Imagine if the “Big Three” Miami Heat never existed. Or, rather, if they looked entirely different with Carmelo Anthony included.
It has been 10 years since LeBron James’ infamous television special entitled “The Decision,” which played a major role in reshaping the basketball landscape and the way in which modern stars handle free agency.
James’ decision to pair up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also vilified the Heat, though they would go on to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2012 and 2013.
But what if Bosh had not been Miami’s third star? What if that player was actually fellow “Banana Boat” member and LeBron confidant Carmelo Anthony? How much different would things have been in South Beach?
Well, quite a bit, to say the least.
Sorting out details
Firstly, it should be acknowledged Carmelo was still a member of the Denver Nuggets in the summer of 2010.
Denver would trade Carmelo to the New York Knicks in February of 2011, and Anthony would promptly sign a three-year extension to remain with the team. But his timeline might otherwise have matched up for the Heat.
Carmelo Anthony demanded a trade from the Nuggets in August of 2010, and had reportedly been stewing for some time.
So, for the sake of arguing, let’s say Pat Riley and the Heat hold out on signing Bosh and instead promise LeBron and Wade they will do what is necessary to acquire Anthony.
It seems likely Riley would still have gone after a big man. Amar’e Stoudemire would have been too expensive. The same could probably be said for Carlos Boozer.
Maybe a David Lee type would have sufficed. Lee was coming off an All-Star campaign, and was one of the best passing bigs in the league during his era. He was also a commendable defender, and ended up being far cheaper than the aforementioned bigs.
Alternatively, the Heat might have tried to swing a deal for Tyson Chandler, who instead ended up as a vital defensive cog for the Dallas Mavericks.
Regardless, the Heat end up with a cheaper big with the notion they will pursue Carmelo in a trade.
The dynamic changes drastically
Assuming the Heat swing a deal, Carmelo Anthony now joins a new “Big Three” alongside LeBron and D-Wade. This instantly becomes problematic.
What made Miami’s original dynasty so effective was how the pieces fit together. Eventually, Wade and Bosh recognized they had to cede more control and adapt their games to better fit James’ style.
This was especially true with Bosh. Though his scoring numbers went down, Bosh provided terrific defense, and eventually supplied the team with much-needed perimeter shooting. He gave the Heat a legit stretch-four who could extend bodies to the perimeter and allow LeBron to attack the rim.
But this never happens with Carmelo.
Not only was Anthony a subpar defender, but his bread and butter is his midrange scoring game, rather than from the perimeter. Carmelo excelled at getting the slightest amount of position in the post and facing up before making his move using a series of head-and-shoulder fakes and one or two dribbles.
Some might be thinking “Well, Carmelo was more of a pure scorer than Bosh,” and that might be true. But one of the reasons the Mavs had success against the Heat in the 2011 Finals is they employed their zone to crowd the paint and either make LeBron shoot a jumper or give the ball up.
James would eventually become a more efficient perimeter shooter, but the biggest change was Bosh’s ability to be a floor-spacer, paired with the addition of shooters like Ray Allen, Mike Miller and James Jones, among others. Those were the factors that allowed LeBron to fully orchestrate the offense and give basketball fans the very best version of “King James”, especially in the 2012-13 season.
If Anthony replaces Bosh, the spacing is eliminated, and the Heat also would have lost more in terms of their team defense.
So, what happens?
The NBA was just in its early stages of becoming more perimeter-centric when the Heat began their dynasty.
In fact, one of the reasons the San Antonio Spurs had so much success against Miami is because they had gunners like Danny Green and bigs like Boris Diaw who were efficient from beyond the arc. They were something of an early model for modern NBA teams.
Thus, is hard to say whether the Heat could have worked around having little spacing with Carmelo Anthony replacing Bosh. Even if they navigated those issues offensively, the defensive aspects might be more concerning.
Bosh was an exceptional defender because he could rotate and switch out at a moment’s notice, and he essentially allowed James and Wade to gamble and play the passing lanes whenever they wanted.
Carmelo’s defensive ineptitude would not have allowed for such ball-hawking from the other two superstars. Miami would have needed far more discipline and attention to detail on that side of the floor.
It is certainly possible this alternate “Big Three” wins at least one NBA title. Had they also signed Lee, for example, his midrange game would have been conducive to running pick-and-pop with James and Wade. Perhaps Carmelo would have worked harder to become a better shooter and defender.
But the truth is Carmelo’s game and score-first mentality would not have meshed nearly as well with James and Wade as Bosh’s did, which is why CB4 will forever be underappreciated as the perfect third star.
We now know just how much Wade and James’ friendship was tested in Miami, and how exhausting the “Big Three” era truly was for the full trio. Exhaustion and frustration levels might have been even higher had Anthony been in the mix instead of Bosh.