A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The Miami Heat’s success: A basketball triumph or travesty?

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Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat, 2008

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Recently I heard a topic come up of what the Miami Heat winning the title would mean for basketball. On one hand, it’d be a sign that success in the NBA truly comes down to just having superstars – and it’d light a match to the gasoline of other stars leaving teams to team up. In an ideal world, it’d be teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls who triumph – ones that play a 5 as 1 game, where the defenders and rebounding role players mean as much as the superstars.

But I’m not so sure. To their credit, the Heat ARE playing the right way. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have completley buried any egos or self serving motivations. There isn’t a blip of tension or internal competition or statistical concern between those two players. They have 0.0% tension between them. None. They’re both committed to letting the other guy take over if it leads to the win, depending on who has it going. Secondly, the Heat are playing terrific defense. Everyone is committed to dominating on that end, especially James and Wade. To me their defensive play is the biggest reason they beat the Boston Celtics so easily. Isn’t dominating because of unselfish ball movement and defensive effort what we should be treating as a triumph in sports, rather than a travesty? Arguably these superstars buckling down to play like this means as much as when role players do it.

Meanwhile the LA Lakers came into the playoffs decidely not locked in, not moving the ball as well as years past, and not ready to put it all on the table defensively – and they got embarrased by going down in 4 to Dallas. Now there’s a team that wasn’t playing the right way or together and got what they had coming for them.

In a way I’d be more disenchanted if the Oklahoma City Thunder won the title at this point as if the Heat did. Now there’s a team where something is missing synchronicity wise. Russell Westbrook just isn’t fitting offensively with the other starters Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. He’ll drive and take his own shot and pass off the play, but he isn’t making them better or running a smooth offense.  Durant’s shots have been relegated to broken plays and whatever he can get. Westbrook’s wild energetic style in a way makes the Thunder hard to play and gives them their identity – but I’d like to see them play with more fluidity. If the playoffs were scripted, the Memphis Grizzlies would beat the Thunder because they play more of a 5 man game, they move the ball for the best shot instead of having a Westbrook who tries to win games one on one.

When it comes down to it, if the Heat win the title it won’t be because of offensive talent alone. It will be because they shelved their egos and committed to the best shot and to playing elite defense. I don’t know if you can say that about the Thunder right now. It’s a comparison I didn’t dream I’d be making at the start of the season.

6 Responses

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  1. Good point Julien.

    Let’s see what Miami does well: defend, rotate, rebound, push the ball in transition and stay active on offense (cut and attack with PnR).

    When they came together, I was probably more excited to see if they could mirror Jordan/Pippen’s defensive onslaught. And in a way, they are arguably better (both Wade and LeBron can challenge almost everything *at the rim* on rotations).

    There are obvious reasons why people are anti-Heat. But one of the stranger ones I hear is this “alpha” or “closer” argument. It’s a basketball TEAM. Watch them play — they don’t care about shot attempts or who has the ball or who takes the big attempt. Key shots are going to Joel Anthony and James Jones on extra passes.

    I wonder if they’ll praised for this in 5 years…


    May 15, 2011 at 8:34 am

  2. Yeah this is a particularly insightful post Julien. Is it really so terrible for a player to put team success ahead of individual, and to prove it by playing great defense, getting teammates involved, and fighting through bad stretches that could have cause a less secure player to turn on his teammates?

    What I will say though is that I don’t want an NBA where the star of competent franchise with a top 8 record regularly ditches his team to play on a super-team. Obviously, no matter the record, if the franchise is incompetent (as in arguably Cleveland or Orlando) that’s different, but my ideal NBA has the superstars on separate teams, each with a supporting cast built well for that star’s strengths.

    If Miami goes on to be a dynasty, that’s going to encourage an opposing trend, and I don’t like that. It is however though, better than a league full of Iverson 8th seed type teams where the stars don’t seem to get that what makes a good player is his ability to make his team better, nothing more.

    Matt Johnson

    May 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm

  3. I flip-flop on whether I “like” the Heat as a team, but I’ve never really understood the heavy animosity towards Lebron personally (and to a lesser degree, Wade). People severely overrate individual(istic) championship contributions for some reason and underrate the less glamorous buy-ins to team concepts, defensive effort and the like which you highlight above. The Superfriends are veteran stars in this league, and haven’t got a lot left to prove as individuals, making the decision to ditch middling teams with average-at-best management teams a pretty easy one.

    With respect, Matt, stars chasing championships hasn’t really been that rare in the recent NBA past (Drexler, Pippen, Barkley come to mind) but mostly that occurs POST-prime, wheras Lebron and Bosh, at least, are mid-prime.

    The manner in which the consensus number one league player left to join another franchise is probably at the real root of the unease people feel. Can’t remember that really happening since… who… Moses Malone? Kareem? Shaq perhaps?


    May 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    • The mid-prime component of the situation is what I don’t like.

      Matt Johnson

      May 15, 2011 at 7:07 pm

      • Well… Moses Malone is probably an equivalent situation for this move. He upped sticks from Houston to abandon a rebuilding team for a stakced and well-managed Sixers team that hadn’t finished lower than an ECF for the previous six years. Did this stimulate a huge rush from established stars to sign as free agents with then-successful teams? I’d argue not.


        May 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm

  4. Westbrook being Westbrook was ultimately not enough to beat the Lakers or Mavericks these past two seasons. He’ll get another chance or two but the recent champs almost never has a high usage PG. Parker was but as part of a big 3.


    November 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm

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