When the Heat take on the Hornets Friday, there's more on the line than just a fifth win.
The Hornets' future looked bleak in July when Chris Paul considered following LeBron James' example and creating a "super team" in New York. Instead, Paul stayed with the Hornets and has led the team to a fast 4-0 start.
Meanwhile in Miami, LeBron is enjoying a 4-1 record alongside buds Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It's still very early in the season, but Friday's game could be a preview of which model is better:
The Chris Paul model — Build a team around one star player, keep him happy by adding complementary pieces that slowly but surely turn the team into a championship contender.
The LeBron James model — Combine superstars, stir gently.
History tells us that superstars can coexist on a team, but never before has a team had two scorers of LeBron and Wade's caliber.
In 2007, the Celtics created their own Big Three, but the key difference was that each player had a role. Ray Allen was the sharpshooter, Kevin Garnett dominated the paint and Paul Pierce was the floor leader. In Miami, Lebron and Wade seem to trade off as the floor leader, and it's unknown if that can work for a full season.
History also tells us that having one face of the franchise can work very well, provided there's a solid supporting cast. Look at the Lakers throughout the past decade. When the Lakers won three in a row at the turn of the millennium, Shaquille O'Neal led the team and won all three Finals MVPs. But when the line between Kobe Bryant and Shaq blurred over the next two years, the Lakers couldn't quite put it together. Now Kobe controls the franchise and after a few years of adding pieces around him, the Lakers are trying to three-peat once again.
In New Orleans, the Hornets added a few players to help Paul without dramatically altering the team. Bringing in the understated Trevor Ariza and D.J. Mbenga didn't make Miami-sized shockwaves, but the Hornets are buzzing right now. Paul is healthy and playing some of the best basketball of his career, and the team might be turning the corner.
It's still too early to see what model works best, but if the Heat win, the seed in Paul's mind — that he can't win in New Orleans — will continue to grow. If the Hornets win, LeBron might start to question if his talents fit in Miami … but that wouldn't happen because it requires LeBron having some humility.