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For LeBron, Heat, Game 7 is about legacy

Jun 3, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

Miami Heat's LeBron James reacts during their NBA Eastern Conference Final playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis Reuters

The Miami Heat have made no bones about it — they want to go down as one of the great teams of all time.

They know that to do that it means hanging banners. Plural. LeBron knows that at the end of his career for him to be ranked among the all time greats he needs rings. Not one, not two….

Win on Monday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and Miami will have made three straight trips to the NBA Finals with at least one win. They will have been tested but passed.

But if the big front line of the Indiana Pacers exposes the inherent flaws in Miami’s small ball and beats them — if the Heat lose Game 7 Monday night at home — there will be some real soul searching to do in South Beach.

They won one title with small ball, but is that sustainable? What roster changes are needed to continue contending? Then comes the bigger question of how a capped-out team can actually make any significant changes?

Win or lose, for the start of next season it is likely little would change in Miami — and it doesn’t need to, this is a 66-win team — but the bigger picture questions would go under a microscope after a loss.

A Heat loss would be fuel on the smoldering fire of “LeBron James is going to opt out in 2014 and go to __________.” Cavaliers, Lakers and the fans of 27 other fan bases will be convincing themselves LeBron can’t win in Miami anymore and he will bolt to them.

Don’t bet on him being inching to bolt. Nothing is impossible, but odds are still against it. He likes Miami. He can get more money and a longer contract from them (plus there are no state taxes). If LeBron thinks the window is closing on this roster, the real question is does he believe Pat Riley can restructure a team that can get him more rings? Obviously, there are advantages to recruiting young men to come to Miami.

Another storyline to be shaped by Game 7 — does Dwyane Wade have anything left? He has looked injured, older, slower and he can’t finish around the rim the same way. He has struggled this series, if he struggles in Game 7 and Miami loses, there chorus of “he’s too old and can’t stay healthy” will ringer ever lounder.

Riley and the Heat brain trust will be forced to make sure LeBron understands they plan to renovate the roster around him at some point, and there will be a more urgent consideration of “what is next?” Can they keep  Wade healthy? How do they attract better balanced talent? And to do that would it require shopping Chris Bosh around?

A loss in Game 7 would not fully shape the legacy of LeBron — he’s still just 28 — nor this version of the Miami Heat. In our instant decision world we want to think “they lose and LeBron bolts” when life is just not that clean and simple.

However, a loss forces a lot of questions to the surface and could portend bigger changes coming. Because now it’s not just about another ring, it’s about legacy.

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