LeBron Leaves, Miami Moves on… Quickly

You lose LeBron James. You have two options: wallow in self-pity, or shell out a max deal to Chris Bosh! That’s sort of like those annoying hypotheticals you’d hear in the 8th grade: “would you rather die of a shark attack, or a lightning strike?” There’s no right answer. There’s only two wrong answers, one maybe a little worse than the other.

Miami fans did their best Cleveland impression, showing no class after LeBron announced he was leaving.

Miami fans did their best Cleveland impression, showing no class after LeBron announced he was leaving.

That isn’t to rip on Cleveland fans. They’ve heard it enough, and yeah, they took the anti-LeBron stuff too far in 2010, but if I lived in Cleveland, I probably would’ve reacted similarly. As would any real sports fan. But it is to say that there is another way of dealing with the loss of the greatest player in the league. After LeBron announced his return to Cleveland, nearly every sports fan in the country cheered. And per usual, when Miami fans saw other fans cheering, they naturally joined in. (Cue clueless Heat looking around confused, seeing people clapping, and then slowly joining, and then grinning widely, having no idea why he’s clapping.)

Fans and experts announced the ship to sink swiftly. First, Chris Bosh was going to leave and sign a max deal with the Houston Rockets. And then maybe Dwyane Wade would jump ship too, and leave the only franchise he’s ever played for. Maybe Pat Riley would retire, and the Heat would have to start from square one.

Except that’s not what happened. Chris Bosh signed a max 5 year/$118 million deal, Wade is likely to stay in a Heat uniform too, and Pat Riley is still running things. And they’re looking at Luol Deng now too. Maybe Trevor Ariza too.

Let’s not kid ourselves. I’m not by any stretch saying a potential core of Bosh-Wade-Deng-McRoberts is good enough to win a championship. But in the Eastern Conference, that is definitely a nucleus that can make the playoffs and make some damage. I’m not going to praise Riley and act like he has saved the roster, despite losing LeBron, but it’s at least clear that Riley is in no mood to tank, or rebuild from the ground up. He has some good pieces and is smart enough to build around them. Too often in the NBA, teams will throw away solid teams, just because the team is not necessarily championship worthy. Everyone knows that in the NBA, being good, but not great is the worst. The middle of the pack is NBA no man’s land. You’re not quite in the playoffs, but you’re not getting potential superstars in the draft either. Or you’re making the playoffs consistently as a 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 seed, but not really contending for a title. I’m not saying to drastically overpay a second tier player to stay as a middling playoff seed, like the Hawks did with Joe Johnson a couple years ago. Not at all.

What I’m saying is it’s not always the right move to just throw away a solid core, just because it can’t win the championship. In video games maybe it’s easy to imagine just tanking a few years with a team full of expiring contracts, only to fill the team with great draft picks and max-level talent in free agency. Hell, sometimes that can work in the NBA too, but it’s not easy, and it requires a lot of luck. Sometimes, staying relevant in the league and proving that you are organization that reloads, but doesn’t rebuild, is a better message to potential future employees.

It’s refreshing to see Pat Riley’s resilience in an age where solid teams are knocked at the core after one unsuccessful season. The Pacers were considering letting Lance Stephenson walk in free agency and trading Roy Hibbert after winning 56 games. That is, getting rid of two key pieces after being the top seed in the East, just because they sort of flamed out in the playoffs. Obviously, they will probably re-think that strategy with the entire conference being shaken up today, but they should have kept their roster in tact, regardless.

Some people will laugh at Pat Riley for giving Bosh the max and likely overpaying an aging, potentially washed up Wade. But the East is really bad. Is it that crazy to think without LeBron, Bosh will come closer to his old 20 and 10 production he had in his Toronto days? Don’t answer. But really, Bosh has compromised himself and his ability in the past few years. He had to. The team was so loaded, and since he was not a true center, the only way for him to play with the spacing in the Heat’s offense was to shoot more 3’s. Bosh is not blameless, but he didn’t have as much room to operate like he did in Toronto. And surrounding Bosh with Wade, Granger, and potentially Deng on the wing is better than most teams can offer in the East. Miami will be much better off than you’d think considering they just lost the best player in basketball.

“Over the last 19 years, since (Heat owner) Micky (Arison) and I teamed together, The Miami Heat has always been a championship organization. We’ve won multiple championships and competed for many others. Micky, (coach) Erik (Spoelstra) and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again.”

The Heat will have to regroup quickly, but Pat Riley seems unfazed by LeBron’s departure. Riley has displayed nothing but class in response to the news of LeBron, unlike Dan Gilbert did in 2010, and while the Heat may not be championship contenders next season, they will stay relevant under Riley’s direction.

And staying relevant is as good as you can hope for after losing the greatest player in the league.

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