What LeBron should do
LeBron James should insist on a system overhaul in Miami
What LeBron James needs this offseason as he weighs his options -- and what he'll discover hard to find -- is a cold, objective four-year analysis of the Big Three and his trip to South Beach.
Years ago, before my dear friend Dan Le Batard became a radio and TV star, moved into Pat Riley's neighborhood and decided to emulate our godfather, Mr. Tony Kornheiser, Le Batard would've served as "hand" to King James and presided over a small council of Miami advisors.
But now, with his own kingdom to lord over, Le Batard is quite cautious when it comes to butting heads with Lord Pat "Tywin" Riley, the new hand to King James.
I don't trust Lord Riley. I don't think he maximized the Big Three, and based on his defiant press conference on Thursday, Lord Riley doesn't appear ready to fully recognize his culpability in Miami's failure. So I'm sending a raven from Los Angeles to Miami, in hopes that the attached note reaches King James in time to give him guidance on how to play the NBA's "Game of Thrones" moving forward.
So far, the Big Three has underachieved. That's not hate from a lifelong Pacers fan. It's truth coming from an NBA fan who wants to see LeBron James rival Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Tim Duncan as an ultimate winner.
Yes, four straight NBA Finals appearances is underachieving. The Heat have spent four seasons dominating an Eastern Conference that has been weakened by injuries (Chicago's Derrick Rose for two seasons and Brooklyn's Brook Lopez this season) and coaches who pay little-to-no attention to offense.
I love Chicago's Tom Thibodeau. His teams play hard and overachieve. But even when Rose was healthy and winning MVP, the Bulls struggled offensively. Indiana's Frank Vogel is so clueless offensively that he believes our World Cup victory over Ghana was an offensive masterpiece.
The offensive deficiency of Miami's Eastern Conference rivals is the primary reason the Big Three overcame coach Erik Spoelstra's appalling indifference to the offensive end of the court. Spoelstra has been gifted with the most remarkable and versatile offensive player in league history, and he's never constructed an offensive system to take advantage of LeBron's Magic-like passing, Jordan-like ability to get to the rim, deadly midrange game, streaky 3-point bombing and enhanced low-post game.
The first two seasons, Spoelstra let James, Dwyane Wade and the media figure out Miami's crunch-time offense on the fly. Spoelstra stayed out of it. Instead of debating LeBron's "clutch gene," we should've been debating Spoelstra's "coach gene." In plain sight, Spoelstra has gotten away with coaching malpractice and neglect.
Spoelstra and the Big Three should thank the Basketball Gods on a nightly basis for Miami playing in the East. And they might want to thank the Gods for sending coaching-impaired Scott Brooks and the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 2012 Finals.
Had the Mavericks attempted to defend their 2011 title by adding a new piece or two -- rather than gutting their core -- the Big Three might be standing here at the end of four seasons with just one fortunate title. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich put coaching clown suits on Spoelstra in 2011, 2013 and 2014. The Spurs were the better team last year and finished a rebound and a lucky bounce short of winning the title in six games. This assertion isn't really debatable. The Spurs came back with the same team and trounced Miami in five games, courtesy of three straight blowouts.
Miami's been the NBA's best team once in four seasons. But let's recognize the Heat's two titles. They have the banners, the trophies and the rings. Two-for-four is not good enough. Not after the noise of The Decision and the proclamations of six and seven titles. At this pace, the Big Three will need 12 seasons to reach six championships. You think Dwyane Wade has eight more seasons?
Right now, the Big Three is still most known for its bluster. James, Wade and Chris Bosh have not yet left an indelible mark on the NBA. They blew the regular-season winning streak. There's no three-peat. There's no Moses Malone, "fo-fo-fo"-type run through the playoffs. The Decision, the Dallas meltdown and the San Antonio avalanche are all more memorable than Miami's accomplishments.
There's still considerable work to be done in Miami. James can't bounce to a third team. Can't do it. The ghosts -- Jordan, Bird, Magic -- he's chasing didn't city hop. James can sell going home to Cleveland, and the Cavaliers are poised for a rebound. They have the No. 1 draft pick again, Kyrie Irving, a few other promising pieces and James might be able to handpick his next coach.
But James' best play is stay where he is and demand an entire system overhaul. It's time for James to consult "The Book of Brothers," the scroll that details the exploits and bravery of the Kingsguard. In it, he will find that the previous Kings with five and six championships all played in systems that maximized their skills.
Jordan and Kobe had Phil Jackson's triangle. Magic had the run-gun-and-fun of Pat Riley's Showtime. Duncan has Popovich's Pass-Slash-n-Pop. Bill Russell and Red Auerbach were the original Duncan and Pop.
LeBron has been saddled with two football coaches. Spoelstra and Mike Brown believe defense wins championships.
Sorry. Not in basketball. This game is decided on the offensive end. Basketball players derive their confidence and energy from seeing the ball leave their hands and go through the rim. Pass-Slash-n-Pop turned unheralded Kawhi Leonard into James Worthy with 3-point range. The triangle made us foolishly argue Scottie Pippen was the second-best player in the league.
A dedicated offensive system develops players. You want to know why Miami hasn't developed one young player in four seasons? You want to know why Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole regressed? There's no offensive system to build their confidence. Being a spot-up shooter when James and Wade go one-on-one is not a healthy system for development. It's a job for mercenaries and one-dimensional, past-their-prime veterans.
As an executive, Lord Pat "Tywin" Riley believes soldiers are built with gold, not training. He enters each offseason with tiny baggies of gold, shopping for experienced sellswords. There's a popular myth that the Heat really missed Mike "Bronn" Miller this season. Miller averaged 2.6, 5.2 and 3.4 points the past three postseasons. Rashard Lewis was more than an adequate replacement for Miller. The problem in Miami isn't the spare parts. It's the fact the offense is treated like one.
Spoelstra coaches like the Heat are led by Isiah Thomas, an undersized superstar surrounded by solid players. Thomas' Pistons had to play defense first because they played during the era when Jordan, Bird and Magic were leading incredible offenses. Isiah, as I remember, was never 6-foot-8, 255 pounds and supported by offensive weapons as strong as Wade and Bosh. Spoelstra has the best tanks. He doesn't know how to deploy them.
He cannot be fired. He's shown too much promise. But he can be put on notice by being forced to adjust his coaching staff with the hiring of a top-flight offensive-minded assistant and a mandate the Heat embrace a real offensive philosophy.
James is unselfish. He has a high basketball IQ. He loves to play hard. He has every tool in the bag and an affinity to display them. This is a coach's dream. Could you imagine James playing for Popovich? Would the Spurs ever lose? Seriously.
LeBron should give Spoelstra one more year. If it doesn't work, he should demand the Heat be turned over to Popovich when Duncan retires after next season.
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