Well, after a few seasons of misdirection from LeBron James, "the decision" has been made. The King is leaving the Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and the NBA has been turned upside down by an arguably unprecedented union. Three top-flight players, all either in or entering their primes, working in tandem to make history and rack up rings.
Obviously, this trio's very existence must by definition be taken seriously. In theory, they could be downright scary. But are they immediately championship material, a super group biding their time before the inevitable coronation?
Not quite. There are definitely issues and question marks to address before fingers should be sized for jewelry.
(1) It's a heck of a big three, but that's not enough: I've heard some analysts claim with James, Wade and Bosh on the same team, you could surround them with Moe, Larry and sixth man Curly. I question if those people actually watched the 2010 Finals. Game 7 saw Ron Artest come up bigger than any Laker from start to finish. Game 3 saw Derek Fisher save the day, one of many times he's been a difference-maker in five title runs. Beyond the obvious commonality of a role player providing a huge boost, in both cases, these supporting players specifically emerged as Kobe Bryant struggled.
Throughout the years, names such as Fisher, Horry, Shaw, Haslem, Posey, Perkins, Ariza, Bowen, Rose, Paxson and Kerr all matter when you recall title teams. These weren't shmoes, they were solid guys you can count on, which is what Miami will ultimately need. I'm not saying Pat Riley's mission is impossible, but it's more difficult and more important than some people are acknowledging, especially as second- and third-tier players continue to be snatched up by other teams in the free-agent market.
But for the sake of argument, let's just say nine rummies are enough to get by when you boast the firepower of LeBron, Wade and Bosh . . .
(2) The margin of error for injury is literally non-existent: Depth doesn't just matter when it comes to creating a solid rotation. It's a preventative against injuries almost impossible to avoid. In this year's Finals alone, Kendrick Perkins suffered a brutal knee injury and Andrew Bynum played often ineffectively with a bad knee in need of undergoing the knife. Kobe Bryant (and the entire Lakers squad, really) entered the postseason seriously banged up, and wouldn't have gotten by if they didn't have enough quality players to forge a semi-healthy collective. Throw in names like Andrew Bogut, Mehmet Okur and Brandon Roy (the icing on a cruel cake after a season overcoming a comical slew of injuries), and it's obvious how most teams can't escape someone going down or hobbling around.
Elite teams are typically built to survive this reality. The Heat, for the time being, are a long way from being there. Even the biggest advocate of devils can't possibly believe two of these three guys, plus a bunch of rummies, can make it all the way through the East, much less take down the Lakers.
(3) Chris Bosh will have to wrap his head around the notion of being more of a role player than a superstar: An elite role player, no question. A role player making a trip to the All-Star Game in L.A. come February, even. But not a superstar who dominates the highlight reels. Because while each member of the big three will ultimately have to make some sacrifices and concessions, it will fall to Bosh to give up more.
In each of the past three championship runs, a marquee player has taken responsibility for the dirty work. In 2008, Kevin Garnett committed himself to being the Celtics' main rebounder and relished being the backbone of the team's defense. For the Lakers in 2009, Lamar Odom played underrated defense and grabbed rebounds while Kobe and Pau Gasol got most of the glory. Bynum spent much of 2010 being told to worry less about scoring and more about rebounding and defense. Even arriving in L.A. as a lockdown specialist, Artest had to adjust to fewer touches, and it was at times an awkward transition.
Bosh is the least accomplished player of the new Miami trio, and more time donning a hard hat is expected from a big man in any event. If he's not willing to do the more under the radar (including play D, never his specialty to begin with), the team will suffer. He's saying all the right things now, but if his Twitter-crazed, camera-seeking offseason has demonstrated anything, it's that the dude clearly loves the idea of a higher profile. Will he be content with a smaller, less heralded portion of the limelight?
(4) LeBron James, the Heat are not your team: I'm not talking about who gets the ball in the last two seconds of the game. That's an overblown question. Games don't typically come down to the final minute and in any case, that's often a matter of matchups, who's shooting better, how much time is left on the clock, etc. I consider Wade a better closer than LeBron (much less Bosh). By the end of the season, Wade will take more of them. Still, they'll likely both launch their share.
And I'm not talking about stats. LeBron may lead the team in scoring and his stats will remain impressively well-rounded. He's too good a player for anything else.
I'm not even doubting the three of them can "play together." Too many chips have been pushed in by this point for them not to cooperate with one another.
What I'm talking about is the mental side of the equation. The perception of "whose house" this is, whether you're talking about the locker room, the floor or the city.
This team belongs to Wade. Period. He was there first. He's the one who led the Heat to the franchise's first and only championship. He may not have earned a regular-season MVP, much less a pair of trophies over 82 games, but Wade got the honors at the highest level.
James may claim this doesn't matter to him now, but it's easy to say when you're busy celebrating yourself during an hourlong back-pat. Let's see how LeBron feels when the games are underway, and his ego has to deal with the reality of watching his legacy get shaped and presented, fairly or not, in a way I imagine he never pictured. I'm curious to see how enchanted he remains with the situation.
(5) I could offer a fifth thought, but it would pale by comparison to the thoughts expressed by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert in an open letter to fans. Oh, my. I mean . . . OH MY. For the first time in NBA history, Shaquille O'Neal will leave a team on better terms than an ex-teammate. If karma means anything, Gilbert would claim these guys ain't making the playoffs, much less snagging the chip.