Former Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale explained how Los Angeles Lakers star forward LeBron James’ first title traces back to the Houston Rockets.
The Los Angeles Lakers took home the 2019-20 NBA title, giving LeBron James his fourth championship of his 17-year career. The Lakers’ path to the NBA Finals included a match with the Portland Trail Blazers, followed by the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, and the battle-tested Miami Heat.
The Lakers received significant contributions from role players, such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, and the list goes on. James knows a thing or two about the importance of having quality veteran rotational players, as it’s proven to be a successful formula for him, and especially when he was a member of the Miami Heat.
The “Heatles” were engulfed with a superstar trio in James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, but it was a longtime Houston Rockets player that made the difference for them, as pointed out by former Heat assistant coach David Fizdale on the Knuckleheads podcast.
“That year, Chris Bosh got hurt and we had to start playing Shane Battier at the four. It was his best position but we kept force-feeding him at the three.
At that point of Shane’s career, the three was gone. It was time for him to become that space four. By doing that, we got our smartest players on the court.
Shane at the four was so important. It didn’t matter who we were going to play that year, we were going to end up winning, and it just so happened to be young [Kevin Durant], young [Russell Westbrook], and James Harden.”
How LeBron James’ first title traces back to the Houston Rockets
Although Shane Battier had already been in the league for five seasons prior to landing in the Space City, it was in Houston that he proved to be especially valuable and useful. Rockets fans were initially unhappy with Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s 2006 decision to trade the rights to Rudy Gay for Battier, which may seem hard to believe, as Battier later became a fan favorite in Houston.
Battier made 42.1 percent of his threes during his debut with the Rockets, which was then a career-best, and started in all 82 games during the 2006-07 season. Battier also proved to be one of the best defenders in the league during his tenure with the Rockets, as he was twice named to the All-Defensive team, which cemented his status as one of the best 3-and-D wings in the league during his peak. The Rockets traded Battier during the 2010-11 season, as he was on an expiring deal and they were rebuilding, following the physical decline to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
Battier signed with the Miami Heat prior to the start of the 2011-12 season, which was a beneficial move for both parties. Battier had displayed a valuable skill with the Rockets and the Heat presented him an opportunity to contend for a title during his final years in the league, which made it much easier to accept a reduced salary.
Battier made 42 threes during the Miami’s 2012 championship run, which was a team-best. During the Heat’s NBA Finals match against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Battier made a scorching 57.7 percent of his threes, while leading the Heat in total threes made, yet again.
Battier also averaged 11.6 points during the series, which was fourth-best on the Heat, behind only James, Wade, and Bosh. The Heat returned to the Finals during the 2012-13 season, which was a season that saw Battier make 43 percent of his triples, which was a team-best yet again. The Heat successfully defended their title, as they took home the 2013 trophy as well.
Battier had been moved to the second unit during the Heat’s second championship season, as he exhibited his selfless attitude, which is part of the fabric that made him a fan favorite among Rockets fans. Battier was named the 2013-14 NBA Teammate of the Year during his final season alongside the superstar trio.
Although James and the Heat didn’t bring home the title in 2013-14, it’s safe to say they wouldn’t have won their first title without the former Houston Rockets fan favorite, as Fizdale correctly stated.