2012 NBA Finals: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Erik Spoelstra Have Tons to Prove

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Nothing adds to a legacy quite like a championship. 

MVP awards, All-Star games, scoring titles – nothing looks better on the resume of a great player than a championship.

More so than any finals since 2007, this one will affect some pretty high profile legacies. Let’s get right in to them…

Erik Spoelstra 

“Remember that guy that used to coach the Heat before Phil Jackson?”

That’s what people will be saying 15 years from now if he can’t get it done. In all seriousness – Spoelstra has done a hell of a job this year, but it’s not on the court that I’m talking about.

As much as the Heat benefit from Spoelstra’s ability to deflect attention off of the players and dissolve potential issues before they erupt (Wade getting in his face, the bump with LeBron), his in-game coaching leaves a lot to be desired. Whether that comes from the respect his two top stars don’t give him or the fact that he may just not be a good game coach doesn’t matter. The Heat don’t need a babysitter, they need an actual coach. Someone who is going to tell them what to do and where to be.

Look at the Thunder – they have completely bought in to what Scottie (I’m not conforming to the “Scott” movement) Brooks is selling. In two seperate sideline discussions on Tuesday night with his top two stars during Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Brooks got the same response – “I got you.” First from Russell Westbrook and then from Kevin Durant – at completely different points in the game – the two top players had the exact same response. It was a pretty cool thing to see. Now imagine if Spoelstra had tried to do this with James and Wade. They would have been rolling their eyes and looking all over the stadium while he was talking. And that’s if Dwyane Wade didn’t try to strangle Spoelstra in his sideline meeting.

Of course, if the Heat pull this out then none of this will matter. Spoelstra will be hailed as the coach who made the great experiment work, the one who gameplanned well enough to beat the best offense of the millenium. That’s the beauty of winning a championship – people can’t second guess a ring. But if the Heat fall short, there will be more than enough questions for Spoelstra to answer.

“Have you thought about a front office career?” might just be the first one.

Russell Westbrook 

If the Thunder win this series then all the people who say Westbrook is a cancer to the career of Kevin Durant and the chemistry of the Thunder will finally have to shut the hell up. Sure Westbrook can shoot a lot, but Durant still got enough looks to win the scoring title for the third year in a row. And if Westbrook can help the Thunder to their first championship, then in four years he will have accomplished what is one of the hardest things in sports to succesfully pull off – the switch from shooting guard to point guard.

A loss, and the summer will be filled with crazy proposals to trade Westbrook and sign Harden long term.

Dwyane Wade

It seems the bigger Wade’s jawline gets, the worse he plays. If he continues to make Paul Pierce look fast and not be the top-5 player the Heat thought they had, this series will be over very quickly. And the blame won’t come down on LeBron, it will land squarely on Wade. Despite basically saying that he’s handed over the reigns to LeBron, he still has to play like Dwyane Wade.

If the Heat lose this series, do they trade Wade? He and LeBron play basically the same position, and LeBron is much, much better at it. So why would the Heat hang on to a rapidly-aging slasher whose jump shot is streaky at best? If I’m Gabrielle Union I’d be testing the real estate market.

And if the Heat win? Then Wade is securely in the top-5 for another year. He’ll be automatically historically bumped ahead of guys like Paul Pierce, who only have one championship. And, he’ll be the unselfish superstar who gave up control for the betterment of the team.

Kendrick Perkins

A win would be a nice slap in the face to Danny Ainge, and also give Perk two titles as a starter – which is some pretty serious street cred. A loss, and maybe the Thunder start to look at a center who doesn’t have stone hands and tunnel vision whenever he does miraculously catch the ball.

Either way, you know that Perkins is going to have the biggest scowl on his face.

Juwan Howard 

Nothing. Whether the Heat win or lose it means absolutely nothing for Juwan Howard’s legacy. He hasn’t added anything to Heat, and that includes what he was brought in to provide – toughness.

A championship for Juwan Howard means just as much as the FOUR that John Salley has – nothing.

Nick Collison/Mario Chalmers

A win, and one of these two will become one of only 40 players to win both an NCAA and NBA championship. Win or lose, Nick Collison looks a whole helluva lot like Jim from the Office.

Chris Bosh

Who cares? Stop shooting threes.

Scottie “Scott” Brooks

Either way, Brooks is good when it comes to job security. His contract is up at the end of this season and I see no reason why he won’t be one of the highest-paid coaches in the game. The championships will come, but to get one this early would certainly be something special.

He may look like a cute little baby, especially when he’s standing next to his players, but Brooks has the respect of his team, and in today’s NBA that reigns supreme. Just ask Stan Van Gundy

Kevin Durant

He’s the best offensive player in the game and is actively working on every other aspect of his game. At 23-years-old, he’s already the three-time scoring champ and the unparalleled best player in the Western Conference. Already the face of the brightest, young franchise in the league, what more is there?

Well, a win would launch Durant directly ahead of LeBron in every aspect – incorrectly. If the the Thunder win, then Durant will be hailed as the best player in the game, and there won’t be much in the way of an arguement. Except that he’s not there, yet. Defensively (on and off the ball) rebounding, court awareness – LeBron is better than Durant in all of these phases. But it won’t matter if Durant leads the Thunder to victory.

A Thunder championship puts Durant squarely as the face of the NBA. He will be lauded as a true superstar, someone who does it on both ends of the floor and isn’t afraid to step up and take the big shot. An unguardable freak who, when all is said and done, may be the best basketball player of all time.

A Thunder loss and it’s another “step” they – and Durant – have to climb, another year Durant will have to wait before being crowned the real “King” of the NBA. It’s going to happen sooner or later, the real queston is: Is the time now for Kevin Durant?

LeBron James

Two of the best games of not only his career, but the history of the NBA playoffs. One of the most complete seasons statistically, ever. Coming from behind, on the road, in a playoff series against his main rival. Compltely dedicating himself to a championship, even going so far as not to Tweet during the playoffs.

None of this will matter if the Heat don’t win.

It will be the same as always. LeBron can’t get it done in the clutch. He won’t take the big shot. His mom is a slut…

But a win? Oh what a win would do.

Suddenly, there would be no more questions. He would have finally claimed his throne and taken his place as the rightful heir to His Airness. The most impressive physical specimen to ever set foot on basketball court will have become the complete player at long last.

That’s only if he continues his stellar play. Either way, he’ll still be scrutinized like no other. Because God forbid the Heat win and LeBron takes a secondary role. It would be almost as bad as if they lost. An entire summer filled with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless screaming at each other – to cover up their secret sexual relationship – about how it shouldn’t count because LeBron didn’t do it on his own. Even if the Heat win and LeBron averages 50 points a game, it won’t be enough. People will expect repeat after repeat, with every performance that doesn’t improve upon the last being considered a failure of epic propotions.

But these are the standards that LeBron set for himself. You can’t call yourself the King and ever have realistic expectations.

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