Don't fit LeBron for rings just yet
LeBron James' decision to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Heat is good news for Miami and bad news for Cleveland, Chicago, New York and New Jersey. But the best news for most everybody else is the conclusion of LBJ’s no-ring circus.
LeBron surely has a lot on the line in the upcoming season. No matter how impressive his stats might be, or how many games the Heat might win in the regular season, if James can’t compel Miami to a title, there will be more justification than ever to brand him as a ringless loser.
There’s absolutely no pressure on D-Wade because he’s already a bona-fide champion. Ditto for Bosh, who is at best a lightweight imitation of an authentic superstar. It’s LeBron whose reputation is on the line. A year from now, will the King be wearing a gold crown, or the belled cap of a jester?
There are several reasons why LeBron and his new subjects might have trouble being the ultimate rulers of the wonderful world of the NBA.
Even though Wade is not particularly suited to be a point guard, it will be up to him to sacrifice his shots and his ball-time in favor of James. But who will be the go-to guy in the clutch? Wade or LeBron? And if Wade/LeBron misses too many critical shots, how will LeBron/Wade react?
Don’t be fooled into believing that LeBron’s spectacular blocks of breakaway layup attempts make him a good defender. True, he can bully weaker, slower opponents, but jet-setters leave him in their cosmic dust. And while Bosh may block an occasional shot, he’s also a sub-par man-to-man defender. Wade is by far the closest to a stopper of this newly fashioned triumvirate.
Aside from the potential ego problems and ball-time, neither LeBron nor Wade is a reliable perimeter shooter. Unless the Heat can recruit somebody like Jason Kapono or Mike Miller, opponents will simply pack the middle and dare the Heat to beat them over the top.
Assuming Pat Riley can find a savvy pass-first point and a decent center who doesn’t need the ball to influence the outcome, expect the Heat to reprise the Lakers' Showtime game plan. This will minimize the erratic shooting of LeBron and Wade and maximize the fact that they’re both extraordinary finishers on the run.
But to get the running game in gear, somebody has to play defense and somebody has to get the tough rebounds.
Yet whatever else they may or may not wind up doing, LeBron’s dramatic verdict makes Miami the overwhelming favorite to at the very least represent the Eastern Conference in next year’s Finals. At the same time, the Heat still needs some complementary pieces to complete their championship puzzle.
Let’s also take a look at how LeBron’s decision impacts the franchises that lost out on his services.
The jilted Cavs are now up the Cuyahoga River without a paddle. The only Cavs who could be traded for star-quality players are various combinations of Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao. But without LBJ, the first two are the only proven scorers on the roster, while the Flop Master is little more than a role player.
Also, all of the free agents who could have conceivably made a difference already are spoken for. As it is, only the most die-hard Cavs fans will have any interest in following the fortunes of their depleted team. The only way Cleveland can again become a powerhouse outfit is for Dan Gilbert to open up the vault next summer and make certain that Carmelo Anthony will sign up for the 2011-12 season (if there is one).
The consolation prize for the Knicks is a sign-and-trade deal with Golden State that would export David Lee and import Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and Kelenna Azubuike. Randoph is a very young 21 — possessed of extraordinary talent, but totally lacking in focus, the proper work ethic, and consistency. Turiaf is a tough customer who can’t defend without fouling and can’t finish at the rim. Azubuike is a useful 10th man.
The only way that this particular deal benefits the Knicks is if Randolph suddenly matures and becomes an impact player. Still, getting three warm bodies is much better than losing Lee with no compensation.
The Knicks will suffer the most due to LeBron’s decision, if only because they essentially tanked two seasons to clear the cap space with the explicit goal of signing him.
New Jersey’s booby prizes might include Tyrus Thomas and Udonis Haslem. The Nets' new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, had publicly boasted that his team would win a championship in five years. But it looks as though Prokhorov will eventually have as many five-year plans as Joe Stalin had seven-year plans.
Of all the jilted suitors, Chicago has the most promising post-pipe-dream future. Derrick Rose still can’t shoot and still makes poor decisions with the ball in the paint. Newly acquired Carlos Boozer can score (mostly against average opponents) and rebound, but is too small to adequately defend centers and too slow to stay with power forwards. Joakim Noah is an outstanding role player, while Luol Deng is an effective yet erratic baseline scorer. However, without at least a pair of dead-eye 3-point shooters and a bevy of ace defenders, the Bulls are still a couple of years and a couple of players short of being legitimate championship contenders.
Hey, but at least the self-styled Chosen One finally has made his choice. In the process, however, LeBron also has demonstrated just how overbearing his egomania really is. Plus, he has effectively transformed himself from being a universal hero to being a villain in every NBA city except Miami. He’s certainly as detested in Cleveland as Walter O’Malley still is in Brooklyn.
If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and he may respond in a future column.