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Not 1, Not 2: How Many Could LeBron Have Won If He Stayed in Miami

Everyone remembers this clip where LeBron suggested in his Miami introductory press conference that they might win 7 championships in Miami.  Pat Riley’s cringe face is classic foreshadowing.  With hindsight let’s take a look at how many LeBron may have won had he stayed in Miami and never returned to Cleveland. It took some incredible lottery luck to even make that a reasonably possible upgrade. One ping pong ball difference is all it may have taken. 

The Miami Heat are one of the best-managed franchises, with one of the top head coaches. They remained relevant after LeBron left and have since made it to an NBA final with a rebuilt team. It’s impressive considering they never bottomed out and many of their supporting players were undrafted or finds. That also traded for 2 All Stars after Lebron left in Dragic and Bulter with parts they would have still had. It’s also certainly a place with LeBron committed that top free agents would have tried to get to.  Anthony Davis may have even pushed his way there instead of the Lakers in an alternate history.

2014-15

The 2014 finals were a rout of the Heat in a rematch from 2013. Chis Bosh would resign with the heat that off-season, while Ray Allen and Shane Battier would retire once LeBron left for Cleveland. The Heat would add some significant pieces they would have still been able to add.  The first was signing unknown at the time Hassan Whiteside who was very productive that season. They would also sign Loul Deng and trade for Goran Dragic. It’s unlikely they would have signed Deng if LeBron came back or if Ray Allen had returned with LeBron. The Goran Dragic part of the trade was still very much in play and likely to have happened as far out as the pick was in 2021. 

The bigger issue were injuries this season. Without LeBron the Heat would finish with 37 wins and miss the playoffs. With Lebron, Wade, Dragic, Whiteside, and the typical vets like Ray Allen that would migrate to Miami, I believe they make it to the finals. They make it just as the Cavs did with LeBron carrying them. In the finals, the Cavs would also deal with injuries to Kevin Love who would miss much of the playoffs and. Kyrie would only play 1 game in the finals. LeBron was still able to take a Cavs team of JR Smith, Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, Dellavedova, and Shumpert to 6 games with the Warriors. 

A hypothetical series with a LeBron Heat team with a lot of residual chemistry and playoff experience vs the upstart at the point Warriors would have likely gone the distance. As great a LeBron was with just a little more help I do believe they could have won. I would still put my money on the Warriors in 7 through with home court. They have proven to be an all-time dynasty as well. 

2015-16

The 15-16 version of the Heat again were without Bosh who would play 53 games again and have blood clotting issues that forced him out of the end of the season and playoffs. He would never play another game after this second scare.  The Heat would get cap space relief in 2017.

This version of the heat was still successful winning 48 games and making the 2nd round where they lost in 7 to the Raptors. Most of the team was very similar to the season before. They had added young players like Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson and Whiteside took a larger step this season.  I don’t believe any of that changes substantially if LeBron was still there. They wouldn’t have had a lottery pick in Justice Winslow is the only major difference. They added some vets like Gerald Green and eventually Joe Johnson by buyout which are similar type of moves they would have made anyway.  

Lebron very likely takes this Heat team back to the finals vs the Warriors. Again this would have been an interesting matchup. This Heat team played better, and Dragic and Whiteside were more ready to step up by that point. Wade was still pretty good although in decline. The main thing that opened the door for the Cavs was the injury to Steph Curry. That still likely happens and this team would have had a chance. In the end I believe without the Kyrie magic they likely fall a little short again in 6 or 7. 

2016-17

LeBron would have become increasingly frustrated as he was in Cleveland after the Warriors added Durant. The Heat would also have to pay Whiteside or lose him in the 2016 off season. They would also lowball Wade contributing to him walking. I don’t believe much would change if LeBron was there. Wade was his friend, but he proved he didn’t mind walking or letting him be cut the next year in Cleveland. I believe he stays out of that squabble.

The Heat were led by Dragic, Whiteside and Josh Richardson. They would win 41 games and miss the playoffs. With LeBron I believe they make it tk the finals again where they would-be smoked by the Warriors. The Cavs breezed through the East so easily that I could see the Heat with LeBron making it, but with more struggle. 

2017-18

The biggest difference here is they would not have drafted 14th or gotten Bam with LeBron on the team. They most likely draft in the 20s, but there were still some quality players in the 20’s. Jarrett Allen, OG Anunoby, Kuzma, Derrick White, and Josh Hart. I trust Riley would have drafted one, likely of the last 3. . Bam was only a role player this season so not much would change in the results, but it dramatically changed the future beyond that.

The Heat won 44 games and made the playoffs. With LeBron and a similar supporting cast in Cleveland after Kyrie was traded, i believe he takes the Heat to another final in a weak east. They would easily lose to the Warriors once again.

2018-19

LeBron would leave for the Lakers this offseason in the Cleveland timeline. It would have also been hard for the Heat to retain him after 5 straight losses in the Finals. The caveat here is the Heat could have traded for Jimmy Butler one season sooner. They would eventually give up Whiteside, Richardson, and a 2023 1st round pick in 2019 off season in sign and trade. That’s less than the 76ers gave up for him with only one season left on his deal and turmoil in Minnesota. The 76ers only gave up Covington, Saric, and two second-rounders. I believe they could have made that same deal in early in November and got Butler to pair with LeBron if he was a little more patience. The Heat would have certainly been quicker to make that trade if LeBron was still there.

I think LeBron would be in LA by 2018-19 but for the sake of the exercise let’s say he stayed. The Heat trade the same package or a slightly upgraded one for Butler a year earlier and LeBron, Butler, and Dragic would have been a serious title contender along with Toronto and Golden State.

This is the first season LeBron started to really show his age, and would have the first significant injury of his career. He could have comeback if their was something to comeback from, but he is likely not 100% the rest of that season with a groin injury. If the Heat could have made it past Toronto I think they could have beat the Warriors with the injuries. I think Toronto wins this one with Lebron coming off injury.

2019-20

This is the Covid Bubble season in which the Lakers would win the title over the Heat. It all comes together here and LeBron gets his 3rd title in Miami in our alternate history timeline.

2020-21

Dragic was starting to decline more significantly by this point. With LeBron and Butler they would have had a much better chance vs the Milwaukee Bucks (they were swept in the 3 vs 6 matchup), but I believe the Bucks come out of the East and win the Championship.

2021-22

The Heat went to 7 games with the Boston Celtics and were within 4 points of the finals. It’s important to remember as good as Lebron still is they would not have had Bam Adebayo or Tyler Herro. I don’t think Herro is a big loss, and Adebayo wasn’t very good vs the Celtics. The Heat did trade Lowry for Dragic which was an improvement by this point. I believe they would have signed a reasonable defensive center and likely won the Celtics series with LeBron setting up a Classic rematch of the Warriors and Heat with many of the same key parts. I think it would have gone to a 7th game, but the Warriors were more deep and likely would prevail.

ChampionRunner Up
2011Dallas MavericksvsMiami Heat4-2
2012Miami HeatvsOklahoma City Thunder4-1
2013Miami HeatvsSan Antonio Spurs4-3
2014San Antonio SpursvsMiami Heat4-1
2015Golden State WarriorsvsMiami Heat4-3
2016Golden State WarriorsvsMiami Heat4-2
2017Golden State WarriorsvsMiami Heat4-1
2018Golden State WarriorsvsMiami Heat4-0
2019Toronto RaptorsvsGolden State Warriors4-2
2020Miami HeatvsDenver Nuggets4-2
2021Milwaukee BucksvsPhoenix Suns4-2
2022Golden State WarriorsvsMiami Heat4-3

Conclusion

Had LeBron stayed in Miami I believe he could have had as many as 5, possibly even 6 championships. I believe they would have been competitive and had long close series with the pre-and post-Durant- Warriors I do believe the Heat would have had 2 or 3 classic matchups with the Warriors. The odds are more likely they only win one championship though (in the bubble year) and that LeBron would ony have 3 at this point vs the 4 he actually has. The Heat would likely still be in a little better shape than the Lakers this season, but they would be unlikely to win the East this season. This is likely where the run would have ended or in 2018. At least the seriousness.

LeBron’s legacy most certainly benefited from going back to Cleveland. He likely won more titles the way it played out. Also bringing one to his hometown and the franchise he left that drafted him was value added to his legacy. Especially being the 73 all-time win defending champion they would beat. There is no way the Heat win 4, 5, 6, or 7 like he predicted or thought he would. Still potentially going to the finals 10 times in 12 seasons would have been historic.


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