There's nothing wrong with wondering about what will become of the Miami Heat after this season, but after watching how LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joyously ran over, around and through the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, it's hard to understand why the Big Three would ever want to play anywhere else.
Or with anyone else.
Ahead of the Heat's 116-112 win at the Staples Center, ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne touched on why it'd be a mistake to assume James will stick around in Miami beyond this summer:
The logical and gut read is, five months from now, James will have recommitted to staying in Miami, either by not opting out of his contract or re-signing long term. But as James and the Heat visit the Los Angeles Clippers on this Feb. 5, the lessons from the past are a reminder to be careful making assumptions at midseason. Especially when it comes to James.
It's hard to argue that point. We've been surprised by James before and have seen enough high-profile free agents relocate to know that nothing's ever certain.
At the same time, the situation with James and the Heat is different than it was with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many of those differences were on display Wednesday night.
Isn't This Fun?
The Heat had the rock hopping from the opening tip, finding shooters and generating easy baskets with incredibly quick and precise ball rotations. In the opening period, Miami shot a ridiculous 70 percent thanks to a team-wide unselfishness that most squads can only dream of.
Fifteen assists for the Heat in the first quarter.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) February 6, 2014
James was flying all over the place, hammering home dunks from way above the rim and setting up his teammates to boot.
Those elements were present in James' time with the Cavs, but his supporting cast never made life as enjoyable as it is now.
Miami was having fun, and the game looked flat-out easy. Obviously, the results in that first quarter were spectacular, as the Heat piled up 36 points against a stunned Clippers defense.
24 possessions for both teams. 150 points/100 for the Heat, 100 for the Clippers. No Orebs or FTs for Heat, just shooting 70%.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) February 6, 2014
Things bogged down a bit as the contest wore on, but James and Co. continued to show off their incredible chemistry throughout.
James finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists on 11-of-20 shooting. Wade, of course, was his typically efficient self, going 5-of-8 from the field and adding eight assists of his own. Even Bosh handed out four helpers to complement his 15 points and eight boards.
It was a beautiful brand of ball.
"The HEAT offense moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it."— Danny Martinez (@DannyMartinez4) February 6, 2014
More importantly, it was the kind of harmonious performance you only see from teammates who've played together long enough to know what the others are going to do before they do it. That kind of understanding is tough to come by.
And the synergy wasn't limited to the stars, either. Role players chipped in, too.
Ray Allen for the millionth time. Clutch 3. #Heat— JRSportBrief (@JRSportBrief) February 6, 2014
In fact, that's another thing the Heat's core should consider when deciding whether or not to stick around. Ray Allen's contract is up after this season, but we've seen specialists like him take less to join up in Miami.
If Allen calls it quits, there'll just be another sniper waiting to take his place. That's a rare drawing power that Miami's big guns will undoubtedly consider when deciding what to do with their early-termination options.
So even if each member of the Big Three could theoretically cash in by leaving Miami this summer, it's hard to imagine them having as much fun with their new teams as they are with their current one.
The Legacy Argument
Maybe it's silly to talk about legacy these days, what with the collective bargaining agreement allowing star players to change teams much more frequently than in the past and free agency functioning more like a Sotheby's auction than anything.
But the bond between James, Wade and Bosh goes beyond mere on-court chemistry. They're in this thing together for bigger reasons; they're collectively pursuing greatness.
Sure, everyone's talking about how the Heat seem more vulnerable than ever this year. The defensive lapses are there, and Wade's durability is as big of a concern as ever.
Remember, though, that James is still at the top of his game, a four-time MVP. And the Heat have won the last two championships. That has to count for something.
And how many truly great teams have melded work and play as effectively as the Heat have? These guys have been getting the job done on the court at an elite level, but their focus never prevents them from treating basketball like the game it really is.
Despite coasting and undergoing prolonged defensive letdowns, Miami is still just three games back of the Indiana Pacers, a team that can't expect to play any better than it already is.
Right in the thick of the championship conversation for the fourth year in a row, the Big Three are all singularly devoted to adding another ring to their collection. Perhaps they'd have a better chance of winning a title elsewhere in the future.
But if they can win a few more with the Heat, they'll be part of one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.
That sounds like fun too, doesn't it?
Reality Sets In
You hear it all the time because it's true: The NBA is a business.
Based on his comments to Windhorst and Shelburne on what his teammates might do this summer, Wade is very much aware of the realities that fact entails:
There are different times and different mindsets that you deal with. That was 2010. I'm not saying that LeBron James or Chris Bosh, if they get the opportunity again, are going to leave $17 million on the table [as they did in 2010]. No one can say they should do that. You have to do what is best for you.
Maybe everyone will make a money grab. Maybe James will want to surround himself with a younger core in a new city. Maybe Bosh won't be able to resist a max offer from his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
All of those things are in play, which is why nobody's saying it's smart to assume Miami will stick together.
But anyone could see the Heat collectively realizing how good they had it on Wednesday. There was a freedom in their play—a joy, really.
We can't know what James, Wade and Bosh were thinking as they darted all over the floor, shared the ball and cranked out the highlights on Wednesday. But it sure seemed like they were collectively wondering: "How could life get any better?"