In so many words, he said the Heat should consider breaking up its Big Three, even trading , given the potential availability next winter of .
“Yes, I said that, and people killed me for it,” Van Gundy said. “But you know what? If I have a chance to trade LeBron for Dwight Howard, absolutely, I’d do that.”
Between the Van Gundy brothers — Jeff, the former and Rockets coach, and Stan, the former Heat and current Orlando coach — there is seldom a shortage of fervent opinion. In this case, Jeff Van Gundy the analyst was treading on the territory of his brother the coach:
Howard is the Magic’s centerpiece, though he could be the next player to change the league’s balance of power as he enters his last contractual season.
Mind you, Jeff Van Gundy argued last summer that the N.B.A. would suffer a years-long Heat wave after James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put their hands together and James began boasting of all the championship rings that would eventually adorn their fingers.
“Not five, not six, not seven. …”
Doing his own quick calculation, Van Gundy predicted Miami would win 70-something games in its maiden voyage. But in a recent telephone interview, he said that he not only thought the 58-24 Heat’s season wasn’t a failure, but that he would again make Miami the favorite next season to win the title that slipped away to Dallas this month.
That, he added, does not mean the Heat can’t become immeasurably better.
During a Tuesday news conference, Miami’s president, Pat Riley, called James “the most unique player in the N.B.A., and we’re blessed to have him.”
But Van Gundy said: “I think you saw in the finals how Miami struggled against tough interior teams. If they traded James for Howard, it would give them the real post threat and with Bosh one of the biggest defensive frontlines. So why wouldn’t you at least take a look at doing that?”
And from his brother’s — or the Magic’s — point of view?
Jeff Van Gundy argued that if Orlando found itself in the unenviable position Cleveland was in with James during the 2009-10 season, the precedent has been established, by what the Cavaliers didn’t do and the Nuggets did with : the Magic cannot allow next February’s trade deadline to pass and hope for the best.
How much better, he asked, could the Magic do in that situation than landing James?
“People say he choked in the finals, he froze, all that nonsense,” Van Gundy said. “My brother keeps saying, ‘You mean he didn’t face big pressure against Boston and Chicago?’ Listen, he’s got parts of his game to improve on. But to diminish his greatness as a player, I think that’s mistaken.”
I told Van Gundy that his analysis for Miami caught my attention because I had had similar thoughts about potential megastar deals, though not necessarily involving Miami.
In a recent conversation with Donnie Walsh, the departing Knicks president, I asked if the contracts of Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire included no-trade clauses. Walsh reminded me that such clauses in the N.B.A. required eight years in the league and four years of service with that particular team. (Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki qualified in their last negotiations and thus have no-trade deals.)
In the case of the Knicks, why wouldn’t they at least consider moving one of their blue chips if the emerging salary cap restricts them from adding a third star and there is an opportunity next winter to better balance the floor with a franchise point guard (with remaining money saved for a competitive big man)?
Here, the imagination can run radio-sports-talk wild: how about Anthony to the Nets for Deron Williams?
“See, that’s why when people said the Knicks gave up too much for Anthony, I totally disagreed,” Jeff Van Gundy said. “They had a chance to get a player of that magnitude, but if they decide it’s not working, they will still have flexibility because players like that are always in demand.”
I was reminded of 1978-79, my rookie season as the beat reporter for The New York Post, when the Knicks traded — the Anthony of that era — to the Celtics for Tom Barker and three first-round draft picks. One of the picks became , who was traded in a deal for , who was traded in a deal for . Out of that McAdoo deal came a generation’s worth of fair value, if no title.
Reminiscing during the finals with McAdoo, now a Heat assistant, I was reminded of how furious he was about going to Boston. But that’s what happens when a star is under contract for multiple years — as Anthony and James are now. Leverage swings to management.
“When players leave, they like to say that it’s business, but when they get traded, they say they’re treated unfairly,” Van Gundy said, tapping his coaching persona.
His last thought on a hypothetical Miami trade was this: “A trade of James might actually restore his popularity. People would say, O.K., he left Cleveland but then Miami traded him. That’s how it works. It’s always business.”