Beating the Heat doesn't mean being the Heat

From the moment the SuperTeam! formed last summer in Miami, the NBA locked into an arms race for the finite pool of elite-level talent. Old-fashioned, garden-variety, championship-caliber teams weren't enough anymore. Either a roster could be punctuated with an !, or it wasn't good enough. The drumbeat grew louder in the moments where the Heat dominated. By the time they rolled through Boston and Chicago to win the Eastern Conference, among many the thinking had coalesced.

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Rick Carlisle applauds not just because Dirk has been awesome, but because he's shown the future isn't just about SuperTeam!s.

Beating the Heat means bringing three superstars to the table, preferably in the prime of their careers. Loosely translated, you can't beat 'em if you don't join 'em.

Then again, maybe not.

While most of the focus throughout the Finals has been on the shortcomings of LeBron James and where the Heat have gone wrong, the Mavs have proven themselves every bit the equal of Miami (actually, one game better). This despite having only one superstar (Dirk Nowitzki) surrounded by a variety of very talented-but-sub-elite teammates (Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler) and even rolier role players (J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson), with arguably their second best player (Caron Butler) in street clothes.

The Heat are undeniably skilled and capable of overwhelming teams for stretches, but their star pieces aren't a natural fit and they aren't without flaws, starting with a fourth quarter offense that will make your eyes bleed. Dallas has a collection of lesser level talent, but parts complementing each other far better and playing well at a very opportune time.

It works. Ask the Blazers, Lakers and Thunder.

Regardless of how the Finals play out, the Mavs have blown a massive hole in the notion the only way to compete with Miami now and down the line is to go superstar-for-superstar. A well-constructed, well-coached, poised, balanced team is capable of beating them in a seven game series. For those like me who believe the Lakers require targeted improvements and a generous refill on their motivation tank to be serious title contenders next year, it says the season need not hinge on somehow prying Dwight Howard from Orlando, Deron Williams from New Jersey, or Chris Paul from New Orleans.

Fortunate, because if it did we'd all be out of luck.

None of this is to say the Heat are a fluke or a fraud, even if the Mavs manage to close them out. For Miami to reach the Finals after literally gutting and reconstructing their roster last offseason is actually pretty impressive, star power notwithstanding. Much to the chagrin of many an NBA fan, over the next four or five seasons the list of title contenders is always going to start with the Heat, and likely there will be at least a season where they boat race the NBA.

Teams across the league will continue moving heaven and earth to assemble a SuperTeam! of their own, ignoring the almost impossibly unique circumstances allowing Miami to put together their roster in the first place. A free agent class for the ages, and a team with the ability to clear virtually everybody off their roster (albeit with some slick maneuvering) including, at least temporarily, their own megastar? This sort of thing doesn't happen every day. More teams will consign themselves to perpetual not-quite-good-enough status (and I'm thinking of the Knicks, here) in pursuit of their SuperTeam! than will actually win a title having put one together.

There's nothing inherently wrong about putting elite players together on the same team. As Phil Jackson will tell you, talent wins in the NBA. So, he'll say, does team. And while it worked for Miami, building a roster their way is an exceedingly impractical course of action, because unless all the pieces come at once the cost in players and draft picks to acquire multiple elite players is astronomical. And this is before factoring in whatever comes out of the new CBA. Better to worry less about the number of stars and more about compiling talent making sense from top to bottom.

The Mavs have shown the cat can still be skinned in any number of ways. Now, as it will be in the future, beating Miami doesn't mean being Miami.