I was originally going to make this a response to Mr. Lakers' excellent post about our Offseason and how that pertains to the Heat, but it got a bit long, so I figured I'd try the waters and write my first FanPost.
Analyzing this offseason for me has been somewhat akin to going golf club shopping with a friend who's in the market. Your friend, who you've basically dominated left and right on the course over the last few years, decides that he's tired of losing to you, so he goes out and buys a shiny new set of the best clubs available (which incidentally are probably way beyond your budget) and, predictably, tells you that you're going to need to upgrade as well if you're going to keep up with him. Problem is, you have a great set of clubs that you've been using for years and have grown quite used to. Maybe less flashy than your friend's brand new set, and definitely inferior technologically and value-wise, but fundamentally your clubs have been wonderful to you over the last few years. Point is, you don't need a new set of clubs, but seeing him swing them around makes you question whether you should be worried about the next time you play him or not. In fact, you go hitting with him the next day, and not only does he hit MUCH further than you now, but he's already trash-talking you before you've even reached the first hole.
The situation gets you thinking. Is your friend's clubs really better than yours? Probably. Should you be worried that his shiny new clubs are going to challenge you and your game? Darn right you better. But the real question, should you follow suit and try to buy a new set of clubs as well to keep up with him?
There's a long standing saying that says that "a weapon is only as good as the one who wields it," or in sports analogies, "a team is only as good as its weakest link." Somewhat different, but the point is similar. In order to be an NBA champion, a team has to be good at every aspect of the game. And that includes the little things that don't get scrutinized often and don't show up on the statcard. A little thing that Derek Fisher has made a living off of and which has been the difference on so many previous championship teams. Like Fisher bailing us out in Game 3, or Robert Horry hip-checking Nash to send the Spurs to the title game, or even (as much as I hate to bring this up) Paul Pierce pulling his wheelchair act to invigorate Boston. The question is: does MIami have what it takes to be a champion? Sure they have the star power, but a shiny new set of clubs will only help a player who has familiarized themselves with how the clubs handle. Even though your friends' new driver will hit a ball 280+ yards while yours tops out at about 250, the object of the game is still to get the ball in the hole, and no matter how much of a distance advantage your friend has, he's never going to beat you until he can pair range AND accuracy. Hitting with your friend's clubs reveals that wow, they sure do add a ton to your range, but there's the little nagging feeling in the back of your mind that tells you that you can still beat him if you just stick to your guns and do the little things right and let him worry about how far he can hit it after he's overshot the hole and digging himself out of the bunker.
To move back to basketball (I know, finally), the Heat really picked up a ton of talent, both veteran and superstar. Lebron and Wade WILL pose problems to any team--like 50+ points combined problems. Throw in Bosh and that's a really scary proposition. They are the shiny new clubs, the newest technology mixing the best combination of talent, youth, and athleticism possible. And given the right hands (coach, role players, time to gel, cohesion, and a stable environment), they will doubtless surpass any team in the league.
Of course, it's not like the Lakers have sat on their hands and done nothing while everyone else was preparing for Armageddon. Barnes, Blake and Ratliff are no slouches, nor should the re-signing of Fisher and Brown be discounted. But you could argue that those moves are basically standing pat maneuvers--upgrades without the cost of retooling. Kind of like re-gripping your favorite club instead of buying a new one. Nothing like what the Heat have done this offseason.
It's somewhat troubling for me as a fan to consider the fact that the Heat could be a better squad than my Lakers. But the signs are all there. 3 first-Team All-NBA players, two of which are willing (and able) passers who have shown an ability to lead their teams. An organization that's won it all before. A serviceable bench (if not perfect) that is full of veterans. LBJ, Wade, and Bosh on the same team for crying out loud. I've mulled over it a while (believe me, I've read all of the "Lakers are better because of X and Y" posts here and elsewhere as a means of making me feel better about the upcoming season), and after reading post after post which compares the Lakers to the Heat on a position to position and statistic to statistic basis, I've come to the conclusion that no, the Lakers will probably not be able to match up with the Heat. All things equal, the Heat are just a better team than the Lakers when you look up and down the roster.
Of course, things are never equal in the NBA, and you can't determine a champion based upon how nice the roster looks. Remember '04 anyone?
Sorry, that hurt me too.
The thing is, the NBA is not a league of parity. You can't just put five players on the floor and expect them to be a team right away unless you get a few things straightened out first. The Celtics are probably the best example of how to do it right in '08. But they had a veteran group and an established core already with an excellent coach and an even better Defensive coach (imo). On the other hand, while the Heat have a much better Big 3 in the prime of their careers, they are missing some of the crucial components that make up a champion.
In short, the Heat may have a better roster filled with more First-Team ballots, but the Lakers are a better team due to--and I almost laughed at the massive image of Derek Fisher's head looming in my mind as I typed this--having the advantage in ALL of the intangibles that are so so necessary to winning the title. Let's just consider some of the aspects that the Lakers possessed en-route to their back-to-back titles:
-A backcourt duo who have started in more playoff games than any other PG-SG combo in NBA history
-A starting lineup that possessed 6 rings at the start of the run, and 10 at the beginning of last year. During this year's championship team, every player in the starting lineup had at least one championship besides Ron Artest.
-A coach who had 9 (!!!) rings at the beginning of the run (11 now)
-Role players who knew their roles (Walton, Odom, Fisher, Ariza-Artest), including a super Sixth Man in LO who can play 4 out of the 5 positions (5 actually when you consider that he might be playing center for the National Team this year)
-Two superstars (Kobe and Gasol)
-A stable rotation that has seen little turnover in the key parts with a coach who has more or less stayed put over the years
-A willingness to play physical D (With or without injuries) and rotate well, as well as the length to defend the pick and roll
-A post presence who operates down low and anchors the defense (two actually, and we needed both of them)
-And finally, a hunger for winning that elusive title that goes beyond the superstar (everyone on the team in uniform--sorry AMMO, you didn't quite put enough spirit into those high-fives I guess...)
Where do the Heat fall in this template? Well, somewhat less favorably...
-The (projected) Heat starting 5 have played 0 NBA games together (More if Ilguaskas starts) not counting the Olympics and the National Team as well as All-Star Games
-The starting lineup has a total of one ring (Wade).
-The coach has 0 rings
-A few role players who know their roles (Ilgauskas, Haslem, House), but a vast majority who don't. No stand out Sixth Man.
-Three Superstars (An overwhelming advantage yes, but can it cover for the glaring holes in their intangible wall?)
-A (extremely) unstable rotation that was scraped together in one season with little to no preparation
-Only two truly proven clutch performer (Wade and Eddie House) and a bunch of perennial "almosts" (James, Ilguaskas, Howard, Miller)
-Questionable ability to play D, and no real pick and roll D available with their bigs (Ilguaskas/Miller moving their feet? laughable)
-No two-way post presence. Bosh is a one-way ticket and Ilgauskas and Miller are spot up shooters.
-Hunger for winning? We'll see. The Big 3 want it, but do the other guys?
-No Brian Shaw O.o (j/k)
As you can see, the Lakers have more than just talent on their roster, they have
Derek Fisher championship savvy and the intangibles necessary to be the last one standing. So where I think where we really shine on a comparative standpoint with the Heat is not in individual matchups or in offensive or defensive schemes (especially since we have no idea what the Heat are going to be like until the season starts), but in teamwork, experience, and coaching. That is why I believe the Lakers will 3-peat despite the three-headed monster blowing smoke rings (but nothing more than that) in South Beach.