LeBron James glimpsed the possibility of a grim future Thursday night in Miami as San Antonio Spurs crushed the Heat and took a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
James’ team wasn’t so much a no-show, as a South Florida newspaper headline proclaimed, as it was an uninspired bunch with nothing left in its tank. The Big Three? Those days looked over and it was never more starkly evident than Thursday night. Now, at 29, James is left in the midst of it all, pondering his future. As USA Today’s Sam Amick writes:
James simply had to be wondering: is this what’s in store if he returns with the same old crew next season?
If James opts out in free agency next month and heads elsewhere, it won’t be because the Heat didn’t win the 2013-14 title. It will be because he doesn’t see how they can win it next season, when he’ll be 30 years old by the time the playoffs roll around and will need a reliable star or two at his side in order to keep building on his legacy.
The Heat players find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to become the first team in history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the title after “they smashed us,” James said. “Two straight home games, got off to awful starts. They came in and were much better than us in these two games. It’s just that simple.”
The players realize that they aren’t the better team — not even close to it. And, like James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade can opt out, too. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who has covered James since his Cleveland days, doesn’t think this is the end of the Big Three era. Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison are likely to get creative, perhaps to pursue a free agent like Carmelo Anthony. Although James is saying nothing of his future, Windhorst says whether he opts out will be strictly a business decision. For now, he is focused on whatever is left of the Finals.
“Soul searching, there won’t be much of that,” James told reporters after the game. “We’re a veteran ballclub that’s won a championship, that’s won a couple of championships, that’s been to four straight Finals. We know what it takes to win. We’ve just got to go out and do it.”
That seems unlikely. And, afterwards, what happens?