6:40 PM EDT, June 21, 2013
Three years ago, the Heat staged their silly pep-rally, suggesting multiple titles could be won.
LeBron James: "Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…"
LeBron was simply playing to the crowd that summer day as Miami celebrated the assembling of the Big Three. But everyone held the Heat to it, at least to the essence of a promised dominance.
The Heat have played in three consecutive Finals, lost in the Big Three's first shot at it and have won the last two.
The Heat can be vicious and vulnerable – vulnerable when Dwyane Wade is aching and Chris Bosh is a spectator. They are dominant on paper, but not as consistently on the floor, their power often delivered in spurts.
The Pacers and the Spurs each took the Heat to seven games. The Heat's repeat was 28 seconds away from never happening – they trailed the Spurs by five points -- until the Miracle in Miami in Game 6.
What the Heat did in that tiny 28-second window – their margin of error so slight – was the difference between validation and condemnation today.
How many more titles can they add? It depends on how long the Heat can carry D-Wade.
Hopes for a dynasty – two titles doesn't qualify by any stretch – are propped up by Wade's balky knees. At times he looks like 41 instead of 31.
If he can stay relatively healthy, the Heat should win two more championships. That's how good LeBron is.
James is 28, and it's clear that winning titles and enhancing his legacy are priorities. He doesn't want to take his talents out of South Beach, but he won't hang around if Wade is hobbling.
The Heat will be favorites next season. And here are the challengers:
• Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the young Thunder suddenly aren't assured of being the new face of the NBA's future. They've felt the loss of James Harden.
• San Antonio Spurs: It's easy to send the aging Spurs on a farewell tour after their Game 6 collapse cost them title No. 5. But remember: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard don't have to go through the Heat to get to the Heat again.
• Indiana Pacers: The Pacers pushed the Heat to seven games playing roughhouse basketball and featuring Roy Hibbert. Paul George is a budding superstar. You figure the Pacers will improve at point guard – and the Heat counter by signing a big body.
• Chicago Bulls: The only other East threat. Derrick Rose missed all last season. Even if Rose is back to MVP form, the Bulls need another scorer.
• Orlando Magic: Oh, it's not 2017 yet? Never mind.
• Memphis Grizzlies: Lot of questions for the Griz after being skunked in the West finals by the Spurs. They need another scorer. Oh, and a coach.
• L.A. Clippers: Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can't beat the Heat to advance from the East side of the bracket, so they're all angling to go West. But the deal looks dead and the Clips nervously await Chris Paul's signature.
• Houston Rockets and the L.A. Lakers: I put those two teams together because of the Dwight Howard Free Agent Derby. Howard could join Harden to throw the West into a free-for-all. If he stays in L.A., the Lakers' Achilles heel…is Kobe's Achilles.
Finally, after way too much drama, L.A. Lakers center Dwight Howard will officially become a free agent on July 1.
"This is my chance to choose my own destiny instead of letting ... someone else choose it," Howard said.
Howard is at last saying the right things. He claims he is making a basketball decision. When he demanded to be traded while with the Magic – he gave the team a list, topped then by New Jersey – basketball wasn't the lone priority. Becoming a big-market celebrity was just as important.
"So I'm going to really sit down and think about what is best for me as far as basketball and what is going to make me happy. … if their plans and my plans fit and go with the best option that will help my game expand, and get to where I want to get to," he said. "There's nothing one team can say to sway me away from another team. It's just going to be what's best for me basketball-wise."
This 'n' That
Howard might have had his issues with Kobe – like prying the ball out of his hands – but Kobe is pushing for Dwight to return to the Lakers. "Those guys are hard to find, they don't grow on trees," Bryant said on 710 ESPN L.A. "When you have someone like that with his talent level, you have to be able to keep him and lock him in with this franchise."… Kobe also says his top five team of all-time is Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan. Could you beat that team with Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, Oscar Robertson, LeBron and, uh, Kobe? … As of late Friday, the deal that was alive, dead and then alive is dead again. Apparently, Celtics coach Doc Rivers will not be heading to the L.A. Clippers. Yahoo! reports that the Clippers offered two second-round picks for Doc, and Boston wanted a first-rounder. The Magic wrestled Stan Van Gundy away from the Heat for a second-rounder in the 2007 draft – one of their best trades. ... Van Gundy is scheduled to make an appearance today at Parks Lincoln of Longwood between 2 to 4 p.m. in a benefit for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Seminole County. …The agent for Greg Oden told Fox Sports Florida that the injury plagued center is interesting in signing with the Heat as a free agent. Oden hasn't played since December of 2009.
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