Coming into the offseason, the Miami Heat’s plan was to retool with younger talent for another run at an NBA championship. Well, they did it.
Miami managed to sign the highly rated Luol Deng to a two-year deal worth $20 million, in addition to bringing on Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts, while Dwyane Wade took a pay cut to stick around for another two years.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for LeBron James as the King went back home, then Pat Riley went on to grossly overpay Chris Bosh to keep him away from the Houston Rockets. So looking back, the Heat’s free-agency hasn’t exactly been a sweeping success.
Nevertheless, they did manage to add some good pieces to at least stay relevant in any playoffs chatter.
Although the question now is how competitive will they be? Will they crumble to the bottom of the barrel just as the Cavaliers did back in the 2010-11 season after LeBron left? Of course not, they actually have great players – unlike the Cavs had.
Granted he is paid way too much, but Bosh is still an All-Star, and an all-around great player. He has developed into a solid two-way player, sweeping up as the last line of defense for the Heat, as well as scoring at a respectable rate (16 points per game in 2013-14).
As for Wade, Father Time seemingly caught up with him during the NBA Finals, but he still capable of putting up 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and a steal or two per game. And the addition of Deng brings a two-time All-Star, who can play defense with the best of them, yet still providing a scoring punch – he has a 16 points per game average for his career.
Obviously this won’t be enough to make up for (or forget about) the four-time MVP they just lost, but it’s a very good consolation prize. Plus, that’s what the other role players are for.
McRoberts is a versatile, athletic big man who can shoot with range. Granger is a wily vet with a 3-point game in his arsenal.
Then you throw in players such as Chris Andersen, who will continue to finish at the rim and swat away shots; Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole will have more responsibility running the show which will (hopefully) improve their output; and Udonis Haslem will provide toughness in the interior. All that is before you even mention Erik Spoelstra, for whom the NBA playoffs have become something of a formality, having made it to the championship period in each of his six seasons as head coach.
Furthermore, winning the East isn’t too ambitious a goal, considering how starved the conference is of elite teams.
Put it this way: out of all the clubs in the NBA’s top 10 based on each team’s record last season, only the Heat and Indiana managed to crack the list from the Eastern Conference at fourth and fifth, respectively. Plus, when it came to the playoff seeding, the worst team from the Western Conference (aka the Dallas Mavericks) boasted a 49-33 record, which would’ve have been good enough for third place in the East — same goes for the 48-34 Phoenix Suns, who missed out on the postseason action.
So yes, based on recent trends, the Miami Heat can definitely still make a run for the NBA Finals once more. However, it’s not that simple.
They will be significantly weaker in 2014-15, while the rest of the field will have gotten significantly better.
The Cleveland Cavaliers automatically jump into the fray having snagged James. After all, he has done great things with a far less talented supporting cast.
Chicago is in the mix, provided Derrick Rose is healthy. Then there are the Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards, who are all up-and-coming teams after breakthrough seasons last year.
Charlotte and Toronto got to the playoffs for the first time in several years, while the Wizards got the second round for only the third time in nearly 30 years. Plus, all three teams have young players at the core and they will continue to get better.
And of course Paul George and the Pacers will have some say about it.
Getting through to the finals to represent the Eastern Conference is very doable. Hard. But still doable – at least that’s what the optimists tell themselves.