Miami Heat: NBA's Image Shift Started Long Before Miami Thrice
It was too easy to overlook the magnitude of the Lakers getting Pau Gasol years ago because the bigger story was the lopsided trade that landed him there.
It was a bit harder to ignore Boston's additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join with Paul Pierce, yet they were all teetering on the twilight of their primes and none of them ever were considered "winners" by their lonesome.
Suddenly, three of the four top players in one of the most impactful drafts in NBA history joined together, and what has been swept under the rug has finally been exposed.
Sometimes it takes the obvious to make people realize what has been going on for quite some time. And make no mistake, the disparity in the NBA has gone on since the Lakers got Gasol and the Celtics completely transformed their team.
In 2008, it was Celtics-Lakers. In 2010, it was Celtics-Lakers. In 2009, Kevin Garnett got injured and, just barely, the Magic made it passed the Celtics to face none other than the Lakers in the Finals
The Miami Heat are now the most hated team in the NBA because, well, the competitiveness of the NBA was allegedly placed aside so that two of the three best players in the NBA could join forces and basically hopscotch to the Finals.
They were all in their primes. They voluntarily decided to play together. Some even made free agency a forum to showboat their larger-than-life stature to the mistaken few who were not in the know.
"Miami Thrice" can be accused of taking away some of the purity of the NBA, but they absolutely CANNOT be accused of starting the trend.
As much as fans would like to see their teams win on a pure and accepted merit that is recognized and respected by everyone else, it is time to cash in on the reality check.
In order to win in today's NBA, it takes more than one great player. It takes multiple guys. Name me the last team who won an NBA championship that hasn't had at least two players that used to be or are the No. 1 option on a team?
The answer happens to be San Antonio in 2005, with a then-still-in-his-prime Tim Duncan, an excellent supporting cast, a shutdown defense, and one of the best and most underrated coaches in Greg Poppovich.
No, this changing zeitgeist didn't happen overnight. A few specific dominoes fell into place to have what we all finally see now.
Most notable of them are these:
1) The luxury tax being so tight. When your team is mediocre, you trade your best player in exchange for picks and favorable contracts to gear you properly in a rebuilding phase toward the future. In the NBA, stagnant mediocrity means some fortunate team is going to hit the jackpot and immensely improve. All it takes is enough cap room or a desperate GM needing to make a move to spare their jobs.
2) Quantity of rings means more than quality of competition. Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, two of the NBA's most winning players, are generally mentioned as the two greatest players to have ever played the game. It is no coincidence, meanwhile, that both also were part of championship dynasties in the NBA and played the pivotal role of being the leader and best player despite playing with several talented guys.
Today's NBA players see and are quite aware of this divide in legacy standards and don't want to be on the unpopular end of the fence. So if you are Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, the decision is really this: "Do I want the hall of fame or TNT?" If you are thinking Kenny Smith or Steve Kerr, then I must remind you that we are talking about superstars here.
3) There is no dominant big man in the league. The famous saying is "you can't teach size" and it's true because the only thing easier than winning with talent is winning with bigger and stronger talent. The league has gotten smaller, which has made it unnecessary to play basketball with a traditional starting lineup, and even easier to win with a mere plethora of talent.
At the end of the day, you can hate the Miami Heat for carrying a team with two of the three best players in the NBA.
You can hate them because LeBron totally decimated his image by failing to conceal his need for entitlement and only indicating as much in a half-sheepish way, and leaving the city of Cleveland with the collateral damage that came from his departure.
But you cannot hate the Heat for changing the face of the NBA.
It's been going on for a while now. We are all just finally waking up to it.
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