For the Heat, it seems a dynasty is in the making. For the Lakers—a team built to win an NBA title this season— the inability to rebuild a dynasty has resulted in one of the most disappointing and scrutinized seasons we've seen in some time.
Everything was in place for the Lakers to transition from one dynasty—we'll call it "The Kobe Bryant Years"—to the Dwight Howard reign of terror. Under Kobe, the Lakers won five titles in 11 seasons between 1999-00 and 2009-10, but it's no secret that he's aging and the Lakers needed to revamp this offseason.
That led to trades for Howard and Steve Nash, and suddenly the Lakers were in business, or so we thought. The team limped to a 1-4 start, head coach Mike Brown was fired, Mike D'Antoni—and not Phil Jackson—was hired and the team has struggled implementing his style since.
Kobe is still Kobe, but Howard has seemingly regressed and it would appear has very little chemistry with Bryant. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol continues to be used incorrectly and has even been relegated to a bench role, while Nash hasn't been the unifying force on the court the team envisioned.
The Lakers feel like a group of mismatched superstars coached by a man who can't bend his philosophy to fit his personnel. It feels like a hasty attempt to build a dynasty, one with an old superstar who can't let go of being "the man" and a younger superstar who isn't mentally tough enough to be the man.
Meanwhile, Gasol is misused every time he's taken off the block, the team doesn't have any outside shooters it desperately needs and everything is being blown out of proportion since this version of the Lakers has become SportsCenter's favorite soap opera to cover.
Things couldn't be any more different in Miami.
The Heat are made up of superstars—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—that play together unselfishly and actually took less money to join the team two years ago. Plus, the team has role players that fit the system and complement the stars.
Whereas the Heat's struggles were broadcast two years ago—heck, you might say most of America was rooting for the team to fail—that squad fought past its struggles, overcame losing in the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks and became champions last season.
That's partly because the team has the best player on the planet in James. It's also due in large part to Wade and Bosh allowing James to be the man. Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald made an excellent point about the contrast in chemistry between the two teams:
Wade, an aging superstar, willingly and consciously handed the ball, the team and the city over to LeBron, his long-time friend, while Bryant, an aging superstar, keeps lecturing Dwight Howard on the Laker Way, both of them playing and acting like strangers who don’t like one another. It is not insignificant that Miami’s stars chose to do this together while Bryant and Howard were foisted upon each other. You are vastly more invested in a plan when it is yours than when it is someone else’s.
There is no shadow looming over Miami that one of its superstars will leave. For the Lakers, it's hard to imagine why Howard would want to stay.
When the Lakers and Heat meet on Sunday, it will just be one more game on the regular season schedule. It's just one game, after all, and all of this symbolism really boils down to a notch in the win or loss column.
Still, it's hard not to recognize two teams meeting while each is moving in a different direction. For the Heat, a dynasty is in the works.
In Los Angeles, those days now seem a distant memory.
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