Miami Heat: 5 Fatal Flaws with the 'Big Three' Blueprint
With the Miami Heat closing in on the 2012 NBA title and LeBron James on the verge of losing his championship virginity after nine excruciating years of sort of trying, the era of the microwave dynasty is about to begin in earnest.
As such, the concept of assembling "big threes" (or greater) will gain some serious steam; teams around the league will be even more tempted to try to duplicate the Heat's recipe for success.
The problem is, there are some very real flaws in this team-building blueprint that can be overlooked when looking at the Heat's success with it.
Even the Heat, one win away from being your new NBA champs (ugh...), aren't immune to these pitfalls, but to this point they've been able to overcome them with good old-fashioned overkill, what with their two MVP candidates and spare perennial All-Star. Nobody else is going to form a big three to rival this, short of trading to Dwight Howard to the Clippers (dream on).
Thus, your average team trying to copy the Heat could be in for any of the following unpleasant side effects of espousing the "big three" paradigm...
Chemistry Is Not Guaranteed
While assembling three established superstars together invariably has heavy appeal for any team, the Heat in particular have misled observers into thinking that overwhelming results, such as they've had the past two years, are what everyone can expect.
By the same token, however, the Heat have also proven that good chemistry is not a given when you simply mix star players together and hope for the best. The Knicks are an even better example—although theirs is currently a Big Two—of how hastily acquired marquee players can hurt a team by their failure to harmonize on the court.
The Heat had similar issues, if far less counterproductive, blending the talents (pun intended) of LeBron James and the player whose game most resembles his in the NBA, Dwyane Wade. Luckily for them, they've been able to offset their chemistry issues—not to mention questionable coaching—with good old-fashioned overkill thanks to the abnormally gifted James.
Also, Erik Spoelstra's less than graceful job of piloting the Heat—as well as Mike D'Antoni's downright disastrous results in New York—shows us that there is a real need to get the right coach who will draw the best out of whichever stars a team decides to slap together.
Other teams seeking to follow the Heat's recipe for quick and easy success may very well come to the realisation that merely plugging together championship-level amounts of talent does not excuse teams from making them fit together properly.
Roster-Building Becomes Next to Impossible
Chances are that any three players with the stature to be called a "big three" would command a particularly high salary, if not the league maximum.
It's very hard to picture building this way without putting oneself in a corner financially, since spending the necessary bucks to form these super-nuclei would leave any team minimal cap room with which to surround its stars with quality role players.
Of course, with a little luck, the Boston Celtics were able to build a team around their own big three—which was built the crazy old archaic way, via even trade, back in 2007. Meanwhile, however, their best friends the Miami Heat are living proof of the pitfalls inherent in trying to build a supporting cast on nickels and dimes.
It turns out that even with the heaviest talent haul in NBA history, the Heat weren't able to fully offset their lack of quality role players, which ended up hurting the big three's potential for dominance.
By that, I mean they failed to achieve total invincibility, which was the intended result of their mega-stacking experiment to begin with.
Now, imagine you're the Heat...only without the benefit of the league's MVP and most transcendental talent anchoring your roster. And imagine you're powerless, financially, to do a thing about it.
When you put it that way, it seems like a considerably less to-die-for sort of situation.
Team More Susceptible to Injury Problems
When you concentrate your team's talent in fewer and fewer players—up to and including a dangerously top-heavy nucleus like a big three—you leave yourself at the mercy of your superstars' resistance to the injury bug.
For a team with a large number of mid-level players (e.g. Denver), losing one to injury generally doesn't do any serious damage, if only because of the smaller share said player has in the team's overall production. You lose 10 percent of your main corps, you can get by with a little added elbow grease.
Not so for a big three, super-team or what have you...with more talent and production concentrated among fewer players, an injury to any of these can prove concurrently more costly—if not catastrophic— to the team effort.
There's nothing more short-handed than a big three (sans supporting cast) reduced to a big two or even one.
A team in this mould would be pinning its hopes less on net talent and a high level of play, and more on a continuously impeccable bill of health.
Take the usual odds of avoiding injury, add the increased physical toll taken on the occasionally overused superstars and multiply by scarcity of backup options, and you get a considerably lower threshold for short-handed performance.
Reduced Bragging Rights
From the moment the Heat formed their vaunted mega-trio, they inherited a world of critics for what was seen as an ethically questionable recipe for winning.
LeBron James in particular, years into his personal quest for validation, earned the harshest criticism for taking the road of minimum effort while still expecting equal credit.
This stigma, much like the model that created it (both of which we owe to the Heat), isn't going anywhere in today's NBA. Just ask LeBron. While not a fatal flaw in itself—after all, it hasn't stopped Miami despite being one of its worst enemies—the negative reaction from dodging competition via super-team can and will be a key deterrent.
Even if teams go out of their way not to do it as obnoxiously as Miami did.
For those players who are prepared to trade in immediate respect for championships, there still remains the matter of bragging rights once the deal is sealed.
In a league where a player's rep springs directly from the public's perception, and where championships—traditionally hard-fought—are seen as the ultimate source of bragging rights, there is a loss of lustre that comes from winning with the odds so heavily stacked in one's favor.
Suddenly, a championship isn't the achievement it once was, and the reputation boost that comes with is cheapened in comparison to past champions.
For instance, when LeBron inevitably wins his inaugural title in a couple of days, he will find out to his dismay that his critics will, for the most part, not evaporate as he prays they will.
He will find that people will still withhold the respect he needs so dearly to regain, because a ring with the help of a big three, super-team, etc., is viewed as a lesser accomplishment.
Other players may witness this (pun intended) and be discouraged accordingly from joining a team that will get them quicker success at the expense of personal respect.
This may not have been all too obvious before, but once LeBron is done with his first championship run, he could very well be a cautionary tale for others, rather than a smiling poster boy for "the new way to win."
While attempting to bring any further big threes together, public perception and loss of respect can be an obstacle to player recruitment; once formed, it can cause massive levels of distraction, which not all teams or players are equipped to handle.
High Expectations Spell Tenuous Coaching Situation
After two years at the helm of the NBA's very own Death Star, it's a wonder Erik Spoelstra's hairline isn't giving LeBron's a run for its money. He's dealt with media criticism, astronomic expectations, constant murmurs of his dismissal and even public player insubordination, all while trying to steer this lumbering behemoth to prominence.
Pat Riley seems to be giving Spoelstra more credit than anybody else and has stuck with his much-maligned bench leader through one catastrophe already (i.e. the first blown title).
Obviously, Spoelstra is mere days away from scoring some major job security, but with Miami presumably (and boringly) monopolizing the next few championships, this cure-all will not be available to many other coaches.
Thus, any other specially formed superteam will likely make life hell for whomever is coaching it. In a league where you can't fire a player for losing, head coaches notoriously tend to be the No. 1 scapegoats for team underachievement.