Two systems, one goal for Finals foes

Notice there wasn't any talk of taking shortcuts to championships when the Boston Celtics brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for the 2007-08 season, or when the Dallas Mavericks had paid more in player salaries than the Heat when they beat them in the 2011 Finals. And if you're going strictly by payrolls, celebrate the $80 million Heat for knocking off the $102 million Brooklyn Nets in the second round. Or save your mockery for the New York Knicks, whose $88 million expenditure this season couldn't buy them a spot in the playoffs.

Since when does America cherish being told where to work (via draft or trade) over choosing your own employer?

Apparently, since the Heat got together.

Even though their big three did not seek the maximum amount of money so that they'd have a better shot at a championship, which is what we always say we want players to value the most.

The Heat are not champions by checkbook. Since LeBron, Bosh and Dwyane Wade joined forces in Miami in 2010, none of them has made as much in one season as the $23 million the Heat paid Jermaine O'Neal the season before they got there. In 2010-11, their first season together, none of them made as much as the $19 million the Washington Wizards paid Rashard Lewis.

Is free agency really less honorable than luck? Because luck is the foundation of the Spurs' success. Not only did they win the draft lottery twice, they did it in opportune years. There are six No. 1 overall picks who won championships and most valuable player awards with the teams that drafted them, and the Spurs wound up with two of them: David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Granted, the Spurs have done an outstanding job of filling out the roster with imaginative draft picks and shrewd signings. They were on the cutting edge of finding talented players overseas. They're also fortunate that their franchise player is willing to make financial sacrifices.

Duncan had the same number of points as Bosh in this game (18) and five times the number of rebounds (15-3), and did so at nearly half the annual salary ($10 million to Bosh's $19 million). Duncan accepted less money so the Spurs could have the financial flexibility to field a competitive roster. This doesn't make Duncan eligible for an Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS, nor should we start a page for a guy with $224 million in career earnings. But wouldn't you prefer a system that could facilitate paying Duncan another $10 million a season rather than grant Donald Sterling a $2 billion windfall for selling his team?

The system is the way it is because the owners keep winning in collective bargaining. The irony is that the latest agreement could make it difficult for the Heat to achieve the same longevity and continuity that make the Spurs so admirable. It's even possible that this could be the last NBA Finals with the Heat as we know them, since their big three can all become free agents this summer and force the Heat to make some difficult choices in the face of huge luxury tax penalties. Would a Heat breakup really be a successful CBA?

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