I Was Wrong, But My Philosophy Still Runs True
Many of you have accused me of playing both sides. When the 2011 NBA season started, I said that the Miami Heat didn’t need “heart” to win the NBA Championship. When the NBA Finals began, I picked the Heat to win in six. When the Dallas Mavericks took the NBA Finals in six games, I said that I was rooting for the Mavericks to win all along.
First of all, I hope it’s clear that those aren’t two mutually exclusive positions. Second of all, if I have not been clear, let me say it loud and proud: “I was wrong, America.”
While all of you were predicting that the Miami Heat would lose against the Boston Celtics, then again against the Chicago Bulls, I was picking the Heat to win it all. You all finally got it right when it came to the Finals, and I finally got it wrong when it came to the Finals. The way this thing winds up playing out is that the Dallas Mavericks were the better cohesive unit that played like the proverbial “team,” and the Heat were a lesser composition of talented individuals that did not fit or play well together.
As you know, as much as I understand the notion that teams need chemistry and experience in order to be champions, I never thought it trumped talent. The great John Wooden once said, give me talent over experience any day. And there’s a reason for that. I can teach the things that come with experience, but I can’t teach height, I can’t teach speed and I can’t teach vertical jump.
But when the Mavericks ousted the Miami Heat from the proverbial pedestal, it was a victory for the people who believe in the fact that talent does not wholly trump anything and everything. Granted, it was something that became clear to me when I was in college and during a two-a-day practice on the Columbia football fields, I was confronted with the news that USA Basketball did not win the Gold Medal. There was no doubt in my mind that the USA basketball team had the most talented group of players in the 2004 Olympics, and yet they lost?
It was clear then that chemistry, fit and personalities mattered—to some degree.
However, I thought time together as a group could heal that whole “chemistry” thing, and the 2008 Olympic team proved me right. Again, the USA put together the most talented team, and this time around, they practiced, ran offense and played defense. The other teams played a more inclusive, “team-oriented” brand of European basketball, but the USA had talent, and finally, time on their side. The result? USA won the gold.
Enter the Big Three of the Miami Heat. They certainly got the talent. They came into the 2010-2011 NBA Season with 2 of the NBA’s best 4 players and Chris Bosh. They also signed two well-sought after free agents in Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. With the latter group sidelined for most of the season, the Big Three still managed to secure one of the best records in the NBA and needed only 15 games to reach to the NBA Finals.
To that point, talent was winning out. Talent beat a Philadelphia 76ers team that while overmatched, did every thing right, and still watched the Heat nearly sweep them. Talent beat a veteran Boston Celtics team, which like Dallas, had all the elements of a “team,” but still lost out when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played at their best. And then there was Chicago: the epitome of the “team” theory. They had one star, the MVP, and a supporting cast that earned the best record in the NBA. But at the end of the day, all the MVP and the best “team” in the league earned the Chicago Bulls was a five-game series elimination from the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
So entering the Finals, I picked the Heat to win in six games. I had already seen them beat “team” ball. I had already seen them shut down a team with just one great player. I had already seen LeBron and Wade eliminate prolific scorers from games. I had already seen—well, I had already seen everything but what the Dallas Mavericks ultimately brought to the table. And only now, after the fact, lacking any thought or perception whatsoever, do I see what should have been as clear as day to me.
The Dallas Mavericks are the more talented team.
While I was wrong about the winner of the series, it wasn’t my philosophy on basketball that failed me. Talent still wins out in the NBA. And the only experience that a veteran group of players like LeBron, Wade and Bosh need is training camp—well, that and a regular season’s worth of games. That’s all talent needs in order to prevail in a seven-game series in the NBA. That’s my philosophy, and my belief in that philosophy has not been shaken.
To say that Miami lost because Dallas was a more cohesive “team” sounds foolish to me when they already beat the consummate teams that everybody was touting before the NBA Playoffs started. Not to mention, I don’t know anybody who thought the Mavs were a better team than the San Antonio Spurs or Los Angeles Lakers, who Dallas surpassed en route to the Western Conference throne. Let’s face it; the Mavericks were no different “team-wise” than the squads Miami had already beaten during the playoffs. Those teams all shared the ball, shared the moment and played relatively cohesively. Between the Mavericks, Bulls and Celtics, Dallas was the lone team that didn’t play “team defense,” so what does that say about them being this great “team.”
That’s why I choose to give Dallas the real respect they deserve. They didn’t win this series just because they were a more cohesive “team” than Miami; they won it because they were a more talented team than Miami.
Yes, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are better than Dirk Nowitzki. But after that, the pickings are slim. I will honestly debate the fact that the Mavericks had several players not named Dirk that are often as efficient as Chris Bosh is. All of Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry can be as good as Chris Bosh on any given night given the role that Bosh plays now. And when you account for everything those players do, those players are in the same conversation as Chris Bosh when it comes to efficiency.
Now while I understand some people might not agree with that, you do have to concede that JJ Barea, Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic were better at what they did this postseason than what Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem were at what they did this postseason, right?
That’s a lot of talent that the Mavericks put out there. In fact, they have 8 players that were above league average in terms of PER. So it would seem to me, that when I tried to pick the more talented team, the only place I went wrong was by going too top heavy. My philosophy is broken not because “team-ball” trumps talent, but because having the best player in the game isn’t “AS” big of a factor as I thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, having Dwyane Wade and LeBron James is a tremendous advantage. But when the Mavericks have 8 guys capable of scoring 15 points and can shoot lights out from 3-point land at so many positions, the diversity and depth of talent seems to trump having two stars. Just ask the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers.
Before I get accused of making excuses, let me say this again: I was wrong. I was wrong to pick the Heat. Clearly, the Mavericks were better than the Heat. But I won’t admit that I was wrong about talent. Talent still trumps all, and that “team” theory, as it relates to chemistry and all that intangible stuff, still doesn’t hold water, other than you have to put the time in at practice. So go make your Big Threesomes NBA owners and players. Don’t believe that this somehow disproves the philosophy that having the best players results in championships. It’s still the case. The more talented team won this year’s finals, and the same thing will happen again next year—only this time, philosophy “adjusted” and all, I plan on having a better idea of just who the more talented team is.
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