Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Case Against the Heat

Could Carmelo Anthony and LaBron James wind up playing together in The Big Apple?

I noticed it for the first time at the beginning of the 2011 NBA finals. ESPN.com asked its visitors to pick which team it wanted to win the finals and it displayed a U.S. map showing which state was rooting for which team. I was interested in 2011 because my beloved Mavericks were playing the Heat that season. It was the first season the Heat were playing with "the Big 3" — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. What made the results interesting to me was that 49 of the 50 U.S. states were hoping the Mavs would win. The 50th state, of course, was Florida, but even there support for the Heat was not overwhelming. ESPN ran the same survey in 2012, when the Heat played the Oklahoma City Thunder and in 2013 when the Heat played the San Antonio Spurs. In both of those instances the results were the same – 49 states wanted the Western Conference team to win, Florida barely voted for the Heat. The all-sports network probably conducted the same survey again this year, but I didn’t notice.

This morning on Mike & Mike, a sports talk show that runs on the ESPN radio, the two were showcasing run of their regular features called "Love It or Shove It" in which an idea is placed on the floor and the two say whether they "love" the idea or hate ("shove") it. One of tje topics featured this morning was the idea of James, Wade and Bosh opting out of their current contracts, then re-signing for a reduced salary so the Heat can add the scoring machine, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, to their roster. Mike Greenberg, the reporter of Mike & Mike, hated the idea; Mike Golic, the former pro athlete, loved it. Golic said the league has always had dominant teams, so what’s wrong with this being the era of Heat dominance. Greenberg really couldn’t put his finger on why he hated the idea, but it smelled to him for some reason.

Perhaps I can help Greenberg out. As ESPN’s pre-NBA finals maps indicate, the overwhelming majority of the NBA world hates the Miami Heat and they hate it for one reason — the manner in which the team came together. With most of the other NBA dynasties — the Celtics, the Pistons, the Bulls, even the Lakers, for the most part — they seemed to come together organically. The superstars on those teams were associated with those particular teams — they did not make their reputations with other teams before joining the dynasty teams. The two exceptions that I can think of happened with the Lakers – when Kareem Abdul Jabbar joined after becoming a superstar with the Milwaukee Bucks, and when Shaquille O’Neal left Orlando to move west.

But the Heat situation was unprecedented. Never had three players negotiated among themselves to form a union. Not only did James abandon Cleveland to "take his talents to South Beach," but Chris Bosh announced Wade had persuaded him to come to Miami just a few days earlier. Not only that, this was one of the worst cases of "Reverse Robin Hood" — robbing the poor to give to the rich — in sports history. Remember, James and Bosh simultaneously joined a team that had won an NBA title the year before. The sports world would have loved James and Bosh if they had decided "to take their talents" to Sacramento or Washington, D.C., two teams that have never tasted an NBA finals, let alone a title. But when they opted for Miami, the Heat became the most hated NBA franchise and joined the New York Yankees as the two most hated sports franchises for exactly the same reason — they weren’t interested in "winning" championships, they only wanted to "buy" them.

Now, if Anthony comes to Miami, the Heat will accomplish what I thought would be impossible — they will surpass the Yankees on the hate meter.

But I really don’t think Anthony-to-Miami is a realistic scenario. For one thing, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra is already having trouble coming up with enough offensive sets that involve Bosh. And if he adds another ball hog to the roster, there’s going to be some bitterness in some quarters on that roster. Besides, who will Anthony replace in the starting five? The only logical candidate is Rashard Lewis, who is a far better teammate than Anthony. I think Lewis leaves the Heat if Miami seriously considers signing Anthony and Lewis will be a devastating loss to Miami. If Melo moves, I think it’s more likely he joins James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston or Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago. But I think the most likely scenario is this: Knicks top dog and basketball guru Phil Jackson will find a way to convince (1) Anthony to remain in New York, the city he loves and (2) James to repair his tarnished image by joining Anthony in the media capital of the world.

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