NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 03: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat defends against Deron Williams #8 of the New Jersey Nets at the Prudential Center on April 3, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.The Heat defeated the Nets 108-94.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The era of the superteam is now upon us, and if Williams is going to have any chance of beating the Heat in a playoff series, he had better have players just as talented with him.
You can always find a basketball game at a college with over 50,000 students. When I was at UT, there were competitive 5-on-5 games going from early in the afternoon to well into the night at Gregory Gym.
The usual protocol was the player who had "next" could pick the four players he wanted to run with. After a while, you figured it out: if you came in without a plan and played with the next four guys who were waiting, you weren't going to win very often.
Instead, you came in with 2-3 people who you knew could play or the group had one person come early and hold "next" for everyone else. That's essentially what the Miami Heat just did. If you imagine the NBA as the highest level of pick-up basketball in the world, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh just ran the table.
The only way to stay on the winner's court is to beat them, and if the rest of the league's superstars don't adjust to the new rules, Miami could be holding court for a very long time. At Gregory, if one group got a run of 3-4 wins together, the players on the sidelines would start strategizing how to build a team that could beat them. That's where Deron Williams and Dwight Howard need to be right now.
Williams, the most complete PG in the NBA, has gone completely under the radar while playing on some very bad New Jersey Nets squads; Howard, meanwhile, will likely take LeBron's mantle as most hated after the way Stan Van Gundy expertly used the media to portray the star as the bad guy during "the Indecision".
LeBron changed the game: the days of a megastar passively trusting that his front office could build a team around him are over. If those two are ever going to make some noise in the playoffs and resume their rightful place in the NBA hierarchy, they are going to need to get themselves on a super-team.
And if you were building a team to defeat the Heat, what blueprint would you use? You would want a team built around big men, as LeBron has shown what he can do in playoff series against perimeter stars (Rose in 2011, Carmelo and Durant in 2012). In contrast, there was nothing he could do against the Mavericks two-headed 7'0 combo of Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler in the 2011 Finals.
The Heat were constructed to stop the Big Three-era Boston Celtics, as they have an elite defensive player at the stretch 4 (Bosh/KG), the 3 (LBJ/Pierce) and the 2 (Wade/Allen). Ideally, then, you would want an offense built around a low-post threat at the 5 and a distributor at the 1. And if you were creating a core of any three stars in the league to matchup with Miami, you couldn't do better than Dwight/Dirk/Deron.
That's a mobile shot-blocking center who can handle LeBron and Wade's drives at the rim while also giving you a 20 point low-post threat. His front-court partner, one of the best shooters in the NBA at 7'0, would space the floor to its breaking point while one of the biggest and most athletic PG's in the league would be orchestrating the whole show.
That's the type of team that can beat Miami, not a core with Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace or Ryan Anderson and Jason Richardson in it. Of course, there's two big questions: 1) Will Dallas have the salary cap room? and 2) Why shouldn't the two just team up in Brooklyn?
For a player like Williams, more concerned with legacy, and Howard, who wants to become an international megastar, winning should be more important than money at this point in their careers. At the same time, Dallas broke apart their championship squad in order to free up the salary cap space in 2013 to pull off such an audacious move.
As for the Brooklyn option, timing may end up working against the Nets. It's hard to know what Orlando will do since they just hired a GM in the week before the draft, and it may be impossible to do anything with Howard until he proves he has recuperated from the back surgery that ended his season. So Williams may have to resign without any way of knowing whether Howard will end up coming.
In comparison, he can sign with Dallas and still know he'll have Dirk. While the German sharp-shooter just turned 34, his game revolves around the two things -- height and shooting ability -- that age well. Playing next to Williams would give Dirk his best pick-and-roll partner since Steve Nash and add years to the end of his career.
Of course, this is all just speculation and there's no way for us (even reporters) to really know what players want in free agency or how teams will present themselves. And if Brad Pitt were to give advice to Williams right now, he'd probably say something like this: