So here it is. Finally.
After what seemed like the longest set of playoffs of all time, we are set with the only finals matchup that matters.
San Antonio or Boston would’ve made a nice story and it’s always fun to root against the Lakers, but anyone working for the NBA knows that this is the series that the public wanted and the league needed.
Out are the old guys; Duncan, Garnett, Pierce, Allen and (dare I say it) Kobe.
Nowitzki may see his window closing, Anthony and Stoudemire never really had a chance, and no other teams really deserved to be here (insert enraged Blake Griffin face here).
No, these two teams are the ones. The teams that should win NBA Titles every year for the next ten, the teams that should consider their only goal is to win championships, and everything else is failure.
One team was built in the ire of public spotlight, and one was built in a lab through drafts, free agency and trades by Dr. Sam Presti. Both are centered around a ‘big three’ method (well, 3 and a half for OKC if you include James Harden’s beard) around (relatively) young stars.
Yet, the stakes for Miami and Oklahoma City are complete opposites. For OKC, if they happen to lose the series (despite looking like juggernauts in the playoffs), they will come back in a year with greater expectations and everyone thinking them a title favorite right off the back. Why not? The average age of the entire roster is 27, and the average age of their starting 5 is 24 1/2. They have a 23-year-old super duper star in Kevin Durant and a super star in Russell Westbrook (who’re both locked in to long term deals). They have a freakily long, bouncy forward in Serge Ibaka, James Harden reminding every team why a guy coming off the bench can be super effective, both Kendrick Perkins and Kendrick Perkins’ scowl and a handful of decent role players. This team is a machine built for success even more than Jordan’s Bulls, and will win multiple titles…it’s practically given (obviously not counting a massive injury/tragedy).
Miami, on the other hand, is playing with everything to lose. Every single person on this team is playing with something to lose, let’s break it down:
Erik Spoelstra-His job, it’s that simple. If they don’t win, Pat Riley is going to end this Spoelstra experiment immediately. A lot of people (Bill Simmons especially) like to compare this with Fredo being quietly taken out by Michael in Godfather II. I think that couldn’t be farther from reality. I think it would be more around the Tony Montana scene from Scarface mixed with the death scene from Heat, with a little Darth Maul from Star Wars thrown in. (Translation: it doesn’t end pretty).
Mike Miller-Let’s be honest, the dude is going to be amnesty’d either way. He should just hope that they win a title and then happily forget about both him and his contract.
Chris Bosh-Quite possibly his job as well, at least with the Heat. If I’m Riley, the first thing I do is quietly shop Bosh to find more pieces. No disrespect to Bosh, I think his absence has really killed Miami both offensive and defensively, but this team just simply needs more players. Ronny Turiaf is getting real minutes on this team for God’s sake! If you can turn the Boshtrisch into a post-up guy, a point guard/wing player and a pick (think Bosh to Houston for Louis Scola, Kyle Lowry and the swap of their #1 picks), you do it right? That’s a pretty solid transition, and a much better roster to win a title with. Not saying it will happen, but I can’t say that it wouldn’t either.
Dwayne Wade-In my opinion, I don’t think Wade has that many years left as a dominating presence in the league. Injuries are piling up on his body, and he plays an already psychical game. As already covered, this team is not particularly talented after their big three, meaning that they have to play major minutes, a majority of the time. James can handle it, if only because he’s built like Optimus Prime. Bosh has handled it, his recent abdomen injury not withstanding, but Wade has been another story. Perpetually dinged up, Wade hasn’t even been his usual self these playoffs (playing poorly in LONG stretches of games before turning it on). He looks tired and worn down. If he wants the chance to win a title as THE guy again, (like he did in ’06) his door is quickly closing.
Lebron James- And he were are, the million dollar man. If he doesn’t win a title this year, I could not even imagine the hate that would occur in the postseason. I mean, there may be a 30 for 30 directed about his inability to “come through in the clutch” and win a title…even though he is STILL ONLY 27! I have come around on Lebron, if only because most of my friends/the United States still hates him. This guy is too good not to succeed. His 45 point 15 rebound 5 assist game 6 against Boston can tell you that.
Have we ever seen an athlete who has been playing “for his legacy” as much as Lebron has had to in the past three or four seasons? He’s a beloved superstar in Cleveland, who’s “legacy” was not ever quite having enough to make it over the hump. Then he became a villain and “changed his legacy” when he left to go to Miami. And then he happened to re-write history by all of a sudden becoming a career choke artist (even though some of his biggest games, 45 against Detroit in ’07, his huge game winning shot against Orlando in ’09).
This is a man, who will never win. He could win a title, and everyone would question his ability in close games. The negatives are just so much greater if he loses, that he has to play like someone he’s not (a stone cold killer) rather than what he is (someone that is, you know….happy).
I realize that he set his fate by doing the whole Decision thing, and by Miami throwing that welcome party…but it really seems like this finals matchup isn’t fair. One team is forced to play for everything that each of them stand for (and even possible employment), while the other equally great team is beloved.
I think it’s finally clear what it means to be the villain…whether it is fair or not.