AFRO Sports Desk Faceoff -
With the Miami Heat currently on the brink of elimination, and their Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the brink of free agency, the Heat’s future plans are up for reevaluation this summer.
The San Antonio Spurs lead their Finals rematch against the Heat 3-1 with Game 5 set for June 15. A San Antonio win will drop the Heat to a 2-2 record in their four consecutive Finals appearances. Four straight trips to the Finals is an impressive feat, but Miami expected nothing less when their core group was formed in the summer of 2010. But back-to-back championship runs in 2012 and 2013 could be sandwiched between a difficult loss to the Dallas Mavericks and what looks to be a defeat at the hands of the Spurs.
There’s already talk of the Heat retooling this summer for another string of Finals appearances. But there’s also talk of James and Bosh possibly defecting for larger contracts and larger roles elsewhere. If Miami’s roster does disperse, what grade is appropriate for their Big Three era that may end with a 2-2 Finals record? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: It’s hard to find fault with a team that won consecutive titles over a two-year span and has now appeared in four straight Finals. James infamously claimed “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” when he predicted how many titles the Heat would win, but if we’re being realistic and judging the team off its age and health, Miami has more than exceeded expectations. The NBA’s competitive landscape is much different from when the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers three-peated in years past, but four straight Finals appearances is a special feat in its own right. And should this team reassemble later this summer, then they’ll be heavily favored to be playing in late June again next season. James and Bosh are still in their prime while Wade is just exiting his. Miami will continue to surround their core with serviceable veterans as long as those Big Three are together. They may not approach James’ lofty expectations, but they’ve made their mark in history already.
Green: When this team was put together, I think we all expected greatness. Riley, I even remember you joking that for as much hype as the summer of 2010 brought us, Miami would score 200 in their season opener. The Heat have played well, but they would have beaten that Mavericks team in 2011 had James showed up, and although the Spurs have been crisp all season, the way San Antonio dominated Miami at home this past week was inexcusable. If not for a miraculous Heat comeback in Game 6 last season when the Spurs were set to roll out the O’Brien trophy on the Heat’s home court, then Miami’s experiment could easily be deemed a failure. This run of Finals appearances hasn’t been conducted in dominating fashion as we assumed it would be when this trio was formed. Honestly, I haven’t been impressed. I need to see the eight rings he promised us when he first arrived in South Beach; anything less is a failure.
Riley: The style points and all-out domination definitely hasn’t been there, except for 2012 when they dominated an inexperienced Oklahoma City team, but it’s hard to sneeze at what they’ve accomplished. James’ no-show in 2011 was both baffling and disappointing, but he more than made up for it with his next two championship efforts. It’s hard to expect more from this team than what they’ve already shown. They’ve overcome injuries, tough teams and heavy criticism to walk away with two titles. The window is still open obviously, but if you’re judging off the last four years then this team has been the model of success. Their fans may be a little flaky and not respected but when it comes to basketball, only two teams have been better over the last four years than the Miami Heat.
Green: We still have yet to see a crisp offense despite the presence of three of the NBA’s top players, and I think we all get discouraged with Miami’s constant complaining about the referees and their sensitivity to critics. Their assembly through free agency has obviously has been a major source of criticism, but ultimately it just feels like the Heat have left some food on the table. I agree, two titles is definitely a huge feat. But when you’re talking about a four-time MVP in James, an Olympian and perennial All-Star in Bosh, a Finals MVP in Wade and even a Hall of Fame shooter like Ray Allen all on the same unit, then how could we not expect domination? If I’m grading this Big Three era then I give them a B-minus or even an incomplete. For all the big names on this team I’m not sure if they would even stack up to the Kobe and Shaq Lakers or the Jordan-led Bulls. Now, if Miami finds a way to pull off a historic, never-before-achieved comeback after trailing 3-1 in a Finals series, then I may be convinced. But if they lose, Miami will be 2-for-4 in the Finals. That’s a .500 record and .500 has and always will be mediocre, at best.