Not one, not two, not three, not four but five jobs and this was just on the offensive side of the ball. That was the workload the Miami Heat asked their former superstar player LeBron James to take on over these past four NBA seasons. Erik Spoelstra’s position-less basketball system, or “small ball” as some opt to call it, was built on the back of LeBron’s unparalleled versatility, and it was a sight to behold when it worked like a well-oiled machine.
When Miami failed to win a championship in 2011, Heat general manager Pat Riley added corner three-point specialist Shane Battier in the offseason to help space the floor on offense and to help secure the perimeter on the defensive end.
Battier was often used as one of the Heat’s first substitutes off the bench at the power forward position which meant he would have to give up a lot of size but was very effective in Coach Spo’s position-less system. The position-less system allowed Miami to be very pesky on defense by using their speed and athleticism to generate turnovers which often led to quick scoring opportunities in transition.
On offense, James was naturally the point-forward, and he fished in the top five in the NBA this year in usage rate where the only other Heat player to appear in the top 50 was Dwyane Wade, who finished at No. 20 on the list. On the defensive end, when James was asked to lock down superstar point guards like Derrick Rose in the expiring minutes of uber competitive playoff games, split time with Battier on power forwards like Pau Gasol in the regular season or hunker down and protect the rim in the 2013 NBA Finals against centers like Thiago Splitter (a blocked shot to remember for the ages), he did it and he did it well.
The problem with Miami’s position-less system was that it went from being a team-oriented system that allowed for key role players regardless of their size to step on the floor and flourish, to being a crutch where the only way to NBA Finals victory would have to come in the form of gargantuan heroics. In other words, the Heat felt like they could save money by axing players like Mike Miller and Joel Anthony (the latter being their only legitimate rim protector) and still go on to win a ring in 2014 because they expected the ultimate position-less two-way player in James to continue to make up for their defensive deficiencies.
Sure position-less ball helped the Heat win two titles, but one thing was clear: Size matters and the Heat just barely escaped defeat by the San Antonio Spurs in 2013. You can’t coach size, but you sure can acquire it in free agency. Miami failed to bring in Samuel Dalembert in the 2013 offseason for the wise, short-term contract that Mark Cuban signed him for or even pick up Chris Kaman who was wasted on a terrible Los Angeles Lakers non-playoff team. All good things must come to an end, and eventually the well-oiled machine that was the Heat became rusty as they began to show their age.
For four years, James punched in his time card on the Heat clock and worked overtime for less pay while covering shifts for others without ever publicly exploding about it. Yes it’s true that many of his other Heat co-workers were also on reduced salaries in order to fit into the company’s budget, but most of those employees played a reduced number of games, reduced minutes, reduced roles or were simply reduced to shells of themselves.
Now he has another employer in the Cleveland Cavaliers. In terms of his financial compensation, he’s wisely crafted a contract that will make sure he’ll get paid the maximum amount from here on out, TV revenue increase benefits and all.