The Heat are fighting for their third consecutive finals appearance, a feat that has garnered dynasty-caliber talk on its own. Securing another ring would arguably make that "talk" a reality, putting them in the company of a select few.
But would it be enough to put them on track to supersede the dynasty they'll have to go through to engineer theirs?
The San Antonio Spurs are the only legitimately existing dynasty in the NBA. Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers are attempting to transition into a new one, while Paul Pierce's Boston Celtics have unsuccessfully tried to prolong the shelf life of theirs (not that they were even a dynasty to begin with). And the Heat are still the new kids on the block, rapidly proving their mettle, yet still not quite there.
Only the Spurs are in their way.
San Antonio's Big Three (Big Four, if you include Gregg Popovich) of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been together since 2002—11 years. In that time, they've clinched 11 playoff berths, failed to make it out of the first round just twice and made three finals appearances, all of which culminated in a championship.
For Miami to hoist yet another banner into the rafters, it will have to go through that group (and the Indiana Pacers). The Spurs have the Memphis Grizzlies on the brink of elimination, and thus, they are on the verge of making their fifth finals appearance in 11 years.
That's what the Heat are up against. That's what they're tasked with matching.
South Beach's terrific triumvirate is rarely compared to that of San Antonio's because, well, there isn't supposed to be any comparison.
LeBron is the greatest player in the world. At no point of their careers were Duncan, Parker or Ginobili ever held in the same regard as The Chosen One. One could make the case that Wade's reputation trounces that of San Antonio's three big wigs, as well.
The Heat are then considered equipped to accomplish what no one else has, the Spurs included. The problem is, they aren't.
Miami's Big Three has done, and will continue to do, great things. And the implausibility behind the Heat's potential to surpass the Spurs' dynasty has more to do with veiled restraints than it does talent. So, as long as LeBron is in the driver's seat in Miami, the Heat are a threat to win a title every year.
Which brings us to our first issue: longevity.
San Antonio's Big Three has never won back-to-back championships. Given their age, they probably never will. Even if they win it all this year, the odds are against them orchestrating a repeat.
Winning back-to-back titles won't be enough for these Heatles, though. Coach Pop's combine has been contending together for more than a decade. There's little reason Miami will be able to do the same.
LeBron is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, as are Bosh and Wade. There's no telling if The King will spurn yet another organization, yet everyone from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Lakers will attempt to make him do just that.
Say LeBron stays, which, all things considered, is hardly out of the question. There's no reason to believe Bosh or Wade would remove themselves from their current situation. Wade has been with the Heat his entire career, and Bosh himself would admit being the third (or fourth option) on a perennial contender beats the hell out of being the head honcho on a mediocre playoff charlatan. Ergo, LeBron is the only genuine flight risk.
Assuming LeBron re-signs (no guarantee), then the Heat will still be the Heat. Miami will be facing some serious financial repercussions if it elects to keep its Big Three intact, but the pros easily outweigh the cons. You can't put a price on dominance (though the collective bargaining agreement has tried).
From there, it's smooth sailing—or not.
Wade's contingent of unbridled (deluded?) supporters would never admit it, but his days as a superstar are numbered. At 31, there's no evidence to suggest he's the next Tim Duncan. He won't be able to log 30-plus minutes for another six, seven or even eight years. He can barely sustain such averages now.
Not that Wade is fated to fall off the face of the NBA tomorrow. He's not. But for every ageless wonder, for every Duncan or Kobe Bryant, there are 10 other examples of mortality, players who have succumbed to the natural regression of age. Wade could be the next Duncan, or he could be the next Joe Johnson. Laugh if you must, but we just don't know.
At some point (perhaps next summer), the Heat will have to ask: How much is Wade worth? Is he worth a max contract? Are we to pay him for all he's done or what he's still able to do?
Think about that. You know the Heat will. They have to. They're facing financial constraints the Spurs never had to.
Once more, it makes sense for Micky Arison to ride the Big Three's wave for as long as he can, no matter the cost. The NBA, however, is no longer a league that exclusively favors the deep-pocketed.
Once again, assuming the Heat's Big Three remains together (which, for the sake of this argument we must), Miami will owe more than $60 million to them leading into the 2014-15 season. If the team exercises all of its player options for that year (if no one retires), it will exceed $76 million in commitments to just seven players.
After filling out the roster with more "cost-efficient" players, the Heat would be staring at a pay roll that surpasses $90 million. Taking the league's repeater tax policy into account, Miami could be facing a luxury-tax bill that drives the cost of its roster upward of $140 million, a figure that would make even James Dolan or the Buss family think twice.
If that isn't enough to deter the Heat from bringing their Big Three back, it will sure as hell be enough for them to trim what they spend on role players. Or, at the very least, it will be enough for them to struggle to find competent complementary pieces within their league-imposed price range.
Of course, this is all theoretical. LeBron could stay in Miami. Wade could remain perfectly healthy for the next six to eight years. And money could prove to be no object.
That's a lot of "coulds," though. Stock can never be placed in those, which is why dynasties like the Spurs' are so tough to construct.
Not that eclipsing the Spurs is impossible for the Heat to do. They've had plenty success in the early stages of their existence, some of which already overshadows what the Spurs have done thus far.
|Team||Miami Heat (since 2010)||San Antonio Spurs (since 2002)|
|Average Age of Big Three||29||34.3|
|Number of Finals Appearances||2||3|
|Winning Percentage (playoffs included)||.733||.695|
|Plus/Minus Since Formation||7.0||5.8|
What the Heat have done to begin their tenure alongside each other is nothing short of incredible. They've won. A lot. And thus far, they've yet to not make it to the finals together.
To rise above what the Spurs have accomplished, the Heat will have to sustain their current pace. So, while they still have time, that's where the problem lies.
The Spurs' success has never been predicated on as many future "ifs" as Miami's. They never had the luxury of depending on LeBron, but their success has also never hedged on an increasing number of seasoned vets accepting pay cuts to play next to his.
Remember, what the Spurs have done defies logic. Ginobili and Duncan weren't supposed to play this well, this long, and Parker was as good as gone just a few seasons ago. But they've survived.
Which team will go down having had the better dynasty?
The Heat will have to do the same, only in a shorter amount of time and while facing a number of obstacles San Antonio never had to.
Short of winning three-to-four titles in succession, Miami will fall shy of what the Spurs have built over the past 10-plus years.
The talent and drive is on its side to (almost) make good on LeBron's notorious promise and transcend what the Spurs have been able to do.
Time is not.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed.