Only four short years ago, in what seems like yesterday, we were all pressed on the edge of our couches watching the infamous “Decision”, in which LeBron announced he was taking his talents to South Beach to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. We witnessed it all. The Dan Gilbert letter, the burnt jerseys, the riots in downtown Cleveland due to the departure of their former hero.
“We’ll never take him back”, “I hope he never wins a ring” were the exact words coming out of the mouths of these spurned fans, ones who have longed for a championship, after a 50+ year drought representing each of their major sports teams. Cleveland fans rejoiced when the Heat came up short against the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, a series which James played considerably poor in. They hid away in the shadows when Miami reached the promised land in 2012 and again in 2013. Fast forward to today, how times have changed.
After nearly a month of silence and speculation, Sports Illustrated released what could go down as the most powerful and inspiring piece in Cleveland sports history, and only one statement mattered: “I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m Coming Home”. Unlike the backlash four years ago, players and fans in Florida have shown class with the choice, because no matter what, home is where the heart is, and James made what he felt was the right decision not only for him, but for his family as well.
Bolstered by a supreme supporting cast that includes Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters, Shawn Marion, Tristan Thompson, Mike Miller, James Jones, Anderson Varejao, and quite possibly Ray Allen, the Cavs are in a prime position to do what they couldn’t do in James’s first stint with the team: compete for an NBA championship each and every season, much like LeBron and the Heat did in their time together. While the roster is loaded with talent, many questions still loom. Of the new “Big 3″, James is the only one to have played in the postseason, as Love and Irving were never able to lead their respective teams to any playoff appearances. There are serious doubts of Love’s defensive ability, but playing with the best all around player in the world, that should improve, much similar to Chris Bosh’s situation when he joined Miami four seasons ago (Bosh is now one of the best pick and roll defenders in the league).
Let’s take a detailed comparison of the old “Big 3″ vs the new “Big 3″
Dwyane Wade vs Kyrie Irving
Coming into the ’10-11 season, Wade clearly has the edge over the now 22-year-old Irving. While Wade was 28 going on 29 in his first season with James, he had already shown his leadership abilities in full, leading the Heat to their first NBA title in 2006, virtually on his own (he averaged 34.7 ppg that series). Wade was also arguably a top 4 player in the NBA at the time, and it’s debatable if Irving has even cracked the top 10. Kyrie averaged 20.8 points per game last season, and also finished with career highs in assists (6.1) and steals (1.5). This upcoming season will only be Irving’s fourth professional season, and with a teammate like LeBron, expect immense growth in his game. Coming into 10-11, Wade was coming off a season in which he averaged 26.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. Clearly superior numbers than Irving’s, but at the time, Wade was a seasoned vet, while Kyrie is still finding his footing in the NBA. With the health and advanced age of Dwyane now, Irving is clearly the answer long-term, but at the time, give me Wade any day. Advantage: Wade
Chris Bosh vs Kevin Love
Looking at these two versatile forwards, who can both score inside and out, you can’t find too many differences. Coming into his first season with the Heat, Bosh was coming off a career year with the Raptors. He averaged 24 points, 10.8 rebounds, and a block a game for the 09-10 season. With the limited talent on that Toronto roster, Bosh was unable to lead them to the playoffs that year. In the same shoes as Bosh, Love is coming off a spectacular individual season as well. Last year, he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and a career high in assists (4.4). The only difference, Kevin was never able to lead his team to the playoffs in his six seasons in Minneapolis, and his abysmal .5 blocks per game numbers have many questioning his defensive ability. Overall, this is pretty even. Love is the long-term answer similar to Irving, but in fair comparison, Bosh is now 30, not 40. Advantage: even
LeBron James (2010) vs LeBron James (2014)
Clearly the new LeBron is the one you’d rather go into battle with. He’s now a proven winner, a two time champion, and has the ability to hit big shots in any games biggest moments. While not bolstering the same athleticism as four years ago, James’s jump shot is much improved now, and he is not as streaky. We’ve seen significant increases in his three-point field goal percentages the past three years (2012-36% 2013-41% 2014-38%). There is very little to argue here, the new LeBron is a much better all around player than the old LeBron. Advantage: Now
Supporting Cast: 2010-11 Heat vs 2014-15 Cavaliers
While taking a detailed look of the pieces James had to work with then to now, the advantage goes to Cleveland. In 2011, the Heat were stuck with limited role players such as Carlos Arroyo, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire, Eddie House, Joel Anthony and broken down versions of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mike Miller, and Mike Bibby (Miller would later get over his injuries to be a major contributor in the following years). Currently Cleveland is loaded with young talent and savvy vets such as Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, James Jones, Brendan Haywood and could possibly add Ray Allen in the near future. Of the supporting cast, Miller, Jones, Marion, and Haywood are all wearing championship rings. Of the 2011 Heat, only Eddie House was sporting a flashy piece on his finger.
Will the King ever feel any regret about leaving sunny South Florida? Long term, maybe not. The odds seem against it, but you can never bet against Pat Riley and the Miami Heat. Maybe the Big 3 had one last run in them, I felt they did. Now all we can do is wait. Only time will tell.