Wes Goldberg (editor, AllUCanHeat.com) and Andrew Kennedy (editor,ThunderousIntentions.com) emailed back and forth, discussing the state of the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder and, more specifically, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. What resulted was a lot of ideas and two stories.
This is Part 2. Click here to read Part 1.
Wes: From when the Heat lost in the finals to the Mavs, to last season beating the Spurs in seven games, the team certainly has progressed a lot. The Heat were the most talented team in the NBA when they came together in the summer of 2010 and by 2013 were arguably the best technical team — along with the Spurs — in the NBA as well.
The Thunder can look like that too, as could the Pacers, Rockets and Clippers now with Doc Rivers. I believe every player and coach watching those seven finals games realized that the Heat and Spurs just raised the bar in the NBA and that is why we have seen an offseason full of roster moves by teams trying to get in the mix. It starts with the talent, but eventually you need the right coach and leadership to put a system in place that fits best for the roster.
I don’t think the Heat are tied to small ball or tried to revolutionize the game. I think they are simply doing what is best for the players on the team. Frank Vogel did what was best for the Pacers and they took the Heat to seven games playing big. The Spurs have played basically the same for the last hundred years with its core of Duncan, Parker and Manu, though recently gave Parker more scoring responsibility as the other two have waned.
The game has evolved from isolations with your best player to an intricate and exact science of choreographed movements based on triggers, timing and circumstance. When the Thunder and Heat met in the 2012 NBA Finals, they were both led by young coaches that each faced questions. Erik Spoelstra has answered those questions with two titles and has become one of the best coaches in the NBA (and I say become because it has definitely been a process).
I still question if Brooks is the guy that can win a title with the Thunder. If he doesn’t prove that he learned something from this past NBA Finals he may not have much more time in OKC.
Andrew: I think most of the pressure is on Brooks. We saw what the Thunder looked like after Westbrook went down. Take away the random havoc he can create and the offense looks like one of the worst in the league.
Brooks has improved over the past few seasons, just not by much. The Thunder do a better job of getting into sets, getting KD and Russ in spots where they can be more effective, etc. It just feels like they still have a really long way to go.
I think it’s interesting that in discussing when KD can surpass LeBron, we quickly get to the coaching situations. It’s just so important and the situation a player is in can be everything in their career. I mean, switch KD and LeBron and Durant probably leads the Heat to a title the last two years and we are talking about him as the best player in the league already, while LeBron is looking like Cleveland LeBron in OKC in Brooks’ system.
The worry is that some of Durant’s potential my get wasted since he is playing under Brooks. And Durant can’t afford to waste any potential if he is to catch LeBron.
Wes: I always thought Durant should be more demanding and willing to express himself. I know he isn’t always comfortable expressing himself, but he needs to step out of his comfort zone.
Durant isn’t the kind of player that will get his coach fired, but we have seen it so many times in the NBA. If Brooks doesn’t improve, then Durant will have to start thinking about what you just said and figure out a way not to waste his time.
As far as the window goes, it still baffles me why the Thunder don’t chase more veterans in free agency and instead opt to invest time and money in draft picks and players with potential. You have your star players with Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka, why not ditch the Reggie Jacksons and Jeremey Lambs for some proven veterans that can help you win now?
Martin is that kind of player but his contract wasn’t right. The Thunder could trade Jackson and Lamb for some top-notch veterans on rebuilding teams. To me, it seems like the Thunder are trying to be both a rebuilding team — stubbornly relying on the draft to add players — and a team chasing a title all at once. Jackson and Lamb won’t be Harden, so go get some veterans that can contribute and put the team over the top in the West.
I understand the luxury-tax implications and that being in OKC isn’t a top market, and that rookie contracts are cheaper than veteran ones, but the Heat get guys to sign to veteran minimum deals — and I don’t believe that’s because of the beaches, it’s because they have the chance to win a title.