Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why LeBron is Crazy To Return To The Heat

LeBron James is making a big mistake. He may be the best player on the planet but he definitely isn't the smartest.

He recently opted out of his fat contract with the Miami Heat but, almost certainly, after fielding some offers, he'll re-sign with Miami. Stupid move. His goal is to win more NBA championships, to pile up rings at a record rate, to surpass the lofty totals of Michael Jordan (6) and Kobe Bryant (5), the other two players in his elite class. James picked up two rings, in 2012 and 2013, in Miami. But if he wants more, he'd better pack his bags and get the hell out of South Beach.

Miami is desperately in need of a major overhaul. That was obvious a few weeks ago when they lost the NBA championship to the San Antonio Spurs in five games. Actually, they didn't lose, they were bulldozed and buried. After the second game it was clear the Heat was doomed, totally outclassed by a superior team.. Miami was flagrantly and rudely exposed. The other two players in the Heat's Big Three--Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh--have slipped, badly. James was out there all by himself, anchored by two lame stars, an inept point guard (Mario Chalmers) and some subpar role players.

The biggest problem, though, was Wade, not too long ago one of the best players in the league. Saying he's lost a step is being kind. Injuries have mercilessly slowed him down. A friend of mine--a Wade fan by the way--has tapes of games in the recent Finals that focus only on Wade. They were shocking.

Wade's defense was pitiful. He did a lot of standing around. He was usually slow on his rotations, paving the way for many easy San Antonio layups. The Spurs, by far the best passing team in the league, were constantly whipping balls past Wade, who simply couldn't keep up. Young Spurs were blowing by him like he was standing still. Offensively, he's a shadow of his former All-Star form. He can't jump as high as he used to, so his shot is way off. He doesn't drive to the basket any more, he lumbers. Defending him is a cinch. Wade doesn't require double teams now, so defenders can leave him and help out on controlling LeBron, which really cripples the Heat offense.

Bosh isn't much any more either. Once a gritty inside player, he's fallen in love with the three-pointer. He spends way too much time outside, lurking around the perimeter, instead of doing the dirty work inside, the way he used to. With Wade ineffective in the Finals, the Heat needed Bosh to step up his game and be a solid No. 2 man behind James. But Bosh blew it. LeBron sorely needed help, but he didn't get any from Bosh. With Wade and Bosh bungling, the Miami role players, like Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, needed to shine. They didn't.

This is the team--stumbling and crumbling--that James wants to come back to? The only reason they reached the Finals, as the Eastern champ, is because the East stinks. Beating up on those lousy teams didn't take much. The Heat's biggest competition, the Indiana Pacers, is a mess. If either of these two teams played in the powerhouse Western Conference, they'd have trouble making the top five. Even in the soft East, the Heat is going to have trouble passing the Pacers and making it to the Finals next season. Another NBA championship? Out of the question.

Why? Because Wade is nearing 33 but is playing like he's 38. He's only going to get worse. Bosh, who's verging on 31, has a lot of miles, eleven seasons' worth, on him and is past his prime. LeBron can't do it by himself.

The Heat needs to get better but can't. Not enough money. Like LeBron, Wade and Bosh opted out of their contracts recently. Both will re-sign with the Heat for less money, so general manager Pat Riley will have more cash to lure new players. But they need at least one big-time star to make up for Wade's decline, but can't afford one. LeBron now says he wants a max deal, calling for about $20-$22 million a year. Re-signing Wade and Bosh won't be cheap either. But even at reduced salaries, these two will be dramatically overpaid. With the big three hogging most of the money, the Heat won't be able to sign the kind of quality players necessary to win championships.

LeBron should consider signing with some Western Conference team, like Phoenix or the Clippers, that could afford to pay him while not gutting its roster. Add LeBron to any Western team, without subtracting any of its stars, and it becomes an instant championship favorite.

What's likely to happen to LeBron? Putting his personal hunger for more rings aside, he'll probably re-sign with the Heat but, in an effort to help the team, will likely back down from his max-salary demand and settle for less money. But look for him to sign a limited contract--for just a year or two-rather than one for five years..

Right now LeBron's problem is that his loyalty to the Heat and its fan base is overpowering his desire for rings. But as he gets older--he turns 30 in December--and hasn't picked up any more rings, while also feeling his prime years slipping away and that Wade and Bosh are just dead weight, he'll finally see its time to make a move.

Then it's goodbye, Miami.