Five questions on Heat and LeBron

Originally Published: July 9, 2010
ESPN.com

LeBron JamesLarry Busacca/Estabrook Group/Getty ImagesLeBron James left us with plenty to ponder after making his announcement that he's headed to Miami.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are teaming up in Miami. What to make of it all? We asked our NBA experts five key questions about the new-look Heat.

Here are their answers:

1. Will LeBron, Wade and Bosh create synergy or chaos?

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: James and Wade were delightfully selfless and energetic on Team USA. Both revel in making the right play, the extra pass and the like. And with their wallets they are making clear that they love the idea of playing together. I think it'll be synergy, for sure. Don't really understand exactly how Bosh fits in, but when the roster is more complete that will make more sense, I assume.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Synergy. The first inclination of both LeBron and Wade is to make the right play. If that means passing, they'll pass. If they need to take over, they will. They've got two players who demand defensive attention. I'd love to see how Tom Thibodeau will scheme against them. Bosh will take his place. He'd better. He hit the lottery.

Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: It's hard to fathom that James, Wade and Bosh haven't discussed both the on-court and off-court ramifications of playing together. Will the pressure of NBA play and the level of competition allow the Heat to recreate the selfless magic of Team USA? Probably not. But winning is an elixir for chaos.

Chad Ford, ESPN.com: Synergy. Say what you will about LeBron's ego in making this into a spectacle, but on the court he's an unselfish player. Wade will be the dominant scorer. Bosh is a great fit with his game. And I expect we'll see LeBron fall into a Magic Johnson facilitator role.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Synergy. They clearly enjoyed playing with each other during the Olympics and in All-Star Games and they'll create total havoc in the open court. Bosh in particular takes nothing away from the other two; it will be the interplay between James and Wade that will be the most interesting part to watch.

Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: There will be a steep learning curve, and the best way to look at how they'll coexist is to go back to the Beijing Olympics when both Bosh and Wade came off the bench because there was too much talent to fit them all in the starting five. All three were finishers, however, for Team USA, and that team did win the gold medal, so success is within their reach. But Bosh is going to take a pounding from opposing bigs, and let's not kid ourselves: Wade and LBJ are both going to want to take the final shot when it comes down to a final shot situation. So at first, chaos. Later, synergy. They've got five years to figure it out.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: There will be chaos only if they, say, start out with a couple second-round exits in a row and their chemistry/unity succumbs to the external pressure. Or if the next collective bargaining agreement is so onerous that teams can't afford three superstars with any hope of putting quality players around them. I'm not expecting issues otherwise.

These guys are friends. These guys have already played together with Team USA and plotted this whole thing together. This is not the same as Jerry West and Elgin Baylor trying to make room for the gargantuan personality of Wilt Chamberlain late in their careers. I'm as turned off by the way LeBron exited his home state as anyone. His lack of grace and compassion -- given what his long-suffering fellow Ohioans have been through for decades -- is unspeakably disappointing. But none of that has anything to do with how LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh are going to function as a trio.


2. Who should take last shot: LeBron, Wade, Bosh or whoever is open?

Abbott: As Kobe Bryant wheels on the sideline, double-teamed, and fires up an air ball with the game on the line (only to be bailed out by Ron Artest), I think we all can see the flaws in the "that guy has to shoot it" approach. You have good shooters stand in places on the court where they can hit shots, and you take the best shot the defense will give you. I know it seems like it's magical and different with the game on the line, but it's still basketball. What works all game is a good idea in crunch time, too.

[+] EnlargeLeBron Wade Bosh
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesBosh, Wade and Bron don't have to wait until the All-Star Game to play alongside each other anymore.

Adande: I'd let LeBron take the last shot at the end of the first three quarters, Wade at the end of the game. But just think of the advantage Pat Riley, er, Erik Spoelstra will have when diagramming late-game plays in the huddle. The defense won't be able to deny both LeBron and Wade the ball.

Arnovitz: That's the beauty of this arrangement, isn't it? James, Wade and Bosh each have the will and the capacity to produce in a crucial situation. What's less clear is how many tight games the Heat will actually play. As Daryl Morey says, "Good teams don't win close games -- they avoid them."

Ford: Wade. He's better than anyone in the NBA at creating his own shot. But the truth is, all three are great options. It will be tough for defenses to plan for them. That's the strength of this unit.

Hollinger: Whoever is open, of course. But a better question is "who should have the ball at the start of the play?" And to that, I think the answer changes between LeBron and Wade every night depending on matchups and game flow.

Sheridan: D-Wade. It is still his team.

Stein: Who do you guard on the last shot? That's the better question. Even the guys who eventually surround these three are going to be better than they've ever been.


3. Rank the NBA's top five teams going into the 2010-11 season.

Abbott: 1. Lakers; 2. Magic; 3. Heat; 4. Spurs; 5. Celtics

Adande: 1. Lakers; 2. Celtics; 3. Magic; 4. Heat; 5. Thunder

Arnovitz: 1. Heat; 2. Lakers; 3. Magic; 4. Celtics; 5. Rockets

Ford: 1. Lakers; 2. Heat; 3. Magic; 4. Mavericks; 5. Celtics

Hollinger: 1. Lakers; 2. Magic; 3. Heat; 4. Thunder; 5. Celtics

Sheridan: 1. Lakers; 2. Heat; 3. Celtics; 4. Thunder; 5. Rockets

Stein: 1. Lakers; 2. Heat; 3. Celtics; 4. Magic; 5. Thunder/Bulls


4. How many NBA titles will the Heat win during the next five years?

Abbott: Two.

Adande: Two.

Arnovitz: Over-under of 3.5. Even if the Heat are odds-on favorites each season, percentages dictate that in a five-year sample, they're bound to trip up once or twice. And don't discount the Lakers' willingness to reload in this arms race.

Ford: Three. I think Year 1 may be a work in progress and the Heat may need another offseason to put all the pieces in place. But if they don't win three titles in the course of those next four years, it'd be a major upset.

Hollinger: I'll go with three. I don't think they'll win it this year because there are too many holes to fill, but once they can use their exceptions and draft picks to fill out the roster they'll be unbeatable. The biggest obstacle is the new CBA -- if they institute a hard cap with no exceptions, the Heat might not win any titles.

Sheridan: One or two. Any team that can put together a front line like the Lakers' can take 'em -- but it won't be easy.

Stein: Two is the reasonable ceiling as things stand on July 9, 2010. The Lakers are too big and championship-tested to be shoved out of the way easily. Just getting out of the East -- even when age finally ends Boston's run -- is going to be a chore every year if Orlando keeps spending money on the cast around Dwight Howard and Chicago adds wisely to the Derrick Rose-Joakim Noah-Carlos Boozer triumvirate.


5. LeBron's legacy after his seven years with the Cavs and his departure?

Abbott: People seem to be in a mood to judge him very harshly, but it's not fair. He played as well as any other player in the NBA, made far less money than he earned for the team and hardly ever had a bad game. And lots of people with options have left Cleveland through the years, which sounds harsher than I mean it.

Adande: He made the Cavaliers relevant and took the franchise to its only NBA Finals. As much as his departure stings, would Cavs fans rather have the excitement and promise of the past seven years or the mediocrity that preceded it? It's far too early to speak of his career legacy. At a similar age Shaq was a guy who left his team without even winning a Finals game. He went on to win four championships in seven years. LeBron is still more Next than Never.

[+] EnlargeLebron James
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesLeBron James has gone from hero to villain in Cleveland.

Arnovitz: Although James was unable to deliver a championship to Cleveland, he revived a dormant franchise and electrified a region. Most relationships in sports between superstar and fan are terminal, and the bond between James and Cleveland fans is no different. I'm not a Cavs fan, so I asked a die-hard one from Ohio whom I know well. This was his response:

"James' legacy will be he didn't accomplish what he said he was going to do. LeBron said this himself, 'I got a goal, and it's a huge goal, and that is to bring an NBA championship here to Cleveland. And I won't stop until I get it.' If he leaves he will leave as a failure in that way, and his legacy will be that he couldn't get it done even though Dan Gilbert did everything possible to put the pieces around him that he could. LeBron said it above, and I think it is those words above that will haunt Cleveland fans."

Hollinger: At the moment it's disappointment at their inability to win a title; in a few years, however, these will be seen as the Good Old Days in Cleveland and be looked upon much more fondly, akin to Barkley's time in Philly or Garnett's years in Minnesota.

Sheridan: He becomes Art Modell 2.0. He broke their hearts. His legacy in Cleveland will be this: He was a player who didn't show up for his final home game in a Cavs uniform, a player who FAILED.

Stein: It's utterly and totally destroyed. From the moment people started asking legacy questions after the Boston series, I've maintained that the only way LeBron's meek playoff exit got stamped permanently on his resume was if he left the Cavs. It would have eventually been reduced to mere footnote status had he stayed, just like Kobe Bryant's forgettable Game 7 in Phoenix in 2006 that almost never gets brought up anymore because Kobe has since won two titles without Shaq. Now the opposite is true.

LeBron leaving the Cavs and his home state in ruins -- in a one-hour TV special that he and his "team" conceived -- will make him the biggest sports villain in Cleveland history. Bigger than Michael Jordan. Bigger than Art Modell. The fact that LeBron is wearing someone else's uniform is going to be thrust in the face of Clevelanders every day because of the saturation coverage he gets. Clevelanders won't be able to dodge the sight of LeBron in Heat colors ... and thus he'll never be able to dodge their wrath.