What Would It Take for Miami Heat Big 3 to Break Up?

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What Would It Take for Miami Heat Big 3 to Break Up?
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Dwyane Wade is perfectly happy with his situation in Miami, but even he concedes that a discussion about the future is inevitable for the Big Three, per ESPN's Darren Rovell: "And when the season is over, and whatever happens, then I will sit down with Chris and I will sit down with Bron and I will sit down and make the best decision for myself and my family."

That implies there's a decision still to be made. In turn, we should probably be a bit skeptical of Chris Bosh's claim that he and LeBron will be in Miami next season. Presented with a "yes or no" option, what was he supposed to say? 

For now, Miami's Big Three have to take the diplomatic path. Stirring up any public questions about their intent to remain with one another would be disastrous amidst a push for their third title. It would be a colossal distraction.

But speculation is only natural—especially absent a strong commitment from any of the Big Three to stay right where they are. Though there are plenty of good reasons for them to ride out at least another season on their contract, there are things that could change that.

A lot of things.

Some of those things are admittedly freak occurrences that no one can anticipate. Wade has an injury history, but catastrophic injury is entirely avoidable. With a cap on his minutes and an increasingly conservative playing style, there's no ceiling on how long he can continue playing at an All-Star level.

The real risks are of a different sort, things over which the organization does have some control.

 

A B-List Supporting Cast

Mike Miller was the first casualty of Miami's supporting cast. Shane Battier will reportedly be the next.

This is the natural order of things, the circle of NBA life. Aging ring-chasers join up to win a title, and aging ring-chasers move on when said goal is accomplished. There's nothing stopping the Heat from adding another one or two veteran options to replace the likes of Battier, but there's also nothing guaranteeing it.

Those veterans have other attractive options nowadays—that's why Caron Butler opted to sign with Oklahoma City Thunder after parting ways with the Milwaukee Bucks, why Danny Granger picked the Los Angeles Clippers after arriving at a buyout with the Philadelphia 76ers

Then there's the disappearance of Udonis Haslem, who's playing just 12.3 minutes a game this season. Haslem played nearly 25 minutes a contest during Miami's first title run, but the 33-year-old appears to be nearing the end of his career. He has a player option to return to the Heat for one more season, but his contributions likely won't be any greater than they've been this season.

Supreme optimists will hope Michael Beasley can help pick up some of the slack. Thus far, that looks improbable. Beasley is only averaging a hair over 15 minutes per contest, and that's largely because he doesn't play defense. With liabilities like Ray Allen already on the floor, the last thing Miami needs is another guy offering up open lanes to the basket.

Speaking of Ray Allen. 

Allen is in the final season of his contract with Miami, but it sounds like the 38-year-old is planning to return for at least another season. It's hard to see him packing up and leaving Miami, and that's probably a good thing for the Heat. His defensive problems aside, there aren't many shooters of his caliber in the game.

But hinging one's sixth-man hopes on someone Allen's age is dangerous. His health has held up well, but that could change any minute now. And the Big Three know it. Much as they love having him around, they know their supporting cast doesn't look as strong as it did a season ago. How it looks a season from now is an even murkier question.

 

An Implosion

Whatever happens to Miami's supporting cast, its core remains extremely talented. But the correlation between talent and success is a tricky one. The primary factor behind the Heat's success hasn't been talent alone—it's been chemistry, determination, the kind of intangibles that differentiate champions from second-rate contenders.

Those intangibles have shown signs of wavering. The first give-away is that losses are coming replete with excuses. James thinks the refs are allowing too much contact, per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:

I don't want to fall into the pit of what's going on. Um, between me and Blake Griffin, we take some hard hits. And, you know, they call it how they call it. It's very frustrating, though. It's very frustrating. As a player, you play the game the right way and, uh, you know, sometimes...

Sometimes the game isn't called the right way. We get it, and it might be true. But it's a bad sign if that's where James' head is after a loss to the Indiana Pacers. It's a sign the Heat are dwelling, looking backward, stopping short of regrouping and planning for the next game. 

If it's not the refs, maybe it's those damn sleeves. James raised that complaint too after a loss to the San Antonio Spurs, this time according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst:

I'm not making excuses, but I'm not a big fan of the jerseys. Every time I shoot it feels like it's just pulling right up underneath my arm. I already don't have much room for error on my jump shot. It's definitely not a good thing.

First thing's first—whenever someone precedes a thought with "I'm not making excuses," that someone is about to make an excuse. This wasn't even a particularly good one. 

We're starting to see a pattern emerge. When a good team beats Miami, there's a reluctance to move on, a hesitation. It sounds an awful lot like this team's patented confidence is suffering, like egos have gotten the best of it. Whatever happened to just saying the other team played a better game? Why aren't the Heat putting the past behind them and focusing on the next game?

Maybe it's because they need a distraction. There's a sense that things are beyond Miami's control, that the Heat, "are running out of time" as Bosh put it, per the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman. Later in March, Bosh accused his team of being too stoic, demanding more passion. 

The need to be more vocal (if not irate) may or may not be at the heart of Miami's problems, but the concern is that it's worrying about it in the first place. This is a unit that should be far beyond searching for an identity. When the going gets rough, there shouldn't be a crisis mode—there should be increased resolve.

 

Greener Pastures

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The one thing Miami has absolutely no control over is the possibility that James will simply decide his talents have spent long enough in South Beach. Should a storied franchise like the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers make their conditions ripe enough, it's not inconceivable that James would opt out of his contract and sign a new one.

Granted, another team would have to assemble a winner that would rival and surpass the core Miami's assembled. James already has chemistry in Miami. He already has a legacy. But all good things come to an end.

When a panel of five experts was asked about the root of Miami's struggles in March, four blamed the supporting cast. So whether you're worried about the cast improving or regressing over the summer, James could already be having a few Cleveland flashbacks. If the right infrastructure isn't in place, James will look elsewhere. If James looks elsewhere, Bosh will almost certainly do the same.

The Knicks will do everything they can to sell James on the Big Apple, and they just might have a chance with Phil Jackson around. Would it really be that hard to assemble a sales pitch superior to what these Heat can offer? Wouldn't a pairing of James and Anthony in New York make for the best front line in history?

What if the Lakers find a way to snag Kevin Love? Does anyone really doubt that franchise's ability to reassemble a winner? The Lakers will have considerable cap space this summer and—if they don't spend it—the summer of 2015 as well. Even if you believe playing with an older Wade is preferable to playing with an older Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles will be in prime position to add another star in addition to James.

If James leaves, what's stopping Bosh from returning home to Dallas and trying to win one more title for Dirk Nowitzki?

Between Mitch Kupchak, Phil Jackson and Mark Cuban, you better believe the league's premier franchises will be marketed to James and Bosh in historic fashion. The Heat will have competition—serious competition.

Perhaps enough to give the Big Three some second thoughts that stick. 

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