Miami Heat's LeBron James reacts during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA playoff basketball series against the Boston Celtics, Wednesday, May 11, 2011 in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
When it comes to LeBron James, it may be time to evoke five words no parent — or National Basketball Association general manager, for that matter — ever wants to hear:
Doesn’t play well with others.
Just sayin’. Some guys make others around them better (Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan come to mind). Others don’t (think Patrick Ewing, Amare Stoudemire and Dominique Wilkins).
The first group is dripping with championships (18 total). The second has none.
This isn’t to tattoo James with the latter label, despite his subpar efforts throughout the Miami Heat’s loss to Dallas in this year’s NBA finals. But when you’ve just completed your eighth year in the league — and your first with two All-Star teammates who each played better than you against the Mavericks — well ... you just may be more of a show pony than an alpha dog.
Or maybe Heat general manager Pat Riley’s Dream Team of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James was a flawed concept from the start.
When you have absolutely zero dependable post players, no eye-popping point guard, a bench that looks like it’s on a collective 10-day contract and three guys who all are used to being the go-to-guy but can’t decide which one will be THE go-to-guy when it matters most, you’ve got problems.
Throw in the fact that coach Erik Spoelstra looks more like the towel boy than the captain of the ship, and it might have been a bigger surprise if the Heat had somehow won rather than lost.
But only James is going to take the fall for this. You just can’t stage something as awful as “The Decision” was last summer, tweet the Heat faithful a day later that “the road to history starts now,” then score eight points in the crucial Game 4 loss to the Mavs and expect the public to forgive and forget.
But does this mean the Heat can’t win it all in the future with this same lineup? Does it mean that Riley should replace Spoelstra as coach, given that Riles owns five NBA championship rings, including the Heat’s lone title with a younger, healthier Wade?
All this really may mean is that most championship teams lose before they win. For all the talk of the Heat being the Heatles — and they did have a Beatles quality to them in terms of media interest — they actually have been more like the Traveling Wilburys, the 1988 super group of Bob Dylan, former Beatle George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.
Strictly a studio band that made two albums total — the first one did grab a Grammy — the Wilburys never toured together and never cut another record after 1990. They were merely friends having fun in the latter stages of their magical lives.
Of course, maybe if the Heat had collected five All-Stars instead of three, Miami would have won. And perhaps that’s the lesson for next season, assuming a probable strike by the players doesn’t cancel next season. More is better.
Add an aging post player — Shaq unretires? — and a capable power forward (Atlanta’s Al Horford or Chicago’s Joaquim Noah?) and watch as the rest of the NBA can’t stand up to the Heat.
Or it might be best simply to applaud the Mavs, who quietly played the way champions play when their perennial All-Star hits the shots perennial All-Stars are supposed to hit with games on the line.
While Prince Jimmy — you can’t be King James, can you, when you’re not even the best player on your own team? —— was missing three of four free throws Sunday night, Dirk Nowitzki was scoring 10 fourth-quarter points after a horrid first half.
That Dirk was the MVP on the floor was obvious. But a quote from him also bears repeating, a quote that no Heat player could have uttered in honesty, even if Miami had won.
Said the German giant, noting the seasonlong contributions of 38-year-old Jason Kidd, the 26 points from ebullient sixth man Jason Terry in the final victory and the rest of a crew even their own GM once tagged The Castoffs: “I just think this is a win [for] team basketball. This is a win for playing as a team on both ends of the floor, [for] sharing the ball, [for] passing the ball.”
Or maybe it’s a win for stubbornness. Both Nowitzki and Terry waited five years from a 2006 finals loss to the Heat for a shot at redemption. In fact, Terry began this season with such confidence that he had an image of the NBA championship trophy tattooed to his bicep in … October.
Say what you want of that bravado, but Terry can keep his tattoo forever.
As for LeBron, he assuredly will revisit the words he said the day after he signed with the Heat last July, words that Riley also should ponder.
Said Prince Jimmy: “A team is not built on three guys; it’s a whole organization.”
Until the Heat brass more fervently embraces that, the Mavs organization won’t be the last to make James a more successful analyst than finalist.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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