Comparing LeBron James’ legacy with Heat to his last four years with Cavaliers

LeBron James will play in eighth consecutive Finals this year. He has won three titles, two with the Heat and one with the Cavaliers. (Photos Getty Images)

In two weeks LeBron James is going to be playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform, or he’s not. James is going to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for a fourth time, or he’s not.

But one thing is for sure, James will have completed an eight-year run that in the era of free agency is unmatched. … in any team sport. And one that the only players from his sport can equal or exceed are a handful that were part of the game’s greatest dynasty – the Celtics teams that won 11 titles from 1957 to 1969.

LeBron James is going to his eight-consecutive NBA Finals – which start Thursday – something all Heat fans should appreciate considering half of those were while he was wearing those red, black and white uniforms while setting up shop on the shores of Biscayne Bay.

James secured No. 8 on Sunday with another historical performance posting 35 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 blocks while playing all 48 minutes in Game 7 against the Celtics in Boston on Sunday. His night will go down as another in a career filled with transcendent achievements.

But to gauge the level of his greatness think of it this way: Sunday’s game may not even qualify for his top five when it comes to clutch performances. In fact, James’ point total was his average when it comes to Game 7s, of which he now has played in eight and won six. And in his two Game 7s in which championships were at stake, James had 37 points, 12 rebounds in four assists in the Heat’s 2013 victory over the Spurs; and 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in Cavaliers’ 2016 victory over the Warriors.

And this is not about who is the greatest ever and comparing James to Michael Jordan – although me belief is James has now surpassed Jordan because of the bigger and stronger James’ ability to do just about everything Jordan could do and most of those things even better.

This about comparing James to himself, but more specifically, the Miami Heat version of James from 2010 to the Cleveland Cavaliers version of James from 2014 to present.

Or put another way: the James who played on the shores of South Beach vs. the James who is playing on the shores of Lake Erie.

James played his first game in Miami at the age of 25. During his four years the Heat averaged 56 wins, advanced to the Finals all four years with two titles. In the postseason (which is what this really is all about), he averaged 26.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists while with the Heat.

James rejoined Cleveland at the age of 30. The Cavs have averaged 52.8 wins the last four years, advanced to the Finals all four years and are in pursuit of their second title. In the postseason, James is averaging 30.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists in the last four years.

So much depends on the next two weeks but if Cleveland is able to somehow pull off the upset, James equaling his title count with this supporting cast compared to having Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh by his side for four years on the Heat is indeed an achievement that at least equals what he did in Miami.

And part of that conclusion: Neither title in Miami will mean as much to James as the championship he brought Cleveland in 2016, fulfilling a promise for a city that sits about 35 miles from his hometown of Akron and one that he spurned in 2010 and hoped to fall back into their good graces four years later.

But even if Cleveland falls short this year, what James has done the last four years individually borders on the superhuman.

Consider: James had two players who are Hall of Fame locks in Wade and Bosh as his wingmen for four years in Miami and Wade is undeniably James’ greatest teammate. And some may even say they underachieved with two titles seeing the Heat clearly were the more talented team (and heavily favored) in the 2011 Finals when they lost in six games to Dallas and Miami started fracturing when attempting to three-peat against San Antonio, which was a slight favorite, in 2014.

Kevin Love has been with James all four years in Cleveland, Kyrie Irving for three. Both could one day end up in the Hall of Fame, Irving especially if he continues this trajectory. And Irving was a stud the last two years, the closest thing to what James had in Wade in Miami. But the consistency with Irving and Love (of which injuries certainly has played a part) is not close to what James got with Wade and Bosh.

Still, whether James is able to pull off the upset in these Finals, the weight on his shoulders the last four years in Cleveland was a much heavier load than what his carried in Miami.

With the exception of Boston’s Game 5 victory, James has been indefatigable in the postseason, perhaps saving his best for last (if this is his last season in Cleveland) by taking on more of the burden this postseason than he has in any of his last seven trips to the Finals.

James is averaging 34.0 points this postseason, his most since he was forced to put up 35.3 points a game to get the Cavs to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. He has been without Irving, who was traded to Boston before the season started, and an inconsistent and at times broken down Love, who missed Sunday’s Game 7 entirely because of a concussion.

And, yes, the level of competition in the East the last four years has not exactly been stellar, especially with the Celtics missing their two best players in Irving and Gordon Hayward this season, but it could be argued the Heat never faced a team like Cleveland has the last three seasons in Golden State. The Warriors were the clear favorite to win the Finals the last three years and the Cavs once again will enter as underdogs this year.

Win or lose, James’ legacy is secure.

Now about that greatest-player-ever thing. …

[Heat’s Rodney McGruder volunteers time, learns Memorial Day lesson]

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Tonight’s matchup: Celtics come to Miami riding 16-game winning streak

BOSTON CELTICS VS. MIAMI HEAT

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami.

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Sun/WAXY 790AM, WAQI 710AM (Spanish)

Records: Boston 16-2, Miami 7-9

 

Kyrie Irving scored 24 points in his first game against the Miami Heat as a member of the Boston Celtics on Oct. 28 in Miami. (Getty Images).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS

Heat

F: Justise Winslow

F: Josh Richardson

C: Hassan Whiteside

G: Dion Waiters

G: Goran Dragic

Celtics

F: Jayson Tatum

F: Marcus Morris

C: Al Horford

G: Jaylen Brown

G: Kyrie Irving

Scouting report: Boston started 0-2 and since has won 16 straight games, equaling the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history. The Celtics are doing it with defense. They lead the league with a defensive rating of 95.8 and points allowed per game, 94.8. Boston is 20th in scoring at 102.9 points per game. Boston has allowed 100 points or more in regulation twice during the streak. … The Celtics are coming off a 110-102 overtime win at Dallas in which Kyrie Irving scored 47 points, his season high. Irving is averaging 22.5 points and 5.3 assists in his first season with Boston. … The Celtics continue to play without free-agent signee Gordon Hayward, who broke his leg in the first quarter of the first game of the season. … The teams meet for the second time this season with the Celtics defeating the Heat, 96-90, in Miami on Oct. 28 for its eighth straight win over Miami. Irving led Boston with 24 points while rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24. Goran Dragic had 22 points for the Heat. … The Heat have slipped to 14th with a defensive rating of 103.9 following a 120-95 home loss to the Pacers on Sunday. … Dion Waiters is looking to bounce back from his first scoreless game as a member of the Heat, missing all 10 of his shots against Indiana. … Miami is just 3-5 at home and has lost five of its last six at AmericanAirlines Arena.

[Mailbag: How much do the Miami Heat miss Rodney McGruder?]

[After blowout home loss to Pacers, Heat hold ‘grueling, dog-eat-dog’ practice Monday in search of consistency]

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Mailbag: What does losing out on Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving say about the Miami Heat?

The Miami Heat, and president Pat Riley, will remain major players in free agency and the trade market.

The Miami Heat always are in the conversation during free agency or when a star player suddenly is on the trade block.

That’s the benefits of having Pat Riley running your organization and being located in popular destination.

But the Heat were unable to land either of the two biggest names to change teams this summer, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving (at least for now). What does that say about Miami?

We answer that and more in our latest mailbag. If you weren’t able to ask a question, send them in for future mailbags via Twitter to @Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44.

From @ChrisHypeTrain: what does this say about Heat, a team looking to rebuild, losing 2 pieces that could have been key (Hayward,Kyrie)

Let’s take each case separately.

First Hayward. The notion that Riley has lost something off his fastball or the Heat are slipping when it comes to attracting big name free agents because they did not land Hayward is silly. The Heat were one of two teams other than Utah that Hayward visited and in the end Hayward chose Boston.

The Heat did all they could and the deal breaker appears to have been that Hayward was much more comfortable playing for his former college coach, Brad Stevens, than anything else. But think of it, the only team other than the one coached by a familiar face to even have that chance was the Heat, a team that did not make the playoffs last season.

As for Irving, the chances of Miami trading for the All-Star point guard were lower than its chances of signing Hayward. Even if the deal with Boston is rescinded (which is unlikely), the Heat still are a long shot to acquire Irving.

With league rules preventing teams from trading free agents they signed during the summer until after the season starts, the Heat had little to offer. Cleveland wasn’t just looking to replace Irving – which Miami could have done with a package that started with Goran Dragic – but it also had an eye on the future to protect itself in case it loses LeBron James. That meant not only receiving a veteran point guard but also young, proven talent and an attractive draft pick, a package Miami could not offer.

From @soy_pinguino: What do you guys expect this season out of Bam Adebayo? If SF gets soft we can always have JJ there and give those extra PF minutes to Bam.

The Heat have been very pleased with what they have seen out of Adebayo, who they took with the 14th pick in the draft. He is athletic as advertised, can run the floor, defend and block shots. He even flashed an ability to handle the ball during summer league.

But to expect Adebayo to be a major contributor early on is asking a lot. What I expect is the 6-foot-10 center/forward to fill the role occupied by former backup center Willie Reed, which is to bring energy, defense and rebounding when Hassan Whiteside is on the bench. Then, if he continues to develop maybe he sees more playing time at power forward.

[Heat mailbag: What will be Erik Spoelstra’s biggest challenge this season?]

[A look at the Heat’s six-game preseason schedule]

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Mailbag: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for the Heat and rest of the Eastern Conference?

MIAMI — The top two teams in the Eastern Conference swapped star point guards.

The Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers for point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first-round pick. What does this trade mean for the landscape of the Eastern Conference this season?

We answer that question and more in the latest installment of the Heat mailbag. Continue reading “Mailbag: What does Kyrie Irving trade mean for the Heat and rest of the Eastern Conference?”

Kyrie Irving traded to Boston: Celtics offer was too good for Heat to match, too good for Cavaliers to say no

MIAMI — The Heat were part of the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes from the start.

That was because Irving reportedly listed the Heat as one of his preferred trade destinations, along with the Knicks, Spurs and Timberwolves. But really, Miami — even with Pat Riley on its side — didn’t have a chance to land Irving once the Celtics entered the fray. Continue reading “Kyrie Irving traded to Boston: Celtics offer was too good for Heat to match, too good for Cavaliers to say no”

Mailbag: Are Miami Heat still in the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes? We examine that and more

Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures to the crowd in the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals in June. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Although it’s been quiet on the Kyrie Irving trade front of late, most believe a move is coming.

And if Irving is still out there, never rule out the Miami Heat.

We answer questions on that and more in our latest mailbag. If you weren’t able to ask a question, send them in for future mailbags via Twitter to @Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44.

From @ChrisHypeTrain: Are the Heat still in the running for Kyrie?

I would never completely rule them out as long as Irving remains in Cleveland but if the Cavaliers are moving forward under the assumption that LeBron James is leaving that would change the dynamics of a Kyrie trade, tilting the odds away from the Heat.

Recent reports that James is heavily leaning toward bolting Cleveland for a second time likely has the Cavs preparing for future without LeBron once again. That means instead of seeking ‘win-now’ players for Irving, Cleveland will be looking for younger talent and draft picks, neither of which the Heat have in abundance.

Miami was one of four teams Irving reportedly told the Cavs he’d prefer to play for if they could agree on a trade. Irving, though, does not have any kind of trade clause in his contract meaning Cleveland can deal him to any team without his consent. And the Heat this summer denied an ESPN report that they offered point guard Goran Dragic and small forward Justise Winslow as the centerpieces for an Irving trade.

If Cleveland was confident LeBron was staying they might seek established veterans for Irving to keep them atop the East for a few more years. So Dragic, who is 31, as the centerpiece along with perhaps Winslow and another young player with potential could be considered.

But if the Cavs are looking more toward the future by obtaining younger stars and draft picks, Miami would be out of mix considering their young talent is not as good as those on teams like Boston, Phoenix, Minnesota or Denver. And Miami cannot trade its first-round pick for the next five years.

From @major_kendall: What place in the East do you see the Heat finishing?

For those who believe Miami is closer to the 30-11 team we saw in the second half, then finishing in the top four and grabbing home court in the first round of the playoffs is a lock.

For those who believe that second half was a fluke, they are probably thinking Miami will be fighting for a seventh or eighth seed.

I fall in the middle, but leading closer to the former. Miami was .500 last year and I believe bringing back the key pieces to that team plus adding Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo will give coach Erik Spoelstra enough to improve on that record.

Barring anything unforeseen, the top four teams in the East appear to be Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington. Then I put Miami, Milwaukee and Charlotte in the next tier with a handful of teams below them fighting for the final playoff spot.

The easy answer is No. 6 behind Milwaukee. But the Bucks have questions and I think Miami has a good chance to finish at least fifth.

From @sik0simmons: Serious question, how long/well would Whiteside & Dragic have to play to get their numbers retired? HW has org records already

So I guess we are skipping past the being an All-Star part and going right to having their numbers retired?

Seriously, a player like Dragic, though a solid point guard and, to me, the glue to this team, likely will not have enough time with the Heat to reach that status. He is good, but not number-retired good.

Hassan Whiteside certainly has the potential to be a star in the league for six to eight years (remember, he’s 28 already). He has progressed and taken steps toward become just that but he still has a way to go. Let’s see him become a consistent All-Star type player first then we can talk about having his number retired.

[First-round pick Bam Adebayo says Miami Heat initiation has been ‘welcoming’]

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[Heat sign former Celtics forward Jordan Mickey]

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Dion Waiters speaks about new contract with the Heat, discusses Kyrie Irving situation

MIAMI — Dion Waiters is having a good summer.

The 25-year-old guard signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Heat last month. And last weekend, he hosted his annual “Made in Philly” party in his hometown of Philadelphia. The bash was attended by rapper and close friend Meek Mill, Heat teammates Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Okaro White and Wayne Ellington, and former Heat teammate Briante Weber, among others.

Before Waiters’ “Made in Philly” party, he spoke to HipHopSince1987 about his current situation with the Heat. While he’s enjoying the first big payday of his NBA career, Waiters knows he might have been able to sign a bigger contract if injuries didn’t limit him to 46 games last season. Continue reading “Dion Waiters speaks about new contract with the Heat, discusses Kyrie Irving situation”

Mailbag: Who should be the Heat’s starting small forward — Rodney McGruder or Justise Winslow?

MIAMI — Rodney McGruder impressed as the Heat’s starting small forward in place of the injured Justise Winslow last season.

But with Justise set to return this upcoming season, will Rodney be sent back to the bench? We answer that question and more in the latest installment of the Heat mailbag.

If you weren’t able to ask a question this time, send your questions for future mailbags via Twitter (@Anthony_Chiang and @tomdangelo44). Continue reading “Mailbag: Who should be the Heat’s starting small forward — Rodney McGruder or Justise Winslow?”

Mailbag: Heat deny report of making trade offer for Kyrie. What can we take away from this?

MIAMI — Friday was an eventful day.

It began with an ESPN report that indicated the Heat had made a trade offer to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. And it continued with a strong denial from the Heat that any offer had been made to Cleveland.

What can we take away from this series of events? We answer that question and more in the latest installment of the Heat mailbag. Continue reading “Mailbag: Heat deny report of making trade offer for Kyrie. What can we take away from this?”

Miami Heat: No trade offer has been made for Kyrie Irving

MIAMI — As the Kyrie Irving trade speculation continues to swirl around the NBA, the Heat on Friday denied an ESPN report that they had made an offer to the Cavaliers for the disgruntled point guard.

With Irving’s immediate NBA future in question since his reported trade request from the Cavaliers, ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski listed the Heat among at least six teams that have made offers for the four-time All-Star. The Spurs, Clippers, Suns, Timberwolves and Knicks are the other five teams that have reportedly made trade offers to Cleveland. Continue reading “Miami Heat: No trade offer has been made for Kyrie Irving”