clutch moments, LeBron also has played poorly when needed most, as seen by his mediocre showing in the 2006 FIBA World Championships and his latest series against Boston.

Stars either have the unflagging inner belief that they are the best player on the floor or they don't, and with LeBron, we can see the doubt creep through from time to time.

Perhaps it was that nagging doubt which compelled him to seek help in Miami.

6. Has LeBron's Good-Guy Image Been Tarnished?

In Cleveland, absolutely.

LeBron's enthusiastic personality and thunderous dunks have created enough goodwill among NBA fans over the years for him to breeze through several image-related issues unscathed.

Those issues include:

1) a refusal to take a stand against genocide of all things, by declining to sign Ira Newble's Darfur petition;

2) a Stepin Fetchit-like willingness to sellout and reinforce African-American stereotypes by posing like King Kong on the cover of Vogue magazine;

3) a refusal to be sportsmanlike and shake hands with the Orlando Magic after a playoff series loss;

4) a desperate attempt to save face by hiding video footage of Jordan Crawford dunking on him at a basketball camp; and

5) frequent references to himself in the third person.

Up until now, LeBron's teflon image has brushed off such episodes without much second-guessing from the public at large. "The Decision" has removed that shield forever.

To some, he will be a traitor for abandoning Cleveland and seeking greener pastures. To others, he will simply be another arrogant, clueless jock, especially after his "infomercial" on ESPN.

LeBron can downplay such talk by claiming he took less money in exchange for winning, but that will just come off as spin since he still got a sixth contract year via a sign and trade. Moreover, any cut he receives under the max will be lessened somewhat by Florida's friendly tax laws.

At a time when the polarizing Kobe Bryant has revamped his image by forcing his detractors to grudgingly respect his businesslike, no-nonsense commitment to the game, LeBron is going in the opposite direction.

Which leaves us with one final question, or perhaps, curiosity . . .

7. What Will Happen to All the Bandwagon Cavs Fans?

In the last few years the Cavs have become one of the more popular teams in the NBA with fans across the country proudly displaying the team's colors in every NBA arena.

Funny thing is that many of these fans could care less about the Indians, Art Modell, or the Browns. Ask them about past Cavs Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, or Mark Price, and they might look at you with clueless consternation. Mention Hot Rod Williams or the lost promise of a young Ron Harper, and you would be lucky to elicit even a shrug of the shoulders.

Everything changed for these newcomers once LeBron was drafted. Not really understanding the sad saga of the City of Cleveland, this Ohio town - yes Cleveland - suddenly became hip for many of the country's fans.

These new Cavs fans were some of the most vocal in chatrooms and bars across the country, but what do they do now that LeBron is in Miami? Do they continue to stay loyal to the Cavs, cheering "go Hickson!" Or, do they instantaneously switch loyalties and jump wagons now to the Heat, a team that only 5 days ago they would have cheered against.

Red Sox fans who loved Johnny Damon never switched sides to the Yankees just because he changed uniforms. They were sincere, loyal, and stuck by their team. Will such similar dedication be exhibited by the Cavs faithful?

Just a hunch, but it is highly likely that many of the 2010 Cavs "fans" suddenly will need some new gear for the upcoming 2010-2011 season.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. Looking at a Heat repeat in the next 2 years.


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