Throughout the previous three seasons, there's been more pressure on the Miami Heat than any other team in the NBA. That's no different this season, despite Miami having won back-to-back championships.
And really, a strong case can be made that this is the most important Heat season ever, excluding the 2010-11 season, because of the legacies involved and how dependent the future of this team is on how well this season goes.
So which Miami players does that pressure most fall on? Let's get into it!
Well, duh. James has been perhaps the most scrutinized and picked apart player in NBA history.
While he's no longer the NBA world's punching bag—having won two titles and, in turn, establishing himself as by far the best player in the league—don't think for a second that he's not going to get criticized if the Heat fall short of a title this year.
Detractors would say that two championships in four years wasn't what LeBron promised, that the Big Three era is a failure and LeBron's most at fault.
Also, there's always going to be a ton of pressure on someone in James' position, who is already viewed as one of the top-10 players in NBA history by many. LeBron has said before that he wants to be known as the greatest player of all time, and many are starting to come to the realization that that's actually possible. So everything he does from this point on will be examined with a historical angle.
If the Heat don't win a title this year, those same detractors mentioned earlier will also say that LeBron can't be Michael Jordan because James couldn't three-peat, something Jordan did twice.
But if the Heat win it all, if James makes the Heat one of the few teams in NBA history to three-peat, and does so while winning another regular-season MVP trophy and another finals MVP trophy, then the talk will center around how Jordan needs to watch out.
This is a huge swing year for LeBron's legacy and perception of him, which is pretty amazing given how much he's already changed both of those things in the past two years.
Other than if the Heat win a championship in 2014 or not, the thing that will most impact LeBron's potential free-agent decision next summer is how D-Wade looks this season.
Wade was fantastic during the 2012-13 regular season, an efficiency king, but all many will remember about Dwyane from 2013 is how broken he looked in the postseason. Dealing with knee injuries, Wade wasn't his explosive self and averaged a career-worst 15.9 points.
To stay in Miami, LeBron's going to need to know that D-Wade can continue to be his "Robin" for the next couple of years.
While this is going to sound hyperbolic, the future of the Heat depends on Wade's play this season. So, yeah, there's a lot of pressure on him.
You weren't expecting to see 'Rio here, were you? The pressure on Mario Chalmers falls into a different category than it does for Wade and James. This isn't about legacies or the continuation of the Big Three era. This is about the continuation of Chalmers' Heat career.
Two things. One: Chalmers' contract comes off the books after this season. Two: Chalmers' backup, Norris Cole, showed significant improvement during the 2013 playoffs.
See, Cole's contract calls for the Heat to pay him just north of $2 million for the 2014-15 season. And if the Heat are to re-sign LeBron, Dwyane and Chris Bosh next summer, they might look to cut costs at other positions.
He needs to show Miami that he is clearly its best bet at point guard for years to come, because if Cole catches up to him in terms of ability, Chalmers could be in danger.
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