LeBron James Will Leave Miami Heat if They Lose NBA Finals
There is nothing worse for a player than knowing in the back of his mind that his team is slowly slipping from an aura of dominance to a second level club, good but not good enough. No one can say that about the Miami Heat so far. They are in their third NBA Finals in three years and stand as the defending world champions. However, unsettling clouds sit on the horizon for the franchise. Other teams in the Eastern Conference are catching up and free agency figures to make life rough for them with the Big Three scheduled to go back on the market. At the heart of it, as always, is LeBron James. With his quest to join Jordan and Bryant atop the history books the sudden vulnerability of his Heat team could mean a big decision is looming next year.
San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers raise questions about Heat
James has answered every challenge so far this season. That doesn't mean he will answer them all. Miami has a better record than a year ago but for some reason they don't have that "unstoppable" feel. The problem started against the Chicago Bulls who stole Game 1 of the semifinals and somehow made life miserable for the Heat despite missing three of their best players, including Derrick Rose. It got worse in the conference finals when Paul George and Roy Hibbert led the determined Indiana Pacers into battle against Miami. The series went all seven games and took everything James had to finally put it away. This was the same team the Heat largely handled in six games the year before.
Now suddenly Miami lost the opening game of the finals, and home court advantage to the battletested and championship experienced San Antonio Spurs.
James recalls vivid nightmares of the Spurs. It was they who denied him his first championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2007. They understand what it takes to beat him and have the talent to do it. Tony Parker is playing like an MVP while Tim Duncan continues his Hall of Fame career under the watchful eye of their future Hall of Fame coach, Gregg Popovich. This is a team that is disciplined and efficient who won't rush their plays simply because King LeBron is on the floor. They will scrap. They will fight. They will claw. Most importantly they can stay in a game after dealing great teams a loss. That is not the formula James wants to see on the eve of his second-straight crown.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren't themselves
Another issue hampering the thought of James staying in SouthBeach is the status of his supporting party. Dwyane Wade has still shown flashes of his typical brilliance but not nearly as often as he used to. The star guard turns 32-years old in January. Injuries have piled up on him of late, especially nagging ones on his knees. No one can say whether he has what it takes to continue making deep playoff runs year after year. Chris Bosh on the other hand simply isn't showing up enough. He's scored three fewer points and collected two fewer rebounds this season than his career average. His playoff numbers are even worse at 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. He hasn't pulled his weight and it's hard seeing him drastically improve next season as he makes the big jump to the 3-0 next march. Put simply two of the Big Three are getting older and less effective.
Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving offer promise of longer contention
On top that is the allure of what free agency will bring for James next year. His goal isn't about money anymore. It is about championships. Failing to beat an older Spurs team far from their glory days would have to mean Miami is no longer good enough to help him accomplish his goal. Meanwhile other teams in league will have wide open spots on their roster next year and the money needed to make a deal happen.
Chicago will find lots of salary cap relief in 2014 and have superstar Derrick Rose, who will only be 25 at that point, locked up for the long haul. Throw in the highly respected Tom Thibodeau as head coach and that combination would look mighty intimidating. Then there is the ever present question of if LeBron was serious about a possible return to Cleveland. He admits he never wanted to leave but felt the need to do. Since that time the Cavaliers added star point guard Kyrie Irving and have the first overall draft pick again in 2013. They are poised to take a big step next season. Adding James could prove the final piece to their puzzle, and lead to a reconciliation nobody thought possible.
No matter how one looks at it, the Heat are in for big changes if they can't get that second ring against San Antonio.