Power of Failure: The Only Way to Win In The Modern NBA Is to Lose
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost
It’s been over four years since LeBron James left Miami and ended the Big 3 era. In that time, the Golden State Warriors have established themselves as one of the most dominant presences in NBA history.
With this summer’s signing of DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, the Warriors will look to put even more distance between themselves and the 29 other teams. As Autumn approaches, we look to enter yet another season where Golden State stands alone at the top of the league.
The last team to be able to put five players on the floor who were All-Stars in the previous season? Boston in 1975-76, according to @EliasSports
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 3, 2018
This is the reality of the NBA now.
There is no end in sight.
On that note, let’s take a quick look at the Miami Heat. They haven’t done much since LeBron’s departure. They were one game away from a conference finals appearance in 2016, but otherwise they’ve been nothing more than mediocre. Part of their problems were nothing more than bad luck, with injuries to various key players (most notably Chris Bosh’s career-ending illness) handicapping their competitiveness.
In the last 4 yrs the best player of his generation unexpectedly left Miami to go back home. A future HOF forward had blood clots and could not continue to play, yet the HEAT came within a game of the EC Finals one yr and made the playoffs another. Get a clue supposed HEAT fan. https://t.co/FhmiCZ55mq
— Tony Fiorentino (@TonyHEATWC3x) July 5, 2018
However, many of their issues can be traced back to a handful of long-term, high-salary contracts given to relatively lackluster players, such as Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters. Whether these players will ever live up to their deals is yet to be known, but they have left the Heat with little to no cap flexibility for the foreseeable future.
While the team has some promising young talent in Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, and Bam Adebayo, it is unfair to expect them to reach a level that would allow the team to go toe-to-toe with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. In the past, one could look to Pat Riley to pull off a miraculous series of trades and signings that would vault the Heat into championship contention, but this is a new NBA. There is no beating the Warriors.
There’s something genuinely interesting to the generational divide between class of 03-06 and 09-12.
Because LeBron, CP3: “Nope, the max, and nothing but the max.”
Warriors: “We’ll all take less so we can annihilate your hopes and dreams and then burn the ashes and snort them”
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) July 3, 2018
So what does Miami do? This is an organization that prides itself on being competitive, and all roads to a title are closed. It is not enough for the Heat to be second, third, or fourth. There is no way to topple the Warriors, but the Miami Heat can’t simply wait out this dynasty by accepting irrelevance.
To settle for anything less than dominance is antithetical to the Heat way. It goes against the Heat Culture. How do they reclaim league supremacy?
The only option is to shift the narrative and to flip the global perception of the entire sport. The glory of a championship is a social construct. Outside of some cheap jewelry, an ill-fitting t-shirt, and an ugly hat, there is no tangible reward for champions. The excitement of victory and the devastation of defeat are direct results of our collective decision as a society of sports fans to covet winning and detest losing.
If we accept that there is no inherent natural value to winning an NBA championship, we become open to the possibility of change. The Miami Heat may have no hope of capturing the elusive Larry O’Brien trophy, but if they refuse to acknowledge the trophy’s perceived value, they can completely redefine what it means to be successful.
Sam Hinkie and the Philadelphia 76ers pioneered this mentality. By clearing out their roster, they were able to drop to the bottom of league standings overnight. There was an art to their ineptitude, and it didn’t come without reward.
You got to lose in order to win sometimes #TrustTheProcess
— Do More Say Less (@_UncPhilly) July 5, 2016
The team was able to maintain one of the lowest payrolls in the NBA year to year, they were guaranteed to pick at the top of every draft, and they were able to give chances to fringe players who would have otherwise struggled to find a roster spot.
Fans began to buy in, expressing faith in the strategy by popularizing hashtags such as #TrustTheProcess, and even turning Sam Hinkie into somewhat of a cult figure. Hinkie’s process was great, but it was ultimately a half measure.
Eventually, the organization gave up and used their cap flexibility and early draft picks to acquire high-level talent in an attempt to compete for a traditional NBA championship. What at first seemed like a revolutionary approach to basketball became merely a roundabout way of pursuing the arbitrary goal that the NBA has set.
— NotACritic (@UncleDJay) April 7, 2018
Miami has the opportunity to finish what Hinkie started in Philadelphia by losing for its own sake. Where the 76ers lost as a means to an end, the Heat could lose purely for the glory of defeat. The Miami Heat organization simply needs to decide that losing is their goal and operate from there. They shouldn’t have much trouble leading the league in losses as they’d be the only organization actively pursuing defeat outside of maybe the Sacramento Kings.
That accomplishes the easy part. Miami can find success at losing, but they still need to convince their fans and ultimately the league as a whole that this new definition of success is valid. To deviate from the norm is easy, to gain acceptance and ultimately shift the norm is a bigger challenge.
This goes beyond basketball and becomes an issue of marketing. Luckily, Miami has the best salesman in the NBA in Pat Riley.
Pat Riley is the Visionary,Godfather,Salesman,and basketball prophet of all time.period.
— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) July 9, 2010
This is the man that convinced LeBron James to come to the Heat. This is the man that convinced Heat fans to rally around the team when LeBron eventually skipped town. This is the man who refused to pay the beloved Dwyane Wade and still won the public relations battle by managing to get his star shooting guard back to Miami discounted. This is the man who got the entire world to buy into the mystical idea of Heat Culture.
He brought us the Showtime Lakers and the Big 3 Heat. And he gets meetings with highly coveted free agents despite having no money to sign them.
Riley could defecate on center court in the AmericanAirlines Arena and have people lined up and down Biscayne Blvd. to tour his new chocolate factory. Pat Riley is a marketing wizard. Have him do a few press conferences, release a couple statements, maybe create a hashtag, and the entire NBA will be racing to catch the Miami Heat at the bottom of the standings.
Suddenly, Miami is once again the envy of 29 other teams.