That’s right, I call shenanigans. Why? Because we were all conned, and continue to be conned, by the free agent trio that just signed in Miami and team president, Pat Riley. In the aftermath of LeBron James’ primetime announcement that he was going to “bring his talents to South Beach” I’ve seen a few articles and tweets commending Pat Riley’s deft work in bringing these three max players to Miami. As a Knicks fan, my initial reaction was to begrudgingly agree with these sentiments. Then I got to thinking… “Wait a second, why DID Miami have all this cap room in the first place?”
Think about it. In an article posted to ESPN.com right before “The Decision,” Bill Simmons wrote the following in regard to who he considers an NBA “superstar”:
[O]nly LeBron, Wade, Howard, Durant and Kobe qualify. There’s a level just a shade below (the Almost-But-Not-Quite-Superstar) with Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Roy, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. (Note: I think Derrick Rose gets there next season.)
Now, let me ask you the following question: Which one of those teams were in a position to sign a max guy to complement their current superstar? The Cavs, Magic, Lakers, Mavs, Nuggets, Blazers, Hornets, and Jazz were not financially able to. The Suns could have, but their owner is a notorious spendthrift and they passed on Amar’e, arguably the 3rd or 4th best free agent available after LeBron and Wade. The Bulls were only in this position because Rose and Noah are still young and playing under their rookie contracts, plus they basically gave away Kirk Hinrich. So, if we count the Rose and the Bulls in this equation, that leaves us with exactly two teams with an NBA superstar in a position to sign ONE max free agent to complement their current superstar: the Bulls and the Heat.
Now, I am going to disqualify the Bulls because Rose has only been in the league for two seasons, so the Bulls haven’t even had a chance to realize how special he is and try to build around him. What I am getting at here is all of the teams listed above have been trying like mad to build up their rosters AROUND their superstars. What the heck has Miami been doing since 2008? Why haven’t they been trying like mad to build around their superstar, Dwyane Wade, a player who already has a ring and an NBA Finals MVP under his belt? I mention 2008 because that is when this little nugget was published in Simmons’ column (mentioned again in the previously linked column):
And yes, I totally subscribe to the “LeBron, Wade and Bosh agreed in China that they’d sign with the Knicks in two years” conspiracy theory even though there’s no evidence to support it.
So what have they been doing? Check out the Heat’s rosters in 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10. Blech, and I thought the Cavs did a poor job surrounding LeBron with talent. Here’s the rub, Miami isn’t run by Dan Gilbert and Danny Ferry. They’re run by Pat Riley, a man who has won multiple NBA titles and knows how to build a championship caliber team. So here’s my ultimate question: Why did a team with one of the 3 best players in the NBA have only 1 person officially on their roster (Mario Chalmers) when LeBron James made his announcement on Thursday night? Is this not a negligent way to run an organization? What if the Heat struck out? When you have a player like Wade shouldn’t you be trying to win every single year? Some will point in the Knicks direction as evidence that, perhaps, Riley’s gamble wasn’t so bold after all. Well, that would be ignoring context. The Knicks were in salary cap hell and had no assets to speak of having either traded away their draft picks or blowing the picks by making bad choices. The Knicks essentially had no choice but to blow things up and start over. So why not have the gutting of the franchise culminate with the greatest free agent class in NBA history? If you strike out on LeBron you’re bound to get someone else to build around and then you will still have cap flexibility to make trades and make other moves to improve the team (and this is exactly what they have done.)
Ultimately, I can’t quite make heads or tails of what Miami has been doing the past three seasons. The Heat had the good fortune of having Dwyane Wade and the number 2 pick of the 2008 draft (Michael Beasley) on their roster and their best they could do was acquire a washed up Jermaine O’Neal to complement them? Again, this isn’t a team run by Isaiah Thomas. Pat Riley knows what he’s doing. Check out the following articles about Miami’s 2009 offseason (or lack thereof) here, here, and here. Of course Riley’s prudence has paid off and now he looks like a genius. However, I can’t seem to shake this bad taste in my mouth. Of course it was wise to save cap space in 2009 to make a run at Bosh in 2010, but how come they were in a position to sign all 3? The bottom line: the Knicks were openly tanking and trying to create as much cap space as possible for the summer of 2010 and even they didn’t have enough cap space to fit all 3 players (even if they all agreed to the take less like they did in Miami.) So how come a team with DWYANE WADE was in a position where they were able to sign not 1, but 2 players to such massive contracts?
The only conclusion I can come to is this thing was in the bag the whole time and we bought the charade hook, line, and sinker. How come Chris Bosh didn’t jump at the opportunity to go to Houston and play alongside Yao and Kevin Martin for max money? This was a situation that would have benefited both himself and the Raptors, since the reports indicated Houston was offering an attractive group of players for Bosh’s services. Bosh, a Texas native, would have been able to play his natural position, power forward, close to home, for a lot of cash, and be THE MAN while surrounded by a very strong team with a brilliant GM.
How come the self proclaimed “King” James didn’t jump at the opportunity to go to New York and form the most explosive pick and roll combo in league history with Amar’e Stoudemire (not to mention Danilo Gallinari lighting it up from beyond the arc) and flirt with averaging a triple double for an entire season in Mike D’Antoni’s offense? As Simmons stated in the aforementioned 2008 article:
If he moves to New York, that becomes the biggest sports story of that year. And for all the Global Icon things he wants to accomplish — clothing lines, production companies, sponsors, etc. — he needs to be in New York or L.A on a daily basis. Those are the two cities in which Global Icon stuff happens.
Or, if James was truly consumed with winning rings, he could have jumped to the Bulls, made more money, played in a big city, and formed a devastating team with Noah, Boozer, and Rose.
Now that I look at the facts in black and white, nothing makes sense. Bosh kept telling saying how he wanted the max via a sign and trade and that he wanted to play his natural position (power forward) and play for a winner. LeBron couldn’t stop talking about his goal to be a global icon and a billionaire. Coming full circle, we have the Heat, who have been seemingly treading water for three seasons of Dwyane Wade’s career rather than trying to build a team around a player who has proven he can be the focal point of a championship team, inexplicably having enough cap space to sign 3 players to massive contracts when a franchise that was openly trying to clear the decks only had room for 2.
Obviously, I am merely a hobbyist with no sources and no proof beyond logic and deduction. I have tried to tap into my inner Sherlock Holmes to make sense of what has transpired. I can buy LeBron, Wade, and Bosh becoming buddy-buddy during the Olympics and forming some pact, ala My Girl, to play together on an NBA team. However, this isn’t something you stumble upon by happenstance some random offseason. The mechanics of such a plan needs to be worked out. After all, these guys still want to get paid, and paid they got. This isn’t chump change, folks, especially when you consider that Florida doesn’t have any state income tax. Also, since LeBron and Bosh will be taking up residency in Miami, they won’t get taxed on their endorsement deals either. Hmmm…
So you mean to tell me that the Miami Heat, a team that has a legit NBA superstar in Dwyane Wade, a team that has Pat Riley (*cough*tampering*cough*) as its team president, a team that plays in a state without a state income tax, had the foresight and the gumption to essentially tread water during at least two seasons of Dwyane Wade’s prime to have a “shot” at Chris Bosh? Then, not only were they able to acquire Bosh, but they were also able to convince LeBron James, the reigning two-time MVP to abandon his home state and a team that has won 60+ games in back to back seasons, to eschew his ambitions to become a global icon and billionaire (New York), and to pass up an opportunity to make more money while playing for a team that would have been similarly situated to win multiple titles (Chicago) to go take less money and play with them in Miami? Seriously? Pat Riley was that confident that he would be able to pull this off that he would gamble with precious prime seasons of Dwyane Wade’s career? Sorry, I’m not buying it.
What we witnessed (pun unintended) was unprecedented. Never before have 3 players of this caliber joined forces at such an early juncture in their careers in the name of winning titles. It seems that James, Wade, and Bosh are special individuals who have a special friendship and are willing to leave millions on the table to spend their 20s playing basketball together in a beautiful city. That’s great, but it only explains the “Why?” It does not explain the “How?” As in, how is it possible that a franchise that boasted one of the best players in the NBA was able to afford not just one, but two additional players at a reduced, but still massive price?