What happens in Game 5 of the NBA Finals Sunday night shouldn’t change the Miami Heat’s offseason plans one iota.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that it would be completely irrational for a franchise to allow a one-game sample to radically alter how it allocates tens of millions of dollars—stupid, if we’re not speaking euphemistically.
Of course, a single game can mean everything vis-a-vis the intangible reasons why we love sports, but looked at purely through the prism of predictive validity, it doesn’t mean a thing. It’s just 48 minutes of basketball. The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Heat twice this season, after all.
So barring a catastrophic, career-altering injury to one of its principals, Sunday night’s outcome should have no bearing on what Miami does with its summer.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t. And when it comes to the lengths to which Miami will go to lure the biggest fish in the free-agent pool, what happens in Game 5 could be determinative. We're talking here about Carmelo Anthony. Because, everybody is talking about Anthony.
To bring the uninitiated up to speed. A possibility that had long been whispered about took a turn for the plausible on Thursday when Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that the Heat were seriously mulling a run at Melo this summer.
The way the deal would work is this: Each of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would opt out of their current deals and re-sign at a lesser rate, freeing up enough cap space for the strapped Heat to make a near-max offer to Anthony and create a sort of unprecedented Big Four.
This would be an insane collection of hoops talent that, while somewhat ill-fitting, could surely be bent into a working—to say nothing of dominant—unit. This isn’t the space for unpacking all that, though. You can find such spaces here and here. We’re in the business of ferreting out the likelihood of such a move, and the extent to which the Finals will move the needle.
And it probably will. While Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick puts the probability of Melo landing with the Heat at 30 percent, and Bosh concedes via ESPN's Michael Wallace that it's "very, very unlikely" Melo lands with the Heat, it seems a Finals loss would probably increase the likelihood of the talented malcontent joining LeBron, Bosh and Wade in Miami.
The reason is that an L would make the Heat desperate. Not just the organization, but the Big Three themselves. They are all committed to winning, which is what landed them in Miami in the first place. And they are all, apparently, committed to doing it in Miami; as evidenced by their apparent willingness to stay in South Beach and take steep pay cuts to fit Melo under the cap.
Getting shellacked by the San Antonio Spurs would seriously dial up the urgency for the three amigos, who are aged 29 (James), 30 (Bosh) and 32 (Wade). This isn't over the hill, but basketball players age in dog years.
Even the best have productivity arcs that look more like those of running backs than quarterbacks. Which is to say, the Heat, as presently constituted, don't have a lot of time. And given the degree to which they've been bushwhacked so far by a superior Spurs team, they're acutely aware that they have to get better.
Miami doesn't necessarily need Melo, but after a season that saw it undoubtedly take a step backward—the Heat won 12 fewer games than they did a year ago and clearly no longer have the spring in their step to play the hyper-frenetic defense their system requires—it needs to upgrade somewhere. And Melo is, at the moment, the biggest upgrade available.
If the Big Three had any reservations about taking substantial pay cuts to welcome Melo, an embarrassment in the Finals would surely mitigate them. It would also ramp up the intensity of their appeal to Anthony. According to Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Heat will have stiff competition. Both the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls are in a position to offer Melo the max, and both franchises can offer the 30-year-old Anthony what he most covets: an opportunity to win, now.
Wojnarowski reported that, in Houston, both James Harden and Dwight Howard are prepared to make a hard sell to Melo to join them in Texas. James, Wade and Bosh would surely be more motivated to match this pitch if they fell short, as they appear likely to do.
Nothing motivates quite like failure.
Furthermore, a Finals loss seems unlikely to dissuade Anthony much. It sort of goes without saying, but even without him, the Heat have shown themselves to be a basketball team that's capable of competing for and winning championships. Melo likely views the Bulls and the Rockets, rightly, as being a few degrees further from contention than Miami.
So that's the bright side for Heat fans, a franchise and a city that know a thing or two about silver linings: Even with a Finals loss, the Heat could firm up their dynasty.