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New hires perform better when they bring a former colleague with them, says Harvard associate professor Boris Groysberg, who has studied the firm hopping of Wall Street analysts. This may well explain the value of 35-year-old Lithuanian center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who joined Miami after playing beside James for seven seasons in Cleveland. The minute Ilgauskas arrived, James had a confidant, a supportive teammate, someone who made the strange new surroundings feel familiar. This is especially important now that James, once one of the league's most popular players, has suddenly become a villain, the Hester Prynne of the NBA. "Welcome Big Z," James tweeted when he heard the news. "Glad u are joining me in South Beach my friend. Also thanks for your encouraging words big fella."
Likewise, Wade wanted to keep free agent and longtime buddy Udonis Haslem on the roster. The two have been teammates since Wade entered the league in 2003. Haslem is one of those gritty, unselfish glue guys that every team craves, a unifying presence behind the scenes. James and Bosh helped Miami's cocaptain get his wish. At Wade's request, they each trimmed their contract by $15 million so the Heat could compete for Haslem's services. The power forward happily agreed to stay put -- for $14 million less than what he was being offered in the free-agent market.
Everyone remembers the six NBA titles the Chicago Bulls won with Jordan, Pippen, and a cast of feisty specialists that included three-point marksman Kerr and rebounding fiend Dennis Rodman. What we tend to forget is how long it took to put all those pieces together. The Bulls didn't win a championship its first year with Jordan and Pippen. Or its second. Or even its third.
It took the team four years.
Chemistry takes time. The most successful superstar teams embrace shared leadership, says Richard Hackman, a professor of social and organizational psychology at Harvard. The players respect one another's individual skills and even learn from one another. But those patterns don't emerge right away. They need time to crystallize. They need consistency, the same people butting heads, compromising, collaborating, day after day. Spoelstra acknowledges this, though it's hard to know how much patience he really has -- or can afford. "You can prepare as much as you want in July, August, and September," he says. "But none of us knew what it would be like until we were in it."
Chemistry isn't something you create and then ignore, like a mark on a growth chart. It's a reflection of the bonds between team members, and those bonds are fragile and needy. They're constantly changing, strengthened and fractured by the various personalities as well as the wins and losses. "You have to keep an eye out for small things that make a difference, early warning signs," says Terri Scandura, dean of the graduate school at the University of Miami, who cites the Heat in her course on management.