I’m a huge “what if?” person. What if Jordan had gotten drafted by Portland? What if the Nets had taken Kobe like they’d originally planned? Now, as Lebron is likely to get bounced out of the Finals and see his career record drop to 2-5, I’m wondering: What if Miami had the number one pick in 2003 instead of Cleveland?
Let’s compare the two teams heading into the 2003 NBA Draft:
The 2002-03 Miami Heat, coached by Pat Riley, finished 25-57 with an Offensive Rating of 96.7 (good for 27th of 29 teams) and a Defensive Rating of 102.4 (10th in the league). This was a team that could defend but not score as they allowed 91 pts/game but only scored 86. The Heat’s ping pong balls landed them the 5th pick, which ended up being Dwyane Wade. They also made a coaching change as Pat Riley ascended to the front office to be replaced by Stan Van Gundy. These two changes were huge as Miami finished the 2003-04 season 42-40, improved their offensive rating by 6 points, and made the playoffs. The following year, the Heat made a game-changing trade and added Shaquille O’Neal. This move allowed them to win 59 games, push their offensive rating to 5th in the NBA and lose in 7 to the eventual NBA champions.
The following season, the Heat would win the title in only Dwyane Wade’s 3rd year.What about the Cavs? Well, the year before they received the best player since Jordan in the draft, Cleveland’s Off/Def ratings were 96.5/106.7 good for 28th and 24th in the league respectively. In Lebron’s rookie year those numbers jumped to 101.4/104.2. They also more than doubled their win total, going from 17 to 35 wins. That’s a significant improvement but the Cavs still missed the playoffs. They would miss the playoffs again the following year and undergo a coaching change. Lebron wouldn’t make the playoffs until his 3rd year in the league. If you recall, Wade won his first title that season.
If that was too much to read, though, it really comes down to the Shaq princple:
Wade gets Shaq in the end of the Diesel’s prime and wins a title in year 3 which cements him as a Miami legend. Wade is then lucky enough to have Lebron join him in Miami and win 2 more titles.Conversely, Lebron doesn’t get Shaq until the man is too old to run up and down the court without getting injured and doesn’t win a title until he joins his good friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. He has yet to win one for the team that drafted him and that’s the crux of the issue, isn’t it? People have lambasted Lebron for leaving Cleveland to form the SuperFriends in Miami to win 2 titles. What if he had already been there and had Wade and Bosh join HIM in Miami? Changes the narrative a bit, doesn’t it? What if Lebron had won his first title at age 20-21 instead of 27? Do people still make those comparisons to Jordan and talk about how long it took Bron to win his first ring? Can you imagine Lebron James with a healthy and inspired Shaquille O’Neal? Nothing against Wade, who did more than fine with the Shaqtus but Lebron James got the 2007 Cavaliers to the Finals, he’d have destroyed worlds with that version of Shaq. Lebron gets far too much vitriol and hate for how the championship chasing portion of his career has gone and honestly, maybe 4 other players have careers better than his (Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain, if you were wondering). How would things look if he’d been drafted by Miami instead?
That, unfortunately for Lebron, will forever be a game of “what if?”.